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The placement of the genealogy of Moses and Aaron, beginning at Exodus 6:14, appears to be a bit odd at first glance. One might expect it to be placed at Moses' birth or maybe his death, but instead it is placed just before Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh for the first time. Was the author of Exodus making a point by placing it where he did?

(Positing multiple authors for Exodus is itself insufficient explanation. All that does is shift the question to "Was the redactor of Exodus making a point by placing it where he did?")

  • The same could be asked about Luke's Gospel, which includes Christ's genealogy in the latter half of its third chapter. – Lucian Jul 29 '17 at 23:47
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The complete record of the birth of Moses has been divided into two parts. Details covering the birth are placed first (Exodus 2:1-10); his genealogy is second (Exodus 6:14-25). Each of the two records serves as a type of introduction to the two primary phases of his life. After his birth Moses lived in Pharaoh’s house as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. After encountering God on Mount Horeb Moses became the prophet sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. The two-fold record also parallels the main authority in Moses life. At first, Moses was subject to the decrees of Pharaoh. Later, Moses became subject to the voice of the LORD God of Israel.

When Exodus is taken as the work of a single Author the placement of the genealogy can be studied as a purposeful choice by that Author. By placing the genealogy immediately before Moses and Aaron bring the plagues to Pharaoh, the effect is to make the point that bringing the people out of Egypt was God’s purpose for Moses life:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV)

What was true for Jeremiah was true for Moses. Jeremiah began his call as a youth; Moses began his when he was 80-years old. What the LORD states directly to Jeremiah, He communicates (by implication) when He first separates the details of the birth and then places the genealogy before the conflict with Pharaoh.

The genealogy could be placed at the beginning of his life or the end and accurately communicate ancestry. When it is placed before the contest between the LORD and Pharaoh, it has the effect of stating this is where Moses truly begins the life he is called by God to live. In a sense it is a way of showing Moses' rebirth.

The source theory is that Exodus 6 is from the priestly source and is a redundant and inconsistent variant of Exodus 3:1 to 6:1 (JPS Study Bible p.115). Yet there is a significant difference between the two records:

Exodus 3:16-17: Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt… (ESV)

Exodus 6:6-7: Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (ESV)

The second contains the four promises remembered at the Passover and specifically that the LORD will be their God. What begins as "the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham…" becomes “I will be Your God.” So the prophetic message of Moses is not simply to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3); it is tell the people of the relationship where they will be His people and He will be their God (Exodus 6). Connecting the genealogy to the second message serves to reinforce the significance of this message.

There is additional evidence that the arrangement of the genealogy and birth details of Moses is a purposeful work of a single Author. The question is based on the fact that the information is not arranged as is expected. Logically the genealogy, names of the parents, and birth details should be together in a single account. While the information can be divided it should be kept together as an integral unit: enter image description here

In Exodus the division is such that all of the names have been kept together and separated from the details of the birth. At first something is missing: the Author did not identify the parents or the ancestors. Seemingly important information has been left out. When those facts are later revealed, the reader is able to go back and reconstruct the complete record: enter image description here

When this arrangement is taken as the work of a single Author, additional observations about His methodology can be made:

  • The Word of God has been rightly divided (one is Moses’ mother, the other his father).

  • When properly divided and combined, what was first must be placed last and what had been last is placed first.

  • The two records can be combined into one.

These elements are consistent with principles taken from Scripture:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:12 NKJV)

And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:30 NKJV)

While Scripture can be viewed narrowly as different works of human authors whose words were later assembled into the record we find today, it can also be seen as the work of a single Author applying His unchanging truth from beginning:

And the Word became flesh… (John 1:14 NKJV) Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NKJV)

The two records of Moses birth have been purposely divided into two records, one from his mother’s perspective (female) and one from his father’s (male). If rightly divided, the two can be made into one. When that is done the first is last and the last is first.

Therefore, the placement of the genealogy in Exodus is not only purposeful to give emphasis to the most important phase of Moses life, the separation of the birth and genealogy was accomplished using principles taken from both the Old and New Testaments. It is the work of a single Author.

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  • The first part of this answer is excellent, so +1. If the answer ended at "Connecting the genealogy to the second message serves to reinforce the significance of this message" you would probably have gotten the accept as well. However, you lost me when you started talking about the Bible as a whole. I don't understand what you are trying to say and especially don't understand the graphic. How is it "understood" that the genealogy comes first? How is this an example of making the last first? – ThaddeusB Dec 1 '15 at 16:34
  • Attemptted to clarify the second part of the answer. The documentary hypothesis is not part of your question but given its widespread acceptance I think it is helpful to show how the text supports the belief of divine inspiration from a single Source. If it does not make sense I will remove it. – Revelation Lad Dec 2 '15 at 7:13
  • Thanks, much clearer now. I don't think it is necessary - that Moses' mother was introduced when necessary and that his full genealogy is introduced when his life really "begins" is a sufficient and strong explanation. It is somewhat distracting and might be the reason mine is the only upvote, but I'll leave it up to you whether you prefer to leave the material or not. – ThaddeusB Dec 2 '15 at 15:56
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    I've given you an upvote, but I think your two points on rightly divided the word and the first being last and last being first are nonsense and take those NT verses completely out of context. – curiousdannii Dec 3 '15 at 2:09
  • @curiousdannii If you can accept the Documentary Hypotheses as legitimate scholarship, principles such as rightly divide and first and last are not out of context. The DH takes words and phrases "out of context" and seeks to explain Scripture as a deconstructed version of different sources which can now be reconstructed to identify the "original source." The idea the Priestly Source wrote Genesis 1 and Exodus 6 is far more out of context then taking a clearly stated principle and applying it to understand passages which reflect the principle in use. – Revelation Lad Aug 21 '17 at 19:37
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The purpose of inserting the genealogy in the middle of Exodus 6:10-30 could aim to contrast the inability of Moses with the election by God. Among the hundreds of thousands of Israel's descendants, only two were chosen to speak to Pharaoh. They were Moses and Aaron. The preceding paragraph (6:10-12) and the succeeding paragraph (6:28-30) form the parentheses of the genealogy. Both paragraphs recorded the saying of Moses that he spoke with faltering lips. If even Moses himself admitted that he was unable to speak to Pharaoh, not to say leading his people out of Egypt, then the only reason he could eventually do it is because he was chosen by the Lord to do it. It was because the Lord had promised to be with him (3:12).

