Sundry Thoughts about the Book and the Title, Exodus


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1. As a Title: The term Exodus is from the Greek word, ἔξοδος, meaning “exit” from a variety of contexts, such as “marching out” as a military expedition, “liberation” from difficulties, “emission” of semen,  “end” of arguments, tragedy, etc. As a biblical book, “Exodus” can signify several things; getting out of Egypt, liberation from the oppression, and end of slavery, to name a few. The term Exodus can be used not only to refer to the biblical book but also to, as a Greek loan word, “escape,” “departure,” “migration,” etc. So, for example, “the second Exodus” in biblical scholarship refers to Israel’s return to their homeland from the Babylonian exile.


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2. As a Story: The Book of Exodus is often understood as a story about Israel’s escape from Egypt. But what is the nature of their “escape,” and is it (escape) really what the book is about? According to Ex 12:39, they didn’t escape or run away; they were expelled.

Ex 12:39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

NRSV

But that is not it. Exodus 14:5 says a bit different story; they actually escaped.

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Ex 14:5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fledthe minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?”

NRSV

This verse is confusing because, after saying that “the people had fled,” (meaning Pharaoh did not know they got out; he heard about it just after it happened), it narrates Pharaoh’s mind changed, as if he himself decided to let Israel go but regret about it soon after.

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Therefore, the meaning of the passage above is subject to interpretation. So what we can say, at least, is that these two verses (Ex 12:39 and 14:5) are not as smoothly connected as it should be.

What is more, Ex 12:51 and 14:8 tell us another story. These verses say they walked out of the way confidently under God’s protection (Ex 13:21-22 says the pillars of cloud and fire protected them).

Ex 12:51 That very day the LORD brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, company by company.

Ex 14:8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly

NRSV

So how Israel got out of Egypt? Or what is the nature of their “escape”? The answers are not as simple as you might have thought. This complexity is probably due to the multiple sources behind the final form of the text. That is why the Documentary Hypothesis is still an important way to understand the text or its editorial process. But is the story really about Israel’s escape? I would say it is more about Moses.


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3. Egypt: Roughly speaking, the Book of Exodus is about Israel’s getting out of Egypt, which is, in Hebrew, מצרים (Mitsraim). The place-name Egypt is from the Greek word “Αἴγυπτος.” When a Greek word is transliterated, the suffix, such as “ος” here is often omitted as in this case. So Egypt is from “Αἴγυπτ,” and its more accurate pronunciation is like “ai-guipt” instead of Ee-jipt. English transliteration of foreign words tends to anglicize the original words like any other language. But anglicized words distort the original sound too much; so it is often quite difficult to guess how “this foreign word” became “that transliteration.” For example, the Russian name Бахти́н is transliterated as Bakhtin and pronounced as “baak-teen,” but its original sound is more like “bach” (like German composer Bach) + chin (like an English word chin).

The image above shows that there is no search result for “Mitsraim” in https://picjumbo.com

I think it is better to transliterate proper names as close as its original sounds instead of anglicizing them. Because of the influence of English as a lingua franka of our time, however, speakers of other languages sometimes have to use anglicized transliterations as their based texts to transliterate proper names such as Egypt. In other words, they have to have secondhand transliteration instead of a direct transliteration from the original word. For example, in Korean, “Αἴγυπτ” is transliterated as “이집트,” which follows the sound of Egypt instead of “Αἴγυπτ.” We also have an old transliteration of the word used in the 19th century Korean Bible translation; it is “애굽” pronounced as “ae-goop/ae-goob.” (The last consonant of the closed syllable only closes the syllable and not pronounced, so “ae-goop” and “ae-goob” sound the same.) This “ae-goob(p)” also has its own limit as it misses the last “t” sound of Αἴγυπτ. Nevertheless, at least I think, it is not worse than Egypt, perhaps better. But some people think that the ones who use the 19th-century transliteration (“ae-goob(p)) are ignorant because they do not know “Egypt” is better.

I feel that language is a barometer of power. As a matter of fact, we know Egypt instead of Mitsraim; this already implies the power of Hellenistic and Roman empires already exceeded the oriental world even in ancient times.

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