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Is the Exodus a Myth?

Is the Exodus a Myth?

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Question:

How authentic is the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt? From the Aztecs to the Athenians, every nation has myths about their origins. Is the Exodus story not just a Jewish legend, our nation's attempt to glorify its beginnings?

Answer:

Mythology is a great image booster. There's nothing like a good legend to lift a nation's confidence. That's why most peoples of the world claim to have powerful forebears, like great kings and mighty warriors. Some go so far as saying that their forefathers were demi-gods, born from cosmic mixed-marriages between divine beings and humans. These stories are self-serving, with little resemblance to actual history. But they are useful. During the lower points of a nation's history, at least they can reminisce on their noble and powerful past.

But imagine a nation claiming to come from lowly and ignoble origins. What purpose would that serve? Why would people invent an embarrassing legend about themselves? Yet the Jews proudly declare a most undignified beginning: we began as a slave nation. Every year we retell the Exodus saga, and say: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." Certainly not a great pedigree. Even the escape from Egypt cannot be accredited to our own power: "G-d took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." G-d had to "reach out" and save us. What an unheroic heritage!

People don't make up stories like that, certainly not about themselves. It must be true. And we can be proud of it. There's no need to cover up our humble beginnings. The Jewish belief is that greatness is not a thing of our past; it lies ahead. The Jewish story has the power to inspire, not by glorying in an illustrious past, but rather by promising a brighter future. We were slaves, but we have a destiny to bring freedom to the world.

The children of demi-gods are today subjects for archeologists and historians. The children of Israel, descendants of simple slaves, are alive and thriving. No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G-d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.

 

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (13)
May 15, 2011
Re: Exodus: fact or myth
While 'Habiru' may indeed mean stranger in Egyptian, most modern scholars conclude that "the plethora of attempts to relate apiru (Habiru) to the gentilic (i.e. biblical word) ibri are all nothing but wishful thinking." (see Pomegranates and golden bells: studies in biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and literature)

In other words, keep in mind that the Jews were not called Hebrews, rather, they are called "ibri". The word hebrew is from Greek or Latin 'Hebraeus' (a relatively more modern invention).
Juda
May 8, 2011
Exodus: fact or myth
Habiru meaning 'stranger' in Egyptian, the Habirus who lived for hundreds of years together in labor camps merged their languages just like the Yiddish of the Eastern European Jews was created, thus Hebrew is a cross between Aramaic and the tongues of the fellow laborers of the people who may have left with Akenhaten or Moses or Moshe, who, it is written did not take any Hegerew wife but two wives, one of Midian and one of Cush, to be mothers of the high caste of the Hebrews for ever after: the Levites and Cohanim.
Yes, there is evidence of chariots in the Red Sea, but some Rabbis still insist the crossing was over marshes in the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea used in the hollywood versions.
MOses is described as an Egytian in Torah. whose nanny was Habrru, one who grieved for her own son killed in the Nile.If she lost her mind along with her infant, when she was employed to nurse the same age infant in the palace she' d invent bedtime stories that she was his.
Anonymous
Guam USA
May 4, 2011
Exodus
"Sure they would make up a tale...don't you think?"
Dear Anonymnous from Guam, the issue isn't what we think. We are presenting a form of evidence. The evidence we are presenting is a history about a nationally-experienced, burdensomely-commemorated event. Has this evidence ever shown itself to be fallible? Are there any false nationally-experienced, heavily-coomemorated events? There aren't. The evidence we are presenting has never shown itself to be fallible.

We are left with a choice: Do we take evidence seriously or do we not? More pointedly, do we ignore evidence which has never shown itself to be fallible merely because it is THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE that the evidence is fallible? Those who ignore evidence merely because it is THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE for it be fallible, then all evidence for any phenomina must be ignored as well: since all evidence is theoretically fallible.
Rational people take evidence seriously; atheists do not.
Abele Derer
brooklyn
April 25, 2011
Is the Exodus real or a myth?
Sure they would make up a tale to humble them. The kings of Israel and Judea had these bickering tribes to contend. They were jealous and bragged that one was better than the other.
It makes sense that to unite them, in the 8th anbd 9th century,when they needed to come to gether for survival against a common enemy, that it was announced to unite them, that an ancient book had been found to destroy the separatism and instill humility through stating " You are brothers and sisters from the same forefather. And before you can remember, you were once the lowest of low, groveling in the mud when you crossed mucky marshes of the Reed Sea to escape slavemasters who whipped you like the animals you are behaving like. Hmmm, that's a good way to get people to unite and put aside their animosities and pride, don't you think?
Anonymous
guam usa
January 16, 2011
Of course the Exodus is not a myth!
The exodus is not a myth for two reasons.

