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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

- Exodus

by Editor - Joseph Exell


THE Hebrew-speaking Jews have always designated the five books of the Pentateuch by their initial word or words; and, as they called the first book Bereshith, "In the Beginning," and the third Vay-yikra, "And he called," so they denominated the second Ve-eleh shemoth, "And these (are) the names." The title "Exodus" was first applied to the book by the Hellenistic, or Greek-speaking, Jews, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek at Alexandria in the third and second centuries B.C. Exodus (ἐìξοδος) means "departure" or "outgoing," and was selected as an appropriate name for a work which treats mainly of the departure of the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt. The earliest Latin translation of the Old Testament, which was made from the Greek, retained the Greek title untranslated; and hence it passed into the Vulgate of Jerome, and into the languages of modern Europe.

While the departure of the Israelites out of Egypt, and the mode in which it was brought about, constitute the main subject of the book, and occupy its middle portion (chs. 2.-18.), two other subjects are also treated of, which form the prologue and the epilogue of the principal drama. The former of these — the subject-matter of ch. 1. — is the increase and growth of the Israelites — their development from a tribe into a nation. The latter, which in spiritual grandeur and importance holds a pre-eminent rank. is the adoption of Israel as God's peculiar people by the Law given and the Covenant entered into at Mount Sinai (chs. 19.- 40.). The contents are thus in part historical, in part legislative. Historically, the book contains the events of 360 years, which is the interval between the death of Joseph and the giving of the Law at Sinai. It embraces the formation of the people by a rapid increase, which may have been partly due to natural causes, but was also in some degree the result of God's blessing resting especially upon them; the alarm of the Egyptian monarch at their growing numbers; his plans for preventing their multiplication and the entire failure of those plans; the birth and education of Moses; his first unauthorised attempt to deliver his nation from oppression; his flight to the land of Midian, and Divine appointment to be the deliverer of his nation; his communications with the Egyptian king on the subject of the people's release; the ten successive plagues whereby the king's reluctance was ultimately overcome; the institution of the Passover, and the departure of the Israelites; Pharaoh's pursuit; the passage of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian host; the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai; the giving of the Decalogue and the acceptance of the "Book of the Covenant" by the people; the lapse into idolatry and its punishment (ch. 32.); the directions given for the construction of the Tabernacle, the freewill offerings made, and the execution of the work by Bezaleel and Aholiab (chs. 35. - 40:33); followed by the Divine occupation of the new construction, and the establishment, in connection with it, of signs whereby the further journeyings of the people were directed (Exodus 40:34-38). In its legislative aspect, the book occupies the unique position of being the very source and origin — fons et origo — alike of the moral and of the ceremonial law, containing in the Decalogue an inspired summary of the first principles of pure morality, and in the directions given with respect to the Passover (Exodus 12:1-50) and other feasts (Exodus 23:14-17), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:11-16), the materials and plan of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-27.), the vestments of the priests and high-priest (ch. 28.), the method of their consecration (ch. 29.), and other similar matters, asserting and enforcing the necessity of a prescribed course of outward acts and forms for the sustentation of religious life in a community of beings' so constituted as men are in this world.

It has been well observed, that "the contents of the Second Book of Moses include an extraordinary variety of matter, and offer to the inquiring mind an unusual extent" of subjects for investigation[1] The historical sketch of Israel's position in Egypt invites inquiry into the dark and difficult problems of Egyptian history and chronology: the Ten Plagues open up to us the consideration of the natural phenomena of Egypt and the East generally; the journeyings of the Hebrews in Egypt and the Sinaitic peninsula lead the way to various geographical doubts and queries; the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant give occasion for, if they do not necessitate, investigations connected with the sciences of ethics and jurisprudence; lastly, the account of the Tabernacle, the sacred utensils, and the sacerdotal dress and ornaments, involve the consideration of the previous history of art, and the existing state of proficiency in such handicrafts as weaving, embroidery, and metallurgy. Again, the language of Exodus, in common with that of the rest of the Penateuch, has to some extent an Egyptian tinge, and involves philological inquiries of considerable difficulty and importance. Altogether the Book is one of extraordinary and diversified interest, and necessitates a number of disquisitions of a more or less abstruse character.


It is usual to divide Exodus into two portions only, the first extending from ch. 1. to the end of ch. 19., and treating of the circumstances under which the deliverance from Egypt was effected; the second, commencing with ch. 20. and reaching to the end of the book, containing an account of the giving of the Law, and the institutions by which the organisation of the people was completed. But, for the purposes of a comment such as the present, something more than this broad distinction and single line of demarcation is needed. It is not, however, necessary to have recourse to artificial or imaginary termini. The Book itself bears a markedly sectional character, which has been accounted for on the supposition that it was composed at different times, and written on separate parchments or papyri, each section being of such a length as suited it for congregational reading.[2] The first and second chapters together form such a section. Its main subject is the oppression of the Israelites by the Egyptians, with which is interwoven an account of the birth of Moses, and the first wholly abortive attempt which he made to right the wrongs of his people and improve their social position. This is followed by a section on the call of Moses, and the Divine commission given to him, whereby he was empowered to take the oversight of his people, to act for them, to plead for them with Pharaoh, and ultimately to lead them out of Egypt; the section terminating with the people's acknowledgment of his mission, and acceptance of him as their chief (Exodus 4:31). The third section is co-extensive with ch. 5. It contains the record of Moses' first application to the king of Egypt on behalf of Israel, and of its unhappy result. Section 4 is the sequel to this. It consists of ch. 6. vers. 1 to 27, and tells of the depression of the people in consequence of their increased affliction, the encouragement vouchsafed by God to Moses, and the fresh "charge" given by God to him and Aaron to persist in their efforts and effect the people's release. The next section is a long one. It begins at verse 28 of ch. 6. and continues to the end of ch. 11. The subject is an account of the nine ineffectual plagues, against which Pharaoh "hardened his heart," prefaced by a description of the one miracle wrought as a mere sign to accredit the mission of the brothers, and followed by the announcement of the tenth and last plague, before which even Pharaoh's stubborn will was to bend. Section 6 contains the institution of the Passover, the tenth plague, and the actual hasty departure of the Israelites from Rameses, when Pharaoh finally "thrust them out." It consists of the first forty-two verses of ch. 12. Section 7 contains directions with respect to the Passover and the sanctification of the firstborn. It extends from Exodus 12:43 to Exodus 13:16, and constitutes a document apart, of a purely legal character, which was probably inserted at this point, as the fittest place for it, when the various sections were finally put together by their author. In the next section (Exodus 13:17 — ch. 15.), the historical narrative is resumed, and the march of the Israelites is traced from Succoth to the shores of the Red Sea; their pursuit By the Egyptians is related, together with their miraculous passage across the bed of the sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh's host by the return of the waters. Section 9 contains the song of Moses and Miriam, and consists of the first twenty-one verses of ch. 15. In section 10 the further march of the Israelites is traced, and they are conducted from the Red Sea to Sinai, where God proposes to enter into a covenant with them (Exodus 15:22 to the end of ch. 19.). Section 11 contains the Decalogue, together with the "Book of the Covenant," and extends from Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33. Section 12 comprises — the acceptance of the covenant; the revelation of God's presence to Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders; together with the ascent of Moses into the cloud that covered the mountain, and his continuance there for forty days (ch. 24.). Section 13 contains the directions given by God for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altar of burnt-offering, and the court of the Tabernacle; for the sacerdotal garments, and the ceremonial of priestly consecration; for the altar of incense; and for the composition of the incense and of the oil of consecration (ch. 25. - 30.). Section 14 contains the appointment of Bezaleel and Aholiab as the artists to execute the required works; the appointment of the Sabbath as a sign; and the delivery to Moses of the two Tables of stone, written with the finger of God. It is coincident with ch. 31. Section 15 is purely historical. It gives an account of the terrible sin of the people in setting up the golden calf, and the consequences of this dreadful sin the breaking of the two Tables, the slaughter of three thousand guilty persons By the Levites, and the threat of the withdrawal of God's presence, which however was revoked at the prayer of Moses (chs. 32. - 33.). Section 16 (ch. 34.) is the sequel to section 15. It records the renewal of the two Tables of stone, and the descent of Moses from Sinai with them in his hand, and with a glory on his face that the people could not bear to look on, whence the necessity of his veiling himself. The remaining section (chs. 35. - 40.) contains the historical account of the construction of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altars of incense and burnt-offering, the priests' dresses, etc., the setting of all things in their places, and the sanctification of the whole by the visible entrance of the Shechinah into the sacred dwelling-place.


Much the same arguments have been employed to disprove the unity of Exodus, and to establish the theory that it is the work of at least two authors, as have been already examined in this COMMENTARY with respect to Genesis. "The Elohist" and "the Jehovist" are again paraded before us, as if they were admitted realities, instead of being, as they are, pure figments, the creations of a captious and over-refining pseudo-criticism. There is the same want of agreement among the various advocates of the theory, which has been already noticed in the comment on Genesis, as to which passages are the work of the Elohist, and which of the Jehovist, whole chapters being assigned to one of them by some critics, and by others to the other.[3] Moreover, curiously enough, in their application to Exodus, the very ralson d'etre, of the names disappears, passages being ascribed to the Jehovist in which the only name of God is Elohim, and others to the Elohist in which the only name used is Jehovah.[4] Under these circumstances it would only be reasonable that the terms Elohist and Jehovist should be relinquished, and the confession made that the theory on which they are based has broken down; but "the higher criticism," as it delights to call itself, seems not greatly to affect the vitae of candour. The real question now raised with regard to Exodus is not whether it can be divided into two sets of passages, Elohistic and Jehovistic respectively, in the former of which may be recognised the original document, while the latter are the work of an editer, supplementer, or compiler; but whether any division at all can be made, whether there are any dear traces of a second hand, or whether the "book" has not, in its structure, style, and method such clear and unmistakable marks of unity as to point distinctly to a single author.[5]

Now the book has one clear and plain purpose, which is to give an account of the circumstances under which the Israelites quitted Egypt, and became God's peculiar people, bound to him by a covenant, and granted his continuous presence with them to guide and direct them. The narrative flows on without a break. If there are some chronological gaps in the earlier portion,[6] they are necessitated by the fact that nothing occurred during the omitted periods which either advanced or hindered the action which it is the writer's business to relate. He is not a secular historian, bent on recording all the circumstances in the early life of his nation, but a sacred writer, a religious teacher, bound to confine his attention to their theocratic history, or in other words to God's providential dealings with them. These consist for some centuries in two things only — the rapid increase of the race, despite all attempts to hinder it; and the severe oppression to which after a time they were subjected. The former is important as giving them the strength to do what they did; the latter as supplying the motive. So these two things are put on record; but their life before the oppression began, and even the time that the oppression lasted, which an ordinary historian would of course have noted, are omitted as unimportant for the theocratic history. Similarly, with regard to Moses, the leader of the Exodus, while those circumstances which prepared him for his task — his education at the court, which gave him ready access to Pharaoh, and his sojourn in Midian, which made him familiar with life in the desert, — are clearly marked; all the details of his early career, covering a space (according to St. Stephen, Acts 7:23) of "full forty years," and all but the barest outline of his life in Midian, occupying another similar term, are suppressed, as not helping on the people's deliverance, or conducing to their reception into covenant. But, from the time that the deliverance begins, i.e. from the date of Moses' call, there are no gaps, no omissions — every step of the history is traced with the utmost minuteness, because each furthers the great ends which the writer has in view — first, the people's deliverance — then, their acceptance into covenant at Sinai finally, the completion of the covenant on God's part by the visible location of the Shechinah in the Tabernacle.

