THE EXODUS FAIRY TALE Part III
(Investigator 183, 2018 November)
The exodus saga is filled with a litany of miraculous events; they include: -
• Pillar of cloud by day and of fire at night,
(Exodus 13:21; 14:19-20; Numbers 9:15); as night fell the pillar of
cloud became a pillar of fire, that radiated both light and darkness,
so that the Egyptians could not find the Israelites, (Exodus 14:20); a
pillar of cloud would hover at the entry to the Tent of Meeting,
"…while the Lord spoke with Moses." (Exodus 33:9), the Lord in a
pillar of cloud (Exodus 34:5; Numbers 12:5). "So the cloud of the LORD
was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in
the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels." (Exodus
40:38; Numbers 9:15); the cloud guided them (Deuteronomy 1:33);
indicated when they were to move on, and where they were to camp,
(Numbers 9:17; 10:11-12), as they moved the cloud hovered over them,
• Crossing the "Red Sea" (Exodus 14:21-22);
• A piece of wood made bitter waters drinkable, (Exodus 15:22-25);
• Quail are sent for meat (Exodus 16:13; Numbers 11:31);
• Water flows from a rock struck by Moses' staff, (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11);
• Moses raised staff enables the Israelites to prevail over the Amalekites, (Exodus 17:9-13);
• The Lord's fire consumes the offerings on the altar, (Leviticus 9:24);
• Miriam punished with leprosy, (Numbers 12:10), but is cured by Moses' saliva. (Numbers 12:14);
• The ground opened up and swallowed the rebels
Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and all their households, (Numbers 16:31), while
250 prominent leaders involved in the rebellion are burned by fire,
• Plague stopped by incense and making atonement, (Numbers 16:47);
• Aaron's staff developed sprouts and, "…budded, blossomed and produced almonds." (Numbers 17:8);
• Those bitten by snakes cured by looking at a bronze replica of a poisonous snake on a pole, (Numbers 21:8);
• A talking donkey, (Numbers 22:28-30).
Miraculous interventions by deities are a common aspect of primitive
myths and the exodus saga is no different. Sometimes however, the
"miraculous" events of folklore have a basis in reality; as nomadic
pastoralists, living in the deserts and wastelands, the
proto-Israelites would probably have experienced various types of
"unusual" natural phenomena. Visual and auditory mirages are relatively
common in such areas, and these could have provided a basis for some of
the phenomena mentioned. There are other unusual sights to be seen in
the wastelands; Corliss (1983) reported a number of curious natural
events such as spark-pillars several metres tall created by electrical
sparks, occurring in gypsum sand dunes (p. 33). To the primitive and
credulous mindset of pre-scientific humans such occurrences would most
likely have been interpreted as having supernatural origins.
THE WILDERNESS SAGA -THE SINAI
There are serious problems with the claims that the Israelites wandered
through the deserts of Sinai for forty years. At the time of the
claimed exodus both the Sinai and Canaan were under Egyptian
domination. The Sinai, known to the Egyptians as Mafkat, ("country of
turquoise"), or, the "Wilderness of Egypt," comprised two Egyptian
governorates, and served as Egypt's first, and strongest line of
defence, against enemy invasion.
While Finkelstein and Silberman (2002), claim that only two locations
can be tentatively identified, "...Kadesh-barnea and Ezion-geber" (p.
61), the latter is doubtful. As previously mentioned, Pratico (1985)
indicated that Ezion-Geber did not exist until the 8th-6th centuries
BCE, a time far too late for the claimed exodus."
The Israelites remained "...at Kadesh for a long time" (Deuteronomy
1:46); some, like Easton (1897) believed they, "…remained in and about
Kadesh" for 38 years, (p. 689), others 19 years. Whatever the actual
duration, their presence for such, "a long time" should have left
significant amounts of debris, yet, despite extensive
"...archaeological surveys in all regions of the peninsula"
(Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002, p. 62), not a single item that might
substantiate the presence of such a vast horde, passing through the
Sinai, has ever been found.
