Reconciling the Stations of the Exodus - MisreadBible

Reconciling the Stations of the Exodus

25th January 2020

My stories began as standalone narratives, which I was writing as longer versions of my joke Twitter verses. When I decided to turn them into books, I had to consider the overarching narrative and ensure that the stories fit together cohesively. For ‘The MisreadBible: Genesis’, this wasn’t much of a problem because the Book of Genesis consists mostly of narratives, which are in more or less chronological order.

My next book (tentatively titled ‘The MisreadBible: Exodus’), will cover the Books of Exodus to Deuteronomy. Turning this particular collection of stories into a long narrative hasn’t been an easy task.

For a start, there are lots of non-narrative chapters covering laws and the bizarre blood rituals the Israelites performed for everything from atoning for sins to curing leprosy. They seem to have been scattered willy-nilly throughout the books, sometimes right in the middle of stories. My solution? Put them to one side and keep only the narratives. I am considering having a section at the back of the book where I’ll parody them in a different way.

The next issue was that the main narratives are found in Exodus to Numbers, and Deuteronomy, for the most part, just glosses over the stories, sometimes with additional or contradictory details. My solution? Base the narratives on Exodus to Numbers and use Deuteronomy as a supplementary source.

I often use spreadsheets to lay out ideas because I find it easier to process information in table form. I created a spreadsheet, listed the main narratives from Exodus to Numbers in one column, put the corresponding passage references in the next, and marked which of them I had written. Each time I write a new story, I replace the traditional narrative name with my own title.

After a while, it occurred to me that this whole narrative is about a journey, and while I had been including the names of various places in the stories, I was ignoring the fact that the Israelites were moving from place to place.

Numbers 33 contains a passage known as the Stations of the Exodus, a list of the various locations (or stations) that the Israelites visited on their journey. I made another table based on this list and tried to match the locations mentioned in Exodus to Numbers against it. I did the same thing with Deuteronomy. Ah! There’s an issue. Each list contained places that weren’t in the others.

‘Okay,’ I thought to myself. ‘Maybe some helpful Christian has sat and made a list of all of these locations in order, or maybe they’ve made a map.’

I looked for lists of all of the places mentioned, but I was unable to find one. I also looked at several different ‘Route of the Exodus’ maps, but no two were the same.

‘Okay,’ I thought to myself again. ‘Maybe people have worked out where some of these places are, and I can make my own map in order to work out the order.’

It turns out that only a handful of places have been identified, lots more have multiple proposed locations, and most are completely unknown. Even Mount Sinai is hypothesised to be in several distinct locations.

‘Bugger!’ I thought.

I put in hours of work trying to make the three sources fit together, so much time, in fact, that I hadn’t spent any writing new stories. My book was stagnating.

Then a realisation hit me: I am writing a book of fiction. Books of fiction don’t have to be accurate in every detail. Besides, making fun of the contradictions in the Bible is something that I do in my stories all the time.

So, at the end of all this, I do have a crude list of places the Israelites visited. It might not be completely accurate, but I can use it as a rough guide.

The lesson from all of this is that the Pentateuch (that is the first five books of the Bible) is a patchwork of multiple sources that were never intended to be combined. The source documents were composed of stories that were cobbled together into longer narratives, and these documents were combined despite the fact that they contradict each other. Trying to get a literal or even coherent picture from them is a fool’s errand.

My job as a satirist and an author is to accentuate the absurdities, poke fun at the contradictions, but at the end of the day, tell an entertaining story. If, when I release my next book, you think that I’ve got the places in the wrong order, kindly write down the order in which you think they should appear, put the list into an envelope, and shove it all the way up your arse.

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