An Exodus in America

An Exodus in America

While many people in today’s society are struggling due to economic downfalls, and overbearing governments filled with corruption, they often ask, “Why?” and many times never receive an answer.  Others look for answers by turning towards their faith.  The bible is filled with stories of conflict such as: Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, Man vs. God, and Man vs. Society. Many bible readers apply these lessons to their every day lives and use them as spiritual guidelines. The book of Exodus tells the story and struggle of the Israelites and the obstacles they encountered during their refuge from the Pharaoh King.  Once bound to slavery in Egypt, the Israelites put forward their faith and trust in the leadership of the God-appointed Moses as he led them on their journey towards the Promise land.   The book of Exodus and the people involved are directly related to very commonly known topics in history and in the news today. Examples of these people can be found in the Puritans as they journeyed to America, The American people during their secession from England, Slaves in the southern states, the Southerners during Northern oppression, Black Americans during segregation, current day Egypt and Libya, and movies such as Schindler’s List.   Often times, those who desire freedom from binding powers commonly use the book of Exodus as an inspirational guideline.

Americans have used the exodus story for a variety of causes, but we begin with the journey of the puritans to a new land.  In England, the Puritans would not abandon their desire for the state church, the Anglican Church, to purify itself and remove any existence of Catholicism.   When the Church refused to ratify itself in 1630, a small group of influential Puritans, led by the well-known royal lawyer and property owner, John Winthrip, left England. They feared that God had left their land country and sought religious freedom in a new land. They founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in order to wait out God’s wrath on England.  While England was punished, the colonies would thrive; regenerating a pure and holy people to lead England back to God’s grace.  This historical beginning echoes Moses and the Exodus story.  The Israelite slaves desired to abandon the land of Egypt in search for their freedom from the Pharaoh.  They left with the guidance of a chosen leader, knowing the potential of the King’s anger, and fled in search of a Promised Land where all would be free, blessed by God, and happy.

Over a century had passed yet the colonists were still bound by England.  The colonies had had enough of the powerful hands of the parliament controlling them from across the ocean and began an uproar.  The American Revolution began when the thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire during the last half of the 18th century.  They eventually broke away and renamed themselves the United States of America.  The colonists while still under British rule had become enlightened to newer, better forms of government, and desired political and religious freedom.  They rejected the aristocratic government that was in power in Europe and desired a new republic.  Although a struggle in the beginning for goods, rights and acceptance as a new nation; the American people thrived on their new land.  Shortly after the declaration of independence from Great Britain, a group of great American men including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams proposed a design for a national seal.  It portrayed the Egyptian Pharaoh leading his troops through the divided Red Sea in pursuit of the fleeing Israelites with the phrase “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Once again the cause relates to religious freedom and promotes closeness and support within the American people.   Although Congress didn’t approve their suggestion, it shows a common use of Exodus: “to validate and rally groups that are confronting a stronger foe.” (Langston 2)  Rebelling against the much stronger British Empire would have been impossible had it not been for the support of the American people as a united whole.  Franklin, Jefferson and Adams used Exodus to justify the rebellion as an act of obedience, that it’s what god wanted them to do.

Ironically enough, while rebellious Americans were using the exodus story against the British, ironically others were using it against a much closer tyrant—American slave owners. American slaves before, during, and after the Revolution used the exodus in much the same way as did white Americans who fought against the British. They sang and recited spirituals that contained messages of resistance and hope for the future, such as “Go down, Moses:”

“When Israel was in Egypt’s land,
Let my people go,
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go,
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old, Pharaoh, Let my people go! . . .
…No more shall they in bondage toil,
Let my people go,
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,
Let my people go”

(Original Author Disputed)
(made popular by Louis Armstrong)

and “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep:”

“. . .When I get to heaven goin’a put on my shoes,
Goin’a run about and spread the news,
Pharoah’s army got drownded,
O Mary don’t you weep.”

