Why the Exodus, as commonly understood, probably never happened

Exodus Gods and Kings posterAt the urging of one of my relatives, I watched Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings‘.  This relative, knowing my skeptical nature, thought I might enjoy Scott’s naturalistic (mostly) take on the events in the story.  I’m sorry to say that I didn’t really enjoy the movie, which is unusual for me because I usually do enjoy Scott’s films.  It wasn’t exactly terrible, but it didn’t entertain me much.  I can’t say exactly why, but I never felt much connection with the movie’s characters.

Not that my dislike had anything to do with it being a religious movie.  I enjoy lots of fantasy movies, and for me, Biblical movies, particularly ones that focus on the Old Testament, fall into that genre.  I watch them in the same spirit that I watch movies about Greek mythology.  That’s probably why Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments‘ remains one of my favorite movies.  If it comes on TV, there’s a good chance that I’ll watch it.

But, my dislike of Scott’s movie aside, something that my relative didn’t quite grasp is that, I’m not skeptical of the Exodus story because of the supernatural events (although I am definitely skeptical of the supernatural events themselves), but because I’ve found that trying to find naturalistic explanations for the events gives far too much credence to the overall narrative.  Exodus as commonly understood, probably never happened, not even a supernatural free version of it.

To understand why, we need to start with the fact that most Biblical scholars date the writing of the Biblical books that deal with Moses and the Exodus (the Torah or Pentateuch), in stages, during the period between the 9th and 5th centuries BC.  In other words, the stories that we now have were written several centuries after the events they describe.  It’s commonly accepted that these stories were oral traditions before they were committed to writing.  And oral traditions evolve substantially over centuries.

Of course, many will insist that the Biblical traditions are an exception.  But there are other issues.  No archaeological evidence has been found for hundreds of thousands of Hebrews wandering around in the desert during the relevant periods.  It’s natural to wonder what evidence might still be around after thirty centuries, but for a population that size, based on the evidence left for other historical events, most archaeologists feel that there should be some, and there isn’t any.

Maybe the host wasn’t as large as the Bible describes.  A smaller population might not have left as much evidence.  Perhaps, but the problems don’t stop there.  Not only does archaeology not back up the Biblical narrative, it flat out contradicts it.  Israel Finkelstein, an Israeli archaeologist, has noted that Genesis, Exodus, and other early Bible books are more reflective of the political situation in the 8th century BC, rather than the one in the 15-13th centuries BC, the period when the Exodus would have taken place.

Egypt_NK_edit.svg

Image credit: Wikipedia

A big issue is that Egyptian territory in the period between 1500-1200 BC didn’t end at the Sinai peninsula.   It included Canaan as a collection of vassal city states.  If Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land, he led them right back into Egyptian territory, an important detail that the Bible never mentions.  During the period when Joshua was supposedly conquering the promised land, he would have been fighting Egypt over it.

And the Joshua conquests represent another problem.  There’s virtually no archaeological evidence of a violent invasion, as described in the Book of Joshua, during the historical period when it was supposed to have happened.  This has led most archaeologists to conclude that the Israeli people arose peacefully in the highlands, gradually swelling their ranks from the Canaanite cities after they fell into decline during the Bronze Age Collapse.

Of course, there are people who claim they’ve found evidence for the Biblical narratives, but the majority of archaeologists don’t appear to be convinced.  There’s always an industry to tell people what they want to hear, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are TV shows and books claiming to have found evidence, sometimes with negative remarks about how blighted the archaeological profession is for not accepting it.

(Note that it would be wrong to think of this as a dispute between religious archaeologists and non-religious ones.  Many professional archaeologists are devout believers, but most don’t let their faith cloud their professional assessment of the evidence, or lack thereof.)

Now, it does remain possible that the Exodus is ultimately based on some kind of historical event.  Moses’s name is Egyptian, a common suffix meaning “son of”.  Moses might have been an exiled Egyptian who simply dropped the family part of his name.  And he might have led a group of, say, Shasu nomads from Midian or Edom north into Canaan, perhaps bringing the cult of Yahweh with them.  This group might have formed the nucleus of what would eventually become Israel.  But until someone finds an ancient inscription pertaining to these events, it’s all speculation.

