Book of Exodus Introduction
In A Nutshell
Before you see Exodus: Gods and Kings, make sure you know the real story. Then you'll be able to tell Ridley Scott what's what, and you'll finally have something worthwhile to say in all those Christian Bale fan letters you keep writing.
Meet the Bible's freedom-fighting, plague-inducing, show-stopping revolutionaries: Moses, his brother Aaron, and of course, God. This is the A-Team that's ready to set the Israelites free from the bonds of slavery in Egypt and high tail it for the desert. On the road, it'll rain fire, bread, and commandments. Buckle up: this is going to be a crazy ride.
Traditionally, Exodus was thought to have been written by Moses himself, but nowadays folks think it's an amalgamation of texts—like almost everything else in the Bible—put together between 400 and 600 BCE. Whatever you believe, Exodus is a pivotal moment; it's about a community trying to redefine itself as the ancient world underwent huge changes.
Around this time, the Greeks were peaking and the Romans were getting started. Yep, the Greeks were doing their Zeus while Exodus was being ready. It's easy to forget that this stuff was around together—not exactly melting pot, but still pretty cool to think about.
Written in Hebrew, Exodus is a combination of national narrative—the stories that help identify a country—and straight-up law. And freedom moments are huge for any culture, right? Think about July 4th for Americans or Bastille Day for the French. The day your people went from slavery or oppression to freedom is the day that your culture became, well, your culture. For The Israelites, being freed from Egypt and taking on the covenant with God is huge politically, socially, economically, and religiously. It's the perfect storm of big moments, and we're here to take you through it all.
Before we start, a quick note about the historical Exodus. Archaeologically, there is no evidence for a mass migration of people on the scale the Bible describes. For us (and for you), this is nearly irrelevant; no matter what actually happened, the stories in this book have had a crazy amount of social impact on Western culture. Like it or not, the stories—not the historicity—are what wield the power.
You can find shmillions of historical explanations for the Exodus, the Plagues, and all that jazz. That stuff is all pretty fascinating, and in some cases essential to good, old-fashioned academic work. But here, we focus on the stories. That's what we do best.
Why Should I Care?
The Ten Commandments. Shmoop out.
Not really, but let's face it: so many of our ideas about morals and laws come from this text.
The Exodus story shapes the entire rest of the Bible. Because it's such a pivotal moment in Israelite culture, the story, the rules, and the aura reverberate throughout the rest of the book. It's the point at which God and the Israelites—the two biggest characters of the Hebrew Bible—get to know each other.
But what about Genesis? Isn't that the biggest, most defining book? Nope. We're sticking to our guns and going with Exodus. Take a minute to think about what a book like Genesis does; it's a collection of stories, myths, and legends, right? But Exodus takes those themes and vaults them onto a much larger stage. God doesn't help out one family—he helps out a nation. The Ten Commandments don't apply to just Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob—they apply to all the Israelites. We're going from family-centered to nation-centered, just like that.
And the rest of the Hebrew Bible will be concerned with this issue: how to get God to participate in Israelite life. This is the crash course on what God is like in the "flesh," what his rules are, and how he acts in public places. The whole Hebrew Bible is concerned with God's relationship with the Israelites, and it all starts right here.