The method of discovering
original literary units
of the Book of Exodus
according to the thought
of its final writer-redactor.

PhD dissertation: Part I (pp. 53-66) of chapter I

Wojciech Kosek

This translation was published first as a part of a PDF publication on 25 January 2020
on website.

DOI of the version of the paper on

This paper is the translation of the first chapter of the doctoral dissertation:

Wojciech Kosek, Pierwotny ryt Paschy w świetle schematu literackiego Księgi Wyjścia 1-18,

[The original rite of the Passover in the light of the literary scheme of the Book of Exodus 1-18],

Kraków 2008

See also on


The present paper is the first element of 6-parts internet publication of the first chapter of the doctoral dissertation. It shows subsequent methodological steps to discover the division of the Book of Exodus into basic literary units according to the thought of its final writer-redactor, the one who arranged the text under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.

In the first step, one ought to make a list of the essential means of dividing this book, which occurred from the very beginning to our times. It concerns, of course, the version in the Hebrew language, and also its translations into different languages, including the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate. One must take into account also the contribution of the contemporary biblicists, done through their translations and scientific discussions and analyses resulting in books or articles in specialized magazines.

The comparative material collected in this way will answer the question connected with the criterion of the division of the text: is there visible an original logic in the contemporary editions of the Bible according to which the last editor-writer finally shaped this holy text? What is this original logic? Can it be discovered with scientific credibility?

One will describe the next methodological steps in the next parts of this Internet publication. The whole of them leads to discovering the six-element literary structure of Ex 1-18 as the first main part of the Book of Exodus. Its second part – Ex 19-40 – will not be analyzed in the present publication.

Table of contents of part I and II:

1.2.Presentation of previously discovered means of dividing the Book of Exodus.
 1.2.1.Division of Ex 1-18 in Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, and Biblia Tysiąclecia.
1.2.2.Editorial titles dividing the text Ex 1-18 in contemporary editions of Holy Scripture and modern commentaries.
The next parts:
1.3.Looking for a new criterion of dividing the Book of Exodus 1-18.
1.4.Looking for the main pericopes in Ex 1-18.
1.5.List of main pericopes in Ex 1-18.
1.6.The summary of the first chapter of the dissertation.

1.1. Introduction.

The Book of Exodus, like the whole Old Testament, has a very long history of creation. Composed of smaller literary texts from various periods of Israel, beginning with the time of Moses (around the 15th century BC [1]), it probably received its final shape in Babylonian captivity (around the 6th century BC). Just as a house can be built of bricks from earlier buildings, so this book was built of literary material that came into being in a variety of circumstances, probably as parts of some larger literary wholes. Traces of belonging to these ancient wholes could have remained, in many cases trying in some details to lead the researcher to a part once connected to it but now no longer existing. Such a complex reality requires caution from anyone who does not want to get lost in an abundance of observations when trying to discover the text details. One should remember that many of these details should be omitted not only as unimportant for the meaning of the new, final work [2], but also as elements that make it difficult or impossible to read this New. Therefore, the fundamental question that one should still ask in the course of the research is the following sentence: Who is the hero of the presented events? Do the analyzed details concern Him or preferably someone/something less important?

If the analyses of the Book of Exodus is to result in leading us as close as possible to the thought of biblical writer-editor of the final text, answer to the above question must be as it must have sounded in the mouth of that man to whom God Himself entrusted final shaping of His Book. God, only God, is the main hero of the events described in this Book. The stories about all other persons are worthy of detailed and meticulous analyses if and only if they in a fuller dimension show the glory of the God whose wonderfully extol is this very Book [3].

Therefore, the criterion for the text division which one should follow in this work is the principle of theocentrism [4]. To understand the sacred text, one should look especially for those places where God of Israel – יְהוָה – appears as the subject (dynamic center) of acts and simultaneously the grammatical subject of the biblical sentence. One should carefully read and study all the words that He says and the deeds He takes, paying attention to the details by which the seemingly similar speeches or acts differ. Perhaps it will occur that some two fragments that at a cursory reading seem identical show difference in details essential for understanding in a new way the course of events or to understand the division [5] of the text into main parts (pericopes) strictly according to the intention of the editor-hagiographer, working under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit [6].

The rethinking of the initial general reflections given here allows us to move on to more specific issues. The research work will begin with a review of the previously known models of dividing the Book of Exodus.

We can divide the Book of Exodus basically into two main parts:

Only the first part of the Book of Exodus will be analyzed in this dissertation.

To divide this first part into smaller literary units is a task of great importance and, at the same time, challenging [7]. It is necessary to reliably separate from the text the subsequent parts of its literary structure – that structure which the last editor of the Book of Exodus intended and shaped indeed.

