THIS IS A BOOK about an idea of great presence and power in Western political thought, the idea of a deliverance from suffering and oppression: this-worldly redemption, liberation, revolution. I have sought to describe the origins of that idea in the story of Israel's deliverance from Egypt and then to give a reading of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy designed to explain their importance for generation after generation of religious and political radicals. The escape from bondage, the wilderness journey, the Sinai covenant, the promised land: all these loom large in the literature of revolution. Indeed, revolution has often been imagined as an enactment of the Exodus and the Exodus has often been imagined as a program for revolution. I want to pursue these imaginings, for they illuminate (although they don't tell the whole truth about) both the ancient books and the characteristically modern forms of political action. So I move back and forth between the biblical narrative (and the most authoritative commentaries), on the one hand, and the tracts and treatises, the slogans and songs, of radical politics, on the other. I move back and forth, that is, between a field of study where I am an amateur and a novice and a field of study where I have some professional experience. I hope that the enthusiasm of the amateur and the caution of the professional will somehow balance one another. But if I err, let it be on the side of enthusiasm, for we still have much to learn, I think, from a close study of the Exodus.
It is not my purpose to provide a history of the idea of deliverance but a study of its meaning, and there is no