(Author Unknown)
(made popular by The Caravans)

David Walker, an African American, was born to a free mother and an enslaved father.  He witnessed the way that the white Americans treated those with darker skin. In 1829, as an outspoken activist, he published David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World: A Call To “Awaken My Brethren.” In his third and last edition, he uses many forms of the word ‘deliver’ referencing the same salvation for the enslaved people by Go; as he did the Israelites of the Old Testament:

“Let them remember, that though our cruel oppressors and murderers, may (if possible) treat us more cruel, as Pharaoh did the children of Israel, yet the God of the Ethiopians, has been pleased to hear our moans in consequence of oppression; and the day of our redemption from abject wretchedness draweth near, when we shall be enabled, in the most extended sense of the word, to stretch forth our hands to the LORD our GOD, but there must be a willingness on our part, for GOD to do these things for us,”

(Walker 2)

Here, David Walker insists that his brethren stand up, and put their faith towards God in order to be delivered from their oppressors, much like the Israelites did in ancient Egypt.  Although he is not widely recognized for his contribution to ending slavery in the United States, he is known for this very influential document of the 19th century.  African Americans encouraged and strengthened themselves and opposed their more powerful masters by looking to the Exodus.

At the same time, a controversy was stirring within the nation.  Northerners that opposed slavery were speaking up and letting their disapproving voices be heard.  The Southern slave owners felt that these Northern oppressors were trying to deny them their freedom.  They felt that their ability to choose what was right for themselves was being subdued.  Southerners composed and chanted  songs such as “The Happy Land of Canaan,” which many versions were made. This version written by Joseph Leddy, was found in an attic filled with belongings of Allen Howard Conkwright, a medical doctor who served in Col. Kelly’s Regiment:

“Oh! Oh! Oh! Ah! Ah! Ah!—The time of our glory is a-coming.
We yet will see the time, when all of us will shine,
And drive the Hessians from our happy land of Canaan…
…The people gave three cheers for the handsome Volunteers,
Which raised the Hessians’ indignation;
They fired upon our brothers, killing sisters, wives and mothers!
But we’ll avenge them in the happy land of Canaan.”

(Leddy)

Leddy’s words are asking that God deliver them from their Northern tyrants and that he protect them in their Promised Land.

Although slavery ‘ended’ with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, black oppression was still alive well in to the 1960’s and it’s relativity comes in a very well known form.  Black clergy and religious laymen saw the story of Exodus as the archetype for their struggle as second-class citizens in America (Berman 2).  They sought a ‘Moses’ who could lead them to the ‘Promised Land’ of social, economic, and political equality. They found him in Martin Luther King Jr. Many internet lectionaries (guidelines of weekly biblical lectures) who have encouraged it’s followers to study the Bible, consider MLK Jr. as a more modern-day Moses – a servant to God, and this is their prayer:

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses – your servant,
you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last;
Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King,
may resist oppression in the name of your love,
and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen

In 1954 King compared the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools to the Red Sea’s parting.  The hard work and perseverance King dedicated in the names of equality and justice were rewarded when he was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1964.  In his acceptance speech he states,

We have left the dusty soils of Egypt and crossed a Red Sea whose waters had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance. But before we reach the majestic shores of the Promised Land, there is a frustrating and bewildering wilderness ahead. We must still face prodigious hilltops of opposition and gigantic mountains of resistance

(Martin Luther King P11)

Here King refers to the journey of the black man as being far from over and implies that it will be filled with hardships.  But states that one-day, with patience and determination they will reach their destination and find peace.

A more current relationship and example of the Exodus story that has flooded the news recently is the faith and determination of the Egyptian people to find a democratic government for Egypt.  The parallels between the Exodus story and the recent events in Cairo are uncanny; in both cases, the oppressed people in Egypt sought to liberate themselves from a tyrant and flee into turmoil in search of freedom.  The Egyptian population, with support from some, and criticism from others, overthrew their Pharaoh King, President Hosni Mubarak in the name of freedom.  They demanded better treatment, an end to the state of emergency laws, free elections, freedom of speech and the end of the corruption within their government.  They now enter an era of uncertainty as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seize control and attempt to recover peace in the nation until the next election (which will be the first fair multi-opponent election since 1987.)  Some contribute this reform to the social networking site of Facebook.  Wael Ghonim, now known as the “Google Ganhdi” hopes to one day meet the creator, Mark Zuckerberg, to thank him.  He says during an interview with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer, “This revolution started online.  This revolution started on Facebook.  You know, I always said that if you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet.  If you want to have a free society, give them the Internet.”  Here, Ghonim seems to portray Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook and the Internet as Egypt’s modern day Moses.

