A Response to the Exodus Critics
Believers will, as time goes by, confront many people who either do not believe the Biblical account of the Exodus or are simply in opposition to it. They come up with many points to justify their position and sometimes it is hard for believers to refute what was told them.
This paper is designed to help with the refutation. Most of the points for the unbelieving side are taken from a lecture given by Dr. Ziony Zevit in a series of lectures titled Bible Stories:How Narratives Work and What They Reveal, for B.A.S. .
This refutation is not an attack on Dr. Zevit at all but simply addresses the points he raises throughout his presentation. His points will be the colour Red and any extra points from outside of his lectures will be placed in green. The responses will be in black.
- Not Historical, never happened.
This is a common argument from the unbelieving side as they have decided to follow the secular science directive that all events must have physical evidence to support their validity. There are problems with this point of view and several will be listed. A). Modern man cannot see into the past. They cannot determine what did or didn’t take place thousands of years ago since their tools of science are far too limited to see back into a time long gone. Scientists cannot determine what a person had for breakfast last week thus it is very doubtful they can determine what events took place further back in time; B). What evidence are they looking for? There has only been 1 global flood so what does its evidence look like? How will we know it when we find it? That last question can be answered as researchers, both secular and christian, have found evidence for a global flood. (see the Noah’s flood evidence link). It is highly unlikely that the discovery of the ark would change any skeptics’ minds because there is no way to prove that THE ark was truly found. Given the fact that all the flood waters did not recede to pre-flood levels, mtns., changed, there has been construction, wars, natural disasters it would be unrealistic to demand evidence when we do not even know where to begin looking or how deep to dig; C). What proof can the unbeliever supply to show the flood didn’t happen? Now they will say you can’t prove a negative but if they are going to make the claim that it didn’t happen then they need to back up their words. It is easy to dismiss the Biblical claim and deny its historicity but it is another thing to prove one’s dismissal true. The unbeliever would rather be sitting in the position of authority where they can look at other’s efforts in support of the Biblical account and deny any evidence that comes along. That is their protection because most skeptics do not want to believe thus they set themselves up as the determiner of what is or isn’t evidence allowing them to dismiss it all.
Really, what the unbeliever does is simply ensure that their unbelief remains intact as they have no interest in proving the Bible true and they do not want it shown to be true. They are very dishonest when it comes to Biblical topics. They do not care that God said to use ‘faith’ because physical evidence is their loophole to avid the truth. We believers will not find or receive all the evidence the unbeliever demands because that would ruin ‘faith’ and God does not allow what pleases Him to be ruined. ‘Faith’ will always be part of the equation no matter how hard people try to omit it.
- Not enough water to cover the earth and the mountains.
This one was not included in the lecture but it needed to be added in as it is a common point used against the Biblical flood. We actually do not know how much water there was in the beginning but we can conclude that they covered the earth given the words in Genesis 1: 2,6 & 9. I quote: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water…And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear…’
We do not know where the water went that was replaced by dry ground. We do not know how much water is underground at this moment and we do not know how much water is kept from earth because of the sky. Gen. 7:11 tells us ‘the floodgates of the heavens were opened…’ Thus we can conclude that there was enough water to cover the earth up to more than 20ft. above the mountains.
No one in the modern world was present at this time which makes it impossible for them to declare that there was or is not enough water available. The unbeliever has not searched all of the area beneath the surface of the ground and they have not been where the waters above the sky are stored. They can assume and guess, conjecture or speculate but they do not know how much water is available to God at any given moment in time.
- No evidence for it happening.
This was touched on in point one so it won’t be repeated except to say that the secular world’s rules do not apply when it comes to God’s creation, His word or Biblical accounts. God never said to use evidence and if one takes the time to think about they would see how wise that omission is because there is no way for 100% of the past to remain to be discovered today.
It would also be unfair to the people of history to be told to use faith and hide the evidence till the 18th-21st centuries only to be discovered by those who are coming at the end of time. Why should the modern age be so privileged to receive all the evidence and not the rest of history?
God is just and He made a just equation; one which all peoples from all times can use—faith. It was the best way because time, natural elements, disasters, wars, inventions, construction, bombs and so on all destroy previously existing items. K.A. Kitchen describes the amount of destruction that takes place in His book The Bible In its World in its 1st chapter.
Yes God could preserve the past if He wanted to but why? If he did there would be no room for farms and homes, etc., for all the civilizations that followed up to today. Physical evidence is not the key as is evidence by the impossibility to prove you existed after your demise. Think about it. Yes people can present pictures and identification as evidence but that doesn’t mean they belonged to you. They could have been faked and we know fake ids abound as well as doctored pictures.
- The Number of Israelites was too large .
Unbelievers like to say that the Biblical writers exaggerated the number of people that left Egypt. They say it is impossible. Unfortunately for them, the only person who was present at the time and counted those who left wrote the Bible. There are no Egyptian records detailing the Israelite population at the time of departure and no Egyptian stood on a mountain top and counted as the Israelites walked by.
