The Thera Theories: Science and the Modern Reception History of the Exodus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


While scholars continue to debate the elusive historical and critical issues behind the Exodus narrative, a steady stream of interpretations inspired by the natural sciences has been appearing. These interpretations take naturalistic portions of the text at face value, and insist that they are to be understood in terms of natural catastrophes. Biblical scholars and archaeologists may highlight the complex human factors behind the genesis and evolution of the exodus traditions, but these naturalistic interpretations paint more-or-less apocalyptic scenarios informed by scientific research into volcanoes, earthquakes, and other spectacular natural phenomena. The eruption of Thera (Santorini) in the seventeenth century BC has featured heavily, not least because it can also be invoked as an explanation for the myth of Atlantis. This paper presents an overview of these “Thera theories” in order to investigate their main interpretative strategies. While serious difficulties are identified with the Thera theories, it will be argued that, as acts of reading, they possess a strong imaginative appeal.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIsrael's Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective
Subtitle of host publicationText, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience
EditorsThomas E. Levy, Thomas Schneider, William H. C. Propp
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-04768-3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Publication series

NameQuantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Hermeneutics
  • naturalistic explanations
  • natural catastrophe
  • Minoan eruption
  • apocalyptic
  • imagination
  • miracle
  • plagues
  • sea crossing


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