Period Described, Written     
Exd & Cnq

Exodus & The Life of Moses

The Exodus from Egypt is actually the subject of four books of the Torah:

  • Exodus  (Gk εξοδυς from εκ 'out ' and οδος 'road, way, path ')
    [why the relationship between Hebrews and Egyptians turns bad; call of Moses; 10 plagues; Est. of Passover; Red Sea event; revelation of divine name; golden calf incident; 2 versions of the Decalogue; manna; legal codes esp. for ark and tabernacle. Ends w/God's presence descending on newly erected tabernacle]

  • Leviticus
    [Law code dealing primarily w/tribe of Levi, est. of priesthood, role of high priest, purity codes; Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) & the 'scapegoat' ]

  • Numbers
    [Census of the tribes; more on the duties of Levites; departure from Sinai; Aaron & Miriam's 'jealousy'; Korah's rebellion & restriction of priesthood; deaths of Miriam & Aaron; Moses' bronze serpent; Balaam & the talking ass; Joshua to succeed Moses; general law code; summary of exodus narrative]

  • Deuteronomy  (from Gk δευτερος 'second ' and νομος 'law ')
    [another summary of the exodus; another version of the Decalogue (similar to 1st in Ex); the Shema; worship in one location; blessing & curse lists; desc. of offices incl. prophecy; general legal code; Joshua commissioned to succeed Moses; Moses sees Promised Land but does not enter; death & burial of Moses in Moab]


  • These 4 books cover 2 generations (a period of roughly 40 years...):

    • those who experienced the Exodus

    • those born to them on the way to the PL


  • historical?

    • Does it matter?

    • The Exodus concludes w/ the conquest of Canaan

    • displacement of the people that lived there already.

      • seen as God's fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

    • But if not historical, it raises questions

      • about contemporary legitimacy of the Jewish claim to the land,

      • and about how the Hebrews/Israelites originated.

    • 2 Perspectives:

      • 'Biblical Minimalism'
        scholars convinced that much of the OT is legend and fable, w/ no historical basis:

        • they vary on when 'real' history begins,

          • some as early as David

          • some as late as Josiah

        • why?

          • no non-Biblical evidence conclusively confirms

            • presence of 'Hebrews' in Egypt, enslavement or escape

            • a series of plagues

            • a conflict between a pharaoh and Moses

      • 'Biblical Maximalism'
        Others argue that the text is largely historical, at least from the Exodus onwards.

    • If so, when?

      • The Bible itself is vague:

        • the pharaoh(s) is/are unnamed

        • 2 supply cities are mentioned that the Hebrews are forced to build:

          • Pithum
            (Per-Atum, or 'house of Atum')

          • Rameses
            (probably Pi-Rameses, built at Avaris, previously the Hyksos capital)

        • 1 Kings 6:1 -Solomon's temple was dedicated 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt (@1440 BC)

          • but 480=12x40; a symbolic number?


    • 2 Possibilities:

    • The 15th Century BC

      • The 'New Kingdom' Period in Egypt began in 1560 BC,

      • Pharaoh Ahmose expelled the Hyksos from Egypt,

      • starting the XVIIIth dynasty.

        • Hyksos were Semitics, had taken control of Egypt.

        • explains Joseph's rise to power?

        • Ahmose would be the pharaoh 'who did not know Joseph.'

        • In the 1st Century AD, Josephus quotes an Egyptian historian (Manetho) associating the Exodus & building of Jerusalem w/ the Hyksos.


      • Other Evidence:

      • The Amarna Letters

        • collection of letters, incl. some from Egyptian vassals to the Pharaohs Amenhotep III & Amenhotep IV

          • [aka Akhenaton...a monotheist?]

        • found near El-Amarna, a modern Egyptian city close to the 15th Cent BC Egyptian capital Amarna/Akhetaten.

        • describe unrest between vassals in Palestine & 'Apiru (=Hebrews?)

      • The Inscription of Hatshepsut

        • Egypt's first female Pharaoh (1503-1483 BC)

        • During her reign, she revoked privileges of people of Semitic/Asiatic descent in Egypt,

        • forced them to work on state building projects.

        • they tried to rebel; she expelled them.

      • The Merneptah Stele

        • Inscribed stone w/ first written reference to "Israel" outside the Bible.

        • Dated to 15th yr of Pharaoh Merneptah (1207 BC).

        • Celebrates Merneptah's victories over Libya & Palestine.

        • Written in hieroglyphics, one section reads:

The princes are prostrate saying: "Shalom!"
    Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head:
Tjehenu is vanquished, Khatti at peace,
    Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized,
    Yanoam made nonexistent;
Israel is wasted, bare of seed,
     Hurru is become a widow for Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued.
     By the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Banere-meramun, Son of Re, Merenptah, Content with Maat,
    Given life like Re every day.


  • uses determinatives-

    • sign placed before proper noun

    • to indicate type of noun (person, country, etc.)

    • determinative before 'Canaan'='nation'

    • determinative before 'Israel'='people'.

    • could support a 13th century date (see below),

      • may imply Israel was not yet a nation and did not yet possess the land, so probably recently settled.


