The Coherence of Exodusl
Narrative Unity and Meaning
Arie C. Leder
Until the rise of modern criticism, studies of the Pentateuch focused on
problems in the reading and understanding of the received text Although
incoherence in the biblical text had been noted before, it was the serious devel-
opment of the historically oriented critical methodologies in the eighteenth
century and beyond that gave birth and support to a consistent skepticism
about the historical, literary, and theological unity of this part of the Christian
Scriptures. Enthralled by the inelegance of the pentateuchal text, criticism's
identification of the four underlying, primary sources of the Pentateuch left no
doubt about the incoherence of the received text. Nevertheless, the critical
approaches also suggested the means for recovering a coherent message:
Disentangle the primary sources from the secondary accretions, identify their
historical and social location, and let these recovered primary sources speak.
Furthermore, by analyzing the relationship of the secondary and later editor-
ial additions to the identified earliest level of the text, scholars argued that it
was not only possible to recover the compositional process of the text but also
to understand the interplay of the different ideological positions represented
by the sources and the various additions. Thus, by identifying the composi-
tional history of the received text, locating the underlying primary sources
within their sociopolitical and religious contexts, and understanding the inter-
play of the various layers, the historical critical methodologies sought to explain
the contradictions they identified and to support scientifically the continuing
meaningfulness of the received biblical text.
The individual books of the Pentateuch, however, disappeared from view,
including from the textbooks that introduced theology students to the
Pentateuch because they were redistributed among the underlying sources.
Literary-critical excavation of the so-called primary documents of the
Pentateuch also reshaped pentateuchal theology and the studies of personages
of the Old Testament.2
1 This article completes the study of Exodus begun in Calvin Theological Journal 34 (1999): 11-35.
2 See, for example, Robert H. Pfeiffer (Introduction to the Old Testament [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941], 129-292) who, although he acknowledges that the Pentateuch "is a single work in five volumes and not a collection of five different books" (129), studies the Pentateuch in terms of
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 252
Although the critical students of the Pentateuch held to the incoherence of
the received text, they held firmly to the coherence of the primary sources--to
the point of distinguishing clearly among the linguistic gifts and peculiar the-
ologies of their authors.3 Historical-critical studies, it was thought, would yield
a fuller comprehension of the text by integrating the results of these studies
into an understanding of the received text. In some sense, then, a coherent
understanding of this ancient literature was the ultimate goal. Nevertheless,
the academy's failure to integrate the results of historical critical exegesis into
a fuller understanding of the received text would leave Scripture fragmented
and, to a large extent, silent in the church.4
"documents." Otto Eissfeldt (The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R Ackroyd [New York: Harper and Row, 1965], 194-211) studies its "narrative strands." Similarly, see Ernst Sellin and George Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. David E. Green (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), 103-92, and Artur Weiser, The Old Testament and Its Deveiopment (New York: Association Press, 1963), 70-142. Contemporary introductions continue in this vein. See Norman K Gottwald (The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985], 135-48), who introduces his readers to “The Great Traditionists of Ancient Israel," and Anthony R Ceresko, Introduction to the Old Testament: A Liberationist Perspective (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1992), 52-71. This approach has also influenced the study of OT personalities; see Rudolf Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (New York: KTAV Publishing, 1968), 175-99 and his review of the "Great Narrators." F1eming, James (Personalities of the Old Testament [New York: Charles Scribner's, 1951], 196-209, 282-99, 425-42) treats 'The Yahwist," "The "Deuteronomists," and "The Priestly Writers." For a brief description of the characteristics of the primary sources, see Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 40-42. For an extended discus-
sion, see Antony F. Campbell and Mark A O'Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).
3 See, for example, Walter Brueggemann and Hans Walter Wolff, The Vitality of Old Testamen Traditions (Atlanta: John Knox, 1975); the discussion in R. N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch:A Methodological Study (Sheffield, 1987), 47-48; and F1eming James' enthusiastic description of the Yahwist (Personalities of the Old Testament, 196): "About me time when Elijah and Elisha were doing their work in the northern kingdom there lived in the kingdom of Judah a remarkable man, who, though his name is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, stands out today as one of the supreme thinkers of ancient Israel. This man is a discovery of modern scholarship. . . . He was in all probability a single personality. Many scholars, it is true, find two or more strands of narrative. . . . But the J narrative taken as whole is so vivid and colourful, so fresh and full of power, that we can hardly go far wrong in believing it to be the work of single great mind."
4 See for example, James D. Smart, The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church: A Study in
Hermeneutics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970). Whether such integration would have been possible is another matter, as James A. Wharton indicated (See below, footnote 5). The academy's separation of the Bible from the church continues in its contemporary claims that the interpretation of biblical documents has no validity beyond "the assent of various interest groups." Such interest groups may, of course, include the church, but typically the reference is to groups determined by ethnic, cultural, gender, or sexual-orientation interests. David J. A Clines, for example, writes: there are no 'right' interpretations, and no validity in interpretation beyond the assent of various interest groups, biblical interpreters have to give up the goal of determinate and universally acceptable interpretations, and devote themselves to producing interpretations they can sell-in whatever mode is called for by the communities they choose to serve. This is what I call 'customized' interpretation." In his "A World Established on Water (Psalm 24) ," in The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, ed. David J.A Clines and Cheryl J. Exum. (Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), 87.