This is a faith issue. If the Bible says there were 600,000 men then there were 600,000 men. Some people like to add wives and children to the men and saying there were over 2 million people walking in the desert. BUT who said all those men were married and had children? The Bible doesn’t nor does any other ancient source mention that theory. Some of those men may well have been teen-agers who have not had the chance to find a wife, others may have been married but childless. You can’t add in people you can’t verify were actually there.
The safest thing to do is side with God and stick to the number given in the Bible. After all, not only did the Israelites fight a few battles in the desert they also had a large amount of land to conquer and a few men would not be able to do that (unless God said there were fewer men used like He did with Gideon).
We do not know the exact amount and since the Bible does not say then we do not speculate for all we know many of the children were babies and required little in the way of sustenance. Who knows.
- The Sinai could only support a population of 30,000 people.
That is the modern thought looking back. The problem with that idea is that we see the land as it is today not like it was 3500 years ago. We do not know what the land could support but secularists like to guess. They also do not read the Biblical accounts very well. Exodus 12: 34ff tells us that the Israelites brought dough with them. So the desert did not have to supply a lot of food, as the Israelites had brought a lot of their own in the beginning.
Also we have repeated passages telling us that God brought water, quail, and manna to feed and water the population. The Sinai did not have to provide for very much. God looks after His people.
Deuteronomy 2:6 tells us about God instructing the Israelites to use their silver to pay for the food eaten and the water drank. The Israelites did not have to rely solely upon the Sinai for its nourishment.
- No Trace of late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age settlements
Nor should there be. The Israelites were punished for their disbelief and were sentenced to 40 years of wandering. Not being able to put down roots, build a town or city or manufacture any material goods makes it hard to leave any traces of one’s existence in the desert. James Hoffmeier in his book The Israelites in Sinai in chapter 7 on pages 149 to 153 details how hard it is to find traces of a temporary large group of people traveling through the desert.
Page 151 is interesting as Dr. Hoffmeier says “Even given the prolonged period of the Egyptian siege at Megiddo, with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of horses from the chariots present, no archaeological evidence of this camp has been discovered, despite a century of excavations and exploration at Megiddo.”
Those that look for pottery from the 15th or 14th centuries BC will be disappointed as K.A. Kitchen pointed out in his book On The Reliability of the Old Testament on page 467 that, and I quote: ‘ What is more, from Sinai the Hebrews expected initially to be in Canaan in a year, not forty years. They had no need to lug tons of heavy pottery around with them…if leatherwork or skins would do.”
Another that needs to be remembered is that the Israelites did not stay in one place (Kadesh Barnea) for 38 years. They were sentenced to wander and wander they did. Deuteronomy 2: 14 states: ‘ Thirty-eight passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley…’
There was no opportunity to create, manufacture and discard material goods. God preserved their clothes and shoes among others things and they did not stop long enough to farm or tend orchards and on it goes. No towns or cities would be built for the Sinai was not their home nor their destination. It was punishment and their home awaited across the Jordon in a very fertile land.
- No Egyptian records detailing the captivity or Exodus
R.K. Harrison in his book Old Testament Times on pages 24-5 describes the reason why there are no Egyptian records we can peruse to verify the Biblical accounts. He says, and I quote: ‘Similarly, it is important to avoid the kind of embarrassment caused in some scholarly circles by the assumption that the Egyptian historical sources were as reliable factualy as they appeared to be at first sight. It is now known that the bulk of such material is propaganda rather than history, and that it was composed in order to present to future generations a “correct” view of what happened. Thus it is far less reliable as a description of events than had formerly been supposed.’
In other words, the Egyptians edited their histories to create a better picture than what it really was. It is also known that the Egyptians did not record defeats, especially one as great as the one that took their Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. There is no reason to record that debacle since it left Egypt and the Egyptians vulnerable to invasion.
K.A. Kitchen in His little book, The Bible In Its World on page 17 states; ‘It was upon papyri that fine literature, religious texts… and all administrative records were written. Thus, as 90% of Egyptian papyri are lost forever, our losses of knowledge here are enormous.’
For all we know they may have kept a record of the Israelite move into the land, their rise in numbers, their enslavement and their eventual departure. We will never know but we do have the Bible and faith and the Bible is never wrong. However, there is one document that has survived from antiquity which describes events similar, if not the exact same ones, as the ones recorded in the Bible.
It is called the Ipuwer Papyrus and sadly many scholars do not date the text to the time of the Exodus nor accept it as a eye-witness accounts of the plagues. I tend to disagree with those doubters and think it is an account of the plagues whether it is an eye-witness account or not remains to be seen.
But many scholars like to set themselves up as the final determiner of the past and the only authority which gets to say what document goes with what era. I find their dating methods to be in accurate and doubt their conclusions. I also think that the Hyksos came after the Israelite departure and were the Amalekites the Israelites fought in the desert.