And as there is this unity of historical aim in the whole of Exodus, so is there a great unity of style. Historical narrative indeed, and the details of legislation and construction, being subjects exceedingly diverse, cannot well be treated in the same way; and it would be fanciful to maintain, that either "the Book of the Covenant" or the description of the Tabernacle is manifestly from the same hand as the account of the oppression of Israel or of the plagues; but wherever in the later chapters a narrative passage occurs (e.g. Exodus 24:0; 32. — 34:8; Exodus 34:28-35; Exodus 40:16-38), the resemblances to the style of the earlier portion of the book (chs. 1-19.) are numerous and striking;[7] and similarly, wherever in the early portion legislation is introduced (e.g. Exodus 12:1-20; Exodus 12:43-50; ch. 12:1-16; ch. 20.), the style and mode of expression recall the general tone of the Book's later sections. Style indeed is so much a matter of instinctive perception and feeling, and unity of style is a thing so little admitting of proof, that no writer can do much more than state his own impressions on the subject, it being quite impossible adequately to represent the grounds of them. For our own part, we feel bound to echo the conclusion of Kalisch, who says'' We see the completest harmony in all parts of Exodus; we consider it as a perfect whole, pervaded throughout by one spirit and the same leading ideas." [8]

The only reasonable ground which exists for any doubt or hesitation on the question of the unity is the fact, already noted,[9] of the markedly sectional character of the work its division into a number of distinctly separate portions, not very skilfully or artistically joined together. But this peculiarity is exactly what might have been looked for in a work which was written by snatches in the rare intervals of leisure allowed by a life of extreme and almost constant activity, and under circumstances that precluded attention to literary finish. If the writer of Exodus was a contemporary, who from time to time placed on record the series of events whereof he was a witness, soon after their occurrence, and who ultimately arranged his various pieces into a volume, the result would naturally be that which the Book of Exodus presents to us.[10] Had a compiler, a mere man of letters, effected the arrangement, it is probable that the result would have been, in a literary point of view, better, i.e. more artistic — the breaks in the narrative would have been fewer and less abrupt; repetitious would have been avoided; the roughness inseparable from a work hastily accomplished in odds and ends of time would have been smoothed down, and we should have had a more finished literary composition. Thus, the "fragmentary character" of Exodus is an important and precious indication that we have the work in its original form — the statue as it was rough-hewn in the quarry — and that it has not undergone the process of polishing and smoothing at the hands of a redactor, compiler, or supplementarist.


It is an axiom of sound criticism that books are to be attributed to the authors to whom tradition assigns them, unless very strong reasons can be shown to the contrary.[11] Exodus, and indeed the Pentateuch generally, has been assigned to Moses by a unanimous tradition, current alike among Pharisees and Sadducees, among Jews and Samaritans, among those who ascribed a sacred character to the work and those who regarded it as a mere human production. No other author has ever been put forward as a rival candidate to Moses;[12] and we must either ascribe the work to a wholly unknown and nameless writer,[13] who, with a marvellous humility and self-abnegation, while composing the most important treatise which the world had seen, concealed himself so effectually as to secure his own complete oblivion, or we must admit that the tradition is in the right, and that Moses, the hero of Exodus, and of the three following books, was also their composer.

It has sometimes been argued that the historical Moses, considering the time when he lived, and the condition of the world at that period, could not possibly have been the author even of a single book of the Pentateuch. Some have supposed that alphabetic writing was not at the time invented, and that if the Egyptian hieroglyphic system was anterior to Moses, it could not have been employed to embody with any definiteness the articulate sounds of the Hebrew language.[14] Others, without going these lengths, have maintained that so grand a work as the Pentateuch could not possibly have been produced at so early a period of the world's history, when literature, like everything else, must have been in its infancy. Thus De Wette urges that the Pentateuch is altogether beyond the literary capabilities of the age, containing within it, as he says it does, "every element of Hebrew literature in the highest perfection to which it ever attained, and so necessarily belonging to the acme and not to the childhood of the nation." It is absurd, he thinks, to suppose that in so rude and primitive a time the Hebrew nation should have produced a writer possessing such powers of mind, and such a mastery over his native language as to "leave nothing for succeeding authors but to follow in his footsteps." [15]

In answer to these preliminary objections it is to be noted first, that alphabetic writing is a much earlier discovery than has sometimes been supposed, and that there is every reason to believe that its use was widely spread over the world in ages long anterior to Moses. Berosus believed it to have been an antediluvian invention, and related that Xisuthrus, or Hasis-adra, his "Noah," consigned to writing the learning of the old world before the Flood, impressing it on tablets of baked clay, which he buried at Sippara, and exhumed after the Flood had subsided.[16] Existing Babylonian inscriptions upon bricks and gems[17] are believed to date from before B.C. 2000. Ewald remarks[18] that the words expressive of "writing" (כתב), "book" (ספר), and "ink" (דיו), are common to all the branches and dialects of Semitic speech, except that the Ethiopic and the Southern Arabian have צחק for "to write," and deduces from this fact the conclusion that writing in a book with ink must have been known to the earliest Semites before they separated off into their various tribes, nations, and families.[19] The Hittites were certainly acquainted with letters before the time of Moses; for not only had they written treaties with the Egyptians at a period anterior to the Exodus,[20] but a Hittite author is mentioned by Pentaour, a royal scribe of the reign of Rameses the Great.[21] Alphabetic writing was probably an art well known in the greater part of Western Asia from a date preceding not only Moses but Abraham.

The Egyptian system of hieroglyphic writing was also beyond all doubt complete several centuries before Abraham. This system is sometimes supposed to be little more than a representation of ideas by pictorial forms; but in reality it is almost wholly phonetic.[22] There would be no difficulty in transliterating the Pentateuch into hieroglyphic characters,[23] which one familiar with them would read off so as to be intelligible to a Jew. If Moses, therefore, did not possess an alphabetic system of his own, and was acquainted with the hieroglyphic system, which is not impossible, since he was bred up at the court, and "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), he might have written the Pentateuch in that character. At any rate, it would have been easy for him to adopt the cursive hieratic character, which, while based upon the hieroglyphics, presents no pictures of objects, but only a set of straight or curvilinear lines. The hieratic writing was certainly in use as early as the time of the twelfth or thirteenth dynasty,[24] and therefore long anterior to the Exodus.

With regard to the objection of De Wette, that a work so perfect as the Pentateuch is altogether beyond the literary capabilities of the age of Moses, the present writer may perhaps be allowed to quote a passage which he wrote twenty years ago, and which he has never seen answered: — "De Wette's statement is a gross exaggeration of the reality. Considered as a literary work, the Pentateuch is not the production of an advanced or refined, but of a simple and rude age. Its characteristics are plainness, inartificiality, absence of rhetorical ornament, and occasional defective arrangement. The only style which it can be truly said to bring to perfection, is that simple one of clear and vivid narrative which is always best attained in the early dawn of a nation's literature, as a Herodotus, a Froissart, and a Stow sufficiently indicate. In other respects it is quite untrue to say that the work goes beyond all later Hebrew efforts. We look in vain through the Pentateuch for the gnomic wisdom of Solomon, the eloquent denunciations of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, or the lofty flights of Isaiah. It is absurd to compare the song of Moses, as a literary production, even with some of the psalms of David, much more to parallel it with Ezekiel's eloquence and Homeric variety, or Isaiah's awful depth and solemn majesty of repose. In a literary point of view it may be questioned whether Moses did so much for the Hebrews as Homer for the Greeks, or whether his writings had really as great an influence on the after productions of his countrymen. And if his literary greatness still surprises us, if Hebrew literature still seems in his person to reach too suddenly a high excellence, albeit not so high a one as has been argued let us remember, in the first place, that Moses was not, any more than Homer, the first writer of his nation, but only happens to be the first whose writings have come down to us. 'Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona.' Moses seems so great because we do not possess the works of his predecessors, and so are unable to trace the progress of Hebrew literature up to him. Had we the 'Songs of Israel' (Numbers 21:17), and the 'Book of the Wars of the Lord' (ib. 14), which he quotes, we might find him no literary phenomenon at all, but as a writer merely on a level with others of his age and nation." [25] Moreover, recent research has shown that in Egypt, long prior to the time at which Moses wrote, literature had become a profession, and was cultivated in a variety of branches with ardour and considerable success. Morality, history, epistolary correspondence, poetry, medical science, novel- writing, were known as separate studies, and taken for their special subjects by numerous writers, from a date anterior to Abraham.[26] In the times of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, under one or the other of which the Exodus almost certainly took place, Egyptian literature reached its acme: lengthy works were composed, such as that contained in the "Great Harris Papyrus," which is 133 feet long by nearly seventeen inches broad;[27] writers enjoyed a high status and reputation; their compositions were engraved upon temple walls;[28] and it passed into a proverb that literature was the first and best of all employments.[29] Moses, educated at the court under one or other of these dynasties, and intended doubtless for official life, would necessarily receive a literary training, and would be perfectly competent to produce an extensive literary work, the exact merit of which would of course depend on his ability and genius.

