Exodus is the second book in the Bible. It is one of five books that make up the Torah (literally, “instruction” or “teaching,” sometimes translated “law”) or Pentateuch (“five books”). The title, “Exodus,” derives from the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Hebrew Bible: “Exodus from Egypt” (exodus aiguptou). The title among Palestinian and Alexandrian Jews in the late Second Temple period was likely, “The Book of the Departure from Egypt” (sēper yeṣî'at miṣrayim), which is preserved in the tenth century C.E. Ben-Asher manuscript. In later Jewish tradition the title consists of the opening words of the book wĕ'ēlleh šĕmôt (“And these are the names”), often abbreviated to Shemot (Šĕmôt). The title “Exodus” is the more common in English translations. It emphasizes the Israelites' departure from Egypt and their rescue from slave labor, a central event in the first half of the book. The title does not adequately describe the content of the entire book, which includes stories of Israel's initial wilderness journey as well as the revelation of the law and the instructions for and subsequent construction of the tabernacle sanctuary at Mount Sinai.
Canonical Status and Location in the Canon.
Exodus is part of the five books of Torah, which was understood as authoritative revelation for Jews already in the Second Temple period. The combination of the five books in Torah suggests a close relationship between Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The narrative sequence in Torah appears to flow seamlessly upon first reading. The account of creation and the ancestors (Genesis) brings the family of Jacob to Egypt, setting the stage for the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt (Exod 1–15). The exodus from Egypt launches the nation on a wilderness journey, where the people encounter God at the divine mountain, receive law, and construct the sanctuary (Exod 16–40, Leviticus, Numbers). The story concludes with Moses recounting the events from Genesis-Numbers (Deuteronomy), before he dies at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. Yet a closer reading of Torah raises several issues about the literary context of the book of Exodus: the relationship between Exodus and Deuteronomy; the broader literary relationship between Exodus and the Former Prophets (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings); and the connection between the story of the ancestors in Genesis and the account of Moses' liberation of the Israelite people in Exodus.
Exodus and Deuteronomy.
The events of the exodus from Egypt, the wilderness journey, and the revelation of the law codes or collections at the mountain of God are presented twice in Torah, first in the book of Exodus at Mount Sinai and a second time in the book of Deuteronomy at Mount Horeb. The two accounts are written in different styles. Exodus is written as a third-person narrative, while Deuteronomy is essentially several first-person speeches by Moses, in which he recounts the past events of the Exodus to the next generation of Israelites preparing to enter the Promised Land.
The relationship between Exodus and Deuteronomy is one of the central literary problems of modern Pentateuchal research, beginning with W. M. L de Wette in the early nineteenth century. He noted that the story of Moses in Exodus comes to an end at the close of Numbers. Moses' impending death is confirmed (Num 27:12–14), the land of Canaan is divided (Num 26:52–56), and Joshua is appointed as successor (Num 27:15–23). Then somewhat unexpectedly, Deuteronomy begins the story anew, repeating much of the material that occurs in Exodus, as well as in Leviticus and Numbers. New law is given (Deut 4–5, 12–25), the story of the wilderness journey is retold (Deut 1–3), the sin of the golden calf is described (Deut 9–10), many specific laws repeat or overlap (e.g., Lev 26; Deut 28), Joshua is appointed a second time to succeed Moses (Deut 31), and God tells Moses again of his impending death (Deut 31; 34). The repetitions suggested to de Wette that the story of Moses in Exodus is completed at the close of Numbers.
De Wette also pointed out that the style of the writing and the religious outlook in Deuteronomy were different from Exodus. He judged the language of Deuteronomy to be more reflective and theologically sophisticated than the literature in Exodus, especially in the demand for the centralization of worship at a single sanctuary (Deut 12), which is at odds with the portrait of Israel in Exodus as having many sanctuaries (Exod 20:24–25). As a consequence, de Wette argued that Exodus and Deuteronomy were the product of separate authors.
Exodus and the Former Prophets.
Interpreters have suspected a literary relationship between Exodus and the Former Prophets from the outset of modern historical-critical interpretation. Already in the Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), B. Spinoza concluded that the exodus was part of a larger history, extending through Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The evidence for Spinoza was the connecting phrases between books. He wrote: “[A]s soon as he [the author] has related the life of Moses, the historian thus passes on to the story of Joshua: “And it came to pass after Moses the servant of the Lord was dead, that God spoke to Joshua,” and, so in the same way, after the death of Joshua was concluded, he passes with identically the same transition and
connection to the history of the Judges.” The conclusions of Spinoza remain influential to subsequent interpreters, while also undergoing modification. Source critics like J. Wellhausen (1878), following others, narrowed the focus from the entire corpus of the Former Prophets to the book of Joshua in tracing the literary connections to the book of Exodus, concluding that Genesis-Joshua formed a literary corpus, which he, following earlier scholarship, described as a Hexateuch. But as the work of Spinoza already indicated, the separation of Joshua from the remaining books of the Former Prophets poses a literary problem. The covenantal ceremonies at the close of the book of Joshua (chs. 23–24) indicate a transition in the history of Israel, but the story continues into Judges. M. Noth resolved this problem by combining the research of de Wette with the insight of Spinoza to argue that the book of Exodus was separate from the book of Deuteronomy, and that only the material in Deuteronomy continues through the book of Kings, creating the “Deuteronomistic History,” consisting of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Others, such as T. H. Vriezen, are less sure about Noth's solution of separating Exodus from the Former Prophets, noting such structural repetitions as the notice of the death of a generation in Exodus (1:6) and in Judges (2:8–10). J. Van Seters, E. Blum, and K. Schmid build in different ways on Vriezen's insight to accentuate the literary relationship between Exodus and the Former Prophets. D. N. Freedman introduced the literary category of a Primary History, an “Enneateuch,” consisting of the nine books from Genesis through Kings; one reason for this hypothesis was to account for the literary relationships between Exodus (and Genesis) and the Former Prophets, noting in particular the development of the promise of land to the ancestors in Genesis and its loss in 2 Kings 25. This literary evaluation echoes to some extent the insight of Spinoza.
Exodus and Genesis.
Modern interpreters have regularly raised questions about the relationship of Genesis and Exodus, because of the problems of narrative unity and style and the abrupt transition from family stories in Genesis to a national epic in Exodus. But the tendency of modern interpreters, such as M. Noth or G. von Rad has been to merge the story of the ancestors in Genesis and the narrative of the Exodus into a single account by the same author(s). As a result, the separation of the two books did not become the focus of interpretation. The literary relationship between Genesis and Exodus has undergone reevaluation, however, in recent studies on the Pentateuch. R. Rendtorff noted that the theme of promise of land to the ancestors was central to the formation of Genesis, but is nearly absent in Exodus, where it is clustered at the outset, mainly in the commission of Moses (Exod 2:24; 3:6, 15, 16; 4:3; 6:3, 8), with only two additional references later in the book (Exod 33:1; 32:13). He concluded that the identification of the divine promise of the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with that to the exodus generation was a late literary development in the exilic period at the earliest, in which an author sought to relate the previously separate literary traditions (“complexes”) of the ancestors in Genesis with the story of the exodus.
Recent interpreters, such as T. Römer and K. Schmid, have extended the research of Rendtorff to argue that the merging of the books of Genesis and Exodus is the most significant literary development in the formation of the Pentateuch, overshadowing the problem of the relationship between Exodus and Deuteronomy. The ancestor stories in Genesis locate the origin of the Israelites in Babylon and present an account of land possession through peaceful negotiation with the indigenous population. The story of Moses in Exodus, by contrast, locates the origin of the Israelites in Egypt. It emphasizes the formation of the people outside of the land of promise, requiring holy war and conquest for the fulfillment of the promise of land possession. The combination of the two accounts results in a new master narrative, in which the tradition of the ancestors' origin in Babylon and the Moses tradition about origins in Egypt become merged. Although it is unlikely that the books of Genesis and Exodus merged as late in the literary formation of the Pentateuch as these scholars suggest, the research accentuates a range of interpretations on the central theme of the promise and possession of the land.
Authorship, Date, and Literary History.
