Does the Church require the belief that the Exodus happened literally?


#1

There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to suggest 600,000 some people escaped from Egypt. Is it possible that this story is somewhat or entirely allegorical? What does the Church rule?


#2

The Church does not teach that the Exodus is allegorical. Furthermore, the Church teaches this in regard to our approach to Scripture:

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

BTW, the bible does not state the number of people involved in the Exodus.


#3

Exactly. And that means that, as Aquinas said, metaphors and parables are “literal.” In other words, the literal meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not “a Samaritan did something nice” but “this is how you should treat your neighbor.” The literal meaning of Genesis 1 may not be “God created the world in six 24-hour days.” And the literal meaning of Exodus (as defined by the Church) may not be “an army of 600,000 men plus women and children left Egypt.” I am pretty confident that the Catholic Church does not require people to take the numbers in OT narratives literally, because sound exegesis does not generally lead to the conclusion that the purpose of the text was to give statistical information. Rather, the story is telling us something about God’s mighty acts.

On the other hand, it does seem to me essential that the Exodus actually happened (however legendary the details may be). But by and large the Catholic Church today wisely refrains from saying just how particular parts of Scripture must be interpreted. The basic historicity of the Gospels has been affirmed–I know that.

BTW, the bible does not state the number of people involved in the Exodus.

Yes, it does. See Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21.

Edwin


#4

There was no archaeological evidence whatsoever that a town called Nazareth ever existed. Until 1961. Archeological evidence of Nazareth was found then, and skeptics could only answer “Oh.”

The answer to your question, though, is that we must consider Scripture to be inerrant with regard to everything which the inspired authors intended to communicate.


#5

Laudatur Iesus Christus.

I have little acquaintance with theories of Egyptian history, but can one be confident that the “Hyksos expulsion” and the “lepers’ exodus” do not constitute “archaeological evidence” for the Hebrew Exodus? With at least one major “expulsion” of semitic people from ancient Egypt, why say, “there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever?” Even cursory research suggests that some ancient and some modern historians have identified the Biblical Exodus with the “Hyksos expulsion.”

Has something settled this question conclusively? It seems, at least, that there is “disputed” evidence rather than “no archaeological evidence whatsoever.”

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner


#6

If History or Discovery channels are to be believed, evidence of the Exodus has surfaced in the last ten years. Before that there were a number of folks who had not found any evidence beyond the Scriptures. Someone found chariot wheels under water in the Red Sea and a natural amphitheater was found that fits the description of the Mountain where Moses got the Ten Commandments. Evidence was also presented that not all the Jews went by way of the desert, but some by sea in boats. :shrug:


#7

The historical accuracy of the Bible is much better authenticated than many other ancient events. All we know, for example, of the Gallic Wars comes from the writings of Julius Caesar and, unless this has changed recently, the oldest manuscript dates to a thousand years after it was written. Yet no serious historian doubts the reality of the Gallic Wars.

Gary


#8

Generally they aren’t. I have not heard of this alleged evidence from scholarly sources.

Edwin


#9

This is poor logic. Historical accuracy and manuscript transmission are two different things.

I am not an expert in the history of the late Republic, but I’m pretty confident that historians do not accept uncritically Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars. Indeed, these accounts are generally regarded (in what I’ve read) as largely propaganda. The fact that the wars occurred is not doubted, and Caesar’s accounts are used as historical sources because, as you note, they’re the best we have. But they are used with caution, since clearly they were written with the purpose of justifying Caesar’s eventual bid for power.

Edwin


#10

I agree. The consensus these days, even among conservative scholars, seems to be that the Hebrew Exodus took place several centuries after the expulsion of the Hyksos. But I don’t think it can be said to be certain.

Edwin


#11

My understanding is that the alleged “chariott wheels” are completely bogus. I would recommend the following books, both by James Hoffmeier that summarize the actual evidence in this area (which is considerable):

Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition

Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition

Regards,

CThomas


#12

My point was that there is no real reason to reject these events as historical.

