Exodus 3:14 again (long)
stoney at touchwood.net
Fri Jul 20 16:44:07 EDT 2001
Some weeks ago I promised a more detailed justification of my reading of Ex
3:14 as a flash of divine irritation. It took longer than I expected
(among other things, my library finally got hold of a copy of Propp's
piquant and informative commentary, which I had to absorb), but here it is,
with my apologies for the delay.
This reading grows out of an effort-in-progress to produce a version of the
Exodus tale presentable in what I take to have been its original form as a
heard rather than a read work. (Please note that it's oral *delivery* I'm
assuming, not oral composition.) Consequently, some caveats are in order:
1) My project focuses on subtext, not text or supertext. This essentially
inferential and intuitive approach will not commend itself to readers who
require rigorously documented analysis of grammatical categories.
2) My project seeks to reconstruct an Ur-text. This source-critical
approach can only distress readers convinced of Torah's historical unity.
3) My project dwells on the interplay of conflicting intentions and
actions. This dramatistic approach exposes me to the charge raised (and,
thank you Peter, mitigated) by Peter Kirk:
>> PETER KIRK: . . . and your whole approach can be accused of excessive
anthropomorphism of the deity. But I think it could reasonably be argued
that this would fit well with the original genre of this exchange and the
theology of its author, cf. the very anthropomorphic YHWH of Genesis 3:8-13
and 18:16-33. <<
Exactly so. I don't merely concede, I insist on an anthropomorphic YHWH:
without anthropomorphism there's no story. But it will annoy readers who
insist upon a God without body, parts or passions.
I'll respond first to some specific objections that have been raised; then
lay out my contextual argument; and conclude with my source-critical
A. SOME OBJECTIONS
Trevor appears to be arguing (I may still misunderstand him) that since the
Deity commands Moses to "tell the Israelites that _)HYH_ sent you", we must
regard this as a serious self-identification. Against this I urged the
uniqueness of _)HYH_:
>> SB: But surely the fact that the designation is never used again
suggests very strongly that we should NOT take seriously the implication
that His name is 'ehyeh? <<
>> TREVOR PETERSON: Actually, a number of names for God in the Hebrew
Bible are specific to the occasion, and in this case obviously it would be
highly context-driven. <<
>> DAN WAGNER: Several other divine names are singularly revealed, e.g.,
"Jehovah-Jireh," Yahweh-Is-There, Yahweh-Rophe, Yahweh-Zidkenu come to mind
but many more. Each is contextually relevant to the needs of the moment,
and the one in Ex. 3 is no exception. <<
Trevor and Dan are quite right; I "very strongly" overstated my case. On
the other hand: those nonce-names are compounds which combine a
"context-driven" epithet with either _YHWH_ or _)L_ real names which are
used independently and repeatedly. _)HYH_, by contrast, is
a) never used before this occurrence, which suggests that it couldn't
satisfy Moses' "contextually relevant" need for a recognized divine name
which might provide him credentials. Note that in the parallel P passage
at 6:2, the Deity ties YHWH, the new name he is introducing, to a known old
name, 'El Shaddai, which establishes his identity.
b) never used after this occurrence, which suggests that in the event it's
*not* offered to the sons of Israel as a symbolic standard for the
liberation movement. Within a dozen verses, in fact, at 4:1, it is as an
emissary of "YHWH" that Moses projects presenting himself, with no mention
of "_)HYH_" .
The evidence thus seems clear to me that the name by which Moses is to
identify his commissioner is *not* _)HYH_ but _YHWH_, as instructed in 3:15.
Then why does YHWH give Moses two different names and two different
instructions? Dan appears to argue that in fact it's a single, continuous
>> DAN WAGNER: _YHWH_ is likely related to, or at least an intentional
allusion to, _)HYH_, which would explain the follow-up here. <<
"Related," possibly. "An intentional allusion," very likely. But is the
wordplay subtextual or supertextual is it YHWH's allusion, or the
author's? At any rate, the argument for continuous instruction seem to me
to founder on the interposed _WY)MR (WD )LHYM )L-MSH_. A quick survey of
Exodus shows no other instance where _WY)MR_ interrupts a continuous speech
by the Deity.
6:2, 7:19 and 8:5 are generally held to mark editorial junctures
between P and JE material.
30:11,17,22 & 34 and 31:1 & 12 mark distinct changes of subject,
and may also mark editorial junctures.
24:1 and 34:27 mark resumption of the action after the Deity's
recitation of detailed codes; 34:1 marks a new action
32:9 marks a narrative digression (which may also be an interpolation)
33:19,20, 21, which at first glance appear to challenge my contention, in
fact provide the clearest parallel. Each new _WY)MR_ , I suggest, marks a
pause for reconsideration: *I'll make My goodness pass before you . . . *[
BUT:]You can't see My face . . . *[ SO:]Here's a place . . ."
