This translation was first published
on December 4, 2020, i.e.,
on the day of the Funeral of its Author.
DOI of this paper:
Here it was published also on on December 4, 2020.
The original Polish text is available
The beginning of the history of Israel is marked by the Exodus from Egyptian captivity. This historical event is the central theme of the Pentateuch. In the circumstances surrounding the Exodus from Egypt, Israel has come to know and experience God’s power and love. The whole Book of Exodus is an illustrative explanation of God’s Name: I am who I am (Ex 3, 14). The profound experience of God’s presence became later the subject of insightful reflection and religious meditation, as well as a point of reference to the present day. The intervention of God at the beginning of the history of the people of Israel was so important and pregnant in its consequences that the nation lived it for centuries to come, remembering and seeing it also in every new liberation. For later generations, the Exodus from Egypt was an idealized time, a model period of history, the key to understanding history and vision for the future, and the basis for ethical demands. The bygone facts of Israel’s history, unique and unrepeatable in themselves, began to grow to the rank of a symbol, image, type of future salvation.
About seven centuries after the liberation from the Egyptian captivity, an anonymous prophet of Babylonian bondage (6th century B.C.), called Deutero-Isaiah, sees in the Exodus experience of his ancestors (Isa 40-55) an image and a guarantee of even more perfect liberation. The Book of Wisdom – the youngest book of the Old Testament, which was written on the land where Exodus from captivity began about 12 centuries earlier – takes up the motive of the Exodus in order to present the doctrine about the Divine Providence on its basis (Wis 11:1-14; 16:1-19:22).
On Holy Saturday, we read fragments of the Book of Exodus. They are a point of support for the paschal liturgy. Many of the events recorded in this Book are an announcement of New Testament events: Christ – the second Moses – proclaims the New Law, not different, but more perfect, the law of eight blessings, the law of mutual love built on the Decalogue. The Passover is salvation from eternal death through the blood of Jesus Christ. The description of the passage through the Red Sea is a figure of Baptism.
The Bible is a record of universal human behavior. The Exodus of the sons of Israel from Egypt is not only a historical fact – but it is also a process, a prototype returning in the experience of the individual and the whole human race.
Considerations on the Book of Exodus filled the religious life of the Fathers. The life of every Christian is also a reconstruction of this distant history. Origen said: “Do not think that if these events happened a long time ago, nothing like that happens to you who hear about them today. All these events are spiritually fulfilling for you” (cf. D. Barsotti, Medytacje na temat Księgi Wyjścia [Meditations on the Book of Exodus], Kraków 1999, p. 5).
The author of the dissertation joins the current research on the Book of Exodus.
The author sets himself a very ambitious goal: he intends to discover the hermeneutical key to understanding the structure of the Book of Exodus chapters 1-18. He assumes that God is the most important person in the Bible. An implication of this principle is: if one wants to understand the holy text, one must read each sentence carefully in its present canonical form, and when a sentence is the word of God or a description of God’s actions, one must read it with the greatest attention” (p. 397). “If you want to understand the Scripture in the spirit in which it is written, you have to attend to the content and to the unity of Scripture as a whole” (Benedict XVI, Jezus z Nazaretu [Jesus of Nazareth], Kraków 2007, p. 10).
The principle of theocentrism is a criterion for dividing the text: “To understand the sacred text, one should look especially for those places where God of Israel, Yahweh, is shown as the subject of acts, the subject of sentences” (p. 56). Exegetes most often divide the Book of Exodus into two parts: chapters 1-18 and chapters 19-40. Part I describes the situation of Israel’s oppression in Egypt, God’s intervention on behalf of Israel – the bringing the People out of slavery and leading them up to Mount Sinai.
The author of the work formulates its purpose as follows: “one should discover in the canonical text Ex 1-18 signs of the literary structure specific to the Hebrews, left in it by the last editor” (p. 1). To achieve this ambitious goal, W. Kosek analyzes in detail Ex 1-18, which describes an event that is fundamental to Israel. God, amid miraculous signs, led their Fathers out of Egyptian bondage, led them to God’s Mount Horeb (p. 1).