If then there is no obstacle arising out of the circumstances of the time when Moses lived, to hinder our regarding him as the author of Exodus, and if tradition is unanimous in assigning it to him, nothing remains but to ask what internal evidence the book itself offers upon the subject — does it support, or does it make against, the hypothesis of the Mosaic authorship?
And first, as to language and style. We have already noticed[30] the simplicity of style observable in Exodus and the Pentateuch generally, which places it on a par with the early writings of other nations, and proves it to belong to the dawn of Hebrew literature. The language is generally allowed to be archaic, or at any rate to contain archaisms; and though some writers deny this, and assert that the unusual forms and words which characterise the Pentateuch are "not so much archaisms as peculiarities," yet this conclusion is contrary to the general opinion of Hebrew scholars,[31] and has the appearance of being rather a position forced on its maintainers by the exigencies of controversy, than one assumed spontaneously from a dispassionate consideration of the linguistic facts. Such features as the employment of the pronoun הוא for the third person of both genders, of נַעַר for "girl" as well as "boy," and of the full form וּן instead of the abraded וּ for the termination of the third person plural of the preterite, are by the very nature of things and the universal laws of language, archaic. The archaic character of other peculiar forms is also indicated by the fact that several of them occur besides only in Joshua, while some are common to the Pentateuch with none but very late books, e.g. Chronicles and Ezekiel, books written in the decay of the language, when it is notorious that writers studiously imitate the old forms.[32] Exodus has its full share of these peculiarities, which we must venture, with the bulk of Hebrew critics, still to term "archaisms," and has therefore at least as much claim as any other of the five books to be regarded as Mosaic on this ground.

The language of Exodus has also another peculiarity, which, if it does not prove the Mosaic authorship, fits in exactly with it, viz. the frequent occurrence of Egyptian words and phrases. This subject has been treated elaborately by Canon Cook[33] and M. Harkavy,[34] who have proved beyond all question that in that part of his narrative which deals with Egyptian matters, words are constantly used by the author of Exodus which are either pure Egyptian, or common to Egyptian with Hebrew. From thirty to forty such words occur in the first sixteen chapters.[35] Subsequently they are more rare; but a certain number of Egyptian words occur even in the later chapters,[36] showing how familiar the writer was with the language, and how naturally he had recourse to it where the vocabulary of his native tongue was defective. Egyptian phrases are also not unfrequently used, as "the lip of the river" (Exodus 2:5) for "the Brink of the river;" "chiefs of tribute" (Exodus 1:11) for "taskmasters;" an "ark of bulrushes" (Exodus 2:3); "making persons' savour to stink" (Exodus 5:21); "consuming enemies as stubble" (Exodus 15:7), etc.

Next, with respect to the matter of the book, it is to e remarked that the writer — whoever he was — shows a notable acquaintance with the customs, climate, and productions of Egypt; an acquaintance such as to imply long residence in the country, and the sort of familiarity which it takes years to acquire, with the natural phenomena, the method of cultivation, the religious ideas, and other habits and usages of the people. Under this head it is important to observe that large additions are constantly being made to the stock of our Egyptian knowledge by learned research into the native documents, which are copious, even for the time anterior to Moses, with this result hitherto — that fresh illustrations of the truthfulness with which Egypt and the Egyptians are portrayed in Exodus continually reveal themselves, while contradictions of the narrative, discrepancies, even difficulties, are almost wholly absent. There was a time when the author of the Pentateuch was boldly taxed with ignorance of Egyptian customs,[37] and when it was argued on this ground that he could not possibly be Moses. Now, no one ventures on such an assertion. The works of Hengstenberg[38] and Canon Cook[39] are sufficient to preclude the possibility of the revival of this line of attack; but the counter-evidence continually accumulates. Not a year passes without the discovery of fresh passages in Egyptian literature, which harmonise with and illustrate the narrative delivered to us in Exodus.

It is further observable that the writer, who has this wide and exact acquaintance with Egypt and the Egyptians, is also perfectly familiar with the character of the Sinaitic peninsula, with its vegetable and animal products, with its natural phenomena, as that of the manna, with its rare springs, sometimes sweet, sometimes "bitter" (Exodus 15:23), its wells, its occasional palm-groves (ib. 27), its acacia trees (Exodus 25:10, Exodus 25:23; Exodus 26:15, etc.), its long stretches of dry sand, its bare rooks and lofty mountains. It has been well said that "the chapters of Exodus which belong either to the early sojourn of Moses or to the wanderings of the Israelites, are pervaded by a peculiar tone, a local colouring, an atmosphere (so to speak) of the desert, which has made itself felt by all these who have explored the country, to whatever school of religious thought they may have belonged." [40]

This double knowledge of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, joined to the antique character of the work, seems to amount to a proof that the book of Exodus was written either by Moses or by one of those who accompanied him in his journey from the land of Goshen to the borders of Palestine. There was no period between the Exodus and the reign of Solomon when an Israelite — and the writer was certainly an Israelite — was likely to be familiar either with Egypt or with the Sinaitic peninsula, much less with both. There was little intercourse between the Hebrews and Egypt from the time of the passage of the Red Sea to that of Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter; and if occasionally during this period an Israelite went down into Egypt and sojourned there (1 Chronicles 4:18), it was a very unlikely thing that he should visit the region about Sinai, which lay above 150 miles out of his route. Add to this the dangers of the journey and the absence of any conceivable motive for it, and the conclusion seems almost certain that only one of those who, after being brought up among the Egyptians, traversed the "wilderness of the wanderings" on his way to Palestine, can have composed the existing record.

The conclusion thus reached is, for all critical purposes, sufficient. If the narrative is from the pen of an eye-witness, it must possess the highest degree of historical credibility,[41] and, so far as accuracy and trustworthiness are concerned, can gain nothing, or at any rate very little, by being ascribed to one of the emigrants rather than another. We trust the last book of the 'De Bello Gallico' no less than the remainder, though written by Hirtius and not by Caesar; and the authenticity of Exodus would be no whit diminished by Joshua or Caleb being its author instead of Moses. Could we suppose it written by a mere ordinary Israelite, the case would be somewhat different; but it is evidently impossible, considering the circumstances of the time, to ascribe a work of such high literary merit, and one evidencing such varied and extensive knowledge, to any one below the rank of a high officer, a leading man among the people.

The absolute Mosaic authorship of Exodus is thus a matter not so much of historical importance as of literary curiosity. Still it is of interest to know the real author of any great book, and essential to a right estimate of the character and work of Moses that we should understand whether or no he added to his other eminent qualities the literary ability and Power which "Exodus" displays. What then does the Book itself reveal to us on this subject? In the first place it shows us the ability of Moses to write (Exodus 24:4); in the next it informs us that he was expressly commanded by God to write an account of some of those very matters which are contained in Exodus (Exodus 17:14; Exodus 34:27); in the third place it distinctly tells us in one passage that he "wrote all the words of the Lord" (Exodus 34:4), these "words" being (according to almost all commentators) the passage which extends from Exodus 20:22 to the end of ch. 23.; finally, it speaks of a "book" which it calls "the book" [42] (the expression used being בַּסֵּפֶר and not בְּסֵפֶר), wherein one of his writings was to be inserted, whereby it would seem that at the time of the war with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-14) Moses already had a book in which he was putting on record the circumstances of the Israelites' deliverance — a book, as Keil says,[43] "appointed for the record of the glorious works of God." The question naturally occurs to a candid mind, Why should not this be the book which we possess? why go out of our way to suppose a second author unnamed and unnameable, when here is one distinctly proclaimed — an author more competent to the task than any other Israelite then living — and moreover the very man to whom an ancient and uniform tradition has always ascribed the work in question? There should be some very cogent arguments, derivable from the contents of the book, to set against this evident prima facie probability, in order even to raise a doubt on the subject, and make it worth while to pursue the inquiry any further.

What then is there said to be of this kind, constituting a difficulty in our acceptance of the Mosaic authorship? First, the fact that Moses is always spoken of in the third person. Now, as Xenophon and Caesar, in writing histories of which they were the heroes, spoke of themselves always in the third person, it is at least not unnatural for a man who has to write this sort of history to do so. Nay, it may rather be said to Be distinctly natural. Perpetual egotism is wearisome to the reader, and disagreeable to the writer who is not puffed-up by a sense of his own importance. The use of the third person throws a veil, at any rate, over the egotistic character of a work, softens it down, half obliterates it. We forget the writer in his work, when the first person does not constantly obtrude him on us, and pardon his Being the hero of his own narrative when he is sufficiently modest to preserve an incognito. Moreover, speaking of oneself in the third person was common in Egypt in Moses' day. The inscriptions which kings set up to commemorate their conquests were sometimes written wholly in the third person,[44] sometimes partly in the third and partly in the first.[45] The inscriptions placed by private individuals on their tombs generally began in the third person.[46] With such examples before him, it cannot be regarded as surprising that Moses avoided altogether the use of the first person in his narrative and confined himself wholly to the third.

