The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Exodus Matters:
Did the Exodus really happen,
and why does it matter if it did?

Peeling back layers of the grand myth of the Exodus Dr. Richard Elliott Friedman, the biblical scholar and Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, first notes a number of important facts. First, the Victory Stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, son of Ramesses II, the Great, which is often called the “Israel Stele,” is the oldest record of an entity named “Israel.” The stele is dated at ca. 1205 BCE, near the end of the Bronze Age. In it Merneptah names the various peoples of Canaan he subdued in the process of reinstating Egyptian hegemony over the region. Among the many cities and peoples mentioned is the brief assertion, “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.” When it came to names ancient Egyptian writings preceded them with characters called “determinatives” that denoted whether the name following it was that of a person, a people, a city, a nation, etc. In the Merneptah Stele the determinative before the name “Israel” denotes a people, but not a kingdom. Thus, Israel already existed as a tribal group, one of many peoples in Canaan by ca. 1200 BCE, traditionally one of the likely time frames of the Exodus.

Friedman also notes that the numbers of Israelites listed in the biblical account of the Exodus are wildly exaggerated. According to Numbers 1:46 the numbers of males capable of bearing arms was 603,550, meaning that, with their wives and children, the Israelites would have numbered over two million people. Yet, this huge number of people—who would have overwhelmed the Egyptians in Egypt by sheer weight of numbers—left no trace of their passage through the Sinai Desert. Nor is there any evidence from either history or archaeology of the plagues that ravaged Egypt in the story of the Exodus or of the loss of an entire Egyptian army, including 600 chariots (Exodus 14:7).

However, Friedman notes that many of the Levites, and only the Levites, have Egyptian names. These include (p. 32) Hophni, Hur, Phinehas, Merari, Mushi, Pashur and, particularly, Moses. The name Moses is likely derived from a suffix in Egyptian names, mose (pronounced MO-seh), roughly meaning “child of,” as in Thutmose, “Child of Thoth” or its variant “messes,” as in Ramesses, “Child of Ra.” What deity’s name might have originally preceded the mose of Moses is impossible to say. It’s difficult to explain how so many of the Levites had Egyptian names without the Levites having some connection with Egypt, a connection not found in the other Israelite tribes. He further notes that, of the three basic documentary strands that make up the Exodus narrative, two, E and P, were likely written by Levites. Only the J narrative—which contains none of the plagues against Egypt—was written by a non-Levite. Also, Friedman points out other Egyptian connections to the Levites and the E and P versions of the plagues against Egypt, as well as the description of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25 (P source). The description of the Tabernacle parallels the Egyptian description of the Battle Tent of Rameses II (pp. 53, 54). Likewise, the description of the Ark of the Covenant closely resembles that of ceremonial barks carried in Egyptian religious processions (p. 54). The plagues against Egypt are, likewise, paralleled in Egyptian texts (p. 57). I might add that, except for the plague of hail and the death of the first-born, these plagues are exaggerations of Egyptian seasonal ills.

All of these Egyptian-Levite associations are strong arguments for an Egyptian origin of the Levites. However, I find his argument that the practice of circumcision came from the Egyptians less convincing. From Egyptian reliefs we can deduce that they practiced adolescent circumcision, whereas the Israelites instituted the practice of infant circumcision. More to the point, circumcision seems to have been practiced by all the West Semitic peoples. The Jewish scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) are filled with harsh condemnations of their neighbors, the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and, particularly, the Amalekites. However, one term of opprobrium, “the uncircumcised” is only used to describe two non-Semitic peoples, the Hivites (probably Hurrians) of Shechem (see Genesis 34) and the Philistines (see Judges 14:3 and 1 Samuel 18:25-27). Therefore, it seems doubtful that the Egyptians were the source of the practice of circumcision by the Israelites.

