International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
EXODUS, THE BOOK OF, 3-4
III. Historical Character.
1. General Consideration:
The fact that extra-Israelitish and especially Egyptian sources that can lay claim to historical value have reported nothing authentic concerning the exodus of Israel need not surprise us when we remember how meager these documents are and how one-sided Egyptian history writing is. Whether the expulsion of the lepers and the unclean, who before this had desolated the country and acquired supremacy over it as reported by Manetho and other historians, is an Egyptian version of the exodus of Israel, cannot be investigated at this place, but is to the highest degree improbable. If Israel was oppressed by the Egyptians for a long period, then surely the latter would not have invented the fable of a supremacy on the part of Israel; and, on the other hand, it would be incomprehensible that the Israelites should have changed an era of prosperity in their history into a period of servitude. Over against this the remembrance of the exodus out of Egypt not only is re-echoed through the entire literature of Israel (compare I, 4, above), but the very existence of the people of God forces us imperatively to accept some satisfactory ground for its origin, such as is found in the story of the exodus and only here. In addition, the Book compare Exodus shows a good acquaintance with the localities and the conditions of Egypt, as also of the desert. It is indeed true that we are still in doubt on a number of local details. But other statements in the book have in such a surprising manner been confirmed by discoveries and geographical researches, that we can have the greatest confidence in regard to the other difficulties: compare e.g. Naville's The Store-city of Pithom (Ex 1:11). In general, the opening chapters of Ex, especially the narratives of the different plagues, contain so much Egyptian coloring, that this could scarcely have resulted from a mere theoretical study of Egypt, especially since in the narrative everything makes the impression of resulting from recent experience. The fact that Israel from its very origin received ordinances in regard to religion, morality, law and cults, is explained from the very conditions surrounding this origin and is indispensable for the explanation of the later development of the nation. None of the later books or times claim to offer anything essentially new in this respect; even the prophets appear only as reformers; they know of the election of Israel, and, on the other hand, everywhere presuppose as something self-evident the knowledge of a righteous, well-pleasing relation with God and chide the violation of this relation as apostasy. Ethical monotheism as the normal religion of Israel is reflected in the same way in all the sources of Israel's history, as has been proven in my work ("Die Entwicklung der alttestamentlichen Gottesidee in vorexilischer Zeit," in the May, 1903, issue of Beitrage zur Forderung christlicher Theologie). And the idea that an oriental people, especially if they came out of Egypt, should have had no religious cult, is in itself unthinkable. If all of these norms, also the direction for the cults in the Books of Covenant, of the Priestly Code, or D, at least in the kernel, do not go back to the Mosaic times, then we have to deal with an insoluble problem (compare my work, Are the Critics Right?).
2. The Miraculous Character:
The Book of Exodus is as a matter of fact from its first to its last page filled with miraculous stories; but in this characteristic these contents agree perfectly with the whole history of redemption. In this immediate and harmonious activity of God, for the purpose of establishing a chosen people, all these miracles find their purpose and explanation, and this again is only in harmony with other periods of sacred history. The reason is self-explanatory when these miracles are found grouped at the turning-points in this history, as is the case also in the critical age of Elijah and Elisha, and in the experiences and achievements of "Jonah," so significant for the universality of the Biblical religion. Above all is this true in the ministry of Jesus Christ; and also again in His return to judgment. And in the same way, too, we find this at the beginning of Israel as a nation (see my article in Murray's Dictionary). Compare in this respect the rapid numerical growth of the nation, the miracles, the plagues, in the presence of Pharaoh, the passage through the Red Sea, the miraculous preservation of the people in the desert, the many appearances of God to Moses, to the people, to the elders, the protection afforded by the cloud, the providential direction of the people of Israel and of the Egyptians, and of individual persons (Moses and Pharaoh). The fact that the author himself knows that Israel without the special care and protection of God could not have survived in the desert is in complete harmony with his knowledge of the geographical situation already mentioned.