Exodus is an anthology of liturgy, law, and epic lore from many different periods of Israel's history. G. W. Coats identified eighty-nine distinct genres of literature in Exodus, along with an additional twenty stereotyped formulas. The presence of so many fixed forms of literature indicates that Exodus is anything but a free composition. Examples that illustrate the range of literary genres in Exodus include the two hymns in Exodus 15, the Song of Moses in vv. 1–18 and the Song of Miriam in v. 21. Each celebrates the power of Yahweh as the storm god, who uses nature to defeat enemies. Another prominent genre is the theophany (appearance) of Yahweh on the divine mountain, which also employs storm imagery, but in this case lightning and thunder indicate the descent of the deity into the midst of the people, rather than war. Examples include the appearance of Yahweh to Moses (Exod 3–4), to all the people (Exod 19:16–17), and to the leaders (Exod 24:10–11). The appearance of Yahweh is often tied to yet other genres in Exodus, such as the construction of a sanctuary in the form of the tent of meeting (Exod 33:7–11) or the tabernacle (Exod 25–31, 35–40), and the promulgation of law such as the Decalogue (Exod 20:1–17), the book of the covenant (Exod 20:22 [Heb. 8:12–15]–23:19), or
The author of Exodus is not explicitly identified. Yet within the book both God and Moses are credited with its writing. God writes laws (Exod 24:12), the architectural plans for the tabernacle (Exod 31:18), and the tablets containing the Ten Commandments (Exod 34:1). Moses writes instruction about holy war (Exod 17:14) and laws (Exod 24:4; 34:27–28). The song in Exodus 15:1–18 is also attributed to him. As a result, tradition has assigned the authorship of the book of Exodus and the entire Pentateuch to Moses. Moses' authorship was assumed in Hellenistic and rabbinic Jewish literature, and in early Christian writings. Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish author writing in the first century C.E., writes in his commentary on creation, “Moses says…‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ ” (Op. 26). Josephus also asserts that Moses authored the first five books (Apion 1:37–40). The Rabbis, too, state, “Moses wrote his own book” (B. Bat. 14b). Its origin was asserted to be divine (Sanh. 99a). Early Christian writers express a similar perspective. The Apostle Paul refers to the Pentateuch as the “law of Moses” (1 Cor 9:9). The author of the Gospel of Luke expresses the same thought, when the Pentateuch is indicated by simple reference to its author “Moses” (Luke 24:27), later described as the “law of Moses” (Luke 24:44; see also Mark 7:10).
The historical-critical study of the Pentateuch that emerged during the Renaissance and influenced the work of interpreters such as Jean Astruc (1684–1766) has clarified that neither Moses nor any other single author wrote Exodus. The identification of the anonymous authors, the time of their composition, and the method by which the literature was combined into a single narrative has dominated the interpretation of Exodus in the modern period. Two goals constitute the core of historical criticism. First, repetitions and contradictions are separated, not harmonized, into different bodies of literature (“sources”) in order to identify authors with distinct religious worldviews. Second, interpreters seek to arrange the order in which the authors wrote, thus fashioning the history of Israelite religion. The identification of anonymous authors arose from an inductive study of the literature. Lack of chronology, repetition, and contradiction of content were considered indicators of different writers. Divine names emerged as an important starting point for tracing the literary thread of distinct authors. In some stories the deity is named Elohim (translated “God” in the NRSV), while in others Yahweh (translated “LORD” in the NRSV).
The central theory in the past century concerning the anonymous authorship of the Pentateuch, including the book of Exodus, has been the Documentary Hypothesis. It has provided biblical scholars with a model for identifying three anonymous authors in the composition of Exodus: the Yahwist (J), the Elohist (E), and the Priestly writer (P). The work of each author is not confined to the book of Exodus, but extends throughout the Tetrateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers) and perhaps even to the book of Joshua. The three authors of Exodus are evident where the same story (repetition) is told from different points of view (contradiction). Examples include the two names for the mountain of God (Sinai in Exod 19 and 24; and Horeb in Exod 33), the two stories of the revelation of the divine name, Yahweh (Exod 3 and 6), several interpretations of the conflict at the Re(e)d Sea (Exod 14–15), divergent law codes (Exod 20 and 34), and different accounts of the appropriate sanctuary (the tent of meeting in Exod 33, and the tabernacle in Exod 25–31, 35–40). These and many other repetitions confirm the existence of several anonymous authors in the composition of Exodus with divergent views of God, community, and worship.
The authors, J, E, and P, can be profiled in the following manner. The titles J and E arise from the use of the divine names Yahweh (“J,” [Jahweh in German]) e.g., Exod 3:2 [messenger of Yahweh], 4, 7, 15) and Elohim (“E,” e.g., Exod 3:1, 4, 6, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15; see also chs. 18, 19, 24). The advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis locate each source in the early monarchical period. The author of J was placed either in the time of the United Monarchy of the tenth century or in the southern kingdom of Judah in the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E. The J source in Exodus includes accounts of Moses' birth and early years, the exodus, the revelation at Sinai, and the wilderness wandering. The author of E was thought to have written in the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E. The E source presents a prophetic interpretation of Israel's origins. Central examples in Exodus include the use of the name Elohim in the call of Moses (Exod 3), the story of Jethro (Exod 18), the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19; 24; for details see following table). The prophetic perspective of E provides insight into the religious perspective of the northern kingdom of Israel. The Priestly writer (P) is judged to be the latest to compose a history of Israel, sometime in the exilic or postexilic period. Examples of P literature in Exodus include the call of Moses (Exod 6), a version of the plagues (see TABLE below), the story of manna (Exod 16), the theophany at Sinai (Exod 24:15–18), and the revelation of the tabernacle (Exod 25–31, 35–40). The following table highlights some of the more important texts that have historically been attributed to the distinct authors (or “sources”) P, J, and E in Exodus. (The symbol * throughout this article means that more than one source may be present.)
The Setting and Birth of Moses (Exod 1:1—2:25)
|Israelite Oppression||1:1–7, 13–14||1:8–12|
|Cry of Israel||2:23–25|
The Plagues and the Exodus from Egypt (Exod 7:8—15:21)
|Plagues||7:8–13; 8:20–23 [Heb. 8:16–19]; 9:8–12||7–11*|
|Passover||12:1–20, 28, 40–51||12:21–39|
|Victory at the Re(e)d Sea||14:1–4, 8–10, 15–18, 21–23||13:20–22; 14:5B, 6, 13–14, 19B, 20, 24, 25B, 27AA, 30–31||13:17–19; 145A, 7, 11–12, 19A, 25A|
The Wilderness Journey (Exod 15:22–18:27)
|Manna||16:1–3, 6–27, 32–35A||16:4–5, 28–31, 35B, 36|
|Water from the Rock||17:1–7|
|War with Amalek||17:8–16|
The Revelation at the Mountain of God (Exod 19:1–40:38)
|Theophany||19:1–2A||19:2B, 10–12, 13A, 14–16AA, 18, 20–25||19:3A, 13AB, 16–17, 19|
|Decalogue||20:1–23 [Heb. 20:1–20]|
|Tabernacle Plans||24:15B–18; 25–31||24:12–15A||24:1–2, 9–11|
|Golden Calf||32:5—20;33; 34||32:1B–4, 21–24|
Most contemporary scholars agree that the repetitions and contradictions provide clues for profiling anonymous authors in Exodus, but there is also growing debate over three aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis. They are: the difficulty in identifying an E source; the date of the J source and its relationship to the book of Deuteronomy; and the literary character of the Priestly material and its relationship to earlier non-Priestly literature in Exodus.
The Identification of the E Source.
The Elohist source constitutes the non-Priestly stories in which the name Elohim is used. Examples in Exodus have traditionally been considered sparse. As noted above they include the story of the midwives (Exod 1:15–21) and the meeting between Moses and Jethro (Exod 18). There are other examples in Exodus (see TABLE above), but interpreters have long noted the problem of the scarcity of material that can be attributed to the Elohistic author. Thus there is growing debate whether there ever was an independent E source. Many interpreters have concluded that if such a document existed, most of the material is now lost. Those who favor the existence of an E source assume that some or even most of the composition is absent from Exodus. R. E. Friedman, for example, identifies E literature in the call of Moses (Exod 3:1, 4B, 6, 9–15) and throughout the confrontation between Yahweh and Pharaoh (e.g., Exod 5:3–6:1), as well as portions of Exodus 7, 9, 10, and 11. He concludes that neither E nor J can be read as a continuous narrative, although together they form a nearly complete storyline W. Propp attributes even more significant portions of the book of Exodus to the E source. Those who reject the hypothesis of an independent E source interpret the E stories in Exodus as additions to the J source, rather than the combination of two independent sources, often designated as JE, or more recently the more general term, “non-Priestly literature.”