Perhaps Friedman’s weakest argument in the book is in regard to the influence of the Levites on the other tribes of the Israelite confederation. In his second chapter, titled “The Mystery of Egypt,” is a subsection titled “Don’t mess with the Levites,” in which he says (p. 72):

Nobody wants to part with land to give to these immigrants from Egypt.

Ah, but the Levites are not people to whom one says, “No.” The stories about them in five different sources connect them with violence: Levi is one of two brothers who massacre the men of Shechem in that circumcision story about Dinah that we considered earlier (Genesis 34).

Levi (along with Simeon) is cursed for his violence in Jacob’s deathbed statement…. The Levites massacre around three thousand Israelite people in the golden calf episode.

Friedman adds to these two incidents the story of the Levite Phinehas spearing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman for engaging in sexual activity in the Tabernacle. This last incident, however, as Friedman himself has noted in earlier works, is part of the “P” author’s attack on a rival priesthood. The P author, claiming ancestry from Aaron, indirectly attacked the rival priests, authors of the E document, who claimed ancestry from Moses, by attacking the Midianites, since Moses’ wife Zipporah was a Midianite.

I think it’s unlikely that the Levites bullied the other tribes into submission, particularly since they did not end up with a tribal territory of their own. Rather, the other tribes supported the Levites as priests and religious functionaries. The Israelite confederation seems to have been what is called an amphictyonic league, a defensive alliance often made up of 12 tribes or city-states, centered on a common religious shrine. The reason for having 12 members was that each tribe or city-state undertook the cost of maintaining the central shrine—in the case of Israel the shrine being the Ark of the Covenant, located at Shiloh (see 1 Samuel 4)—and supporting its religious functionaries for one month each year. According to the Bible, the tribes of Israel are, in alphabetical order: Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Judah, Levi, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulon. This gives us 13 tribes; but, since Levi only held certain cities in the territories of other tribes, there are 12 tribal territories.

If the Levites were responsible for the institution of the worship of Yahweh, as Freidman argues, I suspect it was because they brought with them from Egypt some of the sophistication of Egyptian civilization. We might see a parallel to this in the influence of the Puritan heritage of New England on the rest of our country. Most educators in the eighteenth and nineteenth century came from New England, in large part due to the Puritans’ stress on literacy.1

Friedman’s basic premise in The Exodus is that the Levites, as part of a Semitic foreign labor force in Egypt, were increasingly ill treated and finally left. They picked up the worship of Yahweh in Midian, in the eastern Sinai, and brought it with them to Canaan. Once they became part of the Israelite confederation, they merged the worship of Yahweh with that of El, patriarch of the Canaanite pantheon. This Friedman sees as the beginnings of monotheism. Further, their experience of being ill-treated in Egypt served as the basis for the Israelite tradition of showing kindness to strangers and slaves, which Friedman views as unique in the ancient world. As to the southern origin of the worship of Yahweh, the author points out (pp. 122, 123) that the oldest inscription mentioning Yahweh (actually YHWH) is an Egyptian reference to the west Asiatic people, probably from Midian or Edom, living in Egypt, characterized as the “Shasu of YHWH.”

I feel that Friedman makes a good case for an exodus (at an unspecified period of history) of a small tribal group from Egypt—sans miracles, plagues or the destruction of the Egyptian army (i.e., no parted Red Sea collapsing upon Pharaoh’s army after Moses and his people narrowly pass in Cecil B. DeMille’s filmic version in The Ten Commandments)—and the likelihood that this tribal group brought with them into Canaan the worship of Yahweh, who was subsequently identified with El (whose name simply means “God”) the patriarch of the Canaanite pantheon.

I take issue, however, with his assertion that the Levites originated the virtue of kindness to strangers among the Israelites or that it was unique in the ancient world. I further disagree with his assertion that the merger of Yahweh with El following the Exodus was the source of monotheism. Let us consider first the treatment of strangers. In Chapter Six, titled “The Mystery of Judah” and subtitled, “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself,” Friedman states (p. 200):

And we saw one more thing: all three Levite sources of the Torah (known in critical Bible scholarship as E, P, and D) command fair treatment of aliens. Foreigners. Outsiders. Not members of the group. It is not a small point. In these Levite sources it comes up fifty-two times. And how often does the non-Levite source, J, mention it? None.

