& CREATION OF JUDAISM
4. Sacred History or Phoney History?
The exodus events are vitally important to Jews and Christians, the
latter because their god was crucified on the annual celebration of the
Jewish exodus. Research into it has therefore been “constant and
zealous”, in the words of professor J Alberto Soggin.
In the book of Exodus, the presence of the Israelites in Egypt
is regarded as a given, and the only questions are whether, how and when
God will remove them from the house of bondage. The story of the exodus
begins only at the point when the Israelites groan under their hard labour.
Then the Lord remembers (Ex 2:23-24) his covenant with Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, the narrative of Genesis 12-36. No one in Exodus,
seems to remember the events of Genesis 37-50, chapters that have
told us how the Israelites happen to be in Egypt in the first place, and
no one seems to remember Joseph’s words to his brothers:
So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.
It is evidently not only the new Egyptian king who knows not Joseph (Ex
1:8), but the narrator also, and his character, God, seems to regard the
presence of the Israelites in Egypt as nothing more than an unfortunate
accident that has happened to them. He never acknowledges that it is his
own deliberate design.
Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, in The Britsh Museum Dictionary of
Ancient Egypt, say the cultural and ethnic origin of the Israelites
are difficult because the archaeological and biblical evidence have not
been reconciled. The accounts “in the books of Numbers, Joshua
and Judges, are often at odds both with other ancient textual
sources and with the archaeological evidence for the settlement of Canaan
in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (c 1600-750 BC)”.
The story of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus to
Canaan described in Genesis and Exodus of the Jewish
scriptures have no relationship with any known history. Biblical
“scholars” cannot bring themselves to accept this simple fact.
Uneducated slaves, desperately escaping from the armies of their powerful
oppressor, forced into a primitve nomadic existence in the desert, do not
sit down each night and write out a diary of the day’s events. Nomads
keep up their spirits by telling tall stories around their campfires.
The migration of the Israelites is presented, like that of Abraham, as
a one off passage, not anything to do with nomads. Nomads rarely choose to
settle, valuing their al fresco lifestyle. They usually have to be
forced to settle. Even settled people do not keep official records until
they form themselves into a nation. Whatever preceded the formation of the
statelets around Jerusalem and Shechem was not recorded as history, so
what is recorded must be tall stories—mythology if you like. Will
biblical “scholars” stop the pretence it is history? Not while their
comfortable incomes depend on it!
If the Israelites were first slaves then nomads, how did they get such
diverse skills? They can be allowed bricklaying no doubt, though
bricklaying is a worthless skill in the desert, but how did they come to
be wealthy stockbreeders, and even successful fishermen and gardeners (Ex
10:24;12:38; Num 11:5,22; 20:4) if they were enslaved? Before long,
in the wilderness, they were also skilled carpenters, decorators and
Moses, as the author of his Exodus, used the names cities had at
a much later date, like Luz (Bethel) and Cariath Arbe (Hebron). He used
the names of people who had not yet arrived in their lands in his day,
such as the Chaldeans or the Philistines. The Law of Moses records a
census and temple tax implying the use of coins, which first came into use
(so far as is known) in the kingdom of Lydia in the seventh century BC,
700 years later. Genesis 36:31 presupposes a kingdom in Israel, 500
years before it existed. The Ten Commandments also presuppose that
the Israelites are already in the Promised Land, even though they were
handed out in Sinai. Doubtless believers will attribute these to God’s
prescience, but those who are less gullible will put it down to bad
K Koch as long ago as 1962 declared that he could see nothing
historical in the biography of Moses, and J Alberto Soggin ( An
Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah ) is blunt about
these biblical accounts:
The biblical sources are rich in anecdotes, popular tradition and
elements of folklore… [but] they lack information which is capable of
verification by historical investigation: the Pharaohs or other
important officials are never named, and the chronological information
is imprecise. To this must be added the almost complete silence of the
Egyptian papyri from the end of the thirteenth century BC have
been found that detail the least things about Egyptian life and events of
the time. One note explains that two(!) escaping slaves were diligently
pursued across the border, yet there is no record of two million Israelite
slaves leaving all at once one night. Many many Egyptian inscriptions on
temples and papyri have been read but not one mentions any
Israelites that were slaves or even legitimate settlers in Egypt. Jewish
and Christian scholars have no choice but to recognize the truth of
this—it is true—but they pretend it does not matter because
the biblical story could be true, even so! Could it?
