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A shorter version of this paper was published as ‘Story Telling and Redaction: Varieties of

Language Usage in the Exodus Narrative’, in The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the
Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America (ed. J.C. Gertz, B.M. Levinson, D.
Rom-Shiloni and K. Schmid; FAT 111; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck), 443–475.

Story Telling and Redaction: Varieties and Vagaries of Language

Usage in the Exodus Narrative

In the present study I want to advance two interconnected theses. My first

claim is that the book of Exodus harbors two distinct linguistic registers that

allow for easy identification and quantification. The first register, mainly found

in the Priestly or the Deuteronomic strata, stands out by a number of features

that represent the cross-linguistic, cross-cultural characterization of written

language. A second register reveals a quite different character, and is in many

respects close to spontaneous spoken discourse. Narratives in this style form the

backbone of the narrative in Exodus.

My second thesis is that this second layer preserves an underlying oral-epic

substratum, an overarching platform, that is situated in the tradition stream of

the Northwest Semitic epic, narrative poetry and in which the narrative in its

present, written form is anchored.1 This platform comprises the narrative of the

On the oral-epic platform of patriarchal narrative see my studies, “Oral Substratum,
Stylistic-Syntactic Profile and Thematic Flow in the Abraham-Jacob Narrative,” in
Contextualizing Israel’s Sacred Writings: Ancient Literacy, Orality, and Literary Production (ed.
Brian Schmidt; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature), 217-238; “Oral Platform and

exodus and the episode of the conclusion of the covenant at Mount Sinai in

one overarching framework, the Exodus-Sinai narrative, or in short, the ESN.

Anthropological and ethnopoetic fieldwork provides definite and conclusive

counterevidence for GUNKEL’s thesis regarding the extreme brevity of popular,

oral narrative. Fieldwork also indicates that oral narrators and poets, the

“Singers of Tales”, are accomplished artists of oral literature, while philological

analysis shows that Ugaritic epic texts reveals many features that are to be

associated with oral poetry.2

Both claims are diametrically opposed to the views that dominate the

modern study of the narrative of the exodus and the conclusion of the

covenant at Mount Sinai. According to these views the ESN is to be attributed

to the Deuteronomic, post-Deuteronomic, Priestly and post-Priestly authorial

and redactional strata. An emerging consensus separates these narratives from

the tales of the patriarchs, with which they were united by a post-Priestly

redaction stratum. This view has the advantage of positing a rather synchronic

view of the book of Exodus, in which the author-redactor combines the task of

editor and creative author, whose activity consists, in the words of Jean-Louis

SKA, “of collecting, rearranging, re-elaborating, and reshaping older material”.3

Language Usage in the Abraham Narrative”, in the present volume.

K.T. AITKEN, “Oral Formulaic Composition and Themes in the Aqhat Narrative”, UF 21
(1989), 1-16; and see my study, “Orality and Language Usage” (see n. 1), sections 1.1, 2.3-4,
and the references there.

This view harbours an important truth, but also fails to do justice to the

variety in language usage and the sharp linguistic distinctions between the

diverse strata of the Exodus narrative. Thus the first part of the present study

will establish these stylistic distinctions and the extent of the oral-epic strand.

In the second part I will discuss methods of establishing redactorial

intervention and ways of reading. The third part will be dedicated to structural

aspects of the ESN.

1. From the Oral to the Written: Stylistic-Syntactic Patterns

1.1. Syntactic-Stylistic Analysis

The main argument for the idea of an oral background of the Exodus narrative

in its present form is based on language usage to be analyzed by means of three

main parameters:4

1. The number of explicit syntactic constituents (explicit lexicalized

constituent, ELC) that are dependent immediately on the predicate: subject,

J.-L. SKA, “A Plea on Behalf of the Biblical Redactors”, Studia Theologica 59 (2005), 4-18,
here 4.
This method (very much a project in progress) is developed in detail in my papers,
“Sociolinguistics, a Key to the Typology and the Social Background of Biblical Hebrew”
Hebrew Studies 47 (2006), 115-62, here 128-36, 141-51; “The Book of Samuel and the
Deuteronomist: A Syntactic-Stylistic Analysis”, in The Books of Samuel and the Deuteronomists
(ed. C. Schäfer-Lichtenberger; BWANT 188; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2010), 34-73, here

direct/indirect object(s), modifiers (in so far as not implicit in prefix, affix or

object/possessive suffix), such as:

Exod 15:9 ‫( נַ ְפ ִשׁי‬1) ‫ ִתּ ְמ ָל ֵאמוֹ‬/‫( ָשׁ ָלל‬1) ‫ ֲא ַח ֵלּק‬/‫אַשּׂיג‬
ִ /‫ ֶא ְרדּ ֹף‬/‫( אוֹיֵב‬1) ‫ָא ַמר‬

‫( יָ ִדי‬1) ‫ישׁמוֹ‬ ִ /‫( ַח ְר ִבּי‬1) ‫אָריק‬

ֵ ‫תּוֹר‬ ִ

This verse includes seven clauses, all of them short: five clauses contain one

explicit constituent apart from the predicate, whereas two clauses consist of

predicate only: ‫אַשּׂיג‬

ִ /‫ ֶא ְרדּ ֹף‬. I assign clauses of this type to the class of “short

clauses” (0-1 ELC).

A second type (long clauses) contain at least two explicit constituents:

Exod 2:24a ‫( ֶאת־נַ ֲא ָק ָתם‬2) ‫ֹלהים‬
ִ ‫( ֱא‬1) ‫וַ יִּ ְשׁ ַמע‬

v.24b ‫ת־א ְב ָר ָהם ֶאת־יִ ְצ ָחק וְ ֶאת־יַ ֲעקֹב‬ ְ ‫( ֶא‬2) ‫ֹלהים‬

ַ ‫ת־בּ ִריתוֹ ֶא‬ ִ ‫( ֱא‬1) ‫וַ יִּ זְ כֹּר‬

Both clauses contain 2 ELC’s, (1) a subject, ‫ֹלהים‬ ֱ and (2) a direct object,
ִ ‫א‬,

‫( ֶאת־נַ ֲא ָק ָתם‬v. 24a), and ‫ת־א ְב ָר ָהם ֶאת־יִ ְצ ָחק וְ ֶאת־יַ ֲעקֹב‬ ְ ‫( ֶא‬v. 24a).
ַ ‫ת־בּ ִריתוֹ ֶא‬

2. Noun groups within a given constituent, such as ‫( וִ ֵידי מ ֶֹשׁה‬a construct

state) and ‫אַהר ֹן וְ חוּר‬

ֲ ְ‫( ו‬a junction, both in 17:2). An example for a longer

group: ‫ת־א ְב ָר ָהם ֶאת־יִ ְצ ָחק וְ ֶאת־יַ ֲעקֹב‬ ְ ‫( ֶא‬above 2:24).

ַ ‫ת־בּ ִריתוֹ ֶא‬

3. Subordinate clauses: relative clauses, object, time clauses, infinitive and

participial clauses, such as:

Exod 21:1 ֶ ֵ‫ ֲא ֶשׁר ָתּ ִשׂים ִל ְפנ‬- ‫וְ ֵא ֶלּה ַה ִמּ ְשׁ ָפּ ִטים‬

Complex hypotaxis is noted when the subordinate clause is embedded in a

clause that itself is dependent on the main clause:

Exod 35:1 ‫ר־צוָּ ה יְ הוָ ה = ַל ֲעשׂ ֹת א ָֹתם‬
ִ ‫ ֲא ֶשׁ‬- ‫ֵא ֶלּה ַה ְדּ ָב ִרים‬

This sentence reveals a complex hierarchy: it includes a relative clause, ‫ר־צוָּ ה‬

ִ ‫ֲא ֶשׁ‬

‫( יְ הוָ ה‬level 1), that contains an object clause, ‫( ַל ֲעשׂ ֹת א ָֹתם‬level 2). One also notes

cases in which the subordinate clause contains contains more than one

constituent, apart from the predicate (and not including the relative particle),

or a noun group:
35:2 ‫יוּמת‬
ָ ‫אכה‬
ָ ‫ל־הע ֶֹשׂה בוֹ ְמ ָל‬
ָ ‫ָכּ‬

This participle clause contains a direct object, ‫אכה‬ ְ and an indication of

ָ ‫מ ָל‬,

time, ‫בוֹ‬.
35:32 ‫וּבנְּ ח ֶֹשׁ‬
ַ ‫וּב ֶכּ ֶסף‬
ַ ‫וְ ַל ְחשׁ ֹב ַמ ַח ָשׁבֹת ַל ֲעשׂ ֹת ַבּזָּ ָהב‬

This clause includes the junction ‫וּבנְּ ח ֶֹשׁת‬

ַ ‫וּב ֶכּ ֶסף‬
ַ ‫ ַבּזָּ ָהב‬.

Analysis by these parameters makes it possible to construct a syntactic-stylistic

profile that specifies (1) the frequency of short independent clauses (0-1 ELC),

(2) of long clauses (2+ ELC), (3) of all subordinate clauses, (4) of the frequency

of noun groups (mean noun pair, MNP).5 Categories 1-3 add up to 100 % of

the entire text. For fine tuning I indicate the frequency of clauses in complex

hypotaxis, and of elaborate clauses, containing more than two explicit

constituents (3+ ELC). Syntactic-stylistic analysis by means of these parameters

indicates a differentiation between two kinds of style, one close to the style of

writing, and one close to spoken discourse.

By the number of noun pairs I mean the number of nouns appearing in noun groups,
divided by two (mean noun pairs, MNP). The frequency of noun pairs equals 100 % when in
the mean all clauses include a noun pair (a group consisting of two nouns). When each clause
contains, in the mean, more than one noun pair, the frequency exceeds the 100 % boundary.

1.2. The Intricate, Elaborate Style and the Scribal Chancery

Large sections of biblical law, historiography and narrative are characterized by

the low frequency of short clauses (around 30 % and less), as against the

relatively high frequency of subordinate clauses (around 30 %) and noun

groups (80 % MNP or more). This is the elaborate, intricate style (IES), instanced

by a short excerpt from the introduction to the section on the construction of

the tent sanctuary (the tabernacle):

Exod 35:4 ‫ר־צוָּ ה יְ הוָ ה = ֵלאמֹר‬
ִ ‫ ֲא ֶשׁ‬- ‫( זֶ ה ַה ָדּ ָבר‬1) /‫ ֵלאמֹר‬- ‫ל־ע ַדת ְבּנֵ י־יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל‬ ָ ‫( ֶא‬2) ‫( מ ֶֹשׁה‬1) ‫אמר‬
ֲ ‫ל־כּ‬ ֶ ֹ ‫וַ יּ‬

5 clauses: 1 short (1 ELC), 1 long (2 ELC), 1 subordinate (‫ ֵלאמֹר‬1) and 2 in complex

subordination (relative clause with embedded ‫;)לאמֹר‬

ֵ 1 noun group (4 nouns).

v. 56 ‫( ַליהוָ ה‬3) ‫רוּמה‬

ָ ‫( ְתּ‬2) ‫( ֵמ ִא ְתּ ֶכם‬1) ‫ְקחוּ‬

‫( זָ ָהב וָ ֶכ ֶסף וּנְ ח ֶֹשׁת‬3) ‫רוּמת יְ הוָ ה‬

ַ ‫( ֵאת ְתּ‬2) ‫יא ָה‬
ֶ ‫( ִיְב‬1) ‫כֹּל נְ ִדיב ִלבּוֹ‬

2 clauses: 2 elaborate (3 ELC), with 3 noun groups (with 3, 2, and 3 nouns respectively).

This stretch includes 7 clauses: 1 short clause (1 ELC), 3 long clauses (including

2 cases of 3 ELC), 3 subordinate clauses (1 in complex hypotaxis), and 4 noun

groups (12 nouns, = 6 MNP). With its preference for long clauses, hypotactic

constructions and long noun phrases this stretch is a typical example for the


The distinctive features of the IES are close to the characteristics of written

language, as analyzed in cross-linguistic, cross-cultural analysis.7 A style of this

Listing continued in 35:6–9.
See J. MILLER and R. WEINERT, Spontaneous Spoken Language: Syntax and Discourse
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 4-21, 80-94, 105-125, 133-149, 209-220; M.A.K.

type reveals a characteristic preference for the eloborate specification of the

identity of the speaking and acting characters, the objects involved and the

circumstances by means of long noun groups, elaborate clauses. Addditional

data is often presented in relative clauses, time clauses, motive clauses or final

clauses. Thus the information is concentrated in a restricted number of

sentences, resulting in great density. In this connection it is important to note

that written texts, in particular legal contracts and official correspondence, can

be transported to different points in space and time, and thus can be divulged

to different people, and may be consulted on different occasions. In order to

make such transport possible clearness of specification is a sine qua non.

The writing of such official texts requires a variety of skills that are

imparted by scribal education, whether in class or in a private capacity, by

which students and apprentices are taught to produce well-formed texts and to

comprehend them in accordance with the accepted norms. The IES, then,

represents an education and a social framework within which these skills are

acquired and fullfil a function. Small wonder, then, that the Hebrew epigraphic

texts, most of them from the Judean monarchy, all reveal the characteristics of

HALLIDAY, Spoken and Written Language (2nd ed.; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989), 73-75, 87, 98-100;
and see my studies, “Orality and Language Usage” (see n. 1), n. 38; F.H. POLAK, “Language
Variation, Discourse Typology, and the Socio-Cultural Background of Biblical Narrative”, in
Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (ed. C.L. Miller-Naudé and Z. Zevit; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns,
2012), 301-338, here 316, nn. 21-23, and the references there.

the IES.8 Accordingly, texts composed in the IES reveal some kind of

connection to the scribal chancery, whether directly or indirectly. Thus the

socio-cultural background implied by the IES includes a scribal chancery and a

developed royal bureaucracy.

The IES is characteristic for the narrative and homiletic texts in

Deuteronomy, the deuteronomistic redaction in Joshua and the books of Kings

(1 Kgs 3–15; 2 Kgs 11–12; 14–25), the Jeremiah vita (Jer 26; 36–43) and large

sections attributed to the Priestly source. Since these texts locate themselves in

the late Judean monarchy, I speak of the “Judean Corpus”. A similar style is

revealed by the narratives that locate themselves, by their very content, in the

Persian (or early Hellenistic) era, the Achaemenid Corpus. The distinction

between those two corpora is indicated by the characteristics of Late Biblical

Hebrew, including Aramaic borrowings and calques, in the Achaemenid


1.3. The Lean, Brisk Style and the Oral Performance

See my studies, “Sociolinguistics and Social Background” (see n. 4), 137-138; F.H. POLAK,
“The Oral and the Written: Syntax, Stylistics and the Development of Biblical Prose
Narrative,” JANES 26 (1998), 59–105, here 103.
On Late Biblical Hebrew see now A. HURVITZ, A Concise Lexicon of late Biblical Hebrew
(VTSup 160; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 1-11; A. HORNKOHL, “Characteristically Late Spellings in
the Hebrew Bible: With Special Reference to the Plene Spelling of the o-vowel in the Qal
Infinitive Construct”, JAOS 134 (2014), 643-671; and further, the references in my study,
“Orality and Language Usage” (see n. 1), section 3.2.