The Date of the J Source.
Another debate among contemporary pentateuchal interpreters concerns the authorship and date of the J source (also identified as the non-Priestly literature or JE) and its relationship to the book of Deuteronomy. Throughout the modern historical-critical period of interpretation there has been a strong consensus for dating the J source in Exodus to the early monarchical period, preceding Deuteronomy in composition by several centuries. J. Wellhausen placed the J source in the ninth-eighth centuries B.C.E. Later, scholars like G. von Rad pushed its date to the tenth century B.C.E. In either case there was agreement that ancient Israel began to write an historical narrative of the exodus, wilderness wandering, and revelation at Mount Sinai in the monarchical period—if not during the United Monarchy (tenth century B.C.E.), then shortly thereafter. Scholars debated questions of genre. Could such writing be called history, or are other categories such as epic, myth, legend, or folklore more appropriate? Within this debate, however, there was general agreement that some form of history writing emerged during the monarchical period, well before the composition of Deuteronomy in the late seventh century.
Contemporary interpreters increasingly argue for a later date to the J literature. The central arguments surround its relationship to Deuteronomy (D) and the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). J. Van Seters argued in the early 1970s that the Yahwist History is later than Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History, not earlier. Van Seters focused on the terminology and literary techniques in the books of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, and the relationship of this literature to Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. He concluded further that the general period for the emergence of history writing in the ancient Near East also does not support the presence of the J history in the early monarchical period of ancient Israel. H. H. Schmid reinforced a later dating for the J literature in Exodus in a separate study of the terminology and themes, concluding that the greatest similarity of the stories in Exodus was to the prophetic themes and genres in the Deuteronomistic History (e.g., the commissioning of Moses in Exodus 3–4 is a prophetic genre also occurring in Judges and Samuel). He concluded that the J literature was formed by Deuteronomic writers, accounting for the thematic emphasis on blessing, nationhood, and the promise of land.
E. Blum reached somewhat similar conclusions to Schmid. He, too, notes a literary relationship (a “profile”) between the non-P (J and E) literature in Genesis-Numbers and the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. Blum highlights this network of linguistic and thematic connections by identifying the non-P literature in Exodus as part of the D-Komposition (KD), which incorporates older stories, but whose author reflects the worldview of the Deuteronomistic tradition, presupposing the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. Blum concludes, therefore, that the KD version of Exodus was likely written in the postexilic period as part of a larger literary supplement to the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History to provide a prelude to the account of the fall of the monarchy. In this case, the J literature in Exodus represents a late, postexilic interpretation of the exodus, wilderness wandering, and revelation at Mount Sinai. According to Blum, the KD version incorporates earlier accounts of the Exodus (Exodus 1–14*), the revelation at Sinai (Exodus 19–24*), and wilderness episodes (such as the war against Amalek in Exod 17), whose roots can be traced to the monarchical period.
The P Literature.
The Documentary Hypothesis advances two assumptions about the P literature in the book of Exodus: first, that it existed at one time as an independent source, and, second, that its combination with the non-Priestly literature lacked creative literary design.
The existence of a once-independent P source is supported by the quantity of literature in Exodus, which far exceeds that of the E source. The Priestly material in Exodus includes the revelation of the divine name Yahweh (Exodus 6), a series of plagues (snakes, Exod 7:8–13; gnats, Exod 8:16–19 [Heb. 8:12–15]; and boils, Exod 9:8–12), the Passover instruction (Exod 12:1–20), the story of manna (Exod 16), an account of theophany on the mountain (Exod 24:15–18), and the revelation and construction of the tabernacle (Exod 25–31, 35–40). This material may represent a single independent source. But interpreters also note that there is a history of composition in the Priestly literature. Some have identified separate Priestly documents (G. von Rad; R. E. Friedman), while more recently interpreters have described a series of post-Priestly redactions in Exodus (J. C. Gertz; E. Otto). The complex character of the P literature in contemporary scholarship is indicated in the variety of designations that emerge in modern literature, including Pg (Priestly source), Ps (Priestly supplements), Rp (post-Priestly redactions of which there can be several) in addition to the Priestly legal corpus. The common assumption even of those who employ the varied designations, however, is that a once independent source has undergone revision over time. Still other scholars question whether an independent P source ever existed at all, because the reader only encounters Priestly literature as a supplement within the present structure of Exodus and not as an independent document (F. M. Cross). Among these researchers, the focus of study becomes the present literary context of the Priestly material and the creative role of redactors in fashioning the present form of Exodus (J.-L. Ska). The debate over the character of Priestly literature is difficult to resolve since there are strong literary arguments for both an independent source and a redaction, depending on which Priestly text is being examined, and the scholar's conception of the Priestly corpus. The careful distribution of Priestly narrative and law indicates that the literature is functioning redactionally to provide structure to the book of Exodus. Yet, the large blocks of Priestly literature in Exodus, such as the call of Moses (Exod 6:2—7:7), the sequence of plagues (Exod 7:8–13; 8:16–19; 9:8–12), the confrontation at the sea (Exod 14*), and the description of the tabernacle (Exod 25–31; 35–40), also suggest an earlier independent source.
A central question in the modern interpretation of Exodus is the historical background to the narrated events. Scholars have sought to determine what historical events may have given rise to the elaborate narrative of the book of Exodus. The biblical writers certainly wish to anchor the exodus from Egypt firmly in history. They date the event to the Year 2666 (Exod 12:40–41) from the creation of the world, or Year 1 (Gen 1:26–27). The construction of the tabernacle takes place in the Year 2667 (Exod 40:1–2, 17). Biblical writers state further that the Israelite period of enslavement is 430 years (Exod 12:40–41), making their arrival in Egypt the Year 2236 (Gen 47:9). Jacob and his family settle in a specific land within Egypt, Goshen (Gen 46:28; Exod 8:22 [Heb. 8:18]; 9:26), also known as the “land of Rameses” (Gen 47:11). When the Israelites' guest status in Egypt turned into slavery, the biblical writers of the Masoretic Text (MT) identify the cities of Pithom and Rameses (Exod 1:11; the LXX adds the city of On) as the product of their slave labor. During this period, moreover, the Israelite population grows from the original family of Jacob to a nation of 600,000 men (Exod 12:37), making the total number of those leaving Egypt (including women and children) approximately 2-3 million persons, not counting the mixed multitude that accompanied the people upon their leaving Egypt (Exod 12:38).
The specific dates for the exodus, along with the careful numbering of the people, encourage an historical interpretation of the story. But the vague references to geography and the unrealistic size of the group indicate that the book of Exodus is not history in the sense of an accurate portrayal of the past. Goshen has not been clearly identified in the Delta region of Egypt. Two to three million people in the Sinai desert would overwhelm the fragile environment. It is also impossible to interpret the biblical chronology as literal history or, for that matter, to translate the chronology of the biblical writers into the general Western system of dating. First Kings 6:1 provides some help. It states that the fourth year of King Solomon's reign was the 480th year after Israel left Egypt. The scholarly dates for the reign of Solomon are ca. 968–928 B.C.E., making the fourth year of his reign 964 B.C.E and the year of the exodus 1444 B.C.E. This chronology would place the Israelite Exodus from Egypt during the eighteenth dynasty of Egyptian rule, specifically during the reign of Thutmose III (1479–1425 B.C.E.).