Seventy people went down to Egypt at the time of Joseph (Gen
46:27). After three generations, two million emerged (Ex 12:37).
The sons of Machir, Joseph’s grandson, were born while Joseph was still
alive, yet took part in the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan and even the
settlement in the Promised Land (Gen 50:23; Num 32:39-40; Josh
13:31;17:1; Ex 6:16-20). For this to be true and the period of the
wandering in the wilderness to be 40 years, the period of enslavement in
Egypt could hardly have been more than another 40 years. In this short
time, the Israelites had multiplied until the land of Egypt was “filled
with them” (Ex 1:7). Each of the Israelite men would have had to
have had a harem of wives for this to have been true. No slave could
provide for a dozen wives and about 40 children.
The time spent in slavery is not clear:
|Genesis 15:13 says 400 years.
|Genesis 15:16 says four generations, normally forty years
each but here evidently 100 years each.
|Exodus 12:40-41 says 430 years.
|The Jewish historian Josephus says it was 215 years.|
The date of the Exodus is given in 1 Kings 6:1 as 480 years
before Solomon began to build his temple. Solomon, the biblicists tell us,
began his reign about 960 BC, so the Exodus occurred about 1440 BC.
Josephus placed the Exodus in the fifteenth century with the expulsion of
the Hyksos, the mysterious Asiatic kings of Egypt. A few years ago, some
scholars again favoured such an early date after many years when the
thirteenth century was favoured. Garstang dated the fall of the walls of
Jericho in 1400 BC, fitting a fifteenth century Exodus, if the
Israelites were assumed to have caused that particular destruction of
Jericho. Since the Amarna letters spoke of attacks by “Apiru”, a word
that reminded some philologists of the word “Hebrew”, the biblicists
were overjoyed. Egyptian texts from the next century spoke of “Asaru”,
more joy for biblicists, who declared them to be the tribe of Asher!
The Jewish scriptures are, however, built around an idealized
chronology. 480 years is twelve Jewish generations of 40 years, each the
length of the reigns of both king David and king Solomon. The date when
the temple was started is given in Kings relative to the
“return” from “exile”. It is precisely 480 years earlier. If all
this does not signal that the whole tale is made up, it is hard to know
The authors of the mythical Jewish history wanted to put the
construction of the first temple at the centre of Jewish history because
they were claiming that by restoring the temple and setting up its laws
and priesthood, they were re-establishing God’s will! The scriptures
were written by people with a vested interest in the authority of the
temple, the Jewish priesthood sent from Persia by the Persian kings to
establish a loyal buffer state between Persia and Egypt. The Persians
under Cambyses had conquered Egypt but it was too large a victim to be
easily swallowed, and the Egyptians rebelled constantly against their
The story of Moses and the Exodus was intended to paint Egypt as the
natural enemy of the Jews. The Egyptians would as soon enslave them again.
Believing this, the Jews would remain loyal to their kind benefactors and
deliverers, the Persians. Cyrus ordered the settling of Judah in about 536 BC
but the chronology suggests that the “return” must have been in the
decade 480-470 BC when a later group of settlers were moved in,
perhaps Nehemiah’s group. In fact, the return happened several times
over the whole of the fifth century.
Unfortunately for the historical confirmation of the stylized
chronology of the Exodus tale, the Pharaohs in about 1440 BC, when it
was supposed to have happened, were strong monarchs, Thutmoses III and
Amenhotep, who we know were not letting Canaanites go back to Canaan from
Egypt but were subjugating the whole territory in a phase of colonial
expansion. They were actually enslaving Canaanites rather than allowing
them to escape slavery.
Inasmuch as there is any truth in Israel being “in Egypt”, it is
more likely that notionally they were because Canaan was effectively a
part of Egypt for several hundred years thereafter—indeed was almost
always in the Egyptian sphere of influence—a fact that the Persians
wanted to change. All the indications are that, in the first part of the
first millennium BC, Palestine was a colony or vassal of Egypt.
Though the degree of domination was slight, the people looked to Egypt for
Pharaoh Shoshenq affirmed Egyptian overlordship in the tenth century BC.
An expedition against Sennacherib requested by Judah went out in 701 BC.
Pharaoh Necho II led further expeditions around 600 BC. Finally,
Judah asked for Egyptian help against the Babylonians, but it either
failed or was not given. Egypt dominated Palestine until the “exile”
and Egyptian names like Phinehas, Hophin, Assir (Osiris) and Pashur were
not unusual in Palestine.