The work consists of an introduction (pp. 7-52), three chapters (pp. 53-198; 199-284; 285-378), a conclusion (pp. 379-394), a summary in Polish (pp. 395-402) and English (pp. 403-410), a bibliography (pp. 411-436), and a table of contents. The problem posed has a clearly defined source basis. The reader is struck by the exceptionally extensive bibliography (pp. 411-436), divided into 1. Biblical sources, 2. Church sources, 3. Passover Haggadot, rabbinical writings, Jewish encyclopedias, 4. Comments on the Bible and rabbinical writings, 5. Computer programs, 6. Lexicons and handbooks in electronic form in BibleWorks 6.0, 7. Lexicons, Biblical concordances and dictionaries, Biblical introductions, 8. Ancillary literature, 9. Other lexicons, dictionaries, 10. Dictionaries and grammars.
The compositional structure characterizes itself by clarity, logic, and proper sequence in the arrangement and layout of individual chapters. They are devoted to the discovery of the basic structure of the Passover rite, whereby:
The work is preceded by an extensive introduction (pp. 7-52). We read in it, among others: “The Passover of Israel is celebrated every year as a home ritual feast in honor of God, starting after sunset on the first full moon after the spring solstice, that is, when the day becomes longer than the night” (p. 9). “An attentive reader of the Holy Bible notes, however, the puzzling disproportion in biblical accounts between such precise definition of day and month of the date of departure from Egypt and omission of the year of the event” (p. 9). The Bible, especially Ex 1-18, shows that God saves in history and through it. “Ex 1-18 is as though a record of steps of God, who – by ruling over nature and human history – leads His people towards freedom” (p. 10).
“Many of God’s saving acts for Israel are made present through the cult. The Passover of Israel is the greatest of these celebrations; it is an annual feast celebrated in honor of God who saved His People during the first spring full moon centuries ago; who led them out of Egyptian captivity, made them His People, significantly different from all other peoples of the Earth. The Passover commemorates in a cultic way this significant God’s saving intervention, the memory of which is present in the Holy Scriptures – not only as a statement of historical fact but also as ‘archetype thinking’ of Israelites about their history; the history, in which God is truly present and active” (pp. 10-11). The intuition of the author of the dissertation allows seeing in Passover not only the feast commemorating Lord’s passage over houses of Israelites but also Lord’s passage through the center of Egypt on the night of punishing and the passage of the Lord and His People through the Sea of Reeds – which the Fathers of Church already notice. (p. 11)
“Therefore, each Israelite is to be aware of participating – thanks to liturgy – in historically one-off exit from Egypt!” (p. 13). “Therefore, the Old Testament does not contain any detailed description according to which the Israelites could celebrate the Passover. The rite (seder/order) of the Passover is known only from the Jewish Tradition as a collection of four successive main parts, each of which is composed of the cultic acts associated with one of the four cups of wine consumed by the participants of the supper as the liturgical action required by the Tradition develops” (p. 14).
“The fundamental source significance for knowing the original Passover rite seems to have not only the biblical texts but the texts of Jewish Tradition: The Book of Jubilees, Tractate Pesachim of the Mishnah, The Passover Haggadah” (p. 15).
Tractate Pesachim speaks about four liturgical cups of wine (p. 15). Likewise, The Passover Haggadah mentions four cups of wine constituting the basic structure of the rite. “Haggadah, however, is an incomparably more ample repository of the paschal liturgy than the tractate” (p. 17). “Haggadah is a liturgical book containing specific prayers, wisdom instructions, chants, symbolic acts (washing hands, eating of the symbolical dishes, and the like), carried out sequentially, assigned to the consecutive fourteen points of the rite. It is the Jewish book of the eve of the Paschal liturgy. For this reason, analyzing the text of Haggadah in its original Hebrew/Aramaic notation will be one of the main exegetical tasks of this work” (p. 13).