3. The Legislative Portions:
If any part of the laws in Exodus is to be accepted as Mosaic, it is the Decalogue. It is true that the ten commandments are found in two recensions (Ex 20; Dt 5). The original form is naturally found in Ex 20. Only Moses could regard himself as inwardly so independent of the Decalogue as it had been written by God, that he did not consider himself bound in Dt 5 by its exact wording. The legal ordinances in Ex 21:1 ff have found an analogy already in Code of Hammurabi, more than 500 years older although moving in a lower sphere. As Israel had lived in Goshen, and according to Gen 26:12 Isaac had even been engaged in agriculture, and Israel could not remain in the desert but was to settle down in permanent abodes again, the fact of the existence of this law of Israel, which in a religious and ethical sense rises infinitely above the Code of Hammurabi, is in itself easily understood. And again since the sacred ark of the covenant plays an important role also in the other sources of the Pentateuch (Nu 10:33 ff; 14:44 JE; Dt 10:1-8; 31:9,25) and in the history of Israel (compare Josh 3; 6:6-8; 8:33; Jdg 20:27; 1 Sam 6:2 ff; 2 Sam 15:24 f; 1 Ki 3:15; 6:19; 8:1-9), then a suitable tent, such as is announced in Ex 25 ff, and was erected according to Ex 35 ff, was an actual necessity.
As the Paschal sacrifice, according to Ex 12:3 ff; 12:43 ff P; 12:21 ff JE (?) was to be killed in the houses, and this on the 14th of Nisan in the evening (12:6), and as P directs that a festival assembly shall be held on the next day at the sanctuary (compare Lev 23:6 ff; Nu 28:17 ff), these are conditions which can be understood only in case Israel is regarded as being in the wilderness. For this reason Dt 16:5 ff changes this direction, so that from now on the Passover is no longer to be celebrated in the houses but at the central sanctuary. In the same way the direction Ex 22:29, which ordered that the firstborn of animals should be given to Yahweh already on the 8th day, could be carried out only during the wanderings in the desert, and is for this reason changed by Dt 14:23 ff; 15:19 ff to meet the conditions of the people definitely settled after this wandering. Compare my work, Are the Critics Right? 188-89, 194-95.
As is well known, the average critic handles the Biblical chronology in a very arbitrary manner and is not afraid of changing the chronology of events by hundreds of years. If we leave out of consideration some details that often cause great difficulties, we still have a reliable starting-point in the statements found in 1 Ki 6:1 and Ex 12:40 f. According to the first passage, the time that elapsed between the exodus of the Israelites and the building of the temple in the 4th year of Solomon was 480 years; and according to the second passage, the time of the stay in Egypt was 430 years. A material change in the first-mentioned figures is not permitted by the facts in the Book of Judges, even if some particular data there mentioned are contemporaneous; and to reduce the 430 years of the stay in Egypt, as might be done after the Septuagint, which includes also the stay of the patriarchs in Canaan in this period, or to reduce the whole period from the entrance into Egypt to the building of the temple, is contrary to the synchronism of Hammurabi and Abraham (Gen 14). The first-mentioned could not have lived later than 2100 BC. The 430 years in Ex 12:40,41 P are also, independently of this passage, expressly supported by the earlier prediction of an oppression of Israel for 400 years from the time of Abraham (Gen 15:13 J); and the 480 years of 1 Ki 6:1 are confirmed by Jdg 11:26, according to which, at the time of the suppression by the Amorites and of Jephthah as judge, already 30 years must have elapsed since the east Jordan country had been occupied by the Israelites. According to this the exodus must have taken place not long after 1500 BC. And in perfect agreement with this supposition would be the condition of affairs in Israel as we know them from the Tell el-Amarna Letters dating about 1450-1400 BC, according to which the different Canaanitish cities had been attacked by the Chabiri in the most threatening manner, as this is reported too in the Book of Joshua. As is well known linguistically, too, the identification of the Chabiri with the Hebrews is unobjectionable. Finally, on the well-known Menepthah stele of the 13th century BC, Israel is mentioned in connection with Canaan, Ashkelon, Gezer, Y-nu`m (= Janoah, Josh 16:6,7?), and accordingly is already regarded as settled in Canaan. A date supported in such different ways makes it impossible for me to find in Rameses II the Pharaoh of the oppression, and in Menepthah the Pharaoh of the exodus (both between 1300 and 1200 BC). A conclusive proof that the name and the original building of the city Rameses (Ex 1:11 JE; 12:37 P; Nu 33:3,5 P) necessarily leads back to Rameses II can, at least at the present time, not yet be given (compare on this point also, Kohler, Lehrbuch der biblischen Geschichte des Alten Testamentes, I, 238 ff).