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 253
In 1974, Brevard S. Childs addressed this failure in his critical theological
commentary on Exodus.5 In it he argued that the critical methodologies
should, and attempted to show how they could, contribute to an understand-
ing of the canonical text. Thus, while he acknowledged the importance of his-
torical critical exegesis, he required this exegesis to enlighten the received,
canonical text. And, when he declared the commentary's purpose to be theo-
logical and "directed toward the community of faith which lives by its confes-
sion of Jesus Christ,"6 he acknowledged and argued that the present shape of
Exodus, although a composite narrative, was the text to be explained, not the
reconstructed sources, traditions, or forms. Although Childs did not argue for
the coherence of the received narrative, by subordinating critical exegesis to
the received shape of the text, he acknowledged the significance and influence
of the canonical text. Recent introductions have begun to refer again to the tra-
ditional division of the Pentateuch7 and, in conjunction with the emergence of
the new literary approach,8 studies have defended the received shape of the
individual books of the Pentateuch and of the Pentateuch itself.9
Since the eighteenth century, biblical studies have moved from under-
standing coherence and meaning as located in the world behind the text, in which historical, critical, and compositional issues were crucial, to the world of the text itself, where historical and compositional issues are less, and literary concerns more, important. Some exegetes, however, ignore both of these, sometimes
5 Brevard S. Childs, The
Book of Exodus: A Critical; Theological Commentary (
6 Childs, The Book of Exodus, ix.
7 Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979). Rolf Rendtorff, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Forness, 1986). Joseph
Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1991), but he does not employ the fivefold division.
8 Distinguished from historical-critical literary readings, the newer approach focuses on the
text as we now have it, not on the reconstruction of the history of the text in conjunction with the reconstruction of the history of the social context that produced the text. See, for example, Jean Louis Ska, "Our Fathers Have Told Us." Introduction to the Analysis of Hebrew Narratives (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1990), andJ. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide, trans. Ineke Smit (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1999).
9 For example: Dennis T. Olson, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, Brown Judaic Studies, no. 71 (Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1985). See also, Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 6, 8; Arie C. Leder, "An Iconography of Order: Kingship in Exodus. A Study of the Structure of Exodus" (Th.D. diss., Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto, 1992). Terence E. Fretheim (The Pentateuch, Interpreting Biblical Texts [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996]) focuses on the rhetorical strategy that unifies the Pentateuch and its subunits. See also Thomas W. Mann, The Book of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988).
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 254
completely, to argue that the world in front of the text is the locus of coherence
and meaning. That is, where Childs relativized the historical issues and linked
coherence and meaning to the canonical text, reader-response readings, even
those working with the received text, locate them beyond the text: in the reader
or the interest group to which the reader belongs.10
In this article, I will argue for the coherence of Exodus from the point of
view of the text itself. I will begin with a brief discussion of the nature of plot and
its conflictual aspect, demonstrate how Exodus is shaped by three major con-
flicts, and finally argue that these conflicts cohere within a larger conceptual
framework-the kingship pattern.
Narrative and Plot
In its simplest form, narrative has a beginning, middle, and end. It moves
from beginning to end by means of emplotted events, complications, and con-
flicts, to a resolution of the initially defined narrative problem. "Plot," reasons
determines the boundaries of the story as a meaningful whole. These
boundaries. . . in their own way, draw the horizon of our correct under-
standing of the story: within it, the reader is looking for the connections
between everything and everything else. . . . The full-grown story begins by
establishing a problem or deficit; next it can present an exposition before
the action gets urgent; obstacles and conflicts may occur that attempt to frus-
trate the denouement, and finally there is the winding up, which brings the
solution of the problem or the cancellation of the deficit.11
I will briefly illustrate with a brief overview of the entire biblical narrative.
Adam and Eve's sin in the garden of Eden defines the narrative problem, or
deficit--refusal of divine instruction and the consequent exile from the divine
presence--that initiates a series of events, complications, and conflicts between
the Creator and humanity that come to a certain resolution with God's selec-
tion of Abram. This selection of Abram begins another series of events, com-
plications, and conflicts that concludes
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 255
yet another sequence of events, complications, and conflicts that concludes
the destruction of
(Joshua-Kings). Genesis through Kings, then, begins and ends with an exile;
but the narrative problem defined in Genesis has not yet been resolved. Not
even the narrative directed at the postexilic community, Ezra through
Nehemiah, brings about a resolution; only a return to the land and a repetition
of the old problems (Neh. 13). A Christian reading of the Old Testament nar-
rative understands that Jesus Christ's coming solves the problem of exile from
the presence of God, for he is "God with us" (Matt. l:16, 23; John 1:14), but
Christ's ascension complicates the narrative again for he is no longer with us as
he was during his earthly ministry. Even though the Holy Spirit indwells the
body of Christ, the ecclesial community experiences much conflict John
16:33) as it awaits the anticipated resolution (1 Thess. 4: 13-18; Rev. 21).
The entire biblical narrative, then, develops the problem of humanity's
refusal of divine instruction and the consequent exile from the presence of
God and emplots a sequence of events, complications, and conflicts that bring
God's people into his presence again, there to be instructed for life in that
divine presence. Within this larger narrative, the Pentateuch develops a plot
that depicts a particular community, Abraham's descendants, on the way to the
presence of God, i.e., the Promised Land and the place the Lord chose for his
to dwell. Although
divine instruction at Sinai, the Pentateuch ends without complete resolution,
tributes to this narrative uniquely, even Leviticus.13 In the rest of this article,
I will examine Exodus' contribution to the pentateuchal narrative, in particu-
lar, the development and coherence of its plot from the statement of the nar-
rative problem at the beginning to its resolution at the end.
