Exodus, book of the Bible, 2d of the 5 books of the Law (the Pentateuch or Torah) ascribed by tradition to Moses. The book continues the story of the ancestors of Israel in Egypt, now grown in number to a large landless population enslaved by the pharaoh. Although the book describes all 12 tribes, it is much more likely that the book is based on the traditions of a group of nomadic Hebrews whose sojourn in Egypt became one of oppression and slavery. Grouped around Moses, they were freed from bondage at the Red Sea. Their saga and their Mosaic religion became the determinative feature of the great national epic that is enshrined in the Pentateuch and the historical books of the Hebrew Bible. The religious and 12-tribe political establishment of the later Temple period is read back into the Exodus narrative. The events of the book may be outlined as follows: first, the bondage in Egypt, from which God prepares liberation through the agency of Moses, including Moses' early career and vocation, and the first nine plagues of Egypt; second, the exodus proper, with the plague of the first-born and the institution of the Passover and the dry crossing through the Red Sea; third, the first divine legislation at Mt. Sinai. The last portion includes the Ten Commandments, a law code, directions for a tabernacle and worship, the designation of Aaron as high priest, the first national apostasy in worshiping the golden calf, a brief restatement of the code, and the institution of the tabernacle.

See studies by N. M. Sarna (1986), J. Durham (1987), and T. E. Fretheim (1991).

Exodus (Greek: έξοδος, eksodos = "departure") is the second book of the Jewish Torah and of the Christian Old Testament. It tells how Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Mountain of God (Mount Sinai). There Yahweh, through Moses, gives the Israelites their laws and enters into a covenant with them, by which he will give them the land of Canaan in return for their faithfulness. The book ends with the construction of the Tabernacle.

According to tradition, Exodus and the other four books of the Torah were written by Moses in the latter half of the 2nd millennium BC. Modern biblical scholarship sees it reaching its final textual form around 450 BC.


The title "Exodus" derives from the Greek Ἔξοδος, Exodos, meaning "departure, out-going," the name given to the book in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of Jewish scriptures made between the 3rd to 1st centuries BC. In Hebrew it is called Shemot from the opening phrase Ve-eleh shemot, ואלה שמות, "These are the names", a practice in line with the other four books of the Torah.


Bondage in Egypt

Pharaoh, fearful of the Israelites' numbers, orders his people to throw all newborn Hebrew (Israelite) boys into the Nile. A Levite woman saves her baby by setting him adrift on the river in an ark of bulrushes. Pharaoh's daughter finds the child, and names him Moses, and brings him up as her own. But Moses is aware of his Hebrew origins, and one day, when grown, kills an Egyptian overseer who is beating a Hebrew man, and has to flee into Midian . While he was herding the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro on Mount Horeb, Moses encounters God, who reveals his name Yahweh and tells him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites into(Canaan) the land promised to Abraham.

On Moses' return to Egypt, Yahweh reveals his name and instructs him to appear before Pharaoh and inform him of Yahweh's demand that he let God's people go. Moses and his brother Aaron do so, but Pharaoh refuses. Yahweh causes a series of plagues, but Pharaoh does not relent. Yahweh instructs Moses to institute the Passover sacrifice among the Israelites, and then Yahweh kills all the firstborn children of the Egyptians. Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go. Moses explains the meaning of the Passover: it is for Israel's salvation from Egypt, so that the Israelites will not be required to sacrifice their own sons, but to redeem them.

Journey through the wilderness to Sinai

The Exodus begins. The Israelites, 600,000 men plus women and children and a mixed multitude,with their flocks and herds, set out for the mountain of God. Pharaoh pursues the Israelites,and Yahweh destroys Pharaoh's army at the crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites celebrate their deliverance with the Song of the Sea. The Israelites continue their journey, but immediately begin to complain of the hardships. In the Wilderness of Sin they complain about the lack of food and speak with longing of Egypt, and Yahweh sends them quail and manna to eat. At Rephidim, he provides water miraculously from the rock of Meribah. The Amalekites attack the Israelites, and Yahweh orders an eternal war against them. The Israelites arrive at the mountain of God, where Moses' father-in-law Jethro visits Moses; at his suggestion Moses appoints judges over Israel.

At Sinai: Covenant and laws

The Israelites arrive at the mountain of God. Yahweh asks whether they will agree to be his people, and the people accept. The people gather at the foot of the mountain, and with thunder and lightning, fire and clouds of smoke, and the sound of trumpets, and the trembling of the mountain, God appears on the peak, and the people see the cloud and hear the "voice". Moses and Aaron are told to ascend the mountain. God pronounces the Ten Commandments (the Ethical Decalogue) in the hearing of all Israel.

Moses goes up the mountain into the presence of God, who pronounces the Covenant Code, (a detailed code of ritual and civil law), and promises Canaan to the Israelites if they obey. Moses descends and writes down Yahweh's words and the people agree to keep them. Yahweh calls Moses up the mountain together with Aaron and the elders of Israel, and they feast in the presence of Yahweh. Yahweh calls Moses up the mountain to receive a set of stone tablets containing the law, and he and Joshua go up, leaving Aaron in charge. Yahweh appears on the mountain "like a consuming fire" and calls Moses to go up, and Moses goes up the mountain.

Yahweh gives Moses instructions for the construction of the tabernacle so that God can dwell permanently amongst the Israelites, as well as the priestly vestments, the altar and its appurtenances, the ritual to be used to ordain the priests, and the daily sacrifices to be offered. Aaron is appointed as the first High Priest, and the priesthood is to be hereditary in his line. Then Yahweh gives to Moses the two stone tablets containing these instructions, written by God's own finger.

