Gregory Alan Thornbury: Why It Matters That the Exodus Really Happened

53902Not only does Christian faith rest squarely on the historicity of the Moses account. So does the foundation of law and order in Western society. Our traditions of common law and jurisprudence go back to Jewish notions of covenant. Without Moses, we lose divine sanction for limits on government and the power of human authorities. What is the goal of this constitutionalism rooted in Torah? According to the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Courtit “seeks to prevent tyranny and to guarantee liberty and rights of individuals on which free society depends.” Everyone who cares about liberty, then, has purchase in the debate over Exodus. Were the teachings of Moses from Moses? Were they rooted in a transcendent source? Those are some pretty important questions.

It is also serendipitous that Mahoney’s film hit theaters on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We as a the nation remembered the life and legacy of the leader of the civil rights movement, gunned down at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. King repeatedly cast the struggle for civil rights against the historicity of the backdrop of the Exodus. He clearly thought of the Exodus as a historical account that paralleled the experience of African Americans in the United States. The night before his assassination, King preached what would be his last sermon. He began like this:

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the Promised Land.

The bondage of the Israelites and God’s deliverance of them out of Pharaoh’s grip weren’t matters of indifference to King and his band of heroes in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The historical reality of redemption mattered deeply to them. There was real slavery and real redemption. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” was not an abstraction or poetic sentiment.

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