01 May 2009

A note about the Exodus

It didn't happen.

God didn't kill the Egyptian firstborn or drown Pharaoh's army in the sea. He didn't drown people in a world-wide flood or smash them with burning stones at Sodom and Gomorrah. And he didn't kill Onan for spilling his seed or turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt. None of this stuff happened.

These are all just stupid stories that no one should take seriously. The God of the Bible didn't kill anyone, because the God of the Bible doesn't exist.

But since half of the world still believes in him, I'll keep counting the number of people believers believe that he killed.

So let's pretend that the Bible is true and try taking the Exodus seriously.

Imagine Moses organizing the Exodus. He rounds up all the people (with their animals, baked goods, and silver, gold, and clothes that they stole from the Egyptians) and gets them all lined up and ready to go. Each family follows the next with a meter or so between them.

The Bible tells us that 600,000 men left Egypt in the Exodus, so there must have been about that many families. If each family was one meter apart, the line would be 600 kilometers long. That's longer than the entire Exodus route from the the Nile delta to Israel, even allowing for a bit of wandering around in the wilderness. So the front of the line would have arrived in Israel before the those at the end left Egypt. Yet the Bible says the trip took 40 years (everything takes 40 years in the Bible).

OK. So let's say it took 40 years. How fast were they walking? If the entire trip was 600 kilometers, then they would have had to walk a bit more than 1 kilometer per month (about 40 meters a day).

Of course there's no evidence that any of this happened. And if several million people were roaming around for 40 years in the Sinai desert, they would have left some evidence. But they didn't.

That's because it didn't happen.

32 comments:

Baconsbud said...

What I have never understood is with that many people why did they seem to fear such a small force?

barriejohn said...

From my experience, I would say that the fundamentalists would not be fazed by most of this - they have ready-made answers to all these objections. The clincher, though, is the last point: "Where`s the evidence?". I know that lack of evidence is not proof that something didn`t happen, but even a few thousand Israelites wandering in Sinai for 40 years would have left SOME traces of their presence. But there`s nothing! Their only answer has to be: "But it hasn`t been found yet", and even THEY know how lame that sounds!!

Steve Wells said...

barriejohn,

I agree that fundamentalists wouldn't be fazed by this. They aren't fazed by much of anything.

But I've never heard any of their "ready-made" answers. What are they?

barriejohn said...

Your own Wikipedia link provides the answer Steve! It is ALWAYS some error of translation or of transcription, or of our understanding of what is being said - NEVER an error or contradiction in the sacred text!! Here, the word translated "thousands" MAY mean "clans": the numbers used (40, 600, and a thousand) MAY be typological, not actual numbers: the lack of evidence - either physical or written - doesn`t actually PROVE that all this did not take place. And so it goes on - they will not give an inch!

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, you're right, barriejohn.

The mistranslation (or the that's-what-it-says-but-that's-not-what-it-means) excuse works on just about everything, including the numbers in the Exodus.

But if there were only a few hundred Israelites in the Exodus, then there might not be much evidence 3200 years later either. So it works for that one too.

barriejohn said...

That did occur to me too, but there would have had to have been a fair number of them to have populated Canaan in the way that they are alleged to have done. In any case true fundamentalists would not agree that Biblical numbers can be manipulated in this way: if that`s what it says in The Bible you just have to believe it! They always quote "St Paul`s" words about "the foolish things of the world confounding the wise" etc, as their last line of defence, and then you`ve really just had it as far as rational discussion goes. Regarding remains though, where on earth is all the evidence that should exist for Joshua, David, Solomon and his temple, and even later icons like Daniel? Christian archaeologists, followed by the Jews, have been searching for years now, and have found very little; and there is no mention of these people in contemporaneous records. Unbelievable!!

I am the wise fool. said...

Another glitch in the historical proof just as condemning is the Egyptian record of events. I'm still working on this text for a post later this month, but right now I think it sums things up well:

In summary, the ten plagues of the Exodus have left the Egyptians without livestock, without food, possibly requiring the entire remaining population to dig for drinkable water next to the Nile, plundered, without an estimated 1/4-1/6 of their population (the firstborn males), possibly physically injured, scarred, and diseased, and with a country permeated by the stench of rotting dead carcasses. Plus, the huge slave labor pool they depended on for centuries has instantaneously left the empire. The Egyptian empire is set to crumble even further to a mere remnant of its former glory. In fact, it's hard to imagine much of an empire at all surviving that kind of pummeling. (Isn't it amazing that you find no evidence of this devastation in history?)

barriejohn said...

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they have an answer to this as well! Since we know that the Ancient Egyptians erased from their records all traces of people with whom they disagreed, and since all ancient civilizations were VERY selective about what was recorded in the first place, it is no surprise that there is now no trace of events so embarrassing to such a mighty nation! I know it`s weak, but I sometimes hanker after the days when I too believed that there were such simple answers to all the difficulties arising from having such a "simple" faith!!

Sharpfamily said...