Aaron makes a golden calf, which the people worship. God informs Moses and threatens to kill them all, but Moses intercedes for them. Moses comes down from the mountain, smashes the tablets in anger, and commands the Levites to massacre the disobedient. Yahweh commands Moses to make two new tablets on which He will personally write the words that were on the first tablets. Moses ascends the mountain, God dictates the Ten Commandments (the Ritual Decalogue), and Moses writes them on the tablets.

Moses descends from the mountain, and his face is transformed, so that from that time onwards he has to hide his face with a veil. Moses assembles the Israelites and repeats to them the commandments he has received from Yahweh, to keep the Sabbath and to construct the Tabernacle. "And all the construction of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting was finished, and the children of Israel did according to everything that Yahweh had commanded Moses", and Yahweh dwelt in the Tabernacle, and ordered the travels of the Israelites.


There is no single, universally accepted theory regarding the origins of Exodus; instead various theories are currently advanced placing it in a variety of different periods ranging from the 2nd millennium BC to the period after 300 BC. Jews and Christians have traditionally understood the Torah to have been written by Moses. The most well-regarded scholarly theory, the documentary hypothesis, describes Exodus as comprising three sources, combined c 400 BC.

Mosaic authorship

The traditional belief in both Jewish and Christian circles was that Moses was the author of all five books of the Torah. This theory is still advanced by Orthodox Jewish and evangelical Christian scholars but is not considered viable by mainstream biblical critics.

Documentary hypothesis

According to most scholarly analyses, the Yahwist source (J) provides the main narrative of Exodus, supplemented by the Elohist (E). The priestly editors (c 400 BC) reworked the JE source and added substantial material, such as the description of the tabernacle in chapters 35-40.

19th century biblical criticism concluded that the Torah was composed of four originally independent documents, known as the Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly source. Of these the Elohist is identified as uniquely responsible for the episode of the golden calf, and the Priestly source as uniquely responsible for the chiastic, and monotonous, instructions for creating the tabernacle, vestments, and ritual objects, and the account of their creation. The poetic Song of the sea, and the prose Covenant Code, both in Exodus, were identified as smaller independent works embedded in the main documents. In 1878 Julius Wellhausen, in his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, argued that the Priestly source was the last to be composed, in the 6th century BC, and his formulation became the consensual view.

The southern Jahwist source promotes Aaron, the progenitor of the southern, Aaronite priesthood. Meanwhile, it portrays Moses in a less flattering light. The northern Elohist denigrates Aaron as instigating worship of the golden calf. It also includes the Covenant Code, incorporated from an earlier source.

Scholars disagree over whether the sources were written documents. Documentary approaches such as Wellhausen's classic formulation see it as an act of redaction, in which an editor (usually seen as Ezra) took the four sources - a 9th century Yahwist, 8th century Elohist, and 6th century Priestly source (the Deuteronomist is not present in Exodus) - and combined them with minimal changes. Thus Richard Elliott Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed (2003) is a modern documentary hypothesis more or less identical with Wellhausen but accepting Yehezkel Kaufmann's dating of the Priestly source to the early 7th century. By contrast, John Van Seters and Rolf Rendtorff see the Torah as a process of progressive supplementation in which generations of authors added to and edited each other, although Van Seters sees the final author as a late, 5th century, Yahwist, Rendtorff as a Priestly school. R. N. Whybray, whose The Making of the Pentateuch (1987) was a seminal critique of the methodology and assumptions of the documentary hypothesis, has proposed that the creation of Exodus and the Torah was the action of a single author, working from a host of fragments. The only areas of agreement between these views is that the terms "Yahwist", "Priestly" and "Deuteronomist" do have some meaning in terms of identifiable and differentiable content and style, and that the final Torah emerged in the 5th century BC.

Biblical minimalism

Still a minority view today is the so-called Biblical minimalism school, which holds that the Torah is a very late composition, created in the 4th century BC or even later.

See also

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Further reading

  • Colin J. Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus: A Scientist’s Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical Stories 2003, HarperSanFrancisco
  • W. F. Albright From the Stone Age to Christianity (2nd edition) Doubleday/Anchor
  • W. F. Albright Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (5th edition) 1969, Doubleday/Anchor
  • Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing, entry on "Population", volume 13, column 866.
  • Y. Shiloh, "The Population of Iron Age Palestine in the Light of a Sample Analysis of Urban Plans, Areas and Population Density." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR), 1980, 239:25-35
  • Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel Nahum Sarna, Shocken Books, 1986 (first edition), 1996 (reprint edition), chapter 5, "Six hundred thousand men on foot".
  • " Those Amazing Biblical Numbers: Taking Stock of the Armies of Ancient Israel" William Sierichs, Jr.
  • "The Rise of Ancient Israel : Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution October 26, 1991" by Hershel Shanks, William G. Dever, Baruch Halpern and P. Kyle McCarter, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1992.
  • The Biblical Exodus in the Light of Recent Research: Is There Any Archaeological or Extra-Biblical Evidence?, Hershel Shanks, Editor, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1997
  • ''Secrets of the Exodus: The Egyptian Origins of the Hebrew People", by Messod Sabbah, Roger Sabbath, Helios Press, 2004
  • " Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say", by Michael Slackman, New York Times, April 3, 2007

External links

Online versions and translations of Exodus

Jewish translations

Christian translations

Other links


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