Genesis 43-Exodus 12 #2018BibleRBR

Reading the Bible as Literature

Week Three: Genesis 43-Exodus 12

This week’s reading brought us to the end of Genesis, the first book of Moses, and into the second book, Exodus. In the conclusion of Genesis, we see the decline of the tribe of Joseph (or the death of Joseph the person, depending on how you’re reading the book). We learn some important information about the relationship between the Hebrews (Canaanites) and the Egyptians, most importantly the extreme prejudice that the Egyptians have against Israelites (43:32 tells us that Egyptians will not eat with Hebrews, “for that is an abomination” and that the Egyptians look down on farmers/ranchers, which is the primary occupation for the Hebrews). That said, alongside this prejudice, we see that this particular Egyptian pharaoh is willing to bend traditional prejudices because he relies so much on Joseph and appreciates what Joseph (or the tribe of Joseph) has done for his land and people, including keeping them fed during the 7-year drought, and keeping the pharaoh rich. 

Egypt and Israel: Historically, the end of Genesis and this beginning part of Exodus are interesting in that they illustrate some of the history between the Egyptians and the Israelites. A caution, though: unlike many of the major historical events described in Genesis, which can be corroborated with historical documents from other cultures, most of what happens in Exodus is documented only in the Bible. Still, we learn that, around the time that the tribe of Joseph falls, there is also a transition in Egyptian leadership. A new dynasty seems to rise with Ramses II (there is about 400 years between the end of Genesis, when Joseph dies, and the beginning of Exodus, when Moses is born) and the Egyptians, battling numerous insurrections and attacks from surrounding areas while simultaneously expanding their empire, are charged with being less and less “tolerant” of the presence of Hebrews in their lands. The close relationship between the tribe of Joseph and the earlier Egyptian king(s) has been long forgotten. As such, the bible suggests the Hebrews were enslaved in order to prevent them from rising up against Egyptian leadership. Again, it is only in the bible that the record of this slavery exists (and it should be noted: it was not the Hebrew slaves who built the pyramids. I have heard this suggestion many times and often took it for granted, but the pyramids were actually built about 1,000 years before Joseph entered Egypt).

Repeating Patterns: When Jacob and Joseph reunite, Jacob asks Joseph to bring his own sons so that he (Jacob) might bless them. Joseph brings Manasseh and Ephraim before their grandfather and places Manasseh on the right (to be blessed first, as the elder brother) and Ephraim on the left (to be blessed second, as the younger brother). But Jacob crosses his arms and reverses the order. We’ve seen this before! In the culture of ancient Israel, the firstborn is supposed to be the most important, but just as we saw Isaac blessed above Ishmael, and Jacob before Esau, and even Joseph favored above his many older brothers, here we see Jacob actively raise Ephraim above his elder and declare that his will be the blessed life. Why? Some say this is an example that these traditions are man’s, whereas god is not constrained by or concerned with them. I would also suggest that, again, these narratives are being written after history has happened, so the priests had the benefit of knowing which tribes did actually succeed. If historically the tribe of Ephraim was stronger, more successful, or longer-lasting than that of Manasseh, then it makes sense to write Jacob’s blessing this way. 

Reverse Engineering Tribal History: As with many other points in the books of the bible, when names of individuals are listed and their histories/personalities/prophecies are given, we find that what is actually happening is a historical record of the people that has been reconstructed after the fact and written to coincide with the biblical narrative. For example, Genesis 49 gives us Israel (Jacob) speaking to his children on his deathbed. He lists them in order of age (tribal significance) and prophecies their rise or fall, depending on their documented actions to that point. Indeed, what is fascinating about this is that the priests responsible for compiling the bible stories and histories into narrative form took the history of these tribes, with Jacob as the primary patriarch (after Abraham) and reverse-engineered those histories as told through the mouth of Jacob, in prophecy. It is, then, a magical element of biblical storytelling, on the surface, but more importantly, a historical record of the Israelites in Canaan and Egypt at the time. 


Exodus 7: I have read the Book of Exodus so many times, and have seen countless film and television adaptations of the Moses story. In my recollection, it is always Moses who is acting the part of “hand of god” (god’s empowered agent). In actuality, though, Moses is extremely humble and shy, and only whispers to Aaron what to do. It is Aaron, then, who performs every action. I don’t know how I forgot this! I blame it on Hollywood. 

Exodus 8: The 10 plagues brought by god were once claimed to have been the result of a near collision between Venus and Earth. No  one could find an explanation for how all those crazy things (darkness, lice, storms of hail and fire, etc.) could happen, so why not an astronomical event? Turns out that was total hogwash – but nice try! (Astronomers were not amused). 

Moses: Does the story of a unique boy, given up as a baby only to eventually rise to great prominence sound familiar? That’s probably because ancient folklore is riddled with these stories, from the story of Cyrus in Persian legend to the Roman legend of Romulus, and of course the Greek tales of Perseus, Paris, and Oedipus! So, one theory is that the story of Moses was adapted by Babylonian priests from the legend of Sargon of Agade, when the priests were writing the Hexateuch. 

