In 2017, noted scholar of the Hebrew Bible Richard Elliot Friedman published a book with HarperCollins entitled The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters. Using the tools of source criticism, Friedman posits that what really happened is not that there was no exodus from Egypt but rather that it involved a group that would become Israel’s priestly class – the Levites. The evidence he musters for this is entirely textual, drawing from the various sources found within the Torah. But it is nevertheless a compelling case that the Exodus happened but not as presented.
Four years before this, Friedman gave a short lecture covering this very topic at a conference at the University of California San Diego. Friedman, as always, is entertaining, at one point quipping that the “curse” of his career is that his scholarship is poor but his jokes are amazing. I think that may be the exact opposite of the truth. I also enjoyed his little ditty, “J and E and P and D wrote the B-I-B-L-E.” I’ll have to add that to my repertoire.
For those who do not have access to Friedman’s book on the Exodus or just don’t have the time to read it, this lecture is a fun way to wade into the deep ocean of source criticism and its practical value for historical analysis.