Pulpit Commentary - Exodus

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Pulpit Commentary - Exodus

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THE Hebrew-speaking Jews have always designated the five books of the Pentateuch by their initial word or words; and, as they called the first book Bereshith, "In the Beginning," and the third Vay-yikra, "And he called," so they denominated the second Ve-eleh shemoth, "And these (are) the names." The title "Exodus" was first applied to the book by the Hellenistic, or Greek-speaking, Jews, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek at Alexandria in the third and second centuries B.C. Exodus ( ἐ ì ξοδος) means "departure" or "outgoing," and was selected as an appropriate name for a work which treats mainly of the departure of the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The earliest Latin translation of the Old Testament, which was made from the Greek, retained the Greek title untranslated; and hence it passed into the Vulgate of Jerome, and into the languages of modern Europe.

While the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the mode in which it was brought about, constitute the main subject of the book, and occupy its middle portion (chs. 2.-18.), two other subjects are also treated of, which form the prologue and the epilogue of the principal drama. The former of these — the subject-matter of ch. 1. — is the increase and growth of the Israelites — their development from a tribe into a nation. The latter, which in spiritual grandeur and importance holds a pre-eminent rank. is the adoption of Israel as God's peculiar people by the Law given and the Covenant entered into at Mount Sinai (chs. 19.- 40.). The contents are thus in part historical, in part legislative. Historically, the book contains the events of 360 years, which is the interval between the death of Joseph and the giving of the Law at Sinai. It embraces the formation of the people by a rapid increase, which may have been partly due to natural causes, but was also in some degree the result of God's blessing resting especially upon them; the alarm of the Egyptian monarch at their growing numbers; his plans for preventing their multiplication and the entire failure of those plans; the birth and education of Moses; his first unauthorised attempt to deliver his nation from oppression; his flight to the land of Midian, and Divine appointment to be the deliverer of his nation; his communications with the Egyptian king on the subject of the people's release; the ten successive plagues whereby the king's reluctance was ultimately overcome; the institution of the Passover, and the departure of the Israelites; Pharaoh's pursuit; the passage of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian host; the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai; the giving of the Decalogue and the acceptance of the "Book of the Covenant" by the people; the lapse into idolatry and its punishment (ch. 32.); the directions given for the construction of the Tabernacle, the freewill offerings made, and the execution of the work by Bezaleel and Aholiab (chs. 35. - 40:33); followed by the Divine occupation of the new construction, and the establishment, in connection with it, of signs whereby the further journeyings of the people were directed (Exodus 40:34-38). In its legislative aspect, the book occupies the unique position of being the very source and origin — fons et origo — alike of the moral and of the ceremonial law, containing in the Decalogue an inspired summary of the first principles of pure morality, and in the directions given with respect to the Passover (Exodus 12:1-50) and other feasts (Exodus 23:14-17), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:11-16), the materials and plan of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-27.), the vestments of the priests and high-priest (ch. 28.), the method of their consecration (ch. 29.), and other similar matters, asserting and enforcing the necessity of a prescribed course of outward acts and forms for the sustentation of religious life in a community of beings' so constituted as men are in this world.

It has been well observed, that "the contents of the Second Book of Moses include an extraordinary variety of matter, and offer to the inquiring mind an unusual extent" of subjects for investigation[1] The historical sketch of Israel's position in Egypt invites inquiry into the dark and difficult problems of Egyptian history and chronology: the Ten Plagues open up to us the consideration of the natural phenomena of Egypt and the East generally; the journeyings of the Hebrews in Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula lead the way to various geographical doubts and queries; the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant give occasion for, if they do not necessitate, investigations connected with the sciences of ethics and jurisprudence; lastly, the account of the Tabernacle, the sacred utensils, and the sacerdotal dress and ornaments, involve the consideration of the previous history of art, and the existing state of proficiency in such handicrafts as weaving, embroidery, and metallurgy. Again, the language of Exodus, in common with that of the rest of the Penateuch, has to some extent an Egyptian tinge, and involves philological inquiries of considerable difficulty and importance. Altogether the Book is one of extraordinary and diversified interest, and necessitates a number of disquisitions of a more or less abstruse character.


