Damien F. Mackey
Inspired by the view of scholars that the Exodus story of Moses is a miniature Flood story.
Professor Emmanuel Anati’s emphatic view that Mount Har Karkom – and not Jebel Musa – is the true biblical Mount Sinai, received this taunt from some of his colleagues, as he tells: “We became used to sarcastic comments such as ‘Did you find the broken Tablets of the Law?’, or, ‘Next you should look for Noah’s Ark’.”
These colleagues may have been right, though unwittingly, in referring to Noah and the Exodus in the one breath, given the view of certain scholars (see below) that the Exodus story of Moses is a miniature Flood story.
A: Comparisons Between Genesis and Exodus
Moses wrote the Exodus account in terms of ‘a miniature Flood story’, portraying himself as the new Noah. This section illustrates the Flood-Exodus parallelisms.
Moses, who compiled Genesis from the series of family histories (toledôt) of his illustrious forefathers was apparently also very conscious – when writing his own story in the rest of the Pentateuch – of the content, language and structure of Genesis.
For more on this, see my two-part:
Tracing the Hand of Moses in Genesis
Simple examples of this are identified below, followed by a more profound, structural example.
- Just as God saw His creative works as ‘good’ (Genesis 1:31), so did Moses’ mother see that her son ‘was a goodly child’ (Exodus 2:2);
- The ‘Ten Words’ or creative commands of God in Genesis 1: ‘And God said’, have been found to parallel the ‘Ten Commandments’ of Exodus 20. Moreover, both series of ten are referred to in the context of the Six Days and a Seventh (cf. Genesis 1:5-31; 2:2 and Exodus 20:9-11).
- The new Pharaoh who began the oppression of the Israelites is portrayed by Moses as something of a Nimrod figure, as found in Genesis 10 and 11, a megalomaniacal builder of cities. At Babel, the inhabitants use a phraseology: ‘Come, let us make bricks …. Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens …’ (cf. Genesis 10:8-9 and 11:3,4) that Moses would copy in Exodus: ‘… the new king over Egypt’ said ‘Come, let us deal shrewdly with [the Israelites], lest they multiply …’. So the Egyptians ‘made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick’ (Exodus 1:10, 14). The stated purpose of the Babel-onians was to build a city ‘… lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth’ (11:4). Moses used a kind of ‘rival operation’ to this in the case of the Israelites, for ‘… the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad’ (1:12).
- Abram was ordered by God to leave the land of his birth and sojourn in the foreign land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1). Moses, for his part, fled his native home, of Egypt, and sojourned in the foreign land of Midian (Exodus 2:15).
- Pharaoh begged Abram to leave Egypt once God had begun to inflict plagues upon that country, because of Abram’s wife (Genesis 12:17-19). Likewise, the Pharaoh of the Exodus begged Moses to leave Egypt because of the Ten Plagues (Exodus 12:31-32).
Innumerable other simple comparisons may be found but there is also a more far-reaching similarity between Genesis and the other Pentateuchal books. I. Kikawada and A. Quinn (Before Abraham Was, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1985) have discerned a five-part structure shared by Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, as well as multiple chiasms, pointing to a striking unity of thought throughout the entire Pentateuch. This similarity of structure is further compelling evidence in favour of Mosaic compilation of Genesis and authorship of the last four books. Most striking of all, however, as we shall see, is the similarity between the lives of these two great Patriarchs – so much so that we find Moses portraying himself as a second Noah, his story being ‘a miniature flood story’ (p. 115).
B: Comparisons between Noah and Moses
According to Kikawada and Quinn,
In the spirit of good creation, the author of Exodus 2:10 borrows the words of Genesis. When Moses’ mother sees her newborn son, how good he is, she cannot help defying Pharaoh’s command by hiding her son. And then when she can no longer hide him, she seeks some other way to save her son (2:2-3). The famous story of the baby Moses in the basket of bulrushes corresponds to Noah’s Flood and to the Great Flood of Atrahasis. The story occupies the same relative position in Exodus 1-2 as did Noah’s Flood in Genesis and the Great Flood in Atrahasis. All three stories contain the motif of salvation of a hero from the water … In addition to the motif parallels between the Genesis and Exodus flood stories noted above, there are lexical-syntactical parallels that demonstrate the Moses story to be a miniature flood story. These parallels are found in the description of how Noah is to build his têbah: ark and how Moses’ mother constructs the têbah: basket for her child. Noah was commanded:
‘Make for yourself a têbah of gopher wood …. and pitch it with pitch inside and outside (Genesis 6:14)’.