Quite a different backdround is presupposed by a second style. Many tales in

Exodus reveal a high frequency of short clauses (0-1 ELC, around 50 %), as

against the low frequency of subordinate clauses (around 10 %) and noun

groups (around 40 %). This is the lean, brisk, voiced style, VoLB, such as the tale

of Moses’ call:
Exod 4:1 (0) ‫אמרוּ‬
ְ ֹ ‫ ִכּי י‬/‫( ְבּק ִֹלי‬1) ‫ וְ לֹא יִ ְשׁ ְמעוּ‬/‫( ִלי‬1) ‫ וְ ֵהן לֹא־יַ ֲא ִמינוּ‬/(0) ‫אמר‬
ֶ ֹ ‫ וַ יּ‬/‫( מ ֶֹשׁה‬1) ‫וַ יַּ ַען‬

‫( יְ הוָ ה‬2) ‫( ֵא ֶליָך‬1) ‫לֹא־נִ ְראָה‬

6 clauses, 5 short (2 with 0 ELC, 3 with 1 ELC), and 1 long (2 ELC).

v. 2 ‫ ַמ ֶטּה׃‬/‫אמר‬
ֶ ֹ ‫ וַ יּ‬/‫( ְביָ ֶדָך‬1) [‫ מזה ] ַמה זֶּ ה‬/‫( יְ הוָ ה‬2) ‫( ֵא ָליו‬1) ‫אמר‬
ֶ ֹ ‫וַ יּ‬

4 clauses, 3 short (2 with 0 ELC, 1 with 2 pronouns),10 and 1 long (2 ELC)

This stretch includes 10 clauses, with 8 short clauses (0-1 ELC), and 2 long

clauses (2 ELC), no subordination and no noun groups. This pericope, then,

provides an extreme example for the lean, brisk style, the type-1 class of the

VoLB (48-60 % short clauses, and higher), such as Exod 4:1–17 with 79

clauses, 53 short clauses (67.09 % of all clauses in this section), and 22 mean

noun pairs (27.84 %). In this class the percentage of clauses in subordination is

low (10-15 %).

A less outspoken instance of the VoLB is found in the tale of the battle at

Rephidim (17:8–16; 35 clauses), with 15 short clauses (42.86 %), and 13 mean

noun pairs (37.14 %). This is the type-2 class of the VoLB, in which the class

On the treatment of pronouns see my paper, “Sociolinguistics and Social Background”
(see n. 4), ; “Samuel and the Deuteronomist” (see n. 4), .

of short clauses contains slightly less than half of the text (39-47 %), and the

class of subordinate clauses maybe slightly larger (around 20 %).

A general characteristic of the VoLB is the sparsity of the information that

is spread over a number of small chunks (chunking).11 Some features contribute

to such sparsity: the frequent use of two-clause constructions, often with a verb

of motion in the pre-clause; the use of paratactic circumstantial clauses, and the

preference for implicit indication of subject and object, when already known

from previous sections, by means of the pre- and affixes of the verbal form, by

object suffix or ellipsis. Indications concerning place and time are often

presented in separate clauses, and in particular in the opening clauses

introduced by ‫ויהי‬.

Such sparsity is in keeping with the characteristics of spoken discourse,

which is delivered on the spot, in face to face communication, with full

knowledge of the surrounding circumstances. As such it is heavily dependent

on the speakers’ short term memory, and does not facilitate overall planning,

nor does it allow for systematic reviewing and correction. On the other hand it

is aided by intonation, facial expression, gesture, and poise. Some of the basic

See MILLER and WEINERT, Spontaneous Spoken Language (see n. 7), 14-15, 22-23, 58-71;
HALLIDAY, Spoken and Written Language (see n. 7), 30-45, 61-67, 79-84, 92-101; and see my
study, “Sociolinguistics and Social background” (see n. 4), 149, nn. 95-97, and the references
there; and in particular F.H. POLAK, “Orality: Biblical Hebrew”, in Encyclopedia of Hebrew
Language and Linguistics (3 vols.; ed. G. Khan; Leiden: Brill), 2.930-937.

features of the VoLB fit the conditions of spoken discourse. The short

paratactic clauses do not overload the short term memory. Elaborate

specification in noun phrases is cumbersome and superfluous, since the

circumstances are clear to the speaking parties, and and for clarification of the

intentions the speaker may use gesture, intonation and facial expression.

Thus the VoLB reveals a close proximity to spoken discourse, and thereby

to oral narrative. This style reflects the work of writing authors who are well-

acquainted with the performance of the oral narrator, the “Singer of Tales”,

accept the art of oral narrative as prestigeous and and adhere to its ways and

norms. The close proximity to the art of the oral performer stands out in a

number of stylistic features that disappear in the Judean corpus and in Persian

era narrative, such as the tendency not to indicate the speaking characters

when their identity is clear in the context, even in case of interchange of the

speaking person. The oral performer can indicate the change of identity by

change of tone. By the same token the narrative may prefer not to indicate a

silent response to a preceding utterance, and thus to continue the utterance of

a given speaker by a second utterance of the same participant (Gen 15:5). After

all, the oral performer can indicate the silent reaction by gesture and facial

expression. The particular way in which biblical narrative uses the

circumstantial clause shows how seemingly “simple” features of spoken

discourse, such as parataxis, turn into an art form.


The VoLB in general is predominant in patriarchal narrative, the Samuel-

Saul-David history (1 Sam 1–4; 1 Sam 8– 2 Sam 5; 9–20; 1 Kgs 1–2), the tales

of Elijah, Elisha and other prophets from the northern kingdom (roughly 1

Kgs 17–2 Kgs 10), in parts of the tales of the heroic saviors and congeners

(Judg 3–9; 13–19), and in the scroll of Ruth. This group of texts constitutes the

“Oral-Written Corpus”.12

4. Two Styles and their Socio-Cultural Background

The contrast between IES and VoLB (types 1 and 2) is more than radical. One

may compare the opening of the book of the Covenant with the introduction

to the Deuteronomic legislation:

Exod 21:1 ֶ ֵ‫ ֲא ֶשׁר ָתּ ִשׂים ִל ְפנ‬- ‫וְ ֵא ֶלּה ַה ִמּ ְשׁ ָפּ ִטים‬

This opening includes one single noun, with a relative clause that comprises

predicate and addressee (‫יהם‬ ִ only. By contrast, the colophon of the

ֶ ֵ‫)ל ְפנ‬

Deuteronomic series of blessings and curses includes long noun phrases and

complex subordination:
Deut 28:69 ְ ‫ר־צוָּ ה יְ הוָ ה ֶאת־מ ֶֹשׁה = ִל ְכר ֹת ֶא‬
‫ת־בּנֵ י יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל ְבּ ֶא ֶרץ מוֹאָב‬ ִ ‫ֵא ֶלּה ִד ְב ֵרי ַה ְבּ ִרית = ֲא ֶשׁ‬

ָ ‫ִמ ְלּ ַבד ַה ְבּ ִרית = ֲא ֶשׁ‬

‫ר־כּ ַרת ִא ָתּם ְבּח ֵֹרב‬

Even the stretch in which one may recognize the residue of a previous

stratum of homily and legislation is more complex than Exod 21:1:13

In previous studies I used the term “classical corpus” or “medial corpus”; see my study ;
“Language Variation and Socio-Cultural Background” (see n. ), 303.

4:44 ָ ‫תּוֹרה = ֲא ֶשׁ‬

‫ר־שׂם מ ֶֹשׁה ִל ְפנֵ י ְבּנֵ י יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל‬ ָ ‫וְ זֹאת ַה‬

The relative clause includes both subject and addressee (a noun group) as

against the single ‫ לפניהם‬of Exod 21. The distinction between these two styles

is notable in entire passages in the book of Exodus:

short clauses Exod 4:1–17 more than half of all clauses 67 %

Exod 17:8–16 slightly less than a half 42.86 %
Exod 35:1–36:7 around a third or less 15.05 %
subordinate (all) Exod 4:1–17 around a tenth of all clauses 11.39 %
Exod 17:8–16 slightly more than a tenth 14.29 %
Exod 35:1–36:7 between a third and a half 49.46 %
noun groups Exod 4:1–17 less than a third of the text 27.84 %
Exod 17:8–16 slightly more than a third 37.14 %
Exod 35:1–36:7 all clauses or slightly less 113.44 %
complex hypotaxis Exod 4:1–17 less than 5 % 3.80 %
Exod 17:8–16 less than 5 % 2.86 %
Exod 35:1–36:7 more than a third 38.71 %
elaborate clauses Exod 4:1–17 less than 5 % 1.27 %

Exod 17:8–16 less than 5 % 2.86 %

Exod 35:1–36:7 more than a tenth 13.98 %

Thus a fundamental and radical difference sets the IES apart from the VoLB.

This differentiation has implications beyond stylistics and language usage.

Since the intricate style reveals the habitus and expertise of the scribal

chancery, the narratives, legal provisions and theological comments couched in

Note the use of ‫ התורה‬as against ‫ המשפטים‬in Exod 21:1.

this style can only originate in a context that is dominated by the scribal

chancery. This style, then, presupposes a well-developed and self-conscious

royal bureaucracy which provides the education imparting the skills required

for the handling of this style. Consequently, the socio-cultural background of

the corpus in this style is the official administration of the Judean monarchy. It

is true that the IES is likewise in use in the Persian era, but the texts originating

in this period reveal many features that indicate the dominating role of the

Aramaic writing chancery of the Achaemenid administration, in which the

scribal education focused on Aramaic.

On the other hand, the VoLB, though used in writing, is close to the oral

aren. This style represents the activity of the author-sōfēr who is attuned to the

oral performance, adheres to its style and language usage, and thus reflects a

social context in which the oral narrator enjoys a high prestige. If the IES

represents the power, status and linguistic preferences of the scribal chancery,

the VoLB represents a context in which the writing author can prefer the

capabilities of the oral arena over the norms prevailing in and imparted by the

chancery. In other words, the socio-cultural situation is one in which the royal

administration is less dominant, less developed and less powerful than in the

later stages of the Judean monarchy. In terms of periodization these

considerations place the Judean corpus in the seventh and early sixth century ,

whereas the Oral-Written corpus precedes this period (although overlapping is


not to be excluded). The VoLB-2 style is less close to the oral arena than the

type-1 style, and thus seems to represent a world in transition from oral (and

non-literate) to scribal predominance, possibly middle and late eighth century.

For the type 1 style of the VoLB one may think of the ninth century, in light

of the Mesha stela.

Notably, tales in the VoLB include many signs of a magic-mythic world

view, which is far less developed in IES tales, even though some of them do

contain magical details. The attenuation and rationalization of these themes in

the Deuteronomic versions of the Sinai narratives has already been noticed and

commented upon by DE WETTE himself.14

5. Late Imitation of the Early Style?

An argument that has been raised against the separation of the two strata in

biblical Hebrew is the fact that in modern times many bilingual authors are

able to write in a language that is not theirs by birth.15 As I have pointed out

before, this argument is not supported by many of the examples adduced.

Stylistic research indicates that the English used by Joseph CONRAD deviates

from the English literary style(s) in vogue in his generation, and actually

W.M.L. DE WETTE, Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 2 vols. (Halle:
Schimmelpfennig, 1806-1807), 1.275-280.
H.M. BARSTAD, “Can Prophetic Texts be Dated? Amos 1–2 as an Example”, in Ahab
Agonistes (ed. L.L. Grabbe; LHB/OTS 421; London: T&T Clark, 2007), 21–39, here 23.

contains many expressions that are based on his native Polish or on French, the

language in which he mastered navigation.16 By the same token, Samuel

BECKETT’s lean style in French and English is quite different from his earlier

baroque English style.17 The Latin of John MILTON is described as superb, but

some details in lexicon and metrical scansion reveal important deviations from

authentic classical Latin;18 his English style is found to lean heavily on Latin

syntax.19 These examples show that the style used by bilingual authors is

subject to interference by the alternative language. Such is the psychology of

M. LUCAS, “Conrad’s Adjectival Eccentricity”, Style 25 (1991), 123–151; IDEM, Aspects of
Conrad’s Literary Language (Boulder: Social Science Monographs; Lublin: Maria Curie-
Slklodowska University, 2000); M. MORZINSKI, Linguistic Influence of Polish on Joseph Conrad’s
Style (New York: Columbia UP and Lublin: Marie Curie-Sklodowska University, 1994);
Conrad’s stylistic usage of such phrases are discussed by E. KUJAWSKA-LIS, “(Pseudo)Polonisms
in Joseph Conrad’s Amy Foster and Prince Roman and Their Polish Translations”, Acta
Neophilologica 14 (2012), 5-17.
R.N. COE, “Beckett’s English”, in Samuel Beckett: Humanistic Perspectives (ed. M. Beja, S.E.
Gontarski, and P. Astier; Columbus OH: Ohio State UP, 1983), 36-57, here 41-45; on
Beckett’s early language education and his bilingualism see M. KAGER, “Comment Dire: A
Neurolinguistic Approach to Beckett’s Bilingual Writings”, L2journal 7 (2015), 68-83
(permalink, accessed 21.4.2015); A. BEER,
“Beckett’s Bilingualism”, in The Cambridge Companion to Beckett (ed. J. Pilling; Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1994), 209-221.
J.K. HALE, Milton's Languages: The Impact of Multilingualism on Style (Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1997), 30-31; on Milton’s use of impersonal licet as a personal verb (and his
neologisms) see IDEM, “Notes on Milton's Latin Word-Formation in the "Poemata" of 1645”,
Humanistica Lovaniensia 43 (1994), 405-410, here 406-407.
Sensitive distinctions are proposed by HALE, Milton’s Languages (see n. 18), 104-120,
157-179. See also E. HAAN, “ ‘Both English and Latin’: Milton’s Bilingual Muse”, Renaissance
Studies 21 (2007), 679-700.

language usage.20 Moreover, the sociology of language indicates a radical difference

between the knowledge of the second language in the modern era and such knowledge

in pre-classical antiquity. In the pre-classical period we cannot postulate the

existence of systematic grammars of classical Hebrew, of comprehensive lexica

and of compendia listing differences between the classical language and Late

Biblical or Qumran Hebrew. Such instruments are not indicated by Ben Sira,

nor have they been found among the texts from the Judean desert. By contrast,

systematic grammars, lexica and elaborate schooling are well-known in the

early modern era, both in Latin (including Stephanus’ Thesaurus),21 and in

modern languages. MILTON could learn Latin systematically at the grammar

school; BECKET held a university degree in French and Italian; CONRAD was

given the education of Polish nobility. A developed instrumentarium of this

kind did not exist in the Judean monarchy or the Babylonian-Persian

domination, and thus the socio-cultural circumstances of language usage of

this area and period are entirely different from the linguistic ecology of


Of course, an extremely high level of education and a rich literary, grammatical and
lexicographic inheritance is also attested in the medieval Islam. This fact is not taken into
account in the comparison between ancient Hebrew and medieval Arabic by I. YOUNG, R.
REZETKO and M. EHRENSVÄRD, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts: An Introduction to Approaches
and Problems (2 vols.; London: Equinox, 2008), 48, in the wake of a remark by J. BLAU, “The
Structure of Biblical and Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrrew in Light of Arabic Diglossia and Middle
Arabic”, Leshonenu 60 (1996-1997), 21-32 (Hebrew, with summary in English), here 27-28.

modern literature.