Secondly, it is said that Moses is spoken of — at any rate in one place (Exodus 11:3), perhaps also in Exodus 6:26, Exodus 6:27 — in a way in which he would not be likely to have spoken of himself. The objection taken may, in both instances, Be allowed, but without the conclusion following which is supposed to follow. For the passages are both of them parenthetic, and also abnormal. They do not speak of Moses as he is commonly spoken of; and they are so isolated from the context that their removal would leave no gap, produce no difficulty. They are thus exactly such passages as may have been introduced on that review of the book which is ascribed to Ezra by ancient authorities,[47] and generally allowed to have taken place by moderns. The question whether Moses or a nameless contemporary is to be regarded as the author of Exodus cannot properly Be ruled by reference to one or two passages — especially parenthetic passages. We must look upon the matter more broadly. We must ask ourselves, Is the entire presentation of the personal character and qualifications of the great Israelite leader which the book offers more consonant with the view that Moses himself wrote it, or with the theory that it was composed by one of the younger and subordinate Israelite leaders, as Joshua or Caleb? Now, nothing is more striking in that presentation than the humble estimate made of the character, gifts, powers, and even of the personal conduct of the great leader. From first to last he is never praised; once only (in the passage objected to) he is said to have come to be" very great in the sight of Pharaoh's servants" and the Egyptian people. His faults are set forth without any disguise or extenuation: his hastiness and unjustifiable violence in "slaying the Egyptian" (Exodus 2:12); his foolish assumption of authority over his brethren.(ib. 13); his timidity when he found that he was likely to be punished for his crime. (ib. 14, 15); his unwillingness to undertake the mission which God assigned to him (Exodus 4:1-13); his neglect of the covenant of circumcision (ib. 24-26); his irreverent remonstrance when success did not attend his first application to Pharaoh (Exodus 5:22-24); and his want of self-control when on account of the sin of his people in worshipping the golden calf he "cast the Tables" — written by the finger of God — "out of his hands and brake them" (Exodus 32:19). Nothing is said of his possessing any-remarkable ability. On the contrary, he is represented as insisting, over and over again, on his incompetency, on his want of eloquence (Exodus 4:10), his insignificance ("Who am I?" Exodus 3:11), and his inability to persuade even his own people (Exodus 4:1; Exodus 6:12). No credit is assigned to him for anything that he does; for his bold and courageous behaviour before Pharaoh; for that organisation of the people which must have preceded the Exodus;[48] for his conduct of the march; or for that faith which never wavered, even when he and his people were shut in between the irresistible host of Pharaoh and the waters of an apparently untraversable sea (Exodus 14:13, Exodus 14:14). While it is in complete harmony with the general practice of the sacred writers, and with the spirit of true religion, that such reticence and such a disparaging tone should be employed by a writer respecting himself, it is quite inconceivable that either Joshua or any other companion of Moses should have written of him in this style. To his contemporaries, to those who had seen his miracles, and who owed their lives and liberties to his bold and successful guidance, Moses must have been a hero, a paladin, the first, the greatest, and the most admirable of men. We may see what they thought of him by the words with which Deuteronomy closes — "There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses showed in the sight of all Israel" (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).

If then the style and diction of Exodus, combined with the knowledge which it exhibits both of Egypt and of the Sinaitic peninsula, indicate unmistakably for its author either Moses or one of the other leading Israelites of Moses' time, there cannot be any reasonable doubt towards which of the two theories the balance of the internal evidence inclines. It is simply inconceivable that one of those who looked up to Moses with the reverence and admiration that he must have inspired in his followers, could have produced the unflattering portraiture which Exodus presents to us of one of the very greatest of men. It is, on the other hand, readily conceivable, and completely in accordance with what experience teaches of the thoughts and words of great saints concerning themselves, that Moses should have given such a representation of himself. The internal evidence is thus in harmony with the external. Both alike point to Moses as the author of this Book and of those which follow.


The internal chronology of the Book of Exodus is a matter of great simplicity, presenting only a single point of doubt or difficulty. This is the question whether the Hebrew text of Exodus 12:40 is to be regarded as sound and genuine, or whether it is to be corrected from the Samaritan version and the Septuagint. In the Hebrew text we read: "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years;" or more literally, "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, which they sojourned in Egypt,[49] was 430 years." But in the Septuagint the passage runs thus: "The sojourning of the children of Israel, which they sojourned in Egypt and in the land of Canaan, was 430 years;" [50] and in the Samaritan thus: "The sojourning of the children of Israel and of their fathers, which they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt, was 430 years." If the Hebrew text is sound we must count 430 years from the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the Exodus; if it is corrupt, and to be corrected from the two ancient versions, the time of the sojourn will be reduced one-half, for it was a space of exactly 215 years from the entrance of Abraham into Canaan to the descent of Jacob into Egypt.[51]

In favour of the short period it is urged, first, that the genealogies contained in the Pentateuch, and especially the genealogy of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 6:16-20), will not admit of the longer term;[52] and, secondly, that St. Paul reckoned no more than 430 years from the call of Abraham to the Exodus (Galatians 3:17). Now, certainly, if the genealogies are complete, and especially that of Moses and Aaron, the longer term of years cannot have been reached, since oven if Kohath was but a year old at the time of his being carried into Egypt (Genesis 46:11), and if Amram was born in the last year of Kohath's life, and Moses in the last year of Amram's, the eightieth year of Moses, in which the Exodus took place (Exodus 7:7), would be only the 350th from the descent into Egypt and not the 430th.[53] But the ordinary Jewish practice with regard to genealogies was to contract them; and it is quite possible that in all the recorded genealogies of this period, except that of Joshua (1 Chronicles 7:22-27), there are omissions. The number of generations in the genealogy of Joshua is ten, an amount very much more consonant with the period of 430 than with that of 215 years; and this number we axe bound to accept as historical, since there could be no possible reason why the writer of Chronicles should have invented it; so that, on the whole, the argument to be drawn from the Scriptural genealogies is rather in favour of the long period than against it. It is the Oriental practice to call any male descendant a son, any female descendant a daughter;[54] it is the Jewish practice to contract genealogies by means of omissions;[55] it is unheard-of to expand a genealogy by thrusting in unhistorical names: there must consequently have been ten generations from Joseph to Joshua. Ten generations would certainly, at this period of Jewish history, represent 400 years, and might easily cover 430, giving an average of forty-three years to a generation, instead of the thirty-three years of later times[56]

With respect to St. Paul's estimate (Galatians 3:17), it would simply show that, in writing to Greek-speaking Jews, whose only Bible was the Septuagint version, he made use of that translation. It would not even prove his own opinion upon the point, since the chronological question is not pertinent to his argument, and, whatever he may have thought upon it, he would certainly not have obtruded upon his Galatlan disciples a wholly irrelevant discussion.

In favour of the longer term the great argument is the general one, that the Hebrew text is to be taken as the true original unless it contains internal signs of imperfection, and that here there are no such signs. On the other hand, there are signs that the Septuagint and Samaritan texts are interpolated — viz, first, their variations;[57] and secondly, the fact that the length of the sojourn in Egypt is alone naturally before the writer's mind at this point of his narrative. A further argument is furnished by Genesis 15:13-16, where the term of the Egyptian sojourn is prophetically given (in round numbers) as 400 years; a passage quoted by St. Stephen (Acts 7:6), who clearly regards the prophecy as fulfilled. It has Been argued that "the 400 years is meant to refer to the time during which the 'seed of Abraham' should be sojourners in a strange land," rather than to the time during which they should suffer oppression, and so, that the sojourn in Canaan is included;[58] but this exposition, which is admitted to be contrary to the apparent sense.[59] cannot possibly be allowed, since Genesis 15:13-16 speaks of one land and one nation — a nation which should "afflict" them, and which they should "serve," and which at the end of the 400 years should be "judged" — whereas the Canaanites did not "afflict" them, for quarrels about wells (Genesis 26:15-21) are not an "affliction" in the language of Scripture,[60] and certainly they did not "serve" the Canaanites — neither could it possibly be of the Canaanites that it is said, "That nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge, and afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Genesis 15:14). Finally, the long term is most consonant alike with the estimate formed of the entire number of the grown males at the time of the Exodus (600,000, Exodus 12:37), and with the devils given of particular families in the Book of Numbers, as especially those of the families of the Levites, in Numbers 3:21-39.

If, upon these grounds, the longer term of 430 years for the sojourn in Egypt be preferred to the shorter term of 215 years, the details of the chronology must be arranged as follows:[61] —

From the descent of Jacob into Egypt to the death of Joseph 71 years
From the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses 278 years
From the birth of Moses to his flight into Midian 40 years
From the flight of Moses into Midian to his return to Egypt 40 years
From the return of Moses to the Exodus 1:0 years

Total — 430 years
It is a different, and a much more intricate, question, how the chronology of this period is to be attached to the general chronology of mundane affairs, or even how it is to be united with the later chronology of the Jewish nation. If complete reliance could be placed on the genuineness of a particular text (1 Kings 6:1), the difficulties indeed of this latter problem would in a great measure disappear; for, having fixed the date of the commencement of Solomon's temple, which was certainly begun about B.C. 1000, we should only have to add to the exact date on which we decided, the number 480, in order to obtain an equally exact date for the Exodus. It was in this way that Archbishop Ussher produced his date of n.e. 1491, which is still maintained by Kalisch,[62] and with an unimportant variation by Keil.[63] But the genuineness of the words in 1 Kings 6:1 — "in the 480th year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt" — is open to serious question,[64] They stand alone, unsupported by anything analogous in the whole of the rest of Scripture.[65] They were apparently unknown to Josephus, to Theophilus of Antioch, and to Clemens of Alexandria, who would necessarily have quoted them, had they existed in their copies.[66] They are also at variance with the tradition glanced at by St. Paul (Acts 13:20), that from the partition of Canaan to Samuel was a space of 450 years. But if, on these grounds, we surrender the genuineness of 1 Kings 6:1, we are launched at once upon an open sea of conjecture. St. Paul's statement is defective both in consequence of his using the expression "about," and in consequence of his not marking whether he means to include the judgeship of Samuel in the 450 years or to exclude it. His statement leaves moreover the space between the death of Moses and the partition of Canaan unestimated. The detailed statements in the books of Scripture from Joshua to Kings are defective, since in the first place they leave many periods unestimated,[67] and further, they are expressed to a large extent in round numbers[68] which are fatal to exact computation. It has been calculated that, on the most probable estimate, the details of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel would produce for the period between the Exodus and the foundation of the Temple, 600, 612, or 628 years,[69] On the other hand, it has been argued with considerable force that these estimates are greatly in excess of the real time — that different judges bore office simultaneously in different parts of Palestine,[70] and that the actual period which elapsed from the Exodus to Solomon's accession did not much exceed 300 years. The result is that the best and most learned of modern critics vary in their dates for the Exodus by as much as 332 years, some placing it as late as B.C. 1300, and others as early as B.C. 1632.

It might have been supposed that the difficulties of the Scriptural chronology would have received light from the parallel chronology of Egypt, or even have been set at rest by it.; but Egyptian chronology has difficulties of its own which render it one of the most abstruse of studies, and preclude the possibility of any positive conclusions being formed respecting it, unless by the method of arbitrary selection from among coequal authorities. Hence it is not yet a settled point among Egyptologists, under which dynasty, much less under which king, the Exodus took place, some placing it as early as Thothmos III., the fifth king of the eighteenth dynasty, and others as late as Seti-Menephthah, the fifth king of the nineteenth. An interval of above two centuries separates these reigns. On the whole, the preponderance of authority is in favour of the Exodus having fallen under the nineteenth, rather than the eighteenth dynasty, and under either Seti-Menephthah or his father Menephthah,[71] who were the fifth and fourth kings. The Egyptian tradition upon the subject, recorded by Manetho,[72] Cheoremon,[73] and others, points evidently to one or other of these kings, and has generally been taken as decisive in favour of the father. But a hieratic inscription,[74] deciphered and translated by Dr. Eisenlohr of Heidelberg in 1872, has been thought by some to incline the scale towards the son, Seti-Menephthah, whose reign seems to have been followed by a period of revolution and disturbance, described in terms almost identical with those in which Manetho speaks of the time that followed the Exodus.

