Bible as Literature Lecture 3: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1&2
If Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, the first 7 verses of Exodus, chapter 1, establish a link,
a transition between the two books of the Torah. A brief nod to Jacob and his sons is recounted,
and Joseph’s death is reiterated. This technique is called resumptive repetition. It differs from an
envelope structure that frames a block of narrative, because it literally repeats a phrase, like
“And Joseph died.”
This signals the continuation in Exodus which then quickly contrasts the finality of death with
God’s earlier command to “be fruitful and multiply.”
This second book lays a foundation for the
rest of the Bible, consisting of two major sections: chapters 1-15 and 16-40. Moses becomes the
central hero, as the law giver, the man who delivers Israel from bondage.
strategy addresses the two stage plot of liberation and Covenant. It concerns the physical and
spiritual birth of Israel.
We move from the domestic, moral and psychological realism of the Patriarchal cycle to a more
stylized scheme of the hero. We will note elements of folk tales: the birth of Moses, his status in
Egypt as a princely figure, his flight to a foreign land, eventual calling, and confrontation with
It is also a character study of Moses as a chosen, though often reluctant national leader.
Like Abraham, he is dispatched to a land that is unknown to him, the land promised to Abraham
and his descendants. Like Abraham he is bound to a sense of justice, however, unlike his
forefather, he has a quick temper, feelings of inadequacy, and moments of circumspection whose
lapse of total confidence in God’s commands, prohibits him from entering the Promised Land.
God’s dynamic in Exodus changes considerably from Genesis as well. Contrasting parallels
between the unseen, all powerful and abstract God
in Exodus contrasts the occasional glimpse of
God walking in the garden of Eden; the focus on individual characters and families now shifts to
the surge of Hebrews in Egypt. The literature too evolves and achieves more developed prose
and poetry, and the familiar theme of barrenness in the matriarchs as a barrier, subsumes in
different kinds of barriers, such as architecture (the instructions for the tabernacle) and physical
barriers (the Red/reed Sea).
Chapter 2 presents an allusion to the flood story in Moses’ journey to safety in a basket. It also
suggests a foreshadowing of the parting of the sea (yam suf). Interestingly, baby Moses weeps—
a distinction that occurs here only once in the Bible, where the verb is otherwise reserved for
We can observe the character of Moses, the hero, the deliverer, with greater
psychological realism. What is the nature of his reluctance to speak? Why does he falter? What is