Right now, the earliest historical reference to Israel is the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian monument reciting the exploits of their military.  It includes the line, “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.”  Not much to go on, but enough to tell us that there was a people called “Israel” in Canaan at the time of this stele’s creation, sometime in the period 1213-1203 BC, and that these people had conflict with Egypt.  Maybe the tales from that conflict eventually evolved into the Exodus narrative.  But again, that’s speculation.

So, for me, finding naturalistic explanations for the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, as Scott’s movie attempts to do, is simply messing up a thrilling founding myth.  I suspect devout Jews or Christians probably weren’t satisfied by it, and neither were skeptics like me.  I think if you’re going to make a Bible movie, you should go all in and at least make it fun.

Along with numerous archaeological and historical articles, my views on this subject were informed by the following books: ‘Who Wrote the Bible‘ by Richard Friedman, and especially ‘The Bible Unearthed‘ by Neil Silberman and Israel Finkelstein.  If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend them.

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38 Responses to Why the Exodus, as commonly understood, probably never happened

  1. Wyrd Smythe says:

    Nice post!!

    I’ve got my SR posts to write, so I just skimmed (and will be back for a more detailed read later), but I think we’re totally on the same page on all your points here. I think I’d react the same way to the film.

    This seems to be a new thing. Re-imaging Bible stories as action-thrillers. We recently had what was, by all accounts, a really stupid Noah movie, and now we have Moses. I think I saw promos for something about Jesus coming on cable TV.

    Meanwhile, literally ages of outstanding science fiction stories — which would so easily lend themselves to the big screen orgasms of CGI people are so addicted to — languish on the bookshelves.

    You know… I’ve always thought there was money to be made in trying to sell “screen treatments” of some of those. Hollywood pays — sometimes big — for ideas and treatments. Those hoping to break into SF writing might find some traction there.

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    • Thanks Wyrd! Looking forward to the SR post.

      I saw the Noah movie and found it pretty awful.

      Totally agreed on SF classics not getting enough attention from producers. Again, maybe small independent film makers might be able to rectify that at some point. Maybe.

      The problem with selling treatments, as I understand it, is the industry’s wretched history of stealing them (or being accused of stealing them). I wonder if there are any reputable producers that still accept unsolicited treatments.

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      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        Probably not. When I pondered going that route, my plan was to create some really good treatments, use the old trick of mailing copies to myself (to establish copyright), and then try to find an agent willing to take a newbie client.

        These days I suppose one could publish a treatment to a blog and send tweets to various producers. One could try to find a director who hasn’t had a successful film in a while or someone just starting off.

        Lawrence Kasdan would be one guy whose interest I’d really like to get. I tend to like his work a lot, and I have some burning questions about Grand Canyon, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. And, of course, Kasdan is no stranger to SF!

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        • From what I’ve heard, Kasdan is pretty heavily involved in the new Star Wars movies. Good luck on getting his attention 🙂

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          • Wyrd Smythe says:

            Yeah, these plans go back to when he was having a dry spell in the very late 1990s and early 2000s. (Although I really liked his Dreamcatcher in 2003.)

            With regard to the new Star Wars I don’t just not have high hopes, I have no hopes. The original trilogy changed the SF movie landscape, and I have high regard for them in that sense (but was never really a SW fan). But to me it’s been a dead horse ever since.

            Likewise Star Trek. It’s dead, Jim. Stop poking the corpse.

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          • I’ll actually be satisfied with Star Wars or Star Trek if they’re at least fun popcorn entertainment. In the case of SW, with Disney involved, I tend to think that’ll happen. Anything more than that I’d see as bonus material. I’m definitely not expecting anything deep. Star Trek on TV occasionally got deep, but except for the first, the movies never have.

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          • Wyrd Smythe says:

            Yeah, none of the Trek movies really amounted to much. It’s been moribund for a long time; Abrams just nailed the coffin shut.

            Popcorn movies are okay as long as they don’t violate my cardinal rule: Don’t piss me off. Sadly, most of them manage to do that, and the result is that over time I’m kinda over popcorn movies. At my age I have this sense of “life is short; don’t waste my time!” :\

            Definitely a Disney movie could be good. I rather enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks. On the other hand I finally saw Maleficent and thought it really stank. [shrug]

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  2. Glad to read such a fine take on what might be actual fact within the Exodus story and what is likely their evolving theology about Hebrew origins. While it’s been awhile since I was up to date on the scholarship around these texts, I came away with a similar conclusion then.

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  3. “I think if you’re going to make a Bible movie, you should go all in and at least make it fun.”