If we accept Manetho's account of the period in Egyptian history to which the Exodus belongs, we shall have as the probable date of the event, calculated from Egyptian sources[75] about B.C. 1300, or from that to B.C. 1350. Four hundred and thirty years before this will bring us to the eighteenth century B.C. , when Egypt was, according to all writers,[76] under the dominion of the Shepherd kings. This will agree well with the tradition, which George the Syncellus says was universal,[77] that Joseph governed Egypt in the time of King Apophis, who was the last king of the seventeenth or great Shepherd dynasty. Joseph probably outlived Apophis, and saw the commencement of the eighteenth dynasty, so that the founder of that dynasty, Aahmes, cannot be the "king that knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). Nor could the Israelites have been by that time so numerous as to rouse the king's fears. The Pharaoh intended is probably the founder of the nineteenth dynasty, Rameses I., or his son Seti, the great conqueror. If Moses was born under this monarch, his flight to Midian would have taken place under Rameses II., Seti's son and successor; and his return, forty years later, on the death of the Pharaoh who sought his life, would fall in the reign of Menephthah, the son and successor of Rameses II. It may have been the exhaustion of Egypt through the double loss of the firstborn and of the great bulk of the armed force in the Red Sea, together with the discontent caused by the unwise conduct of the king, that led shortly afterwards to those troubles which supervened on the death of Menephthah — first disputes with regard to the succession, and then a period of complete anarchy.[78] The Israelites were in the Sinaitic peninsula at this time. When the Egyptian troubles came to an end, and Rameses III. began his conquests, they were engaged in their wars on the eastern side of Palestine, and profited by his attack, which weakened their enemies. After Rameses III. Egypt declined; and hence no more is heard of her in the Biblical history till the reign of Solomon. The subjoined table will show at a glance the view here taken of the synchronisms between the Egyptian and the Israelite history from the time of Joseph to the entrance into Canaan.

CIRCA b.c.

Egyptian HISTORY.



Egypt under the Shepherd Kings Dynasty XVII.

Joseph in Egypt. His brethren join him. Commencement of the 430 years, about b.c. 1740.


Accession of Dynasty XVIII.

Joseph dies about b.c. 1670.


Accession of Dynasty XIX (Rameses I. first king).


Seti I. (great conqueror).

Rise of "king who knew not Joseph." Pithom and Rameses built


Rameses II. (associated)

Birth of Moses. Flight of Moses to Midian


Menephthah I

Moses returns from Midian


Seti II. (Seti-Menephthah)

The Exodus.


Revolution in Egypt. Short reigns of Amon-meses and Siphthah. Period of anarchy


Accession of Dynasty XX. Set-Nekht


Rameses III. (conqueror)

The Israelites enter Canaan.


Rameses IV.


The admitted uncertainty of the proper mode of synchronising Egyptian with Biblical history makes it desirable to add in this place a few remarks on the main features of Egyptian chronology and history in the earlier times, that so the reader may be able to judge for himself between the various synchronistic theories which come under his notice, and form his own scheme, if that in the text does not satisfy him.
It is allowed on all hands that civilisation, kingly government, architecture of a remarkable kind, and fairly advanced mimetic art, existed in Egypt from a time considerably anterior to Abraham. The lowest date that has been assigned, so far as we are aware, by any modern scholar[79] to the commencement of the civilised monarchical Egypt, is B.C. 2250, or from that to B.C. 2450. Some of the most learned writers raise the date by one thousand or two thousand years[80] But, setting aside such extravagances, we may state it as universally agreed upon among historians of the present day that the history of Egypt goes back at least to the date mentioned above. It is maintained by many that, in this early period, the country was for the most part split up among several distinct kingdoms; but on the other hand it is allowed that at times a single monarchy held the whole, and kings possessed of great power and resources ruled Egypt from the Tower of Syene to the waters of the Mediterranean. Manetho assigned to the period no fewer than fourteen dynasties, and though some of these may be purely mythical,[81] and others[82] may represent lines of petty princes who bore sway in some obscure province, yet a certain number — as the fourth, fifth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth — were beyond a doubt dynasties of great power, dominant over the whole or the greater part of Egypt, and possessed of resources which enabled them to erect monuments of an extraordinary character. The two greatest of the Pyramids belong to the fourth dynasty, and must have been seen by Abraham when he visited Egypt, about B.C. 1950. The Third Pyramid in its present state is the work of a queen of the sixth dynasty. A ]ring of the twelfth erected the obelisk which still stands at Heliopolis, as well as another which lies prostrate in the Fayoum. The artificial Lake Moeris, the Fayoum pyramids, and the celebrated Labyrinth belong to the same period. Egypt from B.C. 2450 to about B.C. 1900 was in a flourishing condition: unattacked by foreign foes, she developed during this time the chief features of her architecture and of her sculpture, carried to perfection her complex system of hieroglyphics — and attained very considerable proficiency in most of the useful and ornamental arts. The period of this civilisation was designated by Manetho that of "the Old Empire;" and the phrase has been preserved by some modern historians of Egypt[83] as indicative of a very important reality.

The period of "the Old Empire" was followed by that of "the Middle Empire." At a date variously estimated, but believed by the present writer to have been about B.C. 1900, Egypt was conquered by a pastoral Asiatic people, which destroyed the old civilisation, defaced the monuments, burnt the cries, and completely demolished the temples. The whole country was plunged for a time into utter ruin and desolation. All the less massive buildings disappeared literature, unless enshrined in pyramids or buried in sepulchral chambers, ceased to exist — architecture, mimetic art, even the ornamental arts, finding no demand, died out — for a century or more utter barbarism settled down generally over the land, and if it had not been that in a few places native Egyptian dynasties were suffered to drag on a dependent and precarious existence, all the old knowledge would have perished. It was as when the Goths and Vandals and Alans and Alemanni and Burgunaians swept over the Roman Empire of the West, and brought in those "Dark Ages" of which so much has been said and so little is known. Egypt for a century or more was crushed under the iron heel of her conquerors. Then, by slow degrees, there was a revival. The barbarism of the invaders yielded to the softening influences of that civilisation which it had nearly, but not quite, annihilated. First the useful, then the ornamental arts, were recalled into life. Temples were built, sphinxes were carved, even statues were attempted by the rude race which had at first despised all arts but war, and all trades but that of the armourer. The court of the invaders, held at Tanis in the Delta, became assimilated to that of the old Egyptian Pharaohs. No great works, however, were attempted; and the memorials of the period which remain are few and insignificant. How long the foreign domination lasted is uncertain, but the five centuries of some writers[84] are reduced by others to two centuries or two centuries and a half.[85] The arguments for the shorter period are well stated by Canon Cook in his Essay on the Bearings of Egyptian History upon the Pentateuch. The present writer inclines to the shorter estimate, and would assign to the "Middle Empire" or "Hyksos rule" the period between B.C. 1900 and 1700 — or at most that between B.C. 1925 and B.C. 1675. The yoke of the invaders was thrown oft about B.C. 1700-1675 by an uprising of the native Egyptians against them, under a leader named Aahmes, who had his capital at Thebes. The most brilliant period in Egyptian history — the time of the "New Empire" — now set in. Under the eighteenth dynasty, which consisted of twelve kings and a queen, Egyptian fleets explored the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, commerce flourished, Palestine and Syria were conquered, the Euphrates was crossed, Assyria invaded, and the Khabour made the eastern limit of the Empire. At the same time architecture and all the arts revived; great temples were built, lofty obelisks erected, huge colossi upreared. The duration of the dynasty is variously estimated at from two to three centuries. In assigning to it the period from B.C. 1700 to B.C. 1400 we follow the high authority of Dr. Brugsch. Other writers[86] Lenormant gives the first of these estimates, Bunsen the second, and Wilkinson the third. have assigned it the space from B.C. 1703 to B.C. 1462 — from B.C. 1633 to B.C. 1412 — and from B.C. 1520 to B.C. 1324.

In the ensuing dynasty — the nineteenth — Egyptian art and literature culminated, while in arms there was a slight retrogression. Seti I. and Rameses II. erected the most magnificent of all Egyptian buildings. Seti was a conqueror, but Rameses was content to resist attack. Towards its close the dynasty showed signs Of weakness. Internal troubles broke out. The succession to the crown was disputed; and three or four short reigns were followed by a time of complete anarchy. The dynasty probably held the throne from about B.C. 1400 to B.C. 1280.

Under the twentieth dynasty a rapid decline set in. The second king, Rameses III., was a remarkable monarch, successful in his wars, and great in the arts of peace. But with him the glorious period of the Egyptian monarchy came to an end his successors rapidly degenerated, and for more than two centuries — until the time of Solomon — there was not the slightest sign of a revival. Architecture, art, literature — all pass under a cloud; abel, but for the dynastic lists and the excavated tombs of the kings, we might have supposed that some sudden calamity had engulfed and destroyed the Egyptian people.

It is agreed on all hands that the period within which the Israelites and their ancestors came into contact with Egypt prior to their settlement in Canaan fell within the space occupied in Egyptian history by the dynasties between the twelfth and the twentieth inclusively. Abraham's visit to Egypt is generally assigned to the period called above that of "the Old Empire," Joseph's residence to the "Middle Empire," the oppression of the Israelites and the Exodus to the "New Empire." The chief controversy raised is with respect to the Exodus, which some assign to the nineteenth, some to the eighteenth, some to a period anterior to the eighteenth dynasty. The materials at present existing seem insufficient to determine this controversy; and perhaps the unlearned reader will do best to follow the balance of authority, which certainly at present points to the nineteenth as the dynasty, and to Menephthah, son of Rameses II., as the king, under whom the "going forth" of the Israelites took place.


