I’ve been reading Trent Horn’s boon on Bible difficulties, and it has a lot of good things to say in it, and I’ve found it useful, especially in pointing to other sources.
But one thing that distrubed me was his suggestion that the Ten Plagues might simply be a literary figure for God’s judgment on Israel. That seemed to go too far. He does defend the general historicity of Moses and the Exodus and the like, but I admit that I was rather scandalized to read that. Granted, he only offers it as a suggestion, and the original source is a Protestant Reformed author, but it seems to go agains the unanimous tradition of the Church and the Synagogue here.
Admittely, I’m very conservative in exegesis, as I think Catholics should be, but I always thought that it was universally held among faithful Catholics that Exodus is a historical book.
Anyway, I ask here, because normally Trent Horn is an excellent apologist, and I might be misunderstanding him. Does anyone have any thoughts?
Oh yeah, to be rather frank, I’m not interested in what liberal Protestant or secular “exegetes” have to say, I’m interested in orthodox Catholic or at least conservative Christian expositors.
How does he defend the historicity of Moses and the Exodus, when even many Jewish scholars over the last 25 years now doubt it?
What are his thoughts that there is not one scrap of an artifact found…when lots of evidence and artifacts of other people and events in the same areas, happening even earlier than the proposed Exodus timeline, have been found?
(You mentioned Protestants, Catholics, and Secular folk…but didn’t specify if you were interested or not in what Jewish scholars thought…)
After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true, archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. To the contrary, the prevailing view is that most of Joshua’s fabled military campaigns never occurred–archeologists have uncovered ash layers and other signs of destruction at the relevant time at only one of the many battlegrounds mentioned in the Bible.*
Today, the prevailing theory is that Israel probably emerged peacefully out of Canaan–modern-day Lebanon, southern Syria, Jordan and the West Bank of Israel–whose people are portrayed in the Bible as wicked idolators. Under this theory, the Canaanites who took on a new identity as Israelites were perhaps joined or led by a small group of Semites from Egypt–explaining a possible source of the Exodus story, scholars say. As they expanded their settlement, they may have begun to clash with neighbors, perhaps providing the historical nuggets for the conflicts recorded in Joshua and Judges.
“The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all,” says Rabbi David Wolpe.
This is certainly not the opinion of orthodox Jewish exegetes, nor of faithful Catholic exegetes. This why I said I’m not really interested in secular or liberal opinion, Jewish, “Catholic”, or otherwise. As regards the evidence, Kenneth Kitchen’s* Realiability of the Old Testament* and James Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt provide sufficient scholarly rebuttal to this oft-repeated claim.
Also, if I may add, this is off topic. I’m asking a specific question about Horn’s book, not about the Exodus in general.
The following list assess alternative explanations for the lack of various forms of evidence.
How did a large Hebrew population live in Egypt without leaving direct archaeological evidence?
The areas in which the Bible says the Hebrews were settled are still largely unexamined by archaeologists, due to environmental conditions making excavation difficult. Even in well examined archaeological sites, physical evidence for large groups of people who were there for some time may still be completely absent. **Several major ancient Egyptian military campaigns have failed to leave any direct archaeological evidence at all, despite involving tens of thousands of soldiers, and thousands of chariots and horses. The greatest battle ever fought by Egypt was the Battle of Kadesh, against the Hittites. Yet the Egyptian army of 20,000 soldiers and 2,000 chariots left no archaeological record of their march from Memphis in Egypt to the river Orontes in Kadesh, a journey of approximately 1,600 kilometers which would have taken weeks. The combined numbers of the Egyptian and Hittite armies amount to around 50,000 soldiers and around 5,000 chariots, but no direct archaeological evidence has ever been found of the battle. Historians attribute this lack of evidence to the terrain, rather than dismissing the event as fictional. ‘The textual and iconographic evidence points toward an open-terrain battle. Such a battle would leave little preserved in archaeological contexts
This demonstrates that even very large groups of people in the Ancient Near East could move, settle, and fight on a massive scale, without leaving any direct physical evidence of their presence in the archaeological record.
Why are there no Egyptian written records of the Hebrews?
