1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Exodus, The

EXODUS, THE, the name given to the journey (Gr. ἔξοδος) of the Israelites from Egypt into Palestine, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, as described in the books of the Bible from Exodus to Joshua. These books contain the great national epic of Judaism relating the deliverance of the people from bondage in Egypt, the overthrow of the pursuing Pharaoh and his army, the divinely guided wanderings through the wilderness and the final entry into the promised land. Careful criticism of the narratives[1] has resulted in the separation of later accretions from the earliest records, and the tracing of the elaboration of older traditions under the influence of developing religious and social institutions. In the story of the Exodus there have been incorporated codes of laws and institutions which were to be observed by the descendants of the Israelites in their future home, and these, really of later origin, have thus been thrown back to the earlier period in order to give them the stamp of authority. So, although a certain amount of the narrative could date from the days of Moses, the Exodus story has been made the vehicle for the aims and ideals of subsequent ages, and has been adapted from time to time to the requirements of later stages of thought. The work of criticism has brought to light important examples of fluctuating tradition, singular lacunae in some places and unusual wealth of tradition in others, and has demonstrated that much of that which had long been felt to be impossible and incredible was due to writers of the post-exilic age many centuries after the presumed date of the events.

The book of Genesis closes with the migration of Jacob’s family into Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan. Jacob died and was buried in Canaan by his sons, who, however, returned again to the pastures which the Egyptian king had granted them in Goshen. Their brother Joseph on his death-bed promised that God would bring them to the land promised to their forefathers and solemnly adjured them to carry up his bones (Gen. 1.). In the book of Exodus the family has become a people.[2] The Pharaoh is hostile, and Yahweh, the Israelite deity, is moved to send a deliverer; on the events that followed see Exodus, Book of; Moses. It has been thought that dynastic changes occasioned the change in Egyptian policy (e.g. the expulsion of the Hyksos), but if the Israelites built Rameses and Pithom (Ex. i. 11), cities which, as excavation has shown, belong to the time of Rameses II. (13th century B.C.), earlier dates are inadmissible. On these grounds the Exodus may have taken place under one of his successors, and since Mineptah or Merneptah (son of Rameses), in relating his successes in Palestine, boasts that Ysiraal is desolated, it would seem that the Israelites had already returned. On the other hand, it has been suggested that when Jacob and his family entered Egypt, some Israelite tribes had remained behind and that it is to these that Mineptah’s inscription refers. The problem is complicated by the fact that, from the Egyptian evidence, not only was there at this time no remarkable emigration of oppressed Hebrews, but Bedouin tribes were then receiving permission to enter Egypt and to feed their flocks upon Egyptian soil. It might be assumed that the Israelites (or at least those who had not remained behind in Palestine) effected their departure at a somewhat later date, and in the time of Mineptah’s successor, Seti II., there is an Egyptian report of the pursuit of some fugitive slaves over the eastern frontier. The value of all such evidence will naturally depend largely upon the estimate formed of the biblical narratives, but it is necessary to observe that these have not yet found Egyptian testimony to support them. Although the information which has been brought to bear upon Egyptian life and customs substantiates the general accuracy of the local colouring in some of the biblical narratives, the latter contain several inherent improbabilities, and whatever future research may yield, no definite trace of Egyptian influence has so far been found in Israelite institutions.

No allusions to Israelites in Egypt have yet been found on the monuments; against the view that the Aperiu (or Apury) of the inscriptions were Hebrews, see S. R. Driver in D. G. Hogarth, Authority and Archaeology, pp. 56 sqq.; H. W. Hogg, Ency. Bib. col. 1310. The plagues of Egypt have been shown to be those to which the land is naturally subject (R. Thomson, Plagues of Egypt), but the description of the relations of Moses and Aaron to the court raises many difficult questions (H. P. Smith, O.T. Hist. pp. 57-60). Those who reject Ex. i. 11 and hold that 480 years elapsed between the Exodus and the foundation of the temple (I Kings vi. 1, see Bible: Chronology) place the former about the time of Tethmosis (Thothmes) III., and suppose that the hostile Ḥabiri (Khabiri) who troubled Palestine in the 15th century are no other than Hebrews (the equation is philologically sound), i.e. the invading Israelites.[3] But although the evidence of the Amarna tablets might thus support the biblical tradition in its barest outlines, the view in question, if correct, would necessitate the rejection of a great mass of the biblical narratives as a whole.