  • But could be an example of ancient poetry- which often contained parallelisms

    • lines repeat the meaning of previous lines.

      • diff types: synonymous, antithetical

    • If true,

      • 'Israel' would be a synonym for 'Canaan'

    • Since 'Canaan' = 'nation'

      • the determinative for Israel may not matter; it might be meant as synonymous w/nation.


  • Problems with a 15th Century Date:

    • debates abt trans of Hatshepsut inscription.

    • Requires ignoring use of determinatives on the Merneptah Stele

      • rejects simplest explanation.

    • no clear connection between 'Apiru and Hebrews.

      • In Amarna Letters, 'Apiru seems to refer to social status, not ethnic group.

        • 'Apiru were of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

      • no evidence that 'Apiru invaded Canaan as recorded of Hebrews in Joshua and Judges.


  • The 13th Century BC

    • Acc to Ex 1:11, the Hebrews were forced to build "Pithom and Rameses"

    • remains for these 2 cities might be known:

    • "Pithom" is English trans. of Pritm,

      • or "house of Atum."

      • Atum = Egyptian god worshipped at Heliopolis, near present day Cairo.

      • But during the XIX Dynasty (=13th Century BC), Atum was also worshipped in the eastern delta region,

        • where Goshen is located

          • Acc. to Genesis, Goshen is where the Israelites lived.

    • "Rameses" is shortened from "house of Rameses."

      • Rameses II completed work on a city begun by his father Seti I at Avaris, the Hyksos capital.

      • Also Pharaohs of the XIX dynasty initiated major building projects in the delta region.

    • Merneptah Stele, when read w/ determinatives as relevant, supports 13th Century date.

    • Finally, ref to date of the Exodus in 1 Kings could support 13th cent:

      • 40 symbolizes a generation in the Bible (also a covenant),

      • so 12x40 could just mean 12 generations.

      • but a generation is closer to 25 years.

      • 12x25=300.

      • 300+960= 1260. A 13th century BC date.

    • conclusive evidence for either proposal?

      • No- but nor can either be conclusively refuted.

    • sufficient 'circumstantial' evidence to conclude reasonably Exodus has historical basis?

      • 'Absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence'

  • Most likely, there is an historical core to the story,

    • but because of its importance for the founding of Israel, it is highly "theologized"

    • -interpreted through the lens of religious beliefs.

  • Worth noting:

    • Exodus story is written down in the 7th Century BC

    • @ the time of king Josiah,

      • Assyrian control of the region was receding,

      • the Egyptians (under pharaoh Neco, who ultimately killed Josiah in battle) sought to reassert their presence.

    • What purpose would a story of Israelite resistance to Egypt have served in this setting...?

Life of Moses

  • Moses = central figure of the Exodus narrative.

  • His life (and the life of Jesus in Mt) in outline.

  • Why the connection?

    • Because of Deut. 18:15-

    • 'A prophet like me will the Lord your God raise up for you from among your own kinsmen. To him you shall listen.'

    • True prophets must be 'like Moses'

      • - he is the prophetic archetype.

    • Prophets can be like Moses in-

      • strength, by performing miraculous deeds like Moses.

        • [Joshua

        • Elijah

        • Elisha

        • Jesus]

      • weakness, by (for example) being initially rejected by those to whom they are sent, but ultimately accepted.

        • [Jeremiah

        • Micah

        • Jesus]

3 Key Events involving Moses from the Exodus:

  • Revelation of the Divine Name

  • Ex 3:13-14

    • For Ancient Judaism, naming of things has special significance.

    • to know a person's name implied a relationship with them, & power over them.

    • When Moses asks God his name, God responds with 'YHWH'

      • the 'tetragrammaton' or 'four letters'

      • during biblical times, so sacred it was almost never pronounced.

        • except by the high priest in the temple on the Day of Atonement

        • [ended when temple was destroyed in 70 AD]

      • actual pronunciation has been lost, but 'Yahweh' is most likely.

      • what does it mean? Uncertain, but probably a form of the verb 'to be.'

      • Possibilities:

        • 'I am who am'

        • 'I exist' or 'I am'

        • 'I cause to exist' or 'I cause to be'

        • [side note: In Platonic philosophy, a distinction is made between this world and the perfect world of the Forms- the world of 'becoming' and the world of 'being']

      • It is traditional in Judaism to substitute for the divine name:

        • 'heaven' (GMatt)

        • 'the Name'

        • when reading manuscripts of the HB, the word 'Adonai' ('my Lord') was used.

          • Hebrew was 'pointed' (dots and dashes added to indicate vowels) @500 AD

          • b/c YHWH was sacred, it was pointed w/ the vowels for 'Adonai' to alert the reader.

          • Medieval Christians, unaware of this, mistakenly trans. the name w/ wrong vowels, as 'yehowah,' or English 'jehovah.'

      • In the LXX, the Divine Name was trans. 'εγω ειμι' an emphatic form of 'I am.'

