The Exodus Debunked: Concluding Matters

The Exodus Debunked: Concluding Matters April 5, 2018

It’s been quite a little project, but it is time to draw matters to a close. So far, the series has covered a number of different related subjects:

I want to compile them all into a series as I have done with the Nativity and Easter.

The quick synopsis of these, which does not do justice to the work above, is as follows:

The theology of the account is nonsensical: God can’t change his mind, and most certainly wouldn’t do it merely on account of Moses touching his son’s foreskin to his own genitals. God also hardened the Pharaoh’s heart and punished Egypt with adult male death, firstborn son death, cattle death and thus undoubted death of families and greater population at large (due also to the plagues) on account of his own decision to harden Pharaoh’s heart. This makes no sense of renders God evil. Moreover, the claims within the biblical account are either ridiculous or very problematic.

Domesticated camels mentioned in the Exodus story are an anachronism and hint at the story being written far later when they were domesticated; this supports the exilic compilation of the Bible that most scholars now believe, as opposed to Mosaic authorship. This is further supported by the Documentary Hypothesis (or some modern version thereof). It is then augmented as an explanation given that Moses’ birth seems to be stolen off the earlier birth narrative of Sargon of Akkad, whose story included pitch. Pitch did not exist in Egypt at Moses’ time, but did exist in the Geographical and historical context of the Sargon myth that the Moses myth appropriated.

This is all further supported still by the anachronistic mention of the Philistines in the story who did not exist until the later time of the exilic period (some thousand years later) in which scholars now believe the Bible was written. The Exodus account was clearly not written by Moses, but by people much later, with many incorrect details.

There was literally no evidence of any of the claims of the Exodus ever having happened, either in Egyptian or any other records. Considering the great claims and the huge ramifications of these supposed events, this is wildly improbable. This includes all the supernatural claims of the country in darkness, the army being destroyed by a parted sea, the plagues, the captivity of the Hebrews. Furthermore, there is literally no archaeological evidence of these events ever having happened. This includes during forty years of millions of people in Kadesh-Barnea, and yet we have contemporaneous evidence of nomadic tribes. This time in the wilderness would also have been logistically impossible. Extant records suggest the very opposite of the biblical claims to be true (a time of Egyptian prosperity as opposed to decimation by plagues and death) with no serious accounting for the chronology.

Crucially, the Elephantine Papryi of 650 BCE are hugely problematic for Pentateuchal claims: they are silent on the existence of the Pentateuch or any part of it; the priesthood being related in any way to Aaron or Levites; Jewish names found in the Pentateuch (there are over 160 Jews mentioned in the papyri, not one with a “Pentateuchal” name); any biblical history of the Jews, such as the Exodus, or of the tribes, or any prophets; any knowledge of the Laws of Moses or any other authoritative writing. They show, also: that the Jews at the time and the Jerusalem priesthood had no knowledge of the contents of the Pentateuch, both following practices contrary to its injunctions; no knowledge of a written Torah or Pentateuch; no knowledge of names of figures in the Pentateuch but clear knowledge of a Jerusalem priesthood with religious authority; and knowledge of a Jerusalem Temple priesthood supporting another temple and altars of sacrifice as well as non-Levitical priests. Again, this offers massive support for the Pentateuch being written later (even than this) and the claims therein not being crafted out of existing knowledge and stories and history of the Jewish people as reported in the Pentateuch.

Finally, there is no evidence at all of the Conquest of Canaan after coming out of Egypt. Indeed, the archaeological evidence disconfirms the account, which is also replete with supernatural claims. (I have missed out quite a lot of persausive points here to make way for brevity.)

The question that my previous posts seek to answer is which better explains the Exodus accounts in light of points like the above:

a) that the Exodus account is a true, accurate, historical account, including some of the most amazing supernatural events ever known to man?
b) that the Pentateuch was written later as an attempt to garner national identity in time of exile, drawing on the culture surrounding them (i.e. Sargon), creating a mythological text akin to every other holy book in the history of humanity (e.g. the Epic of Gilgamesh, which the Bible steals its flood account from)?

We have two sets of data: the Bible and all non-biblical sources. Bear in mind, of course, that all non-biblical data supports option b) and there is a complete absence of data for a) where we would normally expect to find some.

Let us dwell on an absence of evidence a while.

