This talk is by Clifford Yeary.

Is history just the facts?

If we go back far enough – there were no documents at all.  Just the stories and memories of generations of ancestors.

Oral Tradition:

  • The capacity of ancient story tellers to accurately preserve memories
  • Facts usually didn’t matter much in comparison to accurately conveying the importance and meaning of a historical event.

How important is it that Exodus contains verifiable facts?  (There aren’t many at all.)   Biblical inspiration by God is one tactic.  Our Catholic church does NOT believe that biblical inspiration (which we DO hold) assures that the bible is historically / factually correct.

Divine Inspiration:

  • Guarantees that what God wanted to reveal in Scripture is revealed in Scripture.
  • What we need to know in order to be faithful to our God, so that God can offer us the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

Our collective memories of the past are often inconsistent with the memories of others as to what happened when.  How my parents met for example.  Now, no one living can verify that it is true.  We have only our conviction that we have remembered the story accurately.

(Peter: How my father’s dad died.  Fell from a catwalk at the lumber mill?  Or murdered at a steel mill?)

Facts can help make a story, they can help verify a story, but they seldom ARE the story.

Exodus: we tell the story, explore the story, believing that God wants us to learn the history of salvation and OUR salvation.  The exodus story is THE primary story of the OT and Israelite religion.  Who is God?  God is liberator, redeemer.  Rabbi Martin Siegel: Egypt represents anything and everything that binds us / limits us.

Importance of Exodus

  • Passover and Resurrection both celebrate God’s mighty deeds, deeds that have transformed our core identity into worshipers of the God of Israel.
  • What God did for Israel in freeing them from slavery in Egypt is the pattern for God’s redemption of all humanity.
  • Luke focuses on the connection between the Exodus and Jesus’ passion and resurrection in his depiction of the Transfiguration.
  • John reveals that Jesus was condemned to death at the very moment the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple.  Jesus as our Passover.
  • The deliverance of Israel = the creation of the people of Israel.  The theme of parting waters opening to dry land then became the obvious symbols of God’s creation of the world itself in the inspired first verses of Genesis.
  • The Psalms frequently recall the Exodus
  • Isaiah’s reminiscences of the Exodus account assure the exiles in Babylon that their return to Jerusalem will itself be a new Exodus.
  • In the gospels, John calling the children of Israel to a baptism of repentance in the Jordan is seen by many scholars as a renewal of the birth of Israel.
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke all emphasize that the Last Supper / First Eucharist was a Passover meal.
  • In Revelation, opposition to God is defeated by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, through a series of divine acts that draw deeply from the ten plagues of Egypt.
  • From the beginning to the end – Exodus is the foundational story of the whole bible, of our understanding of salvation.


The story shifts from a dramatic narrative / story to a detailed listing of do’s and don’ts in chapter 20.  Then, in Exodus 25 Exodus begins a lengthy description of the structure and accoutrements of the tent of worship.

Everything about them – moral behavior, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the way they worship are intended to distinguish them as God’s own people.

This is the God of heaven and earth who nevertheless chooses to dwell in the midst of a people.

The book of Exodus shows that it is not easy to live with a holy God.

Many of the rules and instructions in the later chapters of Exodus are given to Israel so that they will be able to live with the holiness of their God.

The essence of holiness in the OT is found in the “otherness” of God.  To be holy is to be “set apart”.  We should not, cannot, be “comfortable” with God.  It indicates a “tamed” God.

Hasidic saying: God is not “nice”, not an “uncle”, God is an earthquake.”  We must take God seriously.

The Book of Exodus is all about this holy God who is determined to make a holy nation out of a reluctant, uncooperative people who complain against God’s every effort.

Being ‘holy’ is not to be good, decent, law-abiding people but occurs when such a people worship – proclaiming and praising God present in their midst.

The third part of Exodus is the instruction to Israel about how to worship.  Catholic liturgical worship is dedicated to eliciting our awareness and acknowledgment of God’s holiness.

Exodus delivers a three part message about God:

  1. 1.      God redeems us.
  2. 2.      God teaches us how to be a righteous, or just people.
  3. 3.      God invites us into God’s holy presence through dedicated worship,.