According to Gardiner (1920), "…the region of northern Sinai between
Kantareh and Rafa may be described as an inhospitable, almost waterless
desert…" (p. 114) Given that such a large number of Israelites are
supposed to have survived forty years in this harsh environment, which,
as Dever (2003) noted, "There is simply no way that the Sinai
desert, then or now, could have supported more than a very few thousand
nomads." (p. 19), one must ask how this was possible? The explanation
provided comes in the form of a deus ex machina; according to the
text, the Lord provided them with enough food and water to sustain
them. They were given manna and quail for meat. Moses described manna
as, "… the bread which the LORD has given you to eat." (Exodus
16:15). Said to be,
"… like small coriander seed, pale yellow in colour." (Numbers 11:7),
"… in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When
the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the
desert floor." (Exodus 16:13-14).
So, what quantities would have been required to feed this multitude
each day? We are told that the head of each household was to gather one
omer (approximately 1.4 kg. of manna each day, for each person that, "…
lives in his tent." (Exodus 16:16) Based on our earlier figure of
3,600,000 individuals, 1.4 kg per person means that 5,040 metric tonnes
of manna would be required each day, however, as Exodus 16:4-5 clearly
indicates, the daily amount of manna was actually double this amount.
Normally they were to collect only, "…as much food as they need for
that day." (Exodus 16:4), but, so that they did not have to labour on
the sixth day, the Sabbath, "… it shall be twice as much as they gather
daily." (Exodus 16:5; and 16:29), this would mean that some
10,080 metric tonnes of manna fell each day.
There is some confusion as to whether they received manna first, then
quail, or both together. Although Exodus 16:8 suggests the Lord
promised to provide them with both manna and quail, Numbers 11 seems to
imply he sent them only manna, and that the Israelites, and the
"foreign rabble," complained bitterly, (Numbers 11:4). They, "…
began to crave other food … oh for some meat." (Numbers 11:4),
reminiscing about the "…fish… cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and
garlic." (Numbers 11:5), they had eaten in Egypt. Finally, an
apparently exasperated, and angry Lord, decided to punish them by
forcing them to eat so much meat for an entire month it would, "…come
out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you:" (Numbers 11:20).
"…a strong wind that blew quails in from the sea until Israel's
camp was completely surrounded with birds, piled up about three feet
high for miles in every direction." (Numbers 11:31, Contemporary
Each person gathered no less than "ten homers" (Numbers 11:32); a
"homer" is somewhere between 220 and 229 litres, so ten homers would be
around 2200 litres; (the New Living Translation puts the amount at,
"fifty bushels" – that is 1,820 litres). Unfortunately, "…before it
could be consumed" the people were struck down with a "severe plague."
While humans can go several weeks without food, the maximum time
without water is only about one week, although in a hot, desert
environment this would be considerably less. There is little doubt this
was an uncompromising land, a, "…vast and dreadful wilderness, that
thirsty and waterless land…" (Deuteronomy 8:15), in such a wilderness
the Israelites would have needed regular access to water, and, given
their numbers they would have required huge amounts for themselves and
There are few references as to how long the Israelites actually went
without water during their travels through the wilderness, e.g. "For
three days they traveled in the desert without finding water." (Exodus
15:22). Incredibly, if we are to believe the text, they always seemed
to find enough water to sustain themselves. Sometimes they found oases
as at their campsite at Elim, "…there were twelve springs and seventy
palm trees…" (Exodus 15:27), however, at other times miracles were
needed to purify "bitter water" which was done simply by throwing a
piece of wood into the water. (Exodus 15:25)
What is strange is that, given the scarcity of water in the wilderness,
the Lord instructs the people to, "…wash their clothes." (Exodus
19:10), such a bizarre request seems to be completely at odds
with reality; whoever the writer was that inserted these words, must
have been influenced by religious piety, rather than common sense!
Traditionally the Pentateuch has long been attributed to Moses; in the
eighth of his 13 Principles of Faith Maimonides stated, "I believe with
perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is
the same that was given to Moses our teacher…" There are various
passages which imply he wrote down much of what was spoken by the Lord,
"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to
be remembered..." (Exodus 17:14), "Moses then wrote down everything the
Lord had said." (Exodus 24:4), "Then the Lord said to Moses, write down
these words…" (Exodus 34:27), and, "After Moses finished writing in a
book the words of this law from beginning to end…" (Deuteronomy 31:24).
