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The Rylands Haggdah: The Israelites Leaving Egypt and the Pharaoh’s Pursuing Army (right); The Crossing of the Red Sea (left) [fols. 18v-19r]

This image is a folio of a manuscript. The entire page is an illustration portraying the flight of the Hebrews out of Egypt across the Red Sea. The Egyptian army was chasing them, but the Hebrews were protected by the water and escaped.

Unknown Jewish Catalan artist
mid-1300s CE
Manuscript

The Rylands Haggadah: The Crossing of the Red Sea [fol. 18v], Catalan, mid-1300s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Director and University Librarian, The John Rylands University Library, Manchester, UK https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/479670?&exhibitionId=%7bd8da48ba-e77b-4cf0-a223-79b1280563d5%7d&oid=479670&pkgids=189&pg=0&rpp=20&pos=6&ft=*&offset=20

Passover is a holiday that celebrates the Exodus, which means “the leaving.” According to the Torah, the Hebrews were living in Egypt, where the pharaoh made them into slaves. (There is archaeological evidence of the Hebrews living in Egypt.) The story says that God (the Lord) appeared to Moses and told him to tell the pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. Moses obeyed, but the pharaoh said no. Then God sent against Egypt 12 plagues, such as diseases and bad harvests, until at last the pharaoh let the Hebrews leave. But then the pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army chasing after the Hebrews to bring them back. The Jews were right by the sea, so God made a wall of fire between them and the Egyptians. God made a wind to divide the sea, and the Israelites passed through it with a wall of water on either side. Although many Jews (and Christians and Muslims) believe that these miracles happened, there is no other historical source that supports this story. The image you see here is from a special Passover book called a Haggadah. Each Passover during the celebration, Jews retell the story of their escape from Egypt using a Haggadah, which often has beautiful images. According to this story, is the origin of Passover connected to the environment, the history of the Hebrews, or their interactions with other people?

 

This visual shows the Egyptian army and the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea, which separates the two groups. Students should understand that the wavy lines represent the Red Sea and the two lines of people represent the Egyptians and the Hebrews. Prepare the students to analyze religious texts by distinguishing between religious belief and historical analysis. Historians try to understand what people in the past believed, and they try not to judge that belief by modern standards or their own personal beliefs. Historians don’t have to decide whether the story is factual; they just need to think about what those people believed. The biblical story of Moses and the Exodus is most directly connected to the history of the Hebrews, although students could also point out that it is related to interactions with other people, the Egyptians. This story is the most celebrated event in the Tanakh, but it is not corroborated by any ancient non-biblical source, written or archaeological. However, there is evidence that points to the existence of Semitic slaves in Egypt in the late second millennium. Some scholars believe there could have been a small escape of these slaves from Egypt, insignificant in numbers of people. Others suggest that the biblical tradition may have put together several small exoduses that took place over centuries, combining them into one legendary narrative.