The Exodus

Discover the real history of the Exodus and why it matters.

Biblical scholars, Egyptologists, archaeologists, historians, literary scholars, anthropologists, and filmmakers are drawn to it.  Unable to find physical evidence until now, many archaeologists and scholars claim this mass migration is just a story, not history.  Others oppose this conclusion, defending the biblical account.

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Discover the real history of the Exodus and why it matters.

Biblical scholars, Egyptologists, archaeologists, historians, literary scholars, anthropologists, and filmmakers are drawn to it.  Unable to find physical evidence until now, many archaeologists and scholars claim this mass migration is just a story, not history.  Others oppose this conclusion, defending the biblical account.

Like a detective on an intricate case no one has yet solved, pioneering Bible scholar and bestselling author of Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliott Friedman cuts through the noise — the serious studies and the wild theories — merging new findings with new insight.  From a spectrum of disciplines, state-of-the-art archeological breakthroughs, and fresh discoveries within scripture, he brings real evidence of a historical basis for the exodus — the history behind the story.  The biblical account of millions fleeing Egypt may be an exaggeration, but the exodus itself is not a myth.

Friedman does not stop there.  Known for his ability to make Bible scholarship accessible to readers, Friedman proceeds to reveal how much is at stake when we explore the historicity of the exodus.  The implications, he writes, are monumental.  We learn that it became the starting-point of the formation of monotheism, the defining concept of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Moreover, we learn that it precipitated the foundational ethic of loving one’s neighbors — including strangers — as oneself.  He concludes, the actual exodus was the cradle of global values of compassion and equal rights today.

Page Count

304 pages

Year Published

2017

ISBN-13

978-0062565242

Author

Richard Elliott Friedman

Reviews

  1. I read half of this book in an e-reader, and I heard the other half as an audiobook (narrated by Friedman himself). There is a lot to be said about it.

    First, Richard Elliott Friedman is one of my all-time favorite scholars. Reading his work is much like opening the doors to a detective story. One of his earlier books, Who Wrote the Bible is a must read for anyone interested in how the Hebrew Bible was written. Although not strictly necessary, I highly recommend that you read that book before reading this one. In both, you will feel like you are following the steps of a Sherlock Holmes who is an expert in Ancient Israel (at least that’s how I feel).

    Secondly, Friedman has the art of picking the most interesting parts of the study of Antiquity or at least present it to you in a very interesting manner. As a result, you enjoy the book a great deal.

    Finally, Friedman is one of those scholars who critically challenges accepted Bible scholarship presenting solid arguments for his case. He is a great defender of the existence of a pre-exilic priestly source (P), an idea held previously by Yehezkel Kaufmann, and also by S. Mowinckel. Now he tries to propose a more robust theory about the exodus that actually does account for several oddities, especially regarding the Levitic tribe.

    This book comes just in time when there is (in my non-expert opinion) an angry division among scholars of Ancient Israel, especially pertaining to the figures of David and Salomon, and the existence of a unified kingdom under their rule. William Dever has denounced a tendency towards a postmodern hyperskepticism (sometimes with political agendas) that is affecting the field. This has led to some of these exotic scholars to the point of stating that the composition of the earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible took place centuries later than the consensus (more loose now than before) now holds, that there was no united kingdom, and there was no David nor Salomon. Friedman’s job in this book is far more problematic, because there is at least an archaological evidence of David’s dynasty, but there is next to no archaeological evidence for Moses or an Exodus.

    One of the issues that he deals with is the many years that archaeologists and Bible literary critics didn’t communicate much with each other. Right now, we are seeing a situation where both are sitting down to discuss the evidence accumulated by both fields, and trying to present the most coherent profile they can.