The obvious narrative form for a single and continuous instruction would
have been a single and continuous speech. Unless you want to take v.14 as
an interpolation (in which case ALL bets are off), the speech heading here
has to mark *something*. Even if you read it as "and the Deity kept on
speaking to Moses," I see no way to avoid taking it as breaking the speech
in two and distinguishing the two instructions as belonging to distinct beats.
In fairness, I must mention a mediaeval reading cited by Propp which
accommodates both the break and the continuity: that the Deity, having
Himself defined His name in the first person, interrupts himself to provide
a third-person equivalent which Moses and the Israelites may use with
propriety. This is very sensible reading, however, doesn't contribute much
to the dramatic context.
B. A DRAMATIC READING
I thank Dan in particular for reading my argument in the story-centered
dramatic context I intended:
>> DAN WAGNER: In isolation this may be possible, but what contextual
evidence is there that Moses was asking a frustrating question? Granted,
there was plenty about Moses' responses in his calling dialogue that
"annoyed" God, if i could use that term. But it seems to be a progression,
and the anger comes in chapter 4:14. Your view that it comes so early in
the progression seems unusual and out-of-order in the narrative to me. <<
Well, frustration is the basic premise of the story: YHWH sends Moses to
bring out the Israelites, and Moses resists the commission. Any objection
or obstacle or delay is, by definition, frustrating; the mere fact of the
question frustrates, quite apart from its content. Granted, there are
frustrations and frustrations arguments presented with a becoming humility
will mollify YHWH's displeasure, as for instance Abraham, in Gen 18,
successfully persuades YHWH to mitigate His judgments. But we see nothing
of that here. On the contrary, Moses repeatedly interrupts, bluntly and
shamelessly. And I believe we see YHWH replying appropriately. Note, for
instance, that He never gives Moses a simple, straightforward answer;
hostile wordplay and rhetoric betray His growing impatience.
Look at it from YHWH's point of view. He's conceived a dandy plan for
rescuing the sons of Israel from the strong arm of Egypt. To recruit Moses
He prepares what anyone in my line of business would recognize as a classic
Client Proposal (an exciting mulitimedia Attractor . . . a sonorous
recitation of Credentials leaning particularly on the past relationship
with the Client . . . a disturbing analysis of Project Needs . . . an
alluring description of Project Benefits . . . and a stirring Call to
Action). But before He gets beyond the Executive Summary Moses interrupts
with a distinctly negative "Who, me?"
YHWH has blundered. Moses' last attempt to intervene between Israel and
Egypt has cost him long days of exile; he is the very last Hebrew to
respond with the eager and indeed grateful acquiescence YHWH expects. YHWH
hastens to assure him that this time it will be different because Moses
will enjoy divine support; but His phrasing betrays his pique: not just
_)HYH (MT_ but _KY )HYH (MT_. I don't see any translation for that
particle quotation marks, "certainly," or "because" which so materially
modifies the sense of the clause it introduces that its inclusion must be
regarded as obligatory. It's a stylistic choice by the author, and the
strict syntactic parallel with Moses' question cannot be accidental: _KY
)LK_ . . . _WKY )WCY_ . . . _KY )HYH_. There has to be at least a whiff
of this meaning:
"Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring out
the sons of Israel from Egypt?"
" that I should be with you?" . . .
It's a little joke at Moses' expense, not exactly hostile, but not exactly
warm, either a verbal lift of the divine eyebrow, so to speak, which
should warn Moses to watch his step and his manner.
(And by the way: if anybody can come up with an idiomatic English
translation that will preserve that balance between the indicative and the
subjuntive senses of _)HYH_ I'd be very grateful to hear it.)
At 3:13 Moses puts forward a demand for his interlocutor's identity. If he
knows Who it is he's talking with, he's being extraordinarily insolent, and
the suggestion that YHWH's reply reflects His aversion to being asked His
name is correct. I suspect that Moses is genuinely ignorant; he knows his
interlocutor is *a* deity but not *which*, and he's being politely
circumspect in asking. (That suspicion, however, is partly grounded on my
belief that this is a J text: it explains why the author for these few
lines (3:11-15) use _)LHYM_.)
At any rate, the question annoys YHWH: it's not just an interruption, it in
effect points out that He hasn't thought His plan through. As I said
before, he barks "I'll be who I'll be!" and follows this with a sarcastic
invitation to "Tell the sons of Israel I'll-be sent you!" He then gets hold
of Himself and answers Moses' question by correcting His earlier
instruction: "Tell the sons of Israel that *YHWH,* god of their fathers ...
sent you," explaining with pointedly patient emphasis that "*This* is my
name forever, *this* is my designation age after age."
