Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Is the Exodus a Myth?

Is the Exodus a Myth?

 Email

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
16 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Benjamin Rose Culpeper January 8, 2016

There Is Evidence, If You're Honest Look at Pharaoh Amenhotep II. He reigned at the correct time, and during his time he ordered the destruction of the statues of the Egyptian gods. Furthermore, he was succeeded by his second son, not his firstborn. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org November 17, 2014

Re: false With regards to evidence of the exodus, please see my comment on the article Proof of the Existence of G–d Reply

Angela Washington, DC September 29, 2014

False Actually, there is virtually zero scholarly evidence that suggests that the Exodus is an actual historic event. The tale does not specify any Egyptian places or figures by name; even the antagonistic Pharaoh is unnamed. This hints at a physical detachment from the actual Egyptian community. Additionally, there is no archaeological evidence that suggests a sudden influx of Israelites into Canaan. The route of the Exodus is also historically unfounded. Not to mention that acts performed in the Exodus defy laws of physics.

So, the Exodus has virtually zero historical value. If you insist on interpreting it religiously, reading it as a myth is far more accurate. If you are interested in literature with respect to the Exodus and its value as a myth or as history, I suggest exploring scholars such as Bernard Batto and Carol Redmount. Reply

Juda 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).
Reply

Anonymous Guam USA 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. Reply

Abele Derer brooklyn 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. Reply

Anonymous guam usa 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? Reply

abele derer 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? Reply

Anonymous St Petersburg, FL 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. Reply

Anonymous Battle Creek 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. Reply

Rick Calgary, Canada 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. Reply

John Scottsdale, AZ 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. Reply

Tuviah Schiff NYC, NY 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. Reply

Michael Chomin Hackensack, NJ April 10, 2009

John brings up a good point. Additionally, there is no archaeological evidence of the Jews ever being slaves of the Egyptians. To boot, how can you say that a fantastic story of rising up against an overbearing oppressor is a story of shame and embarrassment? Isn't that the story of the American Revolution? Not to mention, the theme of innumerable Hollywood epics? Reply

Keith St. Catharines, Ontario April 16, 2008

our personal Exodus -today we each grew in the womb, and each exitted the womb with a show of blood. We each were delivered by the mighty hand of G_d, at our natural childbirth. This was our personal humble beginning just as the Exodus was Israel's humble beginning. The entire text is permeated with the theme of childbirth. Exodus 15 is the women celebrating the birth of a new born child! Reply

John Scottsdale, Arizona USA October 30, 2007

Answer Unresponsive Merely commenting that no one would make up a story like that does not answer the question or prove that the Exodus story is true. Why would someone make up a story like? Well, it might be an attempt to generate false sympathy, to be used as a predicate for advantage taking later on. Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages