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פָּרָשַׁת יִתְרוֹ | Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:22), color-coded according to its narrative layers

According to the poetry of the Midrash Tanḥuma, Bereshit 1:1, the words of the Torah were inscribed “black fire on white fire.” For many years, I’ve wanted to look deeply into the black fire and visualize the full spectrum of the Torah’s sources, hidden within the black fire but revealed through a critical analysis of its layers of redaction. Below, I’ve set the text of the first Torah portion in the annual Torah reading cycle, using color-coding to distinguish the stratigraphic layers forming the composition of the Masoretic text according to the Supplementary Hypothesis presented by Tsemaḥ Yoreh in his Kernel to Canon series of books (2013-2017) and his website, The Sources of Biblical Narrative. As Dr. Yoreh explains,

The Supplementary Hypothesis asserts that the Pentateuch was composed by several different writers. This reflects an overwhelming academic consensus on Biblical authorship, even among scholars who do not subscribe to the Supplementary Hypothesis in particular.[….] According to the Supplementary Hypothesis, Biblical narrative is layered. No editor took a blowtorch to the parts of the Bible he disagreed with and destroyed them; if he had, we would not find these repetitions and contradictions. Instead, Biblical narrative began with a coherent, foundational bedrock, which over time accreted more and more storylines. Unlike geological processes, though, this process of addition was deliberate. What happened if one author disagreed with his predecessor’s storyline or worldview? He did not simply take an axe to the narrative; instead, he attempted to bury his predecessor’s point of view by repeating his own over and over again, thus skewing our understanding of the story in new ways. Every generation of readers sees the world differently, and thus every generation of writers seeks to adapt their predecessors’ cultural heritage to their own situation. We are not meant simply to dismiss earlier stories; rather, the intention of later writers is to transform our understanding of those stories via their additions.

⬛ The kernel of biblical text upon which all other narratives were laid is thought to have been composed in the mid- to late eighth century BCE toward the end of the heyday of the northern Kingdom of Ephraim (one of the two kingdoms that occupied Biblical Israel). This layer, commonly referred to as ‘E’, is indicated with INDIGO text. The first parashah containing text of this layer was parashat Vayera in Sefer Bereshit.

⬛ The next oldest layer is thought to have been composed in the late 8th or early 7th century BCE in the southern Kingdom of Judah. This layer, commonly known as ‘J’, is indicated with a BLUE text.

⬛ An independent law code brought in by J that begins at the very end of this parashah is referred to by scholars as the “Covenant Code.” This text contains laws dealing with criminal and civil matters as well as regulations concerning worship. It is presented here in DODGER BLUE text.

⬛ The next strata, thought to have been composed during the exilic to early post-exilic period (571–486 BCE) is, as Dr. Yoreh explains, “responsible for supplementing the ‘J’ narrative with dates, names, and numbers, thus ‘ordering’ and authenticating ‘J’s account.” This layer, commonly referred to as ‘P’ (for ‘Priestly’) appears here in GREEN text.

Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:22) in the annual Torah reading cycle, is read on the third shabbat of the month of Sh’vat. The parashah is preceded by parashat B’shalaḥ (Exodus 13:17-17:16); parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) follows it.