“The Passover Haggadah allows one to maintain the order of the Passover feast, characterized by the sequence of liturgical words and acts assigned to the consecutive fourteen points of the Seder, in order to carry out the underlying liturgical message of four particular cups of wine consecutively consumed. […] Does then The Haggadah, just as The Pesachim, make it impossible to discover the structure of the Passover rite?” (p. 19) By analyzing the logic of the layout of the texts and morphology of original keywords used to identify the consecutive fourteen stages of the rite, it will be possible to clearly define the basic idea, characteristic for each of the four main parts individually (p. 19).
“Scientific analyses have shown that two significant events have been highlighted in the Passover:
Ex 12 and Ex 14 are biblical testimonies to the importance of these events.”
“The first text speaks about the salvation of the firstborns of Israel during the night of Egypt’s punishment: the blood of the Passover lamb was a sign of salvation for those who, obedient to the Lord’s command, were eating its meat baked in the fire, eating it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Therefore, Passover has the form of a feast in honor of the Lord. The second text talks about the passage of the whole People between halves of the divided Sea of Reeds” (pp. 21-22).
The first eighteen chapters of the Book of Exodus deal with “the history of Israel’s departure from Egypt, starting with the reminder that Patriarch Joseph and his family lived there. In the sequential verses and chapters, it was shown: the oppression of his descendants; the story of God’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush; God’s intervention for Israel through a series of plagues; the killing of the firstborns of Egypt at the time when the Israelites, obeying the Lord’s command, were eating in His honor a Passover lamb in their homes; the hasty departure of the People with a cake not acidified in their kneading bowls, carried on their shoulders; the passage of the People between the divided waters of the Sea of Reeds; the sinking of Pharaoh’s army in the sea waters; the singing of Israel in honor of God the Saviour; the follow-on way of Israel to the foothills of God’s Mount Horeb; the crowning of the way by the sacrifice in honor of the Lord through Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, as the fulfillment of God’s announcement given to Moses at the burning bush; the Moses’ exercise of judgment over the Israelites” (pp. 22-23).
“It is impossible to understand the Holy Scriptures without noticing the fundamental principle on which the organic bond between the holy books and the culture of human civilization, within which these books were created. What God wanted to reveal in the holy texts was written by the biblical writers in them in the human language of their epoch, their culture, their ways of perceiving thoughts – ways common to the people of the Ancient Near East of that time” (pp. 23-24). “The exegete must try to see in the text the elements characteristic of the period of its creation. What is important here is first of all to discover the literary genre of each pericope, principles of its composition, perhaps specific to peoples of the Ancient Near East” (p. 24).
“Getting to know the text of Book Exodus in its original form should be a fundamental source for discovering the original structure of the Passover rite.” Computer analyzes, frequent in the reviewed work, allow examining the frequency of occurrence of keywords that indicate the text’s origin from a specific author. This method brings the Ph.D. student closer to the methods of Jewish exegesis (p. 25-26).
The Ph.D. student’s observation is valuable: “[…] although the Passover rite is not contained in the Bible in its lexical layer, easy to read, it does not mean that it is not written in the Bible at all. For just like the examples of hiding of rite of making a covenant between God and Israel, discovered by biblical scholars so far, the Passover rite could be ‘written’ into the literary structure of texts composed according to the rite of the ancient Hittite covenant or its description” (p. 30).
The first chapter of the discussed work entitled “Division of the Book of Exodus into fundamental literary units” (pp. 53-198) is the most extensive and essential. The doctoral student begins his research in the first chapter “with a synchronic analysis of the canonical text: it is necessary to discover the structure of the text and its coherence. Only when a reliable synchronic analysis reveals that the text contains inconsistencies or some literary ‘refractions,’ one can indicate in it the existence of several ‘sources’ or ‘redactions’” (p. 35). “The attempt to discover the literary structure will be accompanied by a question about the literary genre of the analyzed texts” (p. 51).
The main problem of the work, especially chapter one, is to answer the following questions:
The Ph.D. student pays attention to the marks indicating the beginning/end of the literary unit, the marks appearing in Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, and Biblia Tysiąclecia (in Biblia Tysiąclecia, they represent the contemporary understanding of text division) (pp. 61-87). In Ex 1-18, the doctoral student noticed “six pericopes intended by the biblical writer, which form the fundamental literary structure of the text under study. One of the favorite methods of biblical writers to discreetly indicate that a given text is a literary whole is to shape it as a literary inclusion – its two edge units are always similar in something. Both pericopes forming the frame of the Book of Exodus 1-18 text (1:1-6:1 and 15:22-18:27) have a concentric structure. This concentric structure of the two pericopes undeniably shows the central place of God in history, the importance of His person, and His plan of salvation in Israel’s departure from slavery” (p. 179).
