Habgood, have faith

May 8, 1998

Apropos Dr Hagbood's comments on the implausibility of the Exodus (Review of The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, THES, April 24): it is true that a column of two million people, two abreast, at five-foot intervals, is 950 miles long. But this merely means that if they moved in swarms 500 abreast, the column would be four miles long. Where does the Old Testament narrative require the first assumption?

Two midwives could not on their own serve a population of such a size - maybe at most 50,000. But then, would the king have imagined 50,000 people to have been more numerous than the Egyptians (Exodus 1:9)? The puzzle is in the passage itself: and its first readers were just as intelligent as we are. The passover is mentioned again after the Exodus (Joshua 5:10) and the Old Testament itself knows that it was not much celebrated during the next five to seven centuries (2 Kings 23:22). Not all objections have such simple solutions - eg the absence of an archaeological record of the conquest. But the attitude of faith is to believe the words of God, and wait. If ancient Israel had disbelieved as readily as Dr Habgood disbelieves, they would have entirely capitulated to the gods of Assyria and Babylon, and there would have been no Bible for Cambridge to produce a Companion to. Why do I know that God's answers to these puzzles are worth waiting for? (cf. Isaiah 25:9). Because of the revelation of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord. Why, I wonder, does Dr Habgood's faith involve, instead, such hasty disbelief?

Theo Balderston Department of history University of Manchester

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