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Genesis (cont.) and Exodus

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From Genesis, we will focus on the character and story of Jacob. Jacob, or Israel, becomes the patriarch whom all the Israelites of Exodus claim as their common (and eponymous) ancestor. It behooves us, therefore, to examine his character and accomplishments particularly closely. What special skills and qualities does Jacob have? Does he remind you of any characters from the Greek works we read? What might any such similarities imply about the skills and qualities valued in Judaic and Classical lore, respectively?

Leah and Rachel, as the only female exemplars of the sibling rivalry/reversal of primogeniture plot, are also of particular interest. On what does their rivalry center? What tools does each wield in her own behalf? In what ways does Jacob himself take on the role of God in his dealings with them? Can you draw connections between Jacob's role here and that of Moses in Exodus?

Note especially the complexity of the narrative in Gen. 31, dealing with Jacob's departure from the house and service of Laban. What is the effect of the threefold perspective here (Jacob, Laban, Rachel)? How much information does each character have about what is really going on? What ironies does this produce?

From Exodus, we will mostly be concerned with the story of Moses, the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, the giving of the law (establishment of covenant), and the Golden Calf episode (breach of covenant): that is, Ch 1-20 and Ch. 32. You should certainly read the other chapters, but focus particularly closely on the ones I have mentioned.

  • In what ways does the beginning of Exodus provide a smooth transition from the end of Genesis? In what ways does it mark a break with Genesis? Note that at the beginning of Exodus, the children of Israel (Jacob) have multiplied into an entire race, the Hebrews: thus, the basic social unit goes from being the family (Genesis) to the nation (Exodus). What additional changes necessarily accompany this transition? For example, what kind of leader do you expect a nation to require, as opposed to a family? How are these transitions enacted in Exodus?
  • By the way, what do you think of the Israelites, in Exodus? Why do you suppose God has "chosen" them? Do they live up to his choice?
  • Why is Moses a Levite? How do you square this with the "blessing" Jacob bestows on Levi at the end of his life (Gen. 49:5ff)?
  • The intense and often ambivalent focus on primogeniture (privilege of the first-born) is continued in Exodus, sometimes in surprising ways. Note instances in which the word "first-born" is used and consider the implications. How do these issues affect the Israelites? the Egyptians?
  • Moses: what in his early life strikes you as noteworthy? Note the scene of his betrothal at a well (Ex. 2:15ff.). This is a good opportunity to compare the use of this type-scene in Moses' biography with the other two instances we have seen: the betrothal of Isaac to Rebekah (Gen. 24:15ff.) and that of Jacob to Rachel/Leah (Gen. 29:9ff.). How is each of these stories "tweaked" to reflect important motifs in the lives of each protagonist (i.e. bridegroom)? What does the manner of Moses' betrothal reveal about him? What motifs that will become important in Moses' life and leadership are touched upon here?
  • What do you make of the "surrogate circumcision" episode at 4:24-26?
  • Look closely at water imagery in Exodus. How is it used?
  • Pharaoh: why does God "harden Pharaoh's heart" to stop him from letting the Israelites go? God offers an explanation at 10:1. Does it satisfy you?
  • What parallels can you adduce between Moses' process of bargaining with Pharaoh and pivotal scenes in Genesis (e.g., Creation, the Call to Abraham, Sodom, Rachel's departure from her father's house)?
  • The Plagues: how do they hearken back to Creation? How do they foreshadow God's behavior toward the Israelites in the wilderness? In what ways do we see God here using the tools/skills we saw him command in Genesis?
  • At 7:11, 7:22, 8:7 and 8:18 we see God go head-to-head with Egyptian "sorcerers" and "magicians" in the production of miracles. Compare and contrast these instances. What does it mean that Egyptian magicians can do the same tricks as God? Do you think God has foreseen this? Is there real competition? Why do the magicians finally admit defeat?
  • Why is the solution that Pharaoh proposes to Moses et al. at 8:25 not viable? What is God holding out for?
  • Note the importance of eating and drinking to this book (and think back to Genesis for possible clues/parallels). Some episodes that you should look at closely: the eating of the Passover lamb (sign of God's covenant) at 12:8; the eating of the Golden Calf (sign of breach of God's covenant) at 32:20; the water and foodstuffs that sustain the Israelites in the wilderness. Note also that God's command regarding the eating of unleavened bread (law/normative text) comes before its aetiology in the hurried departure of the Israelites (story/narrative text). Does this order (effect => cause) strike you as odd? What is the relationship between law and the body in this text? Between law and knowledge?
  • What is the narrative (as opposed to normative) function of law in Exodus?
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