The internal problems of dating suggest that the book of Exodus does not qualify as history. Yet, the tradition that Yahweh brought Israel out of the land of Egypt has deep roots in the Bible. Many scholars have argued that the two hymns in Exodus 15, the Song of the Sea in vv 1–18 and the Song of Miriam in V 21, are instances of ancient poetry. If this is so, then the book of Exodus itself contains some of the oldest references to deliverance as a defeat of the Egyptians. The prophet Hosea, whose career took place in the second half of the eighth century B.C.E., provides the earliest identification of Yahweh with Egypt outside of the Pentateuch, and there also is evidence of the exodus tradition in the book of Amos (Amos 3:1; 9:7), who was a contemporary of Hosea. Hosea states that Egypt is the place of origin for Israel (Hos 2:15 [Heb. 2:17]; 11:1), as well as the place of identity for Yahweh (“I am Yahweh, your God from the land of Egypt.” Hos 12:9 [Heb. 12:10]; 13:4). But the prophet is not familiar with the exodus as an event attached to the wilderness wandering tradition, in which Israel journeys for forty years through the desert as one stage in their history. In the five references to the wilderness in the book of Hosea (Hos 2:3 [Heb. 2:5], 14–15 [Heb. 16–17]; 9:10; 13:5, 15), the prophet uses the wilderness to signify Israel's loss of land. He does not refer to a past pilgrimage through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, which suggests that the episodes recounted in the book of Exodus had not yet been written, since it relates Israel's deliverance from Egypt with their subsequent journey through the wilderness, an event unknown to the prophet Hosea.
Research on the history of an Israelite Exodus from Egypt has branched out from the book of Exodus to include the broader study of archaeology and of ancient Near Eastern literature. There is no direct evidence that the Israelites dwelt in Egypt or that they escaped from slave labor. Scholars cite indirect evidence, however, that such an event might have been possible, although on a much smaller scale than the biblical story, like similar phenomena throughout ancient Egyptian history. The Egyptian Papyrus Leiden 348 makes reference to the building of Pi-Rameses and to the slave laborers, described as ‘Apiru. The papyrus reads, “Distribute grain rations to the soldiers and to the ‘Apiru who transport stones to the great pylon of Rameses.” The Egyptian Papyri Anastasi moreover provide insight into border crossings, migrations, and runaway slaves during the thirteenth century B.C.E. The comparative material also lowers the dating by several centuries from the biblical chronology, since it points to the nineteenth rather than the eighteenth dynasty of Egyptian rule. Reference to the city of Rameses (Exod 1:11) may indicate the
capital of Rameses II (1279–1213 B.C.E.), the second Pharaoh of Egypt during the nineteenth dynasty.
The most important Egyptian evidence concerning Israel's early history is the Merneptah Stele, composed during the fifth year of the Pharaoh Merneptah's rule (ca. 1208 B.C.E.). The Merneptah Stele is the oldest reference to Israel in ancient records. In describing his military successes Merneptah writes: “Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe; Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured. Yanoam was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, his seed is not” (ANET, 376–8; CoS, 41). The Egyptian writing indicates that the middle three references (Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yanoam) are cities, and that the term “Israel” refers to a people, not a city or a particular place. The Merneptah Stele thus identifies an “Israelite” people in the thirteenth century B.C.E. But the evidence also tends to argue against the exodus from Egypt, since Israel appears to be an indigenous group within Canaan, who were the object of Egyptian conquest. As such they certainly would know first hand Egyptian oppression. Not only Merneptah (1213–1203 B.C.E.), but also Rameses II (1279–1213 B.C.E.) and Seti I (1294–1279 B.C.E.) made frequent military excursions into Palestine in order to tighten the Egyptian control over the area. While the latter two pharaohs may be identified with the two pharaohs of the exodus narrative (see Exod 2:15, 23; 4.19; 5:1), the biblical sources do not name either pharaoh nor is there any mention in Egyptian sources of an Israelite flight from Egypt, of a Pharaoh's death in the encounter, or of the march through the desert of two to three million people, before their children conquered the land of Canaan.
The story of the defeat of Pharaoh and of his army in the Re(e)d Sea is a ritual legend, which speaks to an ongoing political reality in the life of Israel. Egyptian rule loomed large in Israel's life from her earliest years and it continued throughout her political history, giving the legend of the exodus from Egypt immediacy and continuing religious significance. The ancient Israelite writers moreover were also familiar with Egyptian customs and practices, further underscoring the influence of Egyptian culture and politics on their life in Canaan. Egyptian language influences the book of Exodus in small details and in large events. The name “Moses” (mosheh), for example, derives from the Egyptian word msi, a common theophoric element in proper names, meaning “son.” The word appears on such names as Thutmose, “son of Thut,” or Ptahmose, “son of Ptah.” The “bulrush” (gome') in which Moses is placed in Exod 2:3 may derive from the Egypt word “papyrus” (g/kmy). Even the plagues may reflect polemical actions against Egyptian gods, including Hapi, the god of the Nile, Osiris, the god of the dead, and Re, the sun god.
The influence of Egyptian culture on ancient Israelite writers may reach back to an experience of oppression in Egypt itself, but it need not. The reference to Pithom, as one of the cities built by the Israelites, may provide historical background for dating the composition of the story of the exodus. D. Redford has noted that the name Pithom does not appear in hieroglyphic writing with the town determinative until after 600 B.C.E. This historical insight would place the JE or non-Priestly author of the Exodus in the late exilic period at the earliest.
Structure and Contents.
The book of Exodus is an episode in the larger story of the Pentateuch. The background to the events in the book is the divine promise of lineage and land to the ancestors in Genesis (e.g., Gen 12:1–4; 13:14–17). Exodus opens by recalling the divine promise to the ancestors, when it states that the family of Jacob had grown into a great nation, fulfilling one aspect of the divine promise (Exod 1:7). But Israel's vast population in the land of Egypt, not Canaan, threatens Pharaoh, prompting oppression and even genocide. The result is a paradoxical situation at the outset of the book. The partial fulfillment of the divine promise creates suffering, not blessing, for Israel.
The suffering of Israel in Egypt and the unfulfilled divine promise of land provide the background for probing two central themes about Yahweh, the God of Israel: the character of divine power and the nature of divine presence in this world. Although the two themes are interwoven throughout the entire book, each takes prominence at different stages in the story, allowing for a loose division in the outline of the book of Exodus, which is reinforced by geography. The theme of divine power is explored, for the most part, in the setting of the land of Egypt (Exod 1:1—15:21). The theme of divine presence is developed in the setting of the wilderness, as Israel journeys with God from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan (Exod 15:22—40:38).
Exodus 1:1—15:21 narrates the conflict between Yahweh and Pharaoh over the fate of Israel. It is an epic battle between kings and gods. The weapons of war are the forces of nature. Yahweh summons reptiles, insects, and meteorological elements, including hail and darkness, in an initial assault on Pharaoh (Exod 7–10). When these elements fail to persuade Pharaoh to release Israel from Egyptian slavery, the personification of death itself, described as “the destroyer” (12:23) descends upon the land of Egypt in the darkness of midnight, slaying all Egyptian firstborn children and animals (Exod 11–12). Even the plague of death does not dissuade Pharaoh from continuing the conflict. During the night he musters his army one last time and pursues the fleeing Israelites to the Re(e)d Sea (Exod 13), where Yahweh destroys him at dawn, this time using the sea itself as a weapon (Exod 14). The hymns in Exodus 15 look back over the battlefield and confirm the power of God, praising Yahweh as a warrior God, who possesses power over Pharaoh and over all the forces of nature.
Exodus 15:22—40:38 describes the ways in which Yahweh is able to be present with Israel as they journey toward the promised land. This story is also told on an epic scale. The forces of nature change their role from providing Yahweh with weapons of war, to signaling the presence of God with Israel. God purifies polluted water for Israel (Exod 15:22–27). The miracles of manna (Exod 16) and water from the rock (Exod 17:1–7) save Israel from starvation. Advice by Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, about worship and government (Exod 18) provides transition from the initial wilderness journey to the revelation of the law and the sanctuary on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19–24 describes Yahweh's descent on Mount Sinai to reveal covenantal law to the Israelites. Natural forces like thunder, lightning, darkness, and fire signal the nearness of God to Israel and the danger of divine holiness. The need for ritual safeguards results in the revelation of the blueprints for the tabernacle (Exod 25–31. Construction of the tabernacle holds promise for a divine descent from the mountain into the midst of the Israelite camp. But the process is halted when Israel worships the golden calf (Exod 32). As a result, the story must begin anew, if it is to continue at all. God forgives Israel (Exod 34:1–10), issues new laws (Exod 34:11–29), and commissions the building of the tabernacle (Exod 35–40). The book of Exodus ends with Yahweh finally descending from Mount Sinai and entering the completed tabernacle on New Year's Day (Exod 40:1–2, 7), filling the sanctuary with fire and cloud (Exod 40:34–38).
