Introduction to Exodus

I’m looking forward to starting Exodus. As a first time reader of the Bible, what I know about Exodus comes from what others have told me, the bits and pieces I’ve read, and from movies. The cartoon, Prince of Egypt, was pretty good and the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, was definitely entertaining. However, I can’t rely on those films as my primary source of information.

On to my thoughts on the introduction. I like how early in the introduction the author details reasons why there is not agreement that Moses actually wrote Exodus. Here’s what the say (sorry for the length):

Modern biblical scholarship, however, has noted many problems with the view that Moses wrote the entire Torah, including Exodus. Like the rest of the Pentateuch, Exodus contains contradictions and redundancies. For example, Moses’ father-in-law is sometimes called Reuel and sometimes Jethro; and the mountain of revelation is Sinai in some passages and Horeb in others. The narratives of Moses on the mountain in chs 19 and 24 have many overlapping and conflicting details, as does the account of the nine marvels in 7.8–10.29. Differences in vocabulary, style, and ideas are also discernible. Thus Exodus is best understood as a composite of traditions shaped over many centuries by an unknown number of anonymous storytellers and writers. (p. 81)

In discussion on the historical context, the introduction details how there is little archaeological evidence to support some of the specific events in Exodus. For simplicity, I want to just paste what they say here:

The historicity of that story has been questioned, partly because the sources comprising Exodus date from many centuries after the events they purport to describe. The events themselves, which involve the escape of a component of the Pharaoh’s workforce, the disruption of Egyptian agriculture, and the loss of many Egyptian lives, are not mentioned in Egyptian sources (although the Egyptians would not necessarily record such events). Similarly, the larger-than-life leader Moses is not mentioned in contemporaneous nonbiblical sources; and no trace of a large group of people moving across the Sinai Peninsula has been found by archaeological surveys or excavations. Moreover, virtually none of the places mentioned in Exodus, including the holy mountain, can be identified with sites discovered in Sinai or with names known from other sources (see 12.37n.; 19.1n.). In addition, features of the story, such as the signs and wonders performed in Egypt and the exceedingly large number of people said to have le Egypt (see 12.37n.), defy credibility. Finally, the Exodus story culminates in Joshua, with the conquest of the land of Israel; and here too the archaeological record does not corroborate the main biblical narrative. (p. 81)

However, the author notes that “the basic storyline is supported by evidence from Egyptian and other sources” (p. 81). The authors note that evidence indicates that groups of people did migrate to Egypt during times of famine, some were forcibly taken to Egypt, and there is a “documented instance of several workers escaping into the Sinai wilderness” (p. 82).

Perhaps the coolest thing I read in the introduction related to any historical evidence was this: “In addition, the end of the Late Bronze Age, by which time the Israelites would have left Egypt, coincides with the date of inscriptional evidence—a stele erected by the pharaoh Merneptah in ca. 1209 bce, which contains the first mention of Israel outside the Bible—for a people called “Israel” in the land of Canaan” (p. 81). THAT’S AWESOME!!!! This stele is called the Merneptah Stele. I just love history, not as much as I love science, but close.

A few other statements resonated with me. First, the text mentions that Exodus is “arguably the most important book in the Hebrew Bible. It presents an explanation of God’s name YHWH and central biblical ideas about God, especially that God responds to and saves people who are suffering or oppressed” (p. 82-83). The authors explains that major institutions of ancient Israel are grounded in the narrative of liberation. Another statement that resonated with me is this: “Despite its many positive features, however, some aspects of Exodus—such as the loss of innocent Egyptian lives and the investment of community resources in an elaborate shrine—continue to trouble readers” (p. 83). True for me. Based on my currently limited knowledge of Exodus, parts of it do trouble me. I’ll be interested to see if more of it does. Nevertheless, ONWARD!!

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