A similar difference sets the ancient Israelite sōp̄̄ēr apart from the Roman

and Greek, mostly aristocratic, literati who had their schooling in the highly

developed educational system of the Hellenistic-Roman period,22 which

enabled them to adopt a Greek cultural identity.23 Thus an author like Lucian

who was active around the middle of the second century C.E.,24 writing Greek

as second language, could endeavor to use a language that was as close as

possible to classical Attic.25 Such endeavors were buttressed by references to

classical authors worth studying and emulating, and by linguistic manuals.26

G. ANDERSON, The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire (London:
Routledge, 1993), 10-40; W. SCHMID, Der Atticismus in seinen Hauptvertretern von Dionysius
von Halikarnassu bis auf den Zweiten Philostratus (5 Vols.; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1887-1897),
4.577-79, 613-616, 619-635, 685-727; G. L. KIM, “The Literary Heritage as Language:
Atticism and the Second Sophistic”, in A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (ed. E.J.
Bakker; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 468-482, here 469-496.
S. GOLDHILL, “Setting an Agenda: ‘Everything is Greece to the Wise’”, in Being Greek
under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic, and the Development of Empire (ed. S.
Goldhill; Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001), 1-25. The sociohistorical context, the claims to
greatness of the prominent but largely powerless Greek and Eastern aristocracies under the
Roman empire, is studied by E.L. BOWIE, “Greeks and Their Past in the Second Sophistic”,
Past and Present 46 (1970), 3-41.
See H. HELM, “Lukianos”, PW XXVI, 1725-1777, here 1726-1728. Lucian (around
120/125-180 C.E.), who calls himself a Syrian. tells us that he was born of lowly parents (in
sharp contrast with the aristocratic descent of most famous rhetors) in Samosata (modern
Samsat), in Commagene, on the right bank of the Euphrat.
See SCHMID, Atticismus 1:216-223; S. CHABERT, L’atticisme de Lucien (Paris: Société
Française d’imprimerie et de librairie, 1897), 204-205; ANDERSON, Second Sophistic (see n. 21),
86-99; KIM, “Literary Heritage” (see n. 21), 476-78; and see n. 26 below.
The imitation of classical Attic from Plato, Xenophon, Thucydides, Demosthenes and

Lucian’s impressive linguistic capabilities were created by his study in the

tertiary Greek education in Ephesus and Athens, and his intensive reading of

the literary legacy of the great authors of classical Athens and of Athenian

inscriptions. Thus a study of Lucian’s morphology can conclude that his

language usage is extremely close to classical Attic, while a general review by

Wilhelm SCHMID notes that his style is very close to the best Attic texts.27

Nevertheless, studies of Lucian’s syntactic usage indicate a number of features

that follow the Greek koinè of the period rather than Attic.28 A significant part

poetic texts is discussed by SCHMID, Atticismus (see n. 21), 4.651-683; see also CHABERT,
L’atticisme (see n. 23), 229-234.
R.J. DEFERRARI, Lucian’s Atticism: The Morphology of the Verb (Princeton: Princeton UP,
1916), 80-82; SCHMID, Atticismus (see n. 21), 1.223-225; 1.428-432; But SCHMID (here, 432)
also notes that no less than 12.5% (one eighth) of Lucian’s lexical repertoire is post-classical
(see here, 352-404). DEFERRARI (Lucian, 9-13) notes instances of non-classical usage of the
augment; for other non-Attic features see here, 20-23 (verbal endings), 36-39 (γινώσκω/
classical γιγνώσκω and, less frequently γίνοµαι/classical γίγνοµαι), 61-66 (verbs -µι class); see
also CHABERT, L’atticisme (see n. 24), 102-116. DEFERRARI (here, 80) concludes that “Although
Lucian is not absolutely accurate in his use of early and late futures, aorists, and perfects, he is
nevertheless more strict than his fellow Atticists in this regard”. In his view Lucian’s
deviations from true Attic serve rhetorical purposes (such as the wish to avoid pedantry),
while many koine features were introduced in the manuscript tradition. CHABERT (L’atticisme,
102, 108, 204-205) judges that “Lucien diffère sensiblement, de l’attique d’abord, de la κοινὴ
διάλεκτος, ensuite”, but that “cependant les formes attiques sont de beaucoup les plus
Such features as the non-classical use of the cases (the genitive in stead of the dative; the
relative accusative; accusative instead of the nominative) are mentioned in the cautious
discussion of A. DU MESNIL, “Grammatica quam Lucianus in scriptis suis secutus est, ratio cum
antiquorum Atticorum ratione comparatur”, in Programm des städtischen Gymnasium zu Stolp
für das Schuljahr 1866-1867 (ed. H. Schütz; Stolp: Feige, 1867), 1-58, here 8-10, 27-28
(infinitive constructions), 30-40 (with prepositions). He also notes deviations in the use of the

of his lexical repertoire is characteristic of his own period.29 Thus Lucian, and

the Atticistic authors of the second century B.C.E., well-educated and learned

though they be, do not escape the imperfections inherent to any writing in a

language that is not in living usage. Consequently, the literature of Lucian and

the rhetorics of his period (the “Second Sophistic”) cannot serve as evidence for

the assumption that the syntactic-stylistic profile of the oral-derived corpus

could be created by all scribes in any period.

As a matter of fact, the argument from Atticistic rhetorics suffers from a

grave internal contradiction. If pentateuchal narrative was largely created by

imitation on the part of learned scribes from the Persian era, we have to ask

which corpus served them as example. And if one assumes that such a corpus

did exist, we have to raise the question how it is possible that this corpus was

not preserved by the scribes who used it as venerated example. Moreover, the

extant corpus in the VoLB is extremely small, much unlike, for instance,

classical Greek literature. Such authors as Lucian who endeavoured to imitate

classical Attic, could benefit from the vast literary corpus from fifth and fourth

century Athens. The extent of this corpus enabled them to detect the hidden

rules of the literary Attic dialect. Thus we have to ask ourselves how the

conjunctive and the optative (here, 15-26), and the negations οὐ/µή (here 40-48); see also
CHABERT, L’atticisme (see n. 23), 205.
SCHMID, Atticismus (see n. 21), 1.352-404, 432; CHABERT, L’atticisme (see n. 24), 119-123.

extremely small corpus of biblical narrative could have served to detect the

hidden rules of the classical language?30 Hence, the imitation hypothesis can

explain the interpolation of certain passages, but it fails to explain the creation of the

oral-written corpus as such.

Sometimes one expresses the feeling that Judeans in exile might have

preserved the ancient language perfectly, like the more conservative strata

among the Pennsylvania Dutch. However, sociolinguistic research indicates

strong attrition by the dominant English language,31 and a loss of many

features of the German dialect.32 Moreover, Persian business documents from

the Nippur region, in which exiles from Judaea appear as principals and

witnesses, indicate intensive contacts with the Babylonian environment,

One has to take into account that according to the imitation hypothesis this small corpus
would not have included the imitating texts themselves, and thus would have been even
smaller. Unless, of course, one adopts the counterintuitive assumption, that the emulations
obliterated the venerated texts they imitated.
Lexical attrition is already documented in the nineteenth century, by S.S. HALDEMAN,
Pennsylvania Dutch: A Dialect of South German with an Infusion of English (London: Trübner,
1872), 28-33.
M.L. HUFFINES, “Pennsylvania German: convergence and change as strategies of
discourse”, in First Language Attrition (ed. Herbert W. Seliger and Robert M. Vago;
Cambridge UP, 1991), 125-137. HUFFINES notes the loss of the dative form in nouns (here,
128), the weakening of word order rules (here 133-134). On the sociocultural status of
Pennsylvania Dutch see IDEM, “Pennsylvania German: Maintenance and Shift”, International
Journal of the Sociology of Language 25 (1980), 43-57; L.V. NESS, “The Pressure of English on
the Pennsylvania German Spoken in Two West Virginia Communities”, American Speech 67
(1992), 71-82; T. ADKINS, “‘The English Effect’ on Amish Language and Literacy Practices”,
Community Literacy Journal 5 (2010-2011), 25-45.

including the use of Babylonian personal names within families which also use

Hebrew names.33

2. Stylistic Distinctions in the Book of Exodus

2.1. The Complex, Intricate Style in Exodus

Both the VoLB and the IES play an important role in the book of Exodus.

The IES characterizes most of the passages attributed to the “Priestly” source:

the second tale of Moses’ call (6:2–13; 6:26–7:6);34 and parts of the tale of the

splitting of the Sea (14:1–4, 8–10*, 15–18, 22–23, 27*–29);35 of the tale of the

See L.E. PEARCE and C. WUNSCH, Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in
Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer (CUSAS 28; Bethesda, MA: CDL Press, 2014); Y.
Bloch, “Judeans in Sippar and Susa during the First Century of the Babylonian Exile:
Assimilation and Perseverance under Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Rule”, JANEH 1
(2014), 119-172, here 124-142; L. PEARCE, “ “Judean”: A Special Status in Neo-Babylonian
and Achemenid Babylonia?”, in Judah and the Judeans in the Achaemenid Period: Negotiating
Identity in an International Context (ed. O. Lipschits, G.N. Knoppers and M. Oeming; Winona
Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 267-277; K. ABRAHAM, “West Semitic and Judean Brides in
Cuneiform Sources from the Sixth Century B.C.E.: New Evidence from a Marriage Contract
from Al-Yahudu”, AfO 51(2005-2006), 198–219.
Exod 6:2–13; 6:26–7:6 (78 clauses): 0-1 ELC 29.49 %; all hypotaxis 25.64 %; MNP 62.18
%; complex hypotaxis 18.46 %; 3+ ECL 10.26 %. The attribution of 6:6–8 to a post-priestly
expansion has been defended by J.C. GERTZ, Tradition und Redaktion in der
Exoduserzählung: Untersuchungen zur Endredaktion des Pentateuch (FRLANT 186;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), 244-248.
Exod 14:1–4, 8–10*, 15–18, 22–23, 27*–29 (50 clauses): 0-1 ELC 34.00 %; all hypotaxis
12.00 %; MNP 70.00 %; complex hypotaxis 4.00 %; 3+ ECL 8.00 %. For the attribution of
14:10 abα to J and bβ to P see H. HOLZINGER, Exodus (KHAT 2; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,
1900), 54.

manna (16:1–3, 6–12, 15b–21a, 22–26, 32–33);36 the section on the radiant face

of Moses (34:29–35),37 and the opening sections of the building of the

tabernacle (35:1–36:7);38 and, for comparison, the opening of the instructions

concerning the Passover ritual (12:1–14).39 In the narrative of the plagues we

note the sign of the serpents (7:8–13);40 and the plague of the boils (9:8–12).41

In addition we note a number of passages that are not attributed to the

Priestly or the Deuteronomic corpus, but are couched in the intricate style: the

opening of the march out of Egypt (12:42; 13:3–10, 17–19, 21–22),42 the tale of

Exod 16:1–3, 6–12, 15b–21a, 22–26, 32–33 (109 clauses): 0-1 ELC 33.03 %; all hypotaxis
33.03 %; MNP 41.28 %; complex hypotaxis 17.43 %; 3+ ECL 12.84 %. V. 34 has not been
taken into account because of its textual difficulties (the sequence ‫ צוה אל‬instead of ‫ צוה את‬is
found only here; it could be viewed as a calque of ‫ ;)פקד על‬v. 35 is considered a gloss. The
scholarly differences of opinion concerning various half-verses are presented by T.B.
DOZEMAN, Exodus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 376. A number of difficulties are
discussed by HOLZINGER, Exodus, 54. On the JE/redactional sections see below, n. 72.
Exod 34:29–35 (31 clauses): 0-1 ELC 12.90 %; all hypotaxis 41.94 %; MNP 50.00 %;
complex hypotaxis 25.81 %; 3+ ECL 9.68 %.
Exod 35:1–36:7 (93 clauses): 0-1 ELC 15.05 %; all hypotaxis 49.46 %; MNP 113.44 %;
complex hypotaxis 38.71 %; 3+ ECL 13.98 %.
Exod 12:1–14 (47 clauses): 0-1 ELC 29.79 %; all hypotaxis 21.28 %; MNP 81.91 %;
complex hypotaxis 6.39 %; 3+ ECL 4.25 %. For the internal analysis see C. BERNER, Die
Exoduserzählung: Das Literarische Werdem einer Ursprungslegende Israels (FAT 73; Tübingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 278-283. However, the syntactic-stylistic profile does not point to
particularly late components. The shaping of v. 2 is poetic rather than pedantic.
Exod 7:8–13 (22 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 36.36 %; all hypotaxis 22.73 %;
MNP 86.36 %; complex hypotaxis 9.09 %; 3+ ECL 13.64 %.
Exod 9:8–12 (17 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 29.41 %; all hypotaxis 23.53 %;
MNP 88.24 %; complex hypotaxis 5.88 %; 3+ ECL 23.53 %. On the connection with the
7:8–13 see BERNER, Exoduserzählung (see n. 39), 191-193.
Exod 12:42; 13:3–10, 17–19, 21–22 (48 clauses): 0-1 ELC 12.50 %; all hypotaxis 27.08 %;

the meeting with Jethro (18:1–12,43 13–27);44 the Fortschreibung within the Sinai

tale (19:9b–10a,45 20–25);46 the last section of the legal and cultic instructions in

the “book of the covenant” (23:1–19),47 and the second revelation to Moses on

Mount Sinai (34:1–4, 27–28).48 This style likewise characterizes the following

sections of the plagues narrative: the pestilence of the livestock (9:1–7);49 the

first stages of the plague of the hail (9:13–21,50 22–26);51 the introduction to the

MNP 81.25 %; complex hypotaxis 16.67 %; 3+ ECL 31.25 %.

Exod 18:1–12 (39 clauses): 0-1 ELC 33.33 %; all hypotaxis 38.46 %; MNP 79.49 %;
complex hypotaxis 28.21 %; 3+ ECL 12.82 %.
Exod 18:13–27 (58 clauses): 0-1 ELC 29.31 %; all hypotaxis 20.69 %; MNP 94.83 %;
complex hypotaxis 5.17 %; 3+ ECL 13.79 %.
The repetitive resumption of v. 9a/10a was already noted by the 12th century French
commentator R. SHMUEL B. MEIR (RASHBAM). In v. 9 one notes the elaborate clause structure
with 4 ELC’s and the intricacies of the complex subordination (‫ ְבּ ַד ְבּ ִרי ִע ָמְּך‬- ‫) ַבּ ֲעבוּר יִ ְשׁ ַמע ָה ָעם‬.
Hence the style of this passage differs significantly from its context. Since these features come
together with the epanalepsis of 9a/10a, the issue seems settled.
Exod 19:20–25 (31 clauses): 0-1 ELC 25.81 %; all hypotaxis 29.03 %; MNP 24.19 %;
complex hypotaxis 16.13 %; 3+ ECL 9.68 %. These findings fit the position of W. BEYERLIN,
Herkunft und Geschichte der ältesten Sinaitraditionen (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1961), 12-13; E.
BLUM, Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch (BZAW 189; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1990),
Exod 23:1–19 (57 clauses): 0-1 ELC 33.33 %; all hypotaxis 22.81 %; MNP 61.40 %;
complex hypotaxis 12.28 %; 3+ ECL 7.02 %.
Exod 34:1–4, 11–28 (72 clauses): 0-1 ELC 29.17 %; all hypotaxis 18.06 %; MNP 67.36 %;
complex hypotaxis 15.28 %; 3+ ECL 11.11 %. On vv. 5–10 (VoLB-2) see n. 78 below. These
data fit the analysis of S. Bar-On, “The Festival Calendars in Exodus XXIII 14–19 and
XXXIV 18–26”, VT 48 (1998), 161-195.
Exod 9:1–7 (22 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 36.36 %; all hypotaxis 18.18 %;
MNP 84.09 %; complex hypotaxis 13.64 %; 3+ ECL 18.18 %. For a post-J attribution of this
episode, not matched by Ps 105, see M. NOTH, Exodus (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster,
1962), 79; post-priestly: BERNER, Exoduserzählung (see n. 39), 202-203.
Exod 9:13–21 (31 clauses): 0-1 ELC 32.26 %; all hypotaxis 35.48 %; MNP 61.29 %;

plague of the firstborn (11:1–10).52 These sections, then, represent later stages

and redactional strata of the ESN.