It is worthwhile to ask a few basic questions at the beginning, indicating the method of studying this part:

In the editor’s intention, does the Ex 1-18 text have a literary scheme that is important for the theological meaning of this part? Can one reliably discover this scheme? Is it possible to indicate a criterion for dividing a text, which, if applied to analyses, will enable us to divide the text unequivocally? Does so divided text manifest features that one can not discover without such dividing?

To carefully read the Ex 1-18 text in its present canonical form, one will be guided by the principle repeatedly given by the Church’s Magisterium [8]: the inspired text has real historical value; nonetheless, the literary means of conveying the same truth in various passages of Scripture may differ, because of the literary genre of each of them. It requires the reader to discover and understand those ancient ways of expressing thoughts.

Therefore, one should regard as erroneous the research hypotheses that understand the conveying of historical biblical truths as bogus stories invented for ‘the legendary justification’ of some original folk customs. Similarly, it is erroneous when exegetes attribute an invented ‘specific literary genre’ to individual biblical texts, in the result of which the historical value of texts, so ‘scientifically’ classified, is crossed out in advance.

It is unacceptable to understand the Ex 1-15 text according to the idea involved by J. Pedersen [9] in 1934 and supported by many scientists later. They regard Ex 1-15 as a pseudo-historical story originating not in the real saving event of God for Israel but Israel’s custom of the Passover celebration each year.

In the spirit of obedience to Church, it is necessary to read this text with methodological ‘pre-understanding’ as the historical one – that which presents in reality what God did around the fifteenth – thirteenth centuries before the birth of Christ. It is the history that is the source for the Passover liturgy, and not the Passover liturgy is the source for the Ex 1-15 text about which Pedersen claims to be a pseudo-historical story.

Pedersen’s hypothesis was erroneous, but luckily it just happened that it became an intellectual inspiration for G. von Rad [10], who took it up and successfully developed in the right direction. Namely, he discovered in effect literary structures in biblical texts that have their equivalents in the literature of the peoples of the ancient East (!), initiating a new kind of comparative study of the Bible and extra-biblical writings, leading to a fuller understanding of the ancient literary genres of the Bible. In the spirit of his opus, the author of this dissertation undertakes research on the literary structure of Ex 1-18.

Unfortunately, the brilliance of research successes of many biblical scholars is overshadowed by their uncritical adoption of this erroneous ‘pre-understanding’ of Pedersen, according to which one can look at the holy text as pseudo-historical stories. As a result, although biblical scholars managed to specify in Ex 1-18 the literary genre of text Ex 15:22-18:27 as belonging to the ‘tradition of traveling through the desert’ (or ‘wonders in the desert’), they bestowed upon it an interpretation incompatible with its historical reading. According to Fritz [11], for example, the text Ex 16-18 is not a description of Israel’s passing from the Sea of Reeds to Mount Sinai but a reminiscence of pre-Mosaic, nomadic experiences of the Fathers. One must note that for such exegesis of the Holy Bible – as a consequence of such a ‘scientific’ method – the historical truth of the canonical text has become unavailable.

As a result of the recognition that Ex 13:17-14:31 belongs to the ‘tradition of the desert,’ many biblical scholars, unfortunately, failed to discover the existence of even stronger links between this passage and text preceding it in the Book of Exodus. The merit of B. S. Childs [12] and N. Lohfink [13] here is that they pointed out these links and the need to understand Ex 13:17-14:31 as part of the narrative about Passover and leaving Egypt.

Therefore, one assumes in this work that the reading of the text is to be guided by the conviction that God inspired biblical writers and made them full of abilities to present the real historical facts and their exact order, the right sequence of causes and effects. One should note, however, that to historical facts, one can include not only events possible to occur due to natural factors (man, nature) but also due to the supernatural action of God Himself!

The canonical text is a kind of quality test of exegete’s faith and ability to accept the divine interpretation of events: the real participation of God in the true history of humankind is possible and indeed took place in Egypt and its neighboring areas in the 15th-13th centuries before Christ.

As B. S. Childs writes: “it is within the context of the biblical canon that the material has its theological function which acts as a check against its misuse in the form of either rationalism on the left or supernaturalism on the right.” [14]

1.2. Presentation of previously discovered means of dividing the Book of Exodus.

The necessity of answering the questions posed in the previous point of the work will constantly accompany the analyses carried out.

To some extent, however, the achievements of biblical scholars, who for decades have been leaning over sacred text (considered to be crucial for Israel’s religion and at the same time the most difficult to interpret [15]), must include their answers to some of these questions. It applies especially to the question of the criterion of dividing the text.