12 On me shape and theme of me Pentateuch, see David J. A. Clines, The Theme of the Pentateuch, 2d ed. JSOT Supplement Series, no. 10 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), and J. Severino Croatto, "Una promesa aun no cumplida: Algunos enfoques sobre la estructura del pentateuco," Revista Biblica (Buenos Aires) 44 (1982): 193-206. Much of Severino Croatto's article is summarized in his 'The Function of the Non-fulfilled Promises: Reading the Pentateuch from the Perspective of the Latin-American Oppressed People," in The Personal Voice in Biblical Interpretation, ed. Ingrid Rosa Kitzberger (London: Routledge, 1999), 38-51.
13 Although apparently a
collection of laws, Leviticus' laws are set within a narrative framework that
begins with a reference to the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 1:1) from which the Lord
instructs Moses what to say to
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 256
Plot in Exodus
In my discussion of plot, I will account for the entire Exodus narrative from
the point of view that conflict and its resolution is central to the understanding
of plot, though not its only feature.14 Thus, I will argue that Exodus is com-
posed of three major conflicts, each of which sets the stage for a subsequent
conflict. Together, and in their sequence, these conflicts take the reader to
Exodus' resolution of the narrative problem defined in Exodus 1-2.
The Narrative Problem of Exodus
Pharaoh's enslavement of
store cities (Ex. 1:8-22; 5:1-23), constitutes the narrative problem, or deficit, of
Exodus. As depicted in Exodus 1-2, the problem prompts the questions,
The answer at first appears to be clear from Exodus 15:21; after crossing the Sea
do not yet know what it means to be with God as their new master. These mat-
ters are addressed in the rest of the Exodus narrative.
The narrative problem defined in Exodus 1-2, however, should also be read
as an integral part of the narrative problem of the Pentateuch, defined in the
opening chapters of Genesis. Briefly stated, Genesis defines the problem as
humanity's exile from the presence of God, an exile caused by Adam and Eve's
refusal of divine instruction and the consequent human defilement of the pres-
ence of God in the Garden of Eden. The narrative depicts God himself initiat-
ing the resolution of this problem by instructing Abram to leave his land and
to go "to the land which I will show you" (Gen. 12:1).
God's address of this problem includes the promise to increase Abram's
descendants; a promise intended to fill the earth with those who acknowledge
the Lord (cf. Gen.1:28), not those who fill it with violence (Gen. 6:11, 13). Those
14 In his brief discussion of
plot in Exodus, for example, Kort argues for three major characteristics. First, a complexity defined by three
patterns: "an almost formulaic pattern of repetition" between Moses
and Pharaoh, the plagues, and the responses of Pharaoh; a pattern of conflict
and competition; and a melodic pattern that moves the narrative forward. The second
characteristic of plot is the
juxtaposition of divine description with action. The final characteristic of
plot in Exodus is "that it effects change." Although Kort mentions the wilderness and the
mountain, his illustrations of these characteristics for the most part fail to
take account of the narrative beyond the crossing of the
15 On the role of Exodus 1-2 and the question that the Exodus narrative answers, see Charles
Isbell, "Exodus 1-2 in the Context of Exodus 1-14: Story Lines and Key Words," in Art and Meaning: Rhetoric in Biblical Literature, 37-61.
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 257
who fill the earth with violence are the nations, the descendants of Adam16 who
desire to make a name for themselves in the earth (Gen. 11:4, 5). This desire for
a name the Lord makes possible, but, at this time in the biblical narrative, and
only among the descendants of Abram does the LORD say: "I will make you into
a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be
blessing" (Gen. 12:2; cf. Gal. 3:8-9). When this blessing begins to take historical
into his building projects. Because the language depicting
in Pharaoh's building program echoes
problem independently of God,17 the text also evokes ancient
solution to the human problem. It is from that human solution that God had sep-
arated Abraham, and provided him and his descendants with another building
program, although that is not explicit in Genesis 12:1-3.
The narrative problem of Exodus, then, is rooted in the fundamental
human problem as depicted in the opening chapters of Genesis. Within this
narrative context Pharaoh's hostility to
be read as opposition to God's promised resolution of the fundamental human
problem by means of a uniquely created human community, whose unique
role among the nations, especially its unyielding and undeflectable growth,
summons up fear and opposition.18 Stated simply, Pharaoh’s actions embody the
nations'19 desire to gather against the Lord and his anointed (cf. Ps. 2:2). The
narrator uses three major conflicts to arrive at his resolution of the narrative
problem stated in Exodus 1-2.
The First Conflict: Pharaoh, the Lord, and Absolute Power
Exodus 3:1-15:21 narrates the contest between Pharaoh and the Lord, medi-
by Moses, the Lord's messenger to
unwilling participants (Ex. 5:20, 21; 6:9). Two clusters of keywords define this
struggle: the two nouns (rb,f,, hdAbof<) and one verb (dbafA) describing
servitude and the verbs describing Pharaoh's hardness of heart.20 God repeat-
16 "The men" (NIV) translates the phrase MdAxAhA yneB; in which MdAxAhA surely recalls the Adam of the opening chapters of Genesis.