Since the biblical chronology looks impossible, the biblical
“scholars” ignore it—they have no qualms about biblical inerrancy if
they can find an unlikely historical match by declaring the Word of God
slightly wrong! They declare the Exodus to have occurred 200 years later
in the thirteenth century BC not the fifteenth century. This later
date gets some credence from certain scriptural references that could
place the Exodus in the time of Rameses II. Of course, there is no
more historical evidence of this than there was for the earlier date, but
such lack of evidence is “no proof that it did not happen” (an
argument of their “scholars” that Christians have to get used to
The absence of evidence, they say, is because there was not one Moses
and one Joshua but lots of little Moseses and Joshuas, who have been
mythically conflated to create the story but actually slowly migrated into
Palestine over about 200 years, too slowly to make any cultural impact on
the country that is today detectable in archaeology. Convinced? Not even
the biblicists are convinced. Their ultimate justification is that
millions of Jews and Christians could not believe something that was not
true! Nahum S Sarna writes:
No nation would be likely to invent for itself, and faithfully transmit
century after century and millennium after millennium, an inglorious and
inconvenient tradition of this nature unless it had an authentic core.
Sarna is a clever man, a professor and editor of the Jewish
Publications Society of America, so it is hard to accept that he really
thinks the story of the Jewish escape from Egypt and conquest of Canaan
celebrated in the most venerable Jewish family celebration of Jewishness,
the Passover, is “inglorious”. Presumably he means the many instances,
recorded in the wanderings, of Israelite bad will and backsliding that the
myth highlights, that “no nation” would want to feature about itself.
This though is the very point, utterly missed or rather not admitted by
Sarne. The story was written by Persian administrators sent to secure the
loyalty of the Jews for Persia, not Egypt. Their means was to win the
local people to the Persian-styled god, Yehouah, based on Ahuramazda, and
away from their traditional Canaanite and Egyptian deities. They used the
myth, presented then as it was ever after as true history, to depict those
loyal to the traditional gods and goddesses as apostates and backsliders
from the true God of Israel, Yehouah, who had made a covenant with Moses,
the ancestor of the Israelites who were escaping from Egypt.
The Jewish scriptures have the boringly uniform theme of warnings of
apostasy against the Israelites, and their constant sliding back to their
old ways and away from the true (new) god. Since worship of Yehouah in the
form of a Canaanite Baal seems to have been one of the ancient Israelite
sects, even worship of this old Yehouah was depicted as mistaken. The new
god was a universal God of Heaven in the Persian mould and quite alien to
the Canaanites of the hill country of Judah.
Unwilling to consider the truth, the biblicists return to their effort
to place the Exodus and conquest of Canaan in the 1200s BC. They see
the Israelites in the Hyksos, who occupied Egypt from Asia between the
1700s and the 1500s BC, setting up the 15th and 16th dynasties. The
resurgent Egyptians, especially in the vigorous 18th dynasty, then
enslaved their former foreign masters but, in the reign of Rameses II,
they escaped back to Canaan—the Hyksos were the Israelites all along!
Rameses is mentioned in Genesis 47:11 and in Exodus 1:11 and
that is proof enough for the biblical experts.
Biblicists are fond of saying glibly things like, “There is evidence
that… so and so”, but then they do not cite either the evidence
or the source. The reason is that the evidence is the believer’s faith
in biblical truth. The evidence is what the bible says, but much of it has
now been shown to be false. Professor Kyle McCarter Jr can write:
Many scholars believe the events described in the story of Joseph have
an ultimate basis in historical fact. It has often been supposed… that
Joseph lived during the so-called Hyksos period…
Such statements are devoid of any useful meaning except to dispose the
reader to believe reliable historians have confirmed the bible.
“Believing” and “supposing” means nothing whether someone is an
expert or not. These “scholars” believe it because it is in the bible
and for no other reason, but they will seek to pretend they have other
reasons. And what is “an ultimate basis in historical fact”? Walter
Scott’s novels doubtless have an ultimate basis in historical fact but
does anyone not believe that they are fiction? We have to conclude that
“many scholars” are ignorant. McCarter himself is more honest than the
“many scholars” to which he refers, admitting:
It is unlikely that much of the information found in Genesis 37
and 39-47 is historically factual.
