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Theology and Biblical Exegesis:

Ancient Israel. Solomon the Wise, one of King David's three sons, built a truly organized and centralized monarchy. We use cookies to improve your experience on our site and bring you ads that might interest you. Read our Privacy Policy to find out more.

Lecture 8. Exodus: From Egypt to Sinai (Exodus 5-24, 32; Numbers)

The Exodus Narrative The story of the Exodus is related in a few dramatic chapters: , men left Egypt on a long trek to freedom. Were the Israelites Slaves? Explaining the Passover Miracles This single fact, however, does not resolve the enigma. Problems and Contradictions in Exodus Other scholars, however, totally reject the historical validity of Exodus. Intermediate Theories about Exodus Between the two opposing views there are several intermediary theories. Join Our Newsletter Empower your Jewish discovery, daily. Sign Up. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:.

The book celebrates and memorializes this great saving event in…. The emphasis on one or the other has varied across time and space. The Decalogue, as the Ten Commandments are sometimes called, remains valid for Christians, although the divine basis grounding the covenant….

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At the Exodus from Egypt 13th century bce , YHWH showed his faithfulness and power by liberating the Israelites from bondage and punishing their oppressors with plagues and drowning them in the sea. At Sinai he made the Israelites his people and gave them the terms of his…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice.

Can this possibly be true? The picture we have here is very authentic because the young boys in ancient Egypt were under a tough master. In fact we have the testimony of some of the scribes who talked about how their scribe master beat them when they were lazy and made sure they wrote their letters right. Of course we have no proof but what's interesting is that during the general period we place Moses, during this time non-royal children were also introduced. The royal children of foreign kings, kings from Canaan, Syria, were entered into this institution to learn how to read and write.

The Pharaohs did keep records, the records show that palaces had nurseries where royal children were educated, and that they did bring foreign children into these nurseries. It may have been easy for the Pharaoh's daughter to introduce a baby she had found into one of these nurseries.

Exodus: History or Mythic Tale?

Epidemiologist Dr John Marr believes most of the ten plagues could have been caused by polluted water in the Nile poisoning fish and setting off a tragic chain of events. Meanwhile, Professor Costas Synolakis, a leading tsunami expert, believes a massive volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini in BCE could have generated a giant tidal wave that struck the Nile Delta.

This incredibly powerful wave could be linked to the parting of a 'reed sea' in the delta that could explain how the story of the 'Red Sea' parting into two walls of water was written centuries later.


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In the Bible, the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea are miracles — acts of God working through nature. Can any of them be explained scientifically? Scientific experts such as climatologists, oceanographers and vulcanologists suggest that there is evidence that a string of natural events triggered phenomena that could explain the story of the plagues and the parting of the sea.

In an environmental catastrophe happened in the town of New Burn, North Carolina.

The residents woke up to find the waters of their river - the Neuse - had turned red. More than a billion fish died. People working near the river found that they were covered in sores. The cause of this was found to be pollution. The pollution had come from a pig farm further up the river. Millions of gallons of pig-waste had found its way into the river, causing a genetic mutation in a marine micro-organism called pfisteria; turning it from harmless into lethal. The river had been poisoned. John Marr, an epidemiologist specialising in environmental disasters, believes pollution in ancient Egypt could have caused the first six plagues.

Pfisteria, or something like it, caused the fish to die, thus turning the river red; the pollution would have driven the frogs onto the land, on land the frogs would die, causing an explosion of flies and lice. The flies could then have transmitted viral diseases to livestock, killing them. Ash columns were ejected into the atmosphere, circling the globe within two weeks and causing complete darkness over a radius of miles.

John Marr, epidemiologist, thinks that fall-out of volcanic ash could have produced a toxic bloom of algae in the River Nile; thus setting off a chain of events similar to those produced by pfisteria. The volcanic theory seems dubious because there is no active volcano in Egypt. But miles to the north of the Nile delta is the Greek island of Santorini. In the 16th century BCE, Santorini was blown apart by a gigantic volcanic eruption that was thousands of times more powerful than a nuclear weapon.

It was one of the biggest explosions of the last 10, years. The ash cloud from the Santorini blast would have been huge and far-reaching. When Santorini erupted, the wind was blowing in a south-easterly direction, towards Egypt. Samples of Santorini ash have been collected from the sea bed, the heaviest concentrations being in the direction of the Nile Delta.

Oceanographer Dr Daniel Stanley, went to the Delta to drill for samples of mud and silt to see if the ash could have reached Egypt. He found volcanic shards that can be firmly related to the explosion. He says: 'I think it would have been a frightening experience. It would have been heard, the event. The blast ash fall would have been felt. Mike Rampino, a climate modeller from New York University, has run a computer simulation to look at the climatic effects of the Santorini blast.

The ash cloud passing overhead would have completely cut out the sun and plunged the Delta into darkness. This would have been accompanied by the kind of unusual weather seen after volcanic eruptions — lightening and perhaps hail.


