Thoughts on social control during the time of Moses and the Exodus as well as its effects on Judaism

Here’s a thought I had:

I have always loved the story of Moses.  As I was brought up the attitude toward Moses and the Exodus has always been that its a story of the “power of God” and you should look at it no other way.  But I, being sort of a historian, kept seeing another side to it, a more human side.  This made me look at it differently.  I began to see the Exodus as a human issue or, to be more precise, a problem of controlling a population of a people.  In some respects, this is a major issue in the story of Moses and the Exodus.  As I looked at it closer this seemed to play a far bigger role than I thought.  In fact, it seems that it was a determining factor in the creation of Judaism.  You must keep in mind that I am looking at all this from the “human” perspective . . . I am not looking at it as representative of the “power of God” which is the perspective the story of Moses is usually looked a viewed from.

I should point out that I am no great scholar of Judaism or the Bible nor do I claim to be.  To me, it seems that the story of Moses, and the Bible in general, has been picked apart by scholars and people for centuries.  I’m sure that whatever I say can be picked apart and probably be disproven.  Regardless of this, here are some of my thoughts . . .


It is said that Moses made the people wander 40 years to get rid of the original generation that left Egypt.  This, I think, is a hint of the rebellious nature of the people that Moses had to deal with.  It also shows that he saw this rebelliousness as reflecting a number of qualities:

  • That the rebelliousness is an inherent part of that generation.
  • That the rebelliousness was not going to leave themIn other words, they weren’t going to change.
  • That the laws, sacrifices, rules, etc. that Moses created was not as powerful as we think Because of its failure he had to wait for a generation to appear that was taught the new religion and would obey.  This fact must be remembered.

The wanderings are a hint of the difficulty he had to deal with.


We will never know what the original Jewish religion was or what it consisted of.   But it no doubt changed to the different conditions they found themselves in.  In fact, we could probably say that there was three era’s of religion for the Jewish people:

  1. The original religion before the enslavement by the Egyptians.
  2. The religion during the enslavement by the Egyptians.
  3. The religion Moses created during the Exodus . . . what has become Judaism.

My guess, though, is that the original religion displayed these qualities:

  • It was tribal in orientation.
  • It entailed the worship of smaller nature deities as a prominent feature.
  • There was probably a lot of magic, spells, superstitious beliefs, sacrifice, and such associated with it.

Many of these traits seem to be displayed in early Jewish history.

As to whether the original Jewish religion contained a “supreme God” is difficult to say.  I’m inclined to say it didn’t and, if it did, it took a minor role.  Most of life probably revolved around the smaller deities.  One of the reasons why I tend to believe this is that the earlier Jewish people appear to of been a tribal people and, oftentimes, tribal people do not pay much emphasis on a “supreme God”.  This seems to become more prevalent with more established and larger societies, such as the Egyptians.

I should point out that I tend to believe that the pre-Exodus accounts in the Torah must be looked at with great caution as they written in the post-Exodus era and reflect a post-Exodus point of view.  Who knows how much of it actually relates with pre-Exodus Jewish tradition.  My guess is that some is and some isn’t . . . we’ll never know for sure.


More than likely, the number of Jewish people (supposedly about 600,000) meant that it was not a unified homogenous mass, probably more like one big “mob”.  As a result, many people no doubt went in different directions.  There were probably something like “sects” or “groups” that held to different points of view.  Some examples of these could include:

  • A group that held to the original Jewish religion.
  • A group that abandoned the original Jewish religion and replaced it with Egyptian religions.
  • A group the mixed the original Jewish religion with the Egyptian religion.
  • A group, or groups, that created their own “religion” or point of view.
  • A group that followed whatever everyone else was doing.
  • A group that did not believe in anything.

These many groups, with their different points of view, would of caused great problems during the Exodus . . . each probably trying to enforce their point of view or having disputes or conflicts with each other.  I would think that these would of figured strongly in the difficulty Moses had in keeping people under control during the Exodus.


