“As Michael Walzer has argued, the Jewish and Christian sense of Exodus, of a possible liberation through and after affliction and slavery, has been so compelling over time because it is based essentially on a promise. The Exodus story is both so powerful and so adaptable because it is not an account of miracles, of merely waiting for God’s intercessions. God will choose moments to intervene, but the great Exodus narrative gets “God’s people marching,” writes Walzer, “through the world to a better place in it.” Hence, the Old Testament story can be such a source of “radical hope” if people possess sufficient faith; they can march off with expectation that “the world is not all Egypt.” Douglass believed events gave evidence that a “moral chemistry” and an interventionist God now drove history forward. He had rehearsed for this moment for more than twenty years; a prophet issues the warnings and must be ready to reap history’s results. Words, faith, inspiration, and an abiding pathos, argues Abraham Heschel, are the prophetic stock-in-trade. A prophet spares no piety; he is an “assaulter of the mind.” The words of a true prophet, says Heschel, are “a scream in the night” rooted in a sense of history.9 And timing may be all. With a reasoned scream, Douglass discerned that Babylon might now be falling.”

-David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass


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