First, in all the myths, there is not single case of a belief in a nationally-experienced, nationally-commemorated event. Not one. We must therefore ask the skeptic: How do you know that false national events can be gobbled up?

Second, there is a wealth of archeological data that back up the exodus and there isn't a shred of archeological data against the exodus. Let me explain. Archeology has shown that: a) egyptian woman of the era would give birth on two birthstones; b) the great "god" of egypt, Amon, was depicted as a ram specifically during the new kingdom; c) the capital during the time of the exodus was ramsess - until 250 years later when it was moved to Tanis; d) the short route through the land of the phillistines was highly militarized; e) there were a slaves known as "habiru" who built the city of ramsess,

All these facts were also mentioned in the Bible. If the Bible got these details right, why assume it got the exodus wrong!

So why don't the archeologists believe in the Exodus? Two reasons. First, and William Dever openly admits this: because the exodus was a miraculous event. This reason need not detain us, since we are intelligent enough to open our minds to the evidence. The mere fact that the evidence points towards a miracle need not force us to be biased about the evidence.

Second - the archeologists claim that "there is an 'absence of evidence' for the exodus." What do they mean? They mean that no archeological remains have been found in Kadesh-Barnea. If the Jews really camped there why don't we find any remains there? There are three flaws with this argument. First, we can ask the same thing of the city of damasacus. Why don't we find any remains of it before 900b.c., although it existed hundreds of years before that? b) The Jews never camped in Kadesh barnea (see daas zekeimin Numbers 34; c) the "miraculous" exodus meant the jews left "with matza on their back". Does matza just last 3300 years?
abele derer
October 28, 2010
Exodus myth
Most Rabbis are taught in Rabbinical training that the Exodus is a myth. It is only the untrained lay person who does not know this.
Anonymous
St Petersburg, FL
August 21, 2010
The Exodus Myth
"Why would people invent an embarrassing legend about themselves?" you ask? For the same reason that movies like "The Mighty Ducks" are loved by Americans: the story of the underdog/dogs is always more appealing than the story of the people who have everything and have no problems. Why was Sargon of Akkad not secretive about the story of how his mother sent him down the river in a basket of rushes and was found and raised by a gardener? Because, it made his rise to power all the more miraculous. Obstacles and character transformations are timeless literary devices.
Anonymous
Battle Creek
February 25, 2010
exodus
One has only to read Farrell Till's essays on The Skeptical Review website for proof that the Exodus is an impossibility. Sorry, it is a myth, but then so is the whole Bible.
Rick
Calgary, Canada
May 10, 2009
If the Exodus is a myth . . .
The "reason" that the Exodus has to be actual history, is because Jews, throughout the centuries, have claimed the world's sympathy on the ground that they have been oppressed, first by the Egyptians, and then by others. If the Exodus is merely a Jewish fable, then a substantial basis upon which the Jews have based their claim of oppression falls apart.
John
Scottsdale, AZ
May 9, 2009
not a substantial answer i think
there is no reason that the exodus story has to be actual history. Jews (i am one) may prefer that it was -- we would prefer that G-d did and thought differently in many instances.

For instance, we would prefer that G-d had not let the holocaust happen. but he did. G-d does not do what we would prefer him to do every time a child dies.

while we would like to think of the exodus has historically accurate -- that is what WE would like. What G-d had in mind when he gave us that story (and the whole Torah really) -- only he knows.

We would love it to be history -- that is our preference. As we have learned time and time again, G-d often has other ideas in mind.
Tuviah Schiff
NYC, NY
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