The difficulties in the way of tracing the route whereby the Israelites passed from the Land of Goshen to Sinai, always considerable, have been recently much enhanced by the propounding of an entirely new line of march by a scholar of high reputation, Dr. Heinrich Brugsch.[88] It is true that the same theory was put forward many years ago by two other learned Germans, Messrs. Unruh and Schieiden, but their views attracted little attention, having no great local knowledge to recommend them, whereas Dr. Brugseh is probably the highest authority living on the subject of Egyptian geography, and a view which has his support cannot possibly be ignored or passed over. We must, then, commence the examination of the subject before us by discussing the theory of Dr. Brugsch, which is regarded in some quarters as "a brilliant one," and as having "at any rate prima facie much to recommend it." [89] See an article by Mr. Greville Chester in the 'Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund,' for July, 1880, p. 134

Dr. Brugsch supposes that the "Rameses" from which the Israelites started (Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33:3) was the same place as Tanis or Zoan, now San, a large town situated on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, about lat. 31° and long. 31° 50' E. from Greenwich. He brings abundant proof to show that this town, which was rebuilt by Rameses II., was known in his reign and in that of his son, Menephthah, as Pa-Ramesu, or "the city of Rameses," that it was a place of great importance, and a common residence, if not the common residence, of the court at that period. Placing the Exodus, as we do ourselves, in the reign of Menephthah, he naturally concludes that the miracles of Moses and his interviews with the Egyptian king took place at this city, the only "city of Rameses" known to have existed at the time, and that it was the starting-point from which he and his company commenced their journey. In proof that he is right, he very properly adduces the statement of the psalmist, probably Asaph, that the miracles of Moses were wrought "in the field of Zoan" (Psalms 78:12, Psalms 78:43). These arguments are of so much weight that we, at any rate, do not care to dispute them, and we shall assume as highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that the Rameses from which the Israelites started was Zoan-Rameses, the capital city of Rameses II. and Menephthah, now marked by the extensive ruins at San-el-Hagar, which have lately been visited and described by Mr. Greville Chester.[90] Ibid. pp. 140 - 4.

The children of Israel journeyed "from Rameses to Succoth" (Exodus 12:37). Dr. Brugsch assumes the identity of this word, Succoth, with an Egyptian name, Thuku or Thukot, which he finds applied to the marshy district east and south-east of Tanis, and suggests that the place where the Israelites encamped was a certain fort, called "the barrier of Thukot," which, he says, is mentioned in papyri, and which he believes to have lain to the south-east of Tanis, halfway between that place and the modern Tei-Defneh, the ancient Daphnae. We quite agree as to the direction in which Succoth is to be sought, since the wilderness, for which Moses was bound, lay south-cast of Tanis; we demur, however, to the identification of Succoth with Thuku,[91] We believe that the Egyptian t (th) never replaces the sharp Hebrew sibilant samech, which is the initial letter of Succoth. and we regard seven and a-half miles, which is half the distance between San and Tel-Defneh, as too short a march for the people to have made in the first freshness of their powers and the first warmth of their zeal. We should incline to double the distance, and to place Succoth at Tel-Defneh, an elevated spot of ground in a marshy district, where the cultivators of the soil would be likely to fix their "booths" of sedge and brushwood.[92] Succoth is more properly "booths' than "tents," and is so translated in Genesis 33:17; Leviticus 23:42; Nehemiah 8:14, Nehemiah 8:16. The natives of the marsh district to this day lodge in "huts made of reeds".

The third station named in the journey of the Israelites is Etham (Exodus 13:20) "in the edge of the wilderness." Having identified Succoth with "the barrier of Thukot," about seven or eight miles from San, Dr. Brngseh not unnaturally places Etham at Tel-Defneh, seven or eight miles further on in the same direction. Here there was, he says, in the time of Rameses II., a "Khetam," or fort, to guard the passage of the easternmost branch of the Nile, whence (according to him) the Hebrew name, Etham. Khetam, however, with a strong guttural kh, is not Etham, _DD;_EA;_D0;, which commences with the light breathing, aleph. And Khetam, again, is not a local name, but a descriptive word, meaning" fort" or "stronghold." [93] See Dr. Bitch's 'Dictionary of Hieroglyphics,' in vol. 5. of Bunsen's 'Egypt's Place, p. 558, ad voc. Kbetmu. Consequently there were many Khetams, especially towards the frontier; and even granting the identity of the words, there is nothing to mark the identity of the Biblical Etham with the Khetam, or fortress, at Tel-Dafneh. We should incline to place Etham at El-Kantara, on the line of the Suez Canal, about eleven or twelve miles from Tel-Defneh, almost due east. El-Kantara is truly "in the edge of the wilderness" proper, which commences as soon as the Suez Canal is crossed; and the ruins show it to have been a place of some importance in the time of Rameses II.[94] Greville Chester, in the 'Quarterly Statement' above quoted, p. 147.

At Etham the Israelites were commanded to change their route. "Speak unto the children of Israel," said God to Moses, "that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon" (Exodus 14:2). Dr. Brugsch believes that the "turn" was made to the left — that from Tel-Defneh the south-east course was changed to a north-east one, and a march made which brought the Israelites close to the Mediterranean Sea at the western extremity of Lake Serbonis. The distance to this point from Tel-Defneh, his Etham, is by the shortest route considerably over forty miles — yet Dr. Brugsch appears to regard this distance as accomplished in one day. Pi-hahiroth is described (Exodus 14:2) as "between Migdol and the sea," and as "over against Baal-zephon." Dr. Brugsch finds a Migdol some twenty miles from the western end of Lake Serbonis, to the south-west, and conjectures that Baal-zephon was a Phoenician settlement, situated at the modern Ras Kazeroun, the ancient Molls Casius. As this place is distant from his site for Pi-hahiroth some twenty-five miles in the opposite direction from Migdol, he regards the description of Exodus 14:2 as sufficiently answered, and even places the three sites accordingly. Almost all other expositors have felt that the three places must have been very near together — indeed, so near that the encampment beside Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 4:9) was regarded as "pitching before Migdol" (Numbers 33:7).

We approach now the main feature of Dr. Brugsch's theory, to which all the rest is subordinate. He believes that the Israelites, having reached the shores of the Mediterranean at the point opposite the western extremity of Lake Serbonis, found stretching before them a long tongue of land, which formed the regular road from Egypt to Palestine,[95] Brugsch, 'History of Egypt,' vol. 2. p. 360: — "A long tongue of land, which in ancient times formed the only road from Egypt to Palestine." This point is essential to Dr. Brngsch's theory, since he could not otherwise suppose that the Israelites would have pent themselves up in such a corner as that between the Mediterranean and Lake Serbonis. and that immediately, without having to wait for a miracle, they entered upon it. The Egyptians followed them. After the Hebrews, marching on foot, had successfully traversed the entire neck of land to the point where it (as he supposes) re-joined the continent, "a great wave from the Mediterranean took by surprise the Egyptian cavalry, and the captains of the war-chariots." [96] Ibid. p. 364. Thrown into disorder, their pathway obliterated, they became entangled in the soft mud of the Serbenian Lake, which was, he says, "a lagoon of weeds," [97] Ibid. p. 360. and thence called Yam-Suph — they suffered the calamity which befel the soldiers of Artaxerxes Ochus'[98] Diod. Sic. 16:46. and to which Milton alludes in 'Paradise Lost'[99] Book II. 11. 592-4. — they perished in the waters of Serbonis.

The objections to this entire view are numerous, and of various kinds. In the first place, it gives no reason for the Pharaoh's sudden resolve to pursue the Israelites, since, instead of being "entangled in the land," they were, according to Brugsch, on the shortest and readiest road leading out of Egypt to Palestine. In the second place, it contradicts the statement[100] Exodus 13:17. that "God led them not the way of the Philistines, but led the people the way of the Yam-Suph," since it makes the way of the Philistines and the way of the Yam-Suph one and the same, and it makes God lead them out of Egypt by the way which conducted most directly to Palestine, or the country of the Philistines. Thirdly, it leaves no place for the miracle of dividing the sea (Exodus 14:21), since it regards the tongue of land as a regular road constantly used. Fourthly, it contradicts the natural features of the place, since

(1) the Lake Serbonis contains no weeds, sedge, or rushes of any kind,[101] Greville Chester, in the 'Quarterly Statement,' p. 155: — "The clear bright water of Lake Serbonis is as devoid of lacustrine vegetation as the Dead Sea itself. Of it there is no trace whatsoever. But more, it is matter of fact that Lake Serbonis is almost equally devoid of marine vegetation." and

(2) it is, and always must be, so long as it is a lake, fed by a deep channel connecting it with the Mediterranean, so 'that the tongue of land is not continuous, and cannot be used as a road, unless by an army carrying pontoons, or a small company of travellers, who might be conveyed across the channel in boats. Fifthly, it assumes that the expression Yam-Suph is used by the writer of the Pentateuch of two quite different pieces of water, since no one can possibly deny that Yam-Suph in Numbers 33:10, Numbers 33:11, is used of the Red Sea. Finally, it is in the teeth of a twofold tradition, Egyptian[102] The Egyptian tradition appears in Polyhister, who reports the people of Memphis as maintaining that the passage of the sea was made by Moses watching the ebb of the tide, , which could only be done on the Red Sea side of Egypt, not on the side of the Mediterranean, which is tideless. and Jewish[103] The Jewish tradition has never been doubted. It appears by the regular translation of Yam-Suph by the LXX., in every place but one where it occurs, by ἡ ἐρυθραÌ θαìλασσα, "the Red Sea." which unhesitatingly made the upper end of the Red Sea the scene of the disaster.

On the destruction of the Egyptians, the Israelites, according to Dr. Brugsch, turned sharp to the south from Baal-zephon, or the Mons Casius, and entered the wilderness of Shut, now the Till, in long. 32° 50' nearly. A recent examination of the locality has shown such a movement to have been impossible, since the Lake Serbonis continues in an unbroken line from long. 32° 32', where it commences, to long. 33° 20', where it terminates, at a place called El Saramit[104] Greville Chester, in the 'Quarterly Statement,' 10. 154. Even at this point there is no escaping from the tongue of land on which the Israelites are supposed to have entered, without crossing the channel connecting Lake Serbonis with the Mediterranean,[105] Ibid. p. 157 so that, having reached the end of the spit, the Israelites would have had no course open to them but to have turned back and retraced their steps to the supposed site of Pihahiroth.