17 The materials used in the construction of Pithom and Rameses, brick and mortar (Ex. 1:13)
those used for the city and
18 See especially Ex. 1:12, 20. Compare this episode with Acts 12, which narrates the persecution of the church after the Passover, thereby recalling the Exodus experience, and shows how persecution could not stop the spread of the word of God (12:14; cf.13:49-50).
19 Balak's fear of
20 For more on these keywords, and others in Exodus, see my article "Reading Exodus to Learn and Learning to Read Exodus," Calvin Theological Journal 34, no. 1 (1999): 11-35. For
the discussion of the two above-mentioned clusters, see p. 27.
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 258
demands that Pharaoh let
but he refuses. Pharaoh does urge
once before the final plague (10:24), and then after the death of the firstborn
(12:31). He repents of these words, however, and
and with his army is swallowed by the earth at the command of the Lord (15:7;
7:12). It is only when
it fears the Lord and puts its trust in him and in Moses (14:30, 31). Thus, the
conflict between Pharaoh and the Lord is resolved.
The resolution of the first conflict
reminds the reader of the wider perspective of the biblical narrative: the
nations who will tremble at the passing of God's people (15:14-16), and the
establishing of the Lord's dwelling place (15:13, 17). The trembling of the
that building, especially royal construction (cf. 15:18), is within the scope of the
narrative's address of the problem defined in Exodus 1-2. Identification of this
dwelling place with a particular mountain anticipates both the building pro-
which will enable the Lord's presence in
where its design will be revealed, thereby also furthering the resolution of the
fundamental conflict between God and the nations stated at the beginning of
Genesis. Although Pharaoh's death and
the end of the story. Rather, it occasions the second conflict of Exodus.
The Second Conflict:
With the conflict between God and Pharaoh resolved, the narrative begins
develop the relationship between
by complaints against Moses.
at Marah and food in the
16:3). In answer to Moses' mediation,
with the result that, after Exodus 17:7,
its sustenance in the desert. These provisions, however, do not resolve the con-
between God and
attention to his voice, his commandments, and decrees (Ex. 15:25-26). Later,
Moses: "How long will you [pl.] refuse to keep my commandments and instruc-
(Ex. 16:28). Thus, the narrative links
its submission to God's instructions. In the desert pericope (Ex. 15:22-18:27)
question to be answered is not: "Who is
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 259
is the nature of
mands and decrees (Ex. 15:25-26; cf. Lev. 18:5; Deut. 8:321).
15:22-17:7, legal vocabulary clustered at the beginning and ending of the
desert pericope create a frame (A-A')22 within which the entire
to judge (FpawA) 18:13, 16, 22:2, 26:2
judgment (FPAw;mi) 15:25
to command (hUAci) 16:16, 24, 32, 34 18:23
commandment (hvAc;mi) 15:26
decree (qHo) 15:25, 26 18:16, 20
law (hrAOT) 15:25 (hrAyA) 16:4, 28 18:16, 20
to obey (lql; lqoB; fmawA) 15:26 18:19, 24
episode takes place and within which it should be read.
whether they need food and water, is oppressed by their enemies (17:8-16), or suf-
fers internal problems (18)--depends on conformity to the instruction of the
Submission to the Lord's instruction in the desert pericope, however, does
bring the conflict between the Lord and
an answer to the question: "How will
in the land [cf. 3:8, 17]) survive?" The final resolution to the conflict in the
is found in the Lord's covenant offer and
Exodus 19-24. At Sinai, confronted with the good things the Lord has done for
sequence of the Lord's terrible descent, his presence and declaration of the
law, seals their submission with a self-maledictory oath (24:3, 7). This act of vas-
sal submission brings the conflict between the Lord and his people to a legal
resolution and answer the question posed by the first conflict--"Whom will
the special people he freed from the terrible bondage to Pharaoh (cf. 20:1-2).
God's presence, he receives instructions23 for the construction of a building in
21 For a crucial wordplay that points to the importance of law, see Raymond C. Van Leeuwen,
“What Comes Out of God's Mouth: Theological Wordplay in Deuteronomy 8,” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1985): 55-57.
22 Leder, "
23 These instructions do not solve the narrative problem of refusal of instruction as defined in
Gen.2-3 (see p. 255 above); that function belongs to Leviticus. The instructions in Exodus are limited to establishing a vassal relationship between the Lord and his people and to the construction of a building where the Lord will be enthroned amidst his people.
which the Lord would dwell in the midst of this special people.24 It is while
Moses receives these instructions that the third conflict arises.
struction of the golden calf, the antitabernacle project25 by which it defiles the
presence of God, compromises the covenant, and exposes itself to destruction
(32:10). Such divine destruction Pharaoh experienced because of his stub-
have been consumed by God's anger were it not for the mediator God himself
(32:27-29, 35), but God relents of his anger, forgives their sin, and renews the
covenant (34:27-28). God's forgiveness brings this conflict to resolution.
This resolution, however, does not constitute the end of the narrative.
Divine forgiveness only makes possible what God intended for his people: par-
ticipation in the construction of the sanctuary (Ex. 35-39). God's grace makes
possible the construction of the building central to the expression of God's
on earth: "
picked up the pieces."27 Because God forgave his erring and faithless people,
the fire that dwells28 in their midst did not consume them (40:34-38; cf. 3:3,
24:17), but it could have, and later did so (See Lev. 10:1-3 and Num. 11:1-3.).
