“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” Exodus 6:1
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’ So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.” Exodus 7:8-10
Miracles. What’s an atheist going to do with miracles? I didn’t believe in the supernatural, so miracles were impossible. That’s what I believed, so how could I as an atheist deal with all of the supposed miracles Moses and Aaron performed in Egypt? Was my investigation into theism and Christianity going to end in that ancient land because of my disbelief in the supernatural?
I was an atheist, but also a journalist. So, I used my journalistic training and experience to compartmentalize my investigation. Journalists have to do that with every investigation, every story, so they can be objective and fair in their reporting. Otherwise, how could citizens ever believe anything a reporter reported?
It’s not fair for a journalist to allow personal beliefs to affect a professional investigation. I knew that if I was ever going to come to the truth about theism, I needed to put my preconceived beliefs as an atheist to the side while I combed carefully through any evidence that might exist for the existence of God.
I took all of the miracles in the Bible and placed them in a special compartment for anything supernatural that I found in the Bible. I had already moved several supernatural accounts from Genesis into that compartment – including creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, and many aspects of the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and his brothers in Egypt.
As I read through and investigated the claims of the Bible, I found at least five “miracle” periods that would need to go into the “supernatural” compartment:
- Genesis miracles
- Moses miracles
- Prophet miracles
- Jesus miracles
- Apostle miracles
If an atheist is ever going to honestly investigate the truth claims of the Bible, I think they’ll have to do the same thing. I found it necessary to compartmentalize my findings in order to look at all of the evidence without allowing my disbelief in the supernatural to cloud the investigative process. Is that easy for an atheist to do? No, but it becomes easier when the real goal of the investigation is to follow the evidence to a truthful result. If my goal had been only to disprove theism and Christianity, I would not have spent the time I did to dig deeply into the evidence. Atheism was already my worldview and I was effective in opposing deists, theists, Christians and Jews on my radio program. No need to change anything, unless I really wanted to know for sure that God did not exist.
Moving all of the “miracle” references to a “supernatural” compartment allowed me to focus most of my time on history and archaeology, which I placed in the “natural” compartment. I will address the supernatural with its miracles later in this series, but my early focus was to see whether there was enough natural evidence to give any support to the truth claims of Judaism and Christianity.
The Old Testament writings attributed to Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy) are the official history of the Jewish people (Israel). However, many people believe Moses never existed. There’s no question that the Jewish people exist and have existed for thousands of years, but Moses as a real historical figure was in question during my investigation into the Bible’s claims in 1971. Does the fact that billions of people through the centuries have believed Moses existed mean he did exist? Most of the ancient history scholars I read at the time seemed in agreement that nothing in history supported the actual existence of someone named Moses who led Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness toward the “promised land.”
I thought about the life Moses’ allegedly lived for 120 years: 40 years as a prince in Egypt, 40 years as a shepherd in Edom, 40 years as a leader of the Hebrews in the wilderness. It seemed that historical information about Moses would probably come from only three sources: Egypt, Edom or Israel. Egypt didn’t write negative historical facts about itself or its enemies. The history of Edom is very thin, except for information found in the Bible and some ancient Egyptian documents. The most vibrant and detailed history is that of the Jews.
When an investigator finds a document which has credibility in some or many areas, that opens the possibility other areas in the same document may also have credibility. It’s not proof of accuracy, but it is favorable within an investigation and is placed in the ‘possibility’ category. I didn’t find absolute historical support for the Bible’s story about Moses and Israel leaving Egypt, but I decided to press on in my search.
I used, and still use, four basic categories for investigative purposes:
- Untrue with certainty
- True with certainty
While there are ‘finer’ aspects on the edges of each of these, the four categories will serve an investigator well.
What about archaeology? What had archaeologists discovered about Moses?
Exodus 2 says that a daughter of Pharaoh’s daughter named the Hebrew child Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” The Hebrew word for “draw out” is mashah. However, the name Moses may have also come from the Egyptian language. The chronology of the Bible places the birth of Moses in the mid-to-late 16th Century B.C., which would place his leading Israel out of Egypt (when he was 80 years old) in the mid-15th Century. Some of the pharaohs of that era included Kamose, Ahmose I, Thutmose I, Thutmose II, Thutmose III and Thutmose IV. Some Egyptologists and archaeologists (e.g. M.G Kyle, W.F. Albright) believe that the name Moses comes from an Egyptian word mes (Mase), which means “drawn out, to draw out.”
“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’ Exodus 2:8-10
Atheists who know what they’re talking about, especially those who grew up in Jewish or Christian homes, are well aware of the critical views of the Bible’s story of Israel’s ‘exodus’ from Egypt. One of them concerns the Jewish Passover, which many atheists and even some Christians believed came from Canaanite religious practices.
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.” Exodus 12:5-11
In 1928 a Syrian farmer accidentally found a subterranean passageway, leading to the discovery of ancient writings that became known as the Ras Shamra tablets. A French archaeological team from the Strasbourg Museum (led by Claude F.A. Schaeffer and George Chenet) excavated the 65-foot Ras Shamra mound in northern Syria over a period of many years and identified it as the ancient city of Ugarit. The tablets (dated to the late 15th Century B.C.) revealed how different the pagan Canaanite religions were from that of the Israelites of the same time period. As archaeologist W.F. Albright wrote, “Every fresh publication of Canaanite mythological texts makes the gulf between the religions of Canaan and of Israel increasingly clear.” (W.F. Albright, ‘Recent Progress in North-Canaanite Research,’ BASOR, No. 70, April, 1938, p. 24)
Comparing the findings at Ras Shamra that included the discovery of thousands of clay jars with the remains of children sacrificed to the ‘gods,’ along with the sexually wicked behavior of the gods, religious prostitution by men and women and widespread idol worship, to the Hebrew God who commanded sexual purity, love of family, protection of children, and the worship of one God, demonstrates some of the major differences between the religious practices of the Israelites and the Canaanites. Even as an atheist it seemed obvious that the Hebrews did not draw on the Canaanite religions to develop their religious practices that included Passover.
In the next part of our investigation, we’ll look at the exodus of Israelites from Egypt in the ‘light’ of archaeology.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”