For about the past two weeks I've been going into the book of Exodus, reading a number of translations and versions, reading different commentary on it, concentrating especially on those of Everett Fox and those that I'm finding at the Jewish Theological Seminary site as well as in various Bibles, the Christian Community Bible commentary has some especially interesting things to say.
Another thing I found really interesting is this interview with Richard Elliott Friedman - from a Reformed Jewish website - on the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt that points out that though the archeological community has not found evidence of an exodus, that the Sinai desert is especially effective in burying even evidence of forty-year old events known to have happened:
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!
If that's the case then it's no wonder that even a large Exodus event happened that no sign of it might be found. Though I don't see any need for the numbers in the book to be accurate, they tend to exaggerate things over time. As Marilynne Robinson pointed out you'd think the entire population of France participated in the resistance only a few years after the war, by the claims people made. His arguments for an Exodus that primarily or exclusively involved a Levite community, in which a large number of peculiarly Egyptian names and cultural artifacts survive in the text as well as a theory of how the Levites - who he attributes extreme and stubborn, even violent coercivity to - got the El tradition to meld with the YHWH tradition of the Levites. Which is interesting even if you don't find it entirely convincing.
I don't think any of it needed to happen for the meaning of the what was said to have been both true and useful and entirely relevant to the experience of beleaguered human beings, today. The whole thing could be one long parable, though one with distinct parts put together by generations of scholar-priests. I did find the claim that the Song of Miriam and the Song of Deborah being the two oldest texts in that line of narrative to be interesting and how it may have grown from them. Everett Fox points out that in the story of Moses, his entire existence, and so the entire story, depends on women saving his life, his mother, his sister, the two Egyptian-named midwives - unlike Pharaoh and his daughter, the two mid-wives have names - and I'll add Moses' wife, Tzippora, who saves Moses when the text says that YHWH tried to kill him while they were going to Egypt by doing some magic with the foreskin of their son. The commentaries speculate that it means Moses got really sick on the way, not that God was literally trying to kill Moses. It's a really fascinating text, it's too bad more people don't read it and that those who do often don't take advantage of commentaries written by people who have studied it in the context of the Scriptures and other relevant scholarship.
Walter Brueggemann in Chapter 8 of The Bible Makes Sense talks a lot about how, growing directly out of the Exodus narrative and the moral consequences and obligations that the Jewish priests and scholars taught came from that experience, especially as interpreted by Paul the Pharisee and the other Jews who wrote the New Testament, are relevant to modern life.
Slaves Become Sons and Daughter
This good news exposes our previous status as one that can and must be given up. We are empowered to quit being who we were. We are permitted to regard ourselves differently. Two images suggest themselves by which we may appreciate what it means to be adopted children First, before people in the biblical world become adopted and treasured children, they are often slaves or servants. They are already present in the household, but they have no value of their own. They are kept only for the work they can perform. They have no rights and no reason to hope for any long term security. They do not belong. Indeed their well-being depends completely on their good performance
The slave motif is at the root of biblical imagery. In the Exodus event, the LORD frees the slaves because he has adopted them as his treasured children:
Thus says the LORD: Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, “Let my so go that he may serve me” (Exodus 4:22-23).
In that powerful act of liberating, their status in life is redefined and they are given a new identity. They cannot refuse it and Pharaoh cannot resist it. God has power to make people into his precious children (Matthew 3:9).
9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Now their life consists, not in the capricious pleasures of the brick-yard Pharaoh, but in the affirming fidelity of this God who takes children into his household.
Our society is filled with the same kind of slaves, people who must daily establish their worth by performing someone's assigned tasks. These are people who must daily live with anxiety concerning the day when they will be unable to perform. Slaves live by obedient performance, effectively accomplishing what is expected. They are nameless agents without intrinsic worth.
The LORD characteristically transforms slaves into children This is evident in the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11. The son came home to be a servant:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants (15:18-19).
But the father will not consider it and makes his own insistence:
Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive
again; he was lost, and is found (15:22-24).
The son was welcomed to the gather's table of joy, for a son does not gain his worth by his performance but by the will of the father.
Orphans Become Adopted Children
A second biblical image is that people are orphans – people who belong nowhere, who have no identity or rootage and no claim on anyone or anything. The term orphan sociologically refers to those who have no voice in government, no advocate in court, no representation in any decision. They are helpless victims without power to make any decisions about their own lives. It is the staggering news of the Bible that the LORD takes orphans and brings them into his family, declares them his children, gives a new identity and redefines their status:
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18).
In thee the orphan finds mercy (Hosea 14:3).
Our society is filled with such rootless people. It includes the economically disadvantaged who have no advocate among the powerful. It also includes some powerful who are rootless and in fact belong nowhere. It is a striking reality that lostness and displacedness characterize goth the conventional poor who owe their souls to the company store and the beholden class of middle income who also are enmeshed in corporate structures which displace. Vance Packard has shown how we are A Nation of Strangers. He describes the disintegration of personality and community with such displacement. The gospel is not only an assurance of belonging but a harsh protest against such an ordering of society.
The good news of adoption is addressed to no special class. Rather it addresses persons of every age and class whose humanity is diminished by displacement. It may be that a perception of reality free of ideology will enable us to see that this is a malady effectively destroying our notion of humanness. Humanness mean to belong and to have dignity! But among us are the demonic powers of alienation which address us all.
Which you should remember when you hear Paul Ryan or other white washed tombs and the Trumpian-Mammonist Halleluliah peddlers. Not to mention the atheists and anti-religious distorters.