24 The text reads, "have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them" (emphasis added). The building itself has a secondary importance, it facilitates the Lord's dwelling among his people.
25 For a brief discussion of this construction as an antitabernacle project, see Fretheim, Exodus,
280-81. The verb hWAfA occurs 323 times in Exodus, 236 times in
Ex. 25-40, a keyword in the instructions for the tabernacle and the description
26 One of the words that
that describe Pharaoh's stubbornness (dbeLA, qzaHA, jwAQA).
27Childs, The Book of Exodus, 580. For more on the role of Ex. 32-34 in its canonical context, see Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 175-76.
28 Read in isolation from Genesis, Exodus provides no hint that the theme of the Lord's
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 261
The third conflict, and its resolution, also answers a question. This time
is: "Who determines
indicated that Pharaoh had no authority to make
Raamses; the conclusion of this conflict is that
such determinations either. God's design would be followed (Ex. 25:9).
Closely linked together, these major conflicts move the Exodus narrative
from one master and one construction project to another. The close relation-
ship and special purpose attached to the relationship between the Lord and
Pharaoh's construction project led to
in the desert. The Lord's resolution
his covenant people by means of a building he wants his vassals to construct
to his own design. Later, after God forgives
tabernacle (NKAw;mi), Moses assembles the tabernacle, and the Lord's glory
cloud dwells in it.29
Narrative and Coherence
The Exodus narrative moves
embodied in the forced building of Pharaoh's store cities, to social orderliness,
embodied in the construction project of a building that would be central to
store cities forms the deficit, with which the full-grown story begins, and the
construction of the tabernacle solves the problem by cancelling the deficit.30
The cancellation of the deficit, together with the overcoming of the obstacles
depicted in the three conflicts, presents the reader with a unified, coherent
narrative. The building programs, then, provide the key for a coherent reading
of Exodus. They also provide a link to a conceptual pattern that reinforces the
29 The intimate links between the conflicts, and the move from one master and building project
to another, argues against the suggestion that chapters 1-15:21 form the climax of the plot of
Exodus and that, as such, these chapters generate meaning for the whole of the Pentateuch, as
Severino Croatto suggests ('The Function of the Non-fulfilled Promises," 49-50. This thesis is
worked out in detail in his "Exodo 1-15: Algunas claves literarias y teologicas para entender el pentateuco," Estudios Biblicos 52 : 167-94.). Chapters 1:1-15:21 generate meaning within the Pentateuch only as they contribute to the entire plot of Exodus. Moreover, his failure to include chapters 15:22 through 40:34 excludes Exodus' solution to the narrative problem stated in its opening chapters.
30 Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative, 77.
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 262
coherence of Exodus:31 that of a king's doing battle against the threat of disor-
der in the realm. In the remaining part of this article, I will refer to this con-
ceptual pattern as the kingship pattern.
Narrative Coherence and the Kingship Pattern
The kingship pattern depicts a king who, when confronted with disorder in
his kingdom, seeks out the enemy, defeats him, and upon his return to the
imperial capital builds a structure emblematic of his victory. The pattern is
most clearly demonstrated in the extra biblical Enuma elish and Baal epics and
other accounts of royal victory and temple building.32 The abundant evidence
of this pattern suggests it is a well-known literary configuration with central, cos-
mological significance. Biblical studies has recognized the importance of this
conceptual pattern and has applied it to the Genesis account of creation,
Exodus 15, Psalms 74 and 89, and Isaiah 40-55,33 but its relevance for the entire
31 Enrico Galbiati, La Struttum Letteraria dell'Esodo: Contributo allo studio dei criteri stilistici dell'A.T. e della compasizione del Pentateuco, Scrinium Theologicum, III (Rome: Edizione Paoli, 1965), 307-17, suggests the Hittite treaties and ancient temple building documents as literary genres useful for understanding the genre of Exodus, but he does not develop the thesis. James Plastaras, in his The God of Exodus: The Theology of the Exodus Narratives (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1966), 49-57, suggests the lamentation liturgy as the pattern for Ex. 1-15 with following correspondences: lamentation (Ex. 1-2), salvation-oracle (Ex. 3:1-7:7), thanksgiving oracle (Ex. 15:1-21) with the latter two bracketing Ex. 7-14. C. Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. Keith R Crim and Richard N. Soulen (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 260, also applies the lament form to Ex. 1-15.
32 The temple for Shamash built by Yahdun-Lin after defeating rebel vassals, in James B.
ed. ANETSup (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 120-21; the
temple built by Innana, at
Hopkins University Press, 1983), 51, 11.1-9; and the
the defeat of Ur, in Jerrold S. Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Inscriptions, vol. 1, Pre-Sargonic Inscriptions (New Haven: The American Oriental Society, 1986), 43, 45. See also Hayim Tadmor, "History and Ideology in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions," in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions: New Horizons in Literary, Ideological; and Historical Analysis", Orientis Antiqui Collectio, no. 17, ed. F. M. Fales (Rome: Instiuito Per L'Oriente, 1981), 13-33; and A. S. Kapelrud, "Temple Building: A Task for Gods and Kings," Orientalia 32 (1963): 62. The argument is not one of material literary dependence but of literary convention or similarity of sequence.