The identical structure of both outer pericopes also indicates the necessity to understand them as elements corresponding to each other (the beginning [a historical introduction] – the finalizing [God Yahweh leads His People]), serving like a buckle to fix together the remaining four elements of the literary structure Ex 1-18 in one whole. The essential issues, taken up in the first pericope, will be finally completed in the last one.
On the other hand, however, within the framework of this whole, the equally coherent part has been distinguished, consisting of pericopes II (6:2-11:10: God Yahweh reveals Himself as the ruler-guardian of Israel), III (12:1-13:16: God Yahweh gives the Law to His people, Israel), IV (13:17-14:31: God Yahweh in the signs of fire and cloud leads Israel), V (15:1-21: God Yahweh inspires Israel through His Spirit to sing a hymn of praise for Him).
Thus, the study of the literary structure of Ex 1-18, which is the subject of chapter I of the work, leads to the conclusion that the first part of the Book of Exodus (chapters 1-18) consists of six pericopes arranged concentrically (A B C – C’ B’ A’) – the pericope arrangement is a chiasmus. The chiastic relation – as subsequent analyses have shown – occurs not only at the level of content but also at the level of content carriers, words: in the following six pericopes, the ratio of the words in past tense forms in relation to the sum of words in the forms of the past or future tenses is expressed by the numerical relation 62% – 56% – 35% – 66% – 56% – 62%.
“The passage of the Lord (in signs of fire and cloud) and Israel between halves of the divided sea resembles the passage of contractors of an ancient covenant between animal halves”(p. 196). This circumstance inspired the writing of Chapter II of the work, entitled: “Dependence of the literary structure of the Book of Exodus 1-18 on the way how God made the covenant with Abram and how was the structure of the Hittite covenant treaties” (p. 199-284).
“The analogies between Gen 15 and many significant places in Ex 1-14 seem to indicate the hidden but genuinely intended by the hagiographer meaning of that passage: the Lord thus made a covenant with Abraham’s descendants” (p. 205).
“The analyses have shown how profound is the analogy between two historical passages. The first was the passage of the Lord in the signs of fire and smoke between the halves of the animals, cut-apart by Abram (cf. Gen 15:17f). The second was the passage of the Lord (in the similar signs of fire and cloud) and the descendants of Abram between the parts of the cut-apart Sea of Reeds. Under the veil of Israel’s historical transition from Egyptian captivity to freedom, a historic salvation event took place: For the first time in the history of humankind, the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites as His Chosen People” (p. 217).
Psa 136:13 and Isa 27:1; 51:9-10 also confirm this. The text of Prophet Jeremiah allows concluding that the equivalent of the term berith is the phrase: “You shall be my people, and I shall be your God” (Jer 11:4; 31:33 – Ex 6:7). “The analysis of Jer 31:31-33, in turn, made it clear that the Lord, foretelling through the prophet Jeremiah a new covenant (31:32), refers to the first covenant He made with Israel on that particular day when He took Israel by her hand to lead out of Egypt” (p. 233). “God made a covenant with the fathers on the day He had not yet brought them out, but He began to lead them out – He took them to lead them out” (p. 229).
“Analysis of the Book of Exodus and the Book of Prophet Jeremiah showed a surprising understanding of the passage of Israel from Egypt as an act of making a covenant. It is worth asking, therefore, whether there is any other confirmation of this thought in the Bible?” (p. 235).
“God in three allegorical stories (Ezek 16; 20; 23) of His spousal relationship with unfaithful Israel always indicates a stay in Egypt as the beginning of this relationship” (p. 244). “Based on presented analogies of Ezekiel’s image of Israel as the bride, saved out of Egypt by the Lord, whom He married in Egypt (by spreading over her the corner of the cloak of the Lord as her golem) and liberated her from Egypt (by raising her on the Lord’s wings and leading her to Sinai), it is clear that: This original marrying of Israel – entering into the covenant (Ezek 16:8) – did not take place on Sinai but in Egypt” (p. 244).