2.2. The Lean Brisk Style in Exodus

The VoLB is found in many passages, with the clear preference for short

paratactic clauses that characterizes the type-1 style:

VoLB-1: the tales of Moses’ birth and flight (Exod 2:1–10;53 2:11–25);54 the

second part of the call tale (4:1–17;55 4:18–23);56 the hail (the closure, 9:27–

35);57 the locust (inception, 10:3–7);58 the plague of the locust (continuation,

complex hypotaxis 25.81 %; 3+ ECL 12.90 %. HOLZINGER (Exodus, 27) discusses the post-JE
character of vv. 14-17, 19-21.
Exod 9:22–26: (17 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 23.53 %; all hypotaxis 17.65
%; MNP 97.06 %; complex hypotaxis 11.76 %; 3+ ECL 17.65 %. See BERNER,
Exoduserzählung, 221-224.
Exod 11:1–10 (31 clauses): 0-1 ELC 25.00 %; all hypotaxis 25.00 %; MNP 121.43 %;
complex hypotaxis 14.29 %; 3+ ECL 17.86 %. Redactional stratification is suggested by
NOTH, Exodus, 92-93.
Exod 2:1–10 (50 clauses): 0-1 ELC 52 %; all hypotaxis 14 %; mean noun pairs (MNP) 34
%; complex hypotaxis 4.00 %, and 3+ ELC 2.00 %.
2:11–25 (68 clauses): 0-1 ELC 61.76 %; all hypotaxis 11.76 %; MNP 37.50 %; complex
hypotaxis and 3+ ECL: negligible.
Exod 4:1–17 (79 clauses): 0-1 ELC 67.09 %; all hypotaxis 11.39 %; MNP 27.84 %;
complex hypotaxis and 3+ ECL: negligible. The scene of 3:1-16 reveals a type-2 style,
whereas 3:17–22 combine VoLB and IES features.
Exod 4:18–23 (35 clauses): 0-1 ELC 57.14 %; all hypotaxis 17.14 %; MNP 22.86 %;
complex hypotaxis 5.71 %; 3+ ECL 5.71 %. For the scene of the nightly attack (4:24-26; 12
clauses) we have 0-1 ELC 75.00 %; all hypotaxis 8.33 %; MNP 37.50 %; complex hypotaxis
and 3+ ECL: negligible.
Exod 9:27–35 (38 clauses): 0-1 ELC 52.63 %; all hypotaxis 36.84 %; MNP 48.68 %;
complex hypotaxis 26.32 %; 3+ ECL 6.38 %. These data do not fit the analysis of this episode

10:8–20);59 and the tale of the ascent to the divine abode at Mount Sinai

(24:1–11).60 One could also add the basis of the tale of the Sea of Reeds

(14:5–7, 10a, 13–14, 19–20, 24–25).61

These sections represent, in my view, a rather ancient stage of the ESN, with

clear connections to the oral performance. Most narratives, however, reveal a

type-2 style of a slightly later date:

VoLB-2: the tale of Israel’s enslavement (1:1–22);62 the tale of Moses’ call

(3:1–16);63 the divine command announcing the blood plague (7:14–18);64

the episodes of the plague of the frogs (7:25–8:11),65 the lice (8:12–15),66 the

(and following) as redactional, as proposed by e.g., BERNER, Exoduserzählung, 225-241.

Exod 10:3–7 (29 clauses): 0-1 ELC 51.72 %; all hypotaxis 31.03 %; MNP 53.45 %;
complex hypotaxis 13.79 %; 3+ ECL 3.45 %; see n. 57.
Exod 10:8–20 (53 clauses): 0-1 ELC 58.49 %; all hypotaxis 9.43 %; MNP 81.13 %;
complex hypotaxis 3.77 %; 3+ ECL 9.43 %; see n. 57.
Exod 24:1–11 (40 clauses): 0-1 ELC 62.50 %; all hypotaxis 7.50 %; MNP 77.50 %;
complex hypotaxis 2.50 %; 3+ ECL 5.00 %.
14:5–7, 10a, 13–14, 19–20, 24–25 (42 clauses): 0-1 ELC 52.38 %; all hypotaxis 14.29 %;
MNP 51.19 %; complex hypotaxis 7.14 %; 3+ ECL 9.52 %. In this analysis (see HOLZINGER,
Exodus, 43-44; BERNER, Exoduserzählung, 345-348) I have excluded the themes of the
complaint (vv. 11–12) and the sea (vv. 21bc, 27b) and its continuation in vv. 30–31. If one
includes these pericopes one obtains a tale in the type-2 style (see below).
Exod 1:1–22 (67 clauses): 0-1 ELC 41.79 %; all hypotaxis 29.85 %; MNP 50.00 %;
complex hypotaxis 11.94 %; 3+ ECL 5.97 %.
Exod 3:1–16 (78 clauses): 0-1 ELC 44.87 %; all hypotaxis 19.23 %; MNP 57.69 %;
complex hypotaxis 8.97 %; 3+ ELC 6.41 %. The syntactic-stylistic profile is not siginificantly
affected by the enumerations of the patriarchs and the six peoples of Canaan in vv. 6.8.15.
The continuation in 3:17–22 combines VoLB and IES features, whereas the scene in 4:1–17
reveals a VoLB-1 style.
Exod 7:14–18 (24 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 42.67 %; all hypotaxis 20.83 %;
MNP 27.08 %; complex hypotaxis 8.33 %; 3+ ECL 4.17 %. On the continuation in vv. 19-24
see n. 81 below.

swarms (vv. 16–28),67 the darkness (10:21–29);68 the final plague (12:21–23,

25, 29–34);69 the tale of the defeat of Egypt at the Sea of Reeds (14:5–7,

10abc, 11–14, 19–20, 21bc, 24–25, 27b, 30–31);70 the Marah tale (15:22–

27);71 parts of the manna tale (16:4–5, 13–15a, 21b, 27–31, 34a);72 the tale of

the water from the rock and the war at Rephidim (17:1–7,73 8–16);74 the

Exod 7:25–8:11 (57 clauses): 0-1 ELC 42.11 %; all hypotaxis 12.28 %; MNP 48.25 %;
complex hypotaxis 7.02 %; 3+ ECL 12.28 %.
Exod 8:12–15 (19 clauses; too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 52.63 %; all hypotaxis 10.53 %;
MNP 52.63 %; 3+ ECL 10.53 %.
Exod 8:16–28 (55 clauses): 0-1 ELC 40.00 %; all hypotaxis 20.00 %; MNP 45.45 %;
complex hypotaxis 10.91 %; 3+ ECL 9.09 %.
Exod 10:21–29 (39 clauses): 0-1 ELC 41.03 %; all hypotaxis 17.94 %; MNP 33.33 %;
complex hypotaxis 2,56 %; 3+ ECL 7.69 %.
Exod 12:21–23, 25, 29–36, 38–39 (57 clauses): 0-1 ELC 42.10 %; all hypotaxis 19.30 %;
MNP 67.54 %; complex hypotaxis 12.28 %; 3+ ECL 10.53 %.
14:5–7, 10abc, 11–14, 19–20, 21bc, 24–25, 27b, 30–31 (69 clauses): ELC 39.13 %; all
hypotaxis 21.74 %; MNP 42.75 %; complex hypotaxis 11.59 %; 3+ ECL 17.39 %. However,
if we take our clue from the low figure for the MNP and limit the analysis to the basis of the
tale (14:5–7, 10a, 13–14, 19–20, 24–25), excluding the themes of the complaint (vv. 11–12)
and the sea (vv. 21bc, 27b) and its continuation in vv. 30–31, we obtain a tale in the type-1
style, with 42 clauses, as noted above (n. 61).
Exod 15:22–27 (29 clauses): 0-1 ELC 48.28 %; all hypotaxis 24.14 %; MNP 37.93 %;
complex hypotaxis 10.34 %; 3+ ECL 13.79 %.
Exod 16:4–5, 13–15a, 21b, 27–31; 34a (partly JE, partly redactional/Dtr; 45 clauses): 0-1
ELC 44.44 %; all hypotaxis 20.00 %; MNP 45.46 %; complex hypotaxis 13.33 %; 3+ ECL
13.33 %. The establishment of this narrative sequence, which is a mere illustration, follows
HOLZINGER, Exodus (see n. 35), 53-54. On the sections attributable to P see above, n. 36. A
different analysis is proposed by B. BAENTSCH, Exodus, Leviticus und Numeri (HKAT I,2;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1903), 145-156; NOTH, Exodus, 130-132.
Exod 17:1–7 (38 clauses) 0-1 ELC 39.47 %; all hypotaxis 18.42 %; MNP 32.89 %;
complex hypotaxis 13.16 %; 3+ ECL 15.79 %.
Exod 17:8–16 (35 clauses) 0-1 ELC 42.86 %; all hypotaxis 14.29 %; MNP 37.14 %;
complex hypotaxis and 3+ ECL: negligible.

Sinai tale (19:3–19; 20:18–21);75 the tales of the Golden Calf and Moses’

intercession (32:1–8, 15–30;76 33:1–22);77 the second revelation to Moses


This stratum is later than the rather ancient state of the VoLB-1 stales

(although some overlapping is possible), but is not associated with the

developed administration implied by the IES. A number of passages, however,

mark the transition to the chancery style: the second part of the tale of Moses’

call (3:17–22),79 the tale of the confrontation with Pharaoh (5:1–6:1);80 the

blood plague (7:19–24).81

Exod 19:3–8, 10–19; 20:18–21 (84 clauses): 0-1 ELC 45.23 %; all hypotaxis 14.29 %;
MNP 37.50 %; complex hypotaxis 5.95 %; 3+ ECL 10.71 % (Exod 19:20–25: IES).
Exod 32:1–8, 15–30 (125 clauses): 0-1 ELC 44.80 %; all hypotaxis 20.80 %; MNP 36.29
%; complex hypotaxis 7.20 %; 3+ ELC 6.40 %.
Exod 33:1–22 (100 clauses): 0-1 ELC 46 %; all hypotaxis 21.00 %; MNP 45.00 %;
complex hypotaxis 9.00 %; 3+ ECL 9.00 %.
Exod 34:5–10 (27 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 48.15 %; all hypotaxis 25.925
%; MNP 66.67 %; complex hypotaxis 22.22 %; 3+ ECL 7.41 %. The figures for the MNP
and and complex hypothesis are on the high side (possibly because of vv. 6–7) and may reveal
redactional intervention, to be viewed in connection with the surrounding verses 1–5, 11–28
(IES, see n. 48 above).
Exod 3:17–22 (24 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 45.83 %; all hypotaxis 20.83 %;
MNP 102.08 %; complex hypotaxis 12.50 %; 3+ ECL 4.17 %. Although the basic syntax of
this unit is close to the VoLB-2 style of 3:1–16, the high incidence of noun phrases (vv.
17.18.22) indicates IES elements (4:1–17: VoLB-1).
Exod 5:1–6:1 (106 clauses): 0-1 ELC 36.79 %; all hypotaxis 27.36 %; MNP 34.91 %;
complex hypotaxis 15.09 %; 3+ ECL 7.55 %. This tale is close to the IES, but the figures for
the MNP fit the VoLB-2 style. A possible LBH feature is the use of ‫( אשׁר‬rather than ‫ )כי‬in
Pharaoh’s question: ‫( ִמי יְ הוָ ה ֲא ֶשׁר ֶא ְשׁ ַמע ְבּקֹלוֹ‬5:3).
Exod 7:19–24 (27 clauses, too small for analysis): 0-1 ELC 44.44 %; all hypotaxis 18.52 %;
MNP 144.44 %; complex hypotaxis 7.41 %; 3+ ECL 7.41 %. This episode is close to the
VoLB, but the figures for the MNP fit the intricate style. However, this result may be

The claim that the VoLB represents an ancient layer of the Exodus

narrative is buttressed by some mythic-magical features, apart from the plagues

cycle.82 The scene at the nightly encampment stands out by its mythic-magic

associations, as a divine attack on Moses is staved off by means of Zipporah’s

magic (4:24–26).83 Mythic-magic features are also in evidence in the notion of

the staff endowed with divine power, the divine maṭṭe (“staff” or “rod”) given

to Moses (‫ֹלהים‬
ִ ‫ ַמ ֵטּה ָה ֱא‬, 4:20; 17:5, 9) which is paralleled by the idea of Hadad’s

divine weapons that were granted to Zimri-Lim as a gift.84 One also notes the

connected to the exceptionally long noun phrase in v. 19 (attributed to “P”, together with
20a, because of the role of Aaron, which is not in keeping with v. 20b, ‫ ;)וירם‬see BAENTSCH,
Exodus, 61-62; HOLZINGER, Exodus, 22-23. Discarding vv.19-20a one arrives at a VoLB-2
style: 0-1 ELC 42.11; all hypotaxis 21.05; MNP 52.63. On 7:14–18 (VoLB-2) see n. 64
On the magical aspects of the plagues cycle see most recently G.A RENDSBURG, “Moses
the Magician”, in Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and
Geoscience (ed. T.E. Levy, T. Schneider and W.H.C. Propp; Berlin: Springer, 2015), 243-258.
See in particular RASHBAM on Gen 32:29; Y. AVISHUR, “The Demonic Nature of the Tale
of the Bloody Husband (Exodus 4:24–26): a Fresh Look in Light of the Midrash and of
Beliefs in the Ancient Near East”, in IDEM, Studies in Biblical Narrative: Style, Structure, and the
Ancient Near Eastern Literary Background (Tel Aviv 1999), 137-158; B. EMBRY, “The
Endangerment of Moses: Towards a New Reading of Exodus 4:24–26”, VT 60 (2010),
177-196; S.A. GELLER, “The Struggle at the Jabbok”, JANES 14 (1982), 37-60, here 57-58;
F.H. POLAK, “Theophany and Mediator: The Unfolding of a Theme in the Book of Exodus”,
in Studies in the Book of Exodus: Redaction-Reception-Interpretation (ed. M. Vervenne; BETL
126, Leuven: Leuven UP, 1996), 117-147, here 124-126.
On A.1968 (rev. 2’–4’) see. J.-M. DURAND, “Le mythologème du combat entre le Dieu de
l’Orage et la Mer en Mésopotamie”, MARI 7 (1993) 41-61, here 45. Allusions to this myth in
Ebla have been detected by P. Fronzarolio, “Les Combats de Hadda dans les Textes d’Ébla”,
MARI 8 (1997), 283-290. The divine maṭṭe is viewed as the residue of a divine weapon, like
mi-ṭi-šu (“his staff”) of Marduk (Enuma Elish IV 130) by S.E. LOEWENSTAMM, The Evolution of

inscription on the “throne of YHWH” (17:16, ‫ל־כּס יָ הּ‬

ֵ ‫)יָ ד ַע‬, and the divine

writing: “The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing,

incised upon the tablets” (32:16; see also v. 15; 31:18). Notably, the second

revelation (IES) tells about tablets carved and inscribed by Moses (34:1, 4, 27)

“like the first”).85

The stylistic differentiation has far-reaching implications for the

understanding of the stratification and redaction of the book of Exodus.86 But a

discussion of this subject requires a discussion of the way in which a text is to

be read.

3. Ways of Reading

3.1. Literary-Genetic Criticism and the Esthetics of Neoclassicism

In modern redaction history, like in all diachronic-genetic study of the

Hebrew Bible,87 strata are set apart by the criteria of source criticism, which are

the Exodus Tradition (trans. B.J. Schwartz; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992), 147-154.
As against the mention of human writing (34:27), the first command to Moses mentions
divine writing (v. 1), but ‫ וְ ָכ ַת ְב ִתּי‬may also mean “I will let (you) write”, like ‫ת־ה ַבּיִ ת‬
ַ ‫וַ ֶיִּבן ְשֹׁלמֹה ֶא‬
(1 Kgs 6:14).
This is not the place to discuss the legal sections (largely VoLB-1) and covenant sections
(VoLB-2) of Exod 21–23. The parallels between the covenantal sections and the texts from
Mari are discussed in my study, “The Covenant at Mount Sinai in the Light of Texts from
Mari”, in Sefer Moshe: The Moshe Weinfeld Jubilee Volume. Studies in the Bible and the Ancient
Near East, Qumran and Post-Biblical Judaism (ed. Ch. Cohen c.s.; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns),
The picture sketched by SKA (see n. 3) posits a radical difference between the methods of
redaction history and source analysis. However, in the field of the Hebrew Bible scholars

proposed as historical and objective. But which are the norms on which these

scholarly perceptions are based? How does one arrive at norms that are valid for

biblical literature? Literary and redactional criticism are not concerned with this

question, and the GUNKEL tradition is to a large extent based on untenable a

priori considerations. The upshot is that the presupposed norms mainly are those

of the more conservative strands of the western literary taste. As John BARTON

(1984: 28-29) puts it, “All literary studies must assume that even quite remote

cultures have some affinities with our own”.88 This kind of reasoning disregards

the sociocultural coordinates by which scholarly judgment is conditioned, in

the norms imposed by (neo)classicism, or post-Renaissance literary culture in

general.89 The classicistic stance of the diachronic-genetic approach is revealed

by the terminology used by Jean ASTRUC in his description of repetition: ‘Can

one point to some similar example & would one dare to impute, without proof,

to Moses a mistake which no writer has not committed ever?’90. Richard SIMON

mostly follow the critical model of M. NOTH, Exodus (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster,
1962); IDEM, Überlieferungsgeschichte des Pentateuch (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1948), 7-40. An
exception is the cautious treatment of T.B DOZEMAN, Commentary on Exodus (Eerdmans
Critical Commentary; Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Mich., 2009); and see J. JEON, The call of
Moses and the Exodus Story: A Redactional-Critical Study in Exodus 3–4 and 5–13 (FAT: 60;
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 34-36, 43, 64-65.
J. BARTON, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (London: Darton
Longman and Todd, 1984), 28-29.
E. VINAVER, The Rise of Romance (Oxford; Clarendon, 1971), 70-76, 85 (on brevity).
J. ASTRUC, Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paroit que Moyse s’est servi pour
composer le livre de la Genèse (Bruxelles: Fricx, 1753), 13: “A-t-on quelque example pareil à

argues that “It is probable that if onely one Authour had composed this Work he

would have explained himself in fewer words, especially in a History”.91 In this

approach, the historical, objective facade serves to hide the classicistic reader

stance that hardly allows for the literary way of a different culture. Since

literary norms are culturally conditioned,92 we have to broaden our vista to

include other cultures and other periods, and in particular ancient Near Eastern

literary sources, in all their diversity.

