The Decalogue: Organizing the Book of Exodus

This will be the last post of my series on pages 275-278 of David Aaron’s Etched in Stone.  On these pages, Dr. Aaron summarizes what he believes were the stages of the Decalogue tradition.  I’ll give you the gist so far.  First, there was a proto-narrative, which developed a Decalogue that was non-cultic and was modeled on ancient Near Eastern legal codes.  The goal behind this Decalogue was to show that Israel could have a law, even though she no longer had a king (due to the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.E.).  Then, there was a priestly reaction against the Proto-Narrative.  These priests highlighted a cultic Decalogue (Exodus 34) and used the Golden Calf story to attack the Proto-Narrative and to portray the Proto-Narrative’s Decalogue as invalid.  Then, the Deuteronomist chimed in.  The Deuteronomist preferred the Proto-Narrative’s Decalogue to the cultic one of the priests, but the Deuteronomist still used the Golden Calf story—to promote Deuteronomistic ideas such as opposition to idolatry.

Now, we’re on Stage 4, which Dr. Aaron characterizes as “Revamping the Exodus Story”.  I’ll quote this stage:

“Deuteronomy, as a free-standing document, was ultimately juxtaposed with those other epics that make up the Exodus story.  The idea of a covenant document and its corollary social and religious obligations needed to be reflected in that story.  Suddenly a wilderness sojourn emerged to accommodate a whole variety of literary material that had not previously been contemplated by the authors of the Exodus story.  Exodus 19-20 was situated to emulate the chronology of Deuteronomy 4-6.  The ‘tablets’ are read, but the fabrication of the ark is assigned to the priests (Exodus 25).  As the final redactors were themselves interested in the polemical themes of the Golden Calf story—especially its priestly flavor that was concerned first and foremost with cultural and religious assimilation—Exodus 32-34 were incorporated.  This, however, required further adjustments to Deuteronomy.  Thus, chapters 9 and 10 of that book were integrated so that all of the core narratives of Exodus and Deuteronomy were now more or less parallel.”

We have the Book of Deuteronomy, and the Book of Exodus is being shaped.  Deuteronomy embraced the concept of the tablets of the Decalogue serving as Israel’s covenant document, and Deuteronomy 4-6 includes the story of God giving Israel the Decalogue from Horeb.  Exodus 19-20 was inserted where it was in order that the chronology of Deuteronomy 4-6 could be imitated.  I would have to read Etched in Stone again to understand more fully what Dr. Aaron has in mind here, but, on page 227, Dr. Aaron says that the Covenant Code was put where it was to mimic the structure of Deuteronomy—which may mean that, just as in Deuteronomy a series of laws beginning with Deuteronomy 12 comes after the Decalogue, so also in Exodus does the Covenant Code come after the Decalogue.

Exodus 32-34 (which contained the Golden Calf story and the cultic Decalogue) was incorporated because the redactors liked its opposition to religious and cultural assimilation—an issue that confronted the Jews even in these redactors’ historical context.  But then Deuteronomy 9-10 (which contains the Golden Calf story) was incorporated into Deuteronomy, so that the story of Exodus and Deuteronomy were parallel—in that both talked about the Decalogue, followed by the Golden Calf story.

I may revisit this stage sometime in the future.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. 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. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also 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.
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