It is usual to divide Exodus into two portions only, the first extending from ch. 1. to the end of ch. 19., and treating of the circumstances under which the deliverance from Egypt was effected; the second, commencing with ch. 20. and reaching to the end of the book, containing an account of the giving of the Law, and the institutions by which the organisation of the people was completed. But, for the purposes of a comment such as the present, something more than this broad distinction and single line of demarcation is needed. It is not, however, necessary to have recourse to artificial or imaginary termini. The Book itself bears a markedly sectional character, which has been accounted for on the supposition that it was composed at different times, and written on separate parchments or papyri, each section being of such a length as suited it for congregational reading.[2] The first and second chapters together form such a section. Its main subject is the oppression of the Israelites by the Egyptians, with which is interwoven an account of the birth of Moses, and the first wholly abortive attempt which he made to right the wrongs of his people and improve their social position. This is followed by a section on the call of Moses, and the Divine commission given to him, whereby he was empowered to take the oversight of his people, to act for them, to plead for them with Pharaoh, and ultimately to lead them out of Egypt; the section terminating with the people's acknowledgment of his mission, and acceptance of him as their chief (Exodus 4:31). The third section is co-extensive with ch. 5. It contains the record of Moses' first application to the king of Egypt on behalf of Israel, and of its unhappy result. Section 4 is the sequel to this. It consists of ch. 6. vers. 1 to 27, and tells of the depression of the people in consequence of their increased affliction, the encouragement vouchsafed by God to Moses, and the fresh "charge" given by God to him and Aaron to persist in their efforts and effect the people's release. The next section is a long one. It begins at verse 28 of ch. 6. and continues to the end of ch. 11. The subject is an account of the nine ineffectual plagues, against which Pharaoh "hardened his heart," prefaced by a description of the one miracle wrought as a mere sign to accredit the mission of the brothers, and followed by the announcement of the tenth and last plague, before which even Pharaoh's stubborn will was to bend. Section 6 contains the institution of the Passover, the tenth plague, and the actual hasty departure of the Israelites from Rameses, when Pharaoh finally "thrust them out." It consists of the first forty-two verses of ch. 12. Section 7 contains directions with respect to the Passover and the sanctification of the firstborn. It extends from Exodus 12:43 to Exodus 13:16, and constitutes a document apart, of a purely legal character, which was probably inserted at this point, as the fittest place for it, when the various sections were finally put together by their author. In the next section (Exodus 13:17 — ch. 15.), the historical narrative is resumed, and the march of the Israelites is traced from Succoth to the shores of the Red Sea; their pursuit By the Egyptians is related, together with their miraculous passage across the bed of the sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh's host by the return of the waters. Section 9 contains the song of Moses and Miriam, and consists of the first twenty-one verses of ch. 15. In section 10 the further march of the Israelites is traced, and they are conducted from the Red Sea to Sinai, where God proposes to enter into a covenant with them (Exodus 15:22 to the end of ch. 19.). Section 11 contains the Decalogue, together with the "Book of the Covenant," and extends from Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33. Section 12 comprises — the acceptance of the covenant; the revelation of God's presence to Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders; together with the ascent of Moses into the cloud that covered the mountain, and his continuance there for forty days (ch. 24.). Section 13 contains the directions given by God for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altar of burnt-offering, and the court of the Tabernacle; for the sacerdotal garments, and the ceremonial of priestly consecration; for the altar of incense; and for the composition of the incense and of the oil of consecration (ch. 25. - 30.). Section 14 contains the appointment of Bezaleel and Aholiab as the artists to execute the required works; the appointment of the Sabbath as a sign; and the delivery to Moses of the two Tables of stone, written with the finger of God. It is coincident with ch. 31. Section 15 is purely historical. It gives an account of the terrible sin of the people in setting up the golden calf, and the consequences of this dreadful sin the breaking of the two Tables, the slaughter of three thousand guilty persons By the Levites, and the threat of the withdrawal of God's presence, which however was revoked at the prayer of Moses (chs. 32. - 33.). Section 16 (ch. 34.) is the sequel to section 15. It records the renewal of the two Tables of stone, and the descent of Moses from Sinai with them in his hand, and with a glory on his face that the people could not bear to look on, whence the necessity of his veiling himself. The remaining section (chs. 35. - 40.) contains the historical account of the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altars of incense and burnt-offering, the priests' dresses, etc., the setting of all things in their places, and the sanctification of the whole by the visible entrance of the Shechinah into the sacred dwelling-place.


Much the same arguments have been employed to disprove the unity of Exodus, and to establish the theory that it is the work of at least two authors, as have been already examined in this COMMENTARY with respect to Genesis. "The Elohist" and "the Jehovist" are again paraded before us, as if they were admitted realities, instead of being, as they are, pure figments, the creations of a captious and over-refining pseudo-criticism. There is the same want of agreement among the various advocates of the theory, which has been already noticed in the comment on Genesis, as to which passages are the work of the Elohist, and which of the Jehovist, whole chapters being assigned to one of them by some critics, and by others to the other.[3] Moreover, curiously enough, in their application to Exodus, the very ralson d'etre, of the names disappears, passages being ascribed to the Jehovist in which the only name of God is Elohim, and others to the Elohist in which the only name used is Jehovah.[4] Under these circumstances it would only be reasonable that the terms Elohist and Jehovist should be relinquished, and the confession made that the theory on which they are based has broken down; but "the higher criticism," as it delights to call itself, seems not greatly to affect the vitae of candour. The real question now raised with regard to Exodus is not whether it can be divided into two sets of passages, Elohistic and Jehovistic respectively, in the former of which may be recognised the original document, while the latter are the work of an editer, supplementer, or compiler; but whether any division at all can be made, whether there are any dear traces of a second hand, or whether the "book" has not, in its structure, style, and method such clear and unmistakable marks of unity as to point distinctly to a single author.[5]

Now the book has one clear and plain purpose, which is to give an account of the circumstances under which the Israelites quitted Egypt, and became God's peculiar people, bound to him by a covenant, and granted his continuous presence with them to guide and direct them. The narrative flows on without a break. If there are some chronological gaps in the earlier portion,[6] they are necessitated by the fact that nothing occurred during the omitted periods which either advanced or hindered the action which it is the writer's business to relate. He is not a secular historian, bent on recording all the circumstances in the early life of his nation, but a sacred writer, a religious teacher, bound to confine his attention to their theocratic history, or in other words to God's providential dealings with them. These consist for some centuries in two things only — the rapid increase of the race, despite all attempts to hinder it; and the severe oppression to which after a time they were subjected. The former is important as giving them the strength to do what they did; the latter as supplying the motive. So these two things are put on record; but their life before the oppression began, and even the time that the oppression lasted, which an ordinary historian would of course have noted, are omitted as unimportant for the theocratic history. Similarly, with regard to Moses, the leader of the Exodus, while those circumstances which prepared him for his task — his education at the court, which gave him ready access to Pharaoh, and his sojourn in Midian, which made him familiar with life in the desert, — are clearly marked; all the details of his early career, covering a space (according to St. Stephen, Acts 7:23) of "full forty years," and all but the barest outline of his life in Midian, occupying another similar term, are suppressed, as not helping on the people's deliverance, or conducing to their reception into covenant. But, from the time that the deliverance begins, i.e. from the date of Moses' call, there are no gaps, no omissions — every step of the history is traced with the utmost minuteness, because each furthers the great ends which the writer has in view — first, the people's deliverance — then, their acceptance into covenant at Sinai finally, the completion of the covenant on God's part by the visible location of the Shechinah in the Tabernacle.