Passover: Speaking of borrowing/adapting stories from various cultures. Passover was the most important agricultural festival after the time of Moses, and was likely a pagan holiday at first (just like Christmas and Easter). Priests writing the book of Exodus likely assigned this most important festival to coincide with one of the most important themes in early Israeli legend: the exodus. 

I’ll be back next Sunday, January 28th, for my last post of this month! On January 31st, the reading list for February will be posted (with perhaps anything else I want to add that I didn’t get a chance to in these end-of-week reviews). 

Interested in other posts in this Reading the Bible as Literature journey? Click here and follow #2018BibleRBR on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. 

8 Comments on “Genesis 43-Exodus 12 #2018BibleRBR

  1. I’m playing catch up so I’ll have to come back by with further comments in a couple of days. However, I had to stop by to discuss my disillusionment with The Archaeological Study Bible. I’ve been doing some reading recently regarding creationism, prompted by the Is Genesis History? documentary, a concept I adamantly disagree with and know is not true, because…science. 🙂 Anyway, I was reading a thread on Library Thing about said bible and it is not generally recommended because of its creationist bent. I quote, “… knowing that the lead contributor is an old-earth creationist, a position with which I happen to fervently disagree.” He goes on to say, “But my interest in this particular volume comes not from its theology, or even archeology that “proves” the Bible true, but rather a perspective of the cultural/historical framework within which the texts were written.” Taking that second point into consideration, I may still refer to it for the cultural/historical framework, but upon reading the many points, and this one especially, “I can’t recommend the Archaeological Study Bible because it gives into bias on two points: it is both too eager to tie artifacts to the Bible and too eager to support a particular theology,” I can’t allow myself to utterly rely on this version alone. The thread on Library Thing has many recommendations for scholarly study bibles without this bias and I’m going to be looking in to them to decide which one I will read from, while only supplementing from The Archaeological Study Bible.

    If you’re interested in reading the thread, it’s here:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great resource, thanks! Shame about the bias because an archeological journey through the history represented in the bible would be fascinating. I have my hands full this time with the three supplemental books I am reading in conjunction with the KJV (a comprehensive guide written by an agnostic, a guide written by two Christian academics, and a rhetorical/linguistic guide to the language of the bible). I’m bookmarking that page for next time, though!


      • I know! It was a bummer because I couldn’t find my print edition of the damn thing and I had to buy the eBook. Grrr. lol I’m just glad I read up on it because at least my eyes are now open to the bias. Wow! You are doing a lot of reading in conjunction. Can I have the name of the agnostic comprehensive guide? I may want to look in to that. 🙂


  2. Blame it all on Hollywood!:)

    Interesting tidbits for me:
    Jacobs first wife, Leah, the one he didn’t really love, is the one who gave birth to Jufah. Jesus Christ was a descendant of the tribe of Judah. Which I think, is a beautiful illustration of God redeeming the unloved and unlovely.

    I find the whole story of Joseph to be fascinating. His growth and maturity after so much hardship. And really, I can’t think of him without being impressed that he was at about age 17 when he was in Potipher’s house. Now, I’ve been told that age 17 is about the height of sexual whatever in men, and the fact that that woman threw herself at him and he turned and ran just makes me want to cheer. Of course he goes to jail anyway.

    Here’s something I blame Hollywood for…
    I really do love the movie, The Prince of Egypt. I do. Even though artistic liberty is taken in telling his story, it is still a beautiful film to watch. But I hate that it completely eliminates the part of Moses’ story where after Pharoah’s daughter pulls him out of the water, she decids she wants to keep him but must find a mother to nurse him. And Miriam arranged for it to be Moses’ very own mother! Now that is the hand of God if you believe in it at all. And it would have been so good to see that small miracle on the screen. (IMO) And really, even if you don’t believe, that’s an amazing part of the story. Why leave that out?
    And I agree, Moses was a humble man with an incredibly difficult job.

    I’m not using any study guides with my reading but I do have study notes in my Bible that I’m not using. These posts are just notes of my thoughts. If I do pick up a commentary sometime along the way, I’ll mention what I’m using. But mostly I’m not doing that because I haven’t bugeted the time in for in- depth study.

    Thanks for reading Adam!


  3. I’m not reading along with you, but I’m enjoying these posts a lot so far. I had no idea that the characters in the stories could be interpreted as representing whole tribes of people. Thank you for reading the Bible so I don’t have to! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s pretty fascinating how the priests who first synthesized the three original versions of the Genesis books reversed engineered the histories of these people and then turned it into something much easier to comprehend: basically a long, linear family narrative! Of course, soon enough we get to some maddeningly dry books… 🤕


  4. John Cowper Powys, in his 40-page essay, “The Bible as Literature”, concurred. He judged Exodus through Deuteronomy to be the most boring books in the Bible.


  5. Pingback: Today’s thought “A night of watching” (February 5) – Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven

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