This summary indicates that Exodus divides between the themes of divine power in Exod 1:1—15:21 and divine presence in Exod 15:22—40:38. Each half of the book breaks down further into three episodes. The theme of divine power includes episodes on “The Setting” (Exod 1–2, “The Characters” (Exod 3:1—7:7), and “The Conflict” (Exod 7:8—15:21). The theme of divine presence includes episodes on “The Journey” (Exod 15:22—18:27), “The Revelation” (Exod 19:1—24:11), and “The Sanctuary” (Exod 24:12—40:38). The book of Exodus can thus be outlined as follows:
Part One: Exodus 1:1—15:21, The Power of Yahweh in Egypt
1. Exodus 1:1—2:25, The Setting
1:1–7, The Divine Promise
1:8–21, The Fear of Pharaoh
1:22—2:22, The Identity of Moses
2:23–25, The Human Lament
2. Exodus 3:1—7:7, The Characters
3:1—4:18, The Commission of Moses in the Wilderness
3:1–15, The Identity of Yahweh
3:16—4:18, The Authority of Moses
4:19—6:1, The Failed Confrontation with Pharaoh
4:19–31, The Wilderness Journey
5:1—6:1, The Failure to Rescue
6:2—7:7, The Commission of Moses in Egypt
6:2–8, The Identity of Yahweh
6:14—7:7, The Authority of Moses
3. Exodus 7:8—15:21, The Conflict
7:8—10:20, The Initial Confrontation
7:8—8:15 [Heb. 8:11], Episode One: Water
8:16 [Heb. 8:12]—9:7, Episode Two: Land
9:8—10:20, Episode Three: Air
10:21—14:31, The Defeat of Pharaoh
10:21–29, The Darkness
11:1—13:16, The Death of the Egyptian Firstborn
13:17—14:31, The Destruction of the Egyptian Army in the Re(e)d Sea
15:1–21, The Celebration of Victory
15:1–18, The Song of the Sea
15:19–21, The Song of Miriam
Part 2:Exodus 15:22—40:38, The Presence of Yahweh in the Wilderness
1. Exodus 15:22—18:27, The Journey
15:22–26, The Law and Health
15:27–16, The Divine Food and Sabbath
17:1–7, The Lawsuit over Water
17:8–16, War and Remembrance
18:1–12, The Divine Rescue and Worship
18:13–27, The Administration of Law
2. Exodus 19:1—24:11, The Revelation
19:1–8a, The Proposal of Covenant
19:8b–19, The Theophany
19:20—23:33, The Law
19:20—20:23 [Heb. 20:20], The Decalogue
20:24 [Heb. 20:21]—23:33, The Book of the Covenant
24:1–11, The Covenant Ceremony
3. Exodus 24:12—40:38, The Sanctuary
24:12—32:35, The Loss of the Tablets
24:12–18, The Ascent of Moses
25–31, The Revelation of the Tabernacle
25:1—27:19 The Tabernacle
28:1—31:11 The Appointment of Priests
31:12–17 The Sabbath
31:18 The Tablets
32, The Golden Calf
33:1–23, The Mediation of Moses
34:1—40:38, The Recovery of the Tablets
34:1–9, The Mercy of God
34:10–28, The Law of Covenant Renewal
34:29–35, The Shining Face of Moses and Moses' Authority
35–40, The Construction of the Tabernacle
35:1–3, The Sabbath
35:4—39:31, The Building
39:32–43, The Inspection
40:1–33, The Assembly of the Tabernacle
40:34–38, The Theophany in the Tabernacle
The outline provides the framework for summarizing the thematic development of the book of Exodus in six episodes.
Exodus 1:1—2:25 establishes the social and geographical setting for the liberation of the Israelites as one of oppression through slave labor and genocide in the land of Egypt. The absence of God in the opening episode allows biblical writers to explore the theme of power and oppression from a human perspective. The story moves quickly. Vignettes provide insight into a range of human responses to the effects of the divine promise on the Israelite population, including Pharaoh (Exod 1:8–14), the midwives (Exod 1:15–21), the mother of Moses and Pharaoh's daughter (Exod 1:22—2:10), Moses (Exod 2:11–15), the Midainite family of Jethro (Exod 2:16–22), and the Israelite people (Exod 2:23–25). As a result, human power takes on many faces in Exodus 1–2 and glimpses of the deity emerge only indirectly through human actions of liberation.
The major opponent to the divine blessing is Pharaoh. He fears Israel's growth. His use of power is evil. He acts shrewdly in his interest to control the Israelite population through a series of oppressive actions, progressing from slave labor to genocide of male children. The oppression of Pharaoh is a catalyst in separating Israelites and Egyptians, and in the process the authors begin to define the identity of the Israelite nation. Pharaoh's oppression becomes the object of satire.
The authors emphasize how easily Pharaoh can be subverted by actions of women, functioning in the role of tricksters. The midwives fear God rather than Pharaoh, allowing the Israelite babies to be born. A Levite woman hides her son in a basket and sends him adrift in the Nile River. Even Pharaoh's daughter joins in the action by rescuing the child from the river and adopting him. The series of reversals carries a clear message. The power represented by Pharaoh is certainly dangerous to human well-being, but as an antidote to the power of divine promise it is futile. The message is conveyed throughout the opening chapters of Exodus through women, who function as divine agents. The fertility of the Israelites, so feared by Pharaoh, penetrates into his own family without his even knowing it.
Moses represents a far more ambiguous character than Pharaoh in his use of power. He is an Israelite, born a Levite, but adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. Biblical writers use the motif of adoption to explore how actions by Moses define his identity as an Egyptian and as an Israelite. The two stories immediately following the birth and rescue of Moses provide the core tension in the development of his character. The initial story recounts a failed attempt by Moses to save Israelites from oppression in killing an Egyptian. The next story tells of Moses' successful rescue of Reuel's daughters at the well in the land of Midian. Both stories underscore that Moses embodies the power to save. But this power is dangerous, leading to very different outcomes depending on Moses' different social context and geographical setting. In the land of Egypt Moses identifies with the Hebrews, but mirrors the brutality of Pharaoh. This story is about murder, prompting hostility from Israelites and Egyptians alike. But in the wilderness of Midian Moses emerges as a savior, even though he is identified as an Egyptian. This story is about deliverance, leading to hospitality and marriage. The biblical writers skillfully use the motif of Moses' adoption, first by the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh, and then by the Midianites (initiated by an encounter with Reuel's seven daughters), to underscore the close relationship between identity, action, and environment in the character development of Moses.
The most significant development in Exodus 3:1—7:7 is the entry of Yahweh into the story as an active character. The absence of Yahweh in Exodus 1:1—2:25 allowed biblical authors to explore the themes of power and identity from a human perspective, thus setting the stage for the story of the exodus. The introduction of Yahweh dominates this episode. Yahweh is introduced without clear identity, creating a parallel to the opening stories of Moses, where the hero also lacked identity. When Yahweh enters the scene, the biblical authors explore two related themes with regard to the divine character.
The first is to identify Yahweh. Who is this God? What is the past history of this God? How powerful is this God in relationship to Israel, other nations, and nature? And how will this God act in the future? The two commissions of Moses (Exod 3:1—4:18; 6:2—7:7) provide answers to these questions. The God appearing to Moses is the same God who made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and led them in their migrations in the Promised Land. Yahweh's awareness of the Israelites' suffering and concern for their liberation is spelled out in detail (Exod 3:5–10; 6:2–8). The character of God is also developed with the revelation of the divine name, Yahweh (Exod 3:13–15; 6:2–8). Once Yahweh enters the story, the deity orchestrates all action, commissioning Moses to rescue the Israelites (Exod 3:10), providing Moses with signs of power and persuasion (Exod 4:1–17), introducing Aaron (Exod 4:14–17; 27–31), predicting the outcome of events (Exod 4:21–23; 7:1–7), and even attacking Moses in the wilderness (Exod 4:24–26).
