Kenneth Chelst compares the Jewish people’s enslavement and departure from Egypt with the African-American slave experience in the United States, their emancipation, and their subsequent fight for dignity and equality. Both peoples suffered centuries-long oppression, with the African-American slave population at the time of emancipation in the 1860s roughly double that of the Israelites at the biblical Exodus. Chelst dives deeply into the biblical narrative, using classical and modern commentaries to explore the social, psychological, religious, and philosophical dimensions of the slave experience and mentality. Drawing on slave narratives, published letters, eyewitness accounts, and recorded interviews of former slaves, together with historical, sociological, economic and political analyses of this era, Chelst weaves the two sets of narratives into a collage of parallel and contrasting experiences.
The original article may be found in Shofar Volume 28 Number 4, Summer 2010 edition.