The Exodus

According to the Tanakh / Old Testament Bible, a few centuries after the Flood, YHWH (God) made a covenant with a man named Abraham (original name Abram; lived c1900s BC), and vowed to give a promised land to his descendants.

A few generations later, Abraham’s seventy descendants through his grandson Jacob/Israel migrated to Egypt.

In Egypt, these descendants—a rapidly growing and rather distinct ethnic/social group that later identified itself as the “Israelites” or “children of Israel”—were enslaved by the native Egyptians.

Then, after about four centuries, YHWH ordered Moses—an un-enslaved Israelite—to confront the Egyptian leader Pharaoh, and demand that he free the enslaved Israelites (, who, by that time, had grown to a population of a few million[23]).[24]

YHWH also explained to Moses that He would harden the hearts of Pharaoh and his officials,[25] thereby causing them to refuse to release the Israelites.

Moses and his brother Aaron followed YHWH’s orders, and displayed YHWH’s power to Pharaoh by turning a rod into a snake—a feat that ultimately did not convince Pharaoh to free the slaves.[26] YHWH then responded by sending ten disastrous plagues one-by-one onto Egypt[27].

Though Pharaoh ultimately refused to give in to Moses’s demands after each of the first nine plagues[28], the tenth—the death of all of Egypt’s firstborn males (people and cattle)—convinced him to let the Israelites and their animals go.

However, not long after they headed out, Pharaoh changed his mind and ordered his soldiers to recapture them.

And then, in perhaps one of the most defining moments in the entire Tanakh, the newly freed group managed to escape their pursuers with the help of YHWH, who parted a sea for the Israelites and then crashed it down on their pursuers.

This in a nutshell is the Tanakh’s account of the Israelite exodus from Egypt.[29]

But is it historical fact, or anything close to it?

If the (non-Israelite) Egyptians —a group that likely numbered well upwards of a million— had in fact directly witnessed of a series of dangerous wide scale supernatural occurrences attributed to the Israelite God, wouldn’t they have turned against Pharaoh, let the Israelites go, worshiped YHWH instead of the Egyptian gods, or, at the very minimum, caused the plagues to become at least some part of Egyptian history, tradition, and/or storytelling via oral transmission and record-taking?

I think so—and yet, this is clearly not the case at all.

In fact, there is no Egyptian-source mention of any such plagues, or even of a Israelite exodus—and this is even despite the fact that the Egyptians kept many documented records, many of which are still in existence today. (see next section)


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[23] According to Numbers 26:51, Moses took a census of the Israelites not long after the exodus (c1400s BC), and counted over 600,000 non-Levite (The Levi are one of the Israelite tribes ) men age twenty and up—which would presumably put the group’s total population (including females, males under twenty, and Levite men twenty and over) in the two to four million range. * , and work out to an annual population growth rate of 2.7%

[24] See Exodus Chapter 1

[25] Which Exodus says YHWH did in order to go on to perform his miraculous plagues, and gain glory, awe, and a favorable reputation among his chosen people the Israelites

[26] The full incident: Aaron turns a stick into a live snake. Pharaoh’s magicians duplicate Aaron’s trick. Aaron’s snake then proceeds to eat the other snakes.

[27] The plagues in their entirety were: (1) turning Egyptian water sources (in rivers, canals, etc.) into blood; (2) infesting Egypt with frogs; (3) turning the dust in Egypt into gnats; (4) infesting Egypt with flies; (5) killing off all Egyptian livestock (but not the livestock of the Israelites); (6) causing a breakout of boils on (non Israelite) men and animals; (7) sending a destructive hailstorm on Egypt (except in the section where the Israelites were); (8) infesting Egypt with locusts that eat the plants; (9) spreading three consecutive days of darkness over Egypt (except where the Israelites were); and (10) killing off all the firstborn of Egypt (people and cattle) except for the Hebrews / Israelites.

[28] Though on several occasions, Pharaoh makes and then eventually reneges on a promise to let the slaves go if Moses gets YHWH to end the plague. Also, after plague eight Pharaoh offers to release only the Hebrew / Israelite men; and after plague nine, he offers to release only the people but not their animals—but Moses refuses both offers.

[29] See Exodus Chapters 1-18 for the exodus story