The second goal is to define all other characters in relationship to Yahweh. The relationships separate into three groups: the people of God (the ancestors, Moses, the Israelites, the elders, and Aaron), the opponents of God (Pharaoh, who is described as both the “king of Egypt” and Pharaoh, and the Egyptian people), and the allies of God (Jethro and the Midianites). The special status of Moses and the close ties between his story and the story of Yahweh suggests that he should be separated out from the category, “people of God,” as a unique hero. The relationship between Yahweh and Moses dominates because of the twice-told account of his commissioning, which relates the characters of God and Moses to such a degree that the self-revelation of Yahweh and Moses' authority become nearly inseparable in the book of Exodus. The book will trace the parallel development of Yahweh and Moses until the two are nearly merged into one character, when the holiness of Yahweh invades the face of Moses after the revelation of law at the divine mountain (Exod 34:1–28), which causes his face to shine and requires that Moses wear a veil outside of the tent of meeting (Exod 34:29–35).
The Israelites, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and the Midianites are also defined in relationship to Yahweh in this episode. Yahweh is the God of the Israelite ancestors (Exod 3:15), the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 3:6, 15, 16; 4:5), having made a covenant with them and promising them the land of Canaan (Exod 6:2). Yahweh even identifies the Israelites as his people (Exod 3:7, 10; 6:7) and his firstborn offspring (Exod 4:22). Pharaoh, on the other hand, emerges as the opponent of Yahweh. Pharaoh and Egypt represent the world order of kings, polytheism, and social oppression. The commission of Moses places Yahweh in conflict with Pharaoh as the God of the Hebrews, implying both a social class and an ethnic group. Finally, the Midianites are portrayed as allies of Yahweh in the rescue of the Israelites. Previously, they offer hospitality to Moses leading to his marriage with Zipporah (Exod 2:15–22). In this episode, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, sends him away in peace (Exod 4:18) to fulfill his commission from Yahweh. Then on the journey to Egypt Zipporah rescues Moses from a divine attack by circumcising her son as a means of warding off God and thus saving Moses' life (Exod 4:24–26). The Midianites are neither the people of God, nor are they the opponents of God. They are allies of God. In contrast to Pharaoh, they are able to discern divine revelation. They even know rituals that influence divine action.
Exodus 7:8—15:21 returns to the theme of power first introduced in Exodus 1–2. In the opening episode, the power of God was evident only indirectly through the fertility of the Israelites, an effect of the divine promise to the ancestors. The population explosion of the Israelites allowed the biblical authors to explore a range of human responses to the power of God without introducing Yahweh into the story as an active character. Pharaoh emerged as a sharply defined character in Exodus 1–2, opposed to the power of God. He perceived himself to be shrewd. He feared the growth of the Israelites. And he instituted acts of oppression to combat the power of the divine promise at work in the growth of the Israelite population.
The opposition between Yahweh and Pharaoh intensifies in this episode from an indirect to a direct confrontation over the fate of the Israelites—as a war between kings, as Yahweh and Pharaoh confront each other through the sequence of the plagues that culminates at the Re(e)d Sea. The participation of Yahweh in war suggests that the story is in the tradition of holy war, in which the act of warfare was sacred and the Israelites are envisioned as Yahweh's army. There are aspects of holy war ideology in Exodus. Yahweh destroys “the horse and its rider” hurling them “into the sea” (Exod 15:21) and the deity is even proclaimed as a “warrior” (Exod 15:3). The Israelite act of “despoiling” the Egyptians also involves the people in war as Yahweh's army, who take booty after a victory (Exod 12:35–36), and they are even described at one point as, “armed for battle” (Exod 13:18). But the conflict between Yahweh and Pharaoh also departs from the tradition of holy war in a significant way. Holy war focuses on the people of Israel. The act of war probes their courage and faith to participate in a life-and-death situation trusting that Yahweh fights along with them, as in the book of Joshua. The story of the exodus, by contrast, focuses on Yahweh alone, not the Israelites.
The war between Yahweh and Pharaoh takes on epic proportions. The plagues are both weapons of war and signs of Yahweh's power over nature aimed at defeating Pharaoh. The plagues progress through the elements of nature, from water (the snake or sea-monster) to land (gnats from the earth), and finally to air (boils from ashes thrown into the air) as Yahweh assaults Pharaoh. Yahweh emerges in the sequence of the plagues as the Storm God hurling hailstones on the land of Egypt. When the weapons of nature fail to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites, Yahweh narrows and intensifies the attack, first by killing the Egyptian firstborn and then by destroying the Egyptian army in the Re(e)d Sea. The Song of the Sea interprets the theme of power declaring that Yahweh is a warrior, worthy of praise, because of his victory over Pharaoh.
The chart on the next page illustrates the thematic development of the plagues and the story of the exodus as four episodes that increase in intensity until the Egyptian army is destroyed in the Re(e)d Sea. The chart highlights four cycles, each of which includes three events. The first three cycles contain the plagues, while the fourth cycle describes the defeat of Pharaoh and the exodus of the Israelite people from Egypt. The outline indicates that the plagues of the sea-dragon (Exod 7:8–13; elsewhere, as in 4:3 and 7:15, it is called simply a “snake”), the gnats (Exod 8:16–19 [Heb. 8:12–15]), and the boils (Exod 9:8–12) provide an introduction to each section, which includes an additional pair of plagues. The introductory plagues increase in intensity in two ways. First, they progress through the elements of nature from water (the sea-dragon) to land (gnats from the earth) and finally to air (boils from ashes thrown into the air). Second, there is a development in the central characters. Aaron is the protagonist in the introductory plagues of the first two cycles. Aaron turns his staff into a sea-dragon (Exod 7:8–13) and he brings forth gnats from the earth (Exod 8:16–19 [Heb. 8:12–15]). The Egyptian magicians play an active role over against Aaron. In the first plague they too change their staffs into sea-dragons. But in the plague of gnats the Egyptian magicians are unable to perform the same wonder. Their inability to produce the plague opens their eyes to the power of God in the action of Aaron. They state to Pharaoh concerning the gnats: “This is the finger of God” (Exod 8:19). Moses replaces Aaron in the introductory plague of the third cycle by creating boils from the soot in the air (Exod 9:8–12). The Egyptian magicians fade from the story at this point. They are unable even to stand before Moses at the outset of the third cycle of plagues, because they, too, now suffer from boils. The diagram illustrates that the defeat of Pharaoh, like the previous three cycles of the plagues, consists of an introductory plague followed by two additional actions. The plague of darkness (Exod 10:21–29) continues the progression in intensity established in the cycle of the plagues. Moses, not Aaron, communicates the plague. The Egyptian magicians are now absent altogether. Yahweh's power over nature is extended to include the primordial forces of light and darkness and even the sea itself. Such power is used to bring death to the Egyptian firstborn (Exod 11:1—13:16) at midnight and to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Re(e)d Sea (13:17—14:31) at dawn. As a result the fourth cycle is intended to bring the conflict between Yahweh and Pharaoh to conclusion.
Exodus 15:1–21 contains the celebration of Yahweh's victory over Pharaoh. Moses and the Israelites sing a hymn in vv. 1–18. The first two strophes celebrate Yahweh's power over nature in defeating Pharaoh at the Re(e)d Sea (Exod 15:1–6, 7–12). The hymn changes focus in the third episode (Exod 15:13–16) to accentuate the Israelite pilgrimage in the wilderness and Yahweh's power in history. The hymn concludes with a vision of Yahweh ruling over
The Organization of the Plagues and the Exodus
|Cycle 1||Cycle 2||Cycle 3||Cycle 4|
|7:8—8:15 [Heb. 8:11] Nature: Water||8:16 [Heb. 8:12]—9:7 Nature: Land||9:8—10:20 Nature: Air||10:21—14:31 Nature: Light/Dark|
|Introduction: Aaron Sea-Dragon||Introduction: Aaron Gnats||Introduction: Moses Boils||Introduction: Moses Darkness|
|Blood||Flies||Hail||Death of Firstborn Time: Midnight|
|Frogs||Cattle||Locusts||Defeat of Army Time: Dawn|
the Israelite nation (Exod 15:17–18). Miriam and the women of Israel provide their own hymn in Exodus 15:21. They turn the reader's attention away from the pilgrimage into the wilderness and back to Egypt. Miriam's song is limited to Yahweh's power over nature in defeating the Egyptian army.
