Out of Egypt

Ian Hutchesson mc2499 at mclink.it
Mon Mar 26 17:07:39 EST 2001

>I have to wonder why they would invent this kind of myth,
>as opposed to building accretions around the events that
>(supposedly) actually happened.

Most people on this list would know that I distrust the use of the term "myth" in
our discussions. It is all too often wielded by people who have no interest in such
terms but who use them in straw man arguments, just as others do with terms like
"fake" and "fabrication", as though the options are only derived from the dichotomy
between untarnished truth and falsehood. However, there is something in Dave's
statement which needs a response.

Does one necessarily need to "invent" such a tradition as the exodus? Can't such a
tradition build through accretions as Dave also accepts?

We know for a fact that there were Jews in Egypt after the Babylonian domination of
Judah. We have no facts about earlier periods with Jews in Egypt.

We know for a fact that the Egyptians reacted negatively to the Jews in Egypt in
that period and wrote polemic against them, polemic which equated a Jewish presence
in Egypt with the expulsion of the Hyksos. This equation by the Egyptians was not
based in fact.

It is clear that Jewish speculation in this post-exilic period put Moses at the head
of the Egyptian army, for example. We have therefore evidence of Jewish elaboration
on the story of Moses. How much elaboration was there, given a historical kernel
supplied by the Egyptians? Expulsion is not a particularly acceptable analysis of
what happened according to the Egyptian polemic, if you were a Jew in Egypt at the
time. An exodus is a much more acceptable understanding of the events. One wasn't
driven out, but wanted to leave.

>Fleeing a king ...

... is exactly what the Hyksos did, when faced with the onslaught of Ahmose. This
record was preserved in Egyptian tradition and surfaced in the writings of Manetho
and probably reworked by later Egyptians in their polemic against the post-exilic

>... who wanted them to compromise their
>religious beliefs and practices would have made a
>much more noble story than fleeing the tyrrany of

The artificial nature of the story itself should put one on the alert. Something
totally incredible happens and the Egyptians are shocked by it and start acting like
good fellas for a brief while until pharaoh's heart is hardened again, forgets the
incredible and oppresses the Jews again, and the cycle happens again, and again, and
again for a total of twelve times. There is no learning cycle at all here: it's as
though pharaoh and all the rest of the Egyptians had a problem moving information
from short term to long term memory. There is no gain in doing this stuff ten times
except for the narrative art. And the particular text is extremely well worked in
its narrative intent. Not too high on credibility, but good in its literary

The scenario I have put forward here of a development of the exodus tradition (based
on the conflation by the Egyptians of the Hyksos expulsion with the Jewish presence
in Egypt) is very much simpler -- given the historical data it is based on -- than
any other proposal I have seen. One needs no hypothetical and hopeful scribal
tradition, supported by a non-urbanized pastoralist society, to maintain the story
for a thousand years. One doesn't need to bank on the silence of history to explain
no traces of a Jewish presence in Egypt in 1500 BCE. One doesn't need to justify why
there are no Egyptianisms in ancient Hebrew. One doesn't need to attempt to take the
incredible events literally (though "incredible" in itself is not a criterion for
any doubt, the repetition of the incredible ten times is). One doesn't need to
wonder how there could have been such a powerful group as the Hebrews are portrayed
to have been in Egypt at the time of Joseph, when the Egyptians were highly
xenophobic because of the Hyksos period. One doesn't have to postulate the
historical reality of several hundred thousand people crossing the desert region
between Egypt and Palestine and the horrid logistical problems implied. One doesn't
have to think about why most of the prophets know nothing about Moses and the
exodus. One doesn't have to propose an arrival of the Hebrews in Palestine before
the arrival of the Philistines et al., who are seen as already in Palestine in the
Hebrew literature even though we know the Philistines arrived around 1170 BCE. (I
could happily go on but I think there is enough for one to see that there are
numerous problems for the status quo analyses.)


>So for such a view to work, it would

>have to explain why the stories revolve around an
>exodus from slavery rather than an exodus from
>religious compromise. For this reason alone, the
>idea doesn't seem to have much to back it up IMO.


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