eliza ferrie lecture: exodus

As if I haven’t spent enough time this week listening to theological lectures, I thought’d go along to the eliza ferrie lecture.

It started with a tribute to, and a book launch of (old testament theologian and lecturer) bill dumbrell. At eighty, he is still lecturing part time, and so it was good to be part of a slice of history. Many of his good thoughts, he said, have come through lecturing, and the interaction with students, and the questions he has had in class. Makes me feel better about the questions I ask in class, though I haven’t had bill as a lecturer.

The main event, though, was the lecture: A christian lady named Eliza Ferrie left a bequest that was to be spent, as I understand it, on a lecture to promote biblical scholarship, and is open to anyone who wants to attend.

What to expect from a lecture entitled “the history and theology of the exodus: an assessment of the current state of the discussion”? Here are my notes.

Update: Tom’s much more polished summary

As it turns out, Tremper is currently writing a book on how to read Exodus. The man writes a lot of books!

The exodus: the crossing of the yom suf / red sea?

Moses and the Israelites found themselves between the sea and the chariots of pharaoh. God rescued them, and executed judgment on them.

But, did it happen? Does it matter if it happened?

No evidence outside the bible.

But this was not the sort of thing they would boast about, so that’s reasonable to expect.

There is indirect evidence that there were hebrew slaves.
Archeology hasn’t helped. We have relative dates, not absolute dates – maybe even symbolic dates! The pharaoh wasn’t named.

Why not? In keeping with the practice of not naming, and thus glorifying an enemy.

The tetx places the exodus 480 years before the temple was built… But when was that?

Cf the Assyrian eponym canon… Calendar of lemus, and eclipses. This gets us to 763bc, and then, cross-referencing to when Jehu paid tribute to assyria.

We can thus put the exodus around 1550bc.

Problems with this date?
The archeological evidence doesn’t support this. First, there are problems with the identity of the cities that are in exodus 1, and also with the conquered cities under joshua.

Rameses 2nd: leading contender for pharaoh during the exodus, but this is 13th, not 15th c.

We’re missing some burn layers, but that’s okay. We’re missing, though, the evidence of the destruction of cities, eg Jericho. Some british archeologists tried to find the walls of Jericho, but couldn’t.

No evidence of habitation at Ai from 2400bc to 1200bc.

Other scholars recalibrate (kitchen – egyptologist, and hoffmeyer, wood – published in jets)

480 stands for 12 generation, but a generation isn’t generally 40 years, but rather 25. Recalculating, this gets us to the 1200bc date that we’re after.

Maybe, instead of re-reading the bible, we should re-read the archeology! The assumption is that archeology is a science with minimal interpretation, but this is inadequate.

Can the findings be re-interpreted for a 15th century date of the exodus?

In fact, there have been studies that have a reading of the archeological evidence better aligned with the biblical texts.

So, did Isrel start at the end of the bronze age, or the beginning of the iron age? How did the culture work? It seems that the conquest (not sure when it was) of canaan brought with it the new technologies of cisterns etc.

The biblical record of exodus was not written to provide dates for events.

It’s not easy to reconcile the two.

But: We must reject
– the notion that the exodus never happened
– the notion that pharaoh’s chariot wheels were found near the red sea.
– trying to explain the events of the exodus by natural phenomena.

The evidence can (though neither without problems) be reconciled to the biblical record.

— part two

The trend to discount the historicity of the exodus is swelling up. Is it possible to be confident of the exodus., in the absence of extra-biblical evidence?

Does it matter whether it happened or not?

To our faith? Maybe not. It’s powerful as a story: isn’t that enough?

Paul – 1 cor 14:15. If the resurrection didn’t happen, we’re all wasting our time. But the exodus isn’t the resurrection. It’s a different salvation event.

William ramsay – the search for the historical israel.
If jericho isn’t razed, is our faith in vain?

What about the general need to have the bible be accurate?

The book of exodus is a work of theological history… It teaches that God is a rescuer. If he didn’t perform the events, why would we think some new character aspect of him?

Exodus also matters in its echoes through scripture. Psalm 77 – an individual lament. The psalmist blames God for things going poorly. Ps 69:20-21.

The explanation for the poet’s motivation for praise? Remembering the past – confidence in the future. The psalmist describes a conflict between God and the sea.

Imagine telling the psalmist, “it’s just a story”. It would destroy his confidence.

Compare Job. Does everything in the OT have to be true? No. With Job, we’re not sure what its genre is. Fiction? People don’t generally speak to each other in elaborate poetry, especially seated on dunghills, covered with boils.

Is it a poetic account abstracted from a real event? It starts out sounding like a historical event, then changes. With Job, does it matter? If not, why does the exodus matter?

Israel’s suffering is part of salvation history. Job exists to teach a lesson: we can’t tell someone’s morality based on the amount of suffering they’re enduring.

Can we prove the exodus from outside the bible?
No. All we have is the biblical account.

The exodus loses its theological significance if it didn’t happen in space and time.

What about gen 1-11, or Abraham? Do they need to have happened?
– what is the genre of genesis? Theological history, like exodus. It matters if those events happened.
People over-read Gen 1-2, as if the important thing is that there were 24 literal hours, and adam was made literally out of dust. See my published work.

Comment on Ex 2:23- the kind of egypt died… When was that? Did Rameses have a long reign? Yes: sixty years! So perhaps that’s a better fit.

Do you have a preference as to whether it’s 13th or 15th century? Yes. 15th century… But it’s hard to be dogmatic about it. Kenneth Kitchen is brilliant but ornery. Cf “a biblical history of israel.”

Why is it that so many people question the historicity of the OT? Eg 18th century where there were no hittites, and then, they were discovered… Now you can learn hittite from a book! Do we also question the other things that aren’t found… ? People question it because they don’t think the bible is the word fo God. Sometimes, if you think the bible isn’t real, you wait a while, and the evidence appears.

Can you comment on the length of time spent in the wilderness? A literal 40 years? It is treated symbolically elsewhere…. Not so much a generation as the time it takes for a generation to pass away.

Comment on the “habiru” – letters written from the canaanite city kings to pharaohs – on the “emergence” of israel; is there any place for speaking of an underclass.
How does this fit in to a 15th or a 13th century date? Is this a reference to the hebrews? But, baed on other texts, it becomes clear that it’s a social term (lawless people) rather than a way of talking about israel… But it *could* be a reference to Israel.

Common tendencies – a group of israelites come from outside canaan who came in and joined in the taking of the l
and. We don’t get a detailed, nuanced picture of the emergence of Israel.

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