#89. Does Moses demand a leave of three days from Pharaoh’s service in order to sacrifice to Yahweh OR an unconditional release? (Ex 3:18, 5:3, 8:23 vs Ex 6:6-8)

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“And you will come, you and Israel’s elders, to the king of Egypt, and say to him: ‘Yahweh, god of the Hebrews happened upon us. And now, let us go on a trip of three days in the wilderness so we may sacrifice to Yahweh, our god’” (Ex 3:18).

The theme of a petition to leave the king’s service for three days in order to sacrifice to Yahweh in the wilderness—an apparent shame or trick on the part of Moses—is nevertheless only found in E’s version of the flight. The duplicate story in P, Ex 6:6-8, mentions no ploy to leave for three days in order to sacrifice. The Priestly presentation of the exodus is an outright redemptive liberation of the people, as well as a covenantal renewal event!—themes inherent to P.

But more relevant is that the northern Elohist’s version of the story actually reflects the historical circumstances of the north during the mid to late 10th century BC, at least as it was depicted in 1 Kings 11-12.

It was already mentioned in #81 that the term used for “taskmasters” in both the Exodus account and in the depiction of Solomon’s ruthless tyranny over the northern tribes in 1 Kings 11:28 is the same: missim.

But there are other similarities between the Elohist’s version of the Exodus story and the revolt and liberation of the north against Solomon’s forced labor policies. I Kings 12 recounts how the northerners demand relief from their corvée but Rehoboam rejects their demand. The northerners, under Jeroboam, eventually revolt and hold a pilgrim festival to Yahweh.

These parallels suggest that the northern Elohist scribe shaped the exodus story so that Jeroboam was perceived as a new Moses. I’ll end with a citation from David Carr:

The story in Exodus 2, 4-5 is written in a way that makes Moses’ liberation of Israel from Egypt sound a lot like Jeroboam’s liberation of Israel from Rehoboam. Both grow up in privileged households, identify with the people being oppressed, flee from the oppressive ruler, return when that ruler dies, appeal to the new ruler to lighten the oppression, and eventually lead their people out from under oppression when the new ruler refuses…. These parallels in the stories came about because scribes working for Jeroboam in the early northern kingdom shaped the ancient exodus traditions of the north in light of the recent “exodus” they had experienced under Jeroboam from oppression by Solomon and his son Rehoboam (An Introduction to the Bible, 91).

This is precisely how scribes reinvented the stories they inherited, consciously and freely changing details. We will immediately see, once again, how and why the later Priestly writer modified, rewrote, and contradicted the earlier Yahwist and Elohist exodus stories that he inherited. I cannot stress this often enough: the Bible, as a composite of 70 some different texts written over a 1,000 year period is exactly this: later texts rewriting earlier texts—both of which were later edited together and appropriated for a new reading under the label “the Book.” A misnomer as you may be becoming aware of.

3 thoughts on “#89. Does Moses demand a leave of three days from Pharaoh’s service in order to sacrifice to Yahweh OR an unconditional release? (Ex 3:18, 5:3, 8:23 vs Ex 6:6-8)

  1. Martin, I’m obviously not Steven, but I hope you don’t mind if I answer. Richard Elliott Friedman addresses this on page 21 of The Bible With Sources Revealed, which I now quote:

    E contains a corpus of law, the Covenant Code (Exodus 21—23). This suggests that E comes from priests since law codes in the Hebrew Bible otherwise come exclusively from priests (D, P, and Ezekiel). Other elements of E confirm this priestly connection and point to a particular northern priestly group. The priests of Shiloh have a specific relationship with the northern kingdom of Israel and with E. Their place in the Jerusalem priesthood suffered when King Solomon expelled their chief priest, Abiathar, and gave the chief priesthood solely to an Aaronid priest. The prophet Ahijah from Shiloh instigated Jeroboam’s rebellion and formation of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 11:29-39). Later, however, Jeroboam failed to make these excluded Levites the sole priests of his new kingdom. Following Jeroboam’s establishment of the golden calves, Ahijah of Shiloh condemned the dynasty (1 Kings 14). The E story of the golden calf corresponds to these events: by saying that Aaron made the golden calf at Horeb, it denigrates both the Aaronid religious establishment of Jerusalem and the golden-calf religious establishment of northern Israel.

  2. Steven, I’m getting confused about the relationship between the Elohist writer and King Jeroboam.

    In the present page you say that E wants to cast Jeroboam as the new Moses: “the northern Elohist scribe shaped the exodus story so that Jeroboam was perceived as a new Moses“.

    But on this page (#157) you say that the story about the golden calf was written by E to mock Jeroboam: “the Golden Calf narrative is both a parody and a polemic on Jeroboam’s two calf altars in the north“.

  3. #89. Does Moses demand a leave of three days from Pharaoh’s service in order to sacrifice to Yahweh OR an unconditional release? (Ex 3:18, 5:3, 8:23 vs Ex 6:6-8)

    For the benefit of those who might look up Exodus 8:23 and wonder what it has to do with the subject matter, I’ll mention that 8:23 JPS Tanakh (and NAB) corresponds to 8:27 in some English Bibles.

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