In the absence of external evidence the study of the Exodus of the Israelites must be based upon the Israelite records, and divergent or contradictory views must be carefully noticed. Regarded simply as a journey from Egypt into Palestine it is the most probable of occurrences: the difficulty arises from the actual narratives. The first stage is the escape from the land of Goshen (q.v.), the district allotted to the family of Jacob (Gen. xlvi. 28-34, xlvii. 1, 4, 6).[4] As to the route taken across the Red Sea (Yam Sūph) scholars are not agreed (see W. M. Müller, Ency. Bib. col. 1436 sqq.); it depends upon the view held regarding the second stage of the journey, the road to the mountain of Sinai or Horeb and thence to Kadesh. The last-mentioned place is identified with Ain Kadīs, about 50 m. south of Beersheba; but the identification of the mountain is uncertain, and it is possible that tradition confused two distinct places. According to one favourite view, the journey was taken across the Sinaitic peninsula to Midian, the home of Jethro. Others plead strongly for the traditional site Jebel Mūsā or Serbāl in the south of the peninsula (see J. R. Harris, Dict. Bible, iv. pp. 536 sqq.; H. Winckler, Ency. Bib. col. 4641). The latter view implies that the oppressed Israelites left Egypt for one of its dependencies, and both theories find only conjectural identifications in the various stations recorded in Num. xxxiii. But this list of forty names, corresponding to the years of wandering, is from a post-exilic source, and may be based merely upon a knowledge of caravan-routes; even if it be of older origin, it is of secondary value since it represents a tradition differing notably from that in the earlier narratives themselves, and these on inspection confirm Judg. xi. 16 seq., where the Israelites proceed immediately to Kadesh.

Ex. xvi.-xviii. presuppose a settled encampment and a law-giving, and thus belong to a stage after Sinai had been reached (Ex. xix. sqq.). They are closely related, as regards subject matter, &c., to the narratives in Num. x. 29–xi., xx. 1-13 (Sinai to Kadesh), and the initial step is the recognition that the latter is their original context (see G. F. Moore, Ency. Bib. col. 1443 [v.]). Further, internal peculiarities associating events now at Sinai-Horeb with those at Kadesh support the view that Kadesh was their true scene, and it is to be noticed that in Ex. xv. 22 seq. the Israelites already reach the wilderness of Shur and accomplish the three days’ journey which had been their original aim (cf. Ex. iii. 18, v. 3, viii. 27). The wilderness of Shur (Gen. xvi. 7, xx. 1; 1 Sam. xv. 7, xxvii. 8) is the natural scene of conflicts with Amalekites (Ex. xvii. 8 sqq.), and its sanctuary of Kadesh or En Mishpat (“well of judgment,” Gen. xiv. 7) was doubtless associated with traditions of the giving of statutes and ordinances. The détour to Sinai-Horeb appears to belong to a later stage of the tradition, and is connected with the introduction of laws and institutions of relatively later form. It is foreshadowed by the injunction to avoid the direct way into Palestine (see Ex. xiii. 17-19), since on reaching Kadesh the Israelites would be within reach of hostile tribes, and the conflicts which it was proposed to avoid actually ensued.[5] The forty years of wandering in the wilderness is characteristic of the Deuteronomic and post-exilic narratives; in the earlier sources the fruitful oasis of Kadesh is the centre, and even after the tradition of a détour to Sinai-Horeb was developed, only a brief period is spent at the holy mountain.

From Kadesh spies were sent into Palestine, and when the people were dismayed at their tidings and incurred the wrath of Yahweh, the penalty of the forty years’ delay was pronounced (Num. xiii. seq.). Originally Caleb alone was exempt and for his faith received a blessing; later tradition adds Joshua and in Deut. i. 37 seq. alludes to some unknown offence of Moses. According to Num. xxi. 1-3 the Israelites (a generalizing amplification) captured Hormah, on the way to Beersheba, and subsequently the clan Caleb and the Kenites (the clan of Moses’ father-in-law) are found in Judah (Judg. i. 16). Although the traditions regard their efforts as part of a common movement (from Gilgal, see below), it is more probable that these (notably Caleb) escaped the punishment which befell the rest of the Israelites, and made their way direct from Kadesh into the south of Palestine.[6] On the other hand, according to the prevailing tradition, the attempt to break northwards was frustrated by a defeat at Hormah (Num. xiv. 40-45), an endeavour to pass Edom failed, and the people turned back to the Yam Sūph (here at the head of the Gulf of Akabah) and proceeded up to the east of Edom and Moab. Conflicting views are represented (on which see Moab), but at length Shittim was reached and preparations were made to cross the Jordan into the promised land. This having been effected, Gilgal became the base for a series of operations in which the united tribes took part. But again the representations disagree, and to the overwhelming campaigns depicted in the book of Joshua most critics prefer the account of the more gradual process as related in the opening chapter of the book of Judges (see Jews: History, § 8).