    I totally agree. It sounds like a wasted opportunity. Plus, the whole historical accuracy issue clouds over whatever truths the story might hold. I’ve always had a problem with the insistence on literal interpretations of the Bible…as I would with any such texts. It’s one thing to say that interpretation must not run amok, and another to insist on the historical accuracy of every detail, even contrary to evidence. I believe this literal way of thinking has actually turned a lot of people away from Christianity and religion altogether (not because it should have, but because people tend to think in all-or-nothing terms). Growing up in Oklahoma, I was all too familiar with this kind of thinking, and it certainly had that effect on me for a long time.

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    • Being raised as a Catholic, I never got Biblical inerrancy indoctrination, so it was always a foreign concept to me. I think it’s pretty clear that someone can accept that many of the stories aren’t historical and remain a believer. For many, the Bible represents classical theological reasoning that may have insights but also human mistakes.

      That said, I have to admit that the Bible’s historical inaccuracies are one of the many factors in my nonbelief. The book of Job is clearly meant to be taken poetically, but I can’t see it for Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, etc.

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      • Yeah, I stop at the Jesus-as-God thing. I don’t think there’s any way I could become a Christian, if it’s defined that way.

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        • I agree on that. Even when I was a believer, Jesus=God was a dubious proposition to me. Strangely enough, no one actually told me that Jesus=God until after several years of Catechism education, at which point I was too old to blindly accept it. Before then, I thought he was the “son of God” in the same way that Heracles was the son of Zeus.

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          • I found all that “son of God” stuff confusing too. I guess I still find it confusing. Maybe I’m the one being too literal minded? 🙂

            When were you a believer?

            BTW, my spinal tap is scheduled for Friday. I’m actually glad to be getting it over with sooner rather than later. I’ve managed to avoid thinking about it thus far, and hopefully I can keep not thinking about it for a few more days.

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          • I was a believer for most of my life, although toward the end it was in name only. My belief was strong(ish) as a teenager, but gradually weakened over the decades, until a brief personal attempt at religious revival finally caused me to research it intensely, and bring it to a close.

            Best of luck on the spinal tap. I hope they can rule out MS and any of the other serious conditions, although I know this is only one of many tests. Have your symptoms improved any?

            I’m still having ups and downs with my shoulder. Sunday I feared it was about to flare up again, but bizarrely I think it was a side effect of inflammation from seasonal allergies, which are making me miserable right now.

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          • Funny, I was skeptical starting in middle school (this was more of an aesthetic thing, probably a bad reaction to all the W.W.J.D.? bracelets that everyone wore. Something about it felt like sugar-coating nonsense and it got on my nerves.) At this time I started exploring friend’s churches and none of those were good experiences. By high school I was a cranky Nietzsche-reading atheist. It was only in college from reading Augustine and Aquinas that I came to appreciate the other side, though I don’t think I’ll ever be religious in any conventional sense, if at all.

            My symptoms are hard to track at this point. I’ve been taking a pill called Modafinil which is for fatigue, but it seems to be helping with all my symptoms. I don’t know how this is possible, but I plan on telling the doctor to see if it means anything to him. I tried to stop taking the pill to see if it might be causing the electric shock feeling or making certain symptoms worse, but it’s clearly not (the neurologist told me it wasn’t a side effect of the pill, but said I could try going off it for a while). After three days I felt like a train wreck. I meant to go a week, but I just couldn’t stand it. I have a lot of new symptoms, but they’re all pretty minor compared to the fatigue and head zapping.

            So without the pill, it looks like there’s no improvement…it may be even worse…something I try not to think about. With the pill, a drastic improvement. I even drove into town today all by myself! Plus, I’ve been able to take Geordie for his daily walks. It’s been a life saver.

            Sorry to hear about the allergies. I haven’t had problems with those yet. I hear they can happen at any age. My husband has problems with that and it can be pretty miserable, like having a cold. (He always thinks it’s a cold at first.) Are you still doing the PT? If so, do you think it’s helping?

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          • I suspect if I’d grown up with the internet, my belief would have disappeared much sooner. I think it lasted as long as it did because I avoided thinking about it. In truth, it was gone for a long time before I admitted it. The stigma in my part of the country against it probably had something to do with it.

            Sorry to hear the symptoms aren’t getting better. At least the Modafinil sounds like it’s making your day to day quality of living comfortable, which is definitely a good thing. Geordie also sounds like he’s exactly what you need right now. Well, I’ll keep hoping for the best. Let me know what the spinal tap finds (if you’re comfortable discussing it).

