Were the Israelites Enslaved in Egypt?
Did the exodus really take place?
To many, this will seem like an absurd question. The book of Exodus has a dozen chapters explaining that it did. Yet recent decades have found at least some biblical scholars casting doubts on the historicity of this story. The sociological approach pioneered by George Mendenhall outlined a plausible scenario in which the rise of the Israelites in Canaan was a "peasant's revolt." The so-called "Minimalists" deny that any of the biblical texts describing pre-Hellenist events are really historical. The mere fact that Exodus describes this period at length offers no proof to the skeptical mind. A Los Angeles rabbi created a tremendous, well-publicized furor when he followed this scholarly approach and told his congregation that the exodus may not have happened at all.
But one aspect of the biblical account should give even the most skeptical mind a reason to reconsider—not the book of Exodus, but the book of Genesis. The literary function of Genesis is to establish the necessary precondition for the exodus, by changing the Israelites from a family in the land of Canaan (Gen 46:27, Exod 1:5) to a nation of slaves in Egypt. And why were the Israelites enslaved in Egypt to begin with? The Bible gives no fewer than four different reasons:
First, the political, essentially demographic reason—the ostensible immediate cause of the Israelites' enslavement, described briefly at the beginning of the book of Exodus:
A new king arose over Egypt, who had not known Joseph. He said to his people, "Look, this people of the sons of Israel is bigger and more numerous than we are. We must have a plan to deal with them, lest they grow even more numerous. If there should be a war, they might join our enemies and fight against us and go up from the land." So they set taskmasters over them, to afflict them with burdensome labor. (Exod 1:8-11)
Just like that, as potential enemies or potential emigrants, all of Jacob's descendants are enslaved.
Next, the theological reason: The Israelites must be enslaved as part of the divine plan. God's promise to Abraham during the "covenant between the pieces" in Genesis 15, that the land of Canaan will be given to him and his ancestors, contains a minor bit of bad news:
[The LORD] said to Abram, "You must know that your offspring will be strangers in a land that is not theirs; [the inhabitants of that land] will enslave them and oppress them for 400 years." (Gen 15:13)
God promises to free them at last "with great wealth" (Gen 15:14) and bring them back at last to Canaan; the reason for the delay is that the Amorites who currently dwell there have not yet committed sin enough to deserve to lose their land (Gen 15:16). Why Abraham's innocent descendants must be enslaved in the meantime is not explained. It is a given.
Third, the social justice reason: Joseph, as prime minister of Egypt, collects the extra grain produced during the "seven years of plenty" (Gen 41:34) to serve as the emergency supply for the "seven years of famine" (Gen 41:36). But when the famine comes, instead of redistributing the grain, he sells it to the Egyptian people. Eventually, they have nothing left to exchange for it but their own bodies:
Joseph said to the people, "I hereby acquire you and your land this day for Pharaoh. Here is seed; sow your land. When the crop is produced, give one-fifth to Pharaoh and keep four-fifths for yourselves, to sow your fields and to feed yourselves, your wives, and your children." They replied, "You have given us life! We hope to continue to find favor in your eyes—for we are Pharaoh's slaves." (Gen 47:23-25)
Joseph has enslaved the Egyptians unjustly, buying them with the crops they themselves grew. Implicitly, it is only fair that, once he is gone, they will enslave his family in return.
Finally, the novelistic reason: The largest single chunk of the book of Genesis is essentially a family saga, a two-generation battle of brothers. Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau (Genesis 27), and the deceit and rivalry slowly but inevitably snowball until the moment, decades later, when Joseph brings the entire family down to Egypt, telling his brothers:
"God sent me ahead of you to make you a remnant on earth, to keep you alive with a 'great escape' [from the famine]. Now, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He turned me into a father to Pharaoh, lord over all his house, and governor of the whole land of Egypt." (Gen 45:7-8)
Joseph is correct but clueless: The purpose of luring Jacob's family to Egypt is not to save them but to enslave them, propelling the story of Jacob's betrayal of his brother to its inevitable end. Call it Exodus: The Prequel. As Rava b. Mehasia said in the name of Rav Hama b. Guria in the name of Rav, "A man should never make a distinction between one of his sons and the others. For on account of two extra shekels worth of silk that Jacob gave Joseph, his brothers were so jealous of him that our ancestors ended up in Egypt" (B. Shab. 10b).
Jewish tradition understands Exodus 12:2 as the first of the commandments given to the Israelites: "This month shall be the beginning of the months for you." In a larger sense, the commandment implies a great truth. Israelite history begins—somehow—at the moment when the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt becomes inevitable. The Bible's four explanations of how the Israelites were enslaved represent a desperate attempt to make sense out of a historical situation whose real origins were no longer remembered except in legend.
At the moment of the Israelites' actual enslavement, the Pharaoh "who knew not Joseph" cites the first, political reason—that they are "more numerous and mightier than we." But this "current events" explanation is treated so casually, in a verse or two, that it seems relatively unimportant. Instead, it looks as if the author of Exodus took enslavement to be the inevitable consequence of the stories in Genesis—or, rather, the necessary background for the story of the plagues and the deliverance that he knew must follow.
