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The Exodus and Passover

29 Sep

The current Torah (“Law”: the first five books of the Tanakh or Old Testament) was redacted somewhere around 500 BCE, somewhere around the return from the Babylonian exile by the Persians. Prior to the Babylonian exile, there isn’t very much archaeological evidence for the events presented in the Torah. This includes Passover celebrations.

As the story in Exodus goes, Passover is a celebration of the Angel of Death “passing over” the firstborn sons of the Jews in Egypt and killing every other firstborn. This leads to the curiously anonymous Pharaoh deciding to release the Jews. Subsequently, Moses gets the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai, establishing YHWH’s monotheistic covenant, and the Jews wander the desert for 40 years. Joshua then leads a successful campaign to invade Canaan and the Jews receive their promised land.

The problem is, there’s no evidence of any Jewish presence in Egypt, no archaeological evidence of 600,000 able bodied men (with all of their wives, children, and livestock, thus over 1 million people) wandering the desert for 40 years, and no archaeological evidence of an invasion of, and mass dislocation of, any large popluations in Canaan.

In the area between Egypt and Canaan, if there was over 1 million people with all of their livestock wandering around for 40 years, there would have been massive amounts of garbage left behind. Pots, pans, fire pits, animal bones, excrement, clothes, etc. There’s no evidence for any sort of large group of people living nomadically in the area between Egypt and Canaan.

Excavations of modern Palestine reveal that there had not been a large influx of people around the time period that the Book of Joshua describes. Ancient Canaan shows periods of relative flux, but never a massive invasion. This means that the ancient Israelites had been native to Canaan all along. They were just Canaanites who developed a distinctive culture.

Thus no Exodus. Thus no Passover.

While there’s no evidence of invasion by a large group of people (or even any invasion at all), there appears to have been a sudden transformation of demographics around 1,200 BCE where villages sprout up in previoulsy unpopulated highlands. These settlements might have once been pastoral nomads forced to take up farming due to the collapse of Canaanite city-culture. The idea of a unified kingdom prior to the exile might be a myth, and the historical existence of the beloved David and Solomon are thrown into serious doubt. I use the term “beloved” in front of David’s name for ironic contrast; that is what DVD means in Hebrew. Because of this ambiguity, it’s uncertain whether an inscription to “DVD” in archaeological ruins of ancient Palestine refer to the historical personage, or just someone/something that was beloved.

When the Judean elites returned from exile due to the messiah Cyrus of Persia’s conquering of Babylon, they had to organize the peasant class of native Israelites. The farmers. Thus the Passover celebration was created; to coincide with the first harvest of spring. These Judean elites crafted a miraculous story explaining the newfound monotheism (one inscription from the Shephelah, dating from the period before the exile, refers to YHWH and his female consort Asarah) to these peasants to coincide with the spring harvest. Thus every Passover occurs on the first Friday after the first full moon of the first day of spring. The problem is, these returning Judean exiles were lackeys of the Persians.

Persians never attempted to root out prior religions by force, but simply “infected” them with their theology. Zoroastrism was the religion of the Persians, and the concept of monotheism is more Zoroastrian than pre-exilic Israelite. The christ Cyrus might have allowed Jews to return to their homeland, but he changed their polytheistic religion as well. The Torah book Deuteronomy (Greek for “second laws”) was “found” (i.e. written) by the returning Judean-Persian elite priestly class to further Persianize and assert monotheism to the average Jews. Ezra was more than likely an employee of the Persians, and the one who probably organized the Torah into the version that most resembles our current one; fusing the separate Elohist, Yahwist, Priestly, and Deuteronomist accounts of the pre and post exilic Israelites into one unified Bible.

This process also further separated the Northern Kingdom Jews – who weren’t exiled – (thus becoming Samaritans) from the Southern Kingdom Jews who were exiled and returned.

Source: “The Bible Unearthed” by Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and Neil Asher Silberman, a contributing editor to Archaeology Magazine.

Baruch Halpern, professor of Jewish Studies at my alma mater Penn State calls this book “the boldest and most exhilarating synthesis of Bible and archaeology in fifty years”.

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2 Comments

Posted by on September 29, 2009 in archaeology, canaan, exodus, passover, polytheism, samaritans

 

2 responses to “The Exodus and Passover

  1. Qohelet

    September 30, 2009 at 12:51 am

    There is some evidence of Jewish presence, though not to the extent claimed in Exodus. There is at least one (and perhaps more) Egyptian painting depicting Jewish slaves in Egypt.

     
  2. J. Quinton

    October 4, 2009 at 4:19 am

    Yes, there's evidence that the Egyptians knew about Israelites, but Egypt controlled a lot of the land in Canaan for a while. The Merneptah Stele shows that Egyptians actually conquered Israelites.

     
 
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