The conflict between Yahweh and Pharaoh in the land of Egypt gives way to the Israelite journey with God in the wilderness. With it the central theme shifts from divine power to divine presence. Images of holy war persist. T. Mann has illustrated that Yahweh is idealized and exalted in the wilderness journey marching before the Israelites as their vanguard. Yahweh even undertakes a holy war against the Amalekites (Exod 17:8–16). But the focus is on Yahweh's initial providential care of the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness in a rite-of-passage signifying social and religious change. In the first story of the wilderness journey at the Shur (Exod 15:22–26), God proposes the possibility of forming a society under divine law. The gift of manna at the wilderness of Sin inaugurates the observance of Sabbath (Exod 16). The water from the rock at Rephidim introduces the sacred mountain, Horeb (Exod 17:6), and the first altar to Yahweh (Exod 17:15). The story of Jethro's visit to Moses introduces religious ritual (Exod 18:1–12) and a legal system by which to adjudicate divine law in the community (Exod 18:13–27). The relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites is explored through the motifs of divine testing by means of environmental threats in the wilderness, including health (Exod 15:22–27), food (Exod 16), and water (Exod 17:1–7).
The revelation at Mount Sinai is first foreshadowed in the call of Moses on the divine mountain (Exod 3:1—4:31). The journey through the wilderness (Exod 15:22—18:27) provides a prologue for the revelation on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:1—24:11). The two episodes share similar motifs, including law, the setting of the cosmic mountain in the wilderness, and theophany. The divine proposal of law at the outset of the journey in the wilderness of Shur (Exod 15:26) repeats as a proposal of covenant when the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sinai (Exod 19:3–6). The pivotal role of the divine mountain throughout Exodus 19–24 is foreshadowed by its appearance in the wilderness episodes leading up to the Israelites' arrival at Mount Sinai. God rescued the Israelites by drawing water from the rock at Horeb, the divine mountain (Exod 17:6); and, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, led the Israelites in worship on the mountain of God (Exod 18:1–12).
The forward momentum of the wilderness journey is halted for the extended revelation of the law at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:1—24:11. The Israelites encamp at the base of the divine mountain (19:1–2), while Yahweh descends to its summit in a public revelation (19:16–19). Rather than leading Israel in the wilderness march, in this episode Moses shuttles between Yahweh and Israel in the role of covenant mediator. He ascends and descends the mountain four times to receive divine instruction and to transmit the law to the Israelites. The movement of Moses on the mountain provides structure to the section, which includes the proposal of covenant (19:1–8A); the appearance of Yahweh on Mount Sinai (8B–19); the public revelation of the Decalogue to the Israelite people (19:20—20:23 [Heb. 20:20]); and the private revelation of the book of the covenant to Moses (20:24 [Heb. 20:21]—24:8).
The central themes in the episode, the holiness of God and the establishment of covenant, create tension. Holiness underscores the separation between Yahweh and the Israelite people and the danger of bringing the sacred and the profane into close proximity at Mount Sinai. The holiness of God requires careful procedures (Exod 19:10, 14), without which Yahweh is unable to descend upon Mount Sinai (Exod 19:22–23). The promise of covenant (Exod 19:5), on the other hand, draws God into the profane world, in spite of holiness. The revelation of law in the form of the Decalogue (Exod 20:1–17) and the book of the covenant (Exod 20:23 [Heb. 20:20]—23:33) provides one important means for the Israelites to live safely in the presence of Yahweh. But without the additional safeguards of a sanctuary to quarantine holiness, priests to service the deity, and rituals to orchestrate movement into the sacred, God is unable to descend into the midst of the Israelite people. These requirements are only achieved in the final episode (Exod 24:12—40:38), where the motif of holiness occurs nearly seventy times in the account of the construction of the tabernacle. The result is the divine descent from Mount Sinai into the sanctuary at the close of the book of Exodus (Exod 40:34–38).
Exodus 24:12—40:38 is crucial to the story of the exodus. It recounts how the heavenly vision of the temple by the leaders of Israel in Exodus 24:9–11 becomes an earthly reality, allowing God to dwell on earth in the midst of the people of God. The revelation of law in Exodus 19:1—24:11 and the building of the sanctuary in Exodus 24:12—40:38 are interwoven in the final episode through the motif of the tablets of stone, which contain the revelation of law and the plans for the sanctuary. The drama surrounding the tablets results in a three-part structure to the final episode. First, the tablets of stone are introduced in Exodus 24:12—32:35, when Yahweh summons Moses to the summit of Mount Sinai to receive a copy of divine law written in stone, which includes plans for the construction of the sanctuary. But just when the story is reaching its climax and Moses is ready to return to the Israelite camp, the people reject the covenant with Yahweh by building the golden calf (Exod 32), which prompts Moses to destroy the tablets, symbolizing the end the covenant. Second, Moses intercedes with God in the tent of meeting in the wake of the worship of the golden calf, coaxing God not to abandon the people in the desert (Exod 33:1–23). The success of Moses' intercession is signaled in the third scene, when Moses ascends the mountain one last time to receive new tablets of law, which is followed by the construction of the tabernacle (Exod 34:1—40:38).
The events in the book of Exodus have been the source for ongoing interpretation from the time of the ancient Israelites to the present. The process of interpretation begins already in the book of Exodus. The Song of Miriam (Exod 15:21) and the theophany of God on the mountain (Exod 19:16–17) are likely ancient versions of the exodus and the revelation of Yahweh on the mountain, which may reach back to liturgical traditions from as early as the premonarchical period of ancient Israel. In this case, these liturgies are reinterpreted in the formation of the book of Exodus.
The same process of reinterpretation within the book of Exodus is also evident in the festivals of the Passover, Firstfruits, and Unleavened Bread that are associated with the exodus (esp. Exod 12–13). Scholars are unsure of the origin of these feasts, but it appears that they were once separate festivals and likely not associated with the exodus. Passover may have originated in Israel's seminomadic cultural period as a rite associated with migration. Unleavened Bread, on the other hand, was likely an agricultural festival associated with the barley harvest. But in the book of Exodus the two festivals are linked together and historicized to celebrate the exodus from Egypt. It is difficult to say when the transformation of the festivals occurred in the history of ancient Israel. Passover is clearly a central national feast by the time of Joshua at the end of the seventh century B.C.E. (2 Kgs 23:21–23), yet surprisingly no mention is made of either the exodus or the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the story of Josiah. In any case, the Passover and Unleavened Bread are firmly attached to the exodus from Egypt in the book of Exodus, which contains several interpretations of the festivals, indicating a history of interpretation in the composition of the book. The description in Exodus 12:21–23 of the Israelites' families celebrating Passover alone and remaining in their houses until morning does not fit the narrative context, suggesting that it may represent an independent tradition incorporated into the book of Exodus. The Priestly account, on the other hand, in Exodus 12:1–20 clearly combines the Passover (Exod 12:1–13) and Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:14–20) into a single festival that conforms to the story of the exodus.
But reinterpretation is not confined to the book of Exodus. The story of the exodus was also interpreted throughout the Hebrew Bible. The Passover and Unleavened Bread undergo further interpretation in ritual calendars in Deuteronomy 16; Leviticus 23; Numbers 28; and Ezekiel 45:18–25. It is rehearsed in the historical creedal summaries (e.g., Deut 6:20–24; 26:5–9; Josh 24:3–12; and Neh 9). The prophet Hosea, moreover, interprets the exodus from Egypt as the
result of prophetic leadership (Hos 12:13). The exilic prophet, Second Isaiah, explores the mythical meaning of deliverance from Egypt as a defeat of the sea monster (Isa 51:9–11), while the prophet Ezekiel viewed Israel's wilderness journey negatively, as a time of idolatry (Ezek 20). The Psalms also celebrate the central themes of the exodus. The topics include the plagues (Pss 78:43–51; 105:26–36; 135:8–9), the miracle at the Sea (Pss 78:13; 136:15; 114:3–6), the exodus from Egypt (Pss 78:13, 105:23–36, 106:4–12), the wilderness journey (Pss 78:14–31; 105:37–42; 106:13–23), and the celebration of the heroes Moses and Aaron (Ps 81).