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This would explain two of the 10 plagues — darkness and hail. With river levels dropping, the water would have begun to stagnate. Combined with the poisonous minerals that were raining down from the ash cloud, the Nile would have become a deadly cocktail and conditions would have been ripe for an outbreak of further plagues. When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, "What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us? According to the Bible, as the Hebrews left Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent chariots to chase the runaway slaves.

Could be a biblical exaggeration? In , on the site of the city of Ramses II, German archeologists unearthed the foundations of an ancient stable. By the end of the dig, they had found enough stables for at least horses and chariots. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. But if the exodus took place in the 16th century BCE, could the pillars of fire and cloud by explained by a column of volcanic ash from Santorini?

Santorini is miles away, but the column of smoke would have towered some 40 miles above sea level. Climatologist Mike Rampino thinks that the ash could have been seen from as far away as Egypt. During the day, the ash would have looked like a column of smoke and by night static electricity in the atmosphere would have caused lightning in this cloud.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. If you read the bible in the original Hebrew, the word 'red' is mistranslated. In the Hebrew bible Moses and his people cross the 'yam suph' - the Sea of Reeds. Now this is a strange story. You can imagine trying to cross the Red Sea would be horrendously difficult but a Reed Sea is something quite different.

This is marshland areas and this is probably what they crossed. Ancient Egyptian texts mention an area called Patchoufy : The Reeds. This is probably what they crossed. So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. If you're talking about a shallow reed swamp of maybe two or three metres maximum of water, this sort of thing is physically possible. In fact it's been witnessed within the last years The Egyptian army might not have been completely decimated.

Many of the horses would have been killed, chariots would have been stuck in the mud. Computer simulations of the Santorini eruption show that the collapse of the island would have triggered a mega-tsunami - a foot wave travelling at miles an hour. Floyd McCoy, a tsunami expert, says this was one of the largest waves in history and must have reached Egypt.

We find evidence, believe it or not, on the deep ocean floor. The tsunamis actually scraped across the bottom of the ocean floor in the Mediterranean and disturbed the sediment. We can find that sediment. That gives us some indication of the directions they went The computer model showed us waves radiating out all over the Mediterranean, reaching the Nile Delta. Could the tsunami have divided up the waters of the Reed Sea? If you look at ordinary waves you can see that just before they break, the water withdraws from the shore.

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The Exodus: Fact or Fiction? - Biblical Archaeology Society

A mega-tsunami would syphon billions of gallons of water - not just from the shore but from connecting rivers and lakes - creating dry land for as long as two hours. We should think of a two-metre tsunami wave like a rapid change of the sea level by two metres along the coast, and that can can travel several kilometres inland. The destructive force of the wave could easily destroy an army. In , the Philippine island of Mindoro was hit by a tsunami and an earthquake. The earthquake caused a massive crack in the bed of a lake about a mile inland.

An eye-witness said he saw the water like a waterfall in the centre of the lake just go down. After a while, he could see the bottom of the lake: "I thought I could even walk through. Then the tsunami arrived one mile further down the river and swept away a 6, ton barge lying on the shore. The mega-tsunami which hit the Nile delta was a thousand times more devastating than this one. Moses' appearance marks a kind of new beginning in the biblical story.

Israel's ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are in the past. In time of famine their descendants went down to Egypt, the largest and wealthiest neighbouring country, and settled there. These Hebrews became numerous, but Egypt's ruler, the Pharaoh, decided that they would be a good source of cheap labour, and began to exploit them in building projects; he also decided to make them less dangerous by keeping their numbers down through killing their male children at birth Exodus 1.

When Moses was born, his mother sought to protect him by putting him in a basket to float on the river Nile. Here he was providentially found by the Pharaoh's daughter who took pity on him and brought him up as her own child Exodus 2. One day Moses saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting. He intervened and killed the Egyptian. But when this became known he fled for his life. In the land of Midian, probably somewhere in the Sinai peninsula, he married the daughter of a priest, had two children, and settled down to life as a shepherd.

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That might have been the end of his story - except that his compatriots were still enslaved in Egypt, and God resolved to do something about it. The Bible contains astonishing accounts of God and Moses speaking face to face begin when Moses is quietly minding his own business as a shepherd. God appears to Moses in a burning bush. Moses sees a bush which burns without being consumed - a symbol of the presence of God which defies usual human experience of things. And he hears a voice which calls him by his own name Exodus The point is that God has chosen to effect his plan through a human agent, Moses.

It is for this reason that Moses is called the greatest prophet in Israel, for a prophet is someone who speaks and acts on God's behalf. God is calling Moses to embody the pattern of human response to God that becomes basic within the Bible.

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The other great face to face encounter with God is when Moses has brought the Israelites out of Egypt and has returned with them to Sinai where he first met God. The encounter is awesome. When God appears to the people of Israel, a whole mountain burns; for when God comes, Sinai becomes like a volcano not an actual volcano, but God's coming is so awesome that the only way to depict it is in the language of the most overwhelming of known phenomena :. God then gives the Ten Commandments to Moses as a kind of basic constitution or charter for Israel, together with some more detailed laws that apply the Commandments within everyday situations.

Israel responds by promising obedience Exodus