5. Unjustifiable Attacks:
All these attacks on the historical character of this book which originate only in the denial of the possibility of miracles, the Christian theologian can and must ignore. Such attacks do not stand on the ground of history but of dogma. Let us accordingly examine other objections. Thus, it is claimed that the number of men in Israel, which in Ex 12:37 is said to have been 600,000, is too high, because not only the desert but Goshen also would not have been able to support two million people, and Israel had been too short a time in Egypt to grow into so populous a nation. Yet Israel, beginning with the time of the oppression, which, according to 2:23; 18 continued many years and hence began before the highest number in population had been reached, had claims for support from the Egyptian corn (grain) granaries; and the 430 years in 12:40 certainly cannot be reduced, as has been shown under (4) above. To this must be added that in Ex 1:7,9 f, 12,20 f the rapid numerical growth of Israel is represented as the result of a Divine blessing. Then, too, in the company of Jacob and his descendants, doubtless servants, male and female, came down to Egypt (compare the 318 servants of Abraham alone in Gen 14). The figures in Ex 12:37 P are further confirmed by Nu 11:21 (according to critics from JE) and by the results of the two enumerations, Nu 1 f (2:31; compare Ex 38:26 (603, 550)) and Nu 26:51 (601, 730). The attacks made also on the existence of the Tabernacle must be rejected as groundless. According to the Wellhauscn school the Tabernacle is only a copy of the temple of Solomon dated back into the Mosaic times; and the fact that there is only one central seat of the cults is regarded as a demand first made by the Deuteronomistic legislation in the 7th century. Against this latter claim militates not only the impossibility of placing Dt at this time (compare my work Are the Critics Right? 1-55), but also the legislation of the Book of the Covenant, which, in Ex 23:17,19; 34:23,14,26 presupposes a sanctuary, and which even in the passages incorrectly analyzed by Wellhausen, Ex 20:24 (compare again, Are the Critics Right ? 19, 48, 161 ff, 189 ff) speaks only of a single altar (compare also Ex 21:14) and not of several existing at the same time. (The matter mentioned here is the building of an altar, according to a theophany, for temporary use.) Against the critical view we can quote the prophetic utterances of Amos, who condemns the cult in the Northern Kingdom (5:4 f), but teaches that God speaks out of Zion (1:2; compare probably also, 9:1); those of Isaiah (1:12; 2:2 ff; 4:5 f; 6; 8:18; 18:7; 30:29; 33:20; 14:32; 28:16); also the facts of history (compare especially the central sanctuary in Shiloh, 1 Sam 1 through 4; Jdg 21:19, which is placed on the same level with Zion in Jer 7:12 ff; 26:6; Ps 78:60-72). To this must be added such statements as 2 Sam 7:6; Josh 18:1; 1 Ki 3:4; 8:4; 1 Ch 16:39,40; 2 Ch 1:3. All these facts are not overthrown by certain exceptions to the rule (compare LEVITICUS). But the whole view leads to conclusions that in themselves cannot possibly be accepted. What a foolish fancy that would have been, which would have pictured the Tabernacle in the most insignificant details as to materials, amounts, numbers, colors, objects, which in Nu 4 has determined with exact precision who was to carry the separate parts of the tent, while e.g. for the service of the Tabernacle, so important for later times, only very general directions are given in Nu 18:2,4,6; 8:22 ff. This complete picture would be entirely without a purpose and meaningless, since it would have no connection whatever with the tendency ascribed to it by the critics, but rather, in part, would contradict it. Compare my book, Are the Critics Right? 72 ff, 87 ff.
That particularly in the post-exilic period it would have been impossible to center the Day of Atonement on the covering of the ark of the covenant, since the restoration of this ark was not expected according to Jer 3:16, has already been emphasized in DAY OF ATONEMENT. If God had really determined to give to His people a pledge of the constant presence of His grace, then there can be absolutely no reason for doubting the erection of the Tabernacle, since the necessary artistic ability and the possession of the materials needed for the structure are sufficiently given in the text (compare also Ex 25:9,40; 26:30; 27:8 through 31:2 ff; 35:30 ff through 12:35; 3:21,22; 11:2 f; Gen 15:14; Ex 33:4 ff). The examination of the separate passages in Ex, such as the relation of 20:24 (see above) to Deuteronomy, or the ordinances concerning the Passover and the firstborn (Ex 12 f), and other laws in the different codices, goes beyond the purpose of this article (compare however under 3 above, at the close).
