The Exodus[a] is the founding myth of Israel, telling how the
Israelites were delivered from slavery by their god
therefore belong to him through the Mosaic covenant.[b] Spread over
the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, it tells of
the events that befell the
Israelites following the death of Joseph,
their departure from Egypt, and their wanderings in the wilderness,
including the revelations at Sinai, up to their arrival at the borders
No archeological evidence has been found to support the biblical
exodus story, and most modern scholars omit it from their histories
of the origins of Israel. It was shaped to its present form in the
post-Exilic period, but the traditions behind it are older and can
be traced in the writings of the 8th century BCE prophets; it is
unclear how far beyond that the traditions might stretch, and their
substance, accuracy and date are obscured by centuries of
The Exodus is central to Judaism, and even today it is recounted daily
Jewish prayers and celebrated in the festival of Passover. In
addition, the Exodus has served as an inspiration and model for many
non-Jewish groups, from early Protestant settlers fleeing persecution
in Europe to African-Americans striving for freedom and civil
1 Narrative summary
2 Cultural significance
3.1 The Torah
3.2 Possible sources and parallels
4.2 Numbers and logistics
5 See also
9 External links
The story of the Exodus is told in the books of Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the last four of the five books of the Torah
(also called the Pentateuch). It tells of the events that befell the
Israelites following the death of Joseph, the 10 plagues, their
departure from Egypt, and their wanderings in the wilderness,
including the revelations at Sinai, up to their arrival at the borders
of Canaan. The story begins with the
Israelites in slavery in
Moses leads them out of Egypt and through the wilderness to
Mount Sinai, where
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 laws of God. The
Book of Numbers
Book of Numbers tells how
the Israelites, led now by their god Yahweh, journey on from Sinai
towards Canaan, but when their spies report that the land is filled
with giants they refuse to go on and
Yahweh condemns them to remain in
the desert until the generation that left Egypt passes away. After
thirty-eight years at the oasis of
Kadesh Barnea the next generation
travel on to the borders of Canaan, where
Moses addresses them for the
final time and gives them further laws.
The Exodus ends with the
Mount Nebo and his burial by God, while the
Israelites prepare for the conquest of the land.
Main article: Passover
The Exodus is remembered daily in
Jewish prayers and celebrated each
year at the feast of Passover. The Hebrew name for this festival,
Pesach, refers to God's instruction to the
Israelites to prepare
unleavened bread as they would be leaving Egypt in haste, and to mark
their doors with the blood of slaughtered sheep so that the "Angel of
Death" or "the destroyer" tasked with killing the first-born of Egypt
would "pass over" them. Despite the Exodus story, a majority of
scholars do not believe that the
Passover festival originated as
described in the biblical story.
Statuette of a Semitic prisoner. Ancient Egypt, 12th dynasty
(18–19th Century BCE). Hecht Museum.
Scholars broadly agree that the
Torah is a product of the mid-Persian
period, approximately 450–400 BCE, although some place its final
form somewhat later, in the Hellenistic era. Many theories
have been advanced to explain its composition, but two have been
especially influential. The first of these, Persian Imperial
authorisation, advanced by Peter Frei in 1985, holds that the Persian
authorities required the Jews of Jerusalem to present a single body of
law as the price of local autonomy. Frei's theory was
deconstructed at an interdisciplinary symposium held in 2000, but the
relationship between the Persian authorities and Jerusalem remains a
crucial question. The second theory, sometimes called the
"Citizen-Temple Community", proposes that the Exodus story was
composed to serve the needs of a post-exilic Jewish community
organised around the Temple, which acted in effect as a bank for those
who belonged to it. The
Torah (the Exodus story) served as an
"identity card" defining who belonged to this community (i.e., to
Israel), thus reinforcing Israel's unity through its new
institutions. Both explanations see the Exodus story as a "charter
myth" for Israel, telling how Israel was delivered from slavery by
Yahweh and therefore belongs to him through the covenant.
The history of the Exodus story stretches back some two hundred years
before the achievement of its current form, to a point in the late 7th
century BCE when various oral and written traditions were drawn
together into written works which were the fore-runners of the Torah
we know today. Traces of these traditions first appear in the
prophets Amos (possibly) and Hosea (certainly), both active in 8th
century BCE Israel. It has been claimed that their southern
contemporaries Isaiah and Micah show no knowledge of an Exodus,
however, this is incorrect. Micah chapter 6 verse 4 states 'I [God]
brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.' The exodus story may
therefore have originated a few centuries earlier, perhaps the 9th or
10th, and there are signs that it took different forms in Israel, in
the Transjordan region, and in the southern
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah before
being unified in the Persian era.