If we can’t trust the historical accuracy of the Bible, we have a a big problem. The Holy Spirit does not lie. That leaves us with two possible conclusions: 1) Exodus is accurate history or 2) the Holy Spirit had nothing to do with the Bible. There are no other reasonable alternatives.

Gary


#13

The Bible is inerrant with regard to its religious truths and declaration of the mysteries of faith.

If it mentions an army or whatever of 600,000 it does not mean that is an exact number nor is it relevant.


#14

This is not true. You are assuming that the purpose of Exodus is to give detailed historical information.

Edwin


#15

Wrong. Although the Bible is not a textbook, if it says something historical, that statement is trustworthy.

Gary


#16

Sorry but I don’t buy into that liberal nonsense. If the Bible presents a fact as historical, it happened as it says. Period, end of discussion.

Gary


#17

I made a statement about what you are assuming. Apparently that statement was correct. How is a correct statement about your belief “liberal nonsense”?

If the Bible presents a fact as historical, it happened as it says. Period, end of discussion.

And based on what study of Ancient Near Eastern literature do you conclude that this particular text is being presented as historical in the sense you give that word? Isn’t it quite possible that you, as a 21st-century person, might misunderstand the nature of ancient literature?

Note that I’m not denying that Exodus is presented as historical. (I would question whether Genesis 1-3 is intended to be history in any sense, but that’s not what we are discussing here.) I’m simply saying what most conservative scholars would say–that ancient history was a different genre and there were different expectations about what constituted accurate history.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that just because the Bible is inspired therefore the intentions of the human author and the intentions of the Holy Spirit always have to converge. However, I admit that things get trickier at this point.

If you do not want to argue with people whom you consider liberals, then of course that is your prerogative. But if you choose to do so, you need to produce arguments and not simply assertions. Otherwise what’s the point?

Edwin


#18

So if you follow everything in the bible literally then does that mean you believe the earth is only 6000 years old?


#19

I made a statement about what you are assuming. Apparently that statement was correct. How is a correct statement about your belief “liberal nonsense”?

Oops. I quoted the wrong portion. I meant my statement to apply to your contention that the Bible is only inerrant with respect to religious truth and the mysteries of the faith. The Bible is inerrant, period. There are no qualifications on its inerrancy. Your statement restricted inerrency. That is why I consider it to be liberal nonsense.

And based on what study of Ancient Near Eastern literature do you conclude that this particular text is being presented as historical in the sense you give that word? Isn’t it quite possible that you, as a 21st-century person, might misunderstand the nature of ancient literature?

Note that I’m not denying that Exodus is presented as historical. (I would question whether Genesis 1-3 is intended to be history in any sense, but that’s not what we are discussing here.) I’m simply saying what most conservative scholars would say–that ancient history was a different genre and there were different expectations about what constituted accurate history.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that just because the Bible is inspired therefore the intentions of the human author and the intentions of the Holy Spirit always have to converge. However, I admit that things get trickier at this point.

Frankly it’s no surprise to me that you would also reject the first three chapters of Genesis. However, since you are the self-proclaimed expert on ancient Near Eastern literature, if we can’t trust the historicity of Exodus, how can we trust Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

Gary


#20

I just love it when I get attacked by people who obviously didn’t bother to read what I wrote.

First of all, the Bible never says that the Earth is 6,000 years old. It doesn’t give an age at all. However, I am a creationist. I’m a creationist because I have spent a lot of time studying the issue and have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for life to have evolved as a result of natural selection acting on random mutations. This is a position which more and more scientists are coming to acknowledge these days.

Secondly, I never said I was a literalist. I am not. What I said was that when the Bible makes a statement of a historical nature, it is true. That does not mean that I take every passage of Scripture literally but if you acknowledged that, you’d lose your opportunity to ridicule someone who had the nerve to disagree with you. So yes, there are places where the Bible is not intended to be taken literally but I was obviously not referring to those since I said “if it says something historical, that statement is trustworthy.

Gary


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