The condition of a slave would of dramatically altered the original Jewish society and belief system.  It could of done things like:

  • It could of undermined the society.
  • It could of undermined the social structure.
  • It could of destroyed the authority in the society.
  • It could of fragmented or even destroyed belief.
  • It could of undermined peoples sense of identity and unity.

My guess is that things, such as these, would of affected much of the population in varying degree’s and ways.  The net result of all this is really a broken down people with no unity or authority to look up to.  This fact would of figured prominently in the difficulty Moses had in keeping people under control during the Exodus.

More than likely there may of been a segment of the population in which slavery may of actually intensified their religion and sense of a people.  In fact, its possible that this could of been done to an exaggerated and, possibly, fanatical extent.  Its possible that it is these people who “organized” and “commanded” the Exodus.

If there was a group that held to the original Jewish religion very strongly, and which “commanded” the Exodus, it would not be all that surprising if it clashed with other groups.  This could of even been done to the point of violence.  This same scenario has been played out before in history.  Something similar may of taken place during the Exodus.


And so we can see that Moses would of had a great difficulty dealing with this great “mob” of former slaves wandering in the desert.  Keeping an order was probably an achievement in itself.  It is one that, as far as I know, has never been acknowledged.

Some of the things we might of seen with this “mob” include:

  • A lack of unity.
  • A tendency to not believe in any authority, such as Moses’ or Gods.
  • People wanting to go their own way and live the way they want.  I wouldn’t be surprised if a small proportion of the people left the group and went elsewhere.
  • Different groups fighting with each other.
  • Different groups trying to be in charge and controlling things.
  • People becoming disillusioned and lost.

Moses would of had to deal with all these conditions.  In other words, Moses wasn’t dealing with one situation but many and on many different levels.  In fact, my guess is that there was more to the control of the people than what is written in the Torah.  They may of had something like, say, a police force, for example.


Overall, the basic problems Moses had to deal with include:

  • He had to keep the population under control.
  • He had to impose a new belief system onto them.

We must remember that the belief system Moses developed was new and untried.  It had to be created, implanted, and used on a probably unwilling population.  He had to impose it upon the people and make them believe and follow it.  More than likely, many of these people would of probably resisted or been reluctant.

No doubt, when Moses started the Exodus he had at least some “idea” of the religion he was to implement.  This would had to of been modified to fit the situation.  In other words, much of the laws of Moses was created out of necessity.  Without the need for control its possible that they would of never of been created at all.  In addition, had there not of been so much rebellion the whole Exodus, laws of Moses, and Judaism would of been greatly different than it is now.  This shows, in my opinion, that the rebelliousness of the people during the Exodus was a major influence in what has become Judaism.


Practically all of the means of keeping control of the population is religious in orientation.  Real world reality tends to suggest that there is usually other means required to keep a social control . . . it can’t all be religious.  The exclusively religious orientation may be for a number of reasons:

  • The people who “organized” the Exodus reflected the group of people who were most religious and who are the ones who recorded and had put things in writing.
  • That the non-religious aspects of control, such as a police force, were not recorded.

If this is the case, then it means that a large part of the Exodus is unknown to us.  There is no doubt a lot of drama and events that took place that have been lost.  If we had these accounts we would probably be surprised who the people of the Exodus actually were.  Who knows, a large part of the population could of been thieving, manipulative, and murderous people???

Wrath of God . . . fear

As we know, religion was used extensively to keep control.  It was used a number of ways:

  • The wrath of God, or fear, was used rather prominently as a motive in the control of the population.
  • The idea that we are all sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.
  • The need for sacrifice.
  • The need to follow the law.

Sacrifice seems to of been a major element in the association with God.  But, during the Exodus, most people couldn’t of had many animals to sacrifice, particularly later on.  This could of meant that a sacrifice was something that entailed a great loss giving it great power and influence and, subsequently, a means of great social control.

Reasons for unity

There were also many ways he helped to create unity, such as:

  • The law as a unifying element of the people.
  • The idea of redemption or forgiveness of sins.
  • The idea of a “promised land”.
  • The idea of Moses as the savior.  This would appear, in a later version, as the Messiah . . . a new Moses.
  • The idea of a “chosen people”.