Rameses (1279-1212 BC) was a vigorous and famous pharaoh known for
his building programme and his new city of Rameses featured in the story
of Moses. If this is proof of authenticity, we have to assume that the
Persian officials were such dunces they could not put a myth in a
historical setting, yet the Persians had captured the civilisations of
Babylon and Assyria in the land of the two rivers—a civilisation that
went back as far as the Egyptians did, and had permanent archives written
on clay tablets in their cuneiform script. Knowledge of the Assyrian
diplomatic correspondence allowed the Persian governors to write the
histories of Israel and Judah, so there is no reason why they should not
have known of a suitable pharaoh to allocate to the enslavement period.
Further, the towns Rameses and Pithom were still being mentioned in much
later texts and so are compatible with a later date.
In Egyptian, Moses means “born of”, and therefore in most names
means “son of”. Tutmoses is “born of Thoth” or “son of Thoth”.
Rameses is “born of Ra”. Moses left Egypt, so it has always been
assumed that his name (Mosha) was also son of X with an Egyptian
god X suppressed. But the crowd in the fifth century, obliged to hear Ezra
address them in a foreign tongue, heard what they thought was “Toorahmosha”.
It was Ahuramazda.
The myth of Moses emerging from the river to be the founder of the
Jewish state was an invention of the Ptolemies enhanced by the Maccabees
who wrote allegories of the foundation of the state that they had founded
in fact only then, in the second century BC. They used the legendary
birth narrative of a real Mesopotamian king, Sargon I (2334-2279 BC),
who ruled over Akkadia—Babylon and Sumer—two millennia before. Is it
not strange that the early books of the Jewish scriptures supposedly
relating events long before the Jews experienced the period of “exile”
should draw so extensively on Mesopotamian legend?
The death of Rameses II was effectively the end of Egypt because
no other strong native monarch ever came to the fore, and the period
following his death was chaotic. Perhaps here was a chance for the
putative Israelite slaves to escape. Unfortunately, at this point we find
a historic reference to the Israelites and they are already apparently in
Palestine! Pharaoh Merneptah (1212-1200 BC) commissioned a stele to
announce his punishment expedition into Canaan. It tells us that the
Israelites were already there (but that he wiped them out saying their
“seed was no more”). The biblicists ignore the massacre and conclude
that the Exodus must have been in about 1250 BC, the very time when
Rameses II was in his prime.
Martin Noth is considered a great scholar and witness to the
historicity of the Exodus, but he puts the Exodus in the reign of this
last great Egyptian pharaoh, Rameses II, whose empire included all of
Palestine as far as Syria and included Sinai. The escaping Egyptian slaves
were therefore not escaping at all, but running from one part of the
Egyptian empire into another nearby part.
Noth does not regard the two million or so escaping slaves as the
nation of Israel, or even tribes—none of which existed—yet they
supposedly imposed on the Israelite tribes their own religion. Giovanni
Garbini, the Italian historian, considers this a greater miracle than the
passage over the Red Sea. The story of the people settling in Palestine,
for Garbini, was an adaptation of the story of the settling down there of
the Philistines whose name the land still has.
The el-Amarna letters, tablets of cuneiform correspondence from
Egyptian colonial governors and foreign kings to the pharaoh, Akhenaten,
in the fourteenth century BC, mention raiders called “Apiru” as
causing trouble in the colony of Canaan. The biblicists identify the
“Apiru” with the Israelites—Hebrews.
The el-Amarna letters and the ancient tablets of Ugarit in northern
Canaan, indicate that the hill country of Palestine was densely wooded
before the Mycenaean drought, and only sparsely populated. They do not
mention Israel or Judah, and leave no place where they could have been.
Only Jerusalem, Shechem, Hebron and Hazor are mentioned as towns.
Jerusalem, in Egyptian records, was a city state ruled by an Egyptian
vassal “king” and it is likely to have had the same status until the
Palestinian statelets were established.
In the lowlands were many densely populated city states. Each city
controlled an expanse of countryside, including some lesser towns, that it
exploited—though the exploitation never seemed to lead to rebellion. The
rebellions that commonly occurred were palace coups rather than uprisings
of peasants. It was these unsuccessful nobles and their supporters or
displaced princes that fled to the hillsides and the countryside that were
Only at the end of the great Mycenaean drought and the deforestation
that accompanied and followed it, with the subsequent growth of
population, were villages, terracing for gardening, and cisterns to
capture water built in the hills. In none of this is there any convincing
evidence of any cultural change. In other words, the changes were effected
by local people recovering from the drought and not by a strange people,
“Apiru” or whoever, entering from elsewhere with a different culture.
