Levmore Reflects on Passover and Jewish Identity

Plagued by Passover

This is the season of victimhood myths, but also of inspiring facts. In nearly every conflict around the world, we yearn to separate one from the other. If we start with our own history, we readily dismiss George Washington's cherry tree confession, but believe that he was a great general. Would it matter if this were false, or even if the British had never been over here in the first place?

The Passover story is much older, and historical facts are harder to come by. The best evidence suggests that the Israelites were not slaves in Egypt. There is no archaeological evidence of a great migration to Israel. The leading theory is that some of the tribes living in northern Israel coalesced around the bondage-in-Egypt myth. Powers from the south were then governing the area, so that the historical claim about bondage to taskmasters would have resonated. The myth gave these people a unique story and distinguished them from other groups.

To be sure, there are actual facts that reflect elements of the Passover story. Joseph's rise to power may be linked to a disruption in Egyptian dynastic succession, when a mixed group of Canaanite tribes came to power and were then expelled. Ancient papyrus scrolls refer to plagues, and there are linguistic connections between Egyptian relics and the Bible, and therefore with the Haggadah, the 1,000-year-old text that guides the Passover meal. But there is no direct evidence corroborating any specific element of the bondage and emancipation it describes.

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