When the protests ended in Egypt on February 11, 2011 a new string of demonstrators began an uprising in Libya.  The protesters, like those in Egypt, are demanding a new ruler be placed into power.  Colonel Muammar Qaddafi along with about 70 other men overthrew 79-year-old King Idris on September 1, 1969 and has been in power since.  Qaddafi holds no official title, but is de facto chief of state (Central Intelligence Agency).  Since the coup-d’état, he has reconstructed the government – which now, no longer has a constitution.  He has made speaking to foreigners about the Libyan government and it’s politics a crime punishable by 3 years in prison.  In 1986, Qaddafi removed all foreign language from school curriculum.  A Libyan native speaks about all the restrictions placed upon the people by the state, “None of us can speak English or French. He kept us ignorant and blindfolded.” (Beida)  The Libyan people are now looking for deliverance from this corrupt power.  They have seen what a nation is capable of by looking at Egypt and are following them as an example.  If the rebellious protesters are able to unite and strengthen as a whole, there’s a better chance that they’ll be able to either: 1) convince Qaddafi to step down as leader or 2) secede as their own nation.

Moses is a name that is can easily be connected to any individual who acts as a savior to those in need.  In the Movie Schindler’s list, we can consider the main character as being this story’s ‘Moses.’  Oskar Schindler, played by renowned actor Liam Neeson, is a German businessman and member of the Nazi party.  He hires Polish Jews to work in his factory that produces arms for the German army because the workers cost less that non-Jewish Poles.  He falsifies documents to ensure that as many of these Jewish people are deemed “essential” to the war effort in Germany, which saves them from being taken to concentration camps, or being killed.  Throughout the storyline of the movie, Schindler grows fond of these people and finds ways to save as many lives as he can.   Schindler’s List is the list of the “skilled” Jewish workers that he pays a large bribe for in order to be able to transport them to his hometown (where he wants to start another factory) instead of to the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Schindler loses a large fortune, which money was his main passion, in order to save these death-bound people.  The movie ends at the grave of Oskar Schindler, which in a way mocks the death of Moses before the Israelites enter into the Promised Land.  He wasn’t able to live long enough to see the free Jews enjoy their lives, but he single-handedly was able to bring more than 6,000 of these people to freedom during a time that they were having to hide for their lives.  (Saillian)

There have been many great leaders in the past who have risen and taken the responsibility of bringing their people out of misery.  Many times, these people look to their faith to find answers as to “Why? Why us? Why the struggle?”  The comparisons found here cover many examples of what is called reception history – the study of the use, influence and impact of the Bible.  It is a great way of relating the Bible to politics, art, culture, society and many other areas. Because the Bible is filled with so many examples of struggle and conflict, it’s easy for readers to relate to and apply these lessons to their every day lives (and use them as spiritual guidelines.)  The puritans fled their homes in England in fear of God just as the Israelites did under the guidance of Moses.  The colonists struggled to gain independence from British parliament just as the Israelites did as they fled the land of Egypt.  The slaves prayed to God seeking freedom and deliverance, as did the Israelites.  The Southerners feared the Northerners were trying to lay a hand on their Promised Land.  Martin Luther King, Jr. worked endlessly for equality and justice for those being oppressed in the black community.  Egypt, once under the rule of a corrupt government, joined together in order to remove their tyrannous leader.   Libya is now in the midst of a civil war because parts of the country fear the corrupt leaders who have restricted their words, actions and freedom in general.  Even in movies, we can often find leaders who mirror the leader of the Israelites, Moses.  Many times, these people that are in need look to the book of Exodus for guidance and inspiration.  Those who desire freedom from binding powers commonly use the book in search of their idea of the Promised Land.

Works Cited

n.d.

Beida, N.P. “Libya in Fragments – A New Flag Flies in the East.” 24 February 2011. The Economist. 5 March 2011             <http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2011/02/libya_fragments&gt;.

Berman, Rabbi Saul J. “Martin Luther King and the Exodus Narrative.” The Jewish Press (2007).

Central Intelligence Agency. Africa: Libya. 8 March 2011.             <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ly.html&gt;.

Langston, Scott M. The Exodus in American History and Culture. E-article. Society of             Biblical Literature. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Leddy, Joseph. “The Invasion of Camp Jackson by the Hessians.” The Invasion of Camp Jackson by the Hessians, to the tune of “Happy Land of Canaan”. St. Paul: Big             Canoe Records, 1993.

Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Quest for Peace and Justice – Nobel Lecture.” Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970. Ed. Editor Frederick W. Haberman. Elsevier             Publishing Company, 11 December 1964.

