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According to the Book of Exodus in the Bible (Exodus means leaving, because this is the book about the Jews leaving Egypt), the Jews did very well in Egypt after Joseph brought them there, and there got to be a lot of Jews living in Egypt around 1200 BC. But then the old Pharaoh died, and a new Pharaoh came into power, who "knew not Joseph," and who didn't like the Jews. He made the Jews be slaves, and in particular he made the Jews build great buildings for him. The Jews of course didn't like being made into slaves, but what could they do?

Then this bad Pharaoh decided to kill off all the boy babies of the Jews. Everyone was very upset! But one mother saved her baby (according to the Bible) by putting him in a basket made of reeds and putting him in the Nile river to float away. His older sister watched as he floated, and saw what happened.

Later that day, the Princess (the Pharaoh's daughter) came down to the water to take a bath with her slaves. She saw the basket and made her slaves get it for her. When she saw the baby she knew that he was a Jewish baby and was supposed to be killed, but she took him home anyway, and she called him Moses, because that means "Saved", and she had saved him. And his sister came and offered to find a nurse to take care of Moses, and the Princess let her, and of course she went and got Moses' mother, so the mother got to take care of her baby son after all!
When Moses was grown up, he saw an Egyptian hitting a Jew. This made Moses mad and he hit the Egyptian and killed him. Then he had to run away, because he had killed a man.

Moses Burning Bush
Moses talking to God in the burning bush,
from the church of St. Denis, about 1140 AD

Moses ran to the desert, towards Libya, to the west of Egypt. There he became a shepherd. One day when he was taking care of the sheep, he saw a bush that was on fire, but then when the fire was out, the bush was still there, not burnt at all! Moses thought that was weird and went closer for a better look. When he got close,he heard a voice saying, "Stop and take your shoes off, for this is sacred ground." He heard God talking to him, and he heard God tell him to go and help the Jews get free from the bad Pharaoh.

So Moses went back to Egypt and he asked Pharaoh to let his people go. Pharaoh said no. So God sent ten plagues to hurt the Egyptians so that Pharaoh would let the Jews go.

In the first plague, God changed the water into blood.
In the second plague, God made frogs come everywhere.
In the third plague, God made lice everywhere.
In the fourth plague, God made flies everywhere.
In the fifth plague, God made all the horses and cows die.
In the sixth plague, God gave everyone horrible boils (sores) all over them.
In the seventh plague, God made hail and fire destroy the crops.
In the eighth plague, God sent locusts to eat the crops (like grasshoppers).
In the ninth plague, God made it be always dark, except where the Jews were.
In the tenth plague, God killed the oldest son in every Egyptian family.

Finally the Pharaoh said that the Jews could go. So they did not waste
any time; they left right away. The Bible says they did not even wait for their bread to rise. The Jews got to the Red Sea and they could not see how to cross it, and then they saw the Pharaoh had changed his mind and come after them!

The Jews crossing the Red Sea
(also from St. Denis)

They were screaming, and then praying, and then God parted the water of the Red Sea for them so they could cross on dry land, and when the Egyptians tried to follow the Jews God drowned all the Egyptians.

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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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