Exodus describes the actions of Moses’ mother thus:
She took for him a têbah of bulrushes and she pitched it with pitch and with mortar (Exodus 2:3) .
Amongst numerous other similarities between the Noah and Moses stories, there are the following striking parallels.
(i) The Wicked Drowned
According to the Flood account:
… the waters prevailed … and all flesh died that moved upon the earth … and every man (Genesis 7:20, 21).
Likewise, in Exodus the Egyptians forces were drowned:
… the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh … And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore (Exodus 14:28, 30).
(ii) Blotting Out
In Genesis, God decided to ‘blot out’ humankind from the face of the earth because of its universal wickedness.
But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord (6:7, 8).
In Exodus (32:10, 32), during the incident of ‘the Golden Calf’, God bade Moses:
‘… let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation’, but Moses interceded for his fellow-Israelites (that ‘rival operation’ again), saying: ‘… if Thou wilt forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written’.
(iii) Ark Specifications
Noah built the Ark according to the specifications God gave him (Genesis 6:14-16).
Likewise, Moses built the Ark of the Covenant according to very precise Divine instructions (Exodus 25:10-22).
(iv) Seven Days and Forty Days/Nights
Noah and his family entered the Ark.
And after seven days the waters of the Flood came upon the earth …. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7:7, 10, 12).
Moses went up onto Mount Sinai.
The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud …. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights’ (Exodus 24:15, 16, 18).
(v) Same Date
- Mackinlay, who synchronised the dates of the Flood and Exodus, tying these in with the New Testament (The Magi: How They Recognised Christ’s Star, Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), says: “[Christ] rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath after the Passover (John 20:1); the day on which the sheaf of first-fruits, promise of the future harvest, was waved before God (Leviticus 23:10,11). Hence we are told by St. Paul that as ‘Christ the first-fruits’ (I Corinthians 15:20, 23) rose, so those who believe in Him will also rise afterwards. This day was the anniversary of Israel’s crossing through the Red Sea (Exodus 12-14), and, as in the case of the Passover, it was also a date memorable in early history, being the day when the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4)”.
(vi) Ark at the Mountain
The Flood that destroyed humankind carried Noah and his family safely to the mountain, where the Ark landed (Genesis 8:4). Moses led his people safely through the Sea, which closed over their enemies. He had the Ark of the Covenant constructed at the sacred mountain (Ex. 25:10ff.).
(vii) Altar Built at the Mountain
Noah built an altar to the Lord (on the mountain?) (Genesis 8:20). Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain (according to the design he had seen on the mountain?) (cf. Exodus 27:1, 8).
(viii) Covenant at the Mountain
God made a covenant with Noah at the mountain (Genesis 9:9). God made a covenant with Moses at the mountain (e.g. Exodus 24:8). The recorded laws that God gave to Noah were few by comparison with those given to Moses at Sinai.
These few, nonetheless, are strikingly similar to certain of the latter: God’s first command to Noah was: ‘… be fruitful and multiply upon the earth’ (Genesis 8:17). God tells the Israelites at Sinai: ‘And I will … make you fruitful and multiply you’ (Leviticus 26:9). ‘You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood’ (Genesis 9:4). Similarly, at Sinai: ‘… you shall eat no blood whatever’ (Leviticus 7:26).
Regarding murder: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed …’ (Genesis 9:6). This is summed up at Sinai by: ‘You shall not kill’ (Exodus 20:13).
Finally, “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father [Noah]”, and his off-spring was cursed by Noah (Genesis 9:22, 25). This was remembered at Sinai, when God told Israel: ‘You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father …’ (Leviticus 18:7).
Finally, we might recall the tradition that Noah carried the skull (bones?) of first man, Adam, in the Ark (through the waters), and that it was later buried by Noah’s son, Shem, in Israel, at Golgotha. And Moses carried from Egypt (and through the Sea) the bones of the patriarch Joseph (Exodus 13:19), these being later buried in Israel, at Shechem (Joshua 24:32).