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

יח א וַיִּשְׁמַ֞ע יִתְר֨וֹ כֹהֵ֤ן מִדְיָן֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵת֩ כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ לְמֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַמּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־הוֹצִ֧יא יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃ ב וַיִּקַּ֗ח יִתְרוֹ֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶת־צִפֹּרָ֖ה אֵ֣שֶׁת מֹשֶׁ֑ה אַחַ֖ר שִׁלּוּחֶֽיהָ׃ ג וְאֵ֖ת שְׁנֵ֣י בָנֶ֑יהָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר שֵׁ֤ם הָֽאֶחָד֙ גֵּֽרְשֹׁ֔ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נׇכְרִיָּֽה׃ ד וְשֵׁ֥ם הָאֶחָ֖ד אֱלִיעֶ֑זֶר כִּֽי־אֱלֹהֵ֤י אָבִי֙ בְּעֶזְרִ֔י וַיַּצִּלֵ֖נִי מֵחֶ֥רֶב פַּרְעֹֽה׃ ה וַיָּבֹ֞א יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה וּבָנָ֥יו וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֗ר אֲשֶׁר־ה֛וּא חֹנֶ֥ה שָׁ֖ם הַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ ו וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֲנִ֛י חֹתֶנְךָ֥ יִתְר֖וֹ בָּ֣א אֵלֶ֑יךָ וְאִ֨שְׁתְּךָ֔ וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנֶ֖יהָ עִמָּֽהּ׃
18 1 Now Yitro, the priest of Midyan, Mosheh’s father-in-law, heard about all that Elohim had done for Mosheh and for Yisrael his people,[1]Note the immediate switch for God to “the Lord”, indicating a J addition. In E, the way God helped the Israelites is unspecified, J whose immediate concern throughout the Exodus narratives is divine aggrandizement, specifies the Lord’s role in defeating the Egyptians and rescuing the Israelites. that YHVH had brought Yisrael out of Mitsrayim. 2 Yitro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, took Tsipporah, Mosheh’s wife – after she had been sent home – 3 and her two sons, of whom the first-one’s name was ‘Gershom/Sojourner There,’ for he had said: “I have become a sojourner in a foreign land,” 4 and the name of the other was ‘Eliezer/El’s-help,’ for: “the elo’ah of my father is my help, he rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword”;[2]Moses’ family who were introduced in Chapter 2(J) reappear here – to the more focused E, only Jethro is important for his advice. In fact according to E, Moses wife and children descended to Egypt with him in 4:19ff, and so logically would still be with him. To account for this discrepancy J adds that Moses sent his wife away, and now she comes back with her father. 5 Yitro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife[3]According to E Moses’ wife and children were already with him (4:19ff) and thus this verse section was likely added on by J, in order to reintroduce us to Moses’ family and give Jethro another excuse for coming to visit Moses. to Mosheh, to the wilderness, where he was encamped, at the mountain of Elohim.[4]Jethro heard of Moses’ exploits and came to congratulate him at the Mountain of God which according to E was close to Jethro’s abode (since Moses meandered there while shepherding Jethro’s sheep in Exodus 3). 6 He (had it) said to Mosheh: “I, your father-in-law Yitro, am coming to you, and your wife and her two sons with her.”[5]See penultimate comment.

ז וַיֵּצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֜ה לִקְרַ֣את חֹֽתְנ֗וֹ וַיִּשְׁתַּ֙חוּ֙ וַיִּשַּׁק־ל֔וֹ וַיִּשְׁאֲל֥וּ אִישׁ־לְרֵעֵ֖הוּ לְשָׁל֑וֹם וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ הָאֹֽהֱלָה׃ ח וַיְסַפֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ לְחֹ֣תְנ֔וֹ אֵת֩ כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ לְפַרְעֹ֣ה וּלְמִצְרַ֔יִם עַ֖ל אוֹדֹ֣ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֵ֤ת כׇּל־הַתְּלָאָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מְצָאָ֣תַם בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וַיַּצִּלֵ֖ם יְהֹוָֽה׃ ט וַיִּ֣חַדְּ יִתְר֔וֹ עַ֚ל כׇּל־הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִצִּיל֖וֹ מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרָֽיִם׃ י וַיֹּאמֶר֮ יִתְרוֹ֒ בָּר֣וּךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצִּ֥יל אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרַ֖יִם וּמִיַּ֣ד פַּרְעֹ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִצִּיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת יַד־מִצְרָֽיִם׃ יא עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּֽי־גָד֥וֹל יְהֹוָ֖ה מִכׇּל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים כִּ֣י בַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר זָד֖וּ עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃ יב וַיִּקַּ֞ח יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וַיָּבֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְכֹ֣ל ׀ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֶאֱכׇל־לֶ֛חֶם עִם־חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
7 Mosheh went out to meet his father-in-law, he bowed and kissed him, and each-man asked after the other’s welfare; then they came into the tent.[6]Only Jethro is mentioned here as coming to see Moses (E), and indeed Moses greets only Jethro (vs. 7) and not his wife and children. 8 Mosheh related to his father-in-law all that YHVH had done to Pharaoh and to Mitsrayim on Yisrael’s account, all the hardships that had befallen them on the journey, and how YHVH had rescued them. 9 And Yitro was jubilant because of all the good that YHVH had done for Yisrael, that he had rescued him from the land of Mitsrayim. 10 Yitro said: “Blessed be YHVH, who has rescued you from the hand of Mitsrayim and from the hand of Pharaoh, who has rescued the people from under the hand of Mitsrayim! 11 (So) now I know: yes, YHVH is greater than all the elohim – yes, in just that matter in which they were presumptuous against them!”[7]Just as in vs. 1 the text specifies the miracles acknowledged by Jethro which accords with J’s exodus agenda. Note that Jethro becomes a Yahwist (a worshipper of Yhwh) in these verses, which makes Moses’ marriage to his daughter more “kosher”, indeed Jethro’s name according to Exodus 2 is “Reuel” – “Friend of God. 12 Yitro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, took an offering-up and slaughter-animals for Elohim, and Aharon and all the elders of Yisrael came to eat bread with Mosheh’s father-in-law, before the presence of Elohim.