Possible sources and parallels
Main article: The Exodus: sources and parallels
The consensus of modern archaeologists is that the
Canaan and were never in Egypt, and if there is any
historical basis to the exodus it can apply only to a small segment of
the Israelites. Yet there are indications that some historical
basis underlies the story: the name of
Moses is Egyptian, for example,
and many scholars have found it improbable that a humiliating
tradition of slavery would simply be invented. Some have tried to
maintain a measure of historicity through the concept of "collective
memory": the memory of Egyptian oppression, for example, may be
based on the harsh treatment of Canaanites inside
Canaan during those
centuries in the 2nd millennium when the region was ruled by Egypt:
these memories could later have been transferred to Egypt itself, and
a new exodus story created. A historical
Moses associated with a
small group may have been later generalised into the savior of Israel,
while others have found echoes of the descent into Egypt and the
Exodus in the history of the Hyksos, who were Canaanite rulers of the
Egyptian Delta in the 16th century BCE.
Yahweh himself, the
national god of Israel, is not a Canaanite deity but comes from Midian
to the south, and it is possible that he was brought north by escaping
A proposal by Egyptologist
Jan Assmann suggests that the Exodus
narrative has no single origin, but rather combines numerous
historical experiences into "a coherent story that is fictional as to
its composition but historical as to some of its components". These
traumatic events include the expulsion of the Hyksos; the religious
revolution of Akhenaten; a possible episode of captivity for the
Habiru, who were gangs of antisocial people operating between Egypt's
vassal states; and the large-scale migrations of the 'Sea
The consensus of modern scholars is that the Bible does not give an
accurate account of the origins of Israel. There is no indication
Israelites ever lived in Ancient Egypt, the
shows almost no sign of any occupation for the entire 2nd millennium
BCE, and even Kadesh-Barnea, where the
Israelites are said to have
spent 38 years, was uninhabited prior to the establishment of the
Israelite monarchy. Such elements as could be fitted into the 2nd
millennium could equally belong to the 1st, and are consistent with a
1st millennium BCE writer trying to set an old story in Egypt. So
while a few scholars, notably
Kenneth Kitchen and James K. Hoffmeier,
continue to discuss the historicity, or at least plausibility, of the
story, arguing that the Egyptian records have been lost or suppressed
or that the fleeing
Israelites left no archaeological trace or that
the large numbers are mistranslated, the majority have abandoned the
investigation as "a fruitless pursuit".
Numbers and logistics
According to Exodus 12:37–38, the
Israelites numbered "about six
hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children", plus many
Israelites and livestock. Numbers 1:46 gives a more precise total
of 603,550 men aged 20 and up. It is difficult to reconcile the idea
of 600,000 Israelite fighting men with the information that the
Israelites were afraid of the
Philistines and Egyptians. The
600,000, plus wives, children, the elderly, and the "mixed multitude"
Israelites would have numbered some 2 million people.
Marching ten abreast, and without accounting for livestock, they would
have formed a column 240 km long. The entire Egyptian population
in 1250 BCE is estimated to have been around 3 to 3.5 million,
and no evidence has been found that Egypt ever suffered the
demographic and economic catastrophe such a loss of population would
represent, nor that the
Sinai desert ever hosted (or could have
hosted) these millions of people and their herds. Some have
rationalised the numbers into smaller figures, for example reading the
Hebrew as "600 families" rather than 600,000 men, but all such
solutions have their own set of problems.
A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has found no
evidence which can be directly related to the Exodus captivity and the
escape and travels through the wilderness, and archaeologists
generally agree that the
Israelites had Canaanite origins. The
culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult
objects are those of the Canaanite god El, the pottery remains are in
the Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet used is early Canaanite.
Almost the sole marker distinguishing the "Israelite" villages from
Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones, although whether even this
is an ethnic marker or is due to other factors remains a matter of
Despite the Bible's internal dating of the Exodus to the 2nd
millennium BCE, details point to a 1st millennium date for the
composition of the Book of Exodus:
Ezion-Geber (one of the Stations of
the Exodus), for example, dates to a period between the 8th and 6th
centuries BCE with possible further occupation into the 4th century
BCE, and those place-names on the Exodus route which have been
identified – Goshen, Pithom, Succoth, Ramesses and
Kadesh Barnea –
point to the geography of the 1st millennium rather than the 2nd.
Similarly, the Pharaoh's fear that the
Israelites might ally
themselves with foreign invaders seems unlikely in the context of the
late 2nd millennium, when
Canaan was part of an Egyptian empire and
Egypt faced no enemies in that direction, but does make sense in a 1st
millennium context, when Egypt was considerably weaker and faced
invasion first from the
Achaemenid Empire and later from the Seleucid
The mention of the dromedary in Exodus 9:3 also suggests a later date
of composition – the widespread domestication of the camel as a herd
animal is thought not to have taken place before the late 2nd
millennium, after the
Israelites had already emerged in Canaan,
and they did not become widespread in Egypt until c. 200–100
The chronology of the Exodus story likewise underlines its essentially
religious rather than historical nature. The number seven was sacred
Yahweh in Judaism, and so the
Israelites arrive at the Sinai
Peninsula, where they will meet Yahweh, at the beginning of the
seventh week after their departure from Egypt, while the erection
of the Tabernacle, Yahweh's dwelling-place among his people, occurs in
the year 2666 after
Yahweh creates the world, two-thirds of the way
through a four thousand year era which culminates in or around the
re-dedication of the
Second Temple in 164 BCE.
