The Miracles of Exodus: A Scientist’s Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories

I’ve had this book in my library for a few years. I suspect the dramatic title and a wariness with trying to find a historical backdrop to ancient myths kept me from reading it. Till one day, looking for something light, I did pick it up.

The style of The Miracles of Exodus is a bit overly dramatic. The enthusiasm of the author jumps off nearly every page. Not what you’d expect of an Englishman. In fact, as I was reading I was preparing semi-jokes on the author being obviously American. My mistake.

Style doesn’t always predict content. In this book the content is really good. Like a detective the author painstakingly takes us along his journey to finding the historical background to Exodus. We meet Moses, the Jewish slaves, and so on. The result is convincing. More details in the biblical story match up than you’d have thought. And the result is, well, amazing. Seriously.

Most people … believe the story of the crossing of the river Jordan to be a legend.
(p. 15)

Colin J. Humphreys explains the burning bush, water coming from a rock, the red sea dividing and the plagues of Egypt. For some of those he merely repeats what has been written about this stuff before. But what’s definitely new (in print) is that he identifies Mount Sinai as Hala-‘l Badr, which was an active volcano at the time.

But if that was all, I’d probably not tell you to read this book. What makes it really convincing is that Humphreys has been able to chart the whole trip TO mount Sinai. He explains the number of days necessary for each stage. He finds out how many Israelis there were in the first place (not millions, merely 20.000). And all this backed up by biblical scholarship, natural history, experts on volcanoes etc.

Oh and I did finish this book in two days reading, only skipping a few pages here and there (travel itinerary for Moses). So in the end the style was not a hindrance to fast reading.

The structure of the book is classic: each chapter is headed with a quote from the Bible. This works really well, because the aim of the book is to find in these quotes as many details as possible to help us figure out where Moses went.

I’ve suggested a large number of novel interpretations of the events of Exodus, but probably the most important, I’ve shown that mount Sinai is not in the Sinai Peninsula but in Arabia. In particular, Mount Sinai is Mount Bedr, a volcano active in historical times in Arabia. We’ve also seen that the greatest miracle in the Old Testament, the crossing of the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of Pharaoh’s army, occurred at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.

(p. 336)

All in all I really like the idea of Moses being this scholarly person who was denounced by his adoptive parents and took on taking his people away from Egypt. Such a person would write down his exact experiences – so why would he NOT describe the mountain he was on just as it was? Why not use the volcanic eruptions as a helpful guide to get where he wanted to go?

In short: I think this is a highly probable hypothesis and I hope scientists will try to disprove it if they can.

  • Author: Colin Humphreys
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060582731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060582739
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9 inches

Colin J. Humphreys

Colin J. Humphreys, CBE, is a British physicist. He is the Goldsmiths’ Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, Professor of Experimental Physics at the Royal Institution in London and a Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge. He was President of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining in 2002 and 2003. His research interests include “all aspects of electron microscopy and analysis, semiconductors (particularly gallium nitride), ultra-high temperature aerospace materials and superconductors.”

He was awarded a CBE in 2003 for services to science as a researcher and communicator. He is a member of the John Templeton Foundation.

He is chair of Christians in Science for the United Kingdom.

From wikipedia, jan. 4th 2010

Biblical Mount Sinai

The Biblical Mount Sinai is an ambiguously located mountain at which the Hebrew Bible states that the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God. In certain biblical passages these events are described as having transpired at Horeb. Sinai and Horeb are generally considered to refer to the same place although there is a small body of opinion that they refer to different locations.

Passages prior to the Israelite encounter with Sinai indicate that the ground of the mountain was considered holy, but according to the rule of Ein mukdam u’meuchar baTorah — “[There is] not ‘earlier’ and ‘later’ in [the] Torah,” that is, the Torah is not authored in a chronological fashion, classical biblical commentators regard this as insignificant. Some modern-day scholars, however, who do not recognize the authority of the Oral Law, explain it as having been a sacred place dedicated to one of the Semitic deities, long before the Israelites encountered it. Some modern biblical scholars regard these laws to have originated in different time periods from one another, with the later ones mainly being the result of natural evolution over the centuries of the earlier ones, rather than all originating from a single moment in time.

In Classical rabbinical literature, Mount Sinai became synonymous with holiness; indeed, it was said that when the Messiah arrives, God will bring Sinai together with Mount Carmel and Mount Tabor, rebuild the Temple upon the combined mountain, and the peaks would sing a chorus of praise to God.

From wikipedia, Jan. 4th 2010

A jewish reader writes:

It could be [that this hypothesis is correct], though I’m not convinced. But being up on the top of an active volcano for 40 days and 40 nights 3 times would surely show Moshe (Moses)’s faith in Hashem (G-d). It could also explain why the Children of Israel (not Israelis, BTW, that term is saved for modern day residents of the State of Israel) would be so fearful of G-d’s presence and be so nervous about Moshe’s tarrying, which led to them (well, the men — except for the tribe of Levi, my tribe, BTW, 🙂 to create idol known as the Golden Calf.