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Yahweh and Moses in Conflict

The Role of Exodus 4:24-26 in the Book of Exodus


John T. Willis

The interpretation of Exodus 4:24-26 is very controversial. Scholars have treated this text from various viewpoints on the basis of divergent methods or approaches. Two fundamental problems cause uncertainty about the origin and meaning of this text. One problem has to do with the nature of Exod 4:24-26. Another problem is the identity of the persons mentioned in Exod 4:24-26. This book arranges forty-two documented interpretations under each approach or approaches, presenting the view of each scholar proposing his/her interpretation of Exodus 4:24-26 in chronological order. The author presents his own view in the concluding chapter, essentially adopting a redactional, canonical, narrative, rhetorical methodology.


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Chapter V – Contextual, Etymological, and Sociological Explanations 69


Chapter V Contextual, Etymological, and Sociological Explanations An important aspect of source criticism, form criticism, tradition- historical criticism, and social scientific criticism is the way(s) a context affects a biblical text, the meaning of the words and phrases in the text, and sociological customs or practices related to the text. These concerns have played an important role in interpreting Exod 4:24-26. Various scholars have suggested the meaning of this little pericope in the scope of these considerations. 24. Yahweh and Pharaoh’s Son J. Coppens says that the most widespread interpretation of Exod 4:24-26 is that Yahweh wished to kill Moses because Moses had not circumcised his son. According to this interpretation, circumcision is a sacramental act in which the blood of child redeems the father. Coppens contends that this interpretation does not make sense, because (1) Moses had two sons; why would he have circumcised only one of them? (2) This son would be approximately forty years of age at this time, but the text pre- sents him as an infant. (3) Why would Yahweh want to kill Moses, whom he chose and sent to deliver his people? Others understand this passage to mean that according to Midianite custom, Moses should have been circumcised just before his marriage; Yahweh wishes to kill him because he neglected this custom; Zipporah saves Moses by substituting the circumcision of their son for the father. According to this interpreta- tion, the intention of Exod 4:24-26 seems to be to explain...

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