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This article is about the second book in the Torah. For other uses of the name, see Exodus (disambiguation)
Books of the Torah

The name Exodus refers to the book which comes second both in the Torah (the five books of Moses) and also in the Tanakh (the Old Testament of the Bible). In a non-literary sense, The Exodus refers to the departure of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As a result of this the term "an exodus" has come to mean a departure of a great number of people.

The Septuagint designates the second book of the Pentateuch as "Exodus", meaning "departure" or "out-going". The Latin translation adopted the name, which thence passed into other languages. The Hebrews, according to their custom, called it by its first words Ve-eleh shemoth (i.e., "and these are the names") or simply "Shemoth" שמות.

The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the Hebrew people in the course of their departure (exodus) from Egypt for the promised land of Canaan. Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:20 -20:21. The book contains:

  1. An account of the increase and growth of the Israelites in Egypt (ch. 1)
  2. Preparations for their departure out of Egypt (2-12:36).
  3. Their journeyings from Egypt to Mount Sinai (12:37-19:2).
  4. The giving of the law and the establishment of the institutions which completed the organization of the people in a theocracy, "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (19:3-ch. 40). (This section contains a single verse often cited as a proscription of witchcraft (22:18)).

The time-span in this book, from the death of Joseph to the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness, covers about one hundred and forty-five years, on the supposition that one computes the four hundred and thirty years (12:40) from the time of the promises made to Abraham (Gal. 3:17).

Tradition names Moses as the author of Exodus. Some critics believe that the book of Exodus has been redacted together from a number of earlier sources.


Historical studies

According to the Biblical account, it appears that 600,000 adult Hebrew men left Egypt and travelled with Moses first to Mount Sinai; some 40 years later their descendants invaded the land of Canaan. According to many Jewish sources, the total number of Israelites (including women and children) numbered some three million. Believers have generally accepted this story as historically accurate; belief in the details of this story did not constitute a religious tenet as such; rather, readers believed this as an historical fact that the Bible faithfully recorded.

Recent archaeological research has cast doubt on this story. Archaeologists have not found evidence that the Sinai ever hosted millions of people, nor of a massive population increase in Canaan during this time period. At this time the land had a population of between 50,000 and 100,000.

Archaeologists and historians have worked in the Middle East for many years to determine approximately how many people lived in a given area at a given time. They do this by analyzing the evidence: buildings, trash, human waste product, skeletons, traces of ancient farms and fields, clothing, documents, and, of course, historical records.

For fundamentalist Jews and Christians, these findings present a problem, as they would invalidate a major claim in the Bible. Non-fundamentalist factions of Judaism and Christianity find little problem with this issue.

Many rabbis in the Talmud stated that one should never interpret certain Torah verses literally. Later rabbis, such as Maimonides, taught that when scientific evidence contradicts a current understanding of the Gemara, we must re-interpret that Gemara in accord with science. This did not apply to the Torah. For many traditional rabbis, such a position did not count as heresy. This view exists today within Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and parts of modern Orthodox Judaism. How can one understand the text of Exodus in light of these findings?

Hebrew University professor Abraham Malamat points out that the Bible often refers to 600 and its multiples, as well as 1,000 and its multiples, typologically in order to convey the idea of a large military unit. "The issue of Exodus 12:37 is an interpretive one. The Hebrew word eleph can be translated 'thousand,' but it is also rendered in the Bible as 'clans' and 'military units.' When I look at the question as an Egyptologist, I know that there are thought to have been 20,000 in the entire Egyptian army at the height of Egypt's empire. And at the battle of Ai in Joshua 7, there was a severe military setback when 36 troops were killed." Therefore if one reads elephim as military units, the number of Hebrew fighting men lay between 5,000 and 6,000. This would give a total Hebrew population of less than 20,000, something within the range of historical possibility.

Some hold that one cannot interpret the counts given for each tribe in Numbers 1-2 in this fashion. They appear in units of "thousands", "hundreds" and "tens" and in addition the total appears. Thus, no interpretation of eleph except "thousand" makes sense in that case. However, the Hebrew Bible does not always use words precisely or consistently, precluding definitive proof either way.

Pharaoh is treated as a name rather than a title, and is not otherwise named. However many have come to the conclusion that he is Ramesses II.

