When I first heard that there was not a shred of evidence discovered in the Sinai Desert that a large number of Jews had wandered for 40 years, I thought that wasn’t such a big deal. I mean, it’s a desert, right? Sand storms probably just swallowed up all the evidence. The more I looked into the story, however, the more I realized that the lack of evidence was actually a pretty big problem. According to the book of Exodus, a lot of Jews were wandering this desert, and it seems extremely unlikely (bordering on impossible) for this many people to leave absolutely no trace, especially when traces have been found for smaller groups of people which predated the Exodus in that same desert.
Just like the lack of evidence is itself strong evidence against the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites in the Americas as told in the Book of Mormon, the same is true with the Exodus story in the Torah.
Still, I didn’t think all that much about it until years later, when I stumbled upon the article called, “Did Jewish Slaves Build the Pyramids?“ by Brian Dunning. This article really got me thinking about the Exodus story again. Dunning’s article reinforced my skepticism about the Exodus story and fueled my feelings of betrayal. I was taught for most of my life that it was a historical fact that the Jews were slaves in Egypt. This “history” was part of my cultural identity as a Jew. Even when I gave up the ridiculous, superstitious beliefs associated with Judaism, I could still proudly feel connected to the Jewish culture, which was grounded in a deep history of liberation from slavery.
As it turns out, well-known Jewish commentator and author Rabbi David Wolpe has also known about the Exodus Myth. In his article, “Did the Exodus Really Happen?“ he mentions that other rabbis wanted him to keep the fiction of the Exodus story on the down-low. The basic story of the Exodus from Egypt (extracting supernatural elements) was touted to me as one of the most historical aspects of the Bible, yet it never happened. This seriously puts into question the historicity of any and all of the Bible stories.
Further, how immoral is it for modern Jews to continue to perpetuate this myth at the expense of Egyptian dignity? For thousands of years, the Jews have blamed the Egyptians for enslaving their ancestors when that never actually happened. Continuing to celebrate Passover without acknowledging the truth of history only perpetuates the shame.
Growing up, I loved celebrating Passover. I loved the story of people fighting for their freedom and fighting against slavery. I don’t think Jews need to stop celebrating Passover or stop talking about this story. However, they need to acknowledge that the celebration is based on a completely fictional story and that the Egyptians never enslaved the Jews. Rabbis should even make a formal apology to the Egyptian people for vilifying them.
As a Humanist, I think it is important to talk about the plight against slavery and the fight for freedom. But I think people should do it honestly instead of turning real people in history into villains. There are plenty of real villains in history already.
Perhaps the holiday of Passover could focus more on the plight of Jews who escape Germany during the Second World War. There are some very inspirational acts of bravery and heroism worth telling from that time, and they don’t require made-up history or supernatural plagues to reinforce the message.
You don’t have to believe in fictional stories to celebrate Jewish holidays. In fact, you don’t even need to believe in any supernatural claims on insufficient evidence and still hold on to your Jewish identity. Many Jews have left the belief in God behind and have become secular Jews. For more information about what that means, check out the Society of Humanistic Judaism.