We are left with a view of Genesis as a kind of historical novel desperately trying to explain how the Israelites were enslaved. Even Mendenhall was convinced that the "peasants' revolt" must have had a core group of slave laborers who had succeeded in escaping an intolerable situation in Egypt. Their history became everyone's. For if there was no Israelite slavery in Egypt at all . . . why does the Bible have so much trouble explaining it?
Michael Carasik is the creator of The Commentators' Bible and of the Torah Talk podcast. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
It seems clear to me that 2000 years of nay Sayers about anything Jewish/Israelite has led to many Jews willing to accept that the Bible was all a myth... well, up to a certain famous Jew resurrection from the grave after being crucified by the Romans, and going back to his father. This cannot be denied.It is written in the new testament, which 1 Billion people would agree is all truth.
The fact that He, Yeshu was reading the same Haggadah and celebrating the freedom of his ancestors from bondage in Egypt, never phased any of the Billion believers...up to the the point where his surviving brethren, dare believe in it.That's when it becomes a myth (the enlightened Christians and Jews), or a lie (our Islamic cousins).
That the Bible was embellished, until the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite, would be undeniable. all human history was.
But when the realities of wars settled in, even the Bible, had to find extra reasons as to battles lost, military debacles, thousands of men not coming back home. That's when "they were punished for having disobeyed god commands" was the perennial reason.
For the Bible to try to explain for example why King Saul and all his army were vanquished by the Philistines is hard, after all he was a good man chosen by god, so where was god when the Philistines killed him and most of his army?
Oops, did the Philistines exist? and all their 5 cities, and their mentioned kings ? ooh yeah ,of course they did, but not Saul, nor king David, nor Samson and the others... that would confuse the deniers. Now the Palestinians have to come up quick with another version.
The fact that the Phoenicians were on friendly terms with the kings of Israel, and their language was very similar to old Hebrew, is another "myth", the "Bible historians" have problem hiding deep inside some books.
In conclusion, to all the "Liberals" out there. While the Jewish Bible has a lot of religious references and beliefs, it is acceptable for those far away times, all the nations had (many still unfortunately do today, talk about evolution!).
Let us not forget that like all Histories of those days, there was always a god,or many ,who won the battles, or when lost, it was a punishment. why should the Jews/Israelite/Hebrews be different?
I personally think Ben Gurion made a big mistake by using The word Jew for the inhabitant of modern Israel. I prefer Israelite. Jews is a negative connotation purposely used by the Catholic church fathers to demonize the Israelite nation by associating their name with their favorite folklore villain "Judas", and thus perpetuating their animosity towards those who brought this religion upon them, while retaining the title of "the originals"
My two bits, thank you for your time . Vince
Public works were an ongoing activity in Egypt through the millennia. According to the archaeology, workers were not customarily slaves but paid laborers. Thus, Egypt would have drawn workers from near and far. The Hebrews, starting with, say, Joseph's people, would doubtless have been one of the laboring peoples. Time passes, and the Egyptians begin to depend on Hebrew labor and skills. At some point the Hebrews decide to pick up stakes and move on, to settle in their own land. Perhaps Moses had gone out to look around and had come back with stories about this great place called Canaan. Anyway, the Egyptians stood to take a big hit in their labor pool and said, No, you have to serve out your contract first. The Hebrews said, "Sorry, no," with Moses saying, "Let my people go." The rest, as they say, is history. The Bible added the drama.
Actually, however, the basic historicity of the Tanakh account is shown in the most obvious way possible: There is an almost complete absence of idolatrous figures of gods found in archaeological digs relating to ancient Israel, completely unlike the multitude of such figures found in all the societies around ancient Israel during those centuries and in layers pre-dating ancient Israel and post-dating Jewish residence or in Roman cities like Caesarea and Petra near to or in Judea. That by itself confirms the historicity of the Tanakh account.
There does remain a niggling little problem, though: the general absence of god-images and inscriptions in the Land of Israel stretching back to the 13th century BCE. See, on this, Jeffrey Tigay, Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods: Israelite Religion in the Light of Hebrew Inscriptions (1986), which remains a chief authority on this question. Tigay does not claim that there were no such images at all but shows that they lingered here and there in domestic cult alone but were again and again stamped out in formal cult, just as the historical prophetic literature tells us. There is evidence archaeologically for new settlement of the hill country of Judea-Samaria around the 13th & 12th centuries BCE. Another big problem with all the deniers' claims is that in their eagerness to explain away Biblical Judaism as not even existing, they fail to explain how such a radically new worldview and culture, held by an entire people, came into existence in the first place. There is a total silence about that. We have no Moabite Torah. There was no people of Edom in exile still preserving their practices (like child-sacrifice to Moloch). The Mosaic monotheism is not like the Egyptian monotheism of Akhenaten at all, but has linguistic links instead to the terminologies and cultures of Ebla, in Mesopotamia, around 1,800 BCE--confirming, by the way, the accounts about Abraham and the Patriarchs/Matriarchs; nevertheless, Abrahamic monotheism, and Mosaic monotheism, remain unique.
