The story of the Israelites escape from Egypt is probably the best known story in the Bible, possibly even more so than the stories from the Book of Genesis. I can still remember watching The Prince of Egypt as a child in school. However, what people don’t know is that there is no evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt or that the Book of Exodus is actually true. The Israelites were supposedly in Egypt for 400 years, yet archaeologists have found no traces of them nor ant Egyptian records of them. Nor is there any record of the plagues that allegedly occurred (which were so massive you could hardly ignore them) or the death of the Pharaoh (who is never named, further weakening the story) and his army (which is something which would have deserved mentioning). Nor has any evidence been found in the Sinai desert were supposedly 600,000 men (which implies about 2 million women and children) wandered for 40 years. Scholars now recognise that the Exodus simply didn’t happen (interesting most criticism comes from Jewish rather than Christian or Atheist sources).
But let’s continue as if these stories actually happened (otherwise there’d be no point in reading the Bible) and the Book of Exodus begins with an unnamed Pharaoh becoming afraid of how large the Israelites have become, so he makes them slaves. But they keep growing so the Pharaoh orders the murder of every son born to the Israelites (Exodus 1:16). This chapter strikes me as odd and seems almost as if it was added later to justify the plagues. Why would Pharaoh with his army and massive population be afraid of the Jews? There were originally only 66 Israelites, so how big could the population have grown? Surely there was an easier solution than murdering babies, which smacks of later propaganda?
Either way, one day God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). This raises an interesting question as Genesis is full of scenes where God appears to people, but how do they know its God? What does he look like or does he even have a physical form? How do you distinguish God from an angel, the Devil or any other spirit? Why a burning bush, why not appear directly to Moses?
God then tells Moses that he has heard his people cry and will rescue them from slavery (considering they’ve been in slavery for 400 years at this point, he’s taking his time) and bring them to the promises land. Moses is naturally a bit unsure and worries that people won’t believe him. So when Moses throws his staff onto the ground, God turns it into a snake and when Moses puts his hand into his cloak it turns leprous (Exodus 4:1-7). Why couldn’t God himself appear to the Israelites? Then there would be no confusion, why does he need a middleman?
Then comes the most important line in the whole Exodus story and one that most people don’t know. God tells Moses to go and ask for his people’s freedom, “but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21). Just think about that for a moment. It implies that Pharaoh was willing to let the Israelites go, but God made him say no. Why the hell would he do that? Surely letting his people out of slavery without violence is a good thing, why would God deliberately make it more difficult? This completely changes the Exodus story from one of God rescues his people from slavery to one where God is toying with people so that he can needlessly slaughter them. The Pharaoh isn’t the villain in this story, God is.
So Pharaoh rejects Moses and Aaron’s offer and instead increases the burden of the Jews, saying he does not know their God (why doesn’t God just appear to Pharaoh like he did to Moses. It would save a lot of lives). There is an intercession for genealogy and God repeats himself a few times (Exodus 5-7) before hardening Pharaoh’s heart again (Exodus 7:3). So Moses and Aaron repeat their demand again, except this time God turns their staff into a snake. However, the Pharaoh’s magicians also turn their staffs into snakes, which Aaron’s snake eats (Exodus 7:11-2). Hold up. If the whole point of turning a staff into a snake was to prove that Moses was sent by God, what does it mean that Pharaoh’s magicians could do the same? Are they sent by a different God? Is God one of many Gods, albeit more powerful? The fact that God normally proves himself by performing miracles is seriously undermined by the fact that other religions can also perform miracles.
But Pharaoh’s heart is hardened so God turns the water of the Nile into blood. But he doesn’t stop there, every bit of water in the land, even that in ponds, lakes, aquifers and storage is turned into blood (Exodus 7:17-9). Now the Egyptian civilisation was built around the Nile, so any harm to it would destroy all the people of Egypt, so turning the water into blood is essentially a death sentence. However, the Pharoah’s magicians also turned all the water into blood (Exodus 7:22), which is odd because what water was left over? The fact that magicians could perform the same miracles as God himself seriously diminishes his power. The Bible says the Egyptians got around this problem by digging new wells (Exodus 7:24), but there is no way they could replace the Nile in a few days before dehydration killed them all. Also, God said he turned all the water into blood, wouldn’t that include that buried underground?
