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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 VI – Neglected Circumcision 93


Chapter VI Neglected Circumcision The broad approaches, Source Criticism, Form Criticism, Traditio- Historical Criticism, and Social Scientific Criticism, inevitably encoun- ter the possibility that the motivation for the assailant seeking to kill Moses or the person pursued in the story in Exod 4:24-26 is the neglect of circumcision. This contingency also appears in other approaches dis- cussed later in this work, but this explanation is so prominent in the pre- sent group of methods that it seems natural to discuss this at this junc- ture. Scholars do not agree as to the identity of the individual who had not been circumcised as the cause for the attack described in Exod 4:24-26. This study attempts to delineate and discuss each proposal. 31. Moses Was Uncircumcised One early rabbinic explanation of Yahweh’s or an angel’s attack on Moses is that Moses had not been circumcised. Exod. Rab. v. 8 says Zipporah knew Moses was in trouble because he had not been circum- cised, because the angel swallowed Moses from his head to the place of circumcision. Immediately Zipporah circumcised Moses, and the angel departed.1 Similarly, R. Judah b. Bizna taught that Af and Hemah, angels of wrath and anger, swallowed Moses, one from his head and the other from his feet to his legs (genitals), and immediately Zipporah circum- cised her son and they withdrew (Exodus Rabbah-Shemot 1.32-33, 4.1-4, 5.3-8).2 L. Ginzberg relates the rabbinic story in this way: 1 See Vermes, ‘Circumcision and Exodus IV 24-26,’ 185-90....

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