A Moderate Christian explains why Scholars no longer believe in the Historicity of the Exodus

Excerpt from a formal debate between a moderate Christian and a fundamentalist Christian regarding the historicity of the Exodus, on Theology Web.

Moderate Christian:

Yes, history is not an exact science. I’ve never disputed such a claim. Historical interpretation is a big part of any history, and it requires extrapolations beyond existing evidence. Yes, ancient people often did not travel outside 50 miles of where they were born. These are not facts in dispute. I am not expecting written sources detailing what exactly happened to the entirety of Israel. I would expect, however, some evidence outside of some extremely late (i.e. exilic or post exilic) Biblical passages. For example, the Exodus isn’t even present in some of the older material in the OT. Most of the prophets do not mention it, with the exception of one possible mention in Amos, and another, somewhat clearer, passage in Hosea. Simply having an event recorded does not mean that event is historical, which was, at least in the beginning, the aim of minimalists like Thomas L. Thompson and Philip Davies.

The lack of Egyptian records fails to prove anything. As I’ve stated before, the question involves having some archaeological evidence of the Exodus. We do not have such evidence, and, as elucidated in my prior post, we have strong evidence for no Exodus having occurred. The anachronisms of the route as well as the setting of the story in general suggest a date later than 1200 BC, which is impossible. The Israelites are already in the land in 1200 BC, as per the Merneptah Stele.

The Davidic monarchy, at least in the sense of Samuel and Kings, remains mythical. More evidence seems to suggest that a) the United Monarchy seems to be fictitious and b) there was no “mini-empire” in the style of the Davidic and Solomonic Empire. Not to go off-topic, but while absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, absence of evidence when you would expect evidence is indeed evidence of absence. The Sinai, which has been excavated for the better part of the last 150 years, continues to refuse to yield any evidence of nearly 3 million Jews wandering the desert for 40 years. Mike, what is your preferred date for the Exodus?

Again, the discovery of pottery at a location often identified as Kadesh does not mean anything at all. The Midianite ties that you mention, by the way, only hurt the case for the Exodus. If the Israelite are coming from Midian, why do they need to cross the Sea of Reeds? If you wish to invoke Midian as the land of the Hebrews, fine, but you then have to determine what the route of the Exodus is, as the Biblical one ceases to be useful.

(Israeli archeologist, Israel) Finklestein’s expertise is completely relevant here. He is one of the leading Israelite archaeologists, and his excavations, along with those of Baruch Halpern, among others, have shown that early Israelite material culture is very similar to Caananite material culture. This is not what we would see if the Israelites in fact were coming from Egypt. Instead, we would see a proliferation of Egyptian material culture, which is conspicuously absent.

Having a story about a historical event does not make that event historical. Having an event that is attested by several sources, archaeological evidence, or preferably both, makes it far more likely the event is historical, but it still is not guaranteed. The Exodus story has to overcome rife inaccuracies, anachronisms, a total lack of evidence, and strong evidence against it. As Philip Davies put it in a 2010 Bible and Interpretation article, we are all minimalists now, at least with regard to the patriarchal, Exodus, and Conquest narratives.


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