With Passover beginning on April 19, I thought it might be nice to look at a new theory of the Exodus.  Bible Battles is a film by The History Channel that analyzes military strategy for many battles in the Bible.  They make the surprising claim that the Israelites in Egypt were not slaves, but were a military unit.

Richard A Gabriel, PhD and author of Military History of Ancient Israel said,

“If you read the Bible text in Hebrew, it uses the word “avadeem”.  Avadeem is not the word for slave, it is the word for “worker” or even servant.  The fact of the matter is that the Israelites in Egypt were not slaves.”

Narrator, The notion that the Israelites might not have been slaves in Egypt contradicts fundamental Judeo-Christian beliefs.  But by examining the Exodus from a military perspective, new light may be shed on this historic journey.

Aaron Shugar, PhD, Archaeomettalurgy, Lehigh University, “This is a tricky subject because outside the Bible there is no definitive corroborating text that can either support or refute the fact that the Israelites were slaves.  But if we ask the simple question, could a nation of mere slaves, be able to go up against the mighty Egyptian army and survive?  Logically, it doesn’t seem like they could.”

Mark Schwartz, Professor of Anthropology, Grand Valley State University, “Now what if they weren’t slaves?  What if they actually were a group with military experience.  Remember Abraham and some of his military exploits.  Now a group of people leaving Egypt with a military arm puts a completely different spin on the story.”

some scholars believe they are also in this area fighting as mercenary soldiers in the Egyptian army.  Their job would be to serve as a first line of defense against invaders from the north.

Schwartz, “These ‘habiru’ were mercenaries, they were soldiers of fortune.  They would fight for who ever it was in their best interest at that time to fight for.  It seems like they had a good thing going in Egypt for a few hundred years.”

Narrator, “But eventually, a new pharaoh rises to power.  Some scholars believe he is Seti I, and he does not seem to care much for the Israelites.”

Exodus 1:9-10, “And he said to his people, ‘Look the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.  Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase.  Otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.’

Gabriel, “The sheer location of where the habiru are in the land of Goshen, sitting astride the key route of invasion or defense of Egypt, probably convinced Seti himself, a professional warrior that something had to be done either to remove them, or weaken their influence, or at least remove them from their geographical area.  Thus it is that Seti becomes, most historians think, the pharaoh in the Bible who first sets the Israelites to physical labor.”

Gabriel, “There was no slavery in Egypt right from the beginning until the end of the empire.  Well, if in fact they were not slaves set to labor, what were they?  The answer is corvee labor.  That is the term used to describe, essentially conscripted civilian workers to work on public works projects.  These people were not slaves, they were paid and they were well treated, and we know that from the military medical texts which stations military doctors with the workmen in order to make sure they are well-treated and well fed.”

Narrator, “Whether slaves or not, the demotion from soldier to common physical worker probably signaled to the Israelites that it was time to leave Egypt.”

Gabriel, “They had lost their status as noble allies.  They were now being treated like common workers.  It was time to go!”

Another video seems to corroborate this view.  Jim Hoffmeier discussed a mistranslation of the word “elith.”  (The following quote comes from Science of the Exodus, by National Geographic.)

The Bible says that 600,000 men left Egypt.  …

However, archaeologist Jim Hoffmeier of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School says the number is probably far fewer, due to a mistranslation dating thousands of years.  The original Hebrew says there were 600 elith.

Hoffmeier, “The word elith can be translated 3 different ways:  it can be translated thousand.  Elith can also be translated to the clan.  The third option is that it’s a military unit, which I think is a more plausible scenario.”

According to Hoffmeier’s interpretation, instead of 600,000 men and their families, there were as few as 5000.

If you’re interested in learning more about this video, click here.  What do you think of this theory that Israelites were not slaves?