He then resumes His presentation: "Go and collect the elders of Israel and
tell them that YHWH . . . appeared to you. . . . " When He's done, Moses
ignores the good parts even the really nifty scheme for providing Israel
with startup capital and starts carping about practical details
again "What if they don't listen . . . and don't believe that YHWH
appeared to me?" This time YHWH doesn't bother to answer; He offers Moses
a demonstration. His practical joke sends Moses running in terror, and
YHWH remarks "so they'll believe that YHWH . . . has appeared to you." The
hanging clause here, like that in 3:12, suggests at least a certain
wryness; I find it hard not to hear "That'll teach you!" in the subtext.
Moses raises yet another objection, and YHWH's patience is wearing thin; He
responds with a barrage of rhetorical questions before renewing His promise
of assistance. Moses continues to dig in his heels. . . It's not at all
clear what his next remark means; the plain sense is obviously incompatible
with YHWH's anger, but I don't see how translators find "Send somebody
else" in it. Perhaps YHWH interrupts before Moses finishes saying "Send
whom you please but *I'm* not going." . . . At any rate, YHWH's irritation
finally flares into open rage.
SOME HIGHER-CRITICAL SPECULATIONS
Until now I've dealt with the text as we've received it; to advance my
argument beyond this point I have to venture onto the shakier ground of
source analysis. This post is getting far too long, so I'll hold off on
detailed argument until somebody evinces an interest. Briefly, I see in the
numerous narrative anomalies throughout Chapters 3 and 4 signs not of the
combination of two distinct versions but of a single original text
augmented and rearranged, probably by more than one hand, to reflect
theological and theopolitical rather than narrative values.
1) The initial call (4:19-20a) has been moved here from its natural place
following Pharaoh's death at 2:23b; a new introduction has replaced it
(3:1-2a, 4b-5,6b); and the "sign" (3:12b) and the return to Jethro (4:18)
have been interpolated, all in order to locate the calling at Horeb.
2) Aaron's appointment (4:14b-16) and introduction (4:27-28) have been
added - probably in the first instance to bring him into the story for the
Golden Calf and Cushite Wife episodes, but with subsequent
additions/revisions reflecting Aaron's later standing.
3) Wonders, instructions and explanations have been interpolated at the end
of Chapter 3 (3:19-22), after the prank (4:4,6-9), and at 4:20b-23(or maybe
-22a, see below), and the sequence of speeches appears to have been altered
(Moses' objection at 3:13 presupposes some such instruction as 3:15, but
without the name YHWH, his objection at 4:1 catches up YHWH's words at
3:16-17 (or -18a), and his plea at 4:10 follows the instruction to speak at
3:18 (or 18b) more naturally than the signs in 4:1-9) all in order to
focus the narrative on YHWH's power and majesty rather than His very
undignified and, yes, anthropomorphic squabbling with Moses.
If I'm correct in these conjectures, then in the story as originally
composed it is Moses' whining which provokes YHWH to homicidal fury.
If I may suppose the redactor to have altered the text, as well as
rearranging and augmenting it, we might find YHWH saying "Israel's My
firstborn son, and I keep telling you to BRING My son out so he can serve
Me, and you won't BRING him out look, I'm going to kill *your* son, *your*
firstborn!" and proceeding to try to do so.
And if these conjectures aren't wild enough: suppose, as Propp speculates,
that there has been a systematic effort to replace a Mosaic succession
through Gershom and Eliezer with an Aaronic succession through Gershon and
Eleazer; and that as he also speculates a XOTEN denotes a
bridegroom/circumcisee placed under "blood protection" by marriage to the
daughter of his XATAN, father-in-law/circumcisor; then perhaps it is
*YHWH's* feet Zipporah smears with blood, YHWH whom she calls XOTEN, and
YHWH's service to whom the child is dedicated and 4:26b has been censored
by the Aaronides, having originally read something like "And she called his
name Eliezer, saying 'Now God must protect him, because of the circumcision.'"
Or perhaps not.
But it makes a good story!
A final note: The rhythm of this reconstruction mirrors that of the major
narrative it introduces: Pharaoh constantly trying to wriggle out of doing
what he's commanded, the Deity threatening, relenting, and threatening
again on a rising scale rising from the humorous to the frightening to the
homicidal. The wilderness narrative, too, appears to echo this rhythm in
the relationship between YHWH and Israel, which although the dynamic
progression (if there ever was any) has been obscured, perhaps hopelessly,
by subsequent redaction.
I welcome your comments.
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