With these the people would feel a unified whole, unified in a single cause and purpose.

The power of religion

Moses then seemed to of used both fear and unity, based in religion, to establish a social control in the population.  Religion gave the authority, the justification, and the power of social control that he implemented.  Without it, he may of had a difficult time keeping any sort of a control.  We must remember that Moses had no tribal authority, no social authority, and did not fit into any social structure.  His main reason for power was based in being chosen by God.  Because of this, religion played a major role in the story of Moses and he definitely had to play the “religious card” to get anything done.

I am not the only one to notice that much of the religion Moses seemed to use was somewhat similar to the Egyptians.  Even the Temple was similar to some of the Egyptian Temples.  This shows, it would seem, that there was a breakdown in the Jewish religion during the enslavement period and that they probably adopted many beliefs and customs from the Egyptian religion.  In fact, the issue of a “one god versus many gods” may of reflected a conflict going on in the Egyptian religion.  Perhaps Moses took sides in an Egyptian religious dispute of the time???


In these ways, Moses established a social control on the population and, in a small way, turned them into a somewhat of a unified mass as they wandered about.  This means, more or less, that the laws and traditions of Moses – what would become Judaism – is based in the need of social control.

This social control would be very influential and affect Judaism.  The technique of Moses, developed during the Exodus, would eventually do as he had planned.  It did cause a great unity in the Jewish people.  In fact, it would make them so unified that they became a very particular, unique, strict people who became removed from everyone else.  This unity would be so powerful that it would affect the Jewish people in incredibly good and bad ways:

  • They would be envied and their belief system would be used as a model.  In the Middle East the Jews were about the only people who were able to maintain themselves through the many conflicts going on.  The power of their unity became something people wanted to emulate.  This would be instrumental in the creation of Christianity and Islam which based them on the traditions established by Moses.  In this way, the unity created by Moses during the Exodus would have great impact on the world and history.
  • They would be condemned.  Their unity would make them removed from other people and separate.  This would cause great resentment and hatred through the years.  This would be so strong that it would even get a name . . . anti-Semitism.  Some particularly bad examples include the Inquisition and the Holocaust.

So we see that the unity created by Moses, though it appeared that it did not work well with the original population of the Exodus, ended up working very well later on.  It kept the Jewish people unified, whole, and distinct to the extent that they were able to uphold themselves when other people fell.  This made them the envy of other people.  It also made them the model which helped create two religions which would subsequently have great impact on the world.

I should also add that, if the above is true, it means that basic nature of Judaism is based on:

  • The rebelliousness of the people during the Exodus.
  • The laws, customs, and religion Moses created to deal with that rebelliousness.

And we must remember that what was created during the Exodus has not changed that much over the years.  Because of this, we could say that Judaism is:

  • “Stuck” in the Exodus.
  • Assumes rebelliousness in the people.

In this way, Judaism is forever reenacting the Exodus and is assuming people are of the same nature of the Exodus generation.  One of the effects of this is that it tends to make Judaism somewhat “alienated” or “removed” from everyone else.  This, it seems, to me, has caused great problems for the Jewish people.

In addition, it has left much of this mentality on the philosophies who took Judaism as its model, primarily Christianity and Islam.  These include:

  • The idea of a “supreme God”.
  • The idea of the “wrath of God”.
  • The idea of a “savior”.
  • The idea of the “evil of humanity”.
  • The idea of sin and punishment.
  • The idea of a “perpetual repetition” of many of these ideas.

As a result, the Exodus and Moses has left much of its mentality even beyond Judaism.  This means that as an event, Moses and the Exodus is a very significant in history, as the mentality of that event continues on even though the conditions that caused it no longer exist.  No other event, as far as I know, can claim such distinction.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Christianity, Christian conversion, Post-Christianity, and Christian influence, Historical stuff, Judaism, Moses, and the Exodus, Religion and religious stuff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s