The website of Rabbi Moshe Pitchon

The Book of Shemot

Exodus, the second book of the Torah

The Book of Exodus

The second book of the Torah – called Shemot in Hebrew- is commonly known as Exodus in translated texts.

On the surface, this book  “is not only a sublime religious document but it is also a literary masterpiece.”

Beneath the story’s use of legendary motifs, miracles, and mythic language and imagery, there was indeed a bona fide attempt by Israelite scribes to preserve traditions rooted in history.[3]

Because the Israelites used history-writing conventions different from ours does not mean they were unable or unwilling to preserve traditions about historical people and events. We are not constrained to interpret miraculous reports literally.

Other ancient peoples also used similar mythic language and imagery to celebrate otherwise actual (and meaningful) historical events. Therefore, the incorporation of supernatural imagery was not just a convention of ancient fiction writing but also one of ancient history writing. Israelite writers were constrained to tell the story this way.

However, there is more to interpreting the book than demonstrating that this or that happened.[4]

[2] CASSUTO, U.: A Commentary of the Book of Exodus, p.3

[3] MENDENHALL, GEORGE, E.: Ancient Israel’s Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, pp. 43-44

[4] ENNS, PETER: Exodus: The NIV Application Commentary, p. 24

“The Book of Exodus is devoted to the two most important questions on which human minds have dwelled since time immemorial: the question of the role played by the divine in our lives and the question of who “we” are.”

The book of Exodus is divided into four parts.

Chapters 1-15: 21

The story of Israel in Egypt, the oppression, the struggle for freedom, and the final liberation;

Chapter 15: 22 to Chapter 18

the account of the journey from the Red Sea to Sinai;

Chapter 19-24

the covenant at Sinai and prescriptions of the law;

Chapters 25-40

the command to erect the Tabernacle, and its implementation.