So, What Is Your Version of the Exodus?

The Exodus is THE act of salvation in the Old Testament. It becomes the primary model of deliverance and God’s grace for the whole of the Bible.

The question continually arises of whether or not the Exodus as recorded in the Penteteuch (first five books of the Bible) is an account of the actual facts of the thing or if it a “theological” account of what would otherwise be a minor incident. Of course, this question does not arise in Evangelical circles, confident as we are that the worldview of the biblical authors was rooted in history. They knew the difference between history and myth, facts and fantasy.

Note this account of the Exodus in “Mercer Dictionary of the Bible.”

“The biblical account of the Exodus is both a reflection and a transformation of the actual historical event. The biblical story recollects certain event that took place, but these events have been eclipsed by merging accounts, i.e., the major traditions of the Pentateuch, and the combined effect of these theological perspectives. The transformation arises in the creation of a narrative manifesting the redemptive power of God in what surely would have been viewed as a minor event in the ancient world in which renegades or slaves regularly escaped with no notice. Over time, with the contribution of the distinctive perspectives of several group, the story developed into the testimony of the whole group bound by covenant to this awesome, powerful, and attentive god, Yahweh.”

A reflection and a transformation of the actual historical event? A story whose telling is the combined effect of theological perspectives? Creation of a narrative? The story developed? What surely would have been viewed as minor event?

The authors did everything but say the history recorded is not actual history, as we see history. The authors are not dealing with the question of whether or not there is a fair historical rendering of what actually happened. They seem to think this not important because it is about a theological rendering of the event.

It is true that the meaning of those events were very different for pagan observers and Jewish participants. But did the Jewish rendition of the events themselves “conflate” the story? Is not the reader Mercer DOB left with the impression that the theological was used to change the historical? Not just its meaning, but the actual way the story was reported?

One can actually walk away from the MDOB without recognizing the shift that has gone on here. The reader is left with what seems to be a large view of God but a false history.

What about the resurrection of Jesus from the grave? A theological retelling of the Jesus story? Or an actual fact?

Intelligent people should know better.

4 thoughts on “So, What Is Your Version of the Exodus?

  1. There’s some good humor there in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. In what it says was actually a “minor incident,” it turns out that “this awesome, powerful, and attentive god” really didn’t do anything awesome, powerful, or attentive at all. Maybe the “awesome, powerful, and attentive” bit was just a necessary add-on to make it all sound biblical. I got a good chuckle from that :^)

  2. Many intelligent people do know better and regard both events as myths. Why isn’t that the nail in the coffin for Christianty? Because many people regard the “theological truths” of the Jewish and Christian tradition to be more important than the historicity of the events described. This has been done with the jewish creation myth for a long, long time. Perhaps this is a post hoc way of preserving religious beliefs which most educated people consider false, or maybe these stories were never meant to be taken literally. Either way, it’s far less embarrassing than the fundamentalist view that the bible is historically and scientifically correct.

    On the other hand, the idea that truth of Christianity is dependent on the historical truths of bible stories, creates a version o religion which can be competent dismissed.

    • My sense of things is that the fundamentalist tries to connect history with God’s real space/time presence. He might be wrong but the instinct seems right to me – and far less embarrassing than the version of things which makes both God and history unnecessary to any subjective meaning. That version of the Exodus which makes God so grand out of a few renegade slaves crossing a rivulet is far more suspect than that version which seeks historical roots in religious belief. As far as the Exodus is concerned, I do have serious concerns about its complete absence from the historical record, particularly if, as conservative scholars suppose, there were over two millions Israelites sustained 40 years in the wilderness by miraculous feeding. There are many theories on why there would be absence of such evidence. But that absence is singular to me.

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