    Basically there is a consensus among scholars of two things: 1. That if there was an Exodus, it did not happen in the way that the Torah states; and 2. that though highly fictionalized, the stories regarding Moses and the Exodus must have had some basis in something that happened. This book is not a silver bullet that proves that Moses existed or that there was an Exodus. However, this book builds on the most recent findings from archaeology, genetics, Bible criticism, and other fields that have substantiated the hypothesis that there was indeed an Exodus, but that it was not of all Israelites (whose tribes were all indigenous from Canaan), but only as a small number of people who would later become the Levitic tribe. Using the Documentary hypothesis widely accepted by scholars today, he shows that there are habits that are derived from Egyptian customs, highly suggesting that they lived among the Egyptians for a while. The sources that they wrote (namely the elohist, the priestly, and the deuteronomist sources) are all concerned with the welfare of slaves and foreigners, about circumcision, Egyptian names, the Ark of the Covenant’s similarities with Egyptian barques, and so on.

    Friedman also shows what some scholars have believed for years, that the Levites in general placed a great importance to Madian, a region where the shasu worshiped the god Yahu (or Yahweh). Apparently, ancient sources seem to indicate that Moses was either of Egyptian origin or a Madianite. In either case, he apparently drove a small number of people out of Egypt, interacted with the shasu in Madian, and later (after Israel imposed itself against the Hazor nobility and destroyed it) these pilgrims established a solidarity with the Israelites, becoming its priestly sector. Later, as Friedman shows in his book, the experience of this small group gradually became the historical memory of an entire nation, each time with more fantastic elements as time went by. The way he argues all of this with great clarity and with a great sense of humor makes this book very fascinating.

    Another thing that took me completely by surprise was his discussion about how, from an Israel that believed in many gods, it ended up with one exclusive god, namely Yahweh Elohim. Most scholars think that this move from polytheism to monotheism was gradual. Friedman argues that if one looks for many of the details in the Torah, the story can tell you how, from the point of view of the authors of the Torah, Yahweh ended alone: Yahweh “killed” the other gods alluded to in the text. I’ll leave that elaboration to your reading, but I promise you that it is a very interesting view.

    From what I could read and listen of the book, there is an apologetic tone in the discussion of these elements. This is not the sort of apology that seeks to validate religious belief (this is not what he tries to do), but one that seeks to show the cultural value of these texts of the Hebrew Bible. He confronts some new atheists and unbelievers such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. At one point, he criticizes the latter’s The God Delusion for adopting a distorted interpretation (from a scholarly standpoint) of the commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Friedman doesn’t deny at any point the parts of the Bible that are objectionable, but he explains their presence in the book, while simultaneously valuing the positive aspects that we can find in the Hebrew Bible and are now embedded in our Western Judeo-Christian culture.

    All in all, I highly recommend this reading. I thank Dr. Friedman for such a delight for the intellect, and opening for the public this beautiful window into the past.

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Editorial Review

“The Exodus displays, yet again, the unique gifts of Richard Elliott Friedman, whose work always embodies the mastery of an accomplished biblical scholar, the eye of a literary detective teasing out the mysteries from an ancient text, and the skill of a born storyteller. A page-turner.” (Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road)
“A treasure! When Richard Elliot Friedman thinks Bible, new light shines. The Exodus is not only an argument for the reality behind the Exodus story, but is itself a revelation. Let Richard Friedman guide you from slavery to freedom, and teach a transformative Biblical lesson along the way.” (Rabbi Dr Bradley Shavit Artson, American Jewish University)
“A fresh and compelling perspective on the exodus [that] demonstrates its link to the foundational concepts of monotheism and the ethical command to love all others. Friedman not only has produced a cogent analysis of the scholarship on these significant issues but also has given us a page-turner.” (Carol Meyers, Duke University)
“Friedman’s Exodus is accessible and up-to-date with a marvelous scholarly summary of the latest theories and data; his own Levite hypothesis may be the most compelling answer to one of the most important ancient puzzles in world history.” (Thomas E. Levy, University of California, San Diego)
“Friedman’s brisk and learned account of the biblical and historical evidence paints a compelling picture of where the Israelites came, their evolving view of God, and how it all fits together.” (Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty)