CrossWalkAmerica: Are You Ready to March for a New Christianity?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 22 March 2006 0 Comments
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Are there any historical facts that prove the killing
of the first-born Egyptian sons at the time of the


I am quite sure there are not since I am quite sure
that this story itself is not history. My reasons for
that unqualified assertion are:

1. Moses and therefore the Exodus are generally dated
about 1250 B.C.E. The written account is almost 300
years later. That means that the story of the Exodus
lived in oral transmission for almost 300 years or
12-14 generations before being written down. The
Exodus was the story of a national beginning, a kind
of Fourth of July for the Jewish people. I see no way
that it would not be subjected to a heightening
miraculous process in that life-to-life, mouth to
mouth oral process over 300 years. After all, we
Americans attribute all sorts of virtues to our

2. The details of that story are filled with fanciful
details. First, the idea that God would kill
the first-born male in every Egyptian household,
including the first born among Egyptian flocks, would
be strange behavior for an evil human being. How much
more evil would that be for God to do it?

The other details of this story are also fanciful.
The blood of the Paschal Lamb on the doorposts of
Jewish homes that has the ability to banish death from
those houses is cult magic language. The series of
plagues portray God invading the world in supernatural
ways by controlling the weather and sending disease.
In our postmodern world, both areas are understood
quite differently. Neither the weather nor disease is
thought of today as sent for the divine purpose of
rewarding or punishing.

Finally, the Crossing of the Red Sea story would not
only have been impossible physically but the Red Sea
was also not even on the route the Israelites took.
If they crossed anything, it would have been a shallow
marshy area, no more than 20 miles wide called Yam
Suph or the Sea of Reeds that is near the present day
Suez Canal.

There is one item that has come to us out of
archeological discoveries that may have been a factor
in the development of this story but it is not
conclusive. There was a Pharaoh about the time of the
Exodus whose son and heir apparent died suddenly and
thus could not succeed to the throne. A second son
did. We know no other details. Perhaps if this note
is literally true historically, then this was the seed
out of which the later legend grew that suggested that
the first born of all Egyptian families had perished.
Losing the first born of the King's family in that day
of deep tribal thinking could have been experienced as
if the first born of every Egyptian's family had
perished. We can never be sure of the facts shrouded
in our legends but normally legends are born in a germ
of reality.

Thank you for asking. My best to your husband Tom.

John Shelby Spong

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