Monday, March 16, 2009

EXODUS: Chapters 1 & 2

Chapter 1
Summary:Chapter one of the book of Exodus begins by recounting the sons of Jacob/Israel who traveled to Egypt with him:
  • Reuben
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Judah
  • Issachar
  • Zebelun
  • Benjamin
  • Dan
  • Naphtali
  • Gad
  • Asher
It mentions again the count of seventy descendants of Jacob who traveled with him to Egypt.

In due time, Joseph and his brothers had died, ending that generation. Meanwhile their descendants increased in numbers rapidly causing a population explosion filling the land of Goshen.

Around 400 years after Joseph's death, a new Pharaoh came to the throne of Egypt who felt no further obligation towards the descendants of Joseph. He felt that the Israelis were becoming a dangerous threat to Egypt and could become allies to warring nations to escape the country.

The Egyptians decided to enslave the Israelis, putting brutal taskmasters over them in order to wear them down. Under heavy burdens they were forced into building the market cities of Pithom and Ramses. However, it appeared that the more the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed them, the more the Israelis seemed to multiply. The Egyptians became alarmed and worked them harder still, until finally the Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) to kill all the male Hebrew children* as they were born, but the midwives - fearing God - didn't obey.

When the Pharaoh summoned them demanding to know why they had disobeyed, the midwives explaine that the Hebrew women have babies so quickly - unlike the Egyptian women, they add - that they were unable to get there on time. God then blessed the midwives, and in turn gave them children of their own.

The Pharaoh then commanded all of his people to throw the newborn Hebrew boys into the Nile River, sparring the female children.
Notes:1.) Considering that polygamy is accepted and sometimes encouraged, it would seem to have made more sense to kill the female children instead.
Thoughts:The opening chapter of Exodus basically explains that Jacob's/Israel's descendants have multiplied rapidly causing a tremendous population boom in the city of Goshen for the next 400 years or so.

By this time a new Pharaoh is appointed who sees no need to further uphold the obligations his predecessor had with Joseph. Hereby the story capitalizes on the shady portrayals of the Egyptians in the book of Genesis and elevating their status of evil and tyrannical.

The new Pharaoh enslaves the Hebrew people fearing that they would align themselves with the enemy if war were to break out in Egypt. To his dismay, the Israelis population continued to grow the more they were oppressed by the Egyptian slave masters. So the Pharaoh takes the measure to decree that every newborn male Hebrew child is to be killed at birth. As noted above in my footnotes, it's a bit perplexing why the males are chosen, considering that Hebrew customs allow and even encourage polygamy giving the existing and surviving Hebrew males more women to impregnate.

The Hebrew midwives refuse to comply, and God blesses them for their actions allowing them to carry children themselves. Finally, the Pharaoh tells his people to just throw all the Hebrew male children into the Nile River, hoping to stop the population boom.
Chapter 2
Summary:The chapter introduces us to a couple who descended from the tribe of Levi and gave birth to a son who is described as being unusually beautiful. The mother decides to hide him at home for about three months, before realizing that she could no longer hide him any longer. She then makes a small boat from papyrus reeds, waterproofing it with tar, placed the baby in it, and laid it amongst the reeds along the river's edge. The baby's sister watched from a distance to see what would happen.

One of the Pharaoh's daughters, a princess, came down to bathe in the river and spied the boat amongst the reeds. She sent one of her maids to retrieve it, and the princess opened the basket to reveal a crying baby. Touched, she realized that he must be a Hebrew child that someone had attempted to save.

The baby's sister approached the princess and asked her if she should go find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for her. The princess replied affirmatively and the girl went off to get her mother.

The princess instructed the baby's mother to take him home and nurse him, and she would be paid well. When the child was older, his mother returned him to the princess and he became her son. The princess named him Moses (meaning "to draw out" - as he was drawn out of the water).

When Moses became an adult, he went out to visit his fellow Hebrews and witnessed the terrible conditions they lived under. During his visit he witnessed an Egyptian knock a Hebrew to the ground. When Moses was sure that no-one was watching him, he slew the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.

The next day he approached two Hebrews that were fighting and asked the aggressor how he could hit a fellow Hebrew like that? The man asked Moses what kind of authority he was, and whether Moses would slay him the same as the Egyptian the day before. When Moses realized that his deed was known he became frightened.

When word got back to the Pharaoh, he sent an order for Moses' arrest and execution, forcing Moses to flee to the land of Midian.

As he sat beside the well one day in Midian, seven girls came to draw water for their flocks before being chased away by some shepherds. Moses then came to their aid and helped them water their flocks. When the girls returned home, their father was surprised to see them home so quickly. They told them how Moses had rescued them from the shepherds and helped them water their flocks. Their father Reuel invited Moses to supper, and afterward to come live with them.

Reuel gave Moses one of his daughters, Zipporah, as his wife. Together they had a child named Gershom (meaning "foreigner").

Several years later, the Pharaoh had died, and the Israelis were still burdened by their slavery. They wept before God, who heard their cries from heaven, remembering his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to return their descendants to the land of Canaan. Looking down upon them, he realized that the time had come for their rescue.
Thoughts:It is here that we are introduced to Moses, a Hebrew infant from the tribe of Levi who is sent sailing in a reed boat by his mother in order to save him from his death.

Moses' stories are of particular note, as it is believed that the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are supposedly authored by him.

The Pharaoh's daughter finds Moses floating along the river's edge and adopts him. Unbeknown to the princess who finds him, the baby's sister had been watching over his nautical journey and suggests her that her mother can nurse the baby for her. Moses' mother returns the child when he is old enough and Moses goes to live with the Pharaoh's daughter.

We now pick back up into the story finding Moses as an adult wanting to visit his fellow Hebrews. Upon seeing an Egyptian strike and knock a Hebrew to the ground, he decides to retaliate with murder.

Word gets out about Moses' killing and a death sentence is placed on his head. He skips town and heads to the land of Midia where he stumbles upon seven (there's that number again) girls unsuccessfully trying to procure water from a well while being chased off by some shepherds. Moses gives them a hand, in gratitude the girls' father invites him to stay with them.

The number seven, as I have mentioned before (specifically in my commentary on Genesis: Chapter 46) holds a mystical significance and is not surprising to see it's appearance here. When we consider that Moses is alleged to have written this passage, it's peculiar as to why he would specify the exact number of girls (which happen to be the mystical number of seven) instead of a generic term of "a couple of girls", "a group of girls", or something to that effect. While it's possible we could take this as just a simple observation, it's peculiar to see the number seven make another appearance.

The girls' father Reuel, then gives Moses his daughter Zipporah as a wife, and she bears him a child named Gershom - meaning Foreigner, alluding to his own status as a stranger in a foreign land.

A couple of years later, the Pharaoh has now died while the Israelis continue to suffer under oppressive slavery. God decides now is the opportune time to lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob back to their promised land in Canaan.

Also interesting of note is the parallels between another Semitic legend King Sargon of Akkad. An Assyrian text from the 7th century B.C.E. that purports to be his autobiography - placing that around the 2300 B.C.E., is written:
My mother was a high priestess, my father I knew not. The brothers of my father loved the hills. My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates. My high priestess mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki, the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener. While I was a gardener, Ishtar granted me her love, and for four and […] years I exercised kingship
If the dating is accurate, this predates the events as described in Exodus. It's certainly worth thinking about in terms of the way religion and mythology borrow from each other.

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