Egyptian written records for the Northern Delta and Goshen (where the Hebrews settled), were kept in military and administrative buildings in this area,. However, the wet environment has resulted in the destruction of almost all such written records. In fact no written records have been found in this area which provide useful historical information from any period, not just the time of the Exodus. There is direct evidence that this area was settled by people the Egyptians called ‘Asiatics’ (Semitic people, of which the Hebrews were a sub-group),
10 ‘Moreover, in the moist environment of the Delta, surviving papyri are rare
6 The excavation at Tell el-Dab‘a (ancient Avaris, the Hyksos capital), directed by Manfred Bietak of Vienna University, uses a pump and an elaborate network of pipes in order to remove water from the ground to allow diggers to reach New Kingdom levels. During a visit in 2002, I saw the scribes’ quarter of the early-18th-Dynasty palace (c. 1500–1450 B.C.) that was being exposed from the moist mud of the Delta. A number of inscribed clay seals and seal impressions were found, some of which date to the 12th Dynasty (c. 1900 B.C.), but no papyrus had survived.
7 Indeed, after more than 35 years, Bietak’s team has not discovered any papyri
.’, Hoffmeier, ‘Out of Egypt: The Archaeological Context of the Exodus’, in Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus (2012), 5.
11 ‘In short, the Nile Delta where the Bible says the ancient Israelites lived has produced no historical or administrative documents that might shed light on any period
.’, ibid., p. 5.
12 ‘Thus both texts from Egypt and archaeological evidence from the second millennium B.C. agree that Semites entered Egypt with flocks and herds, especially in times of drought in Canaan. This is precisely the picture portrayed in Genesis regarding Jacob and his family. Drought and famine in Canaan prompted the patriarch to send his sons to Egypt where there was grain, which eventually led them to settle in Egypt with their flocks and herds (Genesis 43:1–15).’, ibid., p. 7.
After reading those articles, your readers may have concluded that scholarship shows that the Exodus is fictional, when, in fact, that is not so.* There is archaeological evidence and especially textual evidence for the Exodus.** I respect Professor Sperling and Rabbi Wolpe. They were understandably following the claims of some of our archaeologists. Those archaeologists’ claims that the Exodus never happened are not based on evidence, but largely on its absence. They assert that we’ve combed the Sinai and not found any evidence of the mass of millions of people whom the Bible says were there for 40 years. That assertion is just not true. There have not been many major excavations in the Sinai, and we most certainly have not combed it. Moreover, uncovering objects buried 3,200 years ago is a daunting endeavor. An Israeli colleague laughingly told me that a vehicle that had been lost in the 1973 Yom Kippur War was recently uncovered under 16 meters—that’s 52 feet—of sand. Fifty-two feet in 40 years!* - Richard Elliot Friedman, Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Georgia.
It would be difficult to fake the Exodus event and pass it onto the Jews. Imagine if the Exodus event never really happened, how would such an event be passed off as a true event to the Jews? Here is an example of such a scenario if the Moses event was a fake.
Would be faker: "Oh, yeah remember that time when God sent all those plagues on Egypt, and thousands and thousands of us crossed the Red Sea with Pharaoh in hot pursuit? And, how we were commanded to have this Seder meal in remembrance of the event every 14th of Nissan? "
Jew: “No, I don’t have any recollection of these things”
faker: “I found this scroll that describes everything in it.”
Jew: “How do I know you didn’t just make this up? We have no recollection of such scroll.”
faker: “It was lost in the caves of Moses. We just found it again.”
Jew: “How come we have no history or recollection of any of these Exodus events or of practicing the Seder meal if it was something we were commanded to do from Moses?”
faker: “You just forgot.”
Jew: "Unlikely we would forget something as important and life changing in the history of the Jews as the Exodus from Egypt. If that really happened our grandparents and parents would have told the story to their children and passed it on. If such an event really happened where God miraculously led our people through the wilderness into the promised land our ancestors would have kept that memory alive. It’s just not something thousands of people would forget and neglect to tell their descendants. Nor is it something you can just make up and try to pass it on to a group of people who have no recollection of such events.
If it was just one guy saying he saw a bunch of stuff, like say that guy who said he got a bunch of gold tablets that nobody else every saw, and started a religion called Mormonism, then I could see how such a thing could be faked. After all, no one else except that guy saw anything. But, when you have thousands of people involved in the story, it is not something that is going to be unverifiable or forgotten.
Therefore, I do not believe this scroll can be valid."
The Church teaches us in the Catechism that it accepts the historical truths of Scripture, particularly the Gospels. My wife saw a show late night on EWTN which revealed they had found the remains of chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea. If this is so, they it doesn’t seem a stretch to take the plagues literally. The primary sense of Scripture is the literal sense (Catechism starting around 115), but one must note we do not read sacred Scripture literalistically.