“Israel, therefore, was already in Egypt (and not only after the covenant made in Sinai) as close to God as the son is to the father, that is, based on the parallelism of images – how close is a bride to bridegroom after entering into marriage covenant” (p. 245).
The research intuition allowed Doctorand to see in Ex 1-18 not only the description of Exodus but also the description of God’s covenant with Israel, an act hidden under the robe of colorfully recounted events (p. 247). “Research showed in the Bible the presence of literary structures according to which the political treaties were written around the 13th century B.C.” (p. 247).
“The Hittite covenant is the first essential model for the Passover/Exodus covenant. The second one is the covenant of God and Abram, made through the passage of God’s signs of fire and smoke between halves of the divided animals. Therefore, one should put such a crucial question: Could these two religious and cultural patterns have been used simultaneously to make a covenant between the waters of the Sea of Reeds and to describe this fact?” (p. 260).
“The official document of the Hittite covenant, the burnt-clay tablet, mainly consists of two parts:
In light of the observations made by Doctorand, it is possible to understand that “both the ancient Hittite covenant and the covenant of God with Abram, made through the passage between the halves of the divided animals, constitute the same cultural foundation for the Passover/Exodus covenant (p. 263). “The six-element structure of Ex 1-18 has a lot in common with the six-element structure of the description of the Hittite covenants” (p. 274).
The text of Ex 1-18 is a six-element structure as descriptions of the ancient covenant; it has many elements in common with the Hittite covenants, but simultaneously also with the covenant God made with Abram. The description of the covenant treaties of Hittites was structured analogously to that found in Ex 1-18 (1:1-6:1; 6:2-11:10; 12:1-13:16; 13:17-14:31; 15:1-21; 15:22-18:27).
The author’s research intuition prompts him to suppose that the ceremony of the celebration of Passover and Exodus is encoded here. Since the Bible mentions only six celebrations of the Passover in the Old Testament and contains only fragmentary descriptions of them, the author has used the extra-biblical Tradition, especially The Passover Haggadah, to reconstruct the description of the Passover.
In the second chapter, there are strong arguments that “the literary structure of Ex 1-18 resembles the structure of ancient covenants, and thus finds analogies in both biblical and extra-biblical texts” (p. 279). “An excellent complement to this image of that passing is the significant parallelism contained in Isaiah 51:9-10, which portraits the Lord as the One who is cutting Rahab apart, piercing Tannin, drying up the sea, making depths of the sea the way” (p. 280).
“The analysis of Jer 31:31-33 showed that the Lord, foretelling a new covenant through the prophet Jeremiah (31:32), refers to the first covenant He made with Israel on the day He took her hand to bring her out of Egypt. One cannot identify this day with the day of the covenant-making at Sinai, but with the day described especially in Ex 13:17-14:31. It had been strictly on that day when God – in order to lead (Ex 13:15.21; 15:13) Israel on the way to freedom – took her by the hand, giving her a visible sign of His presence, pillar of fire and pillar of cloud, walking before the People, as the guide walks” (p. 234).
The Book of Ezekiel is an excellent verification of such an understanding of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer 31:32) that God made a covenant with Israel accurately on the day He took her by the hand to bring her out of Egypt.
“The analyses have shown that the six-element structure of Ex 1-18 can be reduced to a four-element structure by a thematic merging of two first elements and the analogous merging of two final elements” (p. 283).
The third chapter of the work, entitled “The Passover Rite and the Literary Structure of the Book of Exodus 1-18” (pp. 285-378), allows to see the detailed description of the paschal regulations included in the Biblical Tradition according to the same key as is present in Ex 1-18.
