Charlton Heston gets mad in The Ten Commandments.
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Exodus Wheres Aaron

I’m back to the St. John’s reading list. I’ve started on Exodus, and have read the first four chapters. I’m using the translation in the Jerusalem Bible.

Chapter 1 sets forth the story of the oppression. The pharaoh at one point tells the midwives to watch the two stones carefully (1:16). The footnotes says the exact meaning is uncertain, but it may mean to watch to see if the infants have testicles (stones).

In Chapter 2 Moses is born, and is kept hidden for three months, he is then put into a papyrus basket, and cast afloat. He is then found by pharaoh’s daughter who ultimately gives him to his mother, who acts as a wet-nurse. It’s not clear whether Moses is raised in his mother’s household, or whether his mother and he move into the royal apartments. When he is grown up he is brought to pharaoh’s daughter, and then named. I think this means that he was raised apart from the Egyptian court, or at least his adoptive mother, until he was weaned. He certainly wouldn’t have gone unnamed for 20 years or so.

Note that Moses is not sentenced to exile by the pharaoh, but flees to escape the pharaoh. This is in contrast to The Ten Commandments.

In Chapter 3 the name of God is revealed to Moses. I remember that one religion teacher at George Washington University said that “I am that I am” was a dismissal of any question about His identity. God identifies Himself as “I am.” I think that here we have a proclamation that God is being itself, He is pure being in both its personal and impersonal forms. Any further attempt at comment here is probably going to slide into heresy by either ignorance or inadvertence on my part, so I won’t try to push it too far.

Starting in 3:21 God describes how the Hebrews will be elevated in the eyes of the Egyptians, and will be able to plunder them. This was later used as a justification for incorporating the intellectual treasures of paganism into Christianity. (This was mentioned by Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris, and I mention it here.)

Chapter 4 contains a real puzzlement, as Yul Brynner might have said in The King and I. In verse 13 Moses starts bellyaching about his lack of rhetorical skill. In 14 or 15 God points out Aaron, the brother of Moses, and says “here he comes to meet you.” Okay so how did Moses, who may have been raised in the royal household, and not known his family, know about Aaron? Also how did Aaron get to Midian, and find a brother he shouldn’t have known? One possibility is that Aaron is already in Midian and wasn’t a sibling by blood relationship but by marital relationship. In other words a brother-in-law. (Would that give further support to Jerome’s contention that Hebrew usage of brother and sister covered cousins and other relatives?) Another possibility is that Moses is, through the agency of God, having a vision that shows him Aaron in Egypt.

Beginning at 4:24 Moses has an encounter with Yahweh that ends with Zipporah circumcising Gershom, the son of Moses.

It is at 4:27 that Moses finally meets up with Aaron.

I consulted the Anchor Bible to see what the commentary on Exodus had to say about this. The author, William Propp, seemed nonplussed as well, and made the comment about a vision. I didn’t see any mention of conflicting sources, but I didn’t look closely.

It is a puzzlement.