From the Molls Casius, his Baal-zephon, Dr. Brugsch, having conducted the Israelites across a tongue of land which does not exist, makes them enter the wilderness of Shur, and travel three days in a south-west direction to Marah, which he identifies with the "Bitter Lakes." It seems to have escaped him that the distance is one of at least seventy miles, which could not certainly have been accomplished under five days, and being through an arid desert would probably have taken six. tie also fails wholly to account for the extraordinary change of mind on the part of the Israelites, who, having marched out of Egypt thirty miles on the direct road to Palestine, suddenly turn round and go back to the very confines of Egypt, taking a line from Etham to Marah which must have measured at least 140 miles, when the two places (according to him) were not much above thirty miles apart.
It seems needless to pursue Dr. Brugsch's theory any further. It is alike in contradiction with tradition, geography, and common sense. Its apparent foundation is a string of geographical names, supposed to be identical in the nomenclature of ancient Egypt and in that of the writer of Exodus. But on careful examination the agreement is found to be strained and forced. Only one of the Scriptural names (Migdol) really occurs upon Dr. Brugsch's line of march, and that name is of a generic character (migdol meaning simply "a tower" ), and so likely to have been borne by more than one place.[106] There were two Migdols in Palestine, distinguished as Migdol-E1, and Migdol-Gad. Lepsius and Stuart Poole maintain that there were at least two in Egypt. It is in favour of this contention that the northern Migdol had a descriptive epithet, being called in the Egyptian writings "the Migdol of King Seti-Menephthah". The other names are either pure inventions, not found in Egyptian geography, as Baal-zapouna and Pi-hakhirot,[107] Baal-zapouna is found, in the Egyptiun texts as an epithet, of the god Ammon, but not as the name of a place. Pi-hakhirot is not found at all, but is supposed by Dr. Brugsch to be a name that might have been given to a place situated at "the entrance of the gulfs". But Jablonsky's etymology — "the place where sedge grows" — seems to be quite as probable. or names not really the same as the Hebrew, e.g. Thukot and Khetam. Common sense forbids belief in a route which involves the making of a circuit of 140 miles to reach a place thirty miles off, the performance of a six or seven days' journey in the space of three, and the assignment by one and the same winter of one and the same name to two quite different sheets of water, without any note of distinction or indication that two "seas" are meant.

Returning then to Etham, which we have placed conjecturally at El-Kantara, and which must certainly have been either there or in the neighbourhood, perhaps toward Ismailia, we have now to trace the further march from Etham to Sinai. We imagine, then, that on the command being given, — "Speak unto the children of Israel that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon" (Exodus 16:2), the direction of the route was altered from east or south-east to due south — the "Bitter Lakes" were placed on the left hand, and the march continued southwards along the western shore of the Red Sea until an extensive camping-ground was reached, lying between a place called Migdol, quite distinct from the northern Migdol, and another called Pi-hahiroth, which was on or near the Red Sea. An exact location of these places is impossible, since neither in ancient nor modern geography have we any clear trace of the names,[108] The ancient geographers have a Magdolus which corresponds to the northern Egyptian Migdol: Herodotus has a Magdolus (2:159), which seems to represent Megiddo. But there is no trace of the southern Egyptian Migdol. In modern geography, some low hills near Suez are said to be called Muktala, which may be a reminiscence of Migdol, but points to no exact site. Of the names Pi-hahiroth and Baal-zephon there is no trace at all. and the position of the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez at the time of the Exodus is open to question. On the whole, it is perhaps most probable that the Bitter Lakes were then a portion of the Red Sea inlet,[109] So Canon Cook, and Mr. R. Stuart Poole Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 3. p. 1016). being connected with it by a narrow and shallow channel, which is now dried up. We should ourselves place the passage somewhere near the present site of Suez, and we should suppose the point of landing to have been about five or six miles north of the Ayun Musa, about which, for the sake of the water, the host would no doubt have encamped. To the objection that the site of Suez is too far south, since the distance from Etham, as we have now placed it, is above forty miles, which could not have been accomplished in a day, we answer that in the Scriptural narrative there is no mention of days, and that it is quite a gratuitous supposition that the number of camping-places mentioned marks the number of days spent on the journey. In point of fact only six camping-places are mentioned between Rameses and the wilderness of Sin; yet it is expressly stated that the journey took a full month (Exodus 16:1). We should suppose at least three days to have been occupied by the march from Etham to Pi-hahiroth.

The Red Sea crossed, and the Ayun Musa reached, there was no doubt a halt of at least a day, while Moses composed his "Song," and thanksgiving was offered, and Miriam and the other women danced and sang for joy (Exodus 15:1-21). The Israelites were then led out into "the wilderness of Shur" (ib. ver. 22), or, as it is elsewhere called, "the wilderness of Etham" (Numbers 33:8). These names seem to have Been applied, indifferently, to the whole western portion of the great desert-tract which separates Egypt from Palestine. It was called "the wilderness of Etham," because Etham lay "in its edge" (Exodus 13:20), at the point where it was most accessible from Egypt; and it was called "the wilderness of Shur," probably from a name, Zor, which the Egyptians applied to the tract within which Etham was situated.[110] Through this tract, or rather through the south-western portion of it, which lay along the eastern side of the Gulf of Suez, the Israelites proceeded for three entire (lays without finding any water (ib.). Travellers tell us that this is the exact character of the tract east of the Gulf from the Ayun Musa to the source, called Howarah,[111] Robinson, 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 1. pp. 91-96; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 60; Wilson and Palmer 'Our Work in Palestine,' p. 275; etc. which lies at the distance of about thirty-eight or thirty-nine miles. Most critics agree that this was the line of route pursued, and identify Marah (ib. ver. 23) with Howarah or its neighbourhood, which has several springs that are remarkably "bitter." [112] The bitterness of Ain Howarah is recognised by all travellers, from Burckhardt downwards Winer says that a still bitterer well lies east of Marah. Mention is also made of an exceedingly bitter spring south of Marah. We incline to agree with them, though it must be allowed that in the space of three thousand years many physical changes are likely to have occurred, and that an exact correspondence between the present condition of the country and the description of Moses is not to be expected.

The next camping-place after Marah was Elim, which means "trees" according to some critics,[113] Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 22, 508; Highton, in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2. p. 532, note, etc. Hero were twelve springs of water and a grove of seventy palm-trees[114] Palms are still found in these parts, both at Wady Ghurundel and Wady Useit. They are "either dwarf, i.e. trunkless, or else with savage hairy trunks and branches all dishevelled". (Exodus 15:27) — pleasing objects to the traveller who has spent three or four consecutive days in the true wilderness. Elim has been identified with three distinct sites — Wady Ghnrundel, Wady Useit, and Wady Shubeikah,[115] Shubeikah is preferred by Lepsius; Useit by Laborde ('Geographical Commentary on Exodus,' 15:27); Ghurnndel, or Ghurundel together with Useit, by Dean Stanley; Ghunmael positively by Canon Cook, the Roy. S. Clark, Kalisch, Knobel, and most others. all of which have trees and water. They are distant from Howarah, respectively, six miles, ten miles, and sixteen miles. To us it seems that Wady Ghnrundel, which would be reached first, and which is the most beautiful of the three, has the best claim of the three to represent the camping-place of Elim, the short distance from Howarah furnishing no objection now that there was no need of haste, and the abundance of shade, pasturage, and water rendering the place most attractive. We are inclined to believe that a considerable stay was made in this locality, more especially for the refreshment of the flocks and herds, which must have suffered severely during the three days' march without water.[116] It is our conviction that the cattle of the Israelites rapidly decreased as they pursued their march. Many were probably killed for food; others died of thirst, or pined away from the insufficiency of the pasturage.

The next notice of movement which we have in Exodus is remarkably vague, and but for the light thrown upon the subject by the summary in Numbers might be misleading. "They took their journey," we are told, "from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai" (Exodus 16:1). From this it might have been supposed that the next encampment after Elim was in the wilderness of Sin, which must then have been looked for within twelve or fifteen miles of Wady Ghurundel. But there is no suitable tract within the distance. We find, however, by Numbers (33:10, 11), that there was at least one encampment between Elim and the Sin desert. "They removed from Elim," it is said, "and encamped by the Red Sea; and they removed from the Red Sea and encamped in the wilderness of Sin." This makes it certain that Wady Ghurundel was reached at some distance inland,[117] The whole of the coast-line is arid. The wadys are entered from the shore up a steep dry incline, and it is not till some distance inland that vegetation is found. and that after leaving it the route was deflected towards the right, and the coast of the Red Sea reached, probably either at the mouth of Wady Ethal or of Wady Shubeikah. As Wady Ethal is only ten miles from Ghurundel, and Shubeikah is less than fifteen, the latter would seem to be the more probable,[118] Shubeikah has trees, water, and pasturage. It is, next to Ghrundel, the most fertile of the outer wadys. unless indeed there was more than one encampment on the sea-shore.

We have now to identify "the wilderness of Sin." Within eleven or twelve miles of the mouth of Wady Shubeikah are two tracts fairly suitable. One of these is the plain of El Markha,[119] Cook, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' vo1. 1 Peter 1:0. p. 438; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 70. an open sandy space, about thirteen miles long by three broad, intervening between the mountains and the sea, which may be reached from Wady Shubeikah by a march along the shore in about three or four hours. The other is the Debbet er Ramleh, an inland tract, "bare, wild, and desolate," [120] Cook, p. 436. extending about twenty-five miles from N.W.W. to S.E.E., between long. 33° 20' and 33° 40', and varying in Width from two to seven miles. This tract may be reached from Wady Shubeikah by a succession of wadys, rough but practicable, in a march of about three hours. The conductors of the recent Sinai Survey Expedition, having examined both localities, are strongly of opinion that the way by the shore and El Markha is the one most likely to have been pursued by so large a body as the Israelites,[121] Palmer, 'Desert of the Exodus,' vol. 1. pp. 232-9. and that El Markha consequently is "the wilderness of Sin," where the quails were brought and the manna was first given (Exodus 16:4-36). The opinion of scientific observers has so much weight, that, though some coincidences of name have been noted on the rival route,[122] Debbet is said to have exactly the same meaning as Sin, Dophkah (Numbers 33:12) to correspond to Sih, the name of a wady which conmunicates with the Debbet, and Alush to be the same as El Esh, another wady further on. we incline to accept the line by El Markha as that which the Israelites most probably took.