The problem with evidence is that neither side can "prove" whether or not God exists any more than i can prove to you whether i love my kids. The issue is how we read the bible then. Whatever our faith position its an amazing account of human history in the light of how people and God relate to the idea of each other. If God does exist we need to work out whether he did command genocide and random acts of cruelty, or whether people just thought he did, or in fact wanted to and told everyone God had told them to do it. (Sound familiar?!) People who claim to be christian also claim to follow Christ, which means that anything in the historical Hebrew bible that does not line up with the example, life & death, teaching and historical understanding of Jesus, needs to be considered as a sociological point of interest rather than as theological truth. Perhaps then we can move away from the unhelpful polemic of "fundamentalists versus atheists" and onto a more useful conversation where all people are able to wonder "whether if there is God, what could he be like?"

Sharpfamily said...

The problem with evidence is that neither side can "prove" whether or not God exists any more than i can prove to you whether i love my kids. The issue is how we read the bible then. Whatever our faith position its an amazing account of human history in the light of how people and God relate to the idea of each other. If God does exist we need to work out whether he did command genocide and random acts of cruelty, or whether people just thought he did, or in fact wanted to and told everyone God had told them to do it. (Sound familiar?!) People who claim to be christian also claim to follow Christ, which means that anything in the historical Hebrew bible that does not line up with the example, life & death, teaching and historical understanding of Jesus, needs to be considered as a sociological point of interest rather than as theological truth. Perhaps then we can move away from the unhelpful polemic of "fundamentalists versus atheists" and onto a more useful conversation where all people are able to wonder "

matt311 said...

Of all the countries the guys who wrote the Bible could have picked as the land of their "slavery", why Egypt? Why not Syria or Babylon?

Strange way to say your God is great when he takes eight times to convince a guy to let you go.

Brendan said...

#1. "thousand" in the Hebrew Bible is a mistranslation and should actually be "units", which in this case probably would mean 600 families.

#2. Archeologists decided that Assyria never existed because they couldn't find evidence of it, but they wound up finding evidence of it anyways.

#3. There is no evidence that the Israelites simply rose out of Caanite culture. They just say that simply because they have not found evidence yet that they lived in Egypt.

I am the wise fool. said...

Brendan, I think you should double-check your Bible. When you consult Numbers 1, you'll find that the Israelite men totaled 603,550. This confirms the 600,000+ interpretation, unless you want us to believe that they went from 600 families to 603,550 men while they were wandering in the desert...

I am the wise fool. said...

barriejohn, it's certainly true that history is often his-story, and that the Egyptians could have conveniently left this out.

However, other evidence would persevere. Something had to be done with the bodies of the frogs, livestock, and the firstborn. Where are the mass graves? Even burning that many bodies would likely have left an archaeological scar of some sort. Turning all the water in Egypt to blood, even the Nile, should have left a distinct chemical signature in the riverbeds, deltas, and lakes.

Steve Wells said...

Wise fool,

I think what the Bible is saying in Numbers 1:45-46 is that there were 603.55 families in the Exodus. (Is that right, Brendan?)

David said...

603.55 families would work only if Pi were equal to 3

barriejohn said...

I agree with you entirely of course, Wise Fool, but they are just going to say: "The evidence has NOT YET been found." Indeed, Brendan has already said it! You`re banging your head against a brick wall. (But persevere anyway - it was the intellectual dishonesty of it all that finally convinced me that I had to give up the charade of believing such obvious fables - so there`s hope for some!!)

Lord Lulz said...

Here is a what a Baptist preacher once told me.

The stories of the Old Testament are folk legends not to be taken literally. It is the laws and morals they teach that are what's important.

It is certainly the most honest answer I have ever heard. Never mind the fact that raping virgins and killing babies doesn't seem so morally upright to me.

Doomsday said...

What happened to your 'God's Killings: The Gory Details' post?

Steve Wells said...

Sorry Doomsday. I posted "The Gory Details" a bit prematurely. I sometimes do that just to see if I've got a post set up properly.

What I have in mind is an expanded list of God's killings along with an explanation for the estimated number of victims. I hope to get that done soon.

thebeattitude.com said...

The only way many Christians can continue to believe is they admit most of the stories in the Bible never happened. They call them "allegories", "metaphors" or "parables".

The problem is these stories were written as fact and taught as truth. Christians shouldn't have to try so hard to rationalize obvious flaws in their faith to continue to blindly believe in primitive teaching.

By the way, Dwindling in Unbelief, thank you for the links to my blog. I've noticed traffic coming from your site and see I'm in your "THINGS I'VE NOTICED LATELY". Great blog and I look forward to reading though you posts. I've added you to my blogroll.

barriejohn said...

You`re talking about very "wishy-washy" Christians there "beattitude" and Lord Lulz! You must know that fundamentalists take every word of the Bible literally, apart from some obviously metaphorical passages in the more poetic books. They don`t even take "prophetic visions" as allegorical. Many of them believe that ALL of the prophecies of The Book of Revelation, for instance, will be LITERALLY fulfilled, however silly this may seem to you and me; and I have come across many who actually argue that when Jesus said "A sower went forth to sow" he must have been referring to an ACTUAL EVENT, just because he said that it happened!! If you spent some time in the company of these people I think you would be amazed at their naivety!!!

barriejohn said...