1. Connection with Moses:
As the Book of Exodus is only a part of a large work (compare I, 3 above), the question as to authorship cannot be definitely decided at this place, but we must in substance restrict ourselves to those data which we find in the book itself. In several parts it is expressly claimed that Moses wrote them. He sang the hymn found in Ex 15, after the passage of the Red Sea, and it breathes the enthusiasm of what the author has himself experienced. Ex 15:13 ff do not speak against the unity of the hymn, but rather for it, since the perfects here found as prophetic perfects only give expression to the certainty that the Israelites will take possession of the land of promise. In the course of history the nations often acted quite differently from what is here stated and often antagonized Israel (compare Nu 14:39-45; 20:18 ff; 21:4,21-35; 22:6; Josh 6 through 12; also Ex 13:17). In Ex 15:13,17 not only Zion is meant, but all Canaan; compare Lev 25:23; Nu 35:34; Jer 2:7; for har, "mountain," compare Dt 1:7,20 ("hill-country"); 3:25; Ps 78:54,55. According to Ex 17:14 Moses writes in a book the promise of Yahweh to destroy Amalek from the face of the earth. It is absolutely impossible that only this statement should have been written without any connecting thought and without at least a full description of the situation as given in Ex 17:8 ff. And as 17:14 linguistically at least can mean merely `to write a sheet,' as Nu 5:23, it yet appears in the light of the connection of a comparison with related passages, such as Josh 24:26; 1 Sam 10:25, much more natural to think of a book in this connection, in which already similar events had been recorded or could at any time be recorded.
The Ten Words (Ex 20:1 ff) were written down by God Himself and then handed over to Moses; compare Ex 24:12; 31:18; 34:1 ff,28 (Dt 10:2,4). The laws and judicial ordinances beginning with Ex 21, according to 24:4, were also written down by Moses himself, and the same is true of the ordinances in 34:11 ff, according to 34:27.
The proof that formerly had to be furnished, to the effect that the knowledge of the art of writing in the days of Moses was not an anachronism, need not trouble us now, since both in Egypt and Babylon much older written documents have been discovered. But already from the passages quoted we could conclude nothing else than that Moses understood how to make use of different forms of literature--the poetical, the historical and the legal--unless the different statements to this effect by decisive reasons could be shown to be incorrect. In Nu 33, in the catalogue of stations, there is a portion ascribed to Moses that bears the express characteristics of the Priestly Code; and, finally Deuteronomy, with its hortatory, pastoral style, claims him as its author. Already in Ex 17:14 there were reasons to believe that Moses had written not only this statement which is there expressly attributed to him. Thus it becomes a possibility, that in general only in the case of particularly important passages the fact that Moses penned these also was to be made prominent, if it can be shown as probable that he in reality wrote more, as we find in parallel cases in the writings of the prophets (compare Isa 8:1; 30:8; Jer 30:2; Ezek 43:11; Hab 2:2). In addition, we notice in this connection that in the catalogue of stations mentioned above and ascribed to Moses (Nu 33), the close relation of which to the portions attributed to P is certain, not only this part, but also the other words from JE in the present Bible text from Ex 12 through 19 (see above) are regarded as self-evident as Mosaic (as is the case also later with the corresponding historical part), and this is an important witness in favor of the Mosaic authorship of the historical parts. But Ex 25 through 31; 35 through 40 also claim, at least so far as contents are concerned, to be the product of the Mosaic period. The entire portable sanctuary is built with a view to he wanderings in the desert. Aaron and his sons are as yet the only representatives of the priesthood (27:21; 28:4,12,41-43; 29:4 ff, etc.). In view of the relationship which Nu 33 shows with the Priestly Code (P), it is clear, if we accept the genuineness of this part, a matter that is in the highest degree probable, that this style was current in Moses' time, and that he had the mastery of it, even if other hands, too, have contributed to the final literary forms of these laws. In favor of the Mosaic authorship of the whole Book of Exodus we find a weighty reason in the unity and the literary construction of the work as shown above. This indeed does not preclude the use and adaptation of other sources of historical or legal statements, either from the author's own hands or from others, if such a view should perhaps be suggested or made imperative by the presence of many hard constructions, unconnected transitions, unexpected repetitions, etc. But even on the presupposition of the Mosaic authorship, a difference in style in the different kinds of matters discussed is not impossible, just as little as this is the case with peculiarities of language, since these could arise particularly in the course of vivid narration of the story (compare the anacolouths in Paul's writings). But still more a reason for accepting the Mosaic authorship of Exodus is found in the grand and deep conception and reproduction of all the events recorded, which presupposes a congenial prophetic personality; and finally, too, the natural and strong probability that Moses did not leave his people without such a Magna Charta for the future. This Mosaic authorship becomes almost a certainty, in case the Book of Deuteronomy is genuine, even if only in its essential parts. For Deuteronomy at every step presupposes not only P (compare Are the Critics Right? 171 ff), but also the history and the Books of the Covenant (Ex 21 ff; 34:11 ff) as recorded in Exodus.
