Pronunciation key

( eksə-dəs )



[L. < Gr. exodos a going out < ex-, out + hodos, way].

  1. To go out or going forth. To emigrate, usually of a large population or number of people. A departure of a multitude from a place or country.
  2. [E-], the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (with The). The second book of the Old Testament which recounts the same event.

Abbreviated as Ex. or Exod.

The second book of the Pentateuch (the five books of the law) and Old Testament, following Genesis. The second word of the book gives it its Hebrew name Shemot, translated "names". Exodus is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew phrase yetziat mitzraim translated "departure from Egypt" which perhaps was the original title of the book.

Exodus is divided into three parts,

  1. The first section, chapters 1-18 are historical describing the enslavement of the children of Israel in Egypt, the birth and upbringing of Moses around the 13th century B.C., his mission as deliverer of his race, the 10 plagues, the institution of Passover and the departure from Egypt. This event is estimated by some scholars to have taken place between 1500 and 1200 B.C. but is uncertain because details in the account can be interpreted to support more than one date. Archaeological discoveries also present a confused picture. The result is that some scholars date the Exodus as early as 1446 B.C. and others place it as late as 1290 B.C. Scholars disagree on the exact route of the Exodus. Traditionally it was from Goshen, where the Hebrews are described to have lived, south to Succoth and then across the Red Sea and southward through the deserts of Etham and Sin to the wilderness of Sinai and Mt. Horeb. After the long encampment in the Sinai desert the Hebrews continued northward to the wilderness of Sin and lands of Edom and Moab until they reached the southwest side of the Jordan River.
  2. The second section, chapters 19-24, are legislative, narrating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (sometimes called Horeb) and confirmation of the Mosaic law.
  3. The third section, chapters 25-40 are chiefly constructive, narrating the orders respecting the tabernacle, consecration of Aaron's relatives as priests and the making of the Golden Calf and resulting punishment. Finally, the building of the tabernacle.

Exodus picks up the story of the Israelites in Egypt following the death of Joseph. They are no longer a family, as they have grown in population to become a nation. The first part of the book tells of Moses, his marvelous beginning in the royal court through to his exile in Midian. Exodus tells of the lives of the Hebrews in Egyptian captivity and the attempts of their leader Moses to free them.

As part of the contest between Pharaoh and Moses as God's spokesman, tells of the Ten Plagues that God brought on the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused. The first 15 chapters focus on Egypt's harsh policies toward the Hebrews. Exodus tells us of the exodus or "going forth" and the Hebrew's miraculous escape from Pharaoh's army who pursued close behind through the midst of the Red Sea (in some translations, the Sea of Reeds.)

Chapter 20 contains the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments which God issued to Moses on Mount Sinai amid earthquake and fire. During these events, Chapters 16-40 describe the Hebrews in the wilderness to Mount Sinai where God descends on the mountain, and gives the law to Moses, establishing what becomes a quickly broken covenant with Israel that must be reestablished after Aaron crafts the Golden Calf. (Chapter 32) gives account of the Golden Calf the Hebrews worshiped while Moses was on Mt. Sinai.

The following three chapters often called Book of the Covenant, give more in-depth laws dealing with all aspects of ancient Hebrew life. Scholars have studied comparisons between these laws and other ancient Semitic codes, such as the Assyrian laws and the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.

The final section of the book describes the Tabernacle (movable tent) that Moses and the Hebrews constructed for public worship in the desert.

Several important events unfold in Exodus, including a special significance in defining the Jewish religious year. The Revelation of God's name as Yahweh in Ex. 3:11-15; the institution of Passover as a sacred festival Ex. 5:1-12:36; and the giving of the Ten Commandments, directives for the tabernacle's construction and other religious and ceremonial legislation in chapters 19-40.

Traditionally, authorship of Exodus was attributed to Moses but it is actually a composite work of much later date, containing some of the same literary strands found in Genesis and the work of various editors from documents of different dates.
The authorship of the Pentateuch is believed by most modern scholars to have been constructed, in its present form, by priestly writers in Babylonia during the Exile. However, Exodus 20-23 is the Book of the Covenant and believed to probably originated with Moses about 1200 B.C., and contains besides the Ten Commandments, simple religious and civil laws of great antiquity.
Its sources according to some authorities being the same as those of Genesis. Sources include P (the Priests' Code) J and E are generally recognizable and the last two are not always easily distinguishable in the legislative sections. The J strand, so called because it uses the name Yahweh (Jahweh in Yiddish) for "God" is a Judaean rendition of the story which may have been authored as early as 950 B.C. The E strand, which designates E for Elohim, is a version of the story from the northern Kingdom of Israel about 900-750 B.C. The P strand is so called because of its cultic interests and regulations for the priesthood and typically dates to the 5th century B.C. and regarded as the law which Ezra and Nehemiah based their reforms. All strands preserve material much older than the period in which they were incorporated into a written work. Therefore, Exodus conserves extremely ancient oral and written history.
Recent scholars believe that two older documents were incorporated into the Yahwist and Elohist material, namely the Kenite Document which is traceable in the code of laws in chapter xxxiv and the Book of the Covenant, traceable in chapters xx-xxiii. It is also believed that the song of triumph in chapter xv is based on a very old source and therefore antedates the remainder of the book.


  • The American College Dictionary (Random House) ©1949
  • Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia ©1950
  • Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Edition) ©1955
  • The New World Family Encyclopedia ©1955
  • The American Peoples Encyclopedia ©1960
  • Collier's Encyclopedia ©1960
  • Encyclopedia International ©1966 (Grolier Inc.)
  • Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, Comprehensive International Edition ©1976
  • The World Book Encyclopedia ©1981
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia ©1984
  • The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition ©1985
  • Grolier Encyclopedia of Knowledge ©1991
  • Nelson New Illustrated Bible Dictionary ©1995
  • Further Reading

  • Aaron, High Priest
  • Obvious Questions Concerning Whether Or Not Moses Wrote the Pentateuch
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