The 10th and final plague that Yahweh unleashes on the Egyptians is the death of all firstborns, livestock and humans—no exceptions. In fact, this decree not only goes out to the Egyptians, but to ALL humans in the land of Egypt. The Israelite firstborns are merely redeemed through an apotropaic blood ritual that keeps them protected from Yahweh’s Destroyer.
“And the blood will be for you as a sign on the houses where you are. And I will see the blood and protect over you, and harm from destruction will not be upon you in my striking the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:13)
And Yahweh will pass to harm Egypt and will see the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, and Yahweh will protect over the doorway and will not allow the Destroyer to come into your houses for harm. (Ex 12:23)
This apotropaic (‘to ward off harm/evil’) blood rite is Yahweh’s Pesah, or more commonly know as Passover. It is one of the three, or five depending on what tradition we pull from (Lev 23), annual festivals required of all males.
The Pentateuch as it now stands—a collection of different texts and traditions—preserves three accounts of the Passover ritual: Exodus 12:1-20, Exodus 12:21-27 & 13:1-16—so we have a doublet in Exodus itself—and Deuteronomy 16:1-8. All three of these renditions exhibit differences in the recitation of the event itself and/or the stipulations of the festival. We will look at these difference and contradictions over the next few days.
The 2 contradictions listed for today are the result of the insertion of Exodus 12:1-20, accredited to the Priestly source, into what we have predominately been following, the Elohist story. In this case, the version recounted in Exodus 12:1-20 adds some chronological references that disrupt the narrative sequence of the Elohist story. This is where we left off in E’s version:
And Yahweh said to Moses: “I’ll bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that he’ll let you go from here. . .” And Moses said [to Pharaoh], “Yahweh said this: ‘In the middle of the night I am going out through Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die. . .’” (11:1-5)
This story, the Elohist’s, actually continues from 11:8 at 12:21:
And Moses called all Israel’s elders and he said to them: “Pull out and take a sheep for your families and slaughter the Passover. . .” And it was in the middle of the night and Yahweh struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt. . . (11:21, 29).
The logic of this rendition of the Passover story dictates that the Israelites leave immediately during the night, the night of the day in which Moses spoke to Pharaoh informing him of Yahweh’s plague (11:4-8) and spoke to the Israelites informing them of the paschal sacrifice (11:21-23). That evening, “in the middle of the night,” Israel performs the paschal sacrifice of the Passover, Yahweh sends his Destroyer to strike the firstborns, and Israel exits Egypt.
Yet this chronology is disrupted when the later Priestly version of the Passover, which describes in detail a commemorative account of the Passover ritual, is inserted into the Elohist narrative. In other words, this was how the Passover was to be practiced according to the Priestly writer, in his time period and for his specific audience. When the Pentateuch was assembled, what other logical place to insert it than here in the Passover narrative. But look what it now imposes. It prescribes that at least 4 days to two weeks must pass before the night described above in E can occur!
And Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: “This month is the beginning of months for you. It is the 1st of the months of the year for you. Speak to all of the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the 10th of this month, let them each take a lamb for the father’s house, a lamb per house. . . You shall have an unblemished male year-old lamb; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats. And it will be for you to watch over until the 14th day of this month. And all the community of the congregation of Israel will slaughter it between the two evenings. (12:1-6)
We should first mention that this detailed account of the Passover ritual is drastically different than E’s (Ex 12:21-27) in both style, vocabulary, and emphasis. Aaron is explicitly brought into the fold as he is in other P passages (#91, #95, #97, #105). The use of the word “congregation” rather than “elders” is a Priestly staple, as well as the meticulous detail to ritual and especially the cleanliness of the sacrificial animal and its separation from the realm of the profane for 4 days—all missing in the Elohist account. These details make sense when we realize that this was penned by Aaronid priests.
Notice also that the 1st of this month, Abib, is declared the New Year. The New Year is repeatedly accentuated in, and only in, the Priestly source. Genesis 1 records the 1st day of creation as the New Year; in P’s flood narrative the ground drys on New Year; here in Exodus Passover is declared on the 14th day from the New Year, and most importantly in Exodus 40:1, exactly one year later, the central cultic institution of the Aaronid priestly guild, the tabernacle, is erected on the 1st of the New Year. I outlined these connections in #1: for this Priestly guild, cosmos and cult were intricately connected. Observing rituals and festival and keeping pure/impure boundaries was a ritual act that reaffirmed the very boundaries and holiness set at creation.
Thus, in the composite narrative as it now stands, at least 4 to 14 days must pass to accommodate P’s chronology. That would mean that a lamb had already been ritually separated 4 days ago. But nothing of this sort exists in the Elohist account. Or, reading the composite text superficially, Exodus 12:1-2 implies that this point in the narrative is the 10th of the month when the lambs are ritually set apart, but this too contradicts Exodus 12:21-22, where it is stated that the animal is both selected and sacrificed on this very day.
Rather, P’s Passover passage was most likely written for a community living centuries after the Mosaic era and to regulate the Passover festival and sacrifice to the lunar calendar: “on the 10th of this month” each family is to set apart the unblemished paschal lamb. There it remains apart in ritual purity for 4 days, and on “the 14th day of this month” it is sacrificed, together with the lamb of all the households. These ritual regulations, which served the purpose of the priestly clan in a later period, here in Exodus 12 diverges from the narrative chronology of E, where the Passover rite is immediately performed in the wake of the previous plague.
Moreover, the insertion of this later regulatory ritual decree into the Mosaic account of the Exodus narrative places later religious and sacrificial beliefs and practices back to the time of Moses, thus legitimizing, and indeed creating, their antiquity and authority. In short, this was how ancient literature functioned.
Finally, the Priestly version of the Passover is the first “eternal law” that the Priestly writer establishes, and legitimates, through the mouthpiece of Yahweh himself: “It is a festival to Yahweh; you shall celebrate it through your generations, an eternal law” (12:14, 17). Other “eternal laws” in the Priestly corpus include: The observance of Unleavened Bread, Booths, and the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:14, 41; 16:29, 31); the Aaronid priesthood itself (Ex 29:9; 40:15; Lev 6:15); the daily lamp that must be kept lit by the Aaronid priests (Ex 27:21; Lev 24:4); the Aaronid priesthood’s portion of the sacrifices (Ex 29:28; Lev 6:11; 7:34; 10:15; 24:9); the washing of the Aaronid priests as they enter the tabernacle (Ex 30:21); and the prohibition of beer and wine for Aaronids before entering Yahweh’s presence (Lev 10:9). In addition to these “eternal laws,” there is the eternal prohibition against the consumption of fat; all fat is Yahweh’s (Lev 3:17)—all decreed as “eternal laws” from the mouth of Yahweh himself. It should not be surprising that in this text written by Aaronid priests Yahweh is seen legitimating and authorizing the very beliefs, practices, and care of the Aaronid priesthood and its sacrificial cult. Again, this was exactly the purpose of these archaized texts.