The beginning of the book of Exodus is marred with doublets, sometimes triplets—that is two unique versions of its various stories are presented, both of which most likely came from two, or three, once independent sources. Often these versions contradict one another in minor narrative details or in some cases larger theological claims. We have already seen many of these:
- 2 contradictory versions about the length of the captivity in Egypt (#82)
- 2 versions of a decree to kill all firstborns (#83-84)
- 2 versions of Moses’ father-in-law’s name (#85)
- 2 versions providing different names for the mount of revelation (#86)
- 2 radically different versions of the revelation itself (#87)
- 2 versions where Yahweh commands Moses to perform his signs (#88)
- 2 versions of the need to leave Egypt motive (#89)
- 2 contradictory versions about whose staff it is (#91)
- 2 versions about Aaron coming to meet Moses (#96)
- 2 versions describing Aaron’s relationship to Moses (#95)
- 2 versions of the commission of Aaron (#97-98)
- 2 versions detailing Moses’ return to Egypt (#99)
- 2 contradictory versions about Moses’ wife and sons (#100-101)
- 2 versions recounting whether the people accepted Yahweh’s message via Moses (#102)
- 2 versions of Aaron performing the signs (#103)
- and finally 2 versions of the forthcoming Plague narrative
Taken individually these doublets don’t look like much. But taken as a whole, these doublets and their contradictory content, style, vocabulary, and theological messages make a persuasive claim about the Bible’s composite nature. And the above are merely from 7 chapters of this so-called “Book”!
It would not be too difficult to closely study these doublets, examining them for reoccurring features, theological emphasis, vocabulary, narrative style and tone, etc. in an effort to reconstruct the original sources that made the book of Exodus as we now have it. Indeed scholars have done just that. So, for example, the version that repeatedly speaks of the mount of revelation as Horeb also calls Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, attributes multiple sons to Moses, has Moses’ wife and sons stay behind with Jethro, etc.
Similarly, today’s contradiction is more a doublet than anything else. But the melange of textual sources makes this one quite confusing to follow in the non-P material. For example, Yahweh originally commands Moses to perform the signs in front of the people so that they believe Moses (4:5, 4:17), then he commands Moses to do them in front of Pharaoh (4:21). But it is rather Aaron who performs the signs in front of the people (4:30), and Moses goes before Pharaoh and does not show him any signs (5:1-2). But later it is Aaron who performs them before Pharaoh and now with his own staff (7:9-10)!
The latter passage is from the Priestly source, as is all of Exodus 6:2-7:13. You can read it and readily perceive its Priestly features, style, vocabulary, theological emphases, etc. In fact, this particular passage where it is Aaron who performs the signs before Pharaoh and with his own staff is the first plague sign in the Priestly source! It is always Aaron who performs the plague signs in the Priestly version of the Plague narrative, as we will shortly see. The only place where Moses’ staff is mentioned in the P narrative is the parting of the Sea of Reeds story, which we will also shortly take a look at.