- The Splitting of the Red Sea
Here people just doubt a miracle. They come up with translational theories, lakes theories, anything but what the Bible says. There is nothing scientific about the parting of the Red Sea, the waters had to be deep enough to drown a whole army and wide enough to accommodate all the men in that army to be drowned. In other words, little lakes and rivers just won’t do.
No we do not know how many men were in pursuit of the Israelites but it was enough to leave the Egyptians defenseless and ripe for take over. I say that the Amalekites were the Hyksos and that they took over Egypt after the Israelites left because of Genesis 15: 14, God’s informing Abraham of what will take place with his descendants: ‘But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves…’ It is possible that the Hyksos were part of that punishment after the plagues did their work.
Hard to say as we know nothing about the Hyksos and we know nothing about the Amalekites. Exodus 17:14 says: ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write tis on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.
But that is an aside and must wait for another day and study. Suffice it to say that the Egyptian army and Pharaoh were wiped out at the Red Sea and nothing will change that fact. The Egyptians were punished as God told Abraham and God keeps His word and promises.
Scholars and archaeologists can argue over translations, evidence, and other details but they weren’t there and we can only take God’s word by faith. If we do not believe Moses then we will have a hard time believing Jesus (Jn. 5:45-7).
If one studies properly, it is not hard to refute the arguments of the unbeliever for we have the Holy Spirit guiding us to the truth and they do not. They have doubt and unbelief as their guides while we have God on ours.
We know that the Exodus took place as God describes in the Bible because God does not lie and if the account were anything but the truth then we have no hope for life after death nor salvation and no reason to be moral.
Questions and answers about the Exodus
- Did the plagues actually occur in the order and manner described in Exodus?
The simple answer, of course, is yes. There is no reason to doubt the Biblical author or record as to the order of the plagues.
- Are there any ancient documents or other types of evidence corroborating that they took place or that something like them took place?
The Bible does not need corroboration. It is a book that requires faith as that is what pleases God. It is His word and to doubt Him means one does not believe what God is saying. It needs to be remembered that the ancient Egyptians would blot out defeats to make their history better looking for future generations thus it is safe to assume that after such a devastating defeat, all records of the Israelite sojourn and exodus would be removed.
There is one document one might consider to be of use and that is the Ipuwer Papyrus. Most scholars date it to another time than the exodus but I do not agree with the dating systems and have my suspicions that it is an account of the time of the Exodus and shortly thereafter.
- Can the less realistic and surrealistic plagues be explained as natural phenomena?
No. God will use natural means to accomplish His will but that doesn’t demote the miracle to a phenomenon of nature. Not every miracle will be a ‘magical’ hocus pocus event where things suddenly materialize out of thin air. Sometimes, it is a simple leading of people to walk or drive in a certain direction to answer the pleas of the afflicted.
God has chosen to use people for most of His work thus those acts may be confused with luck or coincidence but if one digs deep enough, they will see God’s hand in it all and it will still be a miracle.
It is said that God used the eruption of Thera because some of the plagues resembled the actions of a smaller local eruptions throughout the world. Again, many scholars date that eruption to a different time than the exodus but that is to be expected as secular scholars do not want the Bible to be shown to be true.
- Is the plague narrative a hodgepodge of sources pasted together by ancient editors (redactors)?
No. That would undermine the Bible’s and God’s credibility and lay charges of dishonesty upon both, making it so God sinned. He can’t sin nor can He lie. He also doesn’t need editors to do His work for Him.
The biblical account is one story from one source—God. The idea of editors or redactors working on the Bible comes from scholars who see different writing styles within the same/different books or different name for God and so on. They feel that the ancients people only wrote in one style all the time.
That is misleading as any person would know that they and their friends do not always write in the same style all the time. Different styles for different purposes.
- What is the origin of the traditions in the extant plague narrative?
God. Paul tells us that all scripture is God Breathed (2 Tim. 3) The source for the multiple origins theory or the late date theories come from secular scholars who do not accept the claims of the Bible and seek to distort the truth. They try to find minute reasons to make the charge that the Bible is a book written by humans not God. They do so because they can attack human authorship but they can’t attack God’s.
- What is the meaning of the narrative in its biblical context?
God redeems His people; God provides for His people; God will discipline His people; If people are faithful and obedient then they will receive God’s promises. For the modern believer, the Promised Land is heaven for eternity
- Beyond the obvious story, did the plague narrative have any theological implications for ancient Israel?
Simply, they needed to learn to trust and obey God. They were slaves for a long time in Egypt and they needed to break free from the oppression they suffered and put their eyes on God not humans.
Sadly, their good behavior only lasted for a short period of time as they were soon lured away into sin and taking their eyes of God by evil influences and the temptations found amongst the secular world. (The book of Judges)