#115. When did Yahweh bring the Israelites out of Egypt: in the morning OR in the evening? (Ex 12:22; Num 33:3 vs Deut 16:1)


There seems to be some variation in the exodus tradition regarding when the Israelites left Egypt. As we saw in the previous entry (#114), in the Elohist tradition although the Israelites were commanded to stay in their houses “until morning” it does seem that they nevertheless leave Egypt during that very evening. But this is certainly not clear from the text (Ex 12:31-34). They could have left in the morning, thereby remaining in their houses “until morning.”

Exodus 13:4 is no more clear: “Today you are going out from Egypt, in the month of Abib.” Yet the tradition recorded in Numbers 33:3 is quite clear on this matter: “And they traveled from Rameses in the first month on the 15th day of the first month. On the day after the Passover. the children of Israel went out with a high hand before the eyes of all Egypt.” This tradition relates that it was the day after the Passover, that is the morning of the 15th.

That said, Deuteronomy is also clear, except now it’s the evening of the Passover that the Israelites leave: “Yahweh your god brought you out of Egypt at night” (Deut 16:1).

5 thoughts on “#115. When did Yahweh bring the Israelites out of Egypt: in the morning OR in the evening? (Ex 12:22; Num 33:3 vs Deut 16:1)

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  2. Dr. DiMattei,

    Thanks for expounding. I have not taken the time to mentally go over the timeline(s). But that possible rationalization popped into my head. I do think however that labeling the contradiction: On Passover/After would be more definitive.

  3. Dr. DiMattei,

    Just as the Sabbath is observed from Friday evening through Saturday evening. Wouldn’t the day after Passover be an evening?

    1. Shawn, since the later Priestly literature specifies that the pascal sacrifice is on the 14th and the meal the eve of the 14th (Ex 12:1-6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16), then the next day (the 15th) is either—and seemingly there is confusion in the biblical literature—the later part of that evening or more so the following day. Milgrom, in his Anchor Bible commentary (Leviticus Vol. 3, p. 1967), whom I am following here, states that there is some confusion in the biblical literature itself concerning how the day was measured, from evening to evening or morning to next morning. Milgrom seems to be arguing that it was later rabbinic traditions, rather than the Bible that popularized evening to evening. For example, he quotes Ex 12:18 “In the first month, from the 14th of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the 21st day of the month at evening.” And he rationalizes that “in the evening” wouldn’t need to be stressed if the day began in the evening. I’m not all to convinced of this rational. He also references Genesis’ refrain “And there was evening and there was morning, day” to argue that the day commences as does God’s creative act, on the following morning. Again, I’m not sure how convinced I am, and in the lunar calendar system the 1st of the month starts, I believe, at the sighting of the full moon in the evening. I leave it to greater minds to sort this out.

      Specifically, however, it seems that your real question is whether there is actually a difference between those texts that say the Israelites left in the evening and those that claim the morning. I would have to say yes there is, but this could also reflect either variations in the oral tradition or again confusion or ambiguity concerning when the day started. Num 33:3 is usually cited as one of those texts claiming the day, i.e., in the morning. “And they traveled from Rameses in the first month on the 15th day of the 1st month. On the day after the Passover…” Since the Passover was the 14th, this text claims they left on the 15th. This certainly contradicts the traditions claiming it was the evening, i.e., the evening of Passover—e.g., Deut 16:6: “there you shall make the Passover sacrifice in the evening at sunset (i.e., on the 14th), the time when you went out from Egypt. The Deuteronomic tradition seems to be even more clear, as John noted above, since the Elohist tradition claimed, “in the middle of the night” which might go either way, the 14th or 15th.

  4. Deuteronomy 16:6 is even more specific about the time of the exodus from Egypt, and it clashes starkly with the statements in Exodus 12:29 ff:

    Exodus 12:29-34:
    29 At midnight Yahweh struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt… 30Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, ‘Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites!… 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ 34So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading-bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.

    Deuteronomy 16:1, 5-6:
    Observe the month of Abib by keeping the passover to Yahweh your God, for in the month of Abib Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night…5You are not permitted to offer the passover sacrifice within any of your towns that Yahweh your God is giving you. 6But at the place that Yahweh your God will choose as a dwelling for his name, only there shall you offer the passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, the time of day when you departed from Egypt.

    It’s hard to reconcile the early-morning forced exit of Exodus, in which the bread didn’t even have enough time to rise before the Israelites left, with Deuteronomy’s sunset departure time.

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