2. Examination of Objections:
Against the Mosaic authorship of Exodus the use of the third person should no longer be urged, since Caesar and Xenophon also wrote their works in the third person, and the use of this provision is eminently adapted to the purpose and significance of Exodus for all future times. In Isa 20:1 ff Ezek 24:24, we have analogies of this in prophetic literature. The statement (Ex 11:3) that Moses was so highly regarded by the Egyptians is entirely unobjectionable in the connection in which it is found. That the book was not written for the self-glorification of Moses appears clearly in 4:10-16; 6:12. In itself it is possible that some individual passages point to a later date, without thereby overthrowing the Mosaic authorship of the whole (compare also under (1)). In this case we are probably dealing with supplementary material. Ex 16:35 declares that Israel received manna down to the time when the people came to the borders of Canaan. Whether it was given to them after this time, too, cannot be decided on the basis of this passage (compare however Josh 5:12). If the entire Book of Exodus was composed by Moses, then Ex 16:35 would be a proof that at least the final editing of the book had been undertaken only a short time before his death. This is suggested also by 16:34b, since at the time when the manna was first given the ark of the covenant did not yet exist; and the statement in 32:35 takes into consideration the later development as found in Nu 13 f. In the same way Ex 16:36 could be a later explanation, but is not necessarily so, if the `omer was not a fixed measure, of which nothing further is known, and which probably was not to be found in every Israelite household, but a customary measure, the average content of which is given in 16:36. If we take Exodus alone there is nothing that compels us to go later than the Mosaic period (concerning the father-in-law of Moses, see under II, 2, 1 (1:8 through 7:7) at the close). The question as to whether there are contradictions or differences between the different legal ordinances in Exodus and in later books cannot be investigated at this place, nor the question whether the connection of Exodus with other books in any way modifies the conclusion reached under (1).
Books that in some way cover the ground discussed in the article: Against the separation into different sources: Eerdmans, Alttestamentliche Studien, III ("Das Buch Exodus"); Orr, Problem of the Old Testament; Moller, Wider den Bann der Quellenscheidung. In favor of the construction of Ex 21 ff: Merx, Die Bucher Moses und Josua ("Religionsgeschichtliche Volksbucher," II, Series, number 3). For Ex 21 ff in its relation to the Code of Hammurabi: A. Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients; J. Jeremias, Moses und Hammurabi (with fuller literature); Histories of Israel by Kittel, Konig, Oettli, Kohler, Klostermann, Hengstenberg; Commentaries of Ryssel, Lange, Keil, Strack; Introductions to the Old Testament by Strack, Baudissin, Driver, Sellin. Against the Wellhausen hypothesis: Moller, Are the Critics Right? (with fuller literature); Orr (see above). Against the evolutionary theory: Orr (see above); Moller, Die Entwicklung der alttestamentlichen Gottesidee in vorexilischer Zeit (with fuller literature). Representatives of other schools: The Introductions of Kuenen and Cornill; the Commentaries of Holzinger and Baentsch; the Histories of Israel by Wellhausen and Stade.
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'exodus, the book of, 3-4'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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