Detailed summary

Chapters 1 to 4

A new Pharaoh, wishing to destroy the Israelites living in Egypt, oppresses them with forced labor. Pharaoh's daughter finds the male infant of a Levitic family: she calls him "Moses" and adopts him. Moses grows up as an Egyptian, but eventually sympathizes with his suffering brethren. He flees the country because he has slain an Egyptian overseer. He goes to Midian, becomes shepherd to the priest Jethro, and marries the latter's daughter, Zipporah. As he feeds the sheep on Mount Horeb, God appears to him from a thorn-bush which burns without disintegrating. God reveals himself, and orders Moses to go before Pharaoh and to demand the release of his brethren. God overcomes Moses' reluctance by His promises of supreme aid, and appoints his brother Aaron to be his assistant. Moses then returns to Egypt. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_1

Chapters 5 to 6

As Pharaoh not only refuses Moses' request, but oppresses the people still further, Moses complains to God, who thereupon announces to him that He will now display His power and will surely liberate Israel. The genealogy of Moses and his family appears at this point, in order that it may not later interrupt or weaken in any way the story which follows. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_5

Chapters 7 to 10

(Main article: Ten plagues)

God sends nine plagues:

  1. the changing of the waters of the Nile into blood
  2. frogs
  3. vermin
  4. noxious animals
  5. death of the cattle
  6. boils upon men and beasts
  7. storms, killing men and beasts
  8. locusts that devour all vegetation
  9. deep darkness for three days

Pharaoh ignores the first plague, which his magicians can imitate; after the second plague, which they can reproduce but not check, he begins to supplicate; after the third plague he allows his magicians to comfort him; from the third on he makes fresh promises after each plague, but recalls them when the danger has passed. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_7

Chapters 11 to 13

The last, decisive blow occurs, the tenth plague: the death of all the first-born males of the Egyptians. After this, Pharaoh dismisses the Israelites. They go first from Rameses to Succoth. Chapter 12 contains supplementary regulations regarding the future observance of Passover. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_11

Chapters 13 to 14

His heart hardened by God, Pharaoh pursues the Israelites with chariots and horsemen. Divinely guarded (by day by a pillar of cloud, and by night by a pillar of fire), the Israelites reach the shores of the Sea of Reeds (often translated as the "Red Sea"). The Israelites pass dry-shod through the waters, which marvelously recede before them while engulfing Pharaoh and his entire army. Moses and his people sing a song of praise to God. (See: Passage of Red Sea) (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_13

Chapters 14 to 18

The Israelites journey into the desert. In the desert of Sin they complain of lack of food. God sends them quails, and from this time on, except on the Sabbath, sends them a daily shower of manna. Upon arrival at Rephidim the people again complain of lack of water. God gives them water from a rock. The Amelekites attack Israel, but Joshua vanquishes them. God commands eternal war against Amalek. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, having heard of Israel's deliverance, visits Moses, bringing him his wife Zipporah and their two children, whom Moses had left behind at home. On Jethro's advice Moses appoints subordinate judges. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_14

Chapters 19 to 20

In the third month the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. God announces to them through Moses that, since he has liberated them by his power, they will now constitute themselves as God's people; the Israelites become a nation of priests. The Israelites accept this call. With thunder and lightning, clouds of smoke and the noise of trumpets, God reveals himself to them on Mount Sinai and pronounces the Ten Commandments. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_19

Chapters 21 to 24

There follow enactments relating to civil law:

  1. indemnifications for injuries done to a fellow man
  2. duties toward persons who have no actual claims, though they are dependent on the good will of others.

In conclusion God promises the land of Canaan to the Israelites as the reward of obedience, but warns against the pagan inhabitants. God then enters into a solemn covenant with the people, through Moses. He calls Moses up into the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the Law and further instructions. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_21

Chapters 25 to 31

In order that God may dwell permanently among the Israelites, they receive instructions for erecting a sanctuary. The directions provide for:

  1. a wooden ark, gilded inside and outside, for the Tables of the Covenant, with a cover similarly gilded as "mercy seat " for the Divine Presence
  2. a gilt table for the so-called "shewbread "
  3. a golden candlestick for a light never to be extinguished
  4. the dwelling, including the curtains for the roof, the walls made of boards resting on silver feet and held together by wooden bolts, the purple curtain veiling the Holy of Holies, the table and candlestick, and the outer curtain
  5. a sacrificial altar made of bronzed boards for korbanot.
  6. the outer court, formed by pillars resting on bronze pedestals and connected by hooks and crossbars of silver, with embroidered curtains
  7. preparation of the oil for the candlestick.