            Allergies are an old reality for me. They always hit around this time a year and usually clear when we get to summer. I was surprised when it (or maybe the medication) affected my shoulder. Last week, I had a day where I had to do a lot of walking, and my shoulder started hurting; after weeks of rest, that was a bit discouraging. I stopped doing the PT exercise that hit the supraspinatus directly; it was progressively getting achier. I’m trying to continue with the other exercises, although it’s been spotty this week. I have no idea if the other exercises are helping or hurting.

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          • I often wonder what would have happened if I had grown up with the internet. (I didn’t have a computer until my sophomore year of college, and a smartphone just last year). I don’t know that it would have changed my views on religion, but it might have. I would have been online non-stop, which means connecting with people all over the world. I think I probably would have spent most of that online time learning songs off of YouTube. I already had an obsession with playing guitar and having access to instructional videos would have been a dream for me. (Although, I’m sure I would have taken it for granted.)

            I wouldn’t be surprised if the allergies are affecting your shoulder. I’m starting to realize how these things are all connected in mysterious ways.

            Sorry to hear about the setback with your shoulder. Ups and downs are normal, but after this much time I would think you’d see results. Did they ever give you an estimate for how long it will take to feel some improvement?

            I will let you know what I find out about the spinal tap. From what I understand, it could take weeks to get the results. I’m sort of jumping the gun, but I keep thinking about what I’ll do if the results come back normal. My PCP said he’d send me to the Mayo Clinic, but that will cost a fortune, I’m sure. He also said he’d give me medication for epilepsy after the spinal tap to help with the shock feeling. If I can treat the symptoms with meds, maybe I’ll hold off on going to the Mayo Clinic and just wait and see if the symptoms go away.

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          • I’ve always been an information seeker, but before the internet, getting it was a lot of work, or at least a lot more than it is today. (I recall me and my dad making a trip to multiple libraries to research stereo systems, something that could be done in minutes today with Google.) When my first doubts arose as a teenager (after reading the Bible and comparing it to Greek, Norse, and Babylonian mythology, not to mention some of the science fiction I was reading, like Dune), I had no easy way to investigate those doubts. I didn’t even know that Nietzsche, Russell, or other skeptical literature even existed, and if I had, my chances of finding any of it in the school or local public library was zero.

            On the shoulder, the only time frame I recall was “a month or two”. I interpret that as wait two months, so I have one more month to go. This allergy business may complicate things. Having two ailments is annoying enough, but having them spillover into each other is just obnoxious.

            Best of luck with the actual spinal tap. Epileptic medication? It’s interesting that this discussion is interleaving with non-belief, since epileptic symptoms were once considered signs of genius, of being blessed by the gods.

            I can certainly understand the wait-and-see-if-it-goes-away approach; it’s frankly what I’m considering for my shoulder. But the potential cost of me doing that would only be continued aching and possible delay of needed surgery. I’d be nervous if you did that with your symptoms, although I totally sympathize with the pain of out of pocket expenses. American health care shouldn’t put people in that position.

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          • I remember the library! LOL. I spent a lot of time at Borders in high school. I had a group of friends who’d meet up there after school. They went to a private school and actually had homework to do, whereas I just read whatever I felt like and discussed their homework with them. a sort of vicarious education. The only reason I knew of Nietzsche was because of them (not that they were reading Nietzsche in their Catholic schools, but they knew a lot more than I did about just about everything).

            One more month to go before you see results? Wow that’s a long time. Then again, sometimes these things do take a long time. Well, I wish you luck with your recovery. I hope you’re able to find some relief with your allergies too…have you tried a neti pot?

            Next time I get that shock feeling, I’ll just have to remember that I’m being blessed by the gods!

            Yeah, the wait-and-see approach has its drawbacks. I’ll ask my doctor if he thinks that would be a good idea before I do it. I guess I’m just feeling I won’t ever get a diagnosis, but finding that out will cost a ton of money and maybe even several trips to Phoenix. (That drive is awful.) On the other hand, I do have a lot of new symptoms that are clearly not good. I read that tinnitus in only one ear is a bad sign, and I’ve had that for a while now, nonstop. Of course, that started after all my hearing tests which came up normal. Plus a little tremor in my left hand when I reach to pick up something. Oddly, these things don’t really bother me, but I know it’s not normal.