In the following considerations I intend to discuss some aspects of the ESP

in light of ancient stylistic patterning. Although I have followed the redaction

critical discussion rather closely, I will refrain from frequent references, for the

sake of space.

3.2. Repetition Patterns and Delay

The (neo)classicistic condemnation of repetition disregards the obvious fact

citer, & ose-t-on bien sans preuve imputer à Moyse une faute qu’aucun Écrivain n’a jamais
commise?”. Other terms used are “de pareilles méprises”, “inexcusable”, “moins excusable”,
“choquantes”, “négligence’ (here, 16, 300-301, 359, 381). Transitions are regarded as “trop
eloignées & trop brusques’ (here, 21). In his view, one of the advantages of the documentary
hypothesis is that it “it acquits Moses of the neglects & even mistakes that one dares to impute
him, & which one bethinks to find in Genesis” (here, 431).
R. SIMON, A Critical History of the Old Testament (trans. anonymous; London: Davis,
1682), 37. EICHORN is not that different.
See in particular S.B. HEATH, Ways with Words. Language, Life, and Work in Communities
and Classrooms (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 18-57, 157-184.

that in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Sumerian literary texts (and royal inscriptions)

repetition is a frequent rhetorical figure.93 The failure to recognize a three-four

repetition scheme has led to an erroneous split up of the description of the

flood in Gen 7:17–20.94

In the tale of Moses’ call the split up of repetition patterns causes grave

difficulties. One has pointed out the doubling of the divine announcement in

Exod 3:7, 9, both indicating the divine perception of Israel’s suffering in

Egypt. These verses, then, look like doublets. Accordingly, in the redaction-

critical analysis, the divine command to Moses to turn to the elders of Israel (v.

16) is sometimes viewed as the direct continuation of the declaration of divine

salvation (v. 8).95 However, contrary to this view, v. 16 does not form a perfect

U. CASSUTO, “Biblical and Canaanite Literatures”, in IDEM, Biblical and Oriental Studies (2
vols.; trans. I. Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1973-1975), 2.16-59, here 29-33; V.A.
HUROWITZ, “The Priestly Account of the Building of the Tabernacle,” JAOS 105 (1985),
21-30, here 26-28; and for Sumerian: A. BERLIN, Enmerkar and Ensuḫkešdanna: a Sumerian
Narrative Poem (Philadelphia: University Museum, 1979), 18-25; IDEM, “Shared Rhetorical
Figures in Biblical and Sumerian Literature”, JANES 10 (1978), 35-42; H.L.J. VANSTIPHOUT,
“Repetition and Structure in The Aratta Cycle: Their Relevance for the Orality Debate”, in
Mesopotamian Epic Literature: Oral or Aural? (ed. M.E. Vogelzang and H.L.J. Vanstiphout;
Lewiston: Mellen, 1992), 247-264.
B.W. ANDERSON, “From Analysis to Synthesis: The Interpretation of Genesis 1-11”, JBL
97 (1978), 23-39, here 35-36; R.W.L. MOBERLY, At the Mountain of God Story and Theology in
Exodus 32-34 (JSOTSup, 22; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983), 29-31.
BAENTSCH, Exodus, 21, 23; P. WEIMAR, Die Berufung des Mose: literaturwissenschaftliche
Analyse von Exodus 2,23-5,5 (OBO, 32; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag and Göttingen:
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1980), 124-125; M. GREENBERg, Understanding Exodus (New
York: Behrman, 1969), 101-102; GERTZ, Exoduserzählung (see n. 34), 282-290.

continuation of v. 8. First, the divine plan as unfolded at first (3:7–8) concerns

the rescue of “my people in Egypt”, which, however, is not indicated by

name.96 And second, the identity of the deity addressing Moses is only given as

“the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God

of Jacob” (v. 6). In v. 16 these partial identifications are replaced by full names:

“YHWH, the God of your fathers ... has appeared to me.” This proclamation

cannot be viewed as a simple continuation of the sayings of vv. 6–8, in which

neither the speaker nor the target group are fully identified.97 The redaction-

critical reconstruction, then, creates more problems than it solves. The lacking

information is provided in the sayings that that follow the announcement of

the divine decision in vv. 6–8 and which identify “my people” (v. 7) as “the

Israelites” (v. 9), and “my people, the Israelites” (v. 10).

In both cases, the problem is the method of identification. Nowhere does

the divine speech state that “my people in Egypt” (‫ ַע ִמּי ֲא ֶשׁר ְבּ ִמ ְצ ָריִ ם‬, v. 7) is

identical with “the Israelites” (‫בּנֵ י־יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל‬,

ְ v. 9), but both terms are combined in

the divine instruction to confront Pharaoh on behalf of “my people the

G. FISCHER, Jahwe unser Gott: Sprache, Aufbau und Erzahltechnik in der Berufung des Mose
(Ex 3–4) (OBO, 91; Freiburg: Universitätsverlag and Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1989), 124, 127.
Did Moses have the knowledge necessary to identify the divine speaker and the target
group? This question is, of course, disputable. However, the parallel narrative explains that
Moses could not have known who was addressing him (6:2–3). Some cases of parallelism in
the Exodus narrative are discussed in section 3.2.

Israelites” (‫ ַע ִמּי ְבנֵ י־יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל‬, v. 10). Thus the identity of the people to be delivered

is developed step by step, culminating in the full recognition in the final stage,

and the establishment of the close relationship to the speaking deity as “my

people”. This scheme represents the literary method of “delayed identification,”

which has been identified in biblical literature,98 and is well-known in

Akkadian and Ugaritic, and in particular in Sumerian literature. For instance,

the opening of the narrative poem “Nanna-Suen’s journey to Nippur”

introduces the divine protagonist (Nanna-Suen, the Moongod), his intention

and his destination (Nippur, the sanctuary of Enlil, his father), which is

repeated along eight lines, covering four repetitive clauses. The construction is

followed by Nanna-Suen’s monologue, in which the plan is repeated, and

which finally introduces Nippur in a festive hymn.99 The “Exaltation of

Inanna” opens with a series of praises centering on the divine “powers” ,

mentioning the goddess’s name at the end of lines 11–12: “As a flood

descending upon (?) those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth,

you are their Inanna”.100

W.G.E. WATSON, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to its Techniques (JSOTSup 26;
Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 336-337. Sumerian and Biblical “particularizing parallelism” is
discussed by BERLIN, “Shared Rhetorical Figures” (see n. 82), 35-38.
A.J. FERRARA, Nanna-Suen’s journey to Nippur (Studia Pohl, S.M., 2; Rome: Biblical
Institute Press, 1973), 44-45, 82-84. See also C. WILCKE, “Die Anfänge der akkadischen
Epen”, ZA 67 (1977), 153-216, here 175-77, 181-82, 187-88, 191-95.
t.4.07.2 in The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (Oxford: Faculty of Oriental
Studies), hyperlink:

In the Moses tale the structure of the delay pattern is based on repetition,

parallelism and substitution, in four steps, relating to the Israelites, the divine

speaker, and the Egyptian oppressor. At first, the distress of the Israelites is

stated in three terms (v. 7): ‫ת־ענִ י ַע ִמּי ֲא ֶשׁר ְבּ ִמ ְצ ָריִ ם‬

ֳ ‫ ֶא‬which has been perceived

visually; their outcry (‫)צ ֲע ָק ָתם‬

ַ which is heard; and their pains (‫)מ ְכא ָֹביו‬
ַ which

thus are known.101 The second step states the divine decision to save the

suffering people, indicated only by pronominal suffix (‫ל ַה ִצּילוֹ‬,ְ v. 8). The third

step (v. 9) repeats the divine perception of the suffering, paralleling v. 7, but

substitutes “the Israelites” (9a) for “my people” (v. 7a). In this description two

terms are repeated: “their outcry” which has reached God (v. 9a//7bα), and the

visual perception (v. 9b//7a) which now has a concrete object: “the oppression

(‫ )הלחץ‬wherewith the Egyptians oppress (‫ )לחצים‬them” (v. 9b, ASV). The

fourth and final stage repeats the theme of deliverance (v. 10b), but now centers

on Moses’ human role, and substitutes the full identity of the people to be

rescued: “to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt”. The latter term

parallels and condenses the circumscription of step two (v. 8, “to deliver them

from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land”).102 The

=Crit&charenc=gcirc# (transliteration) and

etcsl.cgi?text=t.4.07.2 (translation), accessed 5.3.2015.
This threefold parallelism is discussed in section 3.2. In 2:24-25 rhythmic and semantic
shaping is less structured, and thus hardly the example for 3:7.
As against the view of GERTZ, Exoduserzählung (see n. 34), the stylistically flat promise of

innovations of the fourth stage include the identification of Pharaoh as the

potentate to be confronted (v. 9a), as specification of the general terms Egypt

and Egyptians. Thus the opening stage highlights divine perception, whereas

the final stage specifies what is to be done; the opening stage mentions “my

people” and “its taskmasters” (v. 7), as against the full identification of “my

people the Israelites” and the specification of Pharaoh.

The “delayed identification” pattern appears likewise in the establishment of

the identity of Moses’ interlocutor.103 The divine speech opens with the self-

presentation as “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,

and the God of Jacob” (v. 6), not mentioning the divine name, unlike the

divine self-presentation in Exod 6:2; Gen 15:7; 17:1; 28:13; 35:11. Thus Moses

has to ask for his interlocutor’s name.104 It would, however, be highly impolite,

and in interaction with a divine speaker positively dangerous,105 to ask

straightforwardly “who are you?”, a question always put in the mouth of

persons in authority.106 Hence Moses raises the question vicariously, by means

of “a friend”:107 “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of

Gen 46:4 could never form the example for Exod 3:8. The call pattern shared by Exod 3:6–12
and Gen 46:2–4 is formulaic; see my study “Orality and Language Usage” (see n. 1), section
2.2, n. 73.
A delay of a different kind is involved in the reference to YHWH in Gen 18:13–14.
As noted by FISCHER, Jahwe unser Gott (see n. 97), 146, in the context of a polytheistic
culture, the identity of the speaking deity is in need of clarification.
Moses’ fears are demonstrated by his hiding his face (v. 6).
The father: Gen 27:18, 32; the king: 2 Sam 1:8; and similarly: 1 Sam 17:58; 30:13.

your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what

shall I say to them?” (v. 13). The information provided in the divine response

that is as mysterious as Moses’ question was evasive. Appropriately, the first

person addressed is Moses himself: “Thus God said to Moses, Ehyeh-asher-

ehyeh” (v. 14a), unlimited in its implications, but without going beyond

implication.108 The message to the Israelites comes in the second place: “Thus

shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh has sent me to you’” (v. 14b). The

information Moses had asked for is only given in the next verse, repeating the

notion of sending: “Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: ‘YHWH, the God of

your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has

sent me to you’” (v. 15a). This is a development of the previous statement by

repetition and substitution: name and full title take the place of the enigmatic

Ehyeh. This statement is rounded off by a particularly solemn proclamation in

full parallelism: “This is my name (‫)שּׁ ִמי‬

ְ forever, this is appellation (‫ )זִ ְכ ִרי‬for all

eternity” (v. 15b).109 The divine answer, then, consists of three stages, the last of

See A. FERN, “‘I’m Asking For A Friend’: 46 Questions You Would Never Ask For
Yourself”; hyperlink:
yourself/756367/, accessed 24.2.2015.
A semiotic analysis of this saying is offered by J.-P. SONNET, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh (Exodus
3:14): God’s “Narrative Identity” among Suspense, Curiosity, and Surprise”, Poetics Today 31
(2010), 331-351.
See section 3.2.

which is marked by a solemn elaboration. Literary-stylistic analysis shows that

this configuration leads from hāyā to šālaḥ, and thus presents the divine name

as a promise of divine action,110 Ehyeh suggesting “I shall step in”.111 Only after

this gradual unfolding of the divine name and its implications does the

narrative proceed to the actual program for action (vv. 16–17), which thus

forms the fourth stage of the delay pattern. The narrative presents a step-by-

step transition from the opening of the divine proclamation (v. 8) to the

program of action (v. 16).

A second feature that demands our attention is the use of parallelism.

3.3. Parallelism in the Exodus Narrative

Parallelism, originally viewed as the hallmark par excellence of poetry, has

since long been recognized as a stylistic option in narrative.112 The tale of the

A.G. VAN DAALEN, “The Place where YHWH Showed Himself to Moses: A Study of the
Composition of Exodus 3”, in Voices From Amsterdam: A Modern Tradition of Reading Biblical
Narrative (ed. M. Kessler; SBLSS; Atlanta Scholars: Press, 1994), 133-144, here 140-141;
POLAK, “Theophany and Mediator” (see n. 83), 122-124.
For this interpretation, and in general, hāyā as a verb of motion, see F.H. POLAK,
“Hebrew hāyāh: Etymology, Bleaching, and Discourse Structure”, in Tradition and Innovation
in Biblical Interpretation: Studies Presented to Professor Eep Talstra on the Occasion of his Sixty-
Fifth Birthday (ed. W.Th. Van Peursen and J.W. Dyk; SSN 57; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 379-398,
here 395.
J.S. KSELMAN, “The Recovery of Poetic Fragments from the Pentateuchal Priestly Source”,
JBL 97 (1978), pp. 161-173, here 162-167; O. LORETZ, “Wortbericht-Vorlage und
Tatbericht- Interpretation im Schopfungsbericht Gn 1, 1–2, 4a”, UF 11 (1977), 279-287; J.L.

primeval garden contains a number of famous cases.113 Many scholars have

recognized the use of parallelism in the divine invitation to the covenant

(19:3–6)114. Thus we should not disregard the tricolon in the description of the

divine perception of the Israelite oppression in Egypt:

Exod 3:7 ‫ת־ענִ י ַע ִמּי ֲא ֶשׁר ְבּ ִמ ְצ ָריִ ם‬
ֳ ‫יתי ֶא‬
ִ ‫ָראֹה ָר ִא‬

ַ ‫ ִכּי יָ ַד ְע ִתּי ֶא‬// ‫ת־צ ֲע ָק ָתם ָשׁ ַמ ְע ִתּי ִמ ְפּנֵ י נֹגְ ָשׂיו‬

‫ת־מ ְכא ָֹביו‬ ַ ‫וְ ֶא‬

I have marked, yes marked the plight of my people in Egypt// and have heeded their outcry

because of their taskmasters// yes, I am mindful of their sufferings.115

One notes the threefold parallelism of perception terms: ‫יתי‬

ִ ‫ ָר ִא‬, ‫ ָשׁ ַמ ְע ִתּי‬, and the

conclusion: ‫ ִכּי יָ ַד ְע ִתּי‬,116 as the third term of the tricolon.117 The largely poetic