Then follow directions for the garments of the priests:

  1. a shoulder-band (ephod) with two onyx stones, each engraved with the names of six of the tribes of Israel, also golden chains for holding the breastplate set with twelve precious stones, in four rows
  2. a robe for the ephod, with bells and pomegranates around the seam
  3. a golden miter plate with the inscription "Holiness to the Lord"
  4. a coat
  5. a miter
  6. a girdle.

Then follow directions for ordaining the priests, including robing , anointing (of Aaron), and a seven days' sacrifice; the institution of daily morning and evening offerings; directions for making a golden altar of incense, to be set up in front of the inner curtain, opposite the Ark of the Covenant. Directions for making a laver and stand of brass, to be set up between the Tabernacle and the altar of sacrifice; the preparation of the holy oil for anointing and of the holy incense; appointment of the master workmen Bezaleel and Aboliab to direct the work; the observance of the Sabbath. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_25

Chapters 32 to 34

While Moses remains on the mountain the people become impatient and urge Aaron to make them a golden calf, which they worship with idolatrous joy. God informs Moses and threatens to abandon Israel. Moses at first intercedes for the people, but when he comes down and beholds their madness, he angrily breaks the two tablets containing the divine writing. After pronouncing judgment upon Aaron and the people Moses again ascends to God to implore forgiveness for them, as God is about to withdraw from them His blessed presence and to leave them unguided in the wilderness. Moses' intercession prevails. God commands Moses to make new tablets. He assures Moses that in spite of their waywardness He will lead Israel into the Promised Land. God commands the Israelites not to have intercourse with the pagan natives, to refrain from idolatry, and to appear before Him on the three pilgrimage festivals. Moses then returns to the people, who listen to him in respectful silence. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_32

Chapters 35 to 40

Moses collects the congregation, enjoins upon them the keeping of the Sabbath, and requests gifts for the sanctuary. The entire people respond willingly; under the direction of the superintendent they make:

  1. the dwelling, including the curtains, the walls, and the veil
  2. the Ark and cover
  3. the table
  4. the golden candlestick
  5. the golden altar of incense
  6. the altar of burnt offerings
  7. the laver
  8. the outer court.

An estimate of the cost of the material follows. Next comes the preparation of the garments of the priests, including

  1. the ephod with the onyx stones, together with the breastplate and its twelve precious stones and its golden chains
  2. the robe of the ephod
  3. the coats for Aaron and his sons
  4. the miter and bonnets
  5. the breeches
  6. the girdle
  7. the golden plate of the crown.

Moses inspects the completed work and praises it, and the Israelites set up the sanctuary on the first of the second month. (See KJV text.),_English,_King_James,_Exodus#Chapter_40

See also


  • W. F. Albright From the Stone Age to Christianity (2nd edition) Doubleday/Anchor
  • W. F. Albright Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (5th edition) 1969, Doubleday/Anchor
  • Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing, entry on "Population", volume 13, column 866.
  • Y. Shiloh, "The Population of Iron Age Palestine in the Light of a Sample Analysis of Urban Plans, Areas and Population Density." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR), 1980, 239:25-35
  • Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel Nahum Sarna , Shocken Books, 1986 (first edition), 1996 (reprint edition), chapter 5, "Six hundred thousand men on foot".
  • "Those Amazing Biblical Numbers: Taking Stock of the Armies of Ancient Israel " William Sierichs, Jr.
  • "The Rise of Ancient Israel : Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution October 26, 1991" by Hershel Shanks, William G. Dever, Baruch Halpern and P. Kyle McCarter, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1992.
  • The Biblical Exodus in the Light of Recent Research: Is There Any Archaeological or Extra-Biblical Evidence?, Hershel Shanks, Editor, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1997

External link

  • Read The Book of Exodus at Bible Gateway

Last updated: 02-07-2005 10:10:20
Last updated: 02-24-2005 15:02:15