Some Source Criticism on Exodus 19, 24, and 34

For today’s write-up of Volume I of Gerhard Von Rad’s Old Testament Theology, I want to discuss something that Von Rad says on page 189, in a footnote:

“The source E dominates the picture of the events at Sinai (Ex. XIXf., XXIV). Of J, the obviously very ancient tradition of a covenant meal (vss. 9-11) is important. J’s proclamation of the commandments which runs parallel to the Elohistic decalogue is now to be found in Ex. XXXIV, but the series of commandments which we meet with there is probably a secondary substitution which had to be inserted when the two source documents were combined, because J’s original decalogue was identical with that of E, or at any rate approximated very closely to it in tenor. Rowley takes Ex. XXXIV as a south Judean tradition and believes that the series of commandments can be taken as the old Kenite decalogue…”

I want to first look at Exodus 19 and 24, and try to determine why they are attributed to E. Actually, what I’ll do is paste the two chapters and color-code how Richard Elliott Friedman identifies the sources in Who Wrote the Bible? J will be in blue, E will be in red, P will be in green, and what’s left will be in black. The translation will be the KJV.

Exodus 19

1In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

2For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

3And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

4Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.

5Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

6And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

7And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

8And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

9And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.

10And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

12And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

13There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.

14And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.

15And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.

16And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

17And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

18And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

20And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

21And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

22And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.

23And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.

24And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.

25So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.

Exodus 24

1And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.

2And Moses alone shall come near the LORD: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him.

3And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.

4And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

5And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.

6And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

7And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.

8And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.

9Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:

10And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.

11And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

12And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.

13And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.

14And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them.

15And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.

16And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

17And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.

18And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

At this time, I don’t really know the basis for Friedman’s division, so that may be something that I’ll need to learn. At first, it seemed that there was more “God” in the Elohist source, and more “LORD” (YHWH) in the Yahwist (J) source, but, on second glance, there are times when E has YHWH; J, however, does appear to stick with YHWH. Part of the basis for Friedman’s division may be political. In Exodus 19:24 (J), the LORD tells Moses to bring Aaron with him when he goes up the mountain; in Exodus 24:1-2 (E), only Moses can approach the LORD, whereas Aaron, two of his sons, and the seventy elders must worship from a distance. Because J (for Friedman) was from Judah, the site of the Aaronide priesthood, J says that Aaron went up with Moses; but E is from a group of Mushites in the North, and so he wants to highlight the uniqueness of Moses.

Some of Friedman’s divisions disrupt the unity of the story in places where it fits together pretty well. For instance, why split apart Exodus 19:16? Couldn’t one just say that a single author wrote that verse—to communicate that the Israelites trembled in response to the thunder, lightning, cloud, and trumpet blast? Why attribute the trembling part to E, and the stuff causing the trembling to J?

I also want to note that Friedman attributes the covenant meal in Exodus 24:9-11 to E, whereas Von Rad attributes it to J. I’m not entirely sure why, but I will make a guess. Friedman probably attributes it to E because it fits in so well with the rest of the chapter, which he says is E (except for vv 15b-18a, which he says P wrote): God talks about Aaron, his sons, and the seventy elders worshiping on the mountain, and vv 9-11 describes them eating there. Von Rad, however, may believe that a covenant meal is a Yahwistic theme, for we see covenant meals in Genesis 26:28-31 and Genesis 31:44-55—and YHWH appears as the name of God in those passages. And so, when Von Rad sees a covenant meal in Exodus 24:9-11, he attributes that to J.

But, overall, I think that Von Rad may see more E in Exodus 19 than Friedman does, since Von Rad says that E dominates that chapter.

Now let’s look at Exodus 34 and Friedman’s source identification:

Exodus 34

1And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.

2And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.

3And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.

4And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.

5And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

6And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

8And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.

9And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O LORD, let my LORD, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

10And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

11Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

12Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

13But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

14For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

16And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

17Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

18The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

19All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

20But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.

21Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

22And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.

23Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

24For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

26The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.

27And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

28And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

29And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

30And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

31And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.

32And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.

33And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.

34But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.

35And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

“LORD” appears a lot in this chapter, which may be one factor behind Friedman’s attribution of much of it to J. But vv 29-35 also have “LORD,” yet Friedman attributes that to P.

Von Rad also views much of Exodus 34 as J. He appears to think that this is J’s version of the giving of the Ten Commandments. But, when the redactor was putting together E and J, he didn’t want for the Decalogue to appear twice, and so he put another Decalogue in Exodus 34—which Rowley says may be an old Judean or Kenite version. So J’s version originally had what we know as the Decalogue, but it got replaced.

David Aaron, however, thinks that the Decalogue in Exodus 34 was from a priestly group, which wanted a more ethnic, cultic Decalogue.

I’ve got a lot to learn about source criticism!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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