Exodus from Egypt in the P Source

In creating his account of the exodus, the P Source author drew mainly on the E Source narrative. While the P Source for Genesis drew extensively on the Akkadian Source, this is not the case for Exodus. Written around 600 BC (300 years after E), the P Source for Exodus puts the E Source narrative into its own words.

It begins as follows:

The Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Egypt worked the Israelites quite ruthlessly, making their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am Yahweh.’”

After this, the P Source substantially follows the content of the E Source (although it omits several plagues and changes others) until we come to the exodus. Here the P Source writer add a few more geographical details. In addition, Moses’ song, found in the J Source, has been taken one more step, with the intensity of the miraculous salvation at the Sea of Reeds becoming substantially increased:

Yahweh said to Moses, “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.

Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

The P Source then returns to the E Source theme of the Israelites continually complaining to Moses and against Yahweh. This episode ends with the grant of manna to the people, thus rescuing them from starvation.

(Rather than J’s account, in which it is said that manna was provided until they reached the border of Canaan, in P it has become the provision of manna for the entire forty years of wandering. Nothing ever becomes less miraculous – exaggeration is built on exaggeration.)

Surprisingly, the surviving fragments from P have no commands governing everyday life. Whatever it had in this regard has been replaced by the editor with the Ten Commandments that were formulated later by the author of Deuteronomy. However, it does have Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, carrying the “two tablets of Testimony.” After this, P has commands about the building of the temple, almost certainly written after the destruction of the temple, and thus providing a blueprint for its rebuilding after the hoped-for return of the nation to the land of Israel.