Friedman further asserts that this concern for strangers was unique in the ancient Near East and that it grew out of the Levite experience of being treated badly as strangers in Egypt. While he does not mention ancient Greece, we would have to assume some cultural continuity from the Near East to the Greeks. After all, it was the West Semitic peoples (specifically the Phoenicians) who gave the Greeks their alphabet. So, if the ancient Greeks had some concept of kindness to strangers being a major virtue, or, for that matter, if we find the ill-treatment of strangers presented as a vice in the J Document, this would amount to seriously disconfirming evidence regarding Friedman’s theory.

If the Greeks are to be considered, then the virtue of kindness to strangers was not unique to the Israelites. Enshrined among divinely ordained virtues among them was xenia, the virtue of showing kindness to strangers. This virtue is of cardinal importance in the narratives of the Trojan War and in the Odyssey. Paris, a Trojan prince, thus a foreigner, having been shown hospitality by Menelaus, in the spirit of xenia, makes off with his host’s wife, thereby precipitating the Trojan War. In the Iliad, Achilles shows kindness (xenia) to the Trojan king, Priam, his enemy; when Priam comes to him by night to beg for the body of his son, Hector. In the Odyssey, many of the antagonists of Odysseus are characterized by their violation of xenia. Cyclops Polyphemus and the Laestrygonians set upon Odysseus’s men, killing them and eating them when they should be showing the strangers hospitality and kindness. Circe, seeming to offer his men hospitality, instead turns them into swine. The suitors violate xenia in forcing themselves on Penelope. They also mistreat Odysseus, who is disguised as a beggar, when Penelope, practicing xenia, shows the unknown beggar hospitality. Princess Nausicaa of the Phaeacians likewise treats the naked castaway she has found on the beach with kindness, as do her parents. So, the concept of showing kindness to strangers, even foreigners, was not limited to the Israelites.

Even if Friedman were to exclude the Greeks from his consideration, another bit of disconfirming evidence comes from the Bible itself. In Genesis 18 and 19, material from the J Document, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah bring destruction on themselves when they set upon strangers. The crime of Sodom is not homosexuality (though homosexuality is roundly condemned in the Jewish scriptures). Rather, it is rape. The men of Sodom want to rape the angels in human form who are visiting Lot. That their crime is that of violent rape is made clear in the parallel story of the outrage at Gibeah in the Book of Judges, chapter 19. The wording of both stories is nearly identical, and it is Friedman’s own theory, as set forth in his book, The Hidden Book in the Bible, that the same author wrote both stories. In the story of the outrage at Gibeah, the Levite given hospitality by an old man in that town in the tribal territory of Benjamin, in order to avoid being raped by its men, gives his concubine to them, with the following result (Judges 19:25–28a):

But the men of the town would not hearken to him; so the man took his concubine and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her and abused her all the night until morning, and when day began to spring, they let her go. Then came the woman in the dawning of the day and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was till it was light. And her lord rose up in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way; and behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house and her hands were upon the threshold. And he said unto her, “Up, and let us be going.” But there was no answer.

As a result of this violent and brutal rape to the point of murder, the other tribes attack and nearly wipe out the tribe of Benjamin. So, according to the author of the J Document, abusing strangers brought destruction to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and resulted in the near annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin. J may not specifically command the people of Israel be kind to strangers; but the stories of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the outrage at Gibeah, certainly condemn the opposite of that behavior.

