I recently came across a blog of Zelph, who is struggling with some tough issues in Mormonism. I also posted a comment in The Milk Ceiling about the Exodus. I thought I would address some of these issues.
Too often, I think we have a concrete view of religion. Either something is true, or it is not. When we learn things that don’t conform to the ways we believe they should, we lose testimony. This is true of all religions.
To put it in terms of science, many of us are familiar with the basics of gravity. We understand the basic laws of motion (known as Newtonian Physics, named after Sir Isaac Newton.) However, when things behave in ways we don’t understand, new methods of understanding need to be developed. Albert Einstein came up with some laws of motion regarding particles that do not follow the laws of Newtonian Physics, and particles instead follow Quantum Physics.
I think religion in general needs to get more sophisticated in its analysis. I really enjoy an old series that used to be on A&E television, called “Mysteries of the Bible.” In these 45 minute long documentaries, the producers discuss archeaological and theological perspectives on the Bible. They do not shy away from controversy, but generally try to promote that the Bible is generally reliable.
The Exodus is one such example. By using the numbers listed in the Bible, there were 700,000 to 1,000,000 Israelites that would have travelled from Egypt through the Red Sea. Rabbi David Wolpe, who is frequently interviewed on the Mysteries of the Bible series, in 2001 created an international uproar when he said the Exodus didn’t happen the way the bible says. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence of the exodus. Given the large group of people, there should be some sort of evidence–they would have at minimum left trash along the way, if not camp sites.
National Geographic recently showed a special on the Exodus, and listed no less than at least 13 theories on the possible route traveled by the Israelites for the Exodus. There are theories about volcanoes helping part the Red Sea, underwater land bridges, great winds, but no archaeological evidence. Personally, one of my favorite videos about this subject is “The Exodus Revealed” by Questar Entertainment. They make a case for an underwater land bridge in the Gulf of Aqaba (in the Red Sea), and may have found some Egyptian chariot wheels underwater. Unfortunately, they were not given permission to take any of this round-wheel shaped coral to fully test their theory. They also make a case that Mount Sanai, where Moses recieved the 10 commandments, is actually located in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has a fenced off area, called Jebel-Musa (meaning “Mount of Moses”) and will not allow any one to access the site.
This lack of evidence reminds me of the Book of Mormon archeaological problems. Many people think Joseph copied parts of the Bible, copied a book called “View of the Hebrews”, or a myriad of other explanations to discredit the Book of Mormon. I find all of these theories intriguing. Zelph mentioned that Joseph copied the mistranslations of the King James Bible into the Book of Mormon. This is certainly a thought-provoking problem. But to me, this is where we only need to learn more.
Just because there is no evidence of the Exodus or the BoM, does that mean it didn’t happen?
Sodom and Gomorrah were thought to be mythical cities, until scientists recently discovered them. The Gospel of Judas was thought to be lost, until it turned up in a safety deposit box in New York within the last 10 years. We’re just one discovery away from proving the Exodus, or the Book of Mormon really happened. However, even if evidence is found, that is not the end of the dilemma.
For example, the city of Jericho has been located. It appears walls did fall, and the city was also burned. Carbon dating shows the city to be dated roughly 400 years differently than mentioned in the Bible. It lies in an area prone to earthquakes. Perhaps the Isrealites got lucky, and marched around the city 7 times, and the walls fell down by an earthquake, or perhaps God did it. Does this prove or disprove the Bible? It all depends on your point of view.
To me, Jericho proves the Bible, but the Bible is not infallible. I think the Book of Mormon is not infallible either. I think this whole notion of “It’s 100% true or 100% false” to be a bad line of logic. To go back to my earlier physics logic, particles follow quantum physics, while most everything else follows Newtonian physics. Newtonian physics isn’t 100% right or 100% wrong. We need to be more sophisticated in our views of scripture, and allow for human errors to creep into scripture. Jericho existed, and perhaps there is an explanation for why it dates improperly according to the Biblical record.