Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture and Geoscience
Edited by Thomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider and William H.C. Propp
(Cham: Springer, 2015), 584 pp., $129 (hardback)
Reviewed by Judith M. Hadley
As its subtitle suggests, this book examines many issues concerning the Exodus from a variety of multidisciplinary perspectives. It consists of 43 essays, each by a different author or group of authors. Many of the names of the 60 contributors will be familiar to BAR readers—Manfred Bietak, William Dever, Israel Finkelstein, Lawrence Geraty, Baruch Halpern, James Hoffmeier, Thomas Levy, Nadav Na’aman and William Propp, to name a few.
The articles are based on papers presented at an interdisciplinary conference at the University of California, San Diego, in 2013 by an international group of scholars and experts in diverse fields, who were addressing their peers. When referencing ancient texts, these experts frequently use the original languages in the relevant scripts (e.g., in the Hebrew alphabet); sometimes they include a transliteration, but often they do not even provide an English translation of the text. As the book contains a lot of technical language and analysis, probably only a third of the articles would be of interest to most BAR readers.
The scholars include archaeologists, Egyptologists, Biblical scholars, computer scientists, geoscientists and other experts. Topics include the historicity of the Exodus, Egyptian and Near Eastern parallels to the Exodus story, archaeological fieldwork on emergent Israel, the formation of Biblical literature, the cultural memory of the Exodus in ancient Israel and ancient topography—among others. Due to the wide scope of offerings, the articles are arranged in nine parts.
Each article begins with a brief abstract, and most of the articles are extensively referenced, with lengthy bibliographies. The perspectives are as varied as the scholars themselves, with some on the conservative side, others more critical and some very scientifically detailed. For example, an article on the technical side—“Inspired by a Tsunami?”—has a section on tsunami modeling with wave propagation/flow simulation that sets out a series of mathematical equations used to create computerized tsunami models in an attempt to explain possible tsunamis and their effects in ancient times.
For anyone interested in an in-depth analysis of the Exodus from varied scientific positions and religious approaches, this could be a valuable book. For the non-specialist, its value would be more limited, but this is where the abstracts (summaries) could be useful. While not generally giving away the conclusions of the articles, the abstracts are easily accessible to a wider audience, as they lack the detailed analysis and more technical language used in the articles themselves. Additionally, about half of the articles have a clearly marked conclusion, which usually is helpful in explaining the gist of the article.
All in all, this is a thorough, stimulating and up-to-date volume.
Judith M. Hadley is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. She is an archaeologist, Biblical scholar and author of The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).