Did The Exodus Really Happen?

In celebration of his new title, The Exodus, Peter Feinman discusses everything from his inspiration to the questions he seeks to answer about The Exodus, and the Bible, through this excellent new book.

It’s all Charlton Heston’s fault.  My book, The Exodus: An Egyptian Story is due to him. It may seem hard to believe now, but once there was a time when the movie The Ten Commandments was a major event. It was a blockbuster long before the term was invented and for years it only could be seen in the theatres. The special effects from the miracle at the sea still rate as a powerful cinematic experience. It also raised a question. In the real world, how, I wondered, was Moses able to lead people out of Egypt against the will of Pharaoh?

My father deserves some credit also. When I was growing up he took the family on driving trips along the east coast of the United States to visit historic sites. These family excursions often were during school vacations. Naturally, I collected souvenirs at each and every stop. Sometimes they included parchment-like replicas of historic documents. I think they are still up in the attic. Many of these sites were involved the American Revolution in some way. How, I wondered, were the Founding fathers able to lead We the People to independence against the will of King George?

You may notice a similarity between these two experiences. In fact, although I did not know it as a child, the Founding Fathers of the United States were quite cognizant of similarities with the Exodus from Egypt. Unlike American congressional representatives today, they really knew their Bible. It was only natural when I became old enough to learn of that connection between the Exodus and the American Revolution, too, in my college history classes.

The information in these preceding paragraphs is correct. I did see the movie as a child. I did go on those trips as a child. I did learn about the American Revolution in college. It certainly is possible that the three events are interconnected as they all are part of my life. It certainly is plausible that the interconnections contributed to my journey to understand the Exodus in history just as one could understand the American Revolution in history even if it used cosmic imagery. It certainly is reasonable that those interconnections led me to write the book The Exodus: An Egyptian Story.  But is it true?

I have no specific memory of deciding in my mind that I wanted to prove in history that Moses had led the Exodus from Egypt. I also cannot specify some moment when I connected the American Revolution as a real event in history just as the Exodus had been also. Yet I also cannot deny that all these events and experiences were percolating in my mind either prior to the “eureka’ moment when I did decide to prove the Exodus true as an event in history. I do know that I sought out Egyptian history and culture books and always read them with the sense of what did they mean for the world of Moses even when they never mentioned the Exodus. He and the Exodus were always in the back of mind … and sometimes in the front of mind as in the papers I presented at annual conferences of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and the then American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR).

Now at last there is a book. It has taken many twists and turns over the years often in ways that have been surprising to me. I like that fact that I am still learning new things. I like the fact that my understanding of the world of Moses has grown in time. I like the fact that I am continuing to broaden my knowledge of Egyptology beyond its traditional limits in time, space, and values.

The book expresses many of the thought processes expressed in this blog. It was a book of discovery for me to write it. I hope it will be a book of discovery for you when you read it.

The Exodus: An Egyptian Story
By Peter Feinman

Did the Exodus occur? This question has been asked in biblical scholarship since its origin as a modern science. The desire to resolve the question scientifically was a key component in the funding of archaeological excavations in the nineteenth century. Egyptian archaeologists routinely equated sites with their presumed biblical counterpart. Initially, it was taken for granted that the Exodus had occurred. It was simply a matter of finding the archaeological data to prove it. So far, those results have been for naught.

The Exodus: An Egyptian Story takes a very real-world approach to understanding the Exodus. It is not a story of cosmic spectaculars that miraculously or coincidentally occurred when a people prepared to leave Egypt. There are no special effects in the telling of this story. Instead, the story is told with real people in the real world doing what real people do.

Oxbow Books | 9781789254747 | Paperback | £30.00

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