Rebellion, Presence, and Covenant: A Study in Exodus 32-34 -- By: Dale Ralph Davis

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 44:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: Rebellion, Presence, and Covenant: A Study in Exodus 32-34
Author: Dale Ralph Davis

Rebellion, Presence, and Covenant:
A Study in Exodus 32-34

Dale Ralph Davis


The thesis of this paper is that the narrative of Exodus 32–34 is a basic unity, that it is more likely to stem from one original hand than from a number of contributors plus the final redactor, and that the connections and materials of the narrative itself reveal and support such a unity. There is no claim here that difficulties are non-existent—only that a real basic unity inheres in the narrative if it is approached by way of its canonical presentation. This in turn suggests a methodology: that the text is to be approached holistically with a serious attempt to discern an internal consistency if it be there. This is not to rule out the place of (source) analysis; it is to say that analysis has a tendency to begin too soon, and thus not really to “hear” the text. Most of our attention will be focused on literary concerns with some concluding remarks about the theology of the unit.

The Basic Unity of the Narrative

First of all, it is necessary to deal briefly with the tradition of 32:1–6 which forms the backdrop for all three chapters. It is, of course, rather common to see this tradition taken as a polemic against Jeroboam I’s calf worship at Dan and Bethel, the tradition projecting the condemnation backwards in order to denounce it out of the mouth of Moses.1 But this is open to question. In 1 Kings 12 the cult stems from Jeroboam’s initiative, while here

the groundswell comes from the people. Moreover, if we are intended to see Aaron in the role of Jeroboam, then the representation is truly inept, for Aaron is here a sort of weak and pressured victim, while Jeroboam appears as the strong instigator. A more astute polemic than this would be needed—Aaron would have had to be cast into more of an image of Jeroboam than this.

Some deny that Aaron’s role in vv 1b–4 is original; the original picture of vv 5f shows him to be only a victim of the people’s fait accompli.2 Noth, who takes this view, bases the excision of vv 1b–4 on the idea that vv 21–24, which seek to excuse Aaron, are secondary. Thus his role in vv 1b–4 must be likewise. I feel this misses the...

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