Thursday, February 4, 2016
The Time of the Exodus
In my first post for The New Skeptical Review, I examined a discrepancy between two different decalogues, with the Hebrew Bible claiming that both are "the Ten Commandments." There exists quite a number of discrepancies located in the Pentateuch, which are simply the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Christian's "Old Testament". Another excellent example of a discrepancy concerns the Exodus and its timing. That the Hebrews did leave Egypt seems quite certain from the biblical texts. However, when a careful reader asks "When did the Hebrews leave Egypt?", the answer depends on which texts one reads. According to Exodus 12, the Hebrews were commanded by Moses to stay in their houses over night and not to leave until the next morning. Exodus 12: 1-32 (New American Standard Bible) is worth quoting in full:
Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. 7 Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. 10 And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.
11 Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
‘Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.
17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”
21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.
23 "For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped.
28 Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
29 Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. 31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.”
From this passage, a few facts are evident. Yahweh commands the Hebrews to eat the flesh of the Passover lamb and not leave any of it until morning, which indicates that Yahweh desired that the Hebrews stay in their house until morning. This is indicated in the second paragraph which I highlighted in bold. Moses also commanded the Hebrews to do exactly what Yahweh instructed them to do and in verse 22, Moses also told the Hebrews to stay in their houses until morning. In verse 28, the Hebrews went and did exactly as Yahweh commanded them through Moses and Aaron.
Therefore, from verse 28, we can only conclude that the Hebrews made the sacrifice as instructed, ate the meal as instructed, and then stayed in their houses until morning as instructed.
That the Hebrews waited until morning, the next day, is confirmed by Numbers 33. According to Numbers 33: 1-4, we read the following:
These are the journeys of the sons of Israel, by which they came out from the land of Egypt by their armies, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 Moses recorded their starting places according to their journeys by the command of the Lord, and these are their journeys according to their starting places. 3 They journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the next day after the Passover the sons of Israel started out boldly in the sight of all the Egyptians, 4 while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn whom the Lord had struck down among them. The Lord had also executed judgments on their gods.
According to this passage, the Hebrews started out boldly in the sight of all of the Egyptians on the fifteenth day of the first month. The fifteenth day was the next day after the passover and, in bold highlighted above, the Hebrews "started out boldly" on their way out of Egypt. This confirms what Exodus 12 says above.
However, in Deuteronomy 16, we read something different. Deuteronomy 6:1-8 reads as follows:
“Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 You shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to establish His name. 3 You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. 4 For seven days no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning. 5 You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you; 6 but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. 7 You shall cook and eat it in the place which the Lord your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents. 8 Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God; you shall do no work on it.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates verse 6 even more accurately:
"6You must only sacrifice the Passover animal at the place where Yahweh your God chooses to have His name dwell. Do this in the evening as the sun sets at the same time of day you departed from Egypt."
In this passage, verse 6 explicitly states that the Passover sacrifice is to be made in the evening at sunset and that sunset is "the time that you came out of Egypt". This flatly contradicts Exodus 12: 28, which states that the Hebrews obeyed Moses and Aaron's command to stay in their houses overnight until morning and Numbers 33: 3, which confirms that that the Hebrews stayed in their houses overnight and didn't leave until the morning. So, which is it? Did the Hebrews leave Egypt at sunset or did they leave start out to leave the following day?
(Editor's note: I am greatly indebted to both biblical scholar Dr. Steve DiMattei and John Kessler for the information that went into this post. Even though I very often disagree with Dr. DiMattei and find myself seldom agreeing with him, this is one of these times where I think he is absolutely right).