The Heart Of Pharaoh In Exodus 4-15 -- By: Matthew Mcaffee

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 20:3 (NA 2010)
Article: The Heart Of Pharaoh In Exodus 4-15
Author: Matthew Mcaffee

The Heart Of Pharaoh In Exodus 4-15

Matthew Mcaffee

University Of Chicago

The exegetical problems surrounding the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart motif in Exodus 4-15 have long been noted by scholars. In one’s attempt to grapple with the interpretive issues that arise from this familiar episode, it is expedient that one’s efforts are firmly anchored in the grammar and syntax of the text itself. The following study attempts to analyze the heart-of-Pharaoh motif in light of three concerns: lexical, grammatical, and contextual. The aim of a threefold approach such as this is to offer a reanalysis of this text for the purpose of further elucidating the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as presented in the Exodus narrative.

Key Words: Exodus, Pharaoh, heart, hardening motif, חזק,כבד , קשׁה, Hebrew stative, Hebrew factitive, Hebrew causative, grammatical subject, narrative commentary, divine commentary


The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart has been the subject of many commentaries, articles, and monographs as scholars have sought gains in the questions about human culpability and divine sovereignty. For the most part, the common view is that the problem in Exod 4-15 is a theological one— did Pharaoh harden his heart, did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, or both? Countless pages have been written in an attempt to answer these questions, often with less than satisfactory results.1 A number of discussions

have attempted to provide answers to the problem through source critical methodology, identifying the proposed sources behind the appearance of the three distinct roots that describe Pharaoh’s hard heart.2 Indeed, these discussions have been useful in drawing attention to the Hebrew text’s nuanced presentation of the hardening activity within the heart of Pharaoh.3 However, perhaps a reexamination of this exegetically difficult text from a different vantage point might prove useful in lending additional interpretive clarity to this issue.

One of the hurdles to overcome in revisiting this overworked literary piece is to provide enough justification that more needs to be said. It is my opinion that after surveying the secondary literature up to date, there remains the need for clarification in three areas: lexical, grammatical, and contextual. One example serves to illustrate th...

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