Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Did the Exodus really happen?

1. This presentation is both usual and unusual. It's usual in the sense that this is the standard critical view of the Exodus. It's unusual in the sense that this isn't what the laity are normally exposed to by Catholic apologists. There's a chasm between mainstream Catholic scholarship–between what their bishops and priests privately believe–and the retrograde version of Catholicism peddled by most Catholic apologists. 

I don't really have anything new to say about the Exodus, but having brought it up, I will venture some comments:

2. What is the Exodus? That can defined more broadly or narrowly. Narrowly, it could be confined to the set of events leading to the escape from Egypt. The period spanning the time when Moses returns to Egypt and begins to have confrontations with Pharaoh and the sorcerers, through the ten plagues, and concluding with the Red Sea crossing. 

When, however, questions are raised about the historicity of the Exodus, that's often shorthand, not only for the Exodus proper, but the wilderness wandering and conquest of Canaan. So that's one way to define or frame the issue. 

3. Another way is to ask whether events happened as described in the narratives. If you stepped into a time machine, when back to the time and place described in the Hexateuch, when you step out of the time machine, could you tell where you were in the books? Would the scenes be recognizable in relation to the Biblical narratives? 

4. Another way of answering the question is what is meant by historicity. Does that mean things happened pretty much as described? Or does it mean the accounts have a historical core, buried under layers of legionary embellishment?

Is what really happened naturally explicable? Is it necessary to strip away the supernaturalism to arrive at the underlying history? 

5. The question that raises is whether there's any evidence for the existence of a prayer-answering God. Is there a God who ever intervenes in this way? Of does miraculous divine intervention only happen in pious, inspirational fiction? 

Fr. Casey is sensitive to this issue. He tries to stake a balance. He thinks something happened. But the question is whether the something that happened includes conspicuous divine involvement. If it's just something that slaves did on their own, then is there any reason to believe we can ever fall back on God in a pinch? Is there a God who sometimes intercedes in human affairs, individually or collectively–to do for us what we can't do for ourselves? Or is that just make-believe and wishful thinking? In reality, we're on our own. Was what really happened something that could happen in a Godless universe?

6. One of Casey's assumptions seems to be that biblical records aren't evidence in their own right. Their credibility requires independent corroboration. 

7. His presentation is very one-sided. He raises stock objections that are dealt with by evangelical commentators, viz. Desi Alexander, John Currid, Duane Garrett, Robert Hubbard, Kenneth Mathews, Douglas Stuart, as well as evangelical monographs, viz., Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); James Hoffmeier, Alan Millard, and Gary Rendsburg, ed. "Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?" • Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives (Eisenbrauns 2016).

He has some awareness of biblical archeology, but his information seems to be very dated. As a consequence, he commits several strategic blunders about the nature of the evidence, the number of Israelites, and the resultant logistics. 

8. This is a key issue in Catholicism, because it's not as if Catholicism provides a safety net in case OT narratives or NT narratives have undergone substantial legendary embellishment. For the same skepticism logically extends to the lives of the saints. Hagiographic tall tales about Catholic miracles and apparitions. 


  1. You might find my take on the Exodus interesting. This is a response video I made to an atheist's arguments against it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc-wpFyb_yo&t

    1. Mr. Horn, as Calvinist continuationist I think you clearly won that debate you had with James White on Perseverance of the Saints. You're one of the clearer thinking Catholic apologists, IMO.

      Presumably you know it already, but if you don't, it so happens that Steve has addressed some of your materials. Here are a random selection of his responses:





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  2. Speaking of the Exodus, the newest video in the Patterns of Evidences series of documentaries is on the Exodus. Part one is showing in select theaters for one day in Feb. 18. Part two is showing for one day at May 5. More information at https://patternsofevidence.com/.

    I've seen the two earlier videos in the series and they interesting. I don't know how scholarly they are, but they are interesting in the presentation of historical speculations that might confirm the truth of portions of OT history.

    1. Correction. The first documentary was on the Exodus (generally). The second documentary was on "The Moses Controversy" (which had to do with whether Moses could have written the Torah). This third documentary is titled "Red Sea Miracle" on the search for evidence of the crossing of the "sea" [again in two parts, Feb. 18 & May 5].

      Karaite Jew Nehemia Gordon interviewed the film maker here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb45c1eQQaw.

  3. If the Exodus did not exist at all, not even as a historical event (devoid of its more miraculous elements), then this means that the Jews concocted a fairy-tale which is extremely demeaning, both for themselves, as well as for an otherwise innocent neighboring population. The purpose behind such a senseless act of both character assassination and self-worth suicide eludes my better judgment.