And as there is this unity of historical aim in the whole of Exodus, so is there a great unity of style. Historical narrative indeed, and the details of legislation and construction, being subjects exceedingly diverse, cannot well be treated in the same way; and it would be fanciful to maintain, that either "the Book of the Covenant" or the description of the Tabernacle is manifestly from the same hand as the account of the oppression of Israel or of the plagues; but wherever in the later chapters a narrative passage occurs (e.g. Exo. 24; 32. — 34:8; 34:28-35; 40:16-38), the resemblances to the style of the earlier portion of the book (chs. 1-19.) are numerous and striking;[7] and similarly, wherever in the early portion legislation is introduced (e.g. Exodus 12:1-20; 12:43-50; ch. 12:1-16; ch. 20.), the style and mode of expression recall the general tone of the Book's later sections. Style indeed is so much a matter of instinctive perception and feeling, and unity of style is a thing so little admitting of proof, that no writer can do much more than state his own impressions on the subject, it being quite impossible adequately to represent the grounds of them. For our own part, we feel bound to echo the conclusion of Kalisch, who says'' We see the completest harmony in all parts of Exodus; we consider it as a perfect whole, pervaded throughout by one spirit and the same leading ideas." [8]

The only reasonable ground which exists for any doubt or hesitation on the question of the unity is the fact, already noted,[9] of the markedly sectional character of the work its division into a number of distinctly separate portions, not very skilfully or artistically joined together. But this peculiarity is exactly what might have been looked for in a work which was written by snatches in the rare intervals of leisure allowed by a life of extreme and almost constant activity, and under circumstances that precluded attention to literary finish. If the writer of Exodus was a contemporary, who from time to time placed on record the series of events whereof he was a witness, soon after their occurrence, and who ultimately arranged his various pieces into a volume, the result would naturally be that which the Book of Exodus presents to us.[10] Had a compiler, a mere man of letters, effected the arrangement, it is probable that the result would have been, in a literary point of view, better, i.e. more artistic — the breaks in the narrative would have been fewer and less abrupt; repetitious would have been avoided; the roughness inseparable from a work hastily accomplished in odds and ends of time would have been smoothed down, and we should have had a more finished literary composition. Thus, the "fragmentary character" of Exodus is an important and precious indication that we have the work in its original form — the statue as it was rough-hewn in the quarry — and that it has not undergone the process of polishing and smoothing at the hands of a redactor, compiler, or supplementarist.


It is an axiom of sound criticism that books are to be attributed to the authors to whom tradition assigns them, unless very strong reasons can be shown to the contrary.[11] Exodus, and indeed the Pentateuch generally, has been assigned to Moses by a unanimous tradition, current alike among Pharisees and Sadducees, among Jews and Samaritans, among those who ascribed a sacred character to the work and those who regarded it as a mere human production. No other author has ever been put forward as a rival candidate to Moses;[12] and we must either ascribe the work to a wholly unknown and nameless writer,[13] who, with a marvellous humility and self-abnegation, while composing the most important treatise which the world had seen, concealed himself so effectually as to secure his own complete oblivion, or we must admit that the tradition is in the right, and that Moses, the hero of Exodus, and of the three following books, was also their composer.

It has sometimes been argued that the historical Moses, considering the time when he lived, and the condition of the world at that period, could not possibly have been the author even of a single book of the Pentateuch. Some have supposed that alphabetic writing was not at the time invented, and that if the Egyptian hieroglyphic system was anterior to Moses, it could not have been employed to embody with any definiteness the articulate sounds of the Hebrew language.[14] Others, without going these lengths, have maintained that so grand a work as the Pentateuch could not possibly have been produced at so early a period of the world's history, when literature, like everything else, must have been in its infancy. Thus De Wette urges that the Pentateuch is altogether beyond the literary capabilities of the age, containing within it, as he says it does, "every element of Hebrew literature in the highest perfection to which it ever attained, and so necessarily belonging to the acme and not to the childhood of the nation." It is absurd, he thinks, to suppose that in so rude and primitive a time the Hebrew nation should have produced a writer possessing such powers of mind, and such a mastery over his native language as to "leave nothing for succeeding authors but to follow in his footsteps." [15]

In answer to these preliminary objections it is to be noted first, that alphabetic writing is a much earlier discovery than has sometimes been supposed, and that there is every reason to believe that its use was widely spread over the world in ages long anterior to Moses. Berosus believed it to have been an antediluvian invention, and related that Xisuthrus, or Hasis-adra, his "Noah," consigned to writing the learning of the old world before the Flood, impressing it on tablets of baked clay, which he buried at Sippara, and exhumed after the Flood had subsided.[16] Existing Babylonian inscriptions upon bricks and gems[17] are believed to date from before B.C. 2000. Ewald remarks[18] that the words expressive of "writing" ( ëúá ), "book" ( ñôø ), and "ink" ( ãéå ), are common to all the branches and dialects of Semitic speech, except that the Ethiopic and the Southern Arabian have öç÷ for "to write," and deduces from this fact the conclusion that writing in a book with ink must have been known to the earliest Semites before they separated off into their various tribes, nations, and families.[19] The Hittites were certainly acquainted with letters before the time of Moses; for not only had they written treaties with the Egyptians at a period anterior to the Exodus,[20] but a Hittite author is mentioned by Pentaour, a royal scribe of the reign of Rameses the Great.[21] Alphabetic writing was probably an art well known in the greater part of Western Asia from a date preceding not only Moses but Abraham.

The Egyptian system of hieroglyphic writing was also beyond all doubt complete several centuries before Abraham. This system is sometimes supposed to be little more than a representation of ideas by pictorial forms; but in reality it is almost wholly phonetic.[22] There would be no difficulty in transliterating the Pentateuch into hieroglyphic characters,[23] which one familiar with them would read off so as to be intelligible to a Jew. If Moses, therefore, did not possess an alphabetic system of his own, and was acquainted with the hieroglyphic system, which is not impossible, since he was bred up at the court, and "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), he might have written the Pentateuch in that character. At any rate, it would have been easy for him to adopt the cursive hieratic character, which, while based upon the hieroglyphics, presents no pictures of objects, but only a set of straight or curvilinear lines. The hieratic writing was certainly in use as early as the time of the twelfth or thirteenth dynasty,[24] and therefore long anterior to the Exodus.

