The Alternative Exodus Theory You May Not Have Heard About
The story of the Exodus is one of the best-known stories of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a foundational tale for the Jewish people, and the images and promises it makes to God’s people remain vital for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Key figures in the story, especially Moses and Aaron, have purported tombs near Petra that remain major pilgrimage sites to this day. The story has been captured in film in two notable adaptations, one famous one starring Charlton Heston, and another more recent version starring Christian Bale (although the superior telling of the Exodus will always be Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt).
The contours of the story are easy enough to capture: the descendants of Joseph lived Egypt for four hundred years until a Pharaoh (who is never named but has, over time, become associated with Rameses II) came to power who had forgotten Joseph. He forced the Israelites to do labor in the form of brickmaking and building store cities. Fearful of their numbers, he ordered that the midwives kill any Hebrew boys that are born, but let the girls live. Sometime later, a Levite man and a Levite woman have a child, and the mother places the child in a basket and floats him down the river, where he is discovered by the daughter of the Pharaoh. She names him Moses and raises him as her son.
Once he is grown, Moses sees an Egyptian beating an Israelite and kills the Egyptian, then flees into the wilderness to avoid Pharaoh’s anger. He meets the daughters of the Midianite priest and lives with them, marrying one of them. He encounters God at the burning bush and goes back to Egypt to demand that the new Pharaoh release the Israelites from bondage. What ensues is a series of famous plagues, followed by the eventual release of the Hebrews. The Pharaoh changes his mind at the last minute and chases the Hebrews down, who make a daring escape by parting the Red Sea and then wander in the desert for forty years until they arrive in the Holy Land.