As to his argument that monotheism began with the fusion of Yahweh with El, Friedman acknowledges that there are strong arguments for the theory that the worship of Yahweh as a single, universal god began as a result of the Babylonian exile—which, by the way, only involved the inhabitants of Jerusalem—even citing (p. 152) a famous verse from Palm 137, which begins, “By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept.” That verse, Ps. 137:4, reads, “How shall we sing a song to Yahweh2 in a foreign land?” It is a strong indicator that, up until the Exile, Yahweh was worshipped as a henotheistic deity, the god of a given people or land only, rather than as the god of all lands. Another verse, this one from 2 Kings, also supports this notion. Mesha, king of Moab has rebelled against Israel, with the result that the Israelites launch a devastating punitive expedition against him, finally besieging him in his capitol, provoking the following (2 Kings 3:27, bracketed material added):

Then he [Mesha] took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was a great wrath against Israel; and they departed from him and returned to their own land.

The great wrath against Israel would certainly not have come from Yahweh. Rather, it had to come from Chemosh, god of the Moabites. Thus, the Israelites fled from a land where Yahweh had no power. Friedman acknowledges as well that (p. 151) the first of the Ten Commandments reads (Exodus 20:2, 3):

I am Yahweh3, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.

The statement, “You shall have no other gods before me,” only makes sense if the other gods exist. However, Friedman counters that Psalm 18:32 which reads, “Who is a god outside of Yahweh, and who is a rock outside of our God?” can be dated to the tenth century BCE (p.156). Friedman also quotes (p. 157) similar verses from Deuteronomy, generally dated to the reign of king Josiah, hence prior to the Exile.

The Exodus (book cover)

If a notion existed that Yahweh, the god of Israel, was the only god, and a god who was not encumbered by a wife, it was probably held by a limited number of people, namely members of the priesthood, before the Exile. When the prophet Jeremiah, who lived at the time the Chaldeans deported the inhabitants of Jerusalem, condemns the refugees who have fled to Egypt for making offerings to the “Queen of Heaven,” either Anath or Asherah, or an amalgam of the two goddesses, the refugees answer him that they will continue making offerings to the Queen of Heaven, because when they ceased doing so they were beset by war and famine (Jeremiah 44:16–19). Friedman has demonstrated that some concept that Yahweh was the only god that did exist prior to the Exile. However, it would appear that it took the Exile to force the deported Jews in general to change their henotheistic deity into a universal, monotheistic God. Can the origins of monotheism be found in the fusion of Yahweh, the god the Levites brought with them from the south, with El, the Canaanite king of the gods? While this is possible, I feel that Friedman hasn’t proven it.

Regardless of how one views the main thesis of this book, one has to respect the objectivity and even-handedness of its author. The book, while being easy to read and written for the lay public, does not talk down to its intended audience; nor does it dumb-down the material. Certainly the different elements that went into making up the people who eventually became the Israelites were all important. It is likely that some elements that made up the people called Israel were not only native Semitic Canaanites but as well had non-Semitic, Hurrian cultural antecedents,4 and that at least one of the tribes (Dan) may have originally been related to the equally non-Semitic Philistines.5 It is, therefore, not a stretch to suppose that the fully West Semitic Levites might have Egyptian plus Midianite origins. Dr. Friedman’s exploration of this idea is well worth reading. END

About the Author

Tim Callahan is religion editor of Skeptic magazine. His books include Secret Origins of the Bible, and Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? both published by Millennium Press. He has also researched the environmental movement, and his article “Environmentalists Cause Malaria! (and other myths of the ‘Wise Use’ movement)” appeared in The Humanist.