In the Old Testament’s Scriptures, the references to the Passover are few and brief (Num 9:1-5; Josh 5:10f; 2Chr 30:1-27; 2Chr 35:1-19; Ezra 6:19-22). “One should note at the same time that nowhere (except for Ex 1-18) unveiled the course of the marriage-ceremony of God and His people. The Old Testament does not enumerate the consecutive elements of the detailed rite of the Passover. This rite is known from Jewish Tradition as a set of four successive basic parts. The Passover Seder as the liturgical reality making present the Passover/Exodus covenant has a very important feature. Namely, it is built on the model of an ancient treaty, in which each of the four subsequent fundamental elements has its theme, different than the other fundamental elements have” (p. 362).
These four elements express the four main elements of the ritual of the conclusion/renewal of the covenant:
A thorough analysis of the 14-point Seder led the author to conclude that “the structure of the Seder is identical to the literary structure of Ex 1-18, and the paschal Seder is the making-present of Exodus described in Ex 1-18” (p. 378).
“The Passover Seder is the making-present of the covenant between God and Israel. The rite of the covenant-making between God and Israel, hidden in the successive stages of the work of the Lord, leading Israel out of Egypt, is made present each year in the celebrated Passover feast. In the framework of this feast liturgy, one first predicts magnificence and benevolence of God, then eats the lamb-Passover, then eats Afikoman as the bread of covenant-making (bread of passage between halves of divided Rahab – Sea of Reeds), and finally sings hymns praising the Lord as God of Israel, her King, magnificent Lord and Benefactor” (p. 378).
In a precisely edited conclusion (pp. 379-394), Doctorand summarized his analyses and achievements, definitively answering the problem posed in the title of the dissertation: “The biblical writer-editor of the Book of Exodus 1-18 arranged the story about the work of the Lord liberating Israel from Egypt to show an essential thought: Simultaneously with the process of salvation, the Lord and Israel made the Passover/Exodus covenant. One historical redemptive process contains two essential dimensions at once:
The feast of Passover unites three realities in itself: the past made present in the present and the expected future. Thanks to ‘making-present,’ a bridge is built between the past and the present. In this way, Passover and the good news about Exodus were transformed into the content of the New, Great, and Final Covenant.
“The shown structure of Ex 1-18 is a masterpiece of Hebrew rhetoric” (p. 398).
In his work, Doctorand makes a discovery that could be called the Copernican revolution in Biblical studies. It is strange that no one had come up with this idea before, since the statements of the prophets Isa, Jer, Ezek – proved such an understanding of Ex 1-18. The author’s research intuition puts him among the most outstanding Polish biblical scholars (cf. J. T. Milik). The dissertation shows the author as an expert in Biblical issues, moving freely through the vast material, and his scientific achievements are an important contribution to knowing the message of the Book of Exodus. The work proves that the Bible still hides a lot of secrets, which are worth leaning over.
The advantages of the work include a clear presentation of issues and an apparent reference to the source base. In terms of content, methodology, and form, the work is written flawlessly. The advantage of the work is also numerous introductions and summaries. After removing a few defects, the text can be submitted for printing, and also a translation into foreign languages should be considered, and its publication will undoubtedly serve the biblical apostolate.
The above-performed evaluation of the dissertation of mgr lic. Wojciech Kosek entitles to express reasonable recognition for his scientific and theological qualifications. The dissertation has been prepared both formally, methodically, and in terms of content, flawlessly.
Wojciech Kosek presented a thesis that meets the requirements for a doctoral thesis to a very high degree, and therefore, I request The Council of the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków to admit him to further stages of his Ph.D. course.
Rev. Professor Dr. hab. Bogdan Poniży
Head of the Department of Biblical Studies,
Faculty of Theology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań
Poznań, December 6, 2007
This Review Report of Rev. Prof. Dr. hab. Bogdan Poniży
is published on December 4, 2020, i.e.,
on the day of the Funeral of its Author.
Translation by Wojciech Kosek
The page numbers – for example “(p. 397)” – refer to the Polish printed version of the dissertation, published by Wydawnictwo Naukowe of The Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków, Kraków 2008, pp. 440, ISBN: 978-83-7438-159-8.
After the printed publication of the English translation of this doctoral dissertation, the page numbers will be updated on the Internet – it will be available:
The original Review Report, written in Polish, is available: