I know that it may seem obscene to compare the Exodus to what happened in Washington, D,C. on 6 January 2021, specifically the storming of the Capitol. After all, Exodus is an archetypal tale of escape from slavery. The storming of the Capitol was led and perpetrated by racist white supremacists. The Exodus is a story of Jews seeking freedom and memorialized for thousands of years by those Jews on Passover. Though undertaken in the name of liberty, the storming of The Capitol; was infused with antisemitism. The Exodus took place thirty-three hundred years ago; the storming of The Capitol took place two days ago.
How can one possibly compare the ragtag anarchists and attackers on the citadel of democracy, the citadel of the rule of law, the citadel of the paradigm democracy for the whole world, to an escape from the clutches of an autocratic and oppressive regime? The storming of The Capitol was undertaken to continue the rule of a wannabe autocrat trying to consolidate his authoritarianism. Most importantly, the exodus was an effort to flee the clutches of a state while the storming of The Capitol was intended to recapture the state that they felt had been lost, a loss sealed by what to them had been a fraudulent election.
However, consider what the events in Exodus and the storming of The Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021 have in common? I can think of at least the following common themes for both sides:
- Both were violent actions
- Both were about the heart of a nation
- Both were about liberation as the primary value
- Both were about faith rather than a reference to facts and history, even as realism and facts and history were foundation stones for both the Hebrews and most of those under attack in The Citadel
- Both were about the same personal sense of oppression – the liberationists from Egypt insisted that they were being suffocated in that country, just as the Black Lives Matter exponents echoed the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed lack man killed in 2014 after being killed by New York police in a chokehold
The revolutionary Hebrews and the Egyptian Restorationists had a different narrative to back up their position. Though the Hebrews told their story as an escape from slavery, in the long durée, in Egypt, the Hebrews had gone from being favourite sons of the Pharaoh when Joseph was alive with all kinds of special privileges and the most fertile land in Goshen, to becoming a marginalized people. The alt-right movement, like the ordinary Egyptians, had been reduced from freehold landowners to serf-like marginalists, even if, in the modern era, the central monopolists were the owners of agribusiness and big box stores. In its various strands, the Restorationists represented the resentment of people who felt themselves to have once belonged to a privileged people who had become marginalized in that society
However, the biggest and most significant comparison is that the Exodus was about retaining the purity of a people. But that is only an appearance. In reality, the expulsion or escape of the Hebrews was about the homogenization of Egypt just as attack on the Capitol was about a better system of purity, and the opposition symbolized miscegenation and multiculturalism.
The Restorationists are the ones that uphold an anti-miscegenation ideal. The Restorationists has as a leader a Pharoah-type central narcissistic figure who took himself to be at least an absolute monarch and even a god on earth to be idolized. The rebels in the Exodus story – the Hebrews trying to escape Egypt – must have been opposed, not just by the Pharaoh, even when he was targeted as the enemy, but ordinary Egyptians trying to take back their country from those they saw as an alien force within their country. In America, the ostensible restoration is against corruption at the centre – cleaning out the swamp – and the internationalists and globalists who, in their eagerness for wealth, have sold out the society in which they reside. The “people” wanted them to leave. But the Hebrews created a tale as if it was only the all-powerful Pharaoh and his acolytes that owned such a deep desire.
However, in Egypt, the rebels fled the state to take a journey in forging a nation, in marrying themselves to a Covenant, and in seeking a new physical and spiritual home. Exodus is at once a political, a psychological and a spiritual journey. In storming the Capitol, the insurrectionists wanted to recapture their heartland and their homeland, even if it meant the breach of The Constitution, the basic Covenant of American democracy.
The Hebrews are not analogous to the revolutionaries who stormed The Capitol but to those who the Restorationists want expelled. The Restorationist rebels are the Egyptians trying to retake power and control in their own country. In both cases, that of the Hebrews and that of the Egyptians, there is a conflict over what is seen as A Promised Land. But, for the Hebrews, it became a vision of elsewhere, whereas for the Egyptians – and for the Restorationists – it is the recapture and restoration of a promised land that was once their own, as they saw the matter. The exodus is a drive towards a new utopia. The restoration is a drive towards recovery of a lost utopia, a dream of making America Great Again. The Hebrews had a dream of a promised land where the principle of equality would become supreme. The latter was a dream of progress, the former a dream of regress. The former is a vision and a promise. The latter is a myth of a lost world that needs to be recovered.
The Restorationists have a guide and leader – Donald Trump. Barack Obama was the Moses in opposition, now with Joe Biden in place as a high priest of a different set of values to that of the Pharaoh. The major difference is that, in the Exodus story in Egypt, the restoration is for one land and the transformation is for another. In the contemporary conflict – as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the violence is in the name of who will inherit the same land. The Exodus story is of one where the Restorations in Egypt won and the revolutionaries flee and turn their narrative into a tale of an escape to freedom instead of a loss of their homeland. But in the tale of the exodus, the tensions between the two parties will reassert itself again and again in new ways each time.
However, there is another thread that links the two tales, the contemporary and the ancient one. On one side were diviners and necromancers. On the other side are people who believe in education as the route to amelioration. They are those who espouse incrementalism and the creation and preservation of institutions. On the other side are those who distrust intellectuals, who scorn the pundits and view them as sellouts, who demand the expulsion of these foreign influences from their native land.
The irony, of course, is that the messianic impulse rests with the Hebrew revolutionaries rather than the Restorationists, even though a huge portion of evangelical Christianity backs the position of the Restorationists. That is because, the revolutionists believe in Final Days, a reckoning when the lamb will lie down with the lion, when people will live in peace and unity, while the Restorationists believe that, in the end, it is individuals that have to be born again. The state is merely a vehicle to that end. In contrast, the revolutionaries believe that it is the nation as a whole that must experience a rebirth.
The Restorationists in some sense are correct in their branding of their opponents as socialists and elitists. Because an analysis of the Democratic opposition suggests a party that had always been led by a self-selected elite, a socially crafted vanguard, just as Moses and his acolytes and priestly defenders once led the Hebrews.
In other words, just as Blacks do, I do not read the exodus tale as sui generis to the Jews, but as an archetypal tale in which the Exodus is not a unique history but rather a variation on a template. In the Egyptian story, the revolutionaries are the losers, more akin to the United Empire Loyalists who traveled north to Canada to stay within a constitutional fold and in compliance with international agreements with native inhabitants. The tension between keeping such contracts and breaching them evolves into a significant theme in the Exodus story.
At root is the question of who are the oppressors? From the ordinary Egyptian point of view, it is the Hebrews who conspired with a past Pharaoh to take their land when they were suffering and put those lands in the hands of large monopolists. The Hebrews saw themselves as the oppressed and the enslaved because the restoration of the singular Egyptian vision had already taken place. Now they experienced even a worse outcome than the Egyptian serfs. But the latter blamed the former for what had been their oppression. The Jews, however, left the ordinary Egyptian out of the story, largely made that population invisible, and focused all their attention almost exclusively on the Pharaoh and his immediate enablers.
Among the revolutionaries, geological and patriarchal history of Genesis have been left behind. The Covenantal people of both the Exodus and the American experiment will conveniently forget that what they created was a democratic monarchy, but a monarchy nevertheless with enormous power in the hands of a central authority, power to be checked by the will of the people, but the will of the people when it rose up, destined to be repressed and oppressed. Further, while they remember the Joseph period of a past ideal when the Hebrews came close to the centre of power, what is only sketchily recalled as an afterthought is how that power was used, ostensibly to save the Egyptians from starvation but at the cost of their ownership of freehold land. That the ordinary people had increasingly been reduced to renters rather than owners under the new regime, was conveniently forgotten, especially in light of the new corporate collectivism entailed in building first a nation and then a state.
In the tale of the journey to the promised land in America, people from many lands fleeing oppression have come together to establish a new Jerusalem based on the Covenant of the Constitution and the rule of law, much as the system forged by the Hebrews en route to Israel to forge a collective destiny. For the Restorationists, that ideal lived in a past greatness that required restoration.
