Distinguished Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman calls his book about the Exodus a work of “detective nonfiction.” In it, he presents the many strands of evidence that can be brought to bear to solve a series of related mysteries, the solution of which will crack the case of the historical Exodus and reveal its important legacy. It is highly readable and forthright, oftentimes witty, and admirably accessible to the unitiated in the complex byways of archaeology and textual criticism in ancient languages.
The overarching aim is to examine the historical basis for the events described in the book of Exodus. Did multitudes of foreign-born slaves, led by Moses, leave Egypt to wander in the wilderness and ultimately constitute the nation of Israel? Friedman notes that “there is an anti-historical wind blowing lately.” The trend among many Biblical scholars is to disbelieve that we can ever truly reconstruct the past–a propensity to say we have only stories, only narratives laced with myths, and maybe only tall tales. But gaps in historical evidence do not mean that nothing happened. Friedman emphasizes that careful reading of the text, combined with recent archaeology, genetic data, and linguistic evidence, strongly support the position that something momentous indeed happened! It is not out of thin air that this flight-migration of people from Egypt to Israel marks the watershed event for the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, the picture that emerges of how it all happened appears to be crucial for two major breakthroughs in human culture: (a) the development of monotheism, and (b) the ethic of caring for strangers–loving one’s neighbor as oneself. But now let’s back up and look at some of the mysteries Friedman tackles. Continue reading