With regard to the objection of De Wette, that a work so perfect as the Pentateuch is altogether beyond the literary capabilities of the age of Moses, the present writer may perhaps be allowed to quote a passage which he wrote twenty years ago, and which he has never seen answered: — "De Wette's statement is a gross exaggeration of the reality. Considered as a literary work, the Pentateuch is not the production of an advanced or refined, but of a simple and rude age. Its characteristics are plainness, inartificiality, absence of rhetorical ornament, and occasional defective arrangement. The only style which it can be truly said to bring to perfection, is that simple one of clear and vivid narrative which is always best attained in the early dawn of a nation's literature, as a Herodotus, a Froissart, and a Stow sufficiently indicate. In other respects it is quite untrue to say that the work goes beyond all later Hebrew efforts. We look in vain through the Pentateuch for the gnomic wisdom of Solomon, the eloquent denunciations of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, or the lofty flights of Isaiah. It is absurd to compare the song of Moses, as a literary production, even with some of the psalms of David, much more to parallel it with Ezekiel's eloquence and Homeric variety, or Isaiah's awful depth and solemn majesty of repose. In a literary point of view it may be questioned whether Moses did so much for the Hebrews as Homer for the Greeks, or whether his writings had really as great an influence on the after productions of his countrymen. And if his literary greatness still surprises us, if Hebrew literature still seems in his person to reach too suddenly a high excellence, albeit not so high a one as has been argued let us remember, in the first place, that Moses was not, any more than Homer, the first writer of his nation, but only happens to be the first whose writings have come down to us. 'Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona.' Moses seems so great because we do not possess the works of his predecessors, and so are unable to trace the progress of Hebrew literature up to him. Had we the 'Songs of Israel' (Numbers 21:17), and the 'Book of the Wars of the Lord' (ib. 14), which he quotes, we might find him no literary phenomenon at all, but as a writer merely on a level with others of his age and nation." [25] Moreover, recent research has shown that in Egypt, long prior to the time at which Moses wrote, literature had become a profession, and was cultivated in a variety of branches with ardour and considerable success. Morality, history, epistolary correspondence, poetry, medical science, novel- writing, were known as separate studies, and taken for their special subjects by numerous writers, from a date anterior to Abraham.[26] In the times of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, under one or the other of which the Exodus almost certainly took place, Egyptian literature reached its acme: lengthy works were composed, such as that contained in the "Great Harris Papyrus," which is 133 feet long by nearly seventeen inches broad;[27] writers enjoyed a high status and reputation; their compositions were engraved upon temple walls;[28] and it passed into a proverb that literature was the first and best of all employments.[29] Moses, educated at the court under one or other of these dynasties, and intended doubtless for official life, would necessarily receive a literary training, and would be perfectly competent to produce an extensive literary work, the exact merit of which would of course depend on his ability and genius.

If then there is no obstacle arising out of the circumstances of the time when Moses lived, to hinder our regarding him as the author of Exodus, and if tradition is unanimous in assigning it to him, nothing remains but to ask what internal evidence the book itself offers upon the subject — does it support, or does it make against, the hypothesis of the Mosaic authorship?

And first, as to language and style. We have already noticed[30] the simplicity of style observable in Exodus and the Pentateuch generally, which places it on a par with the early writings of other nations, and proves it to belong to the dawn of Hebrew literature. The language is generally allowed to be archaic, or at any rate to contain archaisms; and though some writers deny this, and assert that the unusual forms and words which characterise the Pentateuch are "not so much archaisms as peculiarities," yet this conclusion is contrary to the general opinion of Hebrew scholars,[31] and has the appearance of being rather a position forced on its maintainers by the exigencies of controversy, than one assumed spontaneously from a dispassionate consideration of the linguistic facts. Such features as the employment of the pronoun äåà for the third person of both genders, of ðÇòÇø for "girl" as well as "boy," and of the full form וּï instead of the abraded for the termination of the third person plural of the preterite, are by the very nature of things and the universal laws of language, archaic. The archaic character of other peculiar forms is also indicated by the fact that several of them occur besides only in Joshua, while some are common to the Pentateuch with none but very late books, e.g. Chronicles and Ezekiel, books written in the decay of the language, when it is notorious that writers studiously imitate the old forms.[32] Exodus has its full share of these peculiarities, which we must venture, with the bulk of Hebrew critics, still to term "archaisms," and has therefore at least as much claim as any other of the five books to be regarded as Mosaic on this ground.

The language of Exodus has also another peculiarity, which, if it does not prove the Mosaic authorship, fits in exactly with it, viz. the frequent occurrence of Egyptian words and phrases. This subject has been treated elaborately by Canon Cook[33] and M. Harkavy,[34] who have proved beyond all question that in that part of his narrative which deals with Egyptian matters, words are constantly used by the author of Exodus which are either pure Egyptian, or common to Egyptian with Hebrew. From thirty to forty such words occur in the first sixteen chapters.[35] Subsequently they are more rare; but a certain number of Egyptian words occur even in the later chapters,[36] showing how familiar the writer was with the language, and how naturally he had recourse to it where the vocabulary of his native tongue was defective. Egyptian phrases are also not unfrequently used, as "the lip of the river" (Exodus 2:5) for "the Brink of the river;" "chiefs of tribute" (Exodus 1:11) for "taskmasters;" an "ark of bulrushes" (Exodus 2:3); "making persons' savour to stink" (Exodus 5:21); "consuming enemies as stubble" (Exodus 15:7), etc.

Next, with respect to the matter of the book, it is to e remarked that the writer — whoever he was — shows a notable acquaintance with the customs, climate, and productions of Egypt; an acquaintance such as to imply long residence in the country, and the sort of familiarity which it takes years to acquire, with the natural phenomena, the method of cultivation, the religious ideas, and other habits and usages of the people. Under this head it is important to observe that large additions are constantly being made to the stock of our Egyptian knowledge by learned research into the native documents, which are copious, even for the time anterior to Moses, with this result hitherto — that fresh illustrations of the truthfulness with which Egypt and the Egyptians are portrayed in Exodus continually reveal themselves, while contradictions of the narrative, discrepancies, even difficulties, are almost wholly absent. There was a time when the author of the Pentateuch was boldly taxed with ignorance of Egyptian customs,[37] and when it was argued on this ground that he could not possibly be Moses. Now, no one ventures on such an assertion. The works of Hengstenberg[38] and Canon Cook[39] are sufficient to preclude the possibility of the revival of this line of attack; but the counter-evidence continually accumulates. Not a year passes without the discovery of fresh passages in Egyptian literature, which harmonise with and illustrate the narrative delivered to us in Exodus.

