Laurie Eddie

(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, (Numbers 10:34),
•    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, (Numbers 16:35);
•    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.


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 " 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). He sent,

 "…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 English Version).

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." (Numbers 11:33)


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 their herds.

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. (p. 50)

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 follows,

"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 specific;
•    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 28:15;
•    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 14:29);
•    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),
•    " the people again rebelled against Moses and Aaron. A great mob formed, and they held a protest meeting." (Numbers 20:2-3)

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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[Back to Part II and Part I]

[See also the response Moses and the Exodus: A Fairytale No More (#184)]