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Review of Israel Knohl’s Book Posits Exodus Was Real But Not as We Know

Excerpt of Los Angeles Review of Books review of ‘How the Bible Was Born,’ by Israel Knohl

How the Exodus Really Happened, According to a New Theory by Israel Knohl

Excerpted from the Los Angeles Review of Books by permission. Read the full article on the LARB website .


For anyone familiar with the story of the Exodus, it’s rather disappointing to learn of the near consensus among scholars that there is no evidence of an Israelite presence in ancient Egypt. This means there was no 400 years of slavery, no Passover, and no exodus to the Promised Land. There wasn’t even a Moses. In other words, the foundational narrative of Judaism is bunk. That’s why it’s big news that biblical scholar Israel Knohl thinks he can prove otherwise.

Knohl, who is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, made his career with his book The Sanctuary of Silence (1992) and its theory of the “Holiness School,” the group who wrote the Holiness Code found in chapters 17-26 of the Book of Leviticus.

In his new book How the Bible Was Born , recently published in Hebrew…he proposes a theory anchoring the exodus story in historical fact. That is, Knohl has found evidence supporting the idea that Moses actually existed, and that the exodus was real — though not as we know it….

So, to nutshell, Knohl proposes that the Israelites (the Jacob-El tribe) came from Edom to Egypt during the great famine, which began at the end of Ramses II’s reign, around 1225 BCE.

After Tausret’s death in 1188, they were led by Moses and his group of foreign mercenary armies, and tried to take over Egypt. Moses and his men lost, were expelled from Egypt, and retreated to Canaan. They left at the beginning of Setnakhte’s reign, in 1186 BCE. That’s a span of about 40 years, from Joseph to Moses.

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