33"The cosmogonic myths of kingship and salvation through the work of the divine warrior
. . profoundly molded the conceptual pattern of early
D. Miller, The Divine Warrior in Early
Exodus narrative has not yet been explored.54 The elements of the pattern
appear in the epics as follows.55
Enuma elish Baal and Yamm
1. The occasion for the conflict: 1. The occasion for the conflict:
a. Tiamat's revenge for Apsu's death a. Yamm's messengers demand Baal's
I:I09ff. tribute CTA 2, i: 11, 22, 32-38
b. Marduk will fight for supreme author- b. Ashtarte urges Baal to seize the
ity III:65-66 eternal kingship CTA 2, i: 40ff.
2. The kingship: 2. The battle:
a. Kingship is bestowed IV: 14 a. Baal battlesYamm CTA 2, i:11-17
b. Baal defeats Yamm with a club
CTA 2, i:18-31
3. The battle: 3. The kingship:
a. The battle IV:33-120 a. Baal's kingship is proclaimed CTA
i. Marduk defeats Tiamat with a war- 2, i:34
bow IV:101 b. The victory banquet CTA 3 A
ii. Salvation of the gods IV: 123-46 c. Complaints: no house for Baal
b. The creation of man VI:1-44 CTA 3 C, E i:46
d. Baal travels to Mt. Zaphon CTA 4,
4. The palace: 4. The palace:
a. Building of the temple Esharra VI:45- 77 a. A dwelling for Baal requested
i. bricks made for one year VI:60 CTA 4, iv:50
ii. erected at beginning of second year b. Let a house be built CTA 4, iv:61
VI:61-62 i. the mountains will bring gold
iii. Marduk sits down in majesty VI:65 and silver CTA 4, iv:80
iv. a victory banquet VI:71-77 ii. lapis lazuli CTA 4, iv:81
b. Marduk' s rule VI:78-81 c. Anat brings news of permission to
c. Praise of kingship and proclamation of Mt. Zaphon CTA 4, iv:88
the fifty names VI:104ff. d. House of Baal will be the size of
Mt. Zaphon CTA 4, iv:119-20
34 M Frank M. Cross, 'The Song of
the Sea and Canaanite Myth," in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1973), 142, 165, suggests the following as the mythic
pattern: the combat of the divine warrior and victory at the sea, the building
of a sanctuary on the mount of possession, and God's manifestation of eternal
kingship. He applies the return of the
divine warrior to take up kingship to the revelation at Sinai. Craigie applies the pattern
"conflict/order, kingship, conflict, temple, kingship" to Ex. 15 in
his 'The Poetry of Ugarit and
35 For Enuma elish see Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis. The Story of Creation, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). For the Baal and Yamm story, A Herdner, Corpus des tablettes en cuneiformes alphabtitiques, decouvertes a Ras Shamm-Ugarit de 1929 a 1939 (Paris: Impr. nationale, 1963). Cited as CTA.
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 264
e. Built by Kothar and Hasis CTA 4, vi:I7
ii. fire turns silver and gold into
bricks on the seventh day CTA 4,
f. A victory banquet CTA 4, vi:39-55
g. Baal's rule CTA 4, vii:7, 9-12
h. A window is built in Baal's palace CTA
4, vii: 13-28
i. Palace is the place from which Baal
speaks CTA 4, vii:29-55
Although both epics employ the same major elements in similar patterns,36
there are some differences: Marduk's kingship is proclaimed before the battle,
and the description of Baal's palace construction is more extensive. Extant
royal inscriptions recall the king's heroic deeds but do not regularly mention
conflict as an antecedent for the building of a temple. Nevertheless, Tadmor
has shown that when such inscriptions do change their format, they continue
to function as ideological expressions of royal rule.37 Later inscriptions extol
the king's might through his building accomplishments alone; his heroic deeds
are not mentioned.38 Thus, although these literary-historiographical conven-
tions were not strictly limited to a particular sequence they were continually
used to communicate the image the king wanted to project.39
An examination of Exodus discloses a similar general pattern.
1. The occasion for conflict:
a. Pharaoh's oppression Ex. 1-2:25
b. The Lord's messengers demand
Pharaoh's submission Ex. 3:1-7:7
36 See also Hanson, The Dawn, 302-3, who also suggests that
this pattern is found in the Apsu-Ea conflict in tablet 1: Threat (37-58),
37 Tadmor, "History and Ideology," 14, 29. When justifying an irregular assumption of the
throne the document following the apology would conform to the typical narration of royal
achievements. See his, "Autobiographical Apology in the Royal Assyrian literature," in History,
Historiography and Interpretation, ed. H. Tadmor and M. Weinfeld (Leiden: Brill, 1984), 37. Carl Nylander writes of the "iconography of power" in his "Achaemenid Imperial Art, " in Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires Studies in Assyriology, no. 7, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Foriag. 1979), 356.
38 Tadmor, "History and Ideology," 24.
39 Ibid., 14. The pattern does not need to be copied slavishly, as Hanson, The Dawn, 303, argues in his discussion of judges 5. Later (pp. 308-11), he discusses the prophetic abandonment of the (royal) pattern and its reemergence in the exilic and postexilic eras.
