A number of years ago, my in-laws came to us for Pesach seder. It was our first seder in our own home (we’d been generously invited out for years), and juggling an infant (Beans was 9 months old), kashering, cooking, and hosting two seders (we had friends over the second night) was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. After a couple of weeks of cleaning, cooking, and generally feeling like a slave, I was exhausted by the time we all finally sat down to the first night’s seder. My father-in-law’s opening comment was, “Did you know that there is no historical evidence that the Exodus from Egypt ever happened?”
Let’s set aside for a moment how a comment like this begs the question of why the asker is sitting at a seder in the first place, or how the role of the seder as educational tool for children is compromised, or how that particular attitude misses the entire point of the evening.
Let’s focus instead on the pshat (surface meaning) of the comment: lack of historical evidence of the Exodus. Yes, Jewish tradition holds that people in lands surrounding ancient Egypt heard of the plagues and wonders wrought by Hashem prior to and including the flight from Egypt of the Israelites. It also says that because of these stories coming out of Egypt, most of these nations held the Israelites in awe as they made their way through the desert for 40 years. But historical or archeological evidence? Very likely not. Why? Because even if there were such evidence (and I’m not counting the steering wheels lying at the bottom of the Red Sea that fervent believers claim are the remains of Egyptian chariots), the Arabs who have since conquered and settled Egypt would have no motivation to publish such findings. If they were ever to make public any sign that the forbears of Israel had been enslaved for 210 years in Egypt, they might be forced by public opinion to consider reparations, or at least back wages for that long-ago unpaid labor. Never mind that the Jews who fled the Arab world in the 1940s and 1950s, many of whom had been wealthy and successful before Israel’s foundation, were forced to leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs and deserve reparations much more than Palestinians whose fortunes were dashed by the greed and bloodlust of their fellow Arabs. The Arab-sponsored theme of Jews having no history at all in the Middle East has been promoted by the current wave of PA proclamations, such as those claiming that Rachel’s Tomb is really a Muslim monument to one of Mohammed’s slaves, that the Temple Mount never served as a place of Jewish worship or sacrifice, and the Arab rage over the excavation of the City of David and in the Western Wall plaza, which has uncovered archeological treasures showing Jewish presence and sovereignty over Jerusalem going back 3000 years.
No, the lack of evidence of the Exodus from Egyptian historians does not disturb me in the least. In fact, I expect nothing more since these are the same “scholars” who write school textbooks which teach children about Egypt’s crushing military victory over Israel in 1973, and the same society that publishes (and presumably believes in) the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
If the haggadah is a Jewish fantasy story, it’s one of the forging of slaves into a people which went on to become one of the key forces which moved civilization away from child sacrifice, debauched worship of multiple gods, and tyrannical government to personal and communal prayer, worship of one God, and the rule of law which favors neither the rich nor the poor. I’ll pick that fantasy over the falsehoods and absurdities put about by our enemies any day.