From some part of the plain El Markha they must have turned inland. Three wadys lead out of it, the Wady Shellal towards the north, the Wady Feiran on the south, and the Wady Seih-Sidreh, halfway between the two. Wadys Shellal and Seih-Sidreh unite in the Wady Magharah, where the Egyptians had an important settlement for the working of the copper-mines, defended by a fortress and a garrison[123] It is probable that the Israelites would wish to avoid a collision with a disciplined force, and would therefore prefer the southern route, which, though circuitous, and said to be at the present time ill-watered, was spacious and free from enemies. Three encampments brought them to Rephidim, which, if we have correctly divined the movements of the host up to this point, must have been in the Wady Feiran, a valley declared to be "richer in water and vegetation than any other in the peninsula." [124] Highton, in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 3. p. 1034 Here, consequently, abundant water was expected, but none was found; the watercourse was dry (Exodus 17:1). Hence the extreme anger of the people against Moses, followed by the miracle of bringing water out of the rock (ib. vers. 2-6), and soon afterwards by the battle with the Amalekites. Wady Feiran, of great value in itself on account of its fertility, was also of extreme importance as giving access to the entire group of valleys about Sinai, which formed an oasis in the stony wilderness. It has been well observed that "if the Israelites passed through Wady Feiran, it seems improbable that they should not have come into collision with the natives." [125] Cook, in the' Speaker's Commentary,' 1.s.c. Here were "the tombs and storehouses of the Amalekites;" [126] Rev. F. W. Holland, quoted in the same work, vol. 1 Peter 1:0. p. 438, note. here probably was the ancient sanctuary of the nation;[127] Ritter, 'Sinai,' pp. 728-44; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 40. here certainly, and in the neighbourhood, was one of the best grazing districts, for which a nomadic horde will fight, if it fights for anything. Here, finally, is a spot fitting well the description of the battle and its attendant circumstances. "Every one who has seen the valley of Feiran will at once recognise the propriety of the 'hill' (Exodus 17:9, Exodus 17:10), if applied to the rocky eminence which commands the palm-grove, and on which, in early Christian times, stood the church and palace of the bishops of Paran. Thus, if we can attach any credence to the oldest known tradition of the peninsula, that Rephidim is the same as Paran, then Rephidim,'the resting-place,' is the natural name for the paradise of the Bedouins in the adjacent palm-grove; then the hill of the church of Paran may fairly be imagined to be "the hill" on which Moses stood, deriving its earliest consecration from the altar which he built; the Amalekites may thus have naturally fought for the oasis of the Desert and the sanctuary of their gods; and Jethro may well have found his kinsmen encamping after their long journey amongst the palms 'before the mount of God' (Serbal), and acknowledged that the Lord was greater even than all the gods who had from ancient days been thought to dwell on the lofty peaks which overhung their encampment." [128] Stanley, pp. 41-2.

The Wady Feiran bifurcates at its eastern extremity, sending off the Wady ash Sheikh to the left, and to the right the Wady Solaf, both of them practicable routes, but the former the easier. It is a reasonable suggestion that both may have been utilised, and that the two portions of the congregation, reuniting where the above-mentioned wadys converge, thus entered the Wady er Rahah, "the enclosed plain in front of the magnificent cliffs of Ras Sufsafeh," [129] Stanley, p. 42. which is now generally admitted to be "the wilderness of Sinai" (Exodus 19:1), the camping-ground in which the Israelites assembled to see the Lord "come down upon Mount Sinai" (ib. ver. 11). The southern extremity of the mountain, once preferred by many[130] As Ritter, Kalisch, Wellsted, Laborde, Strauss, and others. as the probable scene of the descent, is found to have no plain at all at its base, and no place within moderate distance at all suited for a great assembly.[131] So far as I know, this was first pointed out by Dean Stanley in 1856. His judgment on the point was completely confirmed by the engineers who made the Ordnance Survey in 1868. Er Rahah and Ras Sufsafeh, on the other hand, answer all the conditions. "No one," says Dean Stanley,[132] 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 42-3. "who has approached the Ras Sasafeh (Sufsafeh) through that noble plain, or who has looked down upon the plain from that majestic height, will willingly part with the belief that these are the two essential features of the view of the Israelite camp. That such a plain should exist at all in front of such a cliff is so remarkable a coincidence with the sacred narrative as to furnish a strong internal argument, not merely of its identity with the scene, but of the scene itself having been described by an eye-witness. The awful and lengthened approach, as to some natural sanctuary, would have been the fittest preparation for the coming scene. The low line of alluvial mounds at the foot of the cliff exactly answer [?] to the 'bounds' which were to keep the people off from 'touching the mount.' The plain itself is not broken and uneven and narrowly shut in, like almost all others in the range, but presents a long retiring sweep, against which the people could 'remove and stand afar off.' The cliff, rising like a huge altar in front of the whole congregation, and visible against the sky in lonely grandeur from end to end of the whole plain, is the very image of 'the mount that might be touched,' and from which the voice of God might be heard far and wide over the stillness of the plain below, widened at that point to its utmost extent by the confluence of all the contiguous valleys." The opinion here stated rests upon such solid grounds that further exploration can scarcely shake it. The latest and most scientific explorers have given to it their full adhesion. And the trigonometrical survey which these explorers made of the entire neighbourhood has converted one[133] Canon Cook. who was strongly inclined to the rival view, into a zealous advocate of the opinion here set forth. Finally, the judgment of Sir Henry James, one of our best engineers, coincides with that of the officers who made the survey. Sir Henry believes that "no spot in the world can be pointed out which combines in a more remarkable manner the conditions of a commanding height and of a plain in every part of which the sights and sounds described in Exodus would reach an assembled multitude of more than two million souls." [134] 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 1. p. 442

There would seem, therefore, to be no reasonable doubt that Sinai and its wilderness have been identified, and that the Law was given from Ras Sufsafeh to the people of Israel assembled in the Wady of Er Rahah.


The Book of Exodus is so closely connected with the remainder of the Pentateuch that it has but seldom, comparatively speaking, been made the subject of distinct and separate comment. The great bulk of those who have written upon it, have been either composers of "Introductions" to the whole of the Old Testament, like Eichhorn, Bertholdt, Carpzov, Havernick, Keil and Delitzsch, De Wette, Jahn, Herbst, Michaelis, Bleek, and Stahelin, or writers of commentaries on the entire Pentateuch, like Vater, Knobe1, Baumgarten, Marsh, Jahn (Aechtheit des Pentateuch), Hartmann, Fritzsche, Kalisch, and Bush. One English writer of repute, Graves, occupied somewhat narrower ground in his 'Lectures on the Last Four Books of the Pentateuch,' which in England was long reckoned among standard theological works. The volume devoted to Exodus by Kalisch, though part of a general commentary, stands on a somewhat peculiar footing, since it was written and published separately by one who viewed "Exodus" as "forming the centre of the Divine Revelation," and as being consequently "the most important volume which the human race possesses." As the comment of a Jew, a special interest attaches to this treatise, the author having certain advantages of intimate familiarity with the text and close acquaintance with Hebrew customs and ideas, which render his remarks deserving of attentive consideration.
Of comments on Exodus alone, the earliest which deserves mention is that of Rivet, entitled 'Commentarii in Exodum,' which will be found in his Opera Theologica, vol. 1. published at Rotterdam in 1651. After this, no contribution of much value was made towards the right understanding of the work until Rosenmuller published his 'Scholia in Exodum' in 1822. The strictures of Von Bohlen in his 'Alte Indien' called forth in 1840 the excellent work of Hengstenberg, entitled 'Aegypten und Moses,' which, although containing reference to Genesis, is in the main a comment on Exodus, of great value in all that regards Egypt and the Egyptians. Thirteen years later Keil and Delitzsch commenced the publication of their great work, 'Einleitung in die Kanonischen Schriften des alten Testamentes,' by commentaries on Genesis and Exodus, which were translated into English in Clark's Edinburgh Series in the year 1864. Kalisch's 'Historical and Critical Commentary,' which has been already mentioned, appeared within two years of that of Keil and Delitzsch, but was written apparently without any knowledge of it, and shows throughout marks of original and independent thought. It was published simultaneously in English and in German, in the year 1855. In 1857, two years later, the editors of the 'Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum alten Testament,' published by Hirzel of Leipsic, gave to the world a still more elaborate comment than either of these, entitled 'Die Bucher Exodus und Leviticus erklart yon Augustus Knobel,' in which great and varied learning was brought to bear on the subject, and a view taken which, though rationalistic to a certain extent, was moderate in comparison with the older generation of German commentators, as De Wette, Von Lengerke, and Stahelin. Finally, in 1871, the first volume of the 'Speaker's Commentary' contained an Introduction and Explanatory Comment on Exodus, accompanied by additional Notes and Essays — the joint production of Canon Cook and the Rev. S. Clark, remarkable for the great knowledge of Egyptian history and of the ancient Egyptian language which it displayed — a knowledge that at once placed the principal author in the first rank of European Egyptologers.
Some good collections have been made in recent years of the Jewish commentators upon Exodus, or the Pentateuch generally. Among these the most important are 'Mechilta, der alteste halach, und hagad. Commentar z. 2. Buch Moses, yon J. H. Weiss,' Wien, 1865; 'Wehishir, gesammeite, erlauterte, Midrasch- and Halachasteken z. Buche Exodus des Pentateuch, yon R. Chefez Aluf,' Leipzig, 1873; and 'Der Pentateuch, mit folgenden zehn Commentatoren, Raschi, Ibn Esra, Ramban, Rasehbam, Balhaturim, Sofurns, Asvi Eser, Mesoras Targum, Paschegen, und dem Commentar Nesina-la-ger yon R. Nathan Adler, ferner mit Targum und Toldos Aron,' Wilna, 1876.
Important works have also been written on portions of Exodus, e.g. that of Bryant, entitled 'Observations upon the Plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians,' 2nd edition, London, 1810, and that of Millington on the same subject; also Michaelis, 'Mosaisches Recht,' Frankfurt, 1775-80; and the following upon the Tabernacle — Friedrich, 'Symbolik der Mosaischen Stiftshiitte,' Leipzig, 1841; and Neumann, 'Die Stiftshutte, Bild and Wort,' Gotha, 1861. Important light has also been thrown on this last-mentioned subject by Mr. James Fergusson, in Dr. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible' art. Temple.

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