Did The Exodus Really Happen?

After explaining why the Torah’s account of the Exodus does not fit the historical or archeological records, archeologist Stephen Rosenberg (no relation) writes:

My proposal is that this miraculous account of the Exodus is describing a series of events that took place over more than 300 years, when Semitic foreigners, including the Jews, left Egypt in wave after wave. Some came and went with the Hyksos, and destroyed Jericho on their way back. Some were expelled by Queen Hatshepsut and 480 years later helped to build Solomon’s Temple. Some came after the Hyksos and were forced to build Pithom and Ramesses, and then left in haste to get to Canaan before Merenptah could claim to have destroyed Israel in their land. And some perhaps never left at all and stayed on to tell the tale from an Egyptian point of view, with an Egyptian slant to the agriculture of Canaan and an Egyptian description of the Mishkan.

Rosenberg ascribes the Torah’s account to “mnemo-history,” a form of folk memory where myth (in its classical sense, not as falsehood) compacts various related historical events into a compact whole. For more on this understanding of mnemo-history, read When They Severed Earth From Sky: How The Human Mind Shapes Myth.



Filed under History

6 responses to “Did The Exodus Really Happen?

  1. Jerome Soller

    A friend of mine – Richard Daly – received his Ph.D. in Middle East Studies (specifically archeology) from the University of Utah, and is writing a book on a theory where he aligns Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau against Hiksos kings of the time. It is based on writings from several nationalities, which align independently. I believe that it will be more scholarly and contain more meat than the book you referenced here, as this represents the last fifteen years of Richard’s research with a variety of writings from a variety of cultures. In many ways, it supports the credibility of many aspects of the Torah, as well as some of the concepts mentioned in this article. If I get permission, I can put out more information on his upcoming book. At some point, we will get him to give a talk at our synagogue.


  2. Yochanan Lavie

    I don’t mind if the Exodus didn’t happen EXACTLY as the Torah said it did. But if it didn’t happen at all, why bother with Pesach (or being Jewish, for that matter). Furthermore, if you read ancient sources such as Aristotle, slaves were deemed the lowest of the low, in a blame-the-victim sort of way. All nations say they descended from the “gods,” not slaves. So it rings true for that reason. Also, Hillel Halkin, a secular Jew, points out that there is linguistic evidence tha the Jews were in Egypt: Mose means “son” and Miriam and Aharon are also Egytian names (despite what the Midrash says). Halkin also notes that “avrech” was not Yosef’s title; it means “get out of the way;” something you would say when you see a high official. Shmarya, I know you’re not saying the Exodus never happened in any form. But many haters and numb nuts out there are trying to disprove it, so they can delegitimize Judaism and the Jewish people. Even if the torah is not a history book as we understand history, something happened, slaves were freed, and God spoke to the Jewish people.

  3. Modern Jew

    There is certainly evidence of our ancestors as far back as King David and the first Temple. The Judges probably existed. Whether the Exodus happened or not it was at the very least an origin myth which our ancestors have recognized probably since Davidic times and certainly since the writing of the Torah no later than 500-600 BCE. Even if the Exodus story is no more that an origin myth or an embellished story it does not diminish Jews as a people. Unlike the haredim my idenification as a Jew does not depend on the literal truth of the Torah.

  4. Jerome Soller

    Following up on my last message, I agree with Yochanan and modern jew. Anyway, what I thought was powerful about what Richard Daly’s research was demonstrating an independent source (other than the torah) for the existence of Abraham’s family as real people that at one time ruled a piece of Egypt. It made sense to me. Richard (as a non-Jew and a scholar) was not focusing on proving or disproving the torah, but on historical information. The slavery in Egypt also made sense to me for the following reasons:
    1)people are going to say they were descendants of slaves for no reason,
    2)if a people were conquered (as Richard believes), it makes sense that the conquered people might be made slaves to reduce their power (“There came a pharoah who knew not Joseph”).
    However, it is possible that many people that were not part of the group that were slaves in Egypt joined the Jewish people after the exodus.

  5. Paul Freedman

    There’s a problem with extrapolating from a foundational story to a constructed historical “truth” once the story itself is brought into doubt–it’s as if you are looking at one of those puzzles where you connect numbered dots to get a picture: if you say, no, all these numbers are wrong, we have to reassign new numbers, then you’ll find there are any many many new pictures you can find with new ordering giving our ability to find patterns. I ddin’t know the Hyksos was coming back into style; back in the day when I went to (secular) university it was being rejected–about 20 years ago, archaeologists in Israel were proposing that pottery and artificats suggested the Israelite nation arose from people who had been there all along and then separated: they were Cananites.

  6. Paul Freedman

    But I didn’t get that the Exodus account teaches us that were were descended from slaves: it teaches us the opposite–this is not a Spartacus story about people who find a new identity through their shared slavery and shared redemption from slavery, but, I had thought, a story about a people who already had an identity, a unique historical destiny among the nations, and then BECAME slaves–it’s as if they had been forced to forget or hide their true selves and it is in this state of nefila and darkness of the heart that an even more powerful revelation of their actual identity is required and achieved.

    The social caste of slaves in Exodus is then fulfilled by the “mixed multititude” imo.

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