            If you do the wait-and-see approach, is there any chance that your shoulder will get worse?

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          • I’m definitely a neti pot user when my sinuses are congested. However, my symptoms in the last couple of years have been painfully itchy eyes. I often wish I could go back to just sneezing. The antihistamine actually felt like it was helping my shoulder until the flare up Sunday. Now I’m back to taking ibuprofen at bedtime, along with an antihistamine. Old I am feeling.

            I hope you’re keeping your doctor updated on those symptoms. They could just be fatigue, or an effect of the stimulant medication, but you never know. Well, I hope they can figure something out without the Phoenix trips. I know I’d hate to have to drive to another city for treatments.

            On my shoulder, if it is in fact a high grade tendon tear, there’s always the danger that it could become a full tear, but that seems unlikely unless I do something stupid, like popping pain killers and trying to do a full bore workout or manual labor.

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          • Ah, so you’ve discovered the neti pot, then. I think the first time I used it, my husband walked in and made a face, then I started laughing and I snorted salty water up my nose.

            Well, if you’re old then I am too! At 32 I feel like it’s a bit premature to say that, but I’ve always had an old soul. I just wish my body wouldn’t catch up with it so quickly.

            I’ve been telling him about the symptoms. It’s a process of several days involving a strange relay from the secretary to him to the secretary then back to me. By that point I have a new symptom. Oh well.

            It sounds like you really could hold off on getting the surgery then, just so long the pain doesn’t become overwhelming.

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          • I actually first heard of the neti pot on NPR, when one of the radio announcers said he was about to tell us a trade secret of how they could talk while having a cold. It does tend to irritate my sinuses when I use it, but that’s a good trade off when I have a cold and can’t breathe. But yeah, you definitely don’t want anyone around when you’re doing it (at least I don’t), particularly at the part where you clear the nostrils.

            I know what you mean. My communication with the second doctor has been through his assistants, which is slow and ponderous, but at least he has a mechanism for communication to happen.

            I’ll probably go see the doctor again in a month or two if I’m not seeing progress, sooner if it gets worse.

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          • I am definitely in love with my neti pot. I’d never heard of this until recently. It was sort of a bizarre thing, but it worked pretty well. They say not to use it too often, though.

            Well, I did the spinal tap today and it was quite an experience. I had a panic attack in the middle of the procedure. I’d never had one of those before and it was truly awful. I feel sorry for people who have to deal with those all the time.

            The strange thing was, when the doc injected me to numb the area, he said this was going to be the worst of it and that I’d feel some stinging. I clenched the pillow preparing myself for something awful. As I was feeling the pain I thought, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.” And it really was no worse than when I had the contrast dye injected in me for the MRI. It was over in a few seconds. Then he asked if I could feel the needle he was poking me with, and I said no. Then I felt a stab on my butt and my first thought was, “Could he be that far off the mark?” So I told him what I was feeling and he said that he must’ve nicked a nerve. The pain even then wasn’t so bad, just a quick twinge. So I settled down and everything was fine until he said something about how the spinal fluid had stopped draining and he’d have to reposition the needle. Then my heart started pounding and I couldn’t breathe. I started gasping for air and someone asked me if I was okay, but I could barely talk. I got very nauseated and worried that I’d throw up right there. Then my hands went severely numb in a way I’d never experienced before. So I said, “I can’t feel my hands, I can’t breathe, etc.” and the doctor told me that the nerves in the area he was dealing with had nothing to do with my hands. I knew this was true as I had just studied the nerve chart hanging in hallway for a good twenty minutes, but I still couldn’t calm down. It was the most powerless feeling I’ve ever had. I kept telling myself that nothing he was doing could be causing my hands to go numb, but my thoughts did nothing to stop it. After the procedure, I went back to normal and now everything’s fine so far. I’m supposed to be flat on my back for the rest of the day.

            So now I’m wondering if all my symptoms could be psychological. Now I’ve had a first hand experience of what that means, to actually be telling yourself that you’re fine but having your body tell you otherwise, loudly and clearly, even though there’s nothing objectively wrong with it. It’s all so infuriating!

            My whole thing all along has been: “But it doesn’t feel psychological.” Well neither did that panic attack since I thought I was pretty calm right up until the moment when that hit.

            Talk about a mind/body problem.

