I’m primarily going to be focusing on the Exodus as presenting in the Second Chapter of Richard E Friedman’s excellent book The Exodus. I don’t agree with everything Friedman was to say, though his second chapter (on the arguments for a historical Exodus) are mostly convincing.
Friedman argues for an Exodus only of the Levites. Certainly, the Song of Miriam implies that in the earliest versions of the Exodus story, only the Levites were led out of Egypt, since it nowhere mentions Israel, and mentions the 'am moving towards God’s holy place. Now this narrative very well could be based on truth, since the Levites, unique amongst Israelite tribes had a particularly strong connection to Egypt.
- Only Levites ever have Egyptian names.
- Levite sources of the Pentateuch have a special emphasis on circumcision, a ritual of Egyptian origin.
- The Tabernacle only ever appears in Levite sources, it bears a striking resemblance to the Battle Tent of Ramesses II.
- The Ark of the Covenant, catered for by Levite priests, resembles Egyptian barks.
- Levite sources were concerned about correct treatment of slaves, which is not shared by the J source.
All things considered then, it is likely that the Levites were originally Asiatic slaves in Egypt, of mixed origins (according to Genetic studies), who migrated to Canaan and become absorbed into the Israelite population.
Some of you may not like reference to the JEDP hypothesis, yet most of these people probably accept a historical Exodus to begin with.