I get annoyed at apologists and theists who trot “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” out as if it is some kind of unbreakable law. Nonsense. Not only is it the basis of a gazillion court cases, as well as carefully constructed scientific experiments, it is very useful to boot. It CAN be a fallacy when formulated as an Argument from Ignorance, but it is not strictly synonymous. John D. Cook, mathematician and statistician, sums it up well. Also, Carrier in Proving History deals really well with it as not being a fallacy in historical analyses. Cook states:

Though it is not proof, absence of evidence is unusually strong evidence due to subtle statistical result. Compare the following two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You’ve sequenced the DNA of a large number prostate tumors and found that not one had a particular genetic mutation. How confident can you be that prostate tumors never have this mutation?

Scenario 2: You’ve found that 40% of prostate tumors in your sample have a particular mutation. How confident can you be that 40% of all prostate tumors have this mutation?

It turns out you can have more confidence in the first scenario than the second. If you’ve tested N subjects and not found the mutation, the length of your confidence interval around zero is proportional to N. But if you’ve tested N subjects and found the mutation in 40% of subjects, the length of your confidence interval around 0.40 is proportional to ?N. So, for example, if N = 10,000 then the former interval has length on the order of 1/10,000 while the latter interval has length on the order of 1/100. This is known as the rule of three. You can find both a frequentist and a Bayesian justification of the rule here.

Absence of evidence is unusually strong evidence that something is at least rare, though it’s not proof.

What we must remember here is that the Exodus story and subsequent conquering of Canaan is one of the most incredible, supernatural claims in history. End of. To believe it and all attached fantastical aspects would have it as the single most incredible historical event, save for perhaps Noah’s flood (equally mythological).

I could sit here and list all the incredible, magical claims, from burning bushes to Aaron’s magic tricks that were matched spell for spell by the Pharaoh’s own pagan magicians; from Moses commanding the Red Sea to part and kill and army to trumpets collapsing city walls; from millions of people being sustained in the desert for 40 years on manna to a man changing an immutable omniscient god’s mind by touching the foreskin of his own child to his own genitals; from waters of Marah sweetened to getting water from the rock at Rephidim…

You must realise how utterly incredible these claims are And I mean incredible – in-credible, or, un-believable.

In order to believe these claims, you need some pretty darned good evidence. As I have stated elsewhere:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Your problem here is that it is not a mantra designed to be talking about primary evidence. Primary evidence is the best evidence (usually, assuming sound of mind and not hallucinating etc). Your analogy fails because you are saying “If you could see both things with your bare eyes, then you would see they are both true.” However, this is a false analogy since we are talking about the standards of secondary and tertiary evidence.

Hence, we are evaluating the extraordinary claim that resurrected hordes of saints paraded through a municipal city. This went unrecorded or unreferenced by everyone until some half a century or so later, by an evangeliser with an agenda.

Thus, since this is unverified and not independently attested, even on historical grounds, this is poor evidence. It is also wildly supernatural claim that, as far as we know, has never happened and cannot happen, except in the claims of the bible. However, you would, I imagine, deny all other supernatural claims from religions outside of the bible. On what grounds? I would posit that it would actually be on special pleaded naturalistic grounds, thus employing double standards, though I could be wrong.

If I told you tomorrow these two things:

1) I ate 2 apples yesterday

2) I swam the English channel with my hands and feet tied yesterday in 2 hours

You would believe 1) on my simple testimony. You would not believe 2) on my simple testimony alone.

Therefore, extraordinary claims do indeed need extraordinary evidence.

Let’s expand this for clarity:

Claim 1: I have a dog.

Nothing more than verbal testimony needed.

Claim 2: I have a dog which is in the bath

As above, with one eyebrow raised

Claim 3: I have a dog in the bath wearing a dress

I would probably need a photo of this to believe you

Claim 4: I have a dress-wearing dog in the bath with a skunk wearing a SCUBA outfit

I would need some video evidence at the least

Claim 5: I have the above in the bath, but the bath water is boiling and the animals are happy

I would need video and independent attestation that the video was not doctored and this is what appeared to be happening.

Claim 6: All of the above, but the dog has a fire-breathing dragon on it’s shoulder and the skunk is dancing with a live unicorn

Well screw me, I’ll need video, plus video of the video, plus independent attestation from multiple recognisably reliable sources, and assessment and evaluation by technological experts and biological experts, plus a psychological evaluation of the claimant etc.

You can claim all you like about extraordinary evidence, and apologists often do, but they get it wrong. You simply cannot deny either of the examples above. That is skeptical human nature. Fact. Thus the Exodus account ends up being less well attested than a particular Hindu miracle: “An incident concerning Raghavendra Swami and Sir Thomas Munro has been recorded in the Madras Districts Gazetteer. In 1801, while serving as the Collector of Bellary, Sir Thomas Munro, who later served as the Governor of Madras is believed to have come across an apparition of Raghavendra Swami who had died almost two centuries back.” yet none of us believe this.

