Let My People Go Make Up History
All evidence indicates that the Egyptian pyramids were built by well-treated Egyptians. They were fed meat, given good living quarters, honorable burials, and worked in 3-month shifts.
No evidence indicates that there was ever a substantial population of Jewish slaves in Egypt. Israel didn’t begin to exist until 6 centuries after the completion of the last pyramid. The oldest Jewish settlement in Egypt for which there is documentation was in 250 B.C.E., a few millennia after the time of the pyramids’ construction, and those guys owned Egyptian slaves. There’s certainly no evidence for the massive Exodus described in Exodus.
Even if you overlook the lack of documentary evidence for the more prosaic plagues – bug infestations and disease among livestock – if the waters of most important river in Egypt turned into blood, someone from Egypt would have jotted that down. Ditto for the FrogStorm, darkness at the break of noon, chunks of burning hail, and sudden and mysterious death of all first-born Egyptian sons. The real Biblical shit. The Ipuwer Papyrus documents an ancient calamity that befell Egypt, but it predates the supposed time of the slaves by centuries.
This much is well-understood. The most recent episode of Skeptoid reminded me that no evidence supports the traditional Biblical narrative. Before anyone accuses me of using the literal meaning of the Bible as a straw man for their own religious beliefs, let me say that I understand very well that modern Judaism is not hung up on Biblical historicity. I am not accusing anyone (except for dyed-in-the-wool fundies) of being naive, stupid, or obstinate in the face of contradictory evidence.
What’s really caught my imagination is the obvious question that flows from the understanding that all these facts aren’t facts: why does anyone believe them? The story of pyramids built by Jews in captivity seemed to be floating around the ancient world; it was described by Herodotus at about the time that Exodus was written. But Herodotus was full of shit (in keeping with his “Father of Lies”, not his “Father of History” moniker). So why would this story become so important to Jewish identity that it was memorialized in the ultimate Jewish authority?
I have no fucking idea, but it’s fun to speculate. An important element of the pyramid story is that it allows the Jews to be both victim and victor; no status is lower than slavery, but the pyramids are gorgeous and mysterious triumphs of ancient engineering and construction. If you’re going to lay claim to something, might as well be those. What’s particularly puzzling is that it’s not like this fake exodus story is tangential. In a sense, the entire Torah arises from it. Moses leads the Hebrews and receives the most important revelation God ever gives. There’s matzah, manna and a pillar of fire. A golden calf, for crying out loud! Why did these stories persist sans evidence?