The book of Exodus was also influential in shaping the broader history of Judaism and Christianity. Early Jewish writers like Josephus and Philo of Alexandria reinterpreted the exodus and the life of Moses to a Hellenistic culture. In his Life of Moses, for example, Philo described the tutoring of Moses in arithmetic and geometry by the Greeks (Life of Moses 1.21–23). Hecataeus of Abdera interpreted the exodus as an expulsion of foreigners from Egypt to Greece, whose leader was Moses. The group founded colonies, one of which was Jerusalem (Diodorus Siculus, 40.3.1–8.). New Testament writers explored the meaning of Jesus' ministry and Passion within the framework of the exodus. Jesus was called out of Egypt (Matt 3:15), underwent testing in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–12), and became the Passover Lamb (John 19:36), while the early Christians were also identified with the wilderness generation of Israelites (1 Cor 10:1–13).
The Passover Haggadah, recited during the Passover Seder, continues to propel the events of the exodus through time, interpreting the exodus to new generations of Jewish worshippers. The Haggadah, which originated in the early rabbinic period, retells the story of the exodus from one generation to the next in celebrating the Passover to fulfill the commandment of Moses to the Israelites in Exodus 13:8: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ ” Already at the end of the first century C.E., Rabbi Gamaliel II stated: “Anyone who has not said these three words on Passover has not done his duty: Pesach (Passover Lamb), Matza (Unleavened Bread), and Maror (Bitter Herbs).”
The exodus continues to provide a resource for social criticism in contemporary biblical interpretation. Liberation theologians have used the exodus as a resource for oppressed people to struggle for liberation from modern tyrants who oppress and repress them as the Pharaoh did the Hebrews. Feminists look to the exodus for models of resistance to power in such female characters of Miriam or the midwives. Postcolonialist interpreters expose the oppressive side of the exodus mythology, in which the promise of land through conquest has provided religious justification for unjust land claims throughout the colonial period to the present time. Finally, the story of the exodus also lives on in popular culture through such movies as Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923) or the more recent Walt Disney animated feature film, The Prince of Egypt (1998)
Authorship and History
- Blum, E. Die Komposition der Vätergeschichte. Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 57. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984.
- Cross, F. M. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973.
- Dozeman, T. B., and K. Schmid. A Farewell to the Yahwist? The Composition of Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2006.
- Frerichs, E. S., and L. H. Lesko. Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997.
- Friedman, R. E. “Torah (Pentateuch). In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David N. Freedman, pp. 605–622. Volume 6. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
- Gertz, J. C. Tradition und Redaktion in der Exoduserzählung: Untersuchungen zur Endredaktion des Pentateuch. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 186. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2000.
- Hoffmeier, J. K. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
- Jenks, A. W. The Elohist and North Israelite Traditions. Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 22. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1977.
- Johnstone, W. Chronicles and Exodus: An Analogy and Its Application. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 275. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1998.
- Loewenstamm, S. E. The Evolution of the Exodus Tradition. Translated by B. J. Schwartz. Perry Foundation for Biblical Research in the Hebrew University. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992.
- Redford, D. B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
- Rendtorff, R. The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch. Translated by J. J. Scullion. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 89. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990.
- Römer, T. Israels Väter: Untersuchungen zur Väterthematik im Deuteronomium und in der deuteronomistischen Tradition. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 99. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990.
- Schmid, K. Erzväter und Exodus: Untersuchungen zur doppleten Begründung der Ursprünge Israels innerhalb der Geschichtsbücher des Alten Testaments. Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 81. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1999.
- Spinoza, B. de. A Theologico-Political Treatise Containing Certain Discussions Wherein is Set Forth that Freedom of Thought and Speech not only May, Without Prejudice to Piety and the Public Peace, be Granted; but also May not, Without Danger to Piety and the Public Peace be Withheld. Translated by R. H. M. Elwes. New York: Dover, 1951.
- Van Seters, J. The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1994.
- Vervenne, M., ed. Studies in the Book of Exodus: Redaction-Reception-Interpretation. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lavaniensium. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1996.
- Vriezen, Th. C “Exodusstudien: Exodus I.” Vetus Testamentum 17 (1967): 334–53.
- Wellhausen, J. Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der Historischen Bücher des Alten Testament. 3d. ed. Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1899.
- Wette, W. M. L. de. Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament. Halle, 1806–1807.
- Winnett, F. V. The Mosaic Tradition. Near and Middle East Series 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949.
Structure, Content, and Interpretation
- Brueggemann, W. “The Book of Exodus.” In The New Interpreter's Bible, edited by L. Keck et al., I: 676–981. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
- Carmichael, C. M. The Origins of Biblical Law: The Decalogues and the Book of the Covenant. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992.
- Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Exodus. Translated by I. Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967.
- Childs, B. S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974.
- Coats, G. W. Exodus 1–18. Forms of Old Testament Literature IIA. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999.
- Dohmen, C. Exodus 19–40. Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg, Germany: Herder, 2004.
- Dozeman, T. B. Exodus. The Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009.
- Durham, J. I. Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary 3. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1987.
- Fretheim, T. E. Exodus. Interpretation. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1991.
- Gowan, D. E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1994.
- Greenberg, M. Understanding Exodus. The Melton Research Center Series 2. New York: Behrman House, 1969.
- Harrelson, W. The Ten Commandments and Humans Rights. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.
- Houtman, C. Exodus. Volume 1. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament. Kampen, Netherlands: Kok, 1993.
- Houtman, C. Exodus. Volume 2. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament. Kampen, Netherlands: Kok, 1995.
- Houtman, C. Exodus. Volume 3. Historical Commentary on the Old Testament. Kampen, Netherlands: Kok, 2000.
- Jacob, B. The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus. Translated by W. Jacob. Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1992.
- Levinson, B. M., ed. Theory and Method in Biblical and Cuneiform Law: Revision, Interpolation and Development. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 181. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.
- Meyers, C. Exodus. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32–34. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 22. Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press, 1983.
- Noth, M. Exodus: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Translated by J. S. Bowden. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962.
- Patrick, D. Old Testament Law. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.
- Pixley, J. On Exodus: A Liberation Perspective. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983.
- Pritchard, J. B. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969 = ANET.
- Propp, William. H. Exodus 1–18. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
- Propp, William. H. Exodus 19–40. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2006.
- Rad, G. von. Holy War in Ancient Israel. Translated by M. J. Dawn. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991.
- Sarna, N. Exodus: The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991.
- Smith, M. S. The Pilgrimage Pattern in Exodus. With contributions by Elizabeth M. Bloch-Smith. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 239. Sheffield, U.K.: Academic Press, 1997.
- Sprinkle, J. M. “The Book of the Covenant”: A Literary Approach. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 174. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994.
Reception History and History of Interpretation
- Allison, D. The New Moses: A Matthean Typology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
- Assman, J. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.
- Barstad, H. M. A Way in the Wilderness: The “Second Exodus” in the Message of Second Isaiah. Journal of Semitic Studies Monograph 12. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1989.
- Baskin, J. R. Pharaoh's Counselors: Job, Jethro, and Balaam in Rabbinic and Patristic Tradition. Brown Judaic Studies 47. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983.
- Bird, P. Missing Persons and Mistaken Identifies: Women and Gender in Ancient Israel. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997.
- Brenner, A., ed. Exodus to Deuteronomy. Feminist Companion to the Bible [2d Series] 5. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 2000.
- Burns, R. J. Has the Lord Indeed Spoken Only through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 84. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.
- Croatto, J. S. Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom. Translated by S. Attanasio. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1978.
- Daube, D. The Exodus Pattern in the Bible. All Souls Studies II. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.
- Dozeman, T. B., ed. Methods for Exodus. Methods in Biblical Interpretation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Larsson, G. Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1999.
- Leibowitz, N. Studies in Shemot: Part 1. Translated by A. Newman. Jerusalem: The World Zionist Organization, 1981.
- Segal, B.-Z., and G. Levi, eds. The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition. The Perry Foundation for Biblical Research. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1990.
Thomas B. Dozeman