[This will be my final post on Exodus, since from this point onward the study will be verse-by-verse commentary rather than introduction.]

Exodus 1. Introduction: connection to Genesis and preparation for the birth of Moses

The initial word of Exodus, the Hebrew particle waw, ‘And’, is dropped in the Revised Standard Version (hereafter RSV), the New English Version, and most other modern English versions, which begin, as does the Septuagint, with ‘These…’ (Tauta).  The King James, or Authorized, Version (hereafter KJV), and the modern American Standard Version retain waw as ‘Now’ (‘Now these are the names’).  Robert Alter’s translation is literal in rendering waw with ‘And’.  These more literal translations are useful in making very clear that the beginning of Exodus is really a hinge that unites it with the preceding book.  Exodus is not a radically new story, but rather is a continuation of the story told in Genesis.

Genesis looks forward to the events of Exodus both directly (see Genesis 15:13f.) and also more generally by setting the stage for the Exodus in the Joseph stories.  Mention in Exodus 1 of this initial situation left from Genesis and mention of Joseph in Exodus 13:19 both further this connection.

Exodus 1 and the three following chapters (2-4) all both look back to Genesis and also anticipate the rest of Exodus.  In these chapters Israel as a whole is persecuted in Egypt, as Joseph earlier was sold into slavery and then imprisoned in Egypt; Moses comes to favor at Pharaoh’s court, while Joseph also rose to favor under an earlier Pharaoh; Moses flees into the desert where he dwells for a time, as Israel will flee into the desert wilderness later in the book; Moses meets God at Sinai, where later Israel will receive God’s decisive revelation.  What happens to Moses in these early chapters follows from the Joseph stories and anticipates what will happen to the whole of the people of Israel later in the book.

But before seeing how the story of Moses in chapters 2-4 anticipates the story of the whole people, Exodus sets the stage for the birth of Moses in chapter 1.  Genesis ended with the family of Jacob in Egypt, where they enjoyed royal favor and flourished materially.  In Exodus 1 the Israelites continue to flourish, as shown by their multiplying numbers.  Israel’s royal favor, however, now reverses, which sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Exodus 1:1-5.  These initial verses give the names of Jacob, the patriarch of the clan, and eleven of his sons who went down to Egypt with him, along with the twelfth son, Joseph, who was already there.  Jacob’s sons and grandsons total ‘seventy’ (1:5) – who are named individually in Genesis 46:8-27.  Lists of the twelve patriarchs or twelves tribes from a later period will differ.  In particular later lists tend to drop Levi, the progenitor of the priestly tribe, and Joseph, while Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are both counted, thus bringing the number of tribes back to twelve.

            1:1, ‘Now…’.  See the general introduction to this chapter and to the book as a whole for the Hebrew particle that opens the text, waw.

            1:1, ‘sons of Israel’.  In Genesis this term and ones like it refer to Jacob’s (Israel’s) twelve male offspring: e.g., 35:23, 46:5, 50:25.  The Hebrew is masculine plural, which can mean either ‘sons’ or generic ‘children’, and the KJV reads ‘children’.  In fact, only sons are named here, so there seems no reason for giving the term a generic translation as ‘children’.  Even in Genesis, however, the wider meaning to which Exodus will switch in 1:7, ‘descendants of Israel’ – the twelve tribes or, most simply, ‘the Israelites’ – is anticipated:  see Genesis 49 with its prophecy of the future of the descendants of the twelves sons.

            1:2-5.  The births of Jacob’s first eleven sons are listed in Genesis 29:32 – 30:24, with Benjamin born later (Genesis 35:18).  The first four names in that original Genesis list and in the list here are the same, but otherwise the lists differ.  The listed order of sons (with their mothers given parenthetically) is:

Genesis                                                                       Exodus

Reuben (Leah)                                                            Reuben (Leah)

Simeon (Leah)                                                            Simeon (Leah)

Levi (Leah)                                                                 Levi (Leah)

Judah (Leah)                                                               Judah (Leah)

Dan (Rachel’s maid, Bilhah)                                      Issachar (Leah)

Naphtali (Rachel’s maid, Bilhah)                               Zebulon (Leah)

Gad (Leah’s maid, Zilpah)                                         Benjamin (Rachel)

Asher (Leah’s maid, Zilpah)                                      Dan (Rachel’s maid, Bilhah)

Issachar (Leah)                                                           Naphtali (Rachel’s maid, Bilhah)

Zebulon (Leah)                                                           Gad (Leah’s maid, Zilpah)

Joseph (Rachel)                                                          Asher (Leah’s maid, Zilpah)

Benjamin (Rachel) [born later]                                  Joseph (Rachel) [mentioned later]

This Exodus list departs from the birth order given in Genesis and instead opens with the six sons of Leah.  The next three in the Exodus list are Rachel’s ‘legal’ sons, Benjamin (her own) and the two borne by her maid, Bilhah, namely Dan and Naphtali.  Next come the two borne by Leah’s maid, Gad and Asher.  Joseph, the twelfth son and Rachel’s other son, ‘was already in Egypt’ (v. 5), and so is mentioned last, as Benjamin in the Genesis list is not mentioned until several chapters later when he is born.  Exodus here, then, has grouped the sons differently by reference to their mothers, with the proviso that Joseph is mentioned last, since he did not come ‘to Egypt with Jacob’ (v. 1).  Is the change in order significant?  Perhaps, but against that possibility, the list of sons in the course of the prophecies in Genesis 49 also groups Leah’s six sons together first and orders the other six differently from either their birth order or from the order here in Exodus 1.  Lists of the twelve patriarchs from a later period will differ more, as described in the general note to vv. 1-5 above.  It is possible the order of Jacob’s sons and the tribes is rather like the order of the apostles in New Testament lists:  after the first few names things become rather vague.

            1:5, ‘offspring of Jacob’ (RSV); ‘souls that came out of the loins of Jacob’ (KJV).  This is a typical example of both the KJV’s greater literalness in translation and also of the squeamishness of modern translations.  The word translated as ‘loins’ literally means ‘thigh’ and is ‘probably a euphemistic metonymy for testicles, as in Genesis 24:2’ (Alter, p. 307).  ‘Loins’ is a good translation, because it is both somewhat euphemistic (as compared to ‘testicles’) but also is clearly physical and earthy.

            1:5, ‘seventy persons’.  In Genesis 46:8-27 the males of Jacob’s family are enumerated:  sixty-six sons and grandsons go with Jacob to Egypt, while Jacob himself makes 67, and in Egypt are Joseph and his two sons.  The LXX and Acts 7:14, no doubt following the LXX, read ‘seventy-five’.  John E. Huesman suggests that the LXX number includes not only Ephraim and Manasseh, but also one son of each and a total of their three grandsons. [[1]]  Seventy is a substantial group, but still amounts to a family or clan, not a nation.

[1] ‘Exodus’ in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, pp. 47-66.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1968.  Page 49.  Hereafter referred to parenthetically in the text as ‘Huesman’ with page number.

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