We’ve reached Passover, the time of year when the Jewish people celebrate their escape from Egypt by retelling the story of the Exodus.

In case you’re not familiar with the tale, here’s a quick recap: over 3,000 years ago, the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. God gave them a champion in the person of Moses, who challenged Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) to release the Jews. Pharaoh refused, and God inflicted ten plagues on Egypt – the last being the death of all firstborn children.

Naturally, God passed over the firstborn of the Jewish people, hence the name of the festival.

Pharaoh finally released the Jews, but then tried to force them back into Egypt.

God parted the sea, allowing Moses to lead the children of Israel to safety, while Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. The rest is history.

Problems with the Exodus story

Except that the Exodus didn’t happen this way, if it ever happened at all. The Egyptians never mention anything like it, and neither does anyone else. The exact timing of the event and the name of the pharaoh central to it are still a matter of dispute.

The biblical account only prompts further questions. If 600,000 men – plus their families and livestock; maybe 2 million people in all – left Egypt all at once, this would amount to a horrible shock to the Egypt’s economy, which likely was less than 10 million (especially after all the deaths from the ten plagues).

Why is there no record of any economic collapse, let alone of any pharaoh drowning in his chariot?

But this lack of historicitycould be a good thing. After all, the Exodus and the further stories of Moses contain some real moral atrocities. For instance, non-Jewish slaves also lost their firstborn for the crimes of Pharaoh; Moses goes on to kill 3,000 of his own followers for worshipping a golden calf; and Moses later wreaks revenge on the Midianites, killing all of them, save for 32,000 virgin women who are kept as “plunder.”

You can imagine many Jews and Christians being relieved to know that the Bible contains a lot of exaggerations – specifically, revenge fantasies – that never actually happened.

How good people treat bad scripture

Fortunately, that’s how most of them behave. Jews and Christians by and large overlook the morally atrocious parts of the Bible. They don’t take them to heart, and they certainly don’t use them as a program for how to treat people in the here and now. Jews use the story of Passover to celebrate persistence and the worship of God, not to revel in spilling the blood of innocents.

They’re good people; better than their scripture.

In the midst of a world outraged and horrified by Islamist terrorism, this should be a learning opportunity. Just like the Bible, there are parts of the Quran that are morally atrocious. But, just like Jews and Christians, most Muslims ignore those parts of their scripture, and instead largely behave as decent people. They may not be saints, but they’re far from the horror stories you find in scripture.

Like any religion, Islam has elements that violate the norms of decency. But that doesn’t mean all Muslims are worthy of condemnation, any more than the Ten Plagues condemns all Jews and Christians.

The rule is the same for all faiths: judge people by their behavior, and not by the sacred texts that they intermittently follow.

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