Given the "sustained absence of evidence" for the biblical Exodus (no Egyptian records confirming it, no obvious evidence from the Sinai, etc.), many scholars now question whether it ever really happened. But as Berman points out, once we recognize that the translation of numbers in the Old Testament pose many opportunities for inflation, the absence of evidence is less problematic. Why would the Egyptians advertize the fact that they failed to control a batch of slaves who escaped?
Berman also notes that there are some lines of evidence that support the plausibility of several parts of the account, but still, we have been without clear, direct evidence for the Exodus itself. However, Berman offers new evidence for the authenticity of the Exodus account, based on what one might call evidence of plagiarism from an Egyptian account, the Kadesh poem about Ramses II. The Hebrew text appears to incorporate numerous unique elements from the Egpytian source, but using it to tell the story of God's victory rather than Pharaoh's. Incorporating these details required knowledge of Egyptian lore and culture that would not likely have been accessible to a later Hebrew author. With these newly recognized details before us, the origins of the Exodus account are consistent with Hebrews in captivity in Egypt who came to Israel. Berman sums it up this way:
[T]he evidence adduced here can be reasonably taken as indicating that the poem was transmitted during the period of its greatest diffusion, which is the only period when anyone in Egypt seems to have paid much attention to it: namely, during the reign of Ramesses II himself. In my view, the evidence suggests that the Exodus text preserves the memory of a moment when the earliest Israelites reached for language with which to extol the mighty virtues of God, and found the raw material in the terms and tropes of an Egyptian text well-known to them. In appropriating and “transvaluing” that material, they put forward the claim that the God of Israel had far outdone the greatest achievement of the greatest earthly potentate.
When Jews around the world gather on the night of Passover to celebrate the exodus and liberation from Egyptian oppression, they can speak the words of the Haggadah, “We were slaves to a pharaoh in Egypt,” with confidence and integrity, without recourse to an enormous leap of faith and with no need to construe those words as mere metaphor. A plausible reading of the evidence is on their side.Berman properly recognizes that parallels can occur in many unrelated works, something we see frequently among critics trying to find evidence of Book of Mormon plagiarism from a list of sources that grows longer every few months. However, Berman points to a totality of many unique details that make a strong case for a relationship between the Exodus account and Egyptian sources. This is a case where apparent "plagiarism" in a scriptural text actually provides evidence supporting its authenticity. With Passover nearing, this is food for thought as we contemplate the Exodus and its intricate role in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It's a story that I believe goes beyond metaphor, but is reflected in ancient reality.
Special thanks to Jared A. (twitter.com/JaredAllebest) for calling this article to my attention.