The latest "Jesus and Mo" ( http://www.jesusandmo.net )sums it all up really - brilliant as usual!

thebeattitude.com said...

barriejohn-

"Wishy-washy" or not, this is a very common argument I hear from Christians, one in particular is a Lutheran pastor. There are countless interpretations of the Bible and every person is under the opinion that their view is correct.

I see naivety at both ends of the spectrum, but fundamentalists take the cake. To believe literalistic interpretation of the Bible takes a level of naive blindness that baffles me.

barriejohn said...

I don`t understand these people who accept some parts of the Bible but not others (apart from its generally accepted moral teachings, or more prosaic passages - some of which are, indeed, great literature.) There are many Muslims on the net also, claiming to be "moderate". How can they be Muslims then? If you believe that Heaven and Hell are real, and that your holy book and prophet offer the only means of eternal salvation, then how can you be "moderate", or half-hearted about your faith? Surely, you have to be either one thing or the other; and your holy writings are either inspired by your god, or else just a collection of the myths and ramblings of fallible men!!

Markus Arelius said...

The problem is that the Old Testament is not discarded. It remains part and parcel of the "Bible". Christians may focus more attention on the "good news" of the new testament and downplay the disconcerting bits within the old testament. But this blog is calling to question a laundry list of canon passages and biblical accounts of history for which I've read no intellectually honest response from Christians. These passages are morally repugnant by 21st, 20th and even 19th century standards. I don't understand why Christians in the 21st century aren't asking their church elders and scholars more serious questions about these passages and determining for themselves whether or not they should be discarded completely.

Set all that aside for one moment. This book is rated R - at least. I mean no self-respecting parent would ever read these stories to young children, yet the story of the flood and Noah is repeated in Sunday schools across the nation. Sure, teachers focus the children's attention on the beautiful animal pairs and the construction of the massive arc, while the horrorific genocide of millions of people and animals destroyed "by God's wrath" becomes a minimized portion of the story - a minor theme that can be swept under the rug.

athanasiuskircherus said...

While I agree that most biblical stories are preposterous, I have to point out the flawed logic here. You're assuming that the Israelites walked _single_ _file_ all the way from Egypt to Palestine? That's a level of assumption worthy of the very fundamentalists you're arguing against.

Let's be more realistic. The Sinai peninsula has an area of approximately 6000 km^2, which equals 6 billion square meters. Suppose that when the Israelites camped, they needed 10 square meters per person. 6 billion divided by 600,000 is 10,000. That means they could have 10,000 possible non-overlapping camps in the Sinai peninsula.

Now, many of these are going to be uninhabitable, sure. But even if we say 90% of the land isn't good for a camp, that's still 1000 possible camps for a group of 600,000. If you move your people around only every couple weeks, you could easily wander around such an area for 40 years without even ever camping in the same spot.

I'm not saying it's likely. You'd have to be an idiot to do it. But the arguments about walking speed and single-file are bad assumptions, since we're told they wandered, and it's unlikely a group of that size would move in single-file anyway.

What's more realistic is your argument that there's no solid archaeological evidence that a group of that size was wandering around for so long. That's a reasonable argument, and I'd rather stick to that sort of thing instead of attempting meaningless calculations. Making _reasonable_ assumptions is one of the thing this blog is all about.

athanasiuskircherus said...

By the way, there was an error of a factor of ten in my previous post. I originally used the assumption that a camp needed 10 m^2 per person, which ended up with 1000 possible camps, regardless of terrain. With bad terrain, there would be less.

Anyhow, that's only tangential to the point, which is that the biblical stories clearly imply that they weren't continuously on the move. If they were staying in camp for a few weeks at a time (which some stories imply), they could wander around the area for quite a while... assuming they had absolutely no sense of direction. After all, God was confusing them....

But all this is meaningless speculation until there's some archaeological evidence.

Steve Wells said...

I love your realism, athanasius!

Yes, I suppose would be possible to get a few million people massed together into a few square kilometers and then have them all randomly move together from one location to the next for forty years.

But wouldn't it make a bit more sense to have the families all line up and start walking east, cross the Red Sea (with a little help from their murderous god), and then turn left? The whole trip should have taken about two weeks.

Michael Ejercito said...

Since we know that the Ancient Egyptians erased from their records all traces of people with whom they disagreed, and since all ancient civilizations were VERY selective about what was recorded in the first place, it is no surprise that there is now no trace of events so embarrassing to such a mighty nation!
Egyptians were pioneers in the practice of revisionist history.

For example, they recorded how Ramses II led the Egyptians to victory over the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh, forgetting to mention that the Son of Ra got his semi-divine ass kicked.

barriejohn said...

You`re quoting me completely out of context here, but am I surprised? If there were literally millions of Hebrew slaves living in Egypt for hundreds of years there would certainly be a record of their presence: whyever not, I might ask! And where on earth is the archaeological evidence? The truth is that it just didn`t happen!!

tom clark said...

Read your Bible Mr. wells. They were murmuring and complaining about God. This was their punishment.