Thus, whatever evidence may be supplied by archaeological research, the problem of the Exodus must always be studied in the light of the biblical narratives. That the religious life of Israel as portrayed therein dates from this remote period cannot be maintained against the results of excavation or against the later history, nor can we picture a united people in the desert when subsequent vicissitudes represent the union as the work of many years, and show that it lasted for a short time only under David and Solomon. During the centuries in which the narratives were taking shape many profound changes occurred to affect the traditions. Developments associated with the Deuteronomic reform and the reorganization of Judaism in post-exilic days can be unmistakably recognized, and it would be unsafe to assume that other vicissitudes have not also left their mark. Allowance must be made for the shifting of boundaries or of spheres of influence (Egypt, Edom, Moab), for the incorporation of tribes and of their own tribal traditions, and in particular for other movements (e.g. from Arabia).[7] If certain clans moved direct from Kadesh into Judah, it is improbable that others made the lengthy détour from Kadesh by the Gulf of Akabah, but this may well be an attempt to fuse the traditions of two distinct migrations. Among the Joseph-tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh), the most important of Israelite divisions, the traditions of an ancestor who had lived and died in Egypt would be a cherished possession, but although most writers agree that not all the tribes were in Egypt, it is impossible to determine their number with any certainty. At certain periods, intercourse with Egypt was especially intimate, and there is much in favour of the view that the name Mizraim (Egypt) extended beyond the borders of Egypt proper. Reference has already been made to other cases of geographical vagueness, and one must recognize that in a body of traditions such as this there was room for the inclusion of the most diverse elements which it is almost hopeless to separate, in view of the scantiness of relevant evidence from other sources, and the literary intricacy of the extant narratives. That many different beliefs have influenced the tradition is apparent from what has been said above, and is especially noticeable from a study of the general features. Thus, although the Israelites possessed cattle (Ex. xvii. 3, xix. 13, xxiv. 5, xxxii. 6, xxxiv. 3; Num. xx. 19), allusion is made to their lack of meat in order to magnify the wonders of the journey, and among divinely sent aids to guide and direct the people upon the march not only does Moses require the assistance of a human helper (Jethro or Hobab), but the angel, the ark, the pillar of cloud and of fire and the mysterious hornet are also provided.

In addition to the references already given, see J. W. Colenso, Pentateuch and Book of Joshua (on internal difficulties); A. Jeremias, Alte Test. im Lichte d. alt. Orients2 (pp. 402 sqq., on later references in Manetho, &c., with which cf. also R. H. Charles, Jubilees, p. 245 seq.); art. “Exodus” in Ency. Bib.; Ed. Meyer, Israëliten (passim); Bönhoff, Theolog. Stud. u. Krit. (1907), pp. 159-217; the histories of Israel and commentaries on the book of Exodus. Among the numerous special works, mention may be made of G. Ebers, Durch Gosen zum Sinai; E. H. Palmer, Desert of the Exodus; O. A. Toffteen, The Historic Exodus; fuller information is given in L. B. Paton, Hist. of Syria and Palestine, p. 34 (also ch. viii.); and C. F. Kent, Beginnings of Heb. Hist. p. 355 seq.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. See the articles on the books in question.
  2. There is a lacuna between the oldest traditions in Genesis and those in Exodus: the latter beginning simply “and there arose a new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph.” The interval between Jacob’s arrival in Egypt and the Exodus is given varyingly as 400 or 430 years (Gen. xv. 13, Ex. xii. 40 seq., Acts vii. 6); but the Samaritan and Septuagint versions allow only 215 years (Ex. loc. cit.), and a period of only four generations is presupposed in Gen. xv. 16 (cf. the length of the genealogies between the contemporaries of Joseph and those of Moses in Ex. vi. 16-20).
  3. See, e.g., J. Orr, Problem of the O.T. pp. 422 sqq.; Ed. Meyer, Die Israëliten, pp. 222 sqq. Some, too, find in the Amarna tablets the historical background for Joseph’s high position at the Egyptian court (see Cheyne, Ency. Bib. art. “Joseph”).
  4. For the varying traditions regarding the number of the people and their residence (whether settled apart, cf., e.g., Gen. xlvi. 34, Ex. viii. 22, ix. 26, x. 23, or in the midst of the Egyptians) see the recent commentaries.
  5. See further J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena, pp. 342 sqq.; G. F. Moore, Ency. Bib. col. 1443; S. A. Cook, Jew. Quart. Rev. (1906), pp. 741 sqq. (1907), p. 122, and art. Moses. Ex. xiii. 17-19 forbids the compromise which would place Sinai-Horeb in the neighbourhood of Kadesh (A. E. Haynes, Pal. Explor. Fund, Quart. Statem. (1896), pp. 175 sqq.; C. F. Kent [see Lit. below], p. 381).
  6. So B. Stade, Steuernagel, Guthe, G. F. Moore, H. P. Smith, C. F. Kent, &c. See Caleb; Jerahmeel; Judah; Kenites; Levites; and Jews: History, §§ 5, 20 (end).
  7. An instructive parallel to the last-mentioned is afforded by Dissard’s account of the migration of Arab tribes into Palestine in the 18th century A.D. (Revue biblique, July 1905).