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