שני יג וַיְהִי֙ מִֽמׇּחֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּעֲמֹ֤ד הָעָם֙ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִן־הַבֹּ֖קֶר עַד־הָעָֽרֶב׃ יד וַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכׇל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב׃ טו וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה לְחֹתְנ֑וֹ כִּֽי־יָבֹ֥א אֵלַ֛י הָעָ֖ם לִדְרֹ֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים׃ טז כִּֽי־יִהְיֶ֨ה לָהֶ֤ם דָּבָר֙ בָּ֣א אֵלַ֔י וְשָׁ֣פַטְתִּ֔י בֵּ֥ין אִ֖ישׁ וּבֵ֣ין רֵעֵ֑הוּ וְהוֹדַעְתִּ֛י אֶת־חֻקֵּ֥י הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים וְאֶת־תּוֹרֹתָֽיו׃
13 Now it was on the morrow: Mosheh sat to judge the people, and the people stood before Mosheh from daybreak until sunset. 14 When Mosheh’s father-in-law saw all that he had to do for the people, he said: “What kind of matter is this that you do for the people – why do you sit alone, while the entire people stations itself around you from daybreak until sunset?” 15 Mosheh said to his father-in-law: “When the people comes to me to inquire of Elohim, 16  – when it has some legal-matter, it comes to me – I judge between a man and his fellow and make known Elohim’s laws and his instructions.”

יז וַיֹּ֛אמֶר חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֵלָ֑יו לֹא־טוֹב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה׃ יח נָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֤ד מִמְּךָ֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר לֹא־תוּכַ֥ל עֲשֹׂ֖הוּ לְבַדֶּֽךָ׃ יט עַתָּ֞ה שְׁמַ֤ע בְּקֹלִי֙ אִיעָ֣צְךָ֔ וִיהִ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים עִמָּ֑ךְ הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהֵבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ כ וְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֽׂוּן׃ כא וְאַתָּ֣ה תֶחֱזֶ֣ה מִכׇּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שֹׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ עֲלֵהֶ֗ם שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת׃ כב וְשָׁפְט֣וּ אֶת־הָעָם֮ בְּכׇל־עֵת֒ וְהָיָ֞ה כׇּל־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַגָּדֹל֙ יָבִ֣יאוּ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְכׇל־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַקָּטֹ֖ן יִשְׁפְּטוּ־הֵ֑ם וְהָקֵל֙ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יךָ וְנָשְׂא֖וּ אִתָּֽךְ׃ כג אִ֣ם אֶת־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְצִוְּךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְיָֽכׇלְתָּ֖ עֲמֹ֑ד וְגַם֙ כׇּל־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה עַל־מְקֹמ֖וֹ יָבֹ֥א בְשָׁלֽוֹם׃
17 Then Mosheh’s father-in-law said to him: “Not good is this matter, as you do it! 18 You will become worn out, yes, worn out, so you, so this people that are with you, for this matter is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone. 19 So now, hearken to my voice, I will advise you, so that Elohim may be-there with you: Be-there, yourself, for the people in relation to Elohim. You yourself should have the matters come to Elohim; 20 You should make clear to them the laws and the instructions, you should make known to them the way they should go, and the deeds that they should do; 21 but you – you are to have the vision (to select) from all the people men of caliber, holding Elohim in awe, men of truth, hating gain, you should set (them) over them[8]In Numbers 11, J expands the appointment of judges to include 70 elders, who are Moses subordinates and have the divine spirit upon them as well. as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens,[9]The Israelites are a much larger nation in J than they are in E, and thus require officers over the thousands. 22 so that they may judge the people at all times. So shall it be: every great matter they shall bring before you, but every small matter they shall judge by themselves. Make (it) light upon you, and let them bear (it) with you. 23 If you do (thus in) this matter when Elohim commands you (further), you will be able to stand, and also this people will come to its place in peace.”