It is further observable that the writer, who has this wide and exact acquaintance with Egypt and the Egyptians, is also perfectly familiar with the character of the Sinaitic peninsula, with its vegetable and animal products, with its natural phenomena, as that of the manna, with its rare springs, sometimes sweet, sometimes "bitter" (Exodus 15:23), its wells, its occasional palm-groves (ib. 27), its acacia trees (Exodus 25:10, 23; 26:15, etc.), its long stretches of dry sand, its bare rooks and lofty mountains. It has been well said that "the chapters of Exodus which belong either to the early sojourn of Moses or to the wanderings of the Israelites, are pervaded by a peculiar tone, a local colouring, an atmosphere (so to speak) of the desert, which has made itself felt by all these who have explored the country, to whatever school of religious thought they may have belonged." [40]

This double knowledge of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, joined to the antique character of the work, seems to amount to a proof that the book of Exodus was written either by Moses or by one of those who accompanied him in his journey from the land of Goshen to the borders of Palestine. There was no period between the Exodus and the reign of Solomon when an Israelite — and the writer was certainly an Israelite — was likely to be familiar either with Egypt or with the Sinaitic peninsula, much less with both. There was little intercourse between the Hebrews and Egypt from the time of the passage of the Red Sea to that of Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter; and if occasionally during this period an Israelite went down into Egypt and sojourned there (1 Chronicles 4:18), it was a very unlikely thing that he should visit the region about Sinai, which lay above 150 miles out of his route. Add to this the dangers of the journey and the absence of any conceivable motive for it, and the conclusion seems almost certain that only one of those who, after being brought up among the Egyptians, traversed the "wilderness of the wanderings" on his way to Palestine, can have composed the existing record.

The conclusion thus reached is, for all critical purposes, sufficient. If the narrative is from the pen of an eye-witness, it must possess the highest degree of historical credibility,[41] and, so far as accuracy and trustworthiness are concerned, can gain nothing, or at any rate very little, by being ascribed to one of the emigrants rather than another. We trust the last book of the 'De Bello Gallico' no less than the remainder, though written by Hirtius and not by Caesar; and the authenticity of Exodus would be no whit diminished by Joshua or Caleb being its author instead of Moses. Could we suppose it written by a mere ordinary Israelite, the case would be somewhat different; but it is evidently impossible, considering the circumstances of the time, to ascribe a work of such high literary merit, and one evidencing such varied and extensive knowledge, to any one below the rank of a high officer, a leading man among the people.

The absolute Mosaic authorship of Exodus is thus a matter not so much of historical importance as of literary curiosity. Still it is of interest to know the real author of any great book, and essential to a right estimate of the character and work of Moses that we should understand whether or no he added to his other eminent qualities the literary ability and Power which "Exodus" displays. What then does the Book itself reveal to us on this subject? In the first place it shows us the ability of Moses to write (Exodus 24:4); in the next it informs us that he was expressly commanded by God to write an account of some of those very matters which are contained in Exodus (Exodus 17:14; 34:27); in the third place it distinctly tells us in one passage that he "wrote all the words of the Lord" (Exodus 34:4), these "words" being (according to almost all commentators) the passage which extends from Exodus 20:22 to the end of ch. 23.; finally, it speaks of a "book" which it calls "the book" [42] (the expression used being בּÇסּÅôÆø and not בּÀñÅôÆø ), wherein one of his writings was to be inserted, whereby it would seem that at the time of the war with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-14) Moses already had a book in which he was putting on record the circumstances of the Israelites' deliverance — a book, as Keil says,[43] "appointed for the record of the glorious works of God." The question naturally occurs to a candid mind, Why should not this be the book which we possess? why go out of our way to suppose a second author unnamed and unnameable, when here is one distinctly proclaimed — an author more competent to the task than any other Israelite then living — and moreover the very man to whom an ancient and uniform tradition has always ascribed the work in question? There should be some very cogent arguments, derivable from the contents of the book, to set against this evident prima facie probability, in order even to raise a doubt on the subject, and make it worth while to pursue the inquiry any further.

What then is there said to be of this kind, constituting a difficulty in our acceptance of the Mosaic authorship? First, the fact that Moses is always spoken of in the third person. Now, as Xenophon and Caesar, in writing histories of which they were the heroes, spoke of themselves always in the third person, it is at least not unnatural for a man who has to write this sort of history to do so. Nay, it may rather be said to Be distinctly natural. Perpetual egotism is wearisome to the reader, and disagreeable to the writer who is not puffed-up by a sense of his own importance. The use of the third person throws a veil, at any rate, over the egotistic character of a work, softens it down, half obliterates it. We forget the writer in his work, when the first person does not constantly obtrude him on us, and pardon his Being the hero of his own narrative when he is sufficiently modest to preserve an incognito. Moreover, speaking of oneself in the third person was common in Egypt in Moses' day. The inscriptions which kings set up to commemorate their conquests were sometimes written wholly in the third person,[44] sometimes partly in the third and partly in the first.[45] The inscriptions placed by private individuals on their tombs generally began in the third person.[46] With such examples before him, it cannot be regarded as surprising that Moses avoided altogether the use of the first person in his narrative and confined himself wholly to the third.

