OT Thoughts – Exodus (Part 5)

Old Testament thoughts is a weekly post where we’ll be looking at some interesting aspects of some Scripture from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). Right now, we are looking at the first two chapters of Exodus.

“Just as the men of Egypt cast their sons into the river, so He took revenge on one million, and one thousand strong and ardent men perished on account of one infant whom they threw into the midst of the river.”
-Jubilees 48:14

At the end of the first chapter of Exodus we have Pharaoh commanding all male children (even Egyptian?) to be cast into the Nile. It has not failed interpreters, ancient and modern, to make a possible connection between the watery death of Israelite boys and the watery death YHWH brings on the Egyptians at the Exodus (see Exodus 14). Many Jewish interpreters saw this as an explicit demonstration of the Law, specifically the famous lex talionis, or “eye for an eye” law (Exodus 21:23-25).

Other sources that make this same connection:
Wisd. 18:5
Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 9:10
Mekhilta deR. Ishmael, Shirta 4

Interestingly, James Kugel also points out in his The Bible As It Was, that there was also a tradition that it was actually the decision of Pharaoh’s counselors to drown the children because these wise men had consulted the Hebrew Scriptures and determined that drowining would be the safest method against divine recompense. Kugel quotes b. Sota 11a, where after deciding that fire and sword are out because Isaiah 66 says that “the Lord shall come with fire…and by his sword [he will punish] all flesh,” the counselors say, “Let us therefore sentence them [to die] by water, for God has already sworn that he will nevermore bring a flood into the world…”

What a creative gap-filling midrash.


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