Guest Author: Nicholas Perrin
When it comes to miraculous events of biblical history, like the Exodus, three kinds of people emerge. First, we have the skeptics (“We all know that bodies of water don’t spontaneously split. Next topic.”); next come the unimaginative biblicists (“The Bible said it. I believe it. That settles it. Next topic.”); and then we have everyone else, the open-minded souls who are willing to think about it. (Of course, as a blend of the first and third categories, countless biblical scholars claim we’ve “combed” the Sinai Peninsula, haven’t found any debris from a nomadic community the size of a small town that existed three-and-a-half millennia ago, and ergo the Exodus never happened at all. With such self-confident positivists as these, why aren’t we putting these folks on to our unsolved murder cases and missing airplanes?) I’ve written The Exodus Revealed: Israel’s Journey from Slavery to the Promised Land for “everyone else” – the open-minded thinkers.
Ridley Scott recently gave us a movie in which he imagined the Exodus story while taking some significant liberties with the data points. (If you haven’t seen the film, imagine a remake of Pride and Prejudice at many points faithful to the original only except now Elizabeth Bennet is a sexually-promiscuous opium addict.) But of course that has always been Hollywood’s prerogative – to move the data points for the sake of a good story. In this case, however, I think the better story would involve leaving the data points right where they are, and then do the imaginative work of connecting the dots.
This is more or less what I try to do in this book. On the one hand, as a biblical scholar, I try to take the biblical narrative seriously as history. On the other hand, I try to do history behind the story but in an accessible way. This latter goal allows me to go places that starch-collared biblical scholars like me are not normally allowed to go. But I’ve had readers tell me that my thinking about the Exodus through the lens of modern-day experience has helped them to see things they’ve never seen before.
Often Bible readers, especially People of the Book, are not used to doing that, because many of us unconsciously think of the biblical narratives as fairy tales. When we read Snow White, we are not meant to ask “So what kind of poison was in the apple?” or “How did it come about that Snow decided to live with seven dwarves?” Young children don’t ask those questions; pre-adolescents might; adults don’t because they know that part of the deal with fairy tales is not asking hard questions. Sadly, many readers often treat the biblical narrative that way, but it’s a category mistake. In my book on the Exodus, I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but it’s about time we start asking some hard questions … and exploring some answers that might actually make sense.
Nicholas Perrin (Ph.D., Marquette University) is Dean of the Wheaton Graduate School where he also holds the Franklin S. Dyrness Chair of Biblical Studies. Between 2000 and 2003, he was research assistant for N. T. Wright and has since authored and edited numerous articles and books, including Thomas and Tatian (Society of Biblical Literature/Brill); Thomas: The Other Gospel (Westminster John Knox); Lost in Transmission: What We Can Know about the Words of Jesus (Thomas Nelson); and Jesus the Temple (SPCK; Baker Academic), the first of a three-part trilogy on the historical Jesus. He is also co-editor of the recently revised edition of Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (InterVarsity).