Attempts to date the Exodus to a specific century have been
inconclusive. 1 Kings 6:1 places the event 480 years before the
construction of Solomon's Temple, implying an Exodus at c. 1450 BCE,
but the number is rhetorical rather than historical, representing a
symbolic twelve generations of forty years each. There are
major archaeological obstacles to an earlier date such as this.
Canaan, also known as Djahy, was part of the Egyptian empire, so that
Israelites would in effect be escaping from Egypt to Egypt,
and its cities were unwalled and do not show destruction layers
consistent with the Bible's account of the occupation of the land
Jericho was "small and poor, almost insignificant, and unfortified
(and) [t]here was also no sign of a destruction" (Finkelstein and
Silberman, 2002). William F. Albright, the leading biblical
archaeologist of the mid-20th century, proposed a date of around
1250–1200 BCE, but his so-called "Israelite" evidence (house-type,
the collar-rimmed jars, etc.) are continuations of Canaanite
culture. The lack of evidence has led scholars to conclude that
the Exodus story does not represent a specific historical moment.
Main article: Stations of the Exodus
Torah lists the places where the
Israelites rested. A few of the
names at the start of the itinerary, including Ra'amses,
Succoth, are reasonably well identified with archaeological sites on
the eastern edge of the
Nile Delta, as is Kadesh-Barnea, where the
Israelites spend 38 years after turning back from Canaan; other than
these, 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, the
Gulf of Suez
Gulf of Suez (south-southeast of Succoth),
Gulf of Aqaba
Gulf of Aqaba (south of Ezion-Geber), or even on a lagoon on
the Mediterranean coast. The Biblical Mount
Sinai is identified in
Christian tradition with Jebel Musa in the south of the Sinai
Peninsula, but this association dates only from the 3rd century CE and
no evidence of the Exodus has been found there.
Va'eira, Bo, and Beshalach:
Torah portions telling the Exodus story
^ The name "Exodus" is from Greek ἔξοδος exodos, "going out";
Hebrew: יְצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם yetzi'at mitzrayim.
^ "Charter (i.e., foundation) myths tell the story of a society's
origins, and, in doing so, provide the ideological foundations for the
culture and its institutions."
^ a b c Sparkes 2010, p. 73.
^ a b Redmount 2001, p. 59.
^ Meyers 2005, pp. 5–6.
^ Moore & Kelle, p. 88.
^ Enns 2012, p. 26.
^ a b Lemche 1985, p. 327.
^ Redmount 2001, p. 63.
^ a b Tigay 2004, p. 107.
^ a b c d e f Redmount 2001, p. 59-60.
^ Tigay 2004, pp. 106–07.
^ Prosic 2004, p. 31.
^ Liphschitz 1998, p. 258.
^ Romer 2008, p. 2.
^ Eskenazi 2009, p. 85.
^ Ska 2006, pp. 217.
^ Ska 2006, pp. 218.
^ Eskenazi 2009, p. 86.
^ Ska 2006, pp. 226-227.
^ Ska 2006, p. 225.
^ McEntire 2008, p. 8.
^ Russell 2009, p. 1.
^ a b Collins 2004, p. 182.
^ a b Collins 2014, p. 113.
^ Anderson & Gooder 2017, p. unpaginated.
^ Collins 2005, p. 45-46.
^ Assmann 2014, p. 26.
^ Davies 2015, p. 51.
^ Redmount 2001, p. 77.
^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 90.
^ Moore & Kelle 2011, pp. 88–89.
^ Dever 2001, p. 99.
^ Miller 2009, p. 256.
^ a b Kantor 2005, p. 70.
^ Cline 2007, p. 74.
^ Butzer 1999, p. 297.
^ Dever 2003, p. 19.
^ Grisanti 2011, pp. 240–46.
^ Meyers 2005, p. 5.
^ Shaw 2002, p. 313.
^ a b Killebrew 2005, p. 176.
^ Pratico & DiVito 1993, pp. 1-32.
^ a b Van Seters 1997, pp. 255ff.
^ Soggin 1998, pp. 128–29.
^ Finkelstein & Silberman 2002, p. 334.
^ Faye 2013, p. 3.
^ Meyers 2005, p. 143.
^ Hayes & Miller 1986, p. 59.
^ Davies 1998, p. 180.
^ Killebrew 2005, p. 151.
^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 81.
^ Thompson 1999, p. 74.
^ Barmash, 2015 & p.16 fn.10.
^ Finkelstein & Silberman 2002, pp. 77–79, 82.
^ Killebrew 2005, pp. 175–77.
^ Killebrew 2005, p. 152.
^ Hoffmeier 2005, pp. 115ff.
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Wikivoyage has a travel guide for
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