KUGEL, The Idea of Biblical Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 59-62; Verse in
Ancient Near Eastern Prose (ed. J.C. de Moor and W.G.E. Watson; AOAT, 42; Kevelaer:
Butzon & Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993); F.I. ANDERSEN, “What
Biblical Scholars Might Learn from Emily Dickinson”, in Words Remembered, Texts Renewed:
Essays in Honour of J.F.A. Sawyer (ed. J. Davies et al.; JSOTSup, 156; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1995), 52-74. For the Mesha stela see: F.I. ANDERSEN, “Moabite Syntax”,
Orientalia 35 (1966), 81–120, here 85-88; J.C. DE MOOR, “Narrative Poetry in Canaan”, UF
20 (1988), 149-177.
See Gen 2:5–9 (cf. 7:11; 8:2); and C.A. BRIGGS, “The Poem of the Fall of Man”, Reformed
Quarterly Review 32 (1885), 311-333; F.H. POLAK, “Poetic Style and Parallelism in the
Creation Account (Gen. 1.1–2.3)”, in Creation in Jewish and Christian Tradition (ed. H.
Reventlow and Y. Hoffman; JSOTSup 319; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 2-31,
here 22, 28.
HOLZINGER, Exodus, 64, 66-67 (modeled on Deut 32:11); NOTH, Exodus, 157.
In this verse ‫ כי‬is to be taken as deictic marker, like Ugaritic k. For ‫ ידע‬as “paying
attention”, see GESENIUS, Thesaurus, 2.570.
The triad ‫ידע‬-‫שמע‬-‫ ראה‬appears in Isa 6:9; Lev 5:1; Deut 29:3; Neh 6:16. The collocation
‫ראה‬-‫ ידע‬for divine perception: Ps 31:8; 138:6; and in general, in poetry: Deut 33:9; Isa 5:19;
and passim; in prose narrative: Gen 18:21; 1 Sam 12:17; 14:38; and passim. The collocation

use of ‫ ַמ ְכאֹב‬118 is in keeping with the prosody of this logos. The use of

parallelism suits the solemn tone of this proclamation, and is matched by the

structuration of the bicolon in v. 15b:

15b ‫וְ זֶ ה זִ ְכ ִרי ְלד ֹר דּ ֹר‬// ‫ה־שּׁ ִמי ְלע ָֹלם‬
ְ ֶ‫ז‬

By the same token one notes the tricola in the narrative description:
1:7 ‫ וַ יִּ ְרבּוּ וַ יַּ ַע ְצמוּ ִבּ ְמאֹד ְמאֹד‬// ‫וּבנֵ י יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל ָפּרוּ וַ יִּ ְשׁ ְרצוּ‬

‫אָרץ א ָֹתם‬
ֶ ‫וַ ִתּ ָמּ ֵלא ָה‬

But the Israelites were fertile and prolific, and multiplied and increased very greatly,119

and the land was filled with them

1:12 ‫ וְ ֵכן יִ ְפר ֹץ‬// ‫ ֵכּן יִ ְר ֶבּה‬// ‫וְ ַכ ֲא ֶשׁר יְ ַענּוּ אֹתוֹ‬

‫וַ יָּ ֻקצוּ ִמ ְפּנֵ י ְבּנֵ י יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל‬

But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased, and the more they spread

out, so that they came to dread the Israelites

‫שמע‬-‫ ראה‬in poetry: Num 24:15; Isa 33:13; and passim. The third colon is dismissed by
WEIMAR, Berufung (see n. 95), 40-41, criticized by GERTZ, Exoduserzählung (see n. 34),
On this “abc pattern” see M. WEISS, The Bible from Within: The Method of Total
Interpretation (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1984), 251-255; T. COLLINS, Line-Forms in Hebrew Poetry
(Studia Pohl, S.M., 7; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), 223-25.
Note Ps 32:10; 38:18; 69:27; Isa 53:3–4; Jer 30:15; 45:3; 51:8; Job 33:19; Eccl 1:8; 2:23;
Lam 1:12, 18; 2 Chr 6:29.
For the junction ‫( ַרב וְ ָעצוּם‬Exod 1:9) see Amos 5:12; Isa 8:7 (inherently connected to the
Assyrian crisis); 53:12; Joel 2:2, 11; Mic 4:3; Zech 8:22; Ps 35:13; 135:10; Prov 7:26; and in
prose: Num 32:1; and as junction: Deut 7:1; in the inverse order: 9:14; 26:5; see E. BLUM,
“Die literarische Verbindung von Erzvätern und Exodus”, in Abschied vom Jahwisten: die
Komposition des Hexateuch in der jungsten Diskussion (ed. J.C. Gertz et al.; BZAW 315;
Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2002), 119-156, here 148. The pair ‫ רבה‬and ‫ פרה‬is frequent in the
Creation-Flood sequence (Gen 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7), and the El Shadday blessings (17:20;
28:3; 35:11; 48:4; and similarly 47:27); further only in Lev 26:9; Ezek 36:11; and in Jer 3:16;
23:3. The sound play suggests a poetic origin.

Parallelism is likewise instanced by the opening of the Sinai tale:

19:1 ‫ישׁי ְל ֵצאת ְבּנֵ י־יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל ֵמ ֶא ֶרץ ִמ ְצ ָריִ ם ַבּיּוֹם ַהזֶּ ה ָבּאוּ ִמ ְד ַבּר ִסינָ י‬
ִ ‫ַבּח ֶֹדשׁ ַה ְשּׁ ִל‬

v. 2aαβ ‫ וַ יָּ בֹאוּ ִמ ְד ַבּר ִסינַ י‬//‫וַ יִּ ְסעוּ ֵמ ְר ִפ ִידים‬

v. 2aγb ָ ‫ יִּ ַח‬//‫וַ יַּ ֲחנוּ ַבּ ִמּ ְד ָבּר‬

‫ן־שׁם יִ ְשׂ ָר ֵאל נֶ גֶ ד ָה ָהר‬

This description is repetitious. In source criticism and redaction history it is

analyzed as an amalgam of priestly (v.1–2aαβ) and pre-priestly texts (v. 2aγb).

A priestly association is suggested by the indication of date and journey, but an

important counterindication is the lack of mention of the day of the month

(contrast, for example 16:1). By the same token, the recurrent time indication

“on this day” is not to be compared with “that very same day”:120 it is precisely

the exactitude that is lacking.

The structuration of the repetitions points in a different direction. The

third line of this description is characterized by parallelism, built on the

repetition of “encamp” (‫ )חנה‬and the indication of place, “in the wilderness” //

“in front of the mountain”. These indications tie the third line to its

predecessor, with the mention of “the wilderness of Sinai”. In this line one

notes the parallelism of the contrasting verbs of motion (‫ וַ יָּ בֹאוּ‬,‫ )וַ יִּ ְסע‬and the

indications of place. The mention of “the wilderness of Sinai” ties this line to

the opening (epiphora). Thus the split up into a number of strata runs counter

In chronological systems: Gen 7:13; Exod 12:41, 51; Ezek 2:3; 24:2; 40:1; in ritual
prescription: 17:23, 26; Exod 12:17; Exod 23:14, 21, 28–30. See also Deut 32:48; Josh 5:11;

to the stylistic findings. The opening establishes the general framework, and

thus serves as “heading motto”, following which the narrative indicates the

journey and the encampment in the solemn style of repetition and parallelism.

A significant instance of poetic patterning is revealed by the incantation

uttered by Zipporah when warding off the divine attack against Moses.121 This

charm would almost have the form of an expanded colon (staircase

parallelism),122 were it not for the quotation formulae:

Exod 4:25b ‫אַתּה ִלי‬ ָ ‫אמר( ִכּי ֲח ַת‬
ָ ‫ן־דּ ִמים‬ ֶ ֹ ‫) וַ תּ‬

v. 26b ‫אָמ ָרה( ֲח ַתן ָדּ ִמים ––––– ַלמּוֹּלת‬

ְ ‫)אָז‬

(And she said) “You are truly “protected123 by blood” to me!

(Then she said) –––––––––– “protected by blood” –––––by the circumcision.

3.4. The Connection between the Episodes

On the level of the microtext, then, the stylistic patterns of the Exodus

narrative, as in biblical prose in general, are far richer, and complex than

allowed for by the presuppositions of source, form and redaction criticism. The

See POLAK, “Theophany and Mediator” (see n. 83), 125-126; AVISHUR, “Demonic” (see n.
83), 153-154.
Another case of the expanded colon is Samson’s saying (Judg 15:16). WATSON (Traditional
Techniques, [see n. 111], 259), proposes a similar analysis for Judg 4:18.
Since the expression “bridegoom of blood” fails to make sense, I adhere to the derivation
from Akkadian ḫatānu “to protect”, proposed by J. BLAU, “Ḥatan Damīm”, Tarbitz 26 (1957),
1-3 (Hebrew with summary in English).

case of macrotextual connectivity is no different.

The connection between the scenes often is problematic. Many scholars

have been troubled by the assertion “A long time after that, the king of Egypt

died” (2.23aα), detached as it is from the sequence that speaks of the fate of the

Israelites who “were groaning under the bondage and cried out” (v. 23aβ).

WELLHAUSEN solves this problem by means of the hypothesis that the note on

the king’s death was originally connected to the command to Moses: “go back

to Egypt, for all the men who sought to kill you are dead” (4:19).124 Moreover,

the divine command seems problematic, since it comes immediately after

Moses’ declaration that he intends to return (v. 18). However, the supposed

connection of 2:23 to 4:19 is hardly immediate and certainly not “lückenlos”.125

If the narrative would not have mentioned any divine message to Moses, the

present announcement would come out of the blue. It is true that the divine

call in the Abraham tale likewise lacks all preparations, but this case is different.

Unlike the preceding pericope concerning Abraham tale which lacks all details

apart from the family connections, the Moses narrative details the birth of the

J. WELLHAUSEN, Die Composition des Hexateuchs (Skizzen und Vorarbeiten 2; Berlin:
Reimer, 1885), 71; BLUM, “Literarische Verbindung” (see n. 119), 123, n. 20, with further
references. The repetition of the note on Pharaoh’s death (LXX 4:19) probably represents
secondary adaptation, like the harmonistic expansions in e.g., 6:20; 8:1–2, 12–13, 18, 28; 9:8–
9; 10:4, 6, 12; 11:3, 10.
One notes the criticism of BERNER, Exoduserzählung (see n. 39), 57-58. This problem has
been recognized, but not solved, by WELLHAUSEN (see n. 124).

hero, his exploits in Egypt, his flight to Midian and his acceptance by the

family of the Midianite priest. Thus the sudden apperance of the divine

announcement would hardly be in keeping with the method of the preceding

narrative. Moreover, in this reconstruction the divine address does not include

any call to action, although action is the main point. Thus the scholarly

construction is extremely misleading. In some form the call narrative is


The problematic appearance of the divine instruction to return could easily

be viewed as an encouragement, since Moses did not utter any formal assent to

the divine call. The intrusive appearance of the announcement of Pharaoh’s

death which is not directly connected to any theme in its context fits a well-

known pattern in biblical narrative, which was discovered by the eleventh

century French exegetes, R. YOSEF KARA and R. SHMUEL BEN MEIR

(RASHBAM):126 the opening of the narrative mentions data which will not play a

role in the tale until after a series of intervening passages, by way of

anticipatory preparation, ‫“—שלא תתמה‬in order that you may not wonder”.

The conclusion proposed in these paragraphs is not that the diachronic-

genetic enterprise should be abandoned. Far from that. Redaction-historical

J. JACOBS, “Rabbi Joseph Kara as an Exegete of Biblical Narrative: Discovering the
Phenomenon of Exposition”, JSQ 19 (2012), 73-89; G. BRIN, Studies in the Biblical Exegesis of
R. Joseph Qara (Tel Aviv: Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies, 1990), 86-90. Not all notes of
this type could be viewed as introductory exposition.

study is a necessity by virtue of the protracted and problematic transmission

history. However, we are not disregard the particular stylistics and rhetorics of

biblical narrative as an ancient Near Eastern text, the possibilities discovered by

ethnopoetic studies, and the achievements of the theory of literature, from

New Criticism and Werkinterpretation until narratology, cognitive poetics and

complexity theory. So what can we say about the narrative concerning the

exodus and the conclusion of the covenant?

4. Redactional Stratification in the Exodus-Sinai Narrative

The findings concerning the syntactic-stylistic differentiation indicate that

only part of the sections in the tales of the exodus and the conclusion of the

covenant are linguistically marked as redactional revision or expansion.

Notably, the IES is not found in the tale of the forced labor and the distress in

Egypt (Exod 1).127 In the tale of Moses’ call the IES does only appear in a

redactional expansion (3:17–22), like the expansions/revisions in the tale of the

conclusion of the covenant at Mount Sinai (Exod 19:9b–10a,128 20–25), and the

second revelation to Moses (34:1–28). The IES register in the tale of the first

One notes the syntactic construction of 1:21, with ‫ויהי כי‬, followed by a wayyiqtol. See J.
JOOSTEN, “Diachronic Aspects of Narrative wayhi in Biblical Hebrew”, JNSL 35 (2009),
The repetitive resumption of v. 9a/10a was already noted by RASHBAM. In v. 9 one notes
the IES clause structure with 4 ELC’s and the complex subordination (‫ ְבּ ַד ְבּ ִרי‬- ‫ַבּ ֲעבוּר יִ ְשׁ ַמע ָה ָעם‬
ִ These features come together with the epanalepsis of 9a/10a.
‫)ע ָמְּך‬.

confrontation with Moses (5:1–6:1) points to a revision in light of the ensuing

second revelation to Moses (6:2–13; 6:26–7:6), which serves as a response to his

complaints.129 In some these sections the role of the redaction or later narrator

has been well-known, and with regard to 5:1–6:1 a Persian era origin has

recently been proposed.130 Thus we note a concergence between some aspects

or redaction history and syntactic-stylistic analysis. Accordingly, syntactic-

stylistic analysis is a helpful tool in diachronic-genetic study. This tool is all the

more important since it is independent.

The episodes of the plagues include a number of passages in the elaborate

style. 7:8–13 (“P”, the introductory sign of the serpents), 9:1–12 (the pestilence

of the livestock and the boils), 9:13–26 (the first part of the plague of the hail),

and 11:1–10 (the announcement of plague of the firstborn). The redactional

input in many of these passages is well-known in diachronic-genetic study. In

particular one notes the role of the plague of the hail which, as seventh plague,

forms first high point in the series of the plagues,131 but is introduced by a

passage that points to another seventh item, the pestilence (9:14–15). One

See GREENBERG, Understanding Exodus (see n. 92), 148-149.
See GERTZ, Exoduserzählung (see n. 34), 343-344; BERNER, Exoduserzählung (see n. 39),
97, 137-149; H. UTZSCHNEIDER and W. OSWALD, Exodus 1–15 (IEKAT; Stuttgart:
Kohlhammer, 2013), 1590160.
S.E. LOEWENSTAMM, “An Observation on the Source-Criticism of the Plague-Pericope”,
VT 24 (1974), 374-378; see also IDEM, Exodus Tradition (see n. 84), 94-96, 103; S.B NOEGEL,
“The Significance of the Seventh Plague”, Bib 76 (1995), 532-539.

could view this allusion as a mere redactional expansion, aimed at the

underlining of the ensuing theodicy (v. 16; 10:1–2, all IES).132 However, the

poetic tradition presents us with a pestilence as seventh and last plague (Ps

78:50),133 alongside and conflated with the death of the first-born (v. 51). This

sequence is often considered secondary. It is, however, to be borne in mind

that two other plagues are related to the pestilence: the boils, which involves

symptoms that are comparable to the pestilence though far less grievous, and

the pestilence of the livestock, which in Psalm 78 precedes the pestilence

directly (v. 48, MT ‫ל ָבּ ָרד‬,ַ but the lethal epidemic is indicated by Symmachus’

ֶ 134 It is highly significant, then, that the plagues preceding the hail
λοιµῷ/‫)ד ֶבר‬.

are close to the “pestilence” theme, as “pestilence on the livestock” hitting the

animals, and with the boils as less grievous emulation of the pestilence.135

Notably, the passages describing these two plagues are both couched in the

IES, which is also much in evidence in the first sections of the plague of the

So, for instance, NOTH, Exodus, 80.
LOEWENSTAMM, “Observation”.
In Ps 78:48 the reading λοιµῷ (Syrohexapla: lmawtānā) is matched by ‫ל ְר ָשׁ ִפים‬,ָ “pestilence”,
like the parallelism in Hab 3:5 (similarly Deut 32:34), as discussed by LOEWENSTAMM, . The
reading ‫ ַל ָבּ ָרד‬reflects an adaptation to the description of the hail hitting both men and animals
(Exod 9:19, 22, 25; unlike Ps 105:33).
The pairing of the plague of “boils” (9:9, ‫ ) ְשׁ ִחין פּ ֵֹר ַח ֲא ַב ְע ֻבּעֹת‬and the pestilence of hte
livestock is noted by M. GREENBERG, “The Redaction of the Plague Narrative in Exodus”, in
Near Eastern Studies in Honor of W. F. Albright (ed. H. Goedicke; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
UP, 1971), 243-252, here 246.

hail. However, the closing section of this plague adheres to the lean, brisk style

(type 1, with type-2 intrusions),136 indicating the oral-epic background of the

hail plague itself, and the epiphanic fire involved (9:24). Thus the first high

point of the plagues narrative embodies redactional revision, affecting the

section 9:1–10:2 by interpolation (9:14–17; 10:1–2) and rewriting.

