Book of Exodus
Book of Exodus Perspectives From Faith Communities In Practice
Getting Biblical in Daily Life
Modern Judaism claims Israelite history as its own, so it's no surprise that Jews consider Exodus to be a foundational text of their faith. But it's not just about the stories and the nice, fluffy feelings of togetherness. Many specific regulations in Judaism come from interpretations of Exodus.
Examples? We've got plenty.
- Jewish kosher law regulates how observant Jews prepare and eat their food. While the full extent of kosher law is complex, one important and well-known provision is that milk and meat cannot be consumed in the same meal. This comes from Exodus 34:26-27, when Moses is told, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk." A "kid" is not a human child—that would be quite another issue—but a young goat. Mixing these two food groups was abhorrent to the ancient Israelites, and modern observant Jews keep the tradition going.
- In Chapter 13:8-9, God tells Moses, "You shall tell your child on that day, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips." Some modern Jews have interpreted this passage as a commandment to wrap phylacteries around their arms and forehead. Phylacteries, also known as tefillin, are small boxes that contain essential prayers. The observers of this tradition tie these boxes around their arms and foreheads at certain times during the day during prayer. It looks kind of awesome.
- In Chapters 12-14, Exodus tells its readers the full story of how God passed over the Israelites during the tenth plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn. During every Jewish Passover observance, Jews honor this tradition by retelling pieces of the story.
- In Exodus 23:10, God declares, "For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield." That means your land should have its own Sabbath, just like you do. The practice of allowing your land to rest for a year is still observed in some places in Israel (source).
There are tons more where that came from. Go ahead and scour for yourself. We dare you.
A version of the Exodus story appears in the Qur'an, but it's pretty different than the one we read in the Hebrew Bible. Check it out for yourself to see where the differences are.
Moses is a pretty important guy for Muslims—they think of him as a prophet leading up to Mohammed. That means they interpret the themes of the Exodus story as indicative of the future coming of their prophet.
In fact, one of the recurring motifs of Exodus is the idea of the chosen leader, the man who is picked by God to do God's work. In Deuteronomy 18:15 (and remember, Deuteronomy is a retelling of Exodus), God says, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet." Muslims believe that prophet is Mohammed.
Christians use the Hebrew Bible as part of their sacred scripture, so Exodus is front and center for them. Just like Muslims see the story as a forerunner of Mohammed, Christians see it as a forerunner of Jesus (source). Moses even makes his way into the New Testament. For example, in Acts 7:39-53, the writer explains the Jews' rejection of Jesus in the same terms as the Israelites' rejection of Moses in the creation of the golden calf. In many branches of Christianity, Moses is even considered a saint. And if nothing else, this has led to some really cool art. Michelangelo, anyone? (And yes, those are horns. That's a whole other story.)
It's not surprising that this story has been adopted by so many communities. After all, the struggle for freedom is a universally moving theme, don't you think?