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 265
2. The battle:
a. The conflict Ex. 7:8-11:10
b. The exodus Ex. 12:1-13:16
c. Pharaoh'sdefeat Ex. 13:17-14:31
3. The kingship:
a. The Lord's victory and proclamation
of kingship Ex. 15:1-21
b. The Lord takes
c. The Lord makes
4. The Lord's palace:
a. The Lord will dwell among
b. Building instructions Ex. 25:10-31:18
d. Tabernacle and furniture crafted Ex. 35-39:31
e. Moses inspects the work and
blesses the people Ex. 39:42, 43
f. Moses instructed to set up NKAm;mi on
first day of second year Ex. 40:1, 2
g. Moses sets up the tabernacle in seven acts Ex. 40:17-33
h. The Lord dwells in the NKAw;mi Ex. 40:34-38
There are significant differences between Exodus and the nonbiblical stories. The Lord builds his own palace; Baal needs El's consent.40 The Lord's people craft the tabernacle and contribute the gold and silver themselves; in the Baal epic the gods' craftsman, Kothar wa Hassis, does all the work, and the materials were generally brought in from the mountains.41 Finally, where in the ancient Near East temples were considered a resting place for the gods,42 in Exodus the NKAw;mi is only the temporary means for the Lord's dwelling in the midst of (Ex.
40 Cross, Canaanite Myth, 142.
41 Gudea brought the materials from the Cedar mountain, having made paths and quarries
where none had gone before. "Cylinder A, " xv-vxi 24. Eanatum brought white cedar from the
mountains (Cooper, Sumerian and Akkadian Royal Insripiptions, 49). Bringing in such materials and the finest crafts from the periphery to the cosmic center represents the completeness of creation at its center: "at the center of the world there is everything, all is known, all is possessed-creation is complete." Mario Liverani, 'The Ideology of the Assyrian Empire," in Power and Propaganda, Copenhagen Studies in Assyriology, no. 7, ed. Mogens Trolle Larsen (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1979), 314. See also Pritchard, ANETSup, 275-76 on Tiglath-Pileser I and Assurnasirpal II's journeys to get cedar from the mountains.
42 See CTA 6 iii, 18 and also
the Problem of the Sitz im Leben of Genesis 1:1-2:3," in Melanges bibliques et orientaux en l'honneur de M. Henri Cazelles, ed. A. Caquot and M. Delcor (Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag. 1981), 502, note 2.
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 266
25:8; 1 Kings 8:27-30), and later for leading, his people. Nevertheless, the gen-
eral coincidence of the pattern allows a reflection on its usefullness for under-
standing the coherence of Exodus.
The kingship pattern does not structure but underscores the coherence of
the narrative and provides a key to its meaning. It underscores the coherence of
Exodus first, not only because Exodus employs all the elements of the pattern in
telling its story but also because the pattern accounts for the entire narrative,
unlike the lamentation liturgy suggested by Plastaras and Westermann, which
accounts only for Exodus 1:1-15:21.43 Second, because the pattern reaches its cli-
max in a building project, it reinforces the literary frame of the narrative: the
building of Pharaoh's store cities in Exodus 1 and the construction of the Great
King's earthly dwelling place in Exodus 35:4-40:33. In this connection, it is
to recognize that the Hebrew hdAbofE
is used to describe
on the tabernacle (NKaw;mi 39:32, 42) and its work on the store cities (tOnK;W;mi,
1:14 ["slavery," 2:23, 6:9]). The difference between the two projects is that
voluntarily (Ex. 35:21; 36:6b) to participate in the construction of the taberna-
cle. In addition, and related to the former, the fourth element of the pattern,
the building project, coincides with the narrative's cancellation of the deficit.
The cancellation of this deficit is supported by the wordplay between tOnKW;mi
(Ex. 1:14) and NKAw;mi (39:32,33,40; 40:2, 5, 6,9, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 28, 29, 33,
and esp. 34-38). Third, the elements of the pattern link the tabernacle section,
both covenant and tabernacle instructions, naturally to the preceding events
took place in
ent narrative. In a cultural context where the kingship pattern was prevalent, it
would only be natural to read, after consolidating the victory at Sinai, that the
victorious king engaged in a construction project to memorialize the event in
some way. In these ways, the kingship pattern supports the coherence of the
narrative discerned in its plot structure and development.
The completion of the kingship pattern in Exodus 40 also brings us back to
the deficit with which the biblical narrative begins in Genesis: Adam and Eve
expelled from God's presence in the Garden of Eden for refusal of divine
instruction. In Exodus, when the glory cloud fills the newly constructed taber-
nacle, God dwells in the midst of the descendants of Adam and Eve through
Abraham and Sarah. Adam's descendants are in God's presence not because
they found their way back but because God has brought them to himself (Ex.
19:4). Moreover, they are not in his immediate
requires a distance (Ex. 19:13; cf. Num. 1:53) that can only be overcome by a
specially appointed priesthood (Ex. 29:1; Num. 18:1-7; cf. Heb. 9:19-25). The
43 See footnote 31.
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 267
elements of the text that point us in this direction are the phrases in Exodus 39
and 40 that recall the creation narrative:44
Thus the heavens and the earth So all the work on the tabernacle
were completed. was completed. (Ex 39:32)
By the seventh day God had finished And so Moses finished the work.
the work he had been doing (Gn 2:1-2) (Ex 40:33)
God saw all that he had made, and Moses inspected the work and saw
(behold, [hn.ehi]) it was very good. (behold, [hn.ehi]) they had done it
(Gn 1:31) just as the Lord had commanded.
