Monday, February 08, 2010

Baby Moses

Liberals typically contend that Exod 2 is unhistorical. This is because, so they claim, Exod 2 is based on some pagan myth or legend–although they can’t agree on which pagan myth or legend that would be. Some think it’s based on a story about Sargon, while others think it’s based on a story about Horus.

Of course, the fact that they’re sure it’s based on a fictional story, even though they can’t see eye-to-eye on which fictional story is the template, already shows you how suspect their reasoning is. However, I’m going to make three additional observations:

1.It’s well documented that the Bible sometimes makes ironic, polemical use of certain pagan motifs. So even if Exod 2 contained a literary allusion to Sargon or Horus or whoever, this wouldn’t create any presumption that Exod 2 is unhistorical. It would just be another case in which a Biblical writer or speaker is trying to trigger an association for polemical purposes.

That said, I was reading through John Oswalt’s recent commentary on Exodus (bound with a commentary on Genesis by Allen Ross, in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series). BTW, this seems to be a fine, midlevel commentary on Genesis and Exodus.

Among other things, Oswalt makes two points I’d like to highlight:

2.Like several other scholars, he draws attention to the fact that in Exod 2:3, the word “basket” is “the same word used of the boat that Noah built to save his family and the world’s animals from the Flood (Gen 6:14). The fact that the Bible only uses the word here and in the flood narrative (‘the ark of the covenant’ uses a different Hebrew word) strongly suggests that there is an intentional connection being made between two accounts,” J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 292.

So there is, indeed, a literary allusion. It is not, however, an allusion to a pagan myth or legend. Rather, it’s an intertextual allusion to the flood account in Genesis.

3.In addition to that connection, which other scholars have drawn as well, Oswalt points out another parallel in the same verse: “The Hebrew word used for ‘reeds’ here is the Egyptian loan word sup, which is the same word used in 13:18 and elsewhere to identify the sea that God led his people across (28 occurrences; see also Jonah 2:5). This creates a strong impression that the narrator wanted the reader to make a connection between the two events,” ibid. 292-93.

So this would be a case of literary foreshadowing, where one story anticipates another.

i) In that event, we now have two strategically placed narrative clues. The proper way to interpret Exod 2 is not, in the first instance, to reach for extraneous parallels–but to notice the intertextual parallels which the narrator intended to trigger.

ii) I’d add that, in Scripture, foreshadowing is more than just a literary device. Undergirding this technique is the providence of God, whereby earlier events genuinely parallel or prefigure later events.

Of course, a liberal might reject that as special pleading. However, it’s only special pleading on the prior assumption that atheism is true–and that assumption would itself be special pleading.


  1. It's like the ancient legend of "President George Bush". Those fundamentalists who take these second- and third-millennium documents as "historical fact" can't account for the problem that some versions place his reign as before the Usurper Clinton, and claim he was defeated by Saddam of Iraq, while others claim he reigned after Clinton, and defeated Saddam. These ancient texts are full of obvious cobtradictions...

  2. Great post. I really like your literary links within Scripture, especially the connection with sup. I've read the Sargon myth and a couple others that are usually associated with Moses, and the entire thrust of the narrative is different. There are hints and possibilities at best. The Moses account is just too different to suggest that it (more or less) plagerized.

    Nice work!