Wednesday, January 04, 2006

And afterward shall they come out with great substance (Exod 1)

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season, whatever holiday you may have been celebrating, or if you at least hopefully got some time off of work or school. I was really quite busy myself, although obviously not with this blog. So, it's a new year, and time to start a new book. In the absence of any feedback at this time, I guess I'll just go on to Exodus for now, and see how this goes.

The first few verses of Exodus are a very short recap of the end of Genesis, and the SAB draws our attention to the inconsistency in verse five that I addressed in a previous post. Then, as a segue into the present time (of the story), we are told that in the intervening time, the nation of Israel grew quite large. The SAB marks this as ridiculous, apparently because we're talking about a span of about 400 years and a growth from about 100 people (70 men plus some wives) to "several million" (603,505 men plus their wives and children). I'm not sure why this is ridiculous, but there is also the "Science and History" icon given next to this comment, which I suppose is to give us a clue as to what's involved. If the issue is that it ought to be scientifically possible, then I don't quite get it. If the Israelites are fairly healthy and fertile, then increasing their population to a few million in 400 years doesn't seem impossible at all. Maybe someone who thinks so might be able to explain their math to me.

If the issue is the lack of historic evidence of millions of Israelites, then that's a whole other issue, and one that I ought to address at this time. I may have said it before, but it's certainly worth repeating that in matters of history, I'm far from an expert. I'm not going to be able to address most issues relating to inconsistency between Biblical and extrabiblical history, and it's at this point in the Bible where that will hinder me more than a bit in dealing with the SAB, I'm sure. All the stuff in Genesis largely happened before there was much in the way of written history, so we might as well take the Bible's word on those matters. Now, we've come to a time when things are happening that we'd expect to be recorded outside of the Bible. One thing I have heard is that the events of the Exodus ought to have been recorded in Egypt's history, but there is little or no evidence for any of it. It may be that the Egyptians chose not to record it out of embarrassment. It may be that the records of the events were simply lost. It may be that they were recorded in a manner that is simply unrecognizable since both the Egyptians and the Israelites put their own personal spins on the events. Or of course, it may have simply not happened. (You can probably guess that I am particularly opposed to this view.)

On the one hand, lack of evidence for something does not imply evidence against it. On the other hand, with events of the sort of scale being described in this book, the lack of historical record is undoubtedly suspicious; I won't pretend that's not true. I suppose the only thing I can hope for is that readers of the Bible, whether believers or not, will keep an open and analytical mind on the matters presented therein.

(I remember some time ago there was some excitement that some chariot wheels were discovered at the bottom of the Red Sea. A number of people latched on to the story and cited it as proof positive that the events of the book of Exodus were true in their entirely. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to think up at least two ways chariot wheels could end up at the bottom of the sea without appealing to God's wrath, as well as figuring out why, even if those wheels are from the army that chased the Israelites, it proves nothing about this book whatsoever.)

Okay, rest of the chapter... I notice the SAB has no note on a matter that's always bothered me: verse 15. Although it doesn't explicitly say so, and as such we can't say for sure that it was the case, it sure sounds like the entire nation of at least one million people has only two midwives. If so, these two women must have been awfully busy! Among the things they were busy with was lying to Pharaoh. The SAB notes that God rewards the midwives for lying to Pharaoh, calling it a contradiction. I strongly disagree. I think most people would agree, and the Bible seems to support this as well, that while lying is indeed a sin, there are times when lying is a preferable sin to the alternative. Let's see, they could lie to Pharaoh, or they could kill babies; hmmm...? Really, I think it's a no-brainer. (The SAB has a whole page on lying, and mostly because of this reason, I think I only have a problem with one of the verses cited.)

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