  1. See Axtell, James. 1974. The School Upon a Hill: Education and Society in Colonial New England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  2. In most bibles this verse is rendered, “How can we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?” In the Masoretic Text (MT), the official body of the Jewish scriptures, the vowel points for the Hebrew word adonai, “lord” were inserted into the consonants Yodh (Y) Hey (H) Vav (V or W) Hey (H), indicating that the sacred personal name of God, YHWH or Yahweh, was not to be spoken aloud. Rather the word “lord” was to be substituted. In English translations of the MT, the Old Testament of Protestant bibles, the word LORD, all in capital letters, is used in place of YHWH or Yahweh.
  3. Again, in English translations this is rendered “the LORD, your God” (see note 2).
  4. See Cazellas, Henri. 1971. “The Hebrews” in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. 1991. Greenspan, Frederick E., editor, New York and London: New York University Press, p. 284.
  5. Yadin, Yagael. 1968. “And Dan, Why Did He Remain in Ships?” in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East 1991 Greenspan, Frederick E., editor, New York and London: New York University Press, pp. 294–310.

This article was published on June 20, 2018.


19 responses to “Exodus Matters:
Did the Exodus really happen,
and why does it matter if it did?

  1. noe feldman, Religious skeptic says:

    I am so glad the conversation has been Civil and interesting. My experience based on previous postings as well as my Personal interactions, Is that atheistS or armchair atheist like I Call them,Try to be Very Insulting. I am Sure that religious people Can be the same way, I might only see the Atheist because of my confirmation bias

  2. Tim Callahan says:

    As to the burning bush, in my copy of the Tanakh (the official Jewish scriptures) Exodus 3:2 says:

    And the angel of the LORD [all in caps signifies it was originally YHWH or Yahweh] in flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.

    In other words, the “fire” was a manifestation of one of the seraphim, the “burning ones”, angels that manifested in some way as fire.


    Under current Jewish orthodoxy biblical exegesis, the talmudists identified or defined 66 codes by which those not in religious contract with YAHWEH via the laws of Moses, should be judged as righteous or evil. The idea was assigned the laws of the Children of Noah…or as the rabbi’s say Benei Noach. The name of YAHWEH was no known before the mosaic-yahweh sinai intercommunication via the flourecent bush ( “it burned not”. I am an atheist non-supernaturalist but do enjoy supernatural stories and am always eager to find any fact that may be obtained from research and hypothesis of all kinds! Fun stuff!

  4. John Pattan says:

    The following are two additions to my post #4 above: (1) I asked Professor Richard Elliott Friedman during the Q/A after one of his two talks about his forthcoming book, The Exodus, at the conservative synagogue in Macon, Georgia, in October 2016 whether the lack of any archeological evidence for the Exodus adequately proves the validity and reliability of the opinion that there has never been any Exodus. His reply was in the negative or at least skeptical about the probative value of lack of such archeological evidence for dogmatically asserting that there had never been an Exodus followed by 40 years of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness as reported in the Torah. Friedman explained that within the last few years an army jeep damaged by enemy fire during the first Arab-Israeli War in May 1948 was discovered buried under some 20 feet of desert sand. Therefore, Friedman argued, artifacts from thousands of years ago at the time of the Exodus and during the 40 years when, according to the biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness could be buried under so many feet of sand that they may never be found. In short, Friedman warned against categorically asserting that lack of archeological findings absolutely proves that those two biblical events had never occurred.
    (2) I was much impressed by Friedman’s memory and dedication to the Tanakh when he recited by heart the Torah portions for both the Friday evening and Saturday morning services at the conservative synagogue in Macon, Georgia in October, 2016. This seemed to me to indicate that Friedman’s biblical scholarship is based on his in-depth knowledge of the Torah that he has carefully parsed perhaps word by word in its original language.

  5. Tim Callahan says:

    In response to Jack Leonard (post #9): I don’t know what genetic evidence could exist today that would have any bearing on the Exodus.

    Any exodus event that actually happened involved a small group of people leaving Egypt sans plagues, sans miracles, and having little effect on Egypt at a point when its fortunes were beginning to decline.

    The linguistic evidence, i.e. the prevalence of Egyptian names among the Levites is an impressive clue to their likely Egyptian origin.

  6. Tim Callahan says:

    In response to post #5: I know of no archaeological authority that disputes the validity of the Merneptah Victory Stele or considers its reference to a people called “Israel” to be a forgery. You’ve made an assertion. Care to back it up?

