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March 30, 2010, 6:41 pm

So, the centerpiece of any even-slightly-traditional Seder is a detailed recounting of the Exodus story. But, as I understand it, Biblical archaeologists have complicated things lately by insisting that the Jews weren’t in Egypt for any lengthy period of time during the era in question.* “Hold on, Mr. PhD in Archaeology Smartypants, how do we know this for sure?” asks the obnoxious Jew.** Because the Egyptians were excellent record keepers, even taking detailed note of the many peoples they brutally subjugated. Which is all well and good, at least from the perspective of someone interested in the intersection of history and memory. In other words, it’s not unusual for discrepancies, rooted in methodological, epistemological, or political differences, over how the past is recalled to crop up from time to time.

But then there’s this: why would the long-ago Jews have invented this history of oppression, history that features the enslavement of their people across generations? And why would they have memorialized this history in a story that isn’t, if you look away from the super-cool burning bush and pay attention to the other plot points, really all that flattering*** to their forbears? The tempting answer, I guess, is that today, when out groups sometimes play misery poker, trying to climb to the top of a hierarchy of victimization, it might make some sense to concoct such a tale. But! In addition to being totally presentist, and thus unsatisfying as an answer to a historical question, I also can’t think of another case, at least not off the top of my head, in which a race has made a spurious and enduring claim about the past like this one.

I suppose the problem is that it’s likely impossible to know the context in which the Exodus story was invented. And absent that context, it’s impossible to know why the story was invented, what purpose it served, how, in short, it was used to screw the Palestinians out of land. Or maybe it wasn’t invented at all. Maybe the relevant archive burned down or collapsed during an earthquake and hasn’t been excavated.

Also, matzo with butter and salt is delicious for the first few days. Happy Passover.

* Nope, no link. I’m a bad blogger. And a bad Jew. Actually, I’m just repeating snippets of a conversation I overheard involving my co-conspirators colleagues.

** Yes, “obnoxious Jew” is redundant. Whatevs. Eat your gefilte fish and shut up.

*** Except, I mean, for the whole “chosen people” part of the story. But even including that, the Jews still come off looking like small-minded jerks, craven douchebags, and flat-out cowards during significant parts of the narrative.

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