Q&A: The Most Natural Reading of Exodus

The Most Natural Reading of Exodus

Why should we interpret Exodus as coming from the days of Moses?

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Answer

I think that the most natural way to read the book of Exodus is to interpret it against the background of the time period and the events which it describes and as having been written for the people who emerge from that situation by Moses, God's spokesman and leader in that situation. It has become very popular or very common in our day not to interpret the book of Exodus against that historical situation and against that time period. But in classical historical criticism, classical biblical scholarship of the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, it was common to assume that this story was a composite narrative based on sources that came, at the earliest, perhaps from the time of King David and then spanning to the time of the exile and even after.

In our own day, it now has become very much the dominant view among scholars that the book of Exodus was, in large part, composed after the exile and that, really, the historical situation that lies behind it, the concerns that it's trying to address, are concerns of the Persian period in Israel after the exile, especially with the competing interests of the priests in Jerusalem and the landholders and common people outside of Jerusalem, and that it's kind of a compromised document. So, when it's talking about the tabernacle, for example, the really important thing is not what does the what do the tabernacle chapters tell us about how God has provided a way for his sinful people to still dwell in his holy presence, but it really becomes a cipher or a code language for talking about the political interests of the priesthood and competing factions within the priesthood in post-exile Israel. It's really a very different way to approach the book of Exodus than the book of Exodus itself on the surface seems to invite. And so, I think it does matter what our assumptions are about its background, and if there is a God. And if that God really did reach into history and redeem his people with a mighty hand from Egypt, if he really did raise up a spokesman and a great prophet to speak to his people, it makes sense to me that the great spokesman of his people at that time would have recorded that and that that's what we have in the Exodus narrative.

Answer by Prof. Thomas Egger

Professor Thomas Egger is Assistant Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary