The story of the Exodus from Egypt has inspired hope among Jews for millennia. And for centuries, the saga
has echoed thunderously through American history. When the Stamp Act was repealed in 1776, Pastor Charles Chauncey preached:
“Nor were the Jews more pleased with the royal provision in their day, which, under God, delivered them from their bondage
in Egypt, than were the colonists with the repeal of that act…” A century later freed slaves bound for Kansas
from the South became known as “Exodusters.” When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King
Jr. proclaimed, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.
The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh's court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people
surely one of the most poignant connections between the Exodus story and American history lies in the tale of the two images
declaring independence on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress charged Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin
with recommending a design for the new nation’s seal. For the reverse of the Great Seal they agreed on a scene from
the Exodus—Moses’ arm outstretched over the Red Sea, the Israelites crossing through the parted waters protected
by a divine pillar of fire, and Pharaoh’s drowning army. They also chose the motto which Jefferson believed was associated
with one of the regicides during the English Civil Wars. Their recommendation was tabled.
(Left) As the
Revolutionary War drew to a close, in 1782, a new committee endorsed a different image associated with Egypt, the pyramid.
The image now appears on the one-dollar bill. According to the artist who designed the seal, the “pyramid signifies
strength and duration.” Both Latin inscriptions paraphrase verses by the Roman poet Virgil: Annuit Coeptis, “He
(God) has favored our undertakings;” Novus Ordo Seclorum, “A new order of the ages (is born).”
The “all seeing eye” represents the eye of providence.
What are the principal values that underlie these two images?
Which do you prefer and why?
do you make of the fact that one image uses English, the other Latin?
(Note: Many have suggested that the seal on the left contains Masonic symbols.
Indeed, many of the founders of this country were associated with Freemasonry. Even so, the question is why that influence
would have found expression in the image from 1782 and not in the earlier proposal.)