By Mike Kreutzer
High-quality commentaries on Exodus (and other biblical books) are wonderful resources. They help us to understand the text and its context, and they can help us also to move beyond supposed “historical facts” to a deeper understanding of the biblical narratives. As the expression goes, they enable us to reflect on the “more-than-literal meaning.”
But many people (I include myself) still want to know, as best we can determine, what actually happened? Where did these stories come from? How did “Israel” come to be? A new study by Richard Elliott Friedman (Emeritus from U.C. San Diego and now of the Univ. of Georgia) addresses those questions, along with the origins of monotheism and the way that development changed the world. It is titled The Exodus: How It Happened and Why It Matters (San Francisco: HarperOne, September 2017).
Distinguishing his approach from that of fundamentalists (who cling to a supposedly literal biblical account) and minimalists (who assert that no exodus ever happened), Friedman draws together insights from the biblical text, literary studies, history, linguistics, art, architecture, archaeology, genetics, and cultural anthropology to present what he refers to as “a work of detective non-fiction.” His style is very accessible, intended for a general audience. (Carol Meyers, one of our speakers at our upcoming, April 7, “DSO Big Read” Capstone Event, calls it “a page-turner.”)
At a recent conference, I attended a panel review of the book by eminent scholars Amy-Jill Levine and Jodi Magness, followed by their discussion with the author. Both of them highly recommend it. So do I.