The representation of the plagues, then, reveals extensive redactional

activity that could hardly be covered by simple solutions in the spirit of source


In the continuation of the narrative large scale redactional revision or

expansion is shown in the announcement of the final plague (11:1–10), the

description of the inception of the march (12:38–39, 42; 13:3–10, 17–19, 21–

22), the “P” (or Dtr) sections in the episodes of, the Sea of Reeds and the

manna (12:14:1–4, 8–10*, 15–18, 22–23, 27*–29; 16:1–3, 6–12, 15b–21a, 22–

26, 32–35). in addition one notes the Jethro tale (ch. 18), part of the last

sections of the Book of the Covenant (23:1–19), and parts of the second

revelation to Moses, including the section often referred to as the “Cultic

Dialogue” (34:1–4, 11–28).137

Thus syntactic-stylistic analysis provides independent confirmation of a

Type-2 intrusions are indicated by the strikingly large number of subordinate clauses,
including many clauses in complex subordination.
See n. 48 above.

series of observations that were made in diachronic-genetic analysis. However,

two passages are exceptional. First, the passage of the lice, commonly ascribed

to “P” because of the parallels with the section of the serpents,138 is couched in

the VoLB type-1 style. This finding is surprising, but lacks all significance

since the unit at stake is too small for analysis (20 clauses only).

Second, earlier source criticism ascribes the tale of Jethro (Exod 18) to the

Elohistic stratum, but in light of its syntactic-stylistic profile this tale in its

present form probably is to be ascribed to a secondary stratum. Notably, this

tale reflects the same kind of rationalization as the Deuteronomic recast of the

appointment of the elders (Deut 1:8–17), and contrasts strongly with the

parallel narrative with its emphasis on prophetic/magic inspiration (Num

11:16–17, 24–30; VoLB-1). One could speculate that the Jethro tale in Exodus

represents a critical rejoinder to the tale in Numbers that centers on Moses’

weakness in the face of the tribal leaders.

However, many sections that in recent diachronic-genetic discussions have

been attributed to secondary sections reveal a style that is quite different from

the elaborate style of the redactional episodes discussed in the present section.

The VoLB style characterizes such units as the tale of the forced labor, the first

call of Moses, and the Sinai pericope which thus represent the oral-epic


So also GREENBERG, “Plague Narrative” (see n. 136), 245-248.

This is not the place for a discussion of the covenant ceremonies at Mount

Sinai. Nevertheless it is important to note that the entire description of the

proceedings in Exod 19–24 represents the tradition stream of the Northwest

Semitic political culture as evidenced by a series of texts from Mari.139 The

“invitation” to the covenant in ch. 19:3–6 is paralleled by the preliminary steps

embodied by the “little tablet” (ṭuppum ṣeḫrum), whereas the agreement itself is

committed to writing in the “big tablet” (ṭuppum rabûm). These documents also

evidence oath ceremonies at the residences of both partners in “bilocal”

ceremonies, like the doubling of the ceremonies near the Israelite camp at the

foot of the mountain (24:4–8) and in the divine abode (vv. 9–11).140

5. Structures Underlying the Thematic Flow of the ESN

5.1. Narrative Sequence and Oral-Epic Platform

The syntactic-stylistic profile of the ESN, dominated as it is by the VoLB style,

indicates that this narrative reflects an oral-epic platform, that includes all

stages of the tales of the exodus, the wanderings and the conclusion of the

See D. CHARPIN, “Les Representants de Mari à Babylone (I)”, ARM XXVI, 139-205, here
144 ;IDEM, “Un traité entre Zimri-Lim de Mari et Ibāl-pī-Il II d’Ešnunna,” in Marchands,
Diplomates et Empéreurs. Études sur la civilisation mésopotamienne offertes à Paul Garelli (ed. D.
Charpin and F. Joannès; Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1991) 139-166, and
my study “Covenant and Mari Texts” (see n. 86), 123-125.
Covenant and Mari Texts” (see n. 86), 125.

covenant at mount Sinai. The VoLB-2 style prevails in the episodes of the

plagues, the rescue near the Sea of Reeds, the wanderings through the desert,

and the revelation at mount Sinai.

This framework is not dependent on a redaction process within the

Deuteronomic or the Priestly school, but form an independent platform in its

own right. I do not claim authorial unity.141 On the contrary, within this

platform one recognizes the differences regarding Moses’ sons Gershom (2:22;

18:3) Eliezer (18:4 only), and the identity of the priest of Midian, Moses’

father-in-law, who is variously called Reuel (2:18),142 Jethro (3:1; 4:18),143and

Jether (4:18).144 I do claim, however, that the tales in this style all represent one

and the same narrative platform. This platform which came into being in the

oral performance, was used by various different narrators, and in the end

provided the plot structure, and the stylistic norms, for the written

compositions. The extent of the redactional layer, whether deuteronomistic or

priestly is rather limited.

These data necessarily raise the question what it is that keeps the ESN

Notably, the parallel tales of Gen 12:10–20 and Gen 20 both are couched in the VoLB–2
style, and both have their place in the current plot sequence, although they ultimately
represent different versions of the same theme.
This name recurs in the narrative of Hobab ben Reuel (Num 10:29), in a passage which
reveals the type-1 style like 20:10–22.
So also 18:1–12 (IES). Notably, Jethro’s name is not written with final he, unlike ‫שלמה‬
(and 2 ,‫ יריחה‬Kgs 16:34).
See most recently C. BERNER, Exoduserzählung (see n. 39), 123-126; iDEM, “.”,

together. In my view, the coherence of this narrative is dependent on a

number of overarching themes, and first and formeost the theme of the

theophany, in tandem with the growth of Moses’ insight in the ways of divine

guidance.145 What is particularly significant is the transition from forced labor

and bondage at the service of Pharaoh to the worship of Israel’s divine

overlord.146 Both stages are indicated by the root ‫עבד‬. This term appears in the

description of the forced labor, as “imposed ... labors” (1:13, ‫ )וַ יַּ ֲע ִבדוּ‬and “harsh

labor” (v. 14, ‫) ַבּ ֲעב ָֹדה ָק ָשׁה‬, but also in the representation of the service of God:

“you shall worship (‫)תּ ַע ְבדוּן‬

ַ God at this mountain” (3:12), and “Let my son go,

that he may worship me (‫( ”)וְ יַ ַע ְב ֵדנִ י‬4:23).147 The transition is likewise expressed

in the historical preambles of the covenant formulations which juxtapose the

divine acts in Egypt and the relationship to the divine overlord (19:4; 20:2–3).

The bondage/worship theme opposes the royal power of Pharaoh to the

divine power of Israel’s overlord. This contrast is also expressed by the

geographic symbolism of the Nile and Sea of Reeds, as water, and Sinai, as

For the importance of this theme see J.P. FOKKELMAN, “Exodus”, in The Literary Guide to
the Bible (ed. R. Alter and F. Kermode; Cambridge MA: Belknap, 1987), 56-65, here 63.
J.D. LEVENSON, “Exodus and Liberation”, in IDEM, The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament and
Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical Studies (Louisville, KT: Westminster/John
Knox Press, 1993), 127-59, here 142-144.
So also 9:1, 13 (IES); 10:3, 8, 11, 26; 12:31 (all VoLB); as against the subjection to Egypt
(14:5, 12; 20:2, all VoLB). The phrase ‫( ֲע ָב ַדי ֵהם‬Lev 25.42, 55) has been commented upon by
E.L. GREENSTEIN, “Book of Exodus”, in The HarperCollins Study Bible (ed. W.A. Meeks; San
Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1993), 86

mountain. This symbolism now demands our attention.

5.2. From the Nile to Mount Sinai: A Symbolic Landscape

The central role of water in the ESN is well-known.148 The principal issue is

the river that gives Egypt life, the Nile, into which the male babies are to be

thrown (1:22) , and from which Moses is taken by Pharaoh’s daughter (2:3–6).

The first plague turns the river which into blood (7:17–21), while in the

second plague it is the source of the frogs that cover the entire country (8:1–

2).149 A second main point is the Sea of Reeds which the fleeing Israelites have

to cross in the face of the hot pursuit by the Egyptians, who in the end are

drowned in the sea. Michael FISHBANE has pointed to the structural connection

that links this scene to the drowning of the male babies, and turns it into a

divine retribution.150 A third point is the problem of water in the desert, at

Marah and Massah-and-Meribah, that is solved by divine intervention.

It is important to note that in every case the threat turns, by divine

intervention, into a resolution, or a point of departure for a resolution: the

command to throw all male babies into the Nile is followed by the tale of

P. SABO, “Drawing out Moses: Water as a Personal Motif of the Biblical Character”, in
Thinking of Water in the Early Second Temple Period (ed. E. Ben Zi and C. Levin; BZAW 461;
Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2014), 409-436.
D. EDELMAN, “The Nile in Biblical Memory”, in BEN ZI and LEVIN, Thinking of Water (see
n. 148), 77-102, here 83-85.
See M. FISHBANE, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979), 73, 75.

Moses, whom his mother saves by hiding him in the reed (!) of the river, where

he is found by the Egyptian princess. The threatening Sea of Reeds is turned

into a dry way through which the fugitives escape, whereas their pursuers are

drowned, the brackish water is made sweet and fit for drinking, and the rock

gives forth water.

In my view, however, this is not the only point. The tale of Massah-and-

Meribah links the water theme to the divine mountain: “and take along the

maṭṭe with which you struck the Nile, and set out. See, I will be standing there

before you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock and water will issue from it, and

the people will drink” (17:5–6). As I have argued in an earlier study, water and

mountain (or rock) appear together a typical, often symbolic landscape (Jer

46:18; Ps 46:3–4; 98:8; 104:10), and thus form a thought pattern.151 The

connection is made explicit in the psalm “The sea saw them and fled, Jordan

ran backward, mountains skipped like rams, hills like sheep” (Ps 114:3–4;

echoed in vv. 5–6).152 Like the poet the narrator makes an explicit link that

See also Isa 54:9–10; Deut 8:7; 33:19; Isa 7:19; 10:26; 11:9; 17:13; 18:7; 25:10; 30:25; 32:2;
33:16; 57:5; Jer 18:14; Amos 9:13; Joel 4:18; Mic 1:4; 7:12; Hab 3:3, 6, 8–10; Job 22:24; Prov
30:19; Dan 11:45; as echoes of the Massah-and-Meribah tale: Num 20:8, 10–11; Deut 8:15;
Isa 48:21; Ps 105:41; Neh 9:15. For parallels in Ugaritic, Sumerian and Akkadian poetry see
my study, “Water, Rock and Wood: Structure and Thought Pattern in the Exodus
Narrative”, JANES 25 (1997), 19-42, here 34-38.
The same contrast figures in Exod 15: 17; Ps 78:5:14–15, 3–54; in the flood narrative:
Gen 7:19, 20; 8:4–5; and in creation poetry: Ps 104:6; Prov 8:24–25; Isa 40:12; and as
metaphor: Ps 36:7; Isa 42:15.

connects the mountain, the “rock (‫)הצּוּר‬

ַ at Horeb” to the Nile in a pattern that

is reiterated by the ensuing instruction “Strike the rock (‫)בצּוּר‬

ַ and water will

issue from it” (Exod 17:5–6). This configuration reflects an underlying thought

pattern which holds the entire ESN together.

The cohesion of the narrative is likewise indicated by a transitional subcycle

which takes us from the Sea of Reeds to the revelation of Mount Sinai, linking

chapters 14—15 to chapter 19. This subcycle contains two tales of thirst and

the production of water for drinking by divine instruction to Moses, at Marah,

in chapter 15, vv. 22–26, and at Rephidim, ch. 17, vv. 1–7.153 The characteristic

features, the elements ‫מטה‬, “staff”, water (or in the same field, ‫יאֹר‬, Nile) and

‫צור‬, “rock”, form a triad that keeps recurring. I have already noted their

occurrence in the tale of Massah-and-Meribah (17:5–6). In the tale of Marah it

is a pair, water and wood, ‫עץ‬, probably indicating a shrub or a branch of a

shrub or tree, but also denoting the material of Moses’ staff:

15:25 ֵ ַ‫ ו‬/‫וַ יִּ ְצ ַעק ֶאל־יְ הוָ ה‬

‫יּוֹרהוּ יְ הוָ ה ֵעץ‬

‫ וַ יִּ ְמ ְתּקוּ ַה ָמּיִ ם‬/‫ל־ה ַמּיִ ם‬

ַ ‫וַ יַּ ְשׁ ֵלְך ֶא‬

So he cried out to YHWH, and YHWH showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the

water and it became sweet, the water.

The epiphora of ‫ מים‬is a poetic element. The elements water and wood appear

The narrative of Num 20:1–13, which is not to be studied in the present framework, is
couched in the intricate style (47 clauses): 0-1 ELC 29.79 %; hypotaxis 25.53 %; MNP 60.34;
complex hypotaxis 12.77 %.

again in the scene at Elim, with its twelve wells and seventy psalm trees (v. 27).

In the tale of the skirmishes with Amalek at Rephidim, we encounter the

pair ‫גבעה‬, hill, and ‫מטה‬: “Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill

(‫)רֹאשׁ ַהגִּ ְב ָעה‬, with the divine maṭṭe (‫ֹלהים‬

ִ ‫ ) ַמ ֵטּה ָה ֱא‬in my hand” (17:9). The stone

which was put under Moses in order to support his arms, represents the same

semantic field as the rock and the hill. One notes the dimensional contrast with

the Marah tale: Moses threw the “wooden object” into the well (15:25, ‫)וַ יַּ ְשׁ ֵלְך‬,

but at Rephidim “whenever Moses held up his arm (‫ יָ דוֹ‬... ‫)יָ ִרים‬, Israel prevailed”

(v. 11). The upward movement of “held up” is matched by the ascent to the

hill (v. 10, ‫) ָעלוּ רֹאשׁ ַהגִּ ְב ָעה‬. In the tales of Marah and Elim we have the pair

water and wood (15:25, 27), with a downward movement, leads on to the triad

water, staff (wood) and rock in the tale of Massah-and-Meribah, and the pair

staff and hill, with upward movement (17:10–11) in the Rephidim story. The

Massah-and-Meribah tale combines the elements of the tales of Marah and

Rephidim, and thus forms the link that ties the three tales together in one


Elements from the triad appear likewise in the Song of Moses: the water is

mentioned, together with a verb meaning “to hurl” in the opening: “Horse and

driver he has hurled into the sea (‫( ”) ָר ָמה ַביָּ ם‬15:1; similarly vv. 4, 8, 10). The

element stone appears in the simile: They went down into the depths like a stone

(v. 5, cf. v. 16); in the closure one notes the mountain theme: “You brought

them and planted them in the mountain of your possession (‫( ”) ְבּ ַהר נַ ֲח ָל ְתָך‬v.