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          • Wow Tina. That sounds like an totally awful experience. I can only imagine what it must have been like. Well, at least it’s over with now. Hopefully they got everything they needed from it.

            The mind is definitely a powerful thing when it comes to our perceptions. We all live in a mentally constructed world. Many people think our perceptions come directly from the senses, but in reality, our perceptions are constructed from sensory data at a layer of information processing we have little to no conscious access to. It’s very possible for that layer to fool the conscious version of ourselves.

            That said, I’d be cautious about concluding that’s what’s happening. It might well turn out to be psychological, and it would be great if it were (at least from a physical health perspective), but you have to be mindful of the potential cost of erroneously assuming that’s the case.

            I hope you’re continuing to feel well this morning with no ill effects. Take care of yourself.

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          • I have to say it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t so much the symptoms themselves as the knowledge that it was “all in my head” and yet there was nothing I could do about it. I felt bamboozled and totally out of control. What you’re saying about that layer of information processing rings true to me now in a way it just wouldn’t have before. It’s quite disturbing.

            I think your advice is good. I don’t want to assume that everything all along has been psychological, but that possibility has been opened up to me now. I never felt anxious, so it never seemed right, but now all I can say is I don’t know. The other thing that I have to consider is that one objective abnormal result on the VEMP test. So it could be a mixture of things at play here. And after all, it was a spinal tap. That idea never sat well with me.

            Well this morning I’m back to the usual stuff, but no problems from yesterday’s event. I feel like there’s a bruise in that spot where he nicked the nerve, but that’s not a bother. I am so glad that’s over!

            Thanks for listening, once again! Your advice and thoughts have helped a lot.

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          • Glad to hear you’re doing okay today. The evidence fog of medical information remains frustrating for both of us, but it sounds like you’ve got the right attitude toward it.

            Absolutely on listening! Any time. We keep helping each other out. I’m just as grateful to you for listening to my shoulder woes.

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        • Tina,

          I’m curious as to what you saw in Augustine. On the advice of your blog, I checked out both him and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is amazing to the point that he’s going to be a big part of (the subtext) in the book I’m working on now.

          But Augustine, good Lord, shoot me. I’ve never read anything as depressing as “Confessions.” If I had to write a blurb for that book it would be “spirited and intelligent young man learns to hate literally everything about himself and his surroundings and, in doing so, finds the least appealing possible variety of peace.”

          “Only psychological …” Jesus, I hope your medical adventures are near an end.

          -Ben

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          • Ha! Well, Augustine isn’t for everybody. (Neither is Aquinas for that matter.) What I liked about it was the intimate nature of it and the psychological insights. In particular, I remember enjoying Augustine’s insights about interpretation. It’s definitely strange stuff since he’s struggling to understand his relationship to the Manichaeans, and we’re just not in that context. On the other hand, maybe you have to have a strong sense of Catholic guilt to appreciate it, especially in light of the pear tree example. (I’m not Catholic, but my father was, and perhaps I’ve inherited those genes.) 🙂

            Aquinas is fantastic in a totally different way. The breadth of his thinking is mind boggling. The logical and simple nature of the writing makes my heart go pitter patter.

            Of course Augustine and Aquinas are both Christian perspectives on Plato and Aristotle, respectively, and they’re interesting in that light too. Also, they are both rational perspectives on religion, which I found so refreshing at the time when I read them, even if I didn’t agree on the finer points. What I loved was the fusion of the natural with religion, with reason and religion, although there’s definitely an element where reason can’t cross over, particularly in the section on Grace in Aquinas.

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          • I think you might be more on the money with that Catholic guilt than you intended. I’d much rather hang out with young Augustine than old Augustine, and I’d rather hang out with Aquinas than either of them. 😉

            It sounds like you’ve had an interesting relationship with religion over the course of your life. Devote -> Neitzschean (though I’m not sure he’s what we think of when we say atheist nowadays) -> interested in Augustine and Aquinas in an arm’s length sort of way. Right?

            What set you on this path?

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          • Hm. What set me on this path? From Nietzsche to Aquinas? I’m not really sure. I took a course in college in which we stormed through a lot of the great books, including segments of the Bible. At this point I was a Plato and Aristotle lover, so I was already interested in Aquinas and Augustine’s interpretations. Of course in Plato and Aristotle, there’s a religious aspect that does not conflict with reason, which I found intriguing. Then I wanted to see how that played out in the Christian context and compare this to the brand(s) of Christianity I’d grown up with to see how it has evolved.

