The Exodus Revisited: Taking a Commenter to Task

The Exodus Revisited: Taking a Commenter to Task June 6, 2016

I posted some notes I made on the ridiculousness of the Exodus account the other day. It has been met with pretty universal agreement by fellow skeptics, unsurprisingly, on the threads here and on facebook.

So it was interesting when I received the following comment:

Because you are self-described philosopher, I hate to be the one who has to give this news. Do you know all the dialogues that Plato wrote with Socrates teaching all of his students? Well, some of it was fiction created by Plato and some of it might actually have happened. AND all of it can teach us a lot if we are on a journey of truth.

I have no idea why you choose to focus on the book of Exodus to question the historicity of the Torah and its source material. Let’s face it, we are given a series of five books in which the guy who is attributed to writing the series, dies before the story ends and somehow is able to posthumously write his own death scene and the subsequent events.

However, the ridiculousness begins much earlier. Sure some, true believers in a literal interpretation approach are somehow able to explain how Cain worries about what other people will do to him even though his mom and dad and the brother he killed were the only folks God had created in the story to that point. Where the ridiculousness really makes itself clear is in the introduction to the Noah Story in which the linking genealogy makes mention of folks like Jubal who is the father of music and musical instruments and the Nephilim who are the ancestors of the giants including Goliath who batted the young King David. The story is clear that the descendants of all these folks will play an important role in the future after this story is over AND then the story goes on to kill off everybody but Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives.

You ask how it would be possible for two million Hebrews to wander in the desert for forty years. I still find it hard to believe that the Nazis were able to kill six million Jews and five million Gentiles while at the same time fighting a war on multiple fronts. There are inconceivable things which are possible. What the introduction to the story of Genesis is telling the reader is that the stories being put down are in someway connected to the reality of the reader and at the same time impossible to fit into our timeline.

If your goal in this process is to demonstrate that it is impossible for the events to have occurred as they are described, the text itself has already stated that to be the case loud and clear.

As far as the “ringed-fence” is concerned – except for the extreme fringe, it is the faithful have pretty much conceded these accounts as being legendary and have drawn a line in the sand at the Davidic monarchy even though archaeological evidence for King David’s reign are non-existent.

Where you make wonder what you mean by describing yourself as a “philosopher of religion” is when speaking on the birth story of Moses you write: This part of the Bible was written when the Israelites were in Babylonian Exile and the probability is that they stile [I am assuming you meant stole] stories off their captors and surrounding cultures.”

To begin, you folks in the UK did not steal Thursday from your Norman invaders nor Saturday from the Roman intruders. Language, religion and other parts of culture have always intermixed. That’s why Adonis ends up being the name used to represent the ineffable YHWH when the Jews read their texts aloud. Religions have always been in the process of intermixing and sharing myths and theology. Nobody says that the Chinese Foo Dogs guarding the Buddhist temples throughout Asia were stolen from the Lions that guarded the Jerusalem temple because religions have always been sharing.

What I find equally problematic is when you write “this part of the Bible was written when the Israelites were in Babylonian Exile ” as if other parts of the text were written in other eras. I know that among the atheist community their is a very persistent myth that the Bible was written by “bronze age goat herders”, However, the truth is that, not only this passage describing the birth of Moses, but all of the Pentateuch was actually written by iron age intellectuals.

Of course to deny the text’s veracity based on the false claim that its writers were bronze age goat herders or to argue for the veracity base on the more evidence based claim that they were iron aged intellectuals would both be nothing more than subscribing to an argumentum ad hominem. However, given your thesis is based on the notion that historicity matters, then being historically inaccurate is something you can ill afford to be.

I know I’ve probably written to much and the odds are that you will probably end up ignoring most of it. The bottom line is that the text of the Pentateuch makes it clear that it is presenting a story line which is ridiculously ahistorical and you attempt to discredit its veracity by demonstrating its exceeding ridiculous only serves to make you look as ridiculous as the fundamentalists who use it to prove the universe is only five thousand years old.

There really is quite a lot wrong with this. I tried to sum it up in my hastily concocted response:

OK, lots to unpick here. I will take one of your main gripes first, and hopefully show a contradiction in your own position.

Do you know all the dialogues that Plato wrote with Socrates teaching all of his students? Well, some of it was fiction created by Plato and some of it might actually have happened. AND all of it can teach us a lot if we are on a journey of truth….

I have no idea why you choose to focus on the book of Exodus to question the historicity of the Torah and its source material…. However, the ridiculousness begins much earlier….

I know that among the atheist community their is a very persistent myth that the Bible was written by “bronze age goat herders”, However, the truth is that, not only this passage describing the birth of Moses, but all of the Pentateuch was actually written by iron age intellectuals.

Of course to deny the text’s veracity based on the false claim that its writers were bronze age goat herders or to argue for the veracity base on the more evidence based claim that they were iron aged intellectuals would both be nothing more than subscribing to an argumentum ad hominem. However, given your thesis is based on the notion that historicity matters, then being historically inaccurate is something you can ill afford to be.

Firstly, you make a hasty generalisation of me, and accuse me of claiming this was written by goat herders in guilt by association style straw manning. I have not said this. So that part of your argument is simply invalid,l and we can discard it.

So, on the one hand, you accept the clear ahistoricity of the text (which, incidentally, millions don’t. I have taught in places which teach it as fact). On the other, you claim some kind of veracity (without being explicit about this at all). It is somehow, one surmises, necessary in the journey to truth.

Well, for you perhaps. I wasn’t necessarily writing this for you.But let’s say that you are representative of the broad range of Judeo-Christian believers…

Thing is, the Mosaic Law, the founding fathers of the Abrahamic faiths, provide both a historical and a theological pillar to the religions which, if ahistorical, means that the religions are really castles in the air with no foundation.

This is a similar sort of claim that Raymond Brown makes in the Birth of the Messiah, which I pick up in my “The Nativity: A Critical Examination” book. If there is no historical veracity to the claims of the person of Jesus (Moses etc), then on what can the theological claims be hung? If the claims of Moses are patently false, and the Hebrews were not enslaved, then how did Jesus come out of Egypt into a promised land in a Midrashic replay of Moses, as fulfilled prophecy? The Mosaic Laws delivered on Mt Sinai?TheNativity

etc etc.

Yes, you CAN strip away the historical claims with ease. But what does this leave you with? Rather an empty quest for truth. You admit that the events were impossible. So what is left? The theological claims become completely a-contextual. So how do we evaluate THOSE claims for truth? We have to do moral reasoning. But that cannot be so, since divine command theory (exemplified by these very texts) denies our ability to moral reason in such a way, otherwise God is not needed to ground morality, since moral reasoning will suffice.

But if this DCT approach requires ACTUAL commands (Mosaic Law and implied laws and moral proclamations from the Pentateuch), then you NEED these claims to be historically accurate!

Whatever case you seem to be trying to make appears to be doomed to failure in utilising the above methodology.

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