However, given that, as Dever (2003) commented, "Much of this long
account is very detailed, listing dozens if not hundreds of
individuals, place-names, commandments, regulations, and the like." (p.
18), it is difficult to visualize Moses taking verbatim information
from the Lord; the text overall appears more likely to have been
composed by a number of very naïve authors, with no time
restraints, who had access to a selection of older material.
As Larue (1968, p. 34) points out, despite these textual references, it
never actually names Moses as the author, furthermore, various
anachronisms clearly suggest some of the material could only have come
from a much later period. Thus, as Larue, (1968, p. 34) pointed out, in
Genesis 14:14 Abram leads his armed servants to the city of Dan, but,
according to Judges 18:29 the city of Laysha, (or Laish) was only named
Dan after it was captured by the Tribe of Dan sometime in the 6th
century BCE, long after the time of Moses. Similarly, referring to
Genesis 36:31, "These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any
Israelite king reigned:" as Collins (2014) indicated this could only
have been written after the establishment of the monarchy in Israel.
As Bratcher (2013) noted, it is now generally agree that the Pentateuch
is actually a composite of the works of various authors, and as
McEntire (2008) observed, "Like the other books of the Pentateuch
Exodus is obviously a composite work" (p. 87). Although some, like
McDermott (2002) consider the Pentateuch is composed of, "…three
primary sources, the Deuteronomist, the Yahwist, ad the Priestly." (p.
21), others such as Schultz (1963), believe it was, "… composed of four
major documents."(p. 634). McDermott (2002), believes it evolved as
"The <21-22> Deuteronomist material was written first, with the
core of it connected to King Josiah's reform and more of it added
during and after the exile. The Yahwist material preserves some laws
and stories from the monarchy, but for the most part was written after
the exile, and in some cases was influenced by the Deuteronomic
writings. The Priestly material is the last strand, and includes
original laws and stories plus editorial additions to Deuteronomic and
Yahwist material." (pp. 21-22).
While Schultz (1963) believes the four major documents which comprised
the Pentateuch, "…were then combined into one literary unit shortly
before 400 BC." (p. 634) others, such as Enns (2012), suggest the
Pentateuch most likely took its final form in the sixth-century
post-Exilic period, circa 538 BCE; Finkelstein and Silberman, (2002)
date it to the, "...second half of the seventh and the first half of
the sixth century BCE." (p. 68).
Reflecting the various authorship of the overall text: -
• There are considerable differences in various
parts, e.g. the "commandments" in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. While
the Exodus version goes on to expound a wide range of instructions
regarding idols, altars, servants, personal injuries, protection of
property, social responsibilities, laws of justice and mercy, sabbath
laws, and the celebration of festivals, Deuteronomy is more concise and
• There is a lack of formal order to the text, e.g.
Numbers 14:45 — following a reference to the movements of the
Israelites and the ark, there appears a single sentence concerning a
major attack by the Amalekites and the Canaanites, then, with no
indication of the results of this attack, Numbers 15 immediately
follows, outlining the requirements for supplementary offerings;
• Much of the text is repetitious, the actual
commandments are spread throughout the text, and are often repeated,
e.g. injunctions against idols are found in Exodus 20:3-17; 23:24;
Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:16; 4:25; and 5:8; there appears to
be an obsession with blue, purple and scarlet yarn, e.g. Exodus 25:4,
and "…ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet
yarn,"; Exodus 26:1, a veil, "…of blue, and purple, and scarlet…"
26:31; a hanging of, "… blue, and purple, and scarlet…" Exodus 26:36;
and 27:16; also both the Ephod and the breastplate were to have,
"… gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarn" Exodus 28:5-6 and
• Numbers 35:2 and 6-7 specifies that Levites were to
be given forty-eight cities, six of them for refuge, to receive certain
territorial inheritances, yet Deuteronomy 18:1-2 states, "The priests
the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor
inheritance with Israel:" (Larue, 1968, p. 35).
At the core of the Exodus saga is the Israelites developing concept of
their new deity, and their relationship with him. Like most primitive
"deities" their "Lord" is depicted in anthropomorphic terms, (e.g.