      • In the NT, this emphatic shows up in interesting places:

        • JN 8:58; 13:19; 18:1-11 (forms of 'I am' are used 42x in Jn, 2x in Mk & Lk, 5x in Mt)

        • Mk 14:62


  • The Institution of the First Passover

  • (Hb pesach, Aramaic pascha)

    • The basic description of the feast can be found in 3 places:

      • Ex 12:1-27, 43-49; Lev 23:4-14; Deut 16:1-8

      • [Also Num 28:16-25, describes requirements of priests]

    • originally probably an agricultural/harvest feast, came to be reinterpreted in light of the Exodus.

    • A pilgrimage feast, requiring that one journey to a sacred place to celebrate it.

    • A basic description:

      • Celebrated on 10th day in first month of Spring (Nisan)

      • Marks beginning of Feast of Unleavened Bread (7 days long). All leaven is removed from the household.

      • A sacred meal or seder:

        • Each household (unless poor) must sacrifice a lamb:

          • 1 yr old, male, unblemished, no bones can be broken.

          • roasted whole, whatever was left over was burned the next morning.

          • eaten 'like those who are in flight.'

          • blood of the lamb was applied to the doorposts and lintel of the home w/ a 'sprig of hyssop.'

        • Lamb was eaten with:

          • bitter herbs (recalling the bitterness of oppression in Egypt)

          • unleavened bread

    • Over time, the feast changed:

      • 8th cent. BC- only Levites were permitted to sacrifice the lambs for the feast.

      • 7th cent. BC- during reigns of Hezekiah & Josiah, celebration of the feast is limited to the city of Jerusalem.

      • 2nd cent. BC- a cup of wine, passed around both before and after the meal, is added.

      • By the 1st cent AD, Jewish men were expected to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem one week before the feast, staying within a 2-mile radius of the city.

        • Day before the feast was the 'Day of Preparation,'

        • from noon to sundown, priests in the temple sacrificed lambs.

        • the meal was eaten that night, considered the next day.

        • In addition to the lamb, bread, herbs, and wine, the Hallel was sung (Ps 114-118).

      • See Mk 14:12-26

        Last Supper= Passover; Jesus crucified the next morning at 9 am; darkness comes over the land at noon; Jesus dies at 3pm. (body taken down that evening, 'since it was the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath')

      • Also Jn 13:1-4; 18:28; 19:13-16, 31, 42

        Last Supper= Night of Day of Prep (i.e. day before Passover); Jesus crucified noon on Day of Prep; dies and is buried on same day (body taken down before Sabbath)

      • The stories are not historically reconcilable, but make the same point-

      • they interpret the significance of Jesus' death through the Passover.


  • The Sinai covenant (the 'Mosaic Law')

    • If Torah is core of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Exodus is core of the Torah,

    • then the Decalogue, or "Ten Words" (10 Commandments) are the core of Exodus.

  • But when the Bible refers to the "Law," it is referring to more than just the Decalogue-

    • refers to all the laws given to Moses on Mt. Sinai

    • over 600, found in parts of Ex, Lev, Num, and Deut.

  • There are actually 3 versions of the Decalogue in the Torah, and they are not exactly the same:

    • The phrase "ten commandments" only occurs once in the Torah,

      • in Exodus 34:28, concluding a list of laws dealing with priestly rituals (called the "Ritual Decalogue" Ex 34:10-28).

    • Another list (more familiar) appears in Ex 20:1-17.

      • This list is commonly used in Protestant churches.

    • A third list appears in Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

      • This list is the one most used by the Catholic church.

      • MEMORIZE IT:


'I am the LORD your God... You shall not have other Gods besides me.'


'You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.'


'Take care to keep holy the Sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you.'


'Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you...'


'You shall not kill.'


'You shall not commit adultery.'


'You shall not steal.'


'You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.'


'You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.'


'You shall not desire your neighbor's house or field, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.'


  • The Decalogue is an example of "apodictic" law,

    • law stated absolutely and unconditionally

    • no penalties specified for breaking the law.

  • rest of OT laws are "casuistic" or case law, stated in the form:

    • "If x occurs, then y will be the consequences."


  • The Law in its entirety was understood by Jews as a gift from God,

    • blessed w/privilege of setting the example (via the law) of how to be seen as righteous by God.

    • it was not a burden or obligation.


  • Its purpose was not to punish, but to create sanctity.

    • to 'set apart,' 'consecrate,' 'make holy.'

    • sanctity of:

      • Time: Sabbath, feast days

      • Place: The temple, synagogue

      • Person: Food purity laws, Nazirite Vow, Priestly Code

    • But the law was also concerned w/social justice-

      • protecting rights of poor, widowed, orphaned.

      • Examples:

        • Sabbath Year (every 7th year)

          • land was to lie fallow (no crops planted)

            • & the poor could eat from whatever grew there.

            • [edges of crops were always left un-harvested for the poor]

          • slaves who were native Hebrews were to be set free.

        • Jubilee Year (every 49/50 years)

          • A Sabbath year, but also:

            • land was returned to ancestral owners

            • debts were forgiven.

          • [JP II declared 2000 a Christian Jubilee,

            • & called upon 1st world nations to forgive debts of 3rd world]