Friday, 23 November 2007

The Canonical Shape of Exodus

As with Genesis, Childs* testifies to an equally complex prehistory of traditions lying behind the final form of the present composition. But once again there are some important editorial moves which reveal the intention of the canonical shaping.

A basic feature of the Book of Exodus is the interchange of narrative and legal material. The narrative material testifies to the historical moment at a particular time in Israel's history at which God made His will known to His people. For Israel to learn the will of God necessitated an act of self-revelation. Thus, regardless of whether in the prehistory the narrative and legal traditions developed along different lines, in the canonical form the two elements belong together. "Gospel and Law cannot be divorced."

Again, the final form of Exodus has often combined the account of an original event with an account of the ongoing celebration of that same event (e.g. the intertwining of the original Passover with an account of its ongoing celebration). In this way, material is formed in such a way as to provide a channel of appropriation for every future generation.

Finally, it is theologically significant that the Sinai material has been edited in such a way that the covenant is both preceded and followed by stories of Israel's murmuring and resistance to the law of God. Particularly the place of the story of the Golden Calf provides a commentary on how the demands of God upon His people are continually supported by His mercy in the light of repeated disobedience and even apostasy.

*"The Old Testament as the Scripture of the Church" Concordia Theological Monthly 43 D (1972) 709-22

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