Genesis 3:8 - walking in the garden); displaying many human traits and
weaknesses, basically he is portrayed as a petty tyrant with an
obsessive need for self-glorification: -
• While claiming to be, "…compassionate and
gracious…slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6), he is revealed to be merciless
and murderous, inflicting death and destruction upon the Egyptians and
the Israelites alike. He kills, burns or inflicts the plague on large
numbers of Israelites, because he is angry, (Numbers 11:33); 14,700
Israelites are killed for objecting to the punishment of Korah,
(Numbers 16:49); 24,000 killed for sleeping with Moabite women,
(Numbers 25:9); a man who gathers wood on the Sabbath is put to death
(Numbers 15:32-36); "…a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin
of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate
me," (Deuteronomy 5:9);
• He is merciless, he orders that any human, or
animal, that touches the foot of Mount Sinai, "…is to be put to
death…to be stoned or shot with arrows" (Exodus 19:12-13). Because the
Israelites did not fully believe the promises of the Lord and
complained, no one over twenty years of age would be allowed to see the
promised land, their bodies would fall in the wilderness, (Numbers
• Pettiness, because Moses disobediently struck
a rock to produce water, he is told he will not be allowed to lead the
Israelites into the Promised Land, (Numbers 20:11);
• He sent "… fiery serpents among the people, and
they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." (Numbers 21:6);
• He has an obsessive need for glorification, i.e. "I
will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army… The
Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through
Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen." (Exodus 14:4 and 14:18)
The Israelites are also portrayed in a unfavourable light, a,
"…stubborn, unruly people" (Exodus 33:3), who, despite the many divine
benefits they receive, are unappreciative, constantly complaining and
bemoaning their fate;
• "They muttered and complained in their tents and said. The Lord must hate us..." (Deuteronomy 1:27),
• "...so the people again rebelled against Moses and
Aaron. A great mob formed, and they held a protest meeting." (Numbers
We have examined some of the dubious claims made about the life of
Moses, and a number of the outrageously fantastic events that are part
of the Exodus mythos. As previously mentioned, the use of deus ex
machina solutions are part of a tradition of fantasy, myth and
folklore, rather than of factual historical events, as such the exodus
saga, and indeed, most of the Pentateuch must be regarded as
fiction, what Propp (2006), called, "…a heroic fairy tale…" (p. 736).
To understand how it was that the many fantastic events which form part
of the exodus saga were accepted as being factual, it is necessary to
examine the cultural mindset from which such beliefs emerged.
Like most primitive, pre-scientific cultures, the Israelites believed
that the entire physical world was dominated by supernatural forces;
magical powers, mystical natural forces, nature-spirits, both good and
evil, and a myriad of divine beings, were an inherent part of their
"reality." Both they, and the Egyptians, relied upon divination,
magicians and magical rites, (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:10-11; Exodus 7:11;
22:18; Numbers 5:11-28; 16:46-48; 21:8-9; Leviticus 20:27), to deliver
supernatural interventions, and to propitiate and deliver the will of
their "deities." Dijk (2004), mentioned an attempt on the life of
Rameses III, "…included in the preparations were also magical spells
and wax figurines," (p. 299). It was from such primitive belief systems
that from a multitude of nature-spirits, their "Lord" would eventually
emerge as their supreme deity.
Even if we dismiss the utterly unbelievable aspects of the "Exodus
saga" as merely far-fetched embellishments of what might have been an
actual historical event, the discussion above has revealed at least
four principal areas which cast serious doubts on the veracity of the
entire exodus saga: -
1. The lack of a definite historical time-frame,
neither a definite date, or the name of a specific Egyptian king,
strongly suggests the entire saga is simply a fable;
2. Despite the fact that the sudden departure of a
major portion of the Egyptian workforce would have been catastrophic to
their economy, there are no records of such an event ever having
occurred in Egyptian history;
3. So many people wandering for forty years in what
is a relatively small area, (some 60,000 km2) should have left a
mountain of detritus, especially at their campsites, one would expect
to find broken pots and tools, bones, food scraps, and small lost
items, yet there is nothing;
4. The fact that the Egyptian presence in Canaan
would have made the exodus impossible, added to which is the total lack
of any evidence of any Israelite invasion of Canaan, or a sudden
increase of population in the Levant at the claimed "time."
In the final analysis one must agree with the statement of Propp
(2006) that, "The whole thing may never have happened." (Propp p. 753)
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