The Exodus account, at the very least, needs to be attested to in other sources than the Bible. The amount of insane things happening would have had lasting impression, particularly on the Egyptians. God brings about the most incredible state of affairs, but instead of converting to belief in the god who supposedly showed power enough to ruin an entire country for what would have been generations, the Egyptians continue life as if nothing had ever happened as claimed. There is no evidence that the god that reeked havoc in their country left any evidence of so doing, and that he facilitated the mass exodus of millions of people held in captivity for so long. There is simply no extra-biblical evidence of this ever happening.

Because, of course, it didn’t.

The standard of evidence must meet the level of improbability in the claim. This can be mathematically assessed using Bayes’s Theorem. Essentially, this involves the idea that one should believe the hypothesis, if one has to make such a decision at all, which is the most probable. This probability is made up from two different probabilities: the prior probability and the consequent probability. What is the prior probability of a god figure doing all of the things claimed of in the Exodus accounts? Well, since no Christian, let alone skeptic, believes those previous similar examples in those categories (i.e. in other religions and cultures), then the probability of such a new claim being true, before evidence is evaluated, is exceptionally small indeed.

To overcome this tiny prior probability, one must have very high consequents. The evidence must be awesome. Think of the examples given above in claims 5 and 6. An exodus that involved the decimation of men and children and cattle, that saw God’s wrath inflicted upon a whole nation on account of God’s own decision (to harden a heart), that saw a whole sea parted and total darkness over the whole country for three days: the evidence needs to be exceptionally good to overcome this exceptionally low prior probability. Christians are happy to dismiss other similar religious claims from rival religions. And yet, it seems, the evidence threshold is lowered greatly to allow a supposedly rational acceptance and belief in these Resurrection claims.

Is the evidence exceptionally good?

Well, the evidence for the Exodus account as claimed in the Bible is… the Bible. Alone. Thus the quality of the evidence is very poor indeed. The books, as has been established previously, were variously written by unknowns, with somewhat understandable contextual provenance. This was a holy book like any other, and one that is better understood in its cultural and historical context. Literalists don’t like to see it this way – they are largely brought up in a worldview that depends on the literal truth of most every word therein. They have to special plead the veracity of their own holy book over and above the similar claims of other competing holy books.

Apologists, including the commenter Theodore James Turner here, when asked to present positive evidence for the biblical account of the Exodus, struggle. I asked “Can you succinctly list all the non-biblical positive evidence that the Exodus is true?” to the aforementioned commenter and received this answer:

No. It is impossible to do this succinctly. That would take too long. you can read Gerard Gertoux’s Moses and the Exodus: What evidence?

I can say that the evidence from the excavations at Avarice, and the physical evidence in Israel, show that there was a migration out of Egypt and into Canaan in the beginning of the 15th century BC.

I doubt you will take the time to look at it.

He relies on apologist Gerard Gertoux, who has been refused a PhD place, and whose work is thus hard to take seriously. But in all the voluminous technicalities of Gertoux’s work, all we get is a possible chronology. What Gertoux, and thus Turner, is doing is moving things around to make space for the Exodus rather than positing actual positive evidence. This is the weakest form of evidence that can be given.

So we have very low prior probabilities of this sort of religious claim being true, and to balance this out so that the final thesis of the biblical account being true as the most likely explanation of the existence of the biblical account, we would need exceptionally good evidence; the consequent probability would need to be very high indeed. Instead, we have very low consequents. The evidence is so poor that the consequent is vanishingly small.

Therefore, in conclusion (where all the previous posts and data is considered), the probability of the biblical account of Exodus being true is exceptionally low indeed. The alternative explanations, as given throughout this series, garner a much higher probability.

Because that is how we explain all the other religious claims from surrounding and worldwide religions.

To the Christian, ask yourself this (and try to answer honestly): if you received the claims of the biblical Exodus today, identical, but from another religious holy book, would you think it most likely true? Would you be persuaded by the level of evidence there is(n’t) to support the claims?

Tl;dr conclusion: the Pentateuch was written later as an attempt to garner national identity in time of exile, drawing on the culture surrounding them (i.e. Sargon), creating a mythological text akin to every other holy book in the history of humanity (e.g. the Epic of Gilgamesh, which the Bible steals its flood account from).

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