And God blessed the seventh day. . . And Moses blessed them. (Ex 39:43)
and made it holy. . . (Gn 2:3) . . . consecrate (the tabernacle and
the altar) (Ex 40:9,10)
This evocation of Genesis 1 and 2 suggests that a proper understanding of the
coherence of Exodus is linked to the exposition of the fundamental conflict
between God and humanity depicted in Genesis 1-3. With that fundamental
conflict in mind, Exodus resolves, tentatively, the problem of humanity's exile
from God's presence but does not provide the instruction that safeguards life
in the divine presence. Leviticus provides that aspect of the solution to the
The kingship pattern also lends conceptual coherence to Exodus by ren-
dering explicit the meaning implicit in the royal metaphor that shapes Exodus
throughout. The noun king is applied consistently to Pharaoh but never to the
Lord; his royal status is acknowledged only in the clause "The LORD will reign "
(j`lom;yi hvhy, Ex. 15:18). The Lord's kingship does not, of course, depend on
the title; his actions disclose who he is. Only a Great King could have done to
in the desert where God's divisions travel to
44 Moshe Weinfeld,
between Genesis and Exodus are widely recognized. Erich Zenger, Gottes Bogen in den Wolken
(Stuttgart: Verlag Katholiscbes Bibelwerke, 1983), 170-75; Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Shemot, part 2, trans. Aryeh Newman (Jerusalem: Haomanim Press, 1983), 477-79.
CALVIN THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL 268
the return45 to the empire's center,46 its capital, of the great armies of an ancient
overlord such as Shalmaneser III or Assurnasirpal; the solemnization of
covenant between the Lord and
final construction of a royal dwelling place.
The Meaning of Exodus
As a "royal inscription" of a Great King's victory over disorder in his empire,
Exodus not only recalls the fundamental conflict between God and humanity
and proclaims the Lord's victory over it at the Sea but also witnesses to the con-
struction of a concrete historical monument that proclaims his cosmic47 rule
a historically particular building: the tabernacle in the midst of
a coherent royal inscription, Exodus must be heard as a whole--not from the
perspective of one of its subplots, such as the victory at the Sea48--or even that
of the Sinai covenant legislation but from the viewpoint of the cancellation of
the narrative deficit: the "incarnation" of the triumphant King in the midst of
vassal people in the tabernacle. Neither victory at the Sea,
to the covenant, nor the Lord's forgiveness of
ally or together--can express the full meaning of the Exodus narrative for they
do not resolve the fundamental narrative problem of the Pentateuch that
Exodus' plot structure develops: disobedient humanity's exile from God's pres-
ence. That resolution only occurs with the glory cloud's indwelling of the taber-
nacle. From this building
life in God's consuming fire presence (Lev. 1:1-2).
Shalmaneser III and Assurnasirpal where itineraries depict royal military marches with river crossings, problems of finding water, military exploits, hunting, and the receiving of tribute. See
Graham I. Davies, "The Wilderness Itineraries: A Comparative Study," The Tyndale Bulletin 25
(1974): 58. In the same article, Davies argues that "the itineraries comparable to Numbers 33:1-49 from the Ancient Near East relate exclusively, so far as our evidence goes, to royal military campaigns. It may therefore be due to the conception of the wilderness period as a military expedition that an account of it in the form of an itinerary was composed," 80. For further studies on these itineraries as royal military marches see George W. Coats, 'The Wilderness Itinerary," Catholic BiblicalQuarterly 34 (1972): 147-48; Graham I. Davies, "The Wilderness Itineraries and the Composition of the Pentateuch," Vetus Testamentum 33 (1983): 1-13; Albrecht Goetze, "An Old Babylonian Itinerary," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 (1954): 51-72.
46 On temples, mountains as
cosmic center, see Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient
Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J. Hallett
(New York: Seabury, 1978), 113-20. Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and
47 On the theology of creation in Exodus, especially in the plagues' narrative, see Terence E.
Exodus. Interpretation: A Bible
Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (
John Knox, 1991),105-132, and his "The Plagues as Ecological Signs of Historical Disaster," Journal of Biblical Literature 110 (1991): 385-96.
48 So J. Severino Croatto, see above footnote 29.
THE COHERENCE OF EXODUS 269
It is this building, the place the Lord chose for his name to dwell, especially
its subsequent transformation as the temple on
central to the Lord's administration of his rule over
nations will also stream to
will flow to them (Isa. 2:2-4; cf. Isa. 19 with respect to
instruction. However, when
departs from the temple (Ezek. 8-10), God permits his servant Nebuchad-
Jer. 25:9; 27:6; 43:10) to destroy
According to the New Testament, the body of Christ becomes the temple of
presence John 1:14; 2:20-21; 1 Cor. 3:16) and
trality: The Lord's disciples move from
1:8) with the good news of the gospel, the torah of the LordJesus.49 Thus, the
building project begun in Exodus continues until a temple is no longer neces-
sary and all the nations enjoy the presence of the Great King and walk by the
light of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22-27), the joy of the whole
earth (Ps. 48:2) .
49 For a fuller treatment of the temple and Torah as fulfilled by Christ's ministry, see David E.
"Jesus and the
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