Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tents in a Syrian Refugee Camp. Wikimedia
In my Hebrew Bible classes, we have begun reading Exodus.  We started our discussion with introductory issues, such as the importance of Moses in the Jewish and Christian traditions, the function of Exodus within the Pentateuch, etc.  

One of these topics was the historicity of the Exodus account. When I approach this issue, I generally suggest that the numbers in the account presented are exaggerated.  There we read such assertions as the Hebrew population consisting of 600,000 men and their families (Exod 12:37 and Num 1:45-46) and being more populous than the Egyptians (Exod 1:8-9).  I note the lack of archaeological evidence of 2 or 3 million people (Cohen, JBQ 27:3) living in the wilderness for an extended period of time, that there were only two midwives, and that we lack Egyptian references to half of its population emigrating, which would have certainly had a disastrous economic impact.

This semester, I added to this the visual representation of contemporary refugee camps.  I projected images from a Daily Mail story about the Za'atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.  

Za'atari Refugee Camp from The Daily Mail

As of mid 2013, the Za'atari camp was the fifth largest city in Jordan, with 6,000 new refugees a day. It has 12 districts with schools and hospitals, soccer fields, 3,000 restaurants and food shops, taxis and police and fire services.  Yet, at 160,000 people, this city is just 5% to 8% the size that would be needed to accommodate 2-3 million people. By comparison, Houston has a little over 2 million inhabitants and Chicago has just under 3 million.  

Seeing the pictures and reading the statistics about the space and resources needed by refugees seemed to be quite effective in conveying the scale and probable exaggeration of the numbers that are presented in the account of the Exodus.  

Isaac M. Alderman
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