The changes noted can be seen in the archaeological record, but another
problem is their dating. Biblicists like them to be about 1250 BC but
more objective observers see them as being from 900 to 800 BC. The
small states that rivalled Israel in the Exodus narrative and the
subsequent history of Israel and Judah, namely Edom, Moab and Ammon,
seemed not to have existed in the 1200s BC but actually arose about
the same time as the states of Israel and Judah, at the beginning of the
first millennium BC as a result of the drought lifting. Israel was
mentioned on the stele of Merneptah but from the end of the thirteenth
century BC silence reigned until the stele of Mesha of Moab in about
If the great Mycenaean drought was the drought of the biblical
narrative that drove the Patriarchs into Egypt, they would have been
settling there at about the time they should have been leaving. The
Mycenaean drought was an extended period of drought in the eastern
Mediterranean that caused a ferment of political change from about 1200 BC
to about 800 BC. There is every reason why such an extended and
devastating period of drought should be remembered in myth, and perhaps
that is what we can read in the stories of Abraham and Jacob going down
into Egypt, but only the memory of such a great drought is likely to be
accurate. The notorious biblicist, W F Albright, actually said
at the outset of his career in 1918:
The long memory possessed by semi-civilized people for historical fact
is a pious fiction of over-zealous apologists.
Albright soon forgot his own words and set up a loyal school of
“over-zealous apologists” that is still vigorous today, albeit with
their backs pressed hard against the wall.
The rest of the Patriarchal story is myth, possibly allegorical,
devised to explain how the Israelites got into Egypt in the first place.
Historical background to this too could have been had from records that
had become available to the Persians. A thirteenth century BC
Egyptian record tells of a frontier official who allowed some shepherds to
cross the frontier and settle near Per-Atum (biblical Pithom?) to keep
themselves alive through the ka of the Pharaoh. Any Persian official could
have read this.
Most of the allusions in the Moses saga could otherwise have been had
from anyone who knew of everyday life in Egypt. Using bricks for building
rather than stone was a necessity in a river delta where no stone was
available, and would have subsided into the clay if it had been brought in
from upriver. (The pyramids were built at the head of the delta on
bedrock.) Knowledge of such matters does not imply authenticity. Indeed,
the author of Genesis is wrong in several important respects. The
east wind does not scorch Egypt, it is the south wind. The east wind from
the Arabian desert scorches Palestine. The titles and offices in the story
of Joseph are not Egyptian. Potiphar is a genuine Egyptian name but one
that did not appear until tha last millenium BC not a millennium
before. The same applies to Joseph’s Egyptian name.
The plagues on the Egyptians represented the superiority of the Persian
God of the Heavens over the old Egyptian and Canaanite gods. The Nile
itself, the sun and many other entities, given bizarre animal headed
representations, were gods in Egypt and these stood for the pre-exilic
gods of the Israelites, some of whom they doubtless were, like the
goddesses Hathor and Astarte, and perhaps the god, Thoth (Djehuti, Dwd—pronounced
Dude, Jude?). The Pharaoh keeps conceding then relenting—all meant to
dissuade the native Israelites of Canaan from vacillating about accepting
their imposed god, Yehouah. They could never defy such a god any more than
the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt could.
The myth of seven lean years is a Pagan myth known from Egyptian,
Akkadian (Gilgamesh) and Canaanite sources, and in the latter is the
result of Baal going awol for seven years at a time. Some of the stories
about plagues undoubtedly existed already in old Egyptian cautionary tales
like The Admonitions of Ipu-wer and The Prophesy of Nefer-rohu,
that tell of calamities that overcome the country when piety is ignored.
So the fact that the Exodus stories seem to reflect a genuine
Egyptian provenance has no more value as proof of their authenticity than
has the genuinely eighteenth century British Naval provenance of the
Horatio Hornblower stories. These details prove only that the authors of
the Moses cycle knew about Egypt.
The final plague of the death of the firstborn is certainly an early
misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the death of the first
fruits—the succession of earlier troubles led ultimately to the death of
the produce of cultivation. Some of the other plagues such as those of
mosquitos and flies are probably meant to be the same. There were probably
originally five or seven plagues but errors in recollection or restoration
when the library of Nehemiah had to be reconstructed from remnants will
have led to repetition and confusion.