            Yeah, I’m not sure Nietzsche would be the embodiment of atheism. That’s pretty extreme stuff.

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          • With you liking the reasonable marriage of religion and philosophy, I wonder what you think of Kant.

            I might be really out of line here, but I could never tell if Nietzsche was covertly pagan, an atheist for aesthetic reasons (God must die so we can become gods), or simply trolling.

            The central debates of deism vs atheism, unmoved movers and the limits of causality etc, I simply don’t see that in Nietzsche. He didn’t seem to care.

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          • Funny you should ask about Kant. Kant was my gateway to rationalism…not Plato, oddly. I don’t think there will ever come a day when I don’t admire Kant. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said, but a lot of his observations were astute. I still can’t think of space and time in a non-Kantian way.

            Now with Kant, God is in the noumenal realm. Which means we can’t know whether or not God exists, but I believe he says it’s one of those things we ought to believe. Such a statement makes more sense when you remember that things in-themselves are also in the noumenal realm. I’d agree about God being unknowable, but I don’t know if it’s for the same reasons.

            Yeah, Nietzsche did seem oblivious to these concerns, but I think his oblivion was actually feigned and was more of a criticism of tradition at its roots, a disdain for engaging in that kind of discussion. To criticize tradition in a traditional way just wouldn’t have been deep enough, it wouldn’t have reached the heart of the matter for Nietzsche. I don’t really know where he stands on atheism, but I imagine his pagan elements and “atheism for aesthetic reasons” was all part of the plot to overthrow tradition. To be an atheist for aesthetic reasons is flippant and mocks tradition. He’s not playing the game anymore and he’s taking his ball too. He also has no problem with contradicting himself at certain points, and this is calculated. I think his main concern was to show that we are not “the rational animal”…atheism itself falls under that general rule. He wouldn’t say that atheism is rational, and I think he makes this point by waffling around with it, playing with it. The stuff about God dying so we can become gods sounds to me like he simply wanted to make atheism sound optimistic (in a strange perverse way) and wanted to show how traditional theism was sick, rooted in guilt and shame. Christianity produces “the red-faced animal,” and this under the guise of rationality. The idea that we are gods is obviously preposterous, but it does have the effect of lightness and laughter—it carries with it the point that since we are irrational, we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously. “I would only believe in a god who could dance.”

            You know, I keep hearing about “trolling” and I’m not sure I know what that means.

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  4. I wrote a novel about the Joshua story (which will be published eventually … grr) and did a bunch of research on this subject.

    What appears to have happened is that the “Israelis” were Canaanites or possibly Sea Peoples, particularly Philistines, who eventually built up the Yaweh (from Sumerian Enki) cult and changed their name.

    I have no evidence for this, but I suspect Moses and the Exodus were stories about somebody’s Exodus that got incorporated into native Canaanite culture over time.

    In the book, on the other hand, I take it all at face value and try to make a moral, convincing case for being a nice guy and still committing genocide against the natives of Canaan. That was a scary thing to do.

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    • Hmmm. I hadn’t heard the theory that they were sea peoples (I had heard that the Philistines probably were, but not the Israelis), although I’d imagine that there was a fair amount of intermarriage over time.

      From what I’ve read, the Patriarchs, the Exodus, Joshua, and maybe even Judges were probably all disparate traditions that might have been melded into one history, probably by someone in Judah trying to make the case why Jerusalem should be the ruler of both Judah and pre-exhilic Israel. But there’s definitely enough unknowns to allow fictional speculation.

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      • Yeah, the overwhelming sense I got in researching was that Joshua, Exodus and some of Genesis made much more sense as a regime’s legitimizing foundation myth than theology and certainly more than as history.

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        • If I recall correctly, a lot of scholars think it was Josiah, a king of Judah (649-609 BC), who probably had ambitions to expand his territory into the old northern kingdom, a possibility opened up by the decline of the Assyrian empire which had conquered it back in 722 BC. A history (probably pulled together from traditions of the various refuge populations that had fled to Judah decades earlier) that told of a greater Israel ruled by Josiah’s ancestors (David and Solomon) would have been exactly what he needed to legitimate those ambitions.

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          • Something that would be fascinating is to connect the Biblical religions with the pretty obvious Sumerian forerunners.

            I’ve never really understood the hardon the Bible has for idols, but I suspect it began somewhere between Gilgamesh and Josiah.

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