Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 157:625 (Jan 00) p. 99
By The Faculty and Library Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary
Robert D. Ibach, Editor
“Exodus III 19B and the Interpretation of Biblical Narrative,” Peter Addinall, Vetus Testamentum 49 (1999): 289-300.
The “strong hand” and “outstretched arm” is a motif that appears often in Exodus and Deuteronomy in the power struggle between Yahweh and Pharaoh. Ultimately the strong hand of Yahweh, displayed in the ten plagues, compelled Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. There is an apparent contradiction, therefore, in the verse cited in the title of this article: “But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand” (nkjv). The Septuagint resolves the contradiction by rendering the phrase “except by a mighty hand.” Interpreters have either followed the Septuagint or have despaired, saying the phrase does not make sense (W. H. Bennett), that the text is probably corrupt (A. H. McNeile), or that it refers only to the first nine plagues (S. R. Driver). A detailed study by Cornelis Houtman explores other interpretations, among them that the phrase relates to Moses and the elders rather than to God.
Addinall addresses the problem of whether the Masoretic text actually has the correct reading at Exodus 3:19, or whether the Septuagint might reflect a different and purer reading. A copy of Exodus among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QExodb) uses the phrase כִּי אִם, corresponding to the Septuagint reading, “except by a mighty hand.” But Addinall points out that this “raises the question well known to textual research, How did the easier text become corrupted into a reading which at worst has been held to make no sense, and at best has given rise to very varied interpretation?” (p. 294). He declines, therefore, the option of emending the Masoretic text.
Addinall seeks to solve the problem by accepting the contradiction as a legitimate part of the storyteller’s art “in which rhetoric, irony, ambiguity, the deliberate attempt to create effect have played a powerful and influential part” (p. 296). At this point in the story the Lord was warning Moses what to expect of Pharaoh, namely, powerful resistance. The unquestioned and absolute power of Pharaoh must be conveyed to the listeners: “there was no power on earth or in heaven to make him change his mind” (p. 297). If the seeming contradiction in Exodus 3:19 is merely a trick of the storyteller’s trade, Addinall admonishes interpreters not to attempt to extract “every drop of doctrinal, and even historical juice which can be squeezed out of it” (p. 298).
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