A few weeks ago, Michael Jones (aka “Inspiring Philosophy”) published a documentary over at his YouTube channel entitled “Exodus Rediscovered.” The lengthy film was quintessentially Jones: it was well-produced, interesting to watch, and deeply flawed. I had been vaguely aware that the documentary was in the pipeline but paid little attention to the specific details. When it was finally published, I was tagged on Twitter asking my opinion of it. I muted the tweet since I honestly had no desire to get involved. However, a friend of mine on Twitter had watched it and found problems with it. He also alerted me to a review by Egyptologist David Falk that had been posted to Falk’s YouTube channel. You can watch that review here:
Not long after Falk’s mildly scathing (is that a thing?) review, Jones took down his documentary and issued a statement over at his blog which you can read here. In it, he acknowledges the multiple flaws with his film and abandons the dating for an early exodus in favor of a later date. But at the end of his post, Jones writes this:
I also want to be clear, I hold no grudges against early exodus date proponents (nor will I mention their names) who initially convinced me the Exodus best fits with the reign of Amenhotep II. It is very easy for people to hold resentment if they feel like they have been deceived. For example, many ex-Christians go around claiming all apologists are dishonest because, in their view, they feel apologists deceived them. I often encourage people to extend the principle of charity as much as possible and that is what I must do as well. I have no hard feelings for early date proponents who initially convinced me. It is better to believe they were advocating what they thought was true and right, not lying to me or themselves.
While I am all for giving charity, the problem with so much of what passes for Christian apologetics deserves none. And while Jones’ action of taking down his discredited video is viewed by some as the model of Christian humility and the willingness to change one’s views in light of new evidence, for my part it seems like the symptom of a much larger problem, one that is inherent to the apologetic impulse.
If we lacked the biblical account of the exodus, could we come to the conclusion that a relatively large group of former Semitic slaves escaped Egypt, supernaturally thwarting Egyptian might, to arrive in the Levant unmolested based solely on archaeological and inscriptional evidence? I would venture to say that we could not. But it is precisely because we have biblical accounts of an exodus that have been coupled with particular views of divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy that the need to square the Pentateuchal narratives with the historical record arises. Apologists, therefore, are compelled to find in the data the proof they need to declare that the Bible got it right all along. In other words, they begin with their conclusion and try to find evidence to confirm it. This is pop-apologetics in a nutshell: it is defensive by its nature and of very limited value.
Now, before the “but atheists” crowd jumps in, let me acknowledge that my unbelieving brethren do this too. I find this to be especially true of the Jesus Mythicist crowd. But here is the key difference between Christian apologists and atheists: the latter do not claim to be given a supernatural guide in the form of the Holy Spirit to spur them on to truth (cf. John 14:16-17). From where I’m standing, there’s no practical difference between an atheist who denies the existence of the Holy Spirit and a Christian who affirms it. Why would I want to become a Christian if it has no discernible, real world effect? For the fire insurance?
No thank you.
3 thoughts on “Michael Jones and the Exodus: The Real Problem with Pop-Apologetics”
It comes down to honesty. The overwhelming majority of Christian pop apologetics are arguments that wouldn’t satisfy a child and often rely on “evidence” that has been debunked, removed from its context, or highly selective and debatable.
I’ve never been a fan of resorting to poor argumentation or appeals to shaky evidence just because the person you’re talking to may not be able to refute it. And yes, you’re right, anti-theists do this too (typically in meme form).
Popper once said that, if you have a thesis, you should work as hard as you can to overthrow it. He also noted that very few people do this. I think this policy serves everyone well, and especially Christian apologists. Look things up. See what other authorities have said about what you’re citing as evidence. Look at how people have refuted those points. It’s hard to be “misled” into believing things that aren’t true if you are truly and honestly diligent about trying to refute the things you hold on to.
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I have issues with this post.
1. Yes, I think we need to extend the principle of charity to Christian apologists who get things wrong. With very few exceptions and despite a bit of wishful thinking, these are just people trying to follow the truth. I use to believe the early date theory until I learned better. For someone to have given me no charity for simply accessing what evidence was available to me at the time would have been deeply unfair. To extend charity is the choice of tolerance. Of course, some atheists don’t want to really extend any tolerance to Christian apologists.
2. Yes, Jones taking down his video was an act of intellectual humility and honesty. That much is evidentially undeniable. No doubt he spent more time and money on that video than any other.
3. Several confusions. Jones is not an inerranist. Nor does one start with the conclusion. In addition, this is quite problematic:
“If we lacked the biblical account of the exodus, could we come to the conclusion that .. [there was an Exodus]”
That’s kind of like saying “If we lacked the writings of Herodotus, could we come to the conclusion, solely based on the archaeology, that so and so Herodotus says is true”. And the answer would be, almost without exception, “No.” Yes, textual evidence is relevant and records plenty of things not explicitly stated in the archaeological record (which is so unbelievably few to begin with). In any case, the point of archaeological remains and inscriptions is a red herring per Nadav Na’aman, who is one of Finkelstein’s colleagues at Tel Aviv:
“Since in most cases, nomads do not leave remains that archaeologists can identify in the area, it is insignificant that remains of pastoral nomadic groups have not been discovered either in the Egyptian Delta or in the Sinai Peninsula. Thus, clearly, archaeology is of no help in the debate over the historicity of the Exodus story.”
Nadav Na’aman, “The Exodus Story: Between Historical Memory and Historiographical Composition”, Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions (2011), pg. 56
We have a text, i.e. Exodus. That it is in the Bible is irrelevant. The task of the historian is to see how early the traditions contained in it are, what it reflects about the beliefs concerning the Israelite’s concerning their origins, and how connected it is to the historical record. The conclusion of archaeologists is, more or less, as follows:
“While there is a consensus among scholars that the Exodus did not take place in the manner described in the Bible, surprisingly most scholars agree that the narrative has a historical core, and that some of the highland settlers came, one way or another, from Egypt … In this, I am not referring to the various traditions of Israel’s interaction with Egypt resulting from the era of Egyptian control in Canaan or from some relations with the Hyksos, which found their way into the Bible, but to the possibility that there was a group which fled Egypt, and brought this story of Exodus with it. Though the size of this group is debated, most of the above scholars agree that it was in the range of a few thousands, or even hundreds.”
Avraham Faust, “The Emergence of Iron Age Israel: On Origins and Habitus” in Israels Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective, Springer, 2015, pg. 476
Inerrancy is a red herring, since inerrancy as a doctrine rather than some opinion only originates during the Counter-Reformation. Historically, there was some sort of Exodus.