Rewriting History

There have been many times that I’ve encountered the idea that a literal Exodus never happened.

This is not, I hasten to add, the idea that the Hebrew departure from Egypt was unaccompanied by miraculous signs or the blessing of God. That much is to be expected from anyone who is not a believer in the Judeo-Christian God (and many who are).

Rather, I keep running across this idea that there was no migration from Egypt at all – that the Israelites were simply a particular group of Cannanites who came to believe that they were from somewhere else. Apparently, they chose Egypt due to contact with Egyptian merchants.

This strikes me as entirely odd. More so after reading the arguments in favor of the concept, and noting that they rely almost entirely on our lack of evidence for a conquest of Cannan. It seemed remarkably easy to suggest plausible alternatives which involved the Hebrews leaving Egypt, and eventually coming to tell the story as it appears in the Bible. One needn’t accept the existence of God, after all, to believe that a group of people migrated from Egypt to Cannan. And, in any case, an argument based on the lack of evidence is never a very good one.

All this left me wondering why this idea is repeated as often as it is.

The plethora of alternative explanations of Biblical history can’t be fully explained in terms of a search for truth or an attack on western monotheism. Both these motivations would be better served by seeking to base one’s case on the best research.

Granted, an attack on (or defense of) the Bible needn’t be valid in order to be effective on the lay person. Still, it seems to me that there is something less sinister, but potentially as dangerous, as this happening:

In a word: novelty.

Internet theories, like science documentaries, are more interested in keeping your attention than giving you a reasonable picture of reality. And the most significant reason why the fringe theories seem to claim so much attention in debates may simply be this. After all, I’ve heard references to Mithras far more often than I’ve been asked about the original ending of the book of Mark.

And, to be honest, I’ve felt the temptation to jump into the sensationalist discussion. But the tragedy is that the truth gets lost in it. Real curiosity, given a chance to look at truth, will eventually realize that it isn’t at all boring.

Still, for that chance to happen, the claims of the sensationalist fringe need to be set aside.


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