Exploring Exodus | Notes & Review

Posted on September 9, 2009


Nahum Sarna. Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel. Schocken Books, 1986, 1996. (277 pages).

exploring exodus


“It is a truism that knowledge usually lags far behind learning; it is also a fact that where knowledge fails, speculation often fills the void.” (xi) “…archaeology is hardly an exact science.” (xii) “The overriding aim of the biblical writers was to present a theological, or theocentric, didactic description of events. That is, these authors were intent on producing historiosophy rather than historiography…documents of faith.” (xiii)

Sarna posits that “no explanation has been offered by those who deny the very presence of Israel in Egypt, its enslavement and escape to freedom, as to why it was necessary to ‘fabricate’ such a tradition. How did such an inglorious gratuitous ‘concoction’ achieve such a successful transmission generation after generation and century after century? Were the Israelites so wholly devoid of historical memory that it was possible to foist upon them a perversion of history to the extent that it became so indelibly embedded in the national consciousness as to be able to inform and reshape all national religious institutions?” (xvi)

In addition, there is no evidence, documentary or material to substantiate alternative theories. “Finally, a major lacuna in the new hypotheses is an explanation of how and why Israel became monotheistic and aniconic, or why the religion of this tiny people uniquely departed from its contemporary pagan, polytheistic world in so revolutionary a manner.” (xvii)


“It seems to me obvious that contrast is a more important analytical index of cultural configuration than is comparison, and for this reason I have made a point o f emphasizing differences at least as much as similarities when drawing upon ancient Near Eastern materials.” (xix)