DeMille and the Floss
Jews throughout the world (any place big enough for a store) are now celebrating Passover. We recount the miraculous story of how we entered the Sinai looking like Charlton Heston and left looking like Edward G. Robinson. We speak of Passover as a Feast because Jews have a wonderful sense of humor. Matzoh is the original styrofoam. If the Exodus actually occurred, archaeologists would be finding 3500 year-old matzoh crumbs throughout the Sinai.
But there is no historical evidence to corroborate the story of Passover. You just cannot believe everything that the Bible and Cecil B. DeMille tell you. Egypt was a highly literate and sophisticated society, with a bureaucracy of scribes who would have recorded everything on time-withstanding papyrus. Someone in the quartermaster’s office would have written–in triplicate–a request to replace those water-logged chariots. And Pharaoh’s media department would have proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” in driving the Jews away.
This is not to suggest that the Jews did not exist at the time. At the height of its empire (from the 15th to the 13th century B.C.) Egypt held hegemony over Canaan. The cities of Canaan repeatedly appealed for Egyptian help against invaders known as the Habiru. Although the Canaanite and Egyptian records never allude to any theological idiosyncrasies among these nomads, there is little doubt as to who the Habiru were and would become.
So there is historical evidence of the Hebrews’ conquest of Canaan. But the invasion came from the East (as a proper Semitic invasion would), not from the West. Why did the Jews claim to be escaped slaves from Egypt? Were the ancient Jews as status conscious as the current readers of The New York Times? Did they fancy the glamour of Egypt over their hardscrabble nomadic life?
On the contrary, the Torah revels in the primitive Bedouin culture of the Jews. Their enemies–the Egyptians, Canaanites and Philistines–lived in cities, an indication of their corrupt natures. The ancient Jews never aspired to Egyptian refinement. However, they may have thought it worth looting. In the 17th century Egypt was conquered by a Semitic horde known as the Hyksos. Perhaps in that invading army, among all those Semitic freebooters, was a contingent of Habiru. (Someone had to operate the P.X. and organize the U.S.O. shows.) And when, a century later, the Hyksos were driven out, the Habiru survivors might have spoken of their hasty departure.
Of course, there could be a theological basis for the story of the Jews’ triumph over the Egyptians. God was padding his resume.
p.s. If you Gentiles are feeling slighted, here is the historic significance of this day: http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2007/03/29/die-polar-disorder/