Pagan Exoduses

Pagan Exoduses

The term ἔξοδος exodos is translated also as “going out” and can be found in the ancient writings of Aristophanes, Aristides, Aristotle, Dionysius, Herodotus, Lucian, Pausanias, Plato, Plutarch, Strabo, Thucydides and Xenophon. In his Clouds (579), Greek playwright Aristophanes (c. 446–c. 386 BCE) uses ἔξοδος exodos in the sense of an “expedition.” In Lysistrata (16), the playwright has one of his characters speak of women “getting away” from their daily labors and obligations,579 conveying a sense of “fleeing.”

In describing the scene of the Persian king Xerxes in the fifth century BCE following the Peneus River in Thessaly, Herodotus (7.130) says the ruler “asked his guides if there were any other outlet for the Peneus into the sea,” the answer to which was no. The word here for “outlet” is ἔξοδος or exodus.

In the fourth century BCE, Plato (Philebus 33e) referred to forgetfulness as the “exodus of the memory,”580 which he reiterated in his Symposium (208a), remarking that “forgetfulness is an egress [exodus] of knowledge.”581 Other uses are rendered “way out,” “exit” and “foray,” as in the writings of Pausanias and Plutarch during the second century AD/CE. As we can see, the word “exodus” was common in antiquity, not limited to biblical myth.

The Exodus as Drama

Exodos has been used also to describe an element of a play, which seems appropriate for the unreal air of the biblical scenario. In his Poetics (12.1452b), the Greek sage Aristotle (384–322 BCE) defines exodos as part of a tragedy:

We have already spoken of the constituent parts to be used as ingredients of tragedy. The separable members into which it is quantitatively divided are these: Prologue, Episode, Exode, Choral Song, the last being divided into Parode and Stasimon. These are common to all tragedies…582

It seems that Moses’s Exodus is likewise part of a play, like the passion of Jesus and the rest of the gospel story, which is condensed into a short period and has many other elements indicative of a drama to be acted out. Similar ritual drama had been enacted in the stories of many divine figures before Jesus, including and especially Osiris and Dionysus.

Dionysian Drama

Indeed, Bacchus’s myth would have been well known, as his proselytizing troops of devotees, styled “artists of Dionysus,”583 traveled around the
Mediterranean and beyond, putting on plays often in theaters especially constructed for the purpose.584 Moreover, the priests and priestesses of other Greek cults, such as those of Zeus, Artemis and Apollo, would attend these religious plays, as part of sacred ritual.

In this way, Dionysian tradition and rituals became widespread and would have been known by Levantine peoples, including those who eventually became “Jews.” The Bacchic artists’ missionary acts resemble the later biblical “Great Commission” assigned to Jesus’s disciples to spread the “good news” to much the same areas previously proselytized by the Dionysians (Mt 28:16–20).

Exodus as Midrash

In addition to emulating the myths of other cultures, as Jewish scribes had done in many other places of the Old Testament/Tanakh, the framers of the Exodus tale also may have utilized the pericope called “Second Isaiah” or “Deutero-Isaiah” for “the idea of an exodus from a land of oppression.”585 Deutero-Isaiah comprises the biblical passages of Isaiah 40–55, currently believed by scholarly consensus to have been written during and/or after the Babylonian period in the 6th century BCE. It appears that learned Jews who knew much of the Bible was allegory midrashically used Second Isaiah, among other texts, in order to create a mythical messiah, which is, in reality, Moses’s role in saving the Israelites from bondage.

Other biblical texts possibly used to create the Exodus story include the Song of the Sea and Psalm 78, previously discussed, as well as Psalms 68 and 74, the latter at verses 13–15:

Thou didst divide the sea by thy might; thou didst break the heads of the dragons on the waters. Thou didst crush the heads of Leviathan, thou didst give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. Thou didst cleave open springs and brooks; thou didst dry up ever-flowing streams.

In this pericope alone we can see themes used by the creators of the Exodus myth, such as: the dividing of the sea; the “dragons/Leviathan” (Egyptians/pharaoh) destroyed; God-given food in the wilderness; cleaving open springs; and drying up streams, as in the conquest tale of Joshua crossing the Jordan dry-shod.

These and many other similar and relevant biblical passages do NOT represent a historical Exodus account but rather speak allegorically of the wonders of Yahweh, not Moses, in parting the sea and so on. It seems evident that such verses were used midrashically to create the Exodus tale and that the original villains of the story were from the mythical dragons and leviathans, discussed below.