  7. noe feldman, Religious skeptic says:

    Re number 12

    I don’t know why you mentioned it, no idea if you are an Armchair Atheist or not, or wanted to show Off Your sense of humor.
    I Did not laugh because I did hear the joke for the first time 60 years ago in grammar school, also repeated at my Passover table told my by Father, we all laughed and continue with the services .

    If you want to know why you are armchair atheist, I recommend you listen to the discussion between Ben Shapiro and Michael Shermer.

    Sorry if I offended you, My values say it is wrong, My sarcasm Took over.

    my values

  8. Barbara Harwood says:

    Most people may have heard the joke about a boy who came back from Sunday School and was asked by his mother what he learned. He told her about how Moses led his people to the Red Sea and ordered his men to build a pontoon bridge. After getting his people safely across he saw the Egyptians coming and ordered his aircraft to bomb the bridge. After he was finished his mother suggeested that it was not the way his teacher had told it. He replied that if he had said it the way she told it, she would not have believed it.

  9. noe feldman, Religious skeptic says:

    re 1(And others)


    I thought that skeptic newsletter was read by skeptics not dogmatics, for your information the other point of views that don’t agree with those archaeologist. I recommend that for starts you read

    To make your argument even stronger you could have said that There was even a Rabbi (probably you would not Have said conservative). Agreed from the pulpit. I happen to know about the Rabbi and I also know that He is a deep thinker. I Did not hear the sermon, therefore I cannot give an opinion.

    I don’t know you from Adam, I assume your opinion is more From the gut Then logic.

    You can also look at the comment Number 3, Or by the one by 4. That show you that even if you are dogmatic You don’t need to put your brain In Park.
    I intend to read Both books.

    I wish Dr. Callahan would have also given an explanation of the different letters of the JEPD Theory. I assume that everybody will understand that

  10. skeptonomist says:

    The sub-head asks how it happened and why it matters. It gives more opinions on the first question and does not answer the second.

  11. Jack T. Leonard says:

    Disclosure: I have read the book review, but not Dr. Friedman’s book. I have two questions for Mr. Callahan, however. Would it not be a more convincing mode of inquiry to accumulate and weigh archaeological and genetic evidence that could help support or refute the Exodus hypothesis? When better investigative tools are available, what excuse do researchers have for not using them (or for not collaborating)?

  12. Tzindaro says:

    All religions are fiction, created for either psychological / pathological reasons or political control, or some combination of both. As works of fiction they may contain some elements of reality, just as any fictional story must in order for the reader to relate to the characters. There is nothing to be gained by contesting them on their own turf with arguments as to if they are true or not or which parts are true and which are false.
    The way to contest them is to point out the political control aspects and the psychological / pathological motivations every time the subject comes up.

  13. Ugo Corda says:

    This Exodus interpretation does not seem that different from the one proposed by Sigmund Freud in his 1939 book “Moses and Monotheism”. In that book Freud, besides discussing the Egyptian origins of Moses and his group, also advances an interesting connection between Moses and the followers of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who started a short lived attempt of replacing the ancient Egyptian polytheism with the new quasi-monotheistic cult of Aten, the sun god. I wonder if the idea of Jewish monotheism having its roots in the Egyptian monotheistic attempt by Akhenaten has any credibility today.

  14. Jim Stovall says:

    Biblical writers had little interest in history as we think of it today. They were into stories, mythology and poetry. They were Eastern, right brained people.