Don't try to cast the Torah writing back to Moses. In 1,350 BCE, the Hebrew language had not yet adopted a written form; and its spoken form was not yet clearly distinct from ancient Coptic or Canaanite. The written form started during King Solomon's reign and took a couple of hundred years to become standardized. The Samaritan Torah represents the earliest form of the early standardized Hebrew. The Babylonian exiles returned 2,230-50 years ago. This span of time was long enough to generate many fictional stories about the origin of the Torah and many other things.
Your answer is a valid one in religious studies--which does not make more accurate than another answer in religious studies without providing the sources and evidence. So, stipulating that we are not going to get a theological answer, sources would be clarifying.
"An important corollary to this observation is the evidential historicity of the Torah document. The sheer facts that the Pentateuchal narrative entails, not only the unheard of account of a purely theocentric origin for the establishment of the Israelites as a covenanted society with absolutely no credit to the Hebrews themselves, but also the sad and shameful conclusion of that very people’s failure to be a respectable covenant-keeping nation! Can it be seriously contemplated, according to modern criticism, that this people group would fabricate the glorious tale of their God lovingly rescuing them from slavery and oppression because of covenantal promise to their patriarchs and give them the highest ethical standards, including the condemnation of false testimony? And would they then continue the tale with their inability to love their God in return as demonstrated in the appalling rebellions and covenant-breaking on their part as the final conclusion to the most important document of their existence? And would this very tale be faithfully maintained throughout this people’s collective memory, copying it as their sacred scriptures, generation after generation, with the damning recollections and rebukes through the noble office of Prophetism? And then ultimately would they close the developed canon of Hebrew Scriptures with yet renewed and continued rebellions and covenant-breaking? No! Only a people who had been really dealt with, as described in the scriptures, and the honesty of the sanctified few prophets, can possibly wish to maintain such a disappointing story of their origins. This must have happened." Every Jew and Christian should read this book.
The reference to the New Testament raises questions. There, God is presented as three persons, each with its own name. That is at least quasi-polytheistic. God is One: "I am God, and there is none like Me" (Isa. 46:9). The God of Sinai, which, according to the NT is merely God the Father/Creator, is also, according to the Torah, already the Savior who took Israel out of Egyptian bondage, and "there is no other," according to God's own proclamation at Sinai and consistently through the prophetic literature (Hosea 13:4; Isa. 43:11, 45:passim, etc.). Thus, he has and needs no Son as savior; rather according to the Torah, he declares that only Israel itself is his "first-born son" (Exo. 4:22, which Isaiah repeats in the Servant passages)--metaphorically so, not an incarnate divinity. Further, we are all equally God's children inasmuch as we are all in the divine image. That is the traditional biblical and, later, Jewish understanding of scripture. It does not accord with Christian exegesis, and Rom. 11 is not an authority.
The rest of Michael's commentary is based on Christian, not Jewish theology. And, in spite of the fact that the first Christians were Jews, we are talking about "Jewish ideas."
There was no adam and eve if humans evolved really? You realize there is no evidence whatsoever of evolution. It is a religion based on assumptions and backed up with no facts. I can say this as I've studied it extensively and have debated it with real scientists. Can you say the same? Do you know as much about evolution as you do the bible? Because if so you know nothing.
There was once an Alien race that ruled the entire Earth, having enslaved all humans, they made them separate in to different groups. After forcing them in to differing groups, they made them all mate with each other other the course of millions of years. They created all the races of the Earth by using segregated breeding. After creating all the races of the Earth, they tried to set them upon each other, to make them hate each other. So about two thousand years ago, the Aliens came back, and created the books of the NT, letting the church decide which books would be in the final version (but it didn't matter, they all pretty much contained the same message). They did this to create war, and strife between the people, so they would never work with each other to throw off the chains of bondage.
Today, we are still fighting over the NT (the alien created/crafted book), and still unable to throw off the chains of bondage.
Remember though Jerry... These claims might seem retarded, outlandish, and foreign... Hell, none of these claims even have evidence (except for this story here that I just posted, documents from other forums, and, books from "night watching historians", but, as you've said yourself "absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence."... So until you can prove with evidence that none of these things happened; (IE: "They are absent from history completely") then, you can't really say that these claims are false.
Just like the Jews being enslaved in Egypt, all the evidence points towards it not being true. Yet, there is nothing conclusively saying it isn't true, and we have sources saying otherwise.
So, do you see how it works Jerry?
"absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence"
If we hold true to this line you've posted up, we can claim anything at all... The great thing about it too, is, it shifts the burden of proof.
Prove the "story" ("historical account") above isn't true. You can't prove it false.
"In some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence." -Irving Copi
The Hebrews credit much of their history and culture to the influence of their God. Describe at least two (2) things the Hebrews say were given to them by God. What is the significance of these things in history?
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