Then God sends a plague of frogs which the magicians also do (Exodus 8:2-7). If the land is already crawling with frogs, why would the magicians send even more frogs? However Pharoah relents and agrees to release the Israelites (Exodus 8:10) (that part was new to me). So God kills all the frogs (which doesn’t quite solve the problem) but Pharoah breaks his word (Exodus 8:15). Then things get a little repetitive, as essentially the same story is told for all the plagues with just a few details changed. The dust gets turned into gnats which cover everything but this time the magicians cannot replicate this plague (Exodus 8:16-18). Why do the magicians not try to remove the plague instead of doubling it? Next it is a plague of flies, except this time God decides to spare the Israelites and where they live (implying that the other times he was punishing them as much as the Egyptians). Pharaoh agrees to let the Hebrews go, God removes the flies, but Pharaoh breaks his word again.
God then kills all the livestock of the Egyptians but leaves the Israelites animals untouched (Exodus 9:3-7). Couldn’t the Egyptians just take the livestock off the Israelites? What are slaves doing with their own livestock? Doesn’t that go against the very principle of slavery? The next plague is boils which break out on whatever human or animals are still alive after the massive famine and drought from the last plagues (Exodus 9:9). But God hardens Pharaoh’s heart again (in case it wasn’t hard enough) so he refuses again (Exodus 9:12). Why does God keep sending this plagues while still hardening Pharaoh’s heart? Why the unnecessary suffering? The next plague is hail, thunder and fire which kills every man, beast and plant outside (Exodus 9:22-25). No word is made about the women, whom the Bible yet again completely ignores. Pharaoh repents again, God stops the plague and Pharaoh changes his mind again (why are God and Moses so easy to fool?).
God then reminds Moses that he has hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 10:1) and then sends a plague of locusts which cover the land and eat all the plants that weren’t destroyed by the hail that destroyed all the plants (so many plot holes!). Pharaoh apologises and begs forgiveness so God removes the locusts but hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he doesn’t let the Israelites go (Exodus 10:16-20). The next plague is darkness for three days, except where the Israelites lived (if I pointed out every flaw in this story, this post would be 5,000 words long). But God hardens Pharaoh’s heart yet again (Exodus 10:27).
Then comes the final, cruellest plague. In what is the one of the nastiest and most indefensible part of the Bible, God murders innocent children. The firstborn of everyone in Egypt from the Pharaoh down to the slaves, to even the firstborn livestock (who must be dead at least five times over by now) will die (Exodus 11:5). This is absolutely disgusting. If you ever wonder if you are worshipping the wrong God, the fact he murders innocent children is a good indicator. What did the children do to deserve death? How would killing the children of slaves accomplish anything? What did it prove? If someone had to die, why not kill Pharaoh or his soldiers? Why kill slaves and spare the slave masters?
The story of the 10 plagues has three main features. Firstly, they are incredibly repetitive, with the same thing happening again and again in a slightly different form. Secondly, they are incredible overkill. One plague alone would probably cause a famine that would kill most of the people of Egypt, there wouldn’t be anyone left for the tenth. Thirdly, they punish the innocent. Any fool can see that slaves and ordinary citizens had no power of the position of the Israelites, so why did the supposed God of mercy and love murder them? In a slave society, power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, so why didn’t God focus his punishment on them? Fourth, they were completely unnecessary. God could have solved all of this by simply convincing Pharaoh, instead he hardened his heart. Pharaoh was trying to release the Israelites, but God keeps stopping him. Why did anyone need to die? Why not put the guards to sleep until the Israelites had escaped? Why not win them over with the love and glory of God? Why was mass slaughter the only option?
Finally the Jews escape from Egypt, though not before plundering the Egyptians (Exodus 12:36). As though not enough people had died, God declares that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart yet again and make him follow the Israelites so that God may win glory and prove to Egyptians that he is God (Exodus 14:4). Why? Had not enough people died (seriously, how did Pharaoh still have any soldiers or horses for his chariots?)? What sort of God deliberately manipulates people just so he can slaughter them and win glory for himself? As we all know Moses parted the Red Sea and the Israelites crossed. God then hardens Pharaoh’s heart some more and makes him follow so that he could drown them.
When I raised as a Catholic, I was told that God was kind and loving and protected his people. Exodus was told as if God was a freedom fighter, rescuing his people from slavery and bringing independence. This is probably how most people view Exodus. But when you actually read the Bible you get a very different image. Instead God is a brutal and vicious murderer, who slaughters innocent people for no reason. He inflicted such plagues on the Egyptians that not a single one would be alive (if this story was true). He kills children for no reason, no purpose, no gain. I’m doing my best not to get too angry while writing this but how else would you react to mass murder? Imagine if the IRA or George Washington or the French Resistance began murdering children and punishing civilians for the sins of their rulers? No matter how just their cause was, it would have been ruined by these despicable murders. Not even the worst terrorist group has sunk so low as to deliberatively target children. What sort of God does that?