Secondly, it is said that Moses is spoken of — at any rate in one place (Exodus 11:3), perhaps also in Exodus 6:26, 27 — in a way in which he would not be likely to have spoken of himself. The objection taken may, in both instances, Be allowed, but without the conclusion following which is supposed to follow. For the passages are both of them parenthetic, and also abnormal. They do not speak of Moses as he is commonly spoken of; and they are so isolated from the context that their removal would leave no gap, produce no difficulty. They are thus exactly such passages as may have been introduced on that review of the book which is ascribed to Ezra by ancient authorities,[47] and generally allowed to have taken place by moderns. The question whether Moses or a nameless contemporary is to be regarded as the author of Exodus cannot properly Be ruled by reference to one or two passages — especially parenthetic passages. We must look upon the matter more broadly. We must ask ourselves, Is the entire presentation of the personal character and qualifications of the great Israelite leader which the book offers more consonant with the view that Moses himself wrote it, or with the theory that it was composed by one of the younger and subordinate Israelite leaders, as Joshua or Caleb? Now, nothing is more striking in that presentation than the humble estimate made of the character, gifts, powers, and even of the personal conduct of the great leader. From first to last he is never praised; once only (in the passage objected to) he is said to have come to be" very great in the sight of Pharaoh's servants" and the Egyptian people. His faults are set forth without any disguise or extenuation: his hastiness and unjustifiable violence in "slaying the Egyptian" (Exodus 2:12); his foolish assumption of authority over his brethren.(ib. 13); his timidity when he found that he was likely to be punished for his crime. (ib. 14, 15); his unwillingness to undertake the mission which God assigned to him (Exodus 4:1-13); his neglect of the covenant of circumcision (ib. 24-26); his irreverent remonstrance when success did not attend his first application to Pharaoh (Exodus 5:22-24); and his want of self-control when on account of the sin of his people in worshipping the golden calf he "cast the Tables" — written by the finger of God — "out of his hands and brake them" (Exodus 32:19). Nothing is said of his possessing any-remarkable ability. On the contrary, he is represented as insisting, over and over again, on his incompetency, on his want of eloquence (Exodus 4:10), his insignificance ("Who am I?" Exodus 3:11), and his inability to persuade even his own people (Exodus 4:1; 6:12). No credit is assigned to him for anything that he does; for his bold and courageous behaviour before Pharaoh; for that organisation of the people which must have preceded the Exodus;[48] for his conduct of the march; or for that faith which never wavered, even when he and his people were shut in between the irresistible host of Pharaoh and the waters of an apparently untraversable sea (Exodus 14:13, 14). While it is in complete harmony with the general practice of the sacred writers, and with the spirit of true religion, that such reticence and such a disparaging tone should be employed by a writer respecting himself, it is quite inconceivable that either Joshua or any other companion of Moses should have written of him in this style. To his contemporaries, to those who had seen his miracles, and who owed their lives and liberties to his bold and successful guidance, Moses must have been a hero, a paladin, the first, the greatest, and the most admirable of men. We may see what they thought of him by the words with which Deuteronomy closes — "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel" (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

If then the style and diction of Exodus, combined with the knowledge which it exhibits both of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, indicate unmistakably for its author either Moses or one of the other leading Israelites of Moses' time, there cannot be any reasonable doubt towards which of the two theories the balance of the internal evidence inclines. It is simply inconceivable that one of those who looked up to Moses with the reverence and admiration that he must have inspired in his followers, could have produced the unflattering portraiture which Exodus presents to us of one of the very greatest of men. It is, on the other hand, readily conceivable, and completely in accordance with what experience teaches of the thoughts and words of great saints concerning themselves, that Moses should have given such a representation of himself. The internal evidence is thus in harmony with the external. Both alike point to Moses as the author of this Book and of those which follow.


The internal chronology of the Book of Exodus is a matter of great simplicity, presenting only a single point of doubt or difficulty. This is the question whether the Hebrew text of Exodus 12:40 is to be regarded as sound and genuine, or whether it is to be corrected from the Samaritan version and the Septuagint. In the Hebrew text we read: "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years;" or more literally, "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, which they sojourned in Egypt,[49] was 430 years." But in the Septuagint the passage runs thus: "The sojourning of the children of Israel, which they sojourned in Egypt and in the land of Canaan, was 430 years;" [50] and in the Samaritan thus: "The sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt, was 430 years." If the Hebrew text is sound we must count 430 years from the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the Exodus; if it is corrupt, and to be corrected from the two ancient versions, the time of the sojourn will be reduced one-half, for it was a space of exactly 215 years from the entrance of Abraham into Canaan to the descent of Jacob into Egypt.[51]

In favour of the short period it is urged, first, that the genealogies contained in the Pentateuch, and especially the genealogy of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:16-20), will not admit of the longer term;[52] and, secondly, that St. Paul reckoned no more than 430 years from the call of Abraham to the Exodus (Galatians 3:17). Now, certainly, if the genealogies are complete, and especially that of Moses and Aaron, the longer term of years cannot have been reached, since oven if Kohath was but a year old at the time of his being carried into Egypt (Genesis 46:11), and if Amram was born in the last year of Kohath's life, and Moses in the last year of Amram's, the eightieth year of Moses, in which the Exodus took place (Exodus 7:7), would be only the 350th from the descent into Egypt and not the 430th.[53] But the ordinary Jewish practice with regard to genealogies was to contract them; and it is quite possible that in all the recorded genealogies of this period, except that of Joshua (1 Chronicles 7:22-27), there are omissions. The number of generations in the genealogy of Joshua is ten, an amount very much more consonant with the period of 430 than with that of 215 years; and this number we axe bound to accept as historical, since there could be no possible reason why the writer of Chronicles should have invented it; so that, on the whole, the argument to be drawn from the Scriptural genealogies is rather in favour of the long period than against it. It is the Oriental practice to call any male descendant a son, any female descendant a daughter;[54] it is the Jewish practice to contract genealogies by means of omissions;[55] it is unheard-of to expand a genealogy by thrusting in unhistorical names: there must consequently have been ten generations from Joseph to Joshua. Ten generations would certainly, at this period of Jewish history, represent 400 years, and might easily cover 430, giving an average of forty-three years to a generation, instead of the thirty-three years of later times[56]

With respect to St. Paul's estimate (Galatians 3:17), it would simply show that, in writing to Greek-speaking Jews, whose only Bible was the Septuagint version, he made use of that translation. It would not even prove his own opinion upon the point, since the chronological question is not pertinent to his argument, and, whatever he may have thought upon it, he would certainly not have obtruded upon his Galatlan disciples a wholly irrelevant discussion.