Five words in the Jewish scriptures are uniformly translated
“plague” in English. They suggest that the author used different
sources for his “plagues”. The words are really: an “affliction”,
a “blow”, a “wonder”, a “natural sign” and a “supernatural
sign”. Such mistranslation is dishonest and hides the fact that the
story was probably not originally as uniform as it is made to seem through
false translation and editing. Hail, one of the plagues of Egypt, is a
real miracle because it is unknown there but is common in Palestine in
Red Sea and Sinai Wanderings
The supposed miracle at the Red Sea is agreed by all honest scholars to
have been only vaguely set in the eastern Delta or at Lake Sirbonis to
provide a plausible setting for it, because, as M Noth realized, there was
no known setting for the original tale. The bible says the Israelites did
not take the Way of the Philistines. The mention of it is anachronistic
because there were no Philistines blocking the way. They had not yet
settled, unless this is a later story than it pretends to be. It is! The
text also contradicts this because the reference to reeds could only be
true where reeds grow, namely in fresh water by the Way of the Sea in the
north. They do not grow in the brackish (“bitter”) water to the south.
Nothing is convincing in the rest of the itinerary, and some guesses of
what it was require the Sea of Reeds to be the Gulf of Aqaba. This absence
of agreement and confirmation is typical of nythology purporting to be
Even the parting of the Red Sea has detectable layers of tradition. One
of the earliest dispenses with the supernatural and simply has the waters
blown back by a continuous wind (Ex 14:21). This could be a valid
explanation if the waters were shallow anyway. Some editor took this and
made it into a miracle induced by Moses raising his arm. Another tradition
slotted into the earlier one is that the Egyptian chariots were held up as
if having to drive through viscous mud or as if the wheels were falling
off (Ex 14:24-25), and the charioteers decide to cease the pursuit.
Another tradition (Ex 15:19) is that the Israelites were
crossing a sort of ford but the Egyptian chariots drove headstrong into
the sea, presumably expecting it to be shallow but it was deep, and “the
Lord brought the waters of the sea upon them” and the charioteers and
their officers drowned. Here, the appearance of Mesopotamian words meaning
“abyss” and “depth” betrays again that the authors were from
Mesopotamia and suggest that this was the original version.
Considering that this was written in Ptolemaic Egypt not earlier than
300 BC, it is curious that Alexander the Great had an identical
experience when he set out to conquer Asia about thirty years before!
Josephus says of Alexander and his army moving along the coast of Asia
The Pamphylian Sea retired and afforded them a passage through itself,
when they had no other way to go.
Josephus, Antiquities (Whiston) 2:16:5
In his notes, Whiston preserves the accounts of the four earlier
authors who record this event. Callisthenes wrote, according to Eustathius:
The Pamphylian Sea did not only open a passage for Alexander, but, by
rising and elevating its waters, did pay homage as its king.
Strabo’s account is:
Now about Phaselis is that narrow passage, about the sea side, through
which Alexander led his army. There is a mountain called Climax, which
adjoins to the Sea of Pamphylia, leaving a narrow passage on the shore,
which, in calm weather, is bare, so as be passable by travellers. But
when the sea overflows, it is covered to a great degree by the waves.
Now then the ascent by the mountains being round about and steep, in
still weather they make use of the road along the coast. But Alexander
fell into the winter season, and committing himself chiefly to fortune,
he marched on before the waves retired; and so it happened that they
were a whole day in journeying over it, and were under water up to the
Arrian’s acount is this:
When Alexander removed from Phaselis, he sent some part of his army over
the mountains to Perga, which road the Thracians showed him. A difficult
way it was, but short. However, he himself conducted those that were
with him by the sea-shore. This road is impassable at any other time
than when the north wind blows. But if the south wind prevail, there is
no passing by the shore. Now at this time, after strong south winds, a
north wind blew, and that not without the Divine Providence (as both he
and they that were with him supposed), and afforded him as easy and
Appian, comparing Caesar and Alexander said:
They both depended on their boldness and fortune, as much as their skill
in war. As an instance of which, Alexander journeyed over a country
without water in the heat of the summer to the oracle of Hammon, and
quickly passed over the Bay of Pamphylia, when, by divine providence the
sea was cut off.
An even earlier example, recently found but unknown to Whiston, was
But I, Sargon… led my army over the Tigris and the Euphrates at the
peak of the flood, the spring flood, as dry ground.
Biblicists will say that the original one was that of Moses, having
been dated by the chronology of the bible to the second millennium BC.
