Israel’s exodus from Egypt is one of the central events in the history of God’s people. Not only is it a central event in Scripture, it is also highly theological. I appreciate how James Hoffmeier explains this in his 2012 essay, “Why a Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology.” I’ve noted parts of this essay here in June of last year. As I was looking through the article again, I found another helpful point Hoffmeier makes about the historical aspect of the OT.
He tells a brief story about a discussion he had with an ANE (ancient Near East) scholar who said that since there’s no Egyptian evidence for the exodus, the entire historicity of the OT is up for grabs. Hoffmeier asked the scholar if he believed that Thutmose III invaded Canaan and conquered Megiddo in the mid-fifteenth century BC. The scholar said, “Of course!” Hoffmeier then reminded the scholar of all the literary evidence supporting the invasion of Thutmose III. But, he went on, there is no archaeological evidence from Megiddo for the Egyptian attack (despite many excavations in Megiddo since 1903). Hoffmeier noted that this scholar accepted the historicity of Thutmose III’s invasion based on literary evidence without archaeological evidence.
Hoffmeier then pointed out how this scholar’s position was inconsistent: he doubted the historicity of Israel’s exodus because it lacked Egyptian archaeological evidence, yet he accepted Thutmose III’s invasion without archaeological evidence. Hoffmeier said,
“I have long advocated treating ancient texts, biblical or from elsewhere in the Near East, as ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ rather than ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ In other words, if a text, be it Egyptian, Assyrian, or Hebrew, makes a claim that X happened at location Y, or King A built a temple at site B, I accept that statement unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary.”
Here’s how William Dever stated it:
“How is it that the biblical texts are always approached with postmodernism’s typical ‘hermeneutic of suspicion,’ but the non-biblical texts are taken at face value? It seems to be that the Bible is automatically held guilty unless proven innocent.”
These are some great points; the article is worth the read. Speaking of, Hoffmeier’s article – and the above quotes – are found in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, chapter 4.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)