Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Archive for June 15th, 2009

The Miracles of the Exodus – Colin Humphreys

with 10 comments

0060582731I’ve been teaching through the book of Exodus at our Wednesday night Bible study at Kenwood. I picked up this book recently, mostly out of curiosity, to get a scientists take on the miraculous stories in the biblical account.

Summary: The subtitle of the book is, “A Scientists Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories,” and the substance is exactly that. The books author, Colin Humphreys, is a Cambridge University physicists. Although he specializes in “materials science” his hobby is archeology. With that as his motivation he set out to explain God’s amazing victory in bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt using the scientific method. Humphreys not only examines the plagues, the natural phenomenon of the Red Sea crossing, and the location of Mt. Sinai, but also the date of the exodus, the crossing of the Jordan river (Josh. 3), and the location of the lost city of Etham (Ex. 13:20). Using modern science Humphreys concludes that all the events in the book of Exodus are explainable according to natural forces particular to the ancient Near East setting.

What I liked: First, I liked that Humphreys intent is to show that the biblical account is true. Nowhere in the book does Humphreys write that the exodus was false or the result of ancient myth, and for this he is to be commended. Second, Humphreys explanation of the locations of the Red Sea (in the Gulf of Aqaba) and Mt. Sinai (in Midian and not in the Sinai peninsula) is very convincing. I first heard this explanation in an exegesis course on Exodus I took during my M.Div., and after examining other resources I think that of Humphreys is more compelling and fits better with the biblical data. Lastly, the book is very easy to read and accessible for anyone at any level.

What I didn’t like: Where I mainly disagree with Humphreys is in his qualifying presupposition to explaining all the miracles of the Exodus; that is, that natural forces explain everything rather than supernatural ones. In Humphreys’ view, science is able to explain everything, and thus the miracles are only supernatural from Israel’s own perspective. Therefore, what happens in Exodus are miracles of timing. To give one example, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night – the presence of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt – is explainable as a volcano that erupted at the just the right time. This volcano just happens to be Mt. Sinai, which can be seen from 300 miles away in Egypt. The Israelites follow this cloud each day and night and are thus led by it, according to Humphreys. I think this view demotes the aspect of God’s intervening on the Israelites behalf (which God intended to do from the beginning), and also leaves for a high probability of chance. The same can be said about Humphreys’ take on the plagues, which I think can be disputed on the basis of his own analysis – timing.

Final Analysis: Humphreys has written a good book that was enjoyable to read. It is simple but not overly simplistic. I appreciated his desire to show the truthfulness of the Bible, especially with respect to the factual evidence of Scripture that is so easily disregarded. However, Humphreys demotes the aspect of God’s supernatural intervening on Israel’s behalf, and shows more faith in science than in the biblical record. Therefore, while I would highly recommend the sections on the Red Sea crossing and the location of Mt. Sinai (and other equally commendable chapters), I cannot recommend the sections on the plagues or the pillar of cloud and fire.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 15, 2009 at 3:11 am