In favour of the longer term the great argument is the general one, that the Hebrew text is to be taken as the true original unless it contains internal signs of imperfection, and that here there are no such signs. On the other hand, there are signs that the Septuagint and Samaritan texts are interpolated — viz, first, their variations;[57] and secondly, the fact that the length of the sojourn in Egypt is alone naturally before the writer's mind at this point of his narrative. A further argument is furnished by Genesis 15:13-16, where the term of the Egyptian sojourn is prophetically given (in round numbers) as 400 years; a passage quoted by St. Stephen (Acts 7:6), who clearly regards the prophecy as fulfilled. It has Been argued that "the 400 years is meant to refer to the time during which the 'seed of Abraham' should be sojourners in a strange land," rather than to the time during which they should suffer oppression, and so, that the sojourn in Canaan is included;[58] but this exposition, which is admitted to be contrary to the apparent sense.[59] cannot possibly be allowed, since Genesis 15:13-16 speaks of one land and one nation — a nation which should "afflict" them, and which they should "serve," and which at the end of the 400 years should be "judged" — whereas the Canaanites did not "afflict" them, for quarrels about wells (Genesis 26:15-21) are not an "affliction" in the language of Scripture,[60] and certainly they did not "serve" the Canaanites — neither could it possibly be of the Canaanites that it is said, "That nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge, and afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Genesis 15:14). Finally, the long term is most consonant alike with the estimate formed of the entire number of the grown males at the time of the Exodus (600,000, Exodus 12:37), and with the devils given of particular families in the Book of Numbers, as especially those of the families of the Levites, in Numbers 3:21-39.

If, upon these grounds, the longer term of 430 years for the sojourn in Egypt be preferred to the shorter term of 215 years, the details of the chronology must be arranged as follows:[61]

From the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the death of Joseph 71 years

From the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses 278 years

From the birth of Moses to his flight into Midian 40 years

From the flight of Moses into Midian to his return to Egypt 40 years

From the return of Moses to the Exodus 1 years

Total — 430 years

It is a different, and a much more intricate, question, how the chronology of this period is to be attached to the general chronology of mundane affairs, or even how it is to be united with the later chronology of the Jewish nation. If complete reliance could be placed on the genuineness of a particular text (1 Kings 6:1), the difficulties indeed of this latter problem would in a great measure disappear; for, having fixed the date of the commencement of Solomon's temple, which was certainly begun about B.C. 1000, we should only have to add to the exact date on which we decided, the number 480, in order to obtain an equally exact date for the Exodus. It was in this way that Archbishop Ussher produced his date of n.e. 1491, which is still maintained by Kalisch,[62] and with an unimportant variation by Keil.[63] But the genuineness of the words in 1 Kings 6:1 — "in the 480th year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt" — is open to serious question,[64] They stand alone, unsupported by anything analogous in the whole of the rest of Scripture.[65] They were apparently unknown to Josephus, to Theophilus of Antioch, and to Clemens of Alexandria, who would necessarily have quoted them, had they existed in their copies.[66] They are also at variance with the tradition glanced at by St. Paul (Acts 13:20), that from the partition of Canaan to Samuel was a space of 450 years. But if, on these grounds, we surrender the genuineness of 1 Kings 6:1, we are launched at once upon an open sea of conjecture. St. Paul's statement is defective both in consequence of his using the expression "about," and in consequence of his not marking whether he means to include the judgeship of Samuel in the 450 years or to exclude it. His statement leaves moreover the space between the death of Moses and the partition of Canaan unestimated. The detailed statements in the books of Scripture from Joshua to Kings are defective, since in the first place they leave many periods unestimated,[67] and further, they are expressed to a large extent in round numbers[68] which are fatal to exact computation. It has been calculated that, on the most probable estimate, the details of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel would produce for the period between the Exodus and the foundation of the Temple, 600, 612, or 628 years,[69] On the other hand, it has been argued with considerable force that these estimates are greatly in excess of the real time — that different judges bore office simultaneously in different parts of Palestine,[70] and that the actual period which elapsed from the Exodus to Solomon's accession did not much exceed 300 years. The result is that the best and most learned of modern critics vary in their dates for the Exodus by as much as 332 years, some placing it as late as B.C. 1300, and others as early as B.C. 1632.

It might have been supposed that the difficulties of the Scriptural chronology would have received light from the parallel chronology of Egypt, or even have been set at rest by it.; but Egyptian chronology has difficulties of its own which render it one of the most abstruse of studies, and preclude the possibility of any positive conclusions being formed respecting it, unless by the method of arbitrary selection from among coequal authorities. Hence it is not yet a settled point among Egyptologists, under which dynasty, much less under which king, the Exodus took place, some placing it as early as Thothmos III., the fifth king of the eighteenth dynasty, and others as late as Seti-Menephthah, the fifth king of the nineteenth. An interval of above two centuries separates these reigns. On the whole, the preponderance of authority is in favour of the Exodus having fallen under the nineteenth, rather than the eighteenth dynasty, and under either Seti-Menephthah or his father Menephthah,[71] who were the fifth and fourth kings. The Egyptian tradition upon the subject, recorded by Manetho,[72] Cheoremon,[73] and others, points evidently to one or other of these kings, and has generally been taken as decisive in favour of the father. But a hieratic inscription,[74] deciphered and translated by Dr. Eisenlohr of Heidelberg in 1872, has been thought by some to incline the scale towards the son, Seti-Menephthah, whose reign seems to have been followed by a period of revolution and disturbance, described in terms almost identical with those in which Manetho speaks of the time that followed the Exodus.