17). One also notes these elements in the parallel narrative, as Moses is ordered

to lift the staff , and to hold out his arm over the sea (14:16, similarly v. 21).
ָ is matched by ‫( יָ ִרים‬17:11).155
The upward movement ‫ה ֵרם‬,

These elements reappear, together with indications of vertical movement,

in the episodes of the conclusion of the covenant: “Moses, now went up (‫)ע ָלה‬

to the deity, so YHWH called to him from the mountain” (‫ן־ה ָהר‬ ִ 19:3; so also v.
ָ ‫מ‬,

20). And in a downward movement: “Moses came down from the mountain to

the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes”

(v. 14). The washing of the clothes implies the use of water or some liquid (so

also v. 10).

The scene of the ritual ceremonies contains similar elements. The liquid is

represented by the blood (24:6, 8), and the “stone” by the “twelve pillars”

(‫וּשׁ ֵתּים ֶע ְשׂ ֵרה ַמ ֵצּ ָבה‬

ְ , v. 3), the “basins” (‫וַ יָּ ֶשׂם ָבּאַגָּ נֹת‬, v. 6), the two stones Moses

was to be given (v. 12) and, most significantly, by the substance that “was the

It is to be admitted that these verses belong to the IES segments (see n. 35), but since
these sections continue the narrative platform, they are to be taken into account.
In the tale of the manna the triad is not represented, unless one counts as such the
allusions to water in the promise “I will rain down (‫)מ ְמ ִטיר‬
ַ bread for you from the sky” (16:4),
the appearance of “a fall of dew” (vv. 13–14) and the depiction of the manna as “as fine as
frost” (v. 14, ‫) ַדּק ַכּ ְכּפֹר‬.

likeness of a pavement of sapphire” in the divine abode (v. 10, ‫ְכּ ַמ ֲע ֵשׂה ִל ְבנַ ת‬

ַ The upward movement is self-evident (vv. 1–2, 9, 12–13, 15).

‫)ה ַסּ ִפּיר‬.

Thus the transition from the Sea of Reeds to Mount Sinai reflect a symbolic

landscape that comprises water (sea), staff (or wood), and mountain (or stone):

text/ 14:16, 21 15:4–5 15:23–25 17:5–6 17:9–11 19:3 24:4,6

water ‫ים‬ ‫ במצוֹֹלת‬,‫ים סוף‬ ‫מים‬ ‫מים‬ — — ‫דם‬
wood ‫מטה‬ — ‫עץ‬ ‫מטה‬ ‫מטה‬ — —
rock — ‫כמו אבן‬ ‫ צור‬,‫חרב‬ ,‫גבעה‬ ‫ההר‬ ‫ ָבּ ַאגָּ נֹת‬,‫מצבה‬

throw/lift ‫הרם‬ ‫ ירדו‬,‫ֻט ְבּעוּ‬ ‫וישלך‬ — ‫ עלו‬,‫ירים‬ ‫עלה‬ ‫ויעל‬, v. 13


A triad of water, wood and stone is found in a number of passages. The

psalm celebrating the springs in the mountains also alludes to the trees (Ps

104:10-12).156 The element ‫עץ‬, “wood” or “tree”, out of which the staff is made,

often appears in collocation with water, such as the “tree planted by streams of

water” (Ps. 1:3),157 the primeval garden (Gen 2:5–10), and the divine promise of

the exodus from Babylon (Isa 41:18–19). Wood and stone occur together in

the picture of Jotham stationing himself on the mountain in order to proclaim

Similarly 2 Kgs 19:23–24 // Isa 37:24–25; Isa 55:10–12; Ezek 47:1–2, 8–9, 12; also note
Hos 10:7–8; Ezek 17:3–5; Ps 65:10–13; 72:3–6; 148:7–9. The role of these patterns in the
Elijah-Elisha narratives and the tale of the crossing of the Jordan is touched upon in my study
“Water, Rock and Wood” (see n. 151), 41.
So likewise, e.g., Jer 17:7–8; 31:12; Ezek 17:5; Isa 1:29–30; 44:14.

the fable of the trees (Judg 9:7–13; note also the liquids wine and oil). In

addition one notes the lexical association of wood and stone (‫אבן‬//‫ ;עץ‬Jer. 2:27;

Hab. 2:11, 19).158

In view of this schematic landscape it is important to note the role of the

wood in the exodus narrative: the occasion on which Moses’s staff was turned

into a divine maṭṭe, is the scene of the burning bush (Exod 3:2), likewise in the

semantic field of “wood”. Hence the entire tale of the exodus from Egypt and

the trek to Mount Sinai is dominated by the symbolic landscape of water,

wood, and rock, in a picture that opposes the Nile and the Sea of Reeds to

Mount Sinai, and in which the wood, as burning bush or as divine staff, fulfills

a mediating role. One could even construct the Ark, built out of wood after

the revelation on Mount Sinai (Num 10:33–35; 14:44; Exod 25:10), as an

additional representative of this mediating element.

The symbolism implied by this picture has two sides. On the one hand the

opposition that places Nile and Sea of Reeds over against the mountain of the

revelation, the ‫צוּר‬, indicates the contrast between the service to Pharaoh and

the worship of God. On the other hand, the healing of the water and the

creation of the well with the help of a piece of wood or a staff connotes the

In poetry cf. Isa 60:17; Zech 5:4; Qoh 10:9; so also in elevated prose (2 Kgs 19:18 = Isa
37:19; Jer 3:9; Ezek 20:32; Deut 4:28; 28:36, 64; 29:16; 2 Kgs 18:1); and in “technical” prose:
2 Sam 5:11; 2 Kgs 12:13; 22:6; 1 Chron 22:15; 2 Chron 9:10; 34:11.

divine succour, which replaces the links to the bondage.

5.3. Moses as Mediator: Education and Growth

The narrative concerning exodus, conclusion of the covenant and the

wanderings in the desert is sometimes represented as a heroic “Life of

Moses”.159 This view is motiviated by the insight that the birth tale, the stories

of Moses’ first exploits in Egypt and Midian (2:11–17) and the victory over

Pharaoh and his army (11:1–15:21) belong to the sphere of heroic narrative,

like the tales of Gideon and Samson. However, the ESN highlights another

kind of activity: Moses is not sent out to deliver battle, but to confront Pharaoh

verbally, and to convey the divine command to let the Israelites go free. The

power displayed by Moses vis-à-vis Pharaoh is the power of YHWH rather than

human heroism (14:13–14; 15:7–12).160 Still, Moses’ role is not restricted to the

conveyance of the divine demand. In a functional vista, his task includes the

mediation of signs of divine power to Pharaoh and the Israelites alike, the

transmittance of divine orders to the Israelites in order to prepare then for the

exodus and the march into the desert. In the desert he mediates both divine

guidance and the ceremonies and instructions relating to the covenant on the

G.W. COATS, Moses, Heroic Man, Man of God (JSOT 57; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic
Press, 1988); J. VAN SETERS, The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers
(Kampen: Pharos Kok, 1994).
See WEIMAR, Berufung des Mose (see n. 95), 104-105.

one hand, and on the other hand he transmits the Israelite messages to the


But mediation is too limited a term for the description of the role of

Moses.161 The revelation at the burning bush places him in a divine orbit, and,

limited though it be, provides him with fundamental insights into name and

nature of YHWH. In this narrative the divine name is represented as a symbol of

salvation, entailing divine succour and commission “I-will-be with you” (‫אהיה‬

‫ )עמך‬and “ I-will-be has sent me to you” (‫)אהיה שלחני אליכם‬. Thus the certainty

of divine salvation is expressed by the divine name itself. These implications of

the divine name, rather than the name itself, are revealed to Moses.

The immense divine powers involved in the rescue of the Israelites, are

displayed in the “signs and marvels” by which Pharaoh is brought to his knees,

at the Sea of Reeds. The healing power of God, revealed in the saying “I

YHWH— your healer” (15:26).162 The events are there for all to see, but the

recipient of the instructions and the divine motivation is Moses. At Mount

Sinai, where all the people witness the theophany, Moses is depicted as

conducting a dialogue with the deity (19:19b). Profound insights are granted

See P. MACHINIST, “The Meaning of Moses”, HDB 27 (1998), 14-15.
In 15:26 the term ‫ ר ְֹפ ֶאָך‬in all likelihood echoes ʾIlu’s epithet rpʾu in the Ugaritic hymn RS
24.252:1; see D. PARDEE, Les textes para-mythologiques de la 24e champagne (1961) (Ras
Shamra-Ougarit 4; Paris: CNSR, 1988), 76; ʾIlu’s role as healer is discussed by S.E.
LOEWENSTAMM, “On the Theology of the Keret Epic”, in IDEM, From Babylon to Canaan
(Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992), 185-200, here 197-199.

to Moses in his intercession for the Israelites in the wake of apostasy in the

golden calf episode. Forgiveness is only one element of the revelation of “all

my goodness”, that will “pass before you” and the proclamation of “the name

YHWH, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show” (33:17–33).

The high point of this revelation is the proclamation of the divine attributes

connoted by the divine name (34:5–7). A telltale sign of Moses’ growth in

stature is his request to be shown the divine kāḇōḏ (33:18), whereas at first he

was afraid to see the divine appearance (3:6).163

Thus the education and moral growth of Moses forms a basic pattern in the

structure of the ESN.

5.4. The Rhythm of the ESN: Undertaking and Failure

A rhythm that permeates the Exodus-Sinai tale is the sequence of undertaking

and failure.164 A first sign of this sequence is Pharaoh’s decision to oppress the

Israelites by ever increasing measures that all fail to attain their goal. His

command to kill the male babies at their birth is thwarted by the midwives

who point to the vitality of the Israelite women, who give birth before any

The relationship between the revelation in Exod 33–34 and the call narrative is discussed
in my “Theophany and Mediator”, 143-146.
See D.J.A. CLINES, The Theme of the Pentateuch (JSOTSup 10; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1978), 45-47, 106-112, 117; and my studies “Oral Substratum in the
Abraham-Jacob Narrative” (see n. 1), sections 1c-d; “Orality and Language Usage” (see n. 1),
section 1.2.

action is possible. The ukase to throw every male into the Nile leads to the

hiding of Moses in the place where Pharaoh’s daughter is to find and rescue

him, thus keeping him safe from her father’s commands. When Moses turns

into an independent agent, his first action is a failure: his killing of the

Egyptian compels him to flee into the desert. His first confrontation with

Pharaoh ends in disaster. When the Israelites finally leave Egypt, they wander

fir three days in the desert with nothing to drink. When the recurring

problems of shortages in water and food are resolved, and hostile attacks

repelled, the Israelites encamp in front of Mount Sinai and prepare to meet the

deity. But when Moses leads them out they retreat in face of the theophanic

revelation, and request Moses to mediate the divine commands. Initially the

covenant ceremonies proceed smoothly, but when Moses stays on the

mountain in order to receive the covenant tablets inscribed by God, the

Israelites initiate the worship of the golden calf. This apostasy leads to severe

punishments, at the hand of Moses and the Levites, and only arduous

intercession by Moses makes it possible to renew the proceedings on the

mountain, although the two tablets are now made and inscribed by Moses.

Thus the overall rhythm of the narrative is based on a series of failures that

ultimately lead to a result that remains flawed. In an aside I would like to

remark that the flawed achievement appears likewise in the P narrative which

leads up to the installation of the priests for service and the initiation of the

altar by the divine fire (Lev 8–9), but continues with the offering of “strange”,

unholy “fire” by Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who are instantly killed


5.5. The ESN and the Abraham-Jacob Narrative.

The sequence of undertaking, failure and ultimate achievement, successful

but flawed, is in a sense similar to the sequence of gain and loss in patriarchal

narrative. In a different sense the ESN is a counterpoise to patriarchal narrative.

Though both frameworks are based in migration and journey, the tales of

Jacob and Joseph ultimately reunite the patriarchal family in Egypt, whereas

the ESN leads the Israelites out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, in order to establish

the covenant with the divine saviour which in a sense is the ocunterpart of the

promise to the patriarchs. Thus the ESN and the Abraham-Jacob narrative

form two panels of a diptych. The hinge which unites the two panels is the

narrative of Moses’ birth, flight and call to prophetic leadership (Exod 2–4).

Ron HENDEL has pointed to a large number of common features, including not

only the birth theme, the flight, the scene at the well and the marriage with the

host’s daughter, but also the role as shepherd at the host’s service, the meeting

with the brother and the dangerous encounter with the deity.165 These shared

R. HENDEL, The Epic of the Patriarch: The Jacob Cycle and the Narrative Traditions of Canaan
and Israel (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1987), 137-151. HENDEL (here, 163-165) places the

themes go far beyond the common features of the traditional biographical

pattern. The Hoseanic diatribe confirms the connection between the two

tales,166 which is of particular importance in view of the correspondence of the

shepherd-marriage connection alluded to in the description of Jacob’s acts:

(Hos 12:13), but also valid for Moses. A second parallel-contrast is migration

theme, which poises the way Israel was brought out of Egypt, by prophetic

leadership, over against Jacob’s flight (v. 13).167 A highly notable point is the

implied contrast between the revelation to Jacob at the Jabbok and the divine

call to Moses: “He strove with an angel and prevailed — he (the other) wept

and implored him; at Bethel he (Jacob) met him, there he talked with him”

(Hos 12:5). The contrast is heightened by the reference to the divine name,

parallels in the oral tradition, but does not consider their function in the unfolding of a large
scale narrative platform. Not all shared features are explained by the the traditional theme of
the “fugitive hero” (like Idrimi of Alalakh), for which see E.L. GREENSTEIN, “Biblical
Interpretation in the light of its ancient cultural context”, Studies in Jewish Education 9 (2004),
61-73. The thesis that the Jacob stories have influenced the Moses tales is defended by A. DE
PURY, “Situer le cycle de Jacob: quelques réflexions, vingt-cinq ans plus tard”, in Studies in the
Book of Genesis: Literature, Redaction and History (ed. A. Wénin; BETL 155; Leuven: Leuven
University Press, 2001), 213-241; see also D.M. CARR, “Genesis in Relation to the Moses
Story: Diachronic and Synchronic Perspectives”, ibidem, 273-295, here, 282, n. 33.
See E. BLUM, “Hosea 12 und die Pentateuchüberlieferugen”, in Die Erzväter in der
biblischen Tradition. Festschrift für Matthias Köckert (ed. A.C. Hagedorn and H. Pfeiffer; BZAW
400; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2009), 291-321, here 310-318, with further references.
The reference to the “messenger” and the encounter at Bethel in 12:5 suggest a subtext
regarding the divine guidance promised at Beth-el (Gen 28:13–15). The radical depreciation
of Jacob is also implied by the “false balances” (‫)מֹאזְ נֵ י ִמ ְר ָמה‬, alluding to the ‫עקב‬/‫ ִמ ְר ָמה‬theme
in the Jacob narrative (note v. 4, and ‫ ְשׂ ֵדה ֲא ָרם‬, v. 13); one also notes the game with the
double meaning of ‫ און‬in vv. 4, 9.

“Yet YHWH, the God of Hosts, his name is YHWH” (v. 6).168 The use of the term

‫זִ ְכרוֹ‬, “his name”, is extremely meaningful in light of the fact that the entire

proclamation “his name is YHWH” is entirely redundant after the mention of

the deity as subject. In an intertextual vista, it is difficult to separate this

declaration from the proclamation of the divine name in Moses’ call tale.

Thus I concur with Konrad Schmid and Jan Gertz in the recognition of the

relative independence of patriarchal narrative and the ESN. Both narratives are

panels in themselves, and are not to be viewed as two parts of a straightforward

continuous narrative. But this independence is only a relative one. These

narratives are two panels in a diptych, with the Moses tale as hinge.

The divine praise in 12:6 contrasts the divine overlord with the “messenger” of v. 5 (like
the double contrast in vv. 7, 8–9, 10), and is not to be viewed as secondary.