5

In Exodus 3:18 Moses is commanded to gather the Israelite elders, go to Phara0h and say "יְהוָ֞ה אֱלֹהֵ֤י הָֽעִבְרִיִּים֙ נִקְרָ֣ה עָלֵ֔ינוּ וְעַתָּ֗ה נֵֽלֲכָה־נָּ֞א דֶּ֣רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֤שֶׁת יָמִים֙ בַּמִּדְבָּ֔ר וְנִזְבְּחָ֖ה לַֽיהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ" "The Lord, the God of the Hebrews appeared to us and now please let us go a journey of three days into the wilderness and we will slaughter to the Lord, our God."

But in Exodus 5:1, Moses changes the words when talking to Pharaoh and says "כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־עַמִּ֔י וְיָחֹ֥גּוּ לִ֖י בַּמִּדְבָּֽר" "So said the Lord, God of Israel, 'send out my nation and they will celebrate to me in the wilderness.'" Pharoah responds (Exodus 5:2) by claiming ignorance of the Lord, saying "מִ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶשְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹל֔וֹ לְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לֹ֤א יָדַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה וְגַ֥ם אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֹ֥א אֲשַׁלֵּֽחַ" "who is the Lord that I should listen to his voice to send out Israel; I don't know the Lord and also Israel I will not send out."

In the very next verse however, Moses reverts back to the message that God had told him to use and says "אֱלֹהֵ֥י הָעִבְרִ֖ים נִקְרָ֣א עָלֵ֑ינוּ נֵ֣לֲכָה נָּ֡א דֶּרֶךְ֩ שְׁלֹ֨שֶׁת יָמִ֜ים בַּמִּדְבָּ֗ר וְנִזְבְּחָה֙ לַֽיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֔ינוּ" "the God of the Hebrews appeared to us and now please let us go a journey of three days into the wilderness and we will slaughter to the Lord, our God." This time Pharaoh doesn't deny any knowledge of God but instead accuses Moses and Aaron of distracting the Israelites from their task and being lazy.

The simple reading of the text implies that Pharaoh did not know who the God of the Israelites was but did know who the God of the Hebrews was. And unlike the God of the Israelites, Pharaoh had at least some level of respect for the God of the Hebrews.

Is is possible that Pharaoh did not know that the God of the Israelites was the same as the God of the Hebrews? Is this evidence that the term Israelite and Hebrew were not viewed are referencing the same people (i.e. that Israelites were a subset of Hebrews)?

And if there was a really a difference between the terms, why did Moses change God's message?

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Pay close attention to the interchanging of the terms. God's commandment in Exodus 3:18 uses the terms "king of Egypt", "YHVH, god of the Hebrews", "our God".

The narrator in verse 5:1 uses the terms "Pharaoh" (not "king of Egypt"), and Moses and Aaron address Pharaoh using the terms "YHVH", "god of Israel", "My people".

The narrator in verse 5:2 uses the terms "Pharaoh", and Pharaoh replies using the terms "YHVH", "Israel", and states that he will not release Israel, showing that he admits that he knows who Israel is and that Moses and Aaron are its leaders.

Moses and Aaron address Pharaoh in verse 5:3 using the terms "YHVH our god", "god of the Hebrews", from which Pharaoh would know that YHVH is also the God of the Hebrews besides being the God of Israel and that Moses and Aaron were speaking as the the leaders of the Hebrews.

The narrator in verse 5:4 uses the terms "king of Egypt" but then switches to "Pharaoh" in verse 5:5.

The term that remains constant throughout the dialog is the proper name "YHVH".

From the free interchanging of the terms in this dialog it appears that Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) did in fact understand clearly that Moses and Aaron were using "Israel" as a name for "the Hebrews" and that "YHVH" was the god of both.

So, Pharaoh's question "who is the YHVH that I should listen to his voice?" is rhetorical, defiant and provocative rather than a request for information or statement of ignorance.

In the Exodus story, Pharoah's provocation fills the same role as Goliath's curse in I Samuel 17:43, and Ravsheka's defiance in II Kings 18:35. It is a public defiance of God that seals his fate.

The reason for Pharoah's reaction in verse 2 is that Moses and Aaron used the proper name "Israel", showing self respect, national identity and assertion, instead of "Hebrews" which was not a proper name but a derogative term in Egyptian parlance for shepherding nomads, something akin to the "N" word in American English in terms of its usage (Genesis 43:32). When Moses and Aaron revert back to "Hebrews", Pharaoh is merely dismissive, telling them that they are lazy [Hebrews] and should get back to work.

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  • I like this answer a lot. Especially the last paragraph where you provide an explanation for why Moses and Aaron changed God's message and why Pharaoh's reaction seemed to change. This also fits in nicely with Pharaoh's acceptance of the midwives response that Hebrew women were wild and gave birth on their own like animals. Do you have any additional places in Genesis or Exodus where עִבְרִי is clearly derogatory? Are they any counter examples (maybe Exodus 2:11)? – conceptualinertia Dec 1 '16 at 23:53
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    @conceptualinertia See hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/22862/… for a discussion of "abomination" for references. Note that some people view this usage as an invention of the MT without outside support. See hebrewhistory.info/factpapers/fp039-2_israel.htm for a discussion of the use of "Hebrew" as a generic term for refugees, migrants, dwellers of the dust. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Dec 2 '16 at 5:52
  • Fascinating. Thanks. You should put an answer in for that question explaining why eating with Hebrews was abhorrent to Egyptian Royalty. – conceptualinertia Dec 2 '16 at 16:18
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Regarding your premise statement:

The simple reading of the text implies that Pharaoh did not know who the God of the Israelites was but did know who the God of the Hebrews was. And unlike the God of the Israelites, Pharaoh had at least some level of respect for the God of the Hebrews.

I disagree on two points:

  1. that Pharaoh "did know who the God of the Hebrews was"
  2. that "Pharaoh had at least some level of respect for the God of the Hebrews" (at this point in the events, anyway, which does change: Exo 8:8, 28; and especially 9:27-28).

Further, the quoted texts show the following statement not to be true:

Is this evidence that the term Israelite and Hebrew were not viewed [as] referencing the same people ... ?

Rather, the text in v.2 demonstrates both that Pharaoh

  1. used the term Israel to refer to the people enslaved by him (i.e., the Hebrews)
  2. and did not know who YHWH was

Regarding #2, notice the distinction of the divine name YHWH in v.2 (from your quote of the Hebrew and translation of the Hebrew):

מִ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶשְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹל֔וֹ לְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לֹ֤א יָדַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת־יְהוָ֔ה וְגַ֥ם אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֹ֥א אֲשַׁלֵּֽחַ

who is the Lord that I should listen to his voice to send out Israel; I don't know the Lord and also Israel I will not send out.

This was a new name to Pharaoh; a God he knew nothing about (so why should he listen to this God's command?). That he does not again deny knowing Him after Moses switches to say "Hebrews" instead of "Israel" is because he had just denied knowing Him (no need to reiterate that point)—and it is time for the Hebrews/Israel to get back to work and Moses to stop interrupting their productivity!

Which also speaks to #1 above, that Pharaoh had no problem making the connection between who Israel was that he would not let go in v.2 with the Hebrews that were not working in v.4. This is further evidenced earlier in Exodus, where the earlier(?) Pharaoh at the time of Moses' birth (Exo 1:22) referred to "the people of the children of Israel" (1:9), who he clearly equated in his command to the midwives about "the Hebrew women" (1:16). So Israel = Hebrew at the time prior to Moses's birth.

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