Believers will, of course, believe, but there is no ground for it.
Alexander seems to have really done it and been the model for the biblical
parting of the sea.
The Sinai wanderings contain nothing to prove them as anything other
The story after the miracle, from the Sea to Kadesh, is full of names of
places touched on during the journey. They are all, without exception,
J A Soggin
The number of Israelites is impossible. Most of the place names in the
narrative no longer exist, or rather never did. Archaeology offers no
support for any of the places, even when they seem identifiable. When the
Israelis occupied Sinai, from 1967 to 1982, they feverishly sought
evidence of Moses and the Israelite wanderings. Under the pretence of
doing salvage excavations to save sites from potential destruction,
thousands of sites were examined and surveyed. Not a matzah of
evidence was found of the mass exodus.
In going into Sinai, the Israelites were not escaping from Egypt.
Archaeologist, Eliezer Oren, found that Egypt and Canaan were not
separated by an an almost impassable desert. The coastal strip from the
Delta into Philistia was a ribbon development, a stretched out city, a
busy route that had become almost urbanised along its whole length. The
Sinai peninsula itself was part of Egypt, was economically important, was
the entrance to Egypt from Asia, and so was well fortified and patrolled
by the Egyptian army. People moved back and forth into Canaan from Egypt.
Pottery found was a mixture of Egyptian and Canaanite. The grave goods
found in the characteristic beehive shaped tombs were mixed also.
There was no barrier between Africa and Asia but a well used land
bridge. It testifies that Canaan was for long an Egyptian colony, and the
south of it retained cultural ties with Egypt even when the statelets
there achieved their independence around 850 BC. Even the Canaanite
coastal city states to the north, called Phœnicia, were manifestly within
the Egyptian sphere of influence as many artefacts plainly show.
Nevertheless, if Sinai was the route the escapers took, Soggin says it is
certain that they went straight from the Sea of Reeds to Kadesh Barnea,
and nowhere else in between.
The promulgation of the Torah at Mount Sinai is presented in detail
from Exodus 19 to Numbers 10, the two books being really a
single composition. Clearly linked themes occur before and after this long
interpolation, showing it was plonked right in the middle of an existing
account of the journey from Egypt to Canaan via Kadesh. The Sinai
tradition itself was already a compilation of earlier traditions.
The incident at Sinai must therefore have been interpolated into the
tradition of the direct route. The location of Mount Sinai is
unknown—the extant tradition is only from the fourth century AD
and, for Sinai to have been an active volcano, the story would have had to
have been set in Arabia. So, it is a different tradition which, if based
on history, could have come from anywhere else at all. It is impossible
from the saga to identify the mountain called Sinai, but a sensible guess
would be that it was really Zion, the mountain on which the Jerusalem
temple was placed.
From the marking of the lintels onward, the story is meant to show how
the God of Heaven had given them the land and would solve all the problems
of the Israelite people. They hunger, thirst, get demoralized, turn to
apostasy, get threatened, and so on, but those who remained loyal to the
new god and his earthly agent would be delivered into the land of milk and
honey. The story is transparently propaganda aimed at bribing and shaming
people to turn to the God of Heaven, and warning them off their old
The Golden Calf (Ex 32) was one of the warnings. The Canaanite
religion reflected the climate of the country, according to Soggin. The
Samaria ostraca of the eighth century show that Samaria was polytheistic.
Theophoric names in Baal as well as Yehouah appear among the Royal
officials. The people of biblical Israel seem not to have been intolerant
of Baal in their religion. It follows that the intolerance must have come
out of Judah, and Judah only became significant in Persian and Hellenistic
times. But the bible also says that in Judah, before the destruction of
Jerusalem (2 Kg 23), Baal was worshipped with Yehouah in the
temple. Moreover, the figurines of Asherah and new inscriptions confirm
what the fifth century Elerphantine papyri said—Yehouah had an
So, the original religion of the hill country was polytheistic, and
among its elements undoubtedly was worship of a bull as representative of
the god of storms. The rains in autumn made the land bloom, but the
vegetation begins to die in the spring and by the heat of the summer only
the hardy trees and shrubs were still alive, having evolved to withstand
half a year’s dessication. Baal, the Canaanite fertility god who in some
aspects at least was a bull, also died in the spring when the god of
death, Mot, arose for the summer. The autumn rains were the “seed of
Baal” that fertilized the earth and the flocks. Mot was vanquished and
the people celebrated. The bible depicts this fertility religion as
orgiastic, and perhaps it was, but there is no external evidence of it
being so. The Canaanite Autumn and Spring festivals of Baal’s
resurrection and death are the same as the Jewish festivals of Booths and
Moses complained that the Israelites built a Golden “Calf” (Ex
32), a deliberate biblical demeaning of the bull that signified the storm
gods who brought rain and fertility. Yehouah was one of them. Yet, at the
same time, the biblical authors maintain that Yehouah was giving
instructions to his Chosen on how to build two cherubim (Ex 25:18).