If we accept Manetho's account of the period in Egyptian history to which the Exodus belongs, we shall have as the probable date of the event, calculated from Egyptian sources[75] about B.C. 1300, or from that to B.C. 1350. Four hundred and thirty years before this will bring us to the eighteenth century B.C. , when Egypt was, according to all writers,[76] under the dominion of the Shepherd kings. This will agree well with the tradition, which George the Syncellus says was universal,[77] that Joseph governed Egypt in the time of King Apophis, who was the last king of the seventeenth or great Shepherd dynasty. Joseph probably outlived Apophis, and saw the commencement of the eighteenth dynasty, so that the founder of that dynasty, Aahmes, cannot be the "king that knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). Nor could the Israelites have been by that time so numerous as to rouse the king's fears. The Pharaoh intended is probably the founder of the nineteenth dynasty, Rameses I., or his son Seti, the great conqueror. If Moses was born under this monarch, his flight to Midian would have taken place under Rameses II., Seti's son and successor; and his return, forty years later, on the death of the Pharaoh who sought his life, would fall in the reign of Menephthah, the son and successor of Rameses II. It may have been the exhaustion of Egypt through the double loss of the firstborn and of the great bulk of the armed force in the Red Sea, together with the discontent caused by the unwise conduct of the king, that led shortly afterwards to those troubles which supervened on the death of Menephthah — first disputes with regard to the succession, and then a period of complete anarchy.[78] The Israelites were in the Sinaitic peninsula at this time. When the Egyptian troubles came to an end, and Rameses III. began his conquests, they were engaged in their wars on the eastern side of Palestine, and profited by his attack, which weakened their enemies. After Rameses III. Egypt declined; and hence no more is heard of her in the Biblical history till the reign of Solomon. The subjoined table will show at a glance the view here taken of the synchronisms between the Egyptian and the Israelite history from the time of Joseph to the entrance into Canaan.

CIRCA b.c. Egyptian HISTORY. HEBREW HISTORY. 1900-1700 Egypt under the Shepherd Kings Dynasty XVII. Joseph in Egypt. His brethren join him. Commencement of the 430 years, about b.c. 1740. 1700 Accession of Dynasty XVIII. Joseph dies about b.c. 1670. 1400 Accession of Dynasty XIX (Rameses I. first king). 1395 Seti I. (great conqueror). Rise of "king who knew not Joseph." Pithom and Rameses built 1385 Rameses II. (associated) Birth of Moses. Flight of Moses to Midian 1320 Menephthah I Moses returns from Midian 1305 Seti II. (Seti-Menephthah) The Exodus. 1300-1280 Revolution in Egypt. Short reigns of Amon-meses and Siphthah. Period of anarchy 1280 Accession of Dynasty XX. Set-Nekht 1276 Rameses III. (conqueror) The Israelites enter Canaan. 1255 Rameses IV.

The admitted uncertainty of the proper mode of synchronising Egyptian with Biblical history makes it desirable to add in this place a few remarks on the main features of Egyptian chronology and history in the earlier times, that so the reader may be able to judge for himself between the various synchronistic theories which come under his notice, and form his own scheme, if that in the text does not satisfy him.

It is allowed on all hands that civilisation, kingly government, architecture of a remarkable kind, and fairly advanced mimetic art, existed in Egypt from a time considerably anterior to Abraham. The lowest date that has been assigned, so far as we are aware, by any modern scholar[79] to the commencement of the civilised monarchical Egypt, is B.C. 2250, or from that to B.C. 2450. Some of the most learned writers raise the date by one thousand or two thousand years[80] But, setting aside such extravagances, we may state it as universally agreed upon among historians of the present day that the history of Egypt goes back at least to the date mentioned above. It is maintained by many that, in this early period, the country was for the most part split up among several distinct kingdoms; but on the other hand it is allowed that at times a single monarchy held the whole, and kings possessed of great power and resources ruled Egypt from the Tower of Syene to the waters of the Mediterranean. Manetho assigned to the period no fewer than fourteen dynasties, and though some of these may be purely mythical,[81] and others[82] may represent lines of petty princes who bore sway in some obscure province, yet a certain number — as the fourth, fifth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth — were beyond a doubt dynasties of great power, dominant over the whole or the greater part of Egypt, and possessed of resources which enabled them to erect monuments of an extraordinary character. The two greatest of the Pyramids belong to the fourth dynasty, and must have been seen by Abraham when he visited Egypt, about B.C. 1950. The Third Pyramid in its present state is the work of a queen of the sixth dynasty. A ]ring of the twelfth erected the obelisk which still stands at Heliopolis, as well as another which lies prostrate in the Fayoum. The artificial Lake Moeris, the Fayoum pyramids, and the celebrated Labyrinth belong to the same period. Egypt from B.C. 2450 to about B.C. 1900 was in a flourishing condition: unattacked by foreign foes, she developed during this time the chief features of her architecture and of her sculpture, carried to perfection her complex system of hieroglyphics — and attained very considerable proficiency in most of the useful and ornamental arts. The period of this civilisation was designated by Manetho that of "the Old Empire;" and the phrase has been preserved by some modern historians of Egypt[83] as indicative of a very important reality.

The period of "the Old Empire" was followed by that of "the Middle Empire." At a date variously estimated, but believed by the present writer to have been about B.C. 1900, Egypt was conquered by a pastoral Asiatic people, which destroyed the old civilisation, defaced the monuments, burnt the cries, and completely demolished the temples. The whole country was plunged for a time into utter ruin and desolation. All the less massive buildings disappeared literature, unless enshrined in pyramids or buried in sepulchral chambers, ceased to exist — architecture, mimetic art, even the ornamental arts, finding no demand, died out — for a century or more utter barbarism settled down generally over the land, and if it had not been that in a few places native Egyptian dynasties were suffered to drag on a dependent and precarious existence, all the old knowledge would have perished. It was as when the Goths and Vandals and Alans and Alemanni and Burgunaians swept over the Roman Empire of the West, and brought in those "Dark Ages" of which so much has been said and so little is known. Egypt for a century or more was crushed under the iron heel of her conquerors. Then, by slow degrees, there was a revival. The barbarism of the invaders yielded to the softening influences of that civilisation which it had nearly, but not quite, annihilated. First the useful, then the ornamental arts, were recalled into life. Temples were built, sphinxes were carved, even statues were attempted by the rude race which