In Shemot, the first reading in Exodus scheduled for tomorrow, the tale begins as a story of population growth, of a replanted people who grew in numbers and consisted of different tribes, strains and backgrounds. The indigenous population was not defined as an integral part of this population, even though that population re-emerged again with their own effort to recover some status within a population of settlers that had expanded from a few transplants into a real multitude.
In America, a new elected monarch arose over America. He did not know Joseph. In fact, he really knew no history. But he said to his people, and he regarded them as his people as opposed to the others, that the incomers were becoming too numerous – the immigrants and refugees who were not native to this land. We have to stop their population increase urgently and now, for they are about to outnumber us if they have not already. Further, they are a potential fifth column who will ally with our enemies, a cosmopolitan culture rather than a distilled and purified Egyptian one. The face of that group was black and its soul was Jewish, so they had to be put back in their place as we Restorations retake our land and our lives.
But whatever the Restorationists tried, the multiculturalists and alien element within the body politic of America grew in numbers and threatened the way of life of purportedly “true” Americans. What to do? Enhance inequality rather than equality. Reduce THEM to serfs and slaves by significantly shrinking the middle class. Deprive them of the promise of an ability to own property just as once they had deprived us of our property rights. In fact, go further. Use the police to slay and incarcerate their youth. But while many complied, that population grew in status and even wealth. After all, native Americans – and I do not mean indigenous people – could not nearly keep up o the birthrate of these “foreigners.” Therefore, we must prevent their entry, imprison their oldest boys who are their natural macho men and leaders, and reduce them to aa penurious crowd without any leadership.
But from that group of misbegotten, a miscegynist horde, one emerged as a handsome child, loved exceedingly by his mother. She saved him from any oppression by infiltrating him into the centres of power until he captured the imagination and leadership of the people by first attacking oppressors in Chicago and going there to wed and have children. Eventually, he would receive a call. For, even though he was raised to become part of the intellectual and economic royalty, to go into politics and to lead his people to full freedom and sovereignty in the land where they had been reduced to slaves, history and its unfolding had as yet to be fulfilled.
Where was the volcano where Moses first heard his name called to fulfill his mission? Not until after he was elected. Not until after he was chosen. On 7 November, Obama visited Munt Merapi volcano in Indonesia just as Moses had come to Horeb in what is now south-west Saudi Arabia. Merapi and Moreb both belched lava and ash and turned the surrounding vegetation into burning bushes.
What did Obama preach when he spoke to the Indonesian Diaspora Congress in Jakarta in 2017 after the Restorationists had won power in Washington? Respect the other. Tolerance of differences and openness to others were supreme values. Pluralism mattered. So did the tule of law. But Obama warned: “We start seeing a rise in sectarian politics, we start seeing a rise in an aggressive kind of nationalism, we start seeing both in developed and developing countries an increased resentment about minority groups and the bad treatment of people who don’t look like us or practice the same faith as us. We start seeing discrimination against people based on race or ethnicity or religion.”
Like Moses, Barack Obama had been full of self-doubt. Who was he to presume a leadership let alone as the leader? Further, unlike Moses, his role was not to rescue his people, but all the people, and not to bring them out of the land but to let them stand on and live in that land with full dignity.
Hence, the Exodus story is a narrative for all peoples in all places, a paradigmatic tale that can make sense of fundamental divisions. Further, it is a tale that takes place in historical time and in particular locations. It is grounded rather than mythologically constructed. The belief in a better life belongs to the here and now. It is an archetypal tale of lordship and bondage to an arbitrary, inconsistent, moody, intemperate and very earthly figure as much as he dreamed of himself living in a golden heaven. But the revolutionaries in opposition to the Restorationists have an identical attraction to individual appropriation and the accumulation of wealth. They were brought up also as Egyptians and not only as prospective members of a Covenantal order. Materialism is also their Achilles’ heel.
As the tale unfolds of the fight between the revolutionaries and the Restorationists, within the former, the struggle will continue between passivity and activism, between Covenantal versus the apocalyptic politics of their enemies, between their belief that all humans are inherently equal and should be regarded with empathy and respect versus a recognition that their enemies threaten the realization of their dream. For the archetypal revolutionaries as well as Restorationists, the experience as Egyptians, continues to inhabit their souls.