If one figure is idolatry, then why are the other ones not?
The two cherubs are actually the throne of Yehouah, not representations
of the God himself, and that is the Judaeo-Christian excuse, but an empty
throne or pedestal for an invisible god was not unusual in the ancient
near east. Deities, whether gods or goddesses, are commonly depicted
standing or sitting on an associated animal acting as the throne or
pedestal. Garbini points out that, in the Golden Calf incident, the bull
image was the throne or pedestal of the storm god. The mighty god need not
be depicted, but when it was, the bull was its footstool. If both cases,
bull and cherubim, were simply the throne or pedestal of the god, then
Moses’s anger looks hypocritical. Moreover, Aaron, whose plan it was to
build the bull, was only mildly rebuked by his brother. Is it a case of
nepotism by God’s chief prophet?
The answer must be that an earlier tradition of the Moses saga was that
the bull image was built legitimately, but later, this was considered as
idolatry, and the cherubs were substituted expressly as a throne so that
there could be no mistake. The well known trick used by priests when
needing to change mythology is to tell people that they had misapprehended
the myth. This happened here. The tablets of the law were what was
important all along but the people had taken to the bull, which was a
mistake. So, the bull incident was refashioned into an explicit error in
It left Aaron, who in the original myth had encouraged the people to
offer up their gold to make the bull, in limbo, but it was impossible for
him to be punished as savagely as others because he had an important role
in the cult, as the founder of the priesthood. So he was merely rebuked.
The change of the myth also gave the mythologers the chance to bring in
the Levites, a supposed tribe, but legitimised as favoured in cult matters
in this revised mythical history. Only the Levites remained loyal, giving
a justification for a priestly class equivalent to the Magi, while the
thousands who were disloyal were murdered. Quite a severe warning, one
From 2 Kings 23:5, 20; 2 Chronicles 34:5 and
the massacre of 3000 people in the Golden Calf incident, some described as
the brothers of the Levites, even though they were supposed to have all
remained loyal, it seems that the earliest returners from exile, actually
murdered the native priesthood by burning them, or an earlier priesthood
of colonists was massacred by a later one. However, these are additions by
the Levitical priests in the third century BC. The sheer intolerance of
the Jewish God, the savagery and intolerance of His laws and the narrative
savagery that the bible describes seems disgusting to religious skeptics,
though Christians, who claim to have the same God, seem to think He is a
god of love.
The tablets of the law in the episode of the Golden Calf had been
inscribed on both surfaces, and were easily broken. Stone tablets were
normally inscribed on one surface, being intended to be rested against or
built into a structure as a monument, and would have needed a mallet to
break. These were not stone tablets but the baked clay tablets used for
inscribing cuneiform letters in Mesopotamia. The author was thinking in
terms of Mesopotamian practices. When Moses arrived from Sinai with the
covenant written on clay tablets, the revised story was that he found the
Israelites apostatizing by reverting to the worship of a calf, so he broke
the tablets, the Mesopotamian way of formally breaking a contract.
What is most remarkable, Garbini points out, is that no other oriental
codex “from the Sumerian to that of Hammurabi, from the Assyrian to the
Hittite” lays down laws of religious belief. While Exodus and Leviticus
lays down the death penalty for any number of religious misdemeanours,
equivalent legal systems of other countries in the ancient near east do
not even mention religion.
The reason is the very polytheism of these countries and times that the
monotheists hate. Polytheistic societies did not prescribe who or how
people should worship. Towns or nations might have been under the
protection of a specific god, but that was no excuse to offend all the
others with the risk of divine vengence despite the protection of their
particular lord. Kings of countries were confident of the general piety of
the people, and need not penalise them for worshipping this god or that.
They could use any or all of them for their political purposes. Only a
country working to impose a particular god, or type of god, needed to
enforce it in law, and this could not have happened in Palestine until
after the Persian conquest.