Looking at different ways of redactional titling of particular units of both the biblical text and its translations into various modern languages will allow knowing achievements in this field [16].

The analysis should take into account not only the achievements of Christian theologians. The Old Testament is the holy book of Israel, a record of the holy history of the salvific dialogue that יְהוָה – God of the chosen people – had been conducting for hundreds of years. It is, therefore, necessary to reach out to the Jewish thought [17]. It will be the beginning of the research [18].

1.2.1. Division of Ex 1-18 in Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, and Biblia Tysiąclecia.

It is worthwhile at the beginning of the analyses to make a list of marks signaling the beginning/end of a literary unit, which appear in two editions of Hebrew Bible [19] (BH1 and BH2) and Septuagint [20] (LXX); the analogous signs appearing in Biblia Tysiąclecia [21] (BTP) have also been taken into account, as they illustrate the contemporary understanding of the division of the text.

Designations in Table I [22]:

Afor verses, where   פis in BH1 and BH2, and a new line is in LXX
Bfor verses, where  פ is in BH1 and BH2, and no a new line nor a sign in LXX
Cfor verses, where the layout of BH1–BH2–LXX is one of three possibilities:
  BH1: פסnl 
  BH2: ספnl 
  LXX: nlnlnl 
nla new line
פlarger indentations
סsmaller indentations
ס֡extraordinary start marker in BH2 – see 1:1; 3:1, and others


C 1:1A 1:81:151:18C 2:12:52:112:16C 2:23
BH1nlפ nl*פ nl*פ nl
BH2nl ס֡פspס nlspס nl
C 3:13:73:133:153:164:14:64:104:14
BH1ס * nl*nl
BH2ס nl ס֡spspspsp
C 4:184:194:214:24A 4:27C 5:15:65:155:20
BH1 פ * nlפ nl* nl
BH2ס nlsp nlפ nlnl
5:226:1  6:26:96:10B 6:13C 6:146:28
BH1*nlרא סססוא nl spפ nlפ nlס *
BH2קֹכֹדֹ ס nl ס֡פס nlnl
6:29B 7:17:6A 7:8C 7:147:197:207:23A 7:26
BH1ס *פ nlפ * nlסספ nl
BH2פפפ ס֡פ nlפפ nl
8:1C 8:12C 8:16A 9:1A 9:8C 9:13A 9:22  10:1
BH1nlסספ nlפ nlספ nlפפפ בא nl
BH2ס nlס nlפ nlפ nlס nlפפ קֹכֹאֹ nl ס֡
C 10:1210:16A 10:21A 11:1C 11:411:9C 12:1A 12:2112:24
BH1ס *פ nlפ nlס *סס nl spפ * nl
BH2פפ nlפ nl ס֡סספ nlפ nl
12:27bC 12:2912:34A 12:37A 12:43A 13:113:313:11
BH1ס *פ nlפ nlפ *nlפ nl
BH2ס nl ס֡פפ nlפ nl ס֡nlס
 13:17A 14:114:5A 14:1514:1914:2014:26A 15:1
BH1ח סססבשל nl spפ nlפ * nlפ * nlפ nl
BH2קֹוֹ ס nlפ nlפ nl ס֡פפ nl
A 15:20C 15:2215:25bC 15:27C 16:116:416:616:9B 16:11
BH1פ nlסס *nlסספ * nl
BH2פ nlס nl nlspס nlnls ס֡פ
16:1916:2216:2716:2816:3116:3216:35A 17:1A 17:8
BH1ספ * nlפ nl
BH2s ס֡פ nlפ nl
B 17:1417:16b 18:118:718:12A 19:1
BH1פ * nlוַיֹּאמֶר sp nlפפפ יתרו nlפ * nl
BH2פ nlפ * nl ס֡פ nl

One should pay particular attention to the following four places [23]:

  1. Verse 6:2 is highlighted in all editions, and it is particularly highlighted in BH 1 and BH 2. The very beginning of chapter 6 is not highlighted, and it does not even begin with a new line in BH 2 and LXX! According to the opinions of many biblical scholars, it is verse 6:2, where the second description of the calling of Moses begins, parallel to the first description.
  2. Beginning of chapter 10. Biblical scholars do not see the beginning of a new pericope here.
  3. Verse 13:17 is highlighted in all editions, and it is particularly highlighted in BH 1 and BH 2. Some of the biblical scholars see here the beginning of the description of Israel’s departure from Egyptian captivity.
  4. Beginning of chapter 18. Biblical scholars do not see the beginning of a new pericope here.

One should also add that biblical scholars recently conducted the analyses of the biblical text based on the division made by Masoretes in Babylonia [24].