The tradition is that only with Moses does God reveal his name – YHWH.  Jewish people believe this name is so sacred that it ought NEVER be pronounced.  Out of respect for them we do not do so either.  We think it is pronounced “Yahweh”.  Normally in our text it will be LORD in capitals.  When Jews encounter the tetragrammaton the read aloud “Adonai” which means LORD.

What it means is a source of significant scholarly debate.

Suggestions include:

  • “I am who am”
  • “I will be who I will be”
  • “I shall be there”
  • “I will be with you”

The last is interesting in that in the text of Exodus there are a number times when God tells Moses and the people that “I am with you” or “I will be with you” – possibly playing on the name.

Note: we say in liturgy multiple times: “The LORD be with you” – “and with your spirit”.

Some themes in Exodus:

  • Only God has power.
  • God brings God’s people out of slavery into freedom.
  • God reveals God’s self to God’s people in words and deeds.
  • God makes a covenant with the people.
  • God gives the Promised Land to God’s people.
  • God is with God’s people.
  • God’s presence with us is symbolized in many ways – the Ark, the pillar of fire, the cloud, etc.
  • God gives God’s law to us to guide us.


As in Genesis we will find that the text of Exodus is a weaving together of multiple sources.  This is evident in two names for the mountain (Sinai, Horeb), different names for the same person etc.

Note the roles that women play, generally behind the scenes, throughout a book thoroughly dominated by Moses.

If Genesis can be read as a set of foundational stories for all of humanity, since they explore such common experiences such as creation, control of our passions (and the lack thereof), etc. then we might say that Exodus is foundational for Jews (and Christians) for a sense of identity – called out of slavery into freedom, given a Law that governs all of life (food, conduct, worship…), given the Promised Land, etc.



Larsson p. 1: “The Bible is the book of liberation and freedom.  Miracles of redemption are recorded there in overflowing abundance, but at the center of everything is the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, a them resounding throughout the entire Bible.”


Fretheim p. 2:

  • Jesus, like Israel, is called out of Egypt
  • Jesus, like Israel, is tempted in the desert
  • Jesus, like Israel, celebrates the Passover and is himself the Passover lamb
  • Jesus takes the role of new Moses – teaching from the mountain etc.


Fretheim p. 5: Exodus is made from multiple sources.  “The book thus grew by a process of accretion, with these sources gradually brought together over the course of a half millennium or more.”

Fretheim p. 8: the book as we have it today began to emerge during the Babylonian exile because the people there were experiencing similar situations – captive in a foreign land, delivered by God, trip home.

It is possible that around 1200 BCE the exodus event happened.

From 1200 BCE to 1,000 BCE the time of the judges and settlement / conquering Canaan

1,000 BCE to 900 BCE King Saul, King David, King Solomon

Fretheim p. 18: “God is the champion of the poor and those pushed to the margins of life; God is one who liberates them from the pharaohs of the world.  As God acted then, so God can be expected to act again.”

Fretheim p. 20: liberated from Egypt’s rule the question becomes “who will we serve now?”  The answer is the LORD alone.  They are not autonomous.

Stuart p. 19:

Theological issues / themes in Exodus.  (If you digest these over the coming weeks you will have done well!)

  • God as redeemer / savior of Israel. 
  • God and Israel make a covenant agreement.  God is faithful to it, we are not.
  • Promises: land, descendants
  • God is present with the people
  • An invisible God seen only through visible symbols
  • The Law
  • Only the LORD has real power


Two major divisions of the book: Ch. 1-19 rescue from Egypt; Ch. 20-40 the covenant at Sinai.  Or: moving from service to Pharaoh to service of the LORD


Stuart p. 24: “Pharaoh” in Egyptian means “big house”.  Refers more to the office than to a person.  “The White House said today …”

Author of Exodus?

Moses! Says the text and tradition.

(Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy = Pentateuch = 5 Books of Moses)


Source theory:

J, E, D, P

J = Yahwhist, uses the sacred name for God only

E = Elohist, uses Elohim name for God only

D = Deuteronomist

P = Priestly  (late, formal, poetic, angels appear as messengers instead of God …)  First creation story has a liturgical rhythm to it.


Eventually brought together by editors and refined, though they preserved multiple different accounts of same events.

I was taught that the Moses theory was absurd and that the Source theory offered an adequate (though not perfect) solution to the question.  I still believe that, though it doesn’t matter as much as we thought it did.



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