  15. Jake Harrison says:

    The ‘Stele’ referenced in the first paragraph can only be what so many other ‘artifacts concerning the Jewish people and Israel’ representative nothing but another forgery and can only be considered nothing more than fiction, written by a group of nomadic people who’s origin was most likely Eastern Europe.
    Taking the narrative fiction written by the Jews sometime in the late Bronze age or early Iron age as anything else but fiction can only be viewed in this manner.
    A “deity” introduced by the Jews who according to the fiction was able to create the entire universe and even the things humanity has not yet discovered, in only six days but could not write his own book, much less publish it is dangerously illogical.
    But getting back to the ‘story’ their ‘deity’ assigned the task of writing and publishing ‘his book’ to a group of nomads who believed they were descended from TWO incestuous families, that the earth was flat, and did not know where the sun went at night and those “children of the one true god” have not edited the original version in spite of irrefutable scientific evidence to the contrary.
    Deities and the religions always founded around them are nothing but human inventions, by people who cannot handle the difficulties of the unknown, and need to have an “inside advantage” when they try to control other humans, all animals as well as all of nature.
    The REAL irony is that there are more people who believe in a ‘deity’ with the ‘head of an Elephant’ than those who believe in the fictional character Yahweh; who by the way according to the fiction: issued his first commandment to those ‘chosen ones’ with a reflectioin his jealousy which has never been anything but an indication of extreme insecurity and an emotion that most animals exhibit.
    Go figure!

  16. John Pattan says:

    In October, 2016, I attended Professor Richard Elliott Friedman’s three talks in Macon, Georgia, about his forthcoming book, The Exodus. At the invitation of the Christianity Department at Mercer University’s main campus in Macon, he gave his first talk there on a Thursday evening that October. In the next two days, he gave two more talks at Congregation Sha’aray Israel, the conservative synagogue also in Macon. Based on my subsequent brief conversations with attendees at both locations, I had the strong impression that Friedman’s comments about the Exodus not surprisingly upset “true believers” at both Mercer and also at the synagogue. As I understood his main point, Friedman explained that the war tribe, called the Levites, left Egypt (that being the Exodus) under the leadership of their warlord, Moses, and invaded the land of Israel that was inhabited by its peaceful native shepherd and farmers. Friedman did NOT call Moses warlord, but that was clearly implied, since he was the leader of a band of warriors. In addition, Friedman’s recitation of the Egyptian names of Levites created the impression (at least on me) that perhaps they might have all been members of some Egyptian tribe, but they certainly were not Israelites. The invading Levites (whose god was Yahweh) then massacred many Israelites (whose god was El). These massacres are recorded in the Torah. The Levites’ bloody efforts to impose their god Yahweh on the native Israelites have apparently not been very successfully since both El and its priests and Yahweh and its priests (i.e., the Levites) after the Exodus have prospered in the Land of Israel and left their distinctive records interwoven in the biblical narrative. Friedman’s first talk at the synagogue was at the Friday evening Shabbat service in October 2016. It was followed by his second talk during the Saturday morning service. After the latter service buffet breakfast was served in the synagogue’s social hall. When Friedman returned for second helpings at the buffet spread and nobody was within earshot, I immediately joined him and quietly asked him: “Are you saying that the warband of Levites conquered the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt?” Friedman: “I would not go quite that far.” That certainly was Friedman’s very cautious, circumspect, and diplomatic answer to such a pointed, sensitive question. Was he afraid of being tarred and feathered had he answered me in the affirmative???

  17. Richard Burbage says:

    There is more than a little disagreement regarding whether or not the Exodus ever happened. The interpretation of archaeological evidence, like many things, is subject to personal bias and as such different conclusions may be drawn. Take, for example, the film “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus” which dares to look from a perspective outside that of the traditionally accepted timeline rather than simply branding the account as myth. This film’s examination also is bolstered by highly professional archaeologists who know what they are talking about.

  18. RICHARD MORRIS says:

    I missed the part about why it matters if the myth is real. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have live another 75 years without caring.

  19. David Zohar says:

    The curator of a recent exhibition on ancient Egypt at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem said in a lecture that there was NO archaeological evidence that the Exodus ever happened.

    Israeli archaeologists (most of them Jewish) are highly professional and know what they are talking about.

    In other words the Biblical account is a myth.

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