The next points of the dissertation will analyze the significance of the places indicated in the table above. At present, however, one should note the following division of the text, determined by the marks indicated in the table:

1:1-7Fragment connecting the Book of Exodus with the end of the Book of Genesis
1:8-22Description of the oppression of Israel in Egypt after the death of Joseph and his generation
2:1-2:22The story of Moses from birth to flight from Egypt and dwelling in Midian
2:23-25Introduction to the first revelation of God to Moses

The first revelation of God to Moses: at Mount Horeb;

in this 4:1-17: God’s signs and instructions regarding the mission to the people and not to Pharaoh

4:18-26The second and the third revelations of God to Moses: in Midian and on the way to Egypt
4:27-31Moses meets with Aaron and then fulfills with him the mission to people, as God commanded them.
5:1-6:1Moses and Aaron fulfill God’s order in the mission to Pharaoh: they ask him to send the people for three days of way (5:1-5:5); dramatic consequences of this asking (5:6-6:1). Note: 5:6 is not highlighted in BH and LXX, only in BTP

The fourth (6:2-9) and the fifth (6:10-12) revelation of God to Moses

Note: 6:9 is not highlighted in BH and LXX but in BTP.


Genealogy of Moses and Aaron (6.13-27);

the sixth revelation of God to Moses (6:28-7:7), including:

6:28-30: dialogue; 7:1-5: God’s speech; 7:6-7: summary.

7:8-13Realization of God’s orders: the first miracle-sign to the Pharaoh: the staff changed into a serpent.
7:14-25Realization of God’s orders: the second miracle-sign to Pharaoh: water turned into blood.
7:26 8:12 / 8:16 / 9:1 / 9:8 / 9:13 / 10:1 – the beginning of the next miracles-signs. Note: 9:22 and 10:12 are highlighted in BH and LXX but do not indicate a description of a new miracle-sign but the transition from the announcement stage to the sending of the sign (9:22 for the eighth sign; 10:12 for the ninth sign).
10:21The last of miracles-signs

Announcement of the death penalty, a summary of the stage of the miracles-signs performed, in this:

  • 11:1-3: God’s speech to Moses
  • 11:4-8: Moses’ speech to Pharaoh
  • 11:9-10: Summary
12:1-20The first paschal speech of God
12:21-28The first paschal speech of Moses
12:29-42The death penalty on Egypt and the march of Israel with non-acidified cake.
Note: 12:37 is highlighted in BH1, BH2, and LXX, but does not signal a new stage of salvation; this verse, as the analyses in point of this dissertation will show, is in the center of the description of the exit (12:29-42), contains the statement long-awaited by Israel: וַיִּסְעוּ – and they set out off
12:43-51The second paschal speech of God

The third paschal speech of God and the second paschal speech of Moses,

  • 13:3-10:   the first part of Moses’ speech;
  • 13:11-16: the second part of that Moses’ speech

Note: 13:3 is distinguished only by the new line: in BH2 and LXX, and BTP. In Moses’ speech, verse 13:11 begins its second part devoted to the law of the firstborns; it is distinguished in BH1 and BH2.

13:17-22The exodus from Egypt with Joseph’s bones; the Lord in the pillar of cloud and fire guides the people
14:1-14Changing the direction of the road – a trap for the Egyptians; fear of the people
14:15-31Passing through the Sea of Reeds. The Lord, in the pillar of cloud and fire, fights against the Egyptians.
15:1-19Song of Moses and the Israelites in honor of the Lord
15:20-21Song and dance of Miriam and women in honor of the Lord
  • 15:22-26: The march from the Sea of Reeds to Mara; the miracle of a change of bitter waters into sweet; the Lord gives the laws to His people;
  • 15:27: The arrival at Elim;
  • 16:1-10: The arrival at Sin desert; the murmuring of the hungry people; the Lord foretells the miracle of manna and quails and the law of the Sabbath; the appearance of the glory of the Lord to the whole congregation of Israel;
  • 16:11-36: The Lord performs the miracle of manna and quails and trains the people in observing the law of the Sabbath. Commemoration of the miracle of manna by placing the omer of manna in the Ark.
17:1-7March to Rephidim. The murmuring of the people because there was no water in Rephidim. The miracle of bringing water out of the rock – the Lord still cares for His people. The commemoration of the place of the people’s quarrel with the Lord.
  • 17:8-13:  Israel still in Rephidim. The arrival of hostile Amalekites. The Lord gave victory to Israel at the request of persistently praying Moses.
  • 17:14-16: The commemoration of the victory place of the Lord’s people
18:1-27Meeting of Moses with Jethro. Worship of the Lord for the release of Israel. The legislation: the appointment of judges, Moses’ helpers.