A similar way of using genealogy to illustrate election by God can be seen in Genesis chapters 10 to 11. Among all the tribes in the world, God had chosen one descendant of Shem, whose name was Abraham.

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Maybe I missed it in the above but the placement also seems to be that only four generations are mentioned with regard to Moses: Levi, Kohath, Amram, Moses. This seems to deliberately point to God's prophecy and promise to Abraham in Gen. 15:13-14, viz. that the Israelites would be enslaved but that they would be brought out in the fourth generation. In other words, Genesis shows us the God who makes covenant. Exodus shows us the God who keeps covenant.

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange Tovah, thanks for contributing - this is a very interesting approach, and it would be great to see it developed in more detail to help make your explanation clearer. Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor Jan 30 '17 at 10:35
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I just found this thread after reading Exodus 6 and wondering the same question posed by Thaddeus B. I also found the following article, which I think is a helpful response so I thought I'd share:

https://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/quick-thought-exodus-6-and-genealogical-math-fails/

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    Answers on this sight should be direct, and in your own words. It is fine to post a link, as a reference or as a support for your own answer. It is also fine to paraphrase someone else's work as long as you give credit. The link that you posted does not answer the OP's question directly. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jul 29 '17 at 18:35
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What is chronological significance of this section? Aaron 83 & Moses 80 entering last 40 years of life. Aaron's death occurs in year of entrance Canaan at 123 years. Eugene Faulstich says period begins with birth of Isaac 530 years earlier. He interprets each man as representing segment of time interpreted by Hebrew meaning of their names. 137+133+137+123=530 years. Levi--joins, Kohath--assemble family, Amram--inexperienced, Aaron--doubt,then bright....

The date of Torah portion was 490 years after Isaac's birth. Isaac "joins" land until 137 years later when Jacob flees to Haran to "gather/Kohath" his family/wealth. 133 years later in 2320 AM when Joseph & brothers died--Levi was last. Jacob's family "experienced" persecution for 137 years until birth of Aaron. 123 years later Aaron dies & people enter Promised Land 1421 BC or 2580 AM

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I will base my answer on multiple authorship, while agreeing that simple assertion of multiple authorship is in itself insufficient explanation. I need to explain why multiple authorship leads to discontinuities of this nature.

We would expect a single author of the entire book to place material in a logical order, so that the reader can follow the plot more readily. However, a late author inserting material into an existing book sometimes has to make compromises.

The old Documentary Hypothesis is no longer seen as immutable, but this table shows a simplified summary of Priestly Source ('P') contributions to the Book of Exodus (and the Pentateuch as a whole). The Priestly Source was very concerned with numbers, ages, lifespans and genealogies, and is credited with Exodus 6:2-7:7. The goal of P's narratival texts is largely to provide a basis for his laws.

Rather than inserting small amounts of material into many different places in the text, P preferred to find a location where a break would not be very obvious, then insert related material into that break, always leaving existing text in place and sometimes weaving material into earlier text from the J Source. So, Exodus 6:2-7:7 represent the earliest places in Exodus where P began to insert material. For him, there was a logical flow from the genealogy which tells us who Moses and Aaron were, through verses 6:26-27 where God chooses Moses and Aaron, to God's call to Moses in verses 6:28-29, and his command to confront the pharaoh (chapter 7). To create that logical flow, P delayed insertion of the ancestry material until this point.

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    I didn't downvote, but I do find this to be a pretty weak reasoning. It basically amounts to "it seemed like a good place to put the material" which would be a valid, but very vague explanation under any authorship theory... I am surprised that the "break" would be at 6:2, as 6:14 is the "odd" transition for me - if there is continuous authorship from 6:2-7:7, then that doesn't really help answer the question about the genealogy placement at all, because it is at a seemly odd place considering just that snippet in isolation. (Incidentally, your "Exodus 6:2-7:7" link doesn't mention it.) – ThaddeusB Nov 25 '15 at 16:10
  • Also, I don't think your statement that P generally preferred to insert large amounts of material at once is accurate. First, the normal way the DH works is that a redactor combined multiple sources, not that each source "inserted" their material into an established document. Second, the scholars who "decide" such things quite often assign 2 or less consecutive verses to P (while of course disagreeing with each other on some points). The linked table is the "major episodes", but many smaller passages are generally also assigned to P to make the hypothesis "work". – ThaddeusB Nov 25 '15 at 16:14
  • @ThaddeusB I accept your criticism so although do not agree with aspects of it., I do not want this to be the start of a discussion. Importantly, the DH, as usually understood, does not posit that each Source's material remains in pristine isolation until (chosen and) merged by the Redactor. By far the majority DH view is that a JE redactor joined J and E shortly after 722 BCE, P added to this combined document later, then R tidied things up and smoothed off the rough edges. Also when P inserts small amounts of consecutive text this actually involved what I above called 'weaving'. – Dick Harfield Nov 25 '15 at 19:49

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