Schindler’s List. By Steven Saillian. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Ralph Fiennes and Ben             Kingsley Liam Neeson. Universal Pictures. 1993.

Walker, David. “Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles.” 2001. Documenting the American South . APEX data sevices. 7 March 2011             <http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/walker/walker.html&gt;.

Notes to self::

Elaborate Schindler’s List & add quote

(add Mad Max and the Thunderdome?  Movie))

Moses, an adopted Egyptian, saw his people, the Israelites; being treated as second-class citizens.  He saw how they were beat and punished which infuriated him to the point of destruction and he had to flee Egypt.  While wandering the land, God came to him.  Moses went to the Pharaoh and declared, “Let my people go.”

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About S.Donoho

is a senior at the University of Kentucky, majoring in Economics and minoring in Business. She's considering the possibility of going to Korea (where she was born) in the near future to teach English.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous Discussion, Peer Review and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to An Exodus in America

  1. Good start! I would scrap the first paragraph and find a way to articulate what makes this essay important. Think of a new strategy, because the essay clearly is not about personal faith or any of the other themes mentioned.

  2. cmweid2 says:

    There are minor grammatical errors; run-on or incomplete sentences/odd sentence structure (i.e. While England was punished, the colonies would thrive; regenerating a pure and holy people to lead England back to God’s grace. —-odd sentence structure)

    I love the idea of bringing the American slavery into the picture, especially since it was around the same time as the American independence from the British. Seems slightly out of the picture…..would like to see more information regarding American independence first, and then the slavery.

    Maybe something to include could be how it took some time for we Americans, and the black slaves, to actually become free….and if you go the route of talking about slavery, you could relate the exodus story to it, more specifically with Harriet Tubman, as she was a sort of “Moses” for the slaves.
    —-as a whole you could maybe have your topic as “Exodus in American History”. Just a thought, but it would help to be able to write more and it would be a wider topic as well.

    It also seems that in the middle, there tends to be an excessive use of quotes. Maybe spread out the use of these by adding more info or your own observations in between and elaborate a little more on the topic, and then go to the next quote.

    I’m wondering if the current day Egypt/Mubarak story is relevant. Your paper focuses on America and the inclusion of Modern day Egypt seems very random. Also, by including Schindler’s list, this topic seems to shift to a focus of the Exodus story throughout world history, rather than American history.

  3. Pam says:

    Your essay is really interesting. I particularly like the comparison of of Schindler’s death to the death of Moses before entering the Promised Land. Reading our esteemed Prof’s comment above, it struck me that the struggle pursued by the oppressed in Libya and Egypt is not consciously based at all on the Exodus story in the Bible. The struggle is based on a unversal response to oppression, and the Exodus story reveals the unversality of this response. If you read my essay, you’ll see universality is a favorite theme of mine. Like every culture has a cosmology and genesis story, I imagine they have a freedom from bondage story too, but I regress. I also liked that you discussed a less known crusader for the freeing of the American slaves.

    I can’t tell how long your essay is, but if you need to lengthen it, might I suggest a more microcosmic discussion of the actual Exodus story to draw out the physical similarities between that story and the comparitive events in history you describe. That microcosmic suggestion was made to me for my paper as well, and I thought it was a good suggestion given the nature of our class.

    Watch your use of upper case and lower case with respect to certain terms. Often times an argument can be made to go either way by capitalizing or not capitalizing certain words or terms, but usage should be consistent. For example, God or god can be tricky.

    These are just suggestions and not intended to gloss over the fact that I really do like your essay. You have done good research and drawn a wise range of pertinent parallels.

  4. oliviag55 says:

    The history of the use of Exodus as inspiration for freedom struggles is very interesting . I really like joy you juxtapose its use by both sides of the Civil War / slavery debate. Land and its value is a huge theme in Southern culture and they (we) tend to be a little paranoid about it! You could even argue that this paranoia helped lead to the Civil War.
    Also I really enjoyed your modern parallels between Libya, Egypt, and Exodus. Be sure and expand exactly how they correlate to Exodus. There is a really interesting passage in Isaiah about Egypt that eerily echoes what is happening today, Isaiah 19. Check it out.
    I would also suggest a close look at your sentence structure, watch for run ons. Also I know you don’t want your conclusion to get too long, but I would do more than just list your examples.

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