The Exodus


Possible Exodus Routes. In Black is the traditional Exodus Route. Other possible Exodus Routes are in Blue and Green.


The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible. Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent wanderings in the wilderness described in the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The term is derived from Exodus 14:8 – (“the children of Israel went out with a high hand”) and Exodus 13:4 – ” (“This day you go forth in the month Abib”)… The term continues to be used in the Passover Hagadah that was authored almost 2,000 years ago in the times of the Mishnah and is used in Jewish scholarship as in MaimonidesMishneh Torah.The Book of Exodus tells how Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness to Sinai. There Yahweh reveals himself and offers them a Covenant: they are to keep his torah (i.e. law, instruction), and in return he will be their God and give them the land of Canaan. The Book of Leviticus records the construction of the tabernacle and the laws of God. The book of Numbers tells the Israelites, led now by God, journey onwards from Sinai towards Canaan, but when their spies report that the land is filled with giants they refuse to go on. Yahweh then condemns them to wander in the desert until the generation that left Egypt passes away. The book of Deuteronomy tells how the Israelites arrive at the borders of Canaan, where Moses recalls their journeys and gives them new laws. His death (the last reported event of the Torah) concludes the 40 years of the exodus from Egypt.

There are many well-known incidents in the story of the Exodus, but some of the most famous include: the crossing of the Red Sea; the revelation at Sinai; the giving of the Tablets of Law; the incident of the golden calf; the gift of manna in the desert; the rock of Meribah; the treachery of the Amalekites; the incident at Baal-Peor; the story of Balaam and his talking donkey; and the story of the scouting of Canaan.

The Exodus from Egypt is the theme of the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the night before leaving Egypt, the final plague inflicted by God on the Egyptians was the killing of the first-born. However, to save the Israelites, they were instructed to mark their doors with blood, so that the avenging angel would see it and know to “pass over” that house. On that night, the Israelites were instructed only to eat unleavened bread as they would be leaving in haste. This portion of the narrative is the etymological basis of the festival’s name.

The stations of the Exodus is a list of the places where the Israelites rested during the Exodus. A few of the cities at the start of the itinerary, such as Ra’amses, Pithom and Succoth, are reasonably well identified as archaeological sites on the eastern edge of the Nile delta, but from that very little is certain. The crossing of the Red Sea has been variously placed at the Pelusic branch of the Nile, anywhere along the network of Bitter Lakes and smaller canals that formed a barrier toward eastward escape, or even the Gulf of Suez (SSE of Succoth) and the Gulf of Aqaba (S of Ezion-Geber). The biblical Mt. Sinai is probably the single most important locale in the story, but although it is frequently depicted as Jebel Musa in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, no evidence of the Exodus has been found there. Kadesh-Barnea, where the Israelites spend 38 years after turning back from Canaan, has been located with reasonable certainty, but its earliest occupation during the Ramesside era is centuries too late to fit the Exodus story.

The most obvious routes for travellers through the region were the royal roads, the “king’s highways” that had been in use for centuries and would continue in use for centuries to come. The Bible specifically denies that the Israelites went by the Way of the Philistines, the northerly route along the Mediterranean coast. This leaves the Way of Shur and the Way of Seir as probable routes, the former having the advantage of heading toward Kadesh-Barnea. Finally there are the southern routes which depend on the identification of Jebel Musa with Sinai, but this association dates only from the 3rd century AD.

Exodus 12:37 refers to 600,000 adult Israelite men leaving Egypt with Moses, plus an unspecified but apparently large “mixed multitude” of non-Israelites, Numbers 1:46 gives a more precise total of 603,550.

If taken literally the total number involved, the 600,000 “fighting men” plus wives, children, the elderly, and the “mixed multitude,” would have been two million or more, equivalent to more than half of the entire Egyptian population of around 3-6 million. The loss of such a huge proportion of the population would have caused havoc to the Egyptian economy, but no evidence of such effect has been found in the relevant time frame with the commonly held chronology. Archaeological research has found no evidence that the Sinai desert ever hosted, or could have hosted, millions of people, nor of a massive population increase in Canaan, estimated to have had a population of between 50,000 and 100,000 at the time. The logistics involved also present problems, with Eric Cline pointing out that 2.5 million people marching ten abreast would form a line 150 miles long, without accounting for livestock.

Watch a short video on The Exodus and the Red Sea Crossing-Part 1: Also view Part 2:


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