שלישי כד וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע מֹשֶׁ֖ה לְק֣וֹל חֹתְנ֑וֹ וַיַּ֕עַשׂ כֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמָֽר׃ כה וַיִּבְחַ֨ר מֹשֶׁ֤ה אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֙יִל֙ מִכׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיִּתֵּ֥ן אֹתָ֛ם רָאשִׁ֖ים עַל־הָעָ֑ם
שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת׃ כו וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם בְּכׇל־עֵ֑ת אֶת־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַקָּשֶׁה֙ יְבִיא֣וּן אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וְכׇל־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַקָּטֹ֖ן יִשְׁפּוּט֥וּ הֵֽם׃ כז וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶת־חֹתְנ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ ל֖וֹ אֶל־אַרְצֽוֹ׃
24 Mosheh hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, he did it all as he had said: 25 Mosheh chose men of caliber from all Yisrael, he placed them as heads over the people,[10]In E, Moses accepts Jethro’s advice because of his authority as his father in law, whereas according to J, Jethro – for all practical purposes accepted the Lord as the most powerful deity – and this acknowledgment give his advice a standing it wouldn’t have otherwise had. as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens.[11]See penultimate comment. 26 They would judge the people at all times: the difficult matters they would bring before Mosheh, but every small matter they would judge by themselves. 27 Mosheh sent his father-in-law off, and he went home to his land.[12]According to the final verses of Numbers 10 (J), at least one member of Jethro’s family – his son Hobab – remains with Moses, but as in Exodus 18, he too departs, these episodes are a symmetrical pair within the Yahwistic Moses Cycle.

רביעי יט א בַּחֹ֙דֶשׁ֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י לְצֵ֥את בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה בָּ֖אוּ מִדְבַּ֥ר סִינָֽי׃ ב וַיִּסְע֣וּ מֵרְפִידִ֗ים וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ מִדְבַּ֣ר סִינַ֔י וַֽיַּחֲנ֖וּ בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר׃
19 1 On the third New-moon after the going-out of the Children of Yisrael from the land of Mitsrayim, on that (very) day they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. 2 They moved on from Refidim and came to the Wilderness of Sinai, and encamped in the wilderness. There Yisrael encamped, opposite the mountain.[13]Typical Priestly itinerary verses, according to E, the Israelites have already arrived at the Mountain of God. P seemingly skips over Chapter 18, which may reflect this author’s discomfort with the judicial innovations offered by Jethro, preferring that power be consolidated with the priests.

ג וּמֹשֶׁ֥ה עָלָ֖ה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֤יו יְהֹוָה֙ מִן־הָהָ֣ר לֵאמֹ֔ר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לְבֵ֣ית יַעֲקֹ֔ב וְתַגֵּ֖יד לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ ד אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם וָאֶשָּׂ֤א אֶתְכֶם֙ עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים וָאָבִ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃ ה וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ מִכׇּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים כִּי־לִ֖י כׇּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ טו ו וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תְּדַבֵּ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ חמישי ז וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֖א לְזִקְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת כׇּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֖הוּ יְהֹוָֽה׃ ח וַיַּעֲנ֨וּ כׇל־הָעָ֤ם יַחְדָּו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה וַיָּ֧שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהֹוָֽה׃
3 Now Mosheh went up to Elohim, and[14]Since Moses is already at the Mountain of God, all he has to do is climb the mountain. The Elohistic narrative sequence (Moses going up the mountain, followed by God’s instructions re. the revelation vss. 10-11) is interrupted by J (and note the use of “the Lord” in this verse and throughout vss. 3-8), who reimagines this revelation as a covenant between the Lord and His special people. YHVH called out to him from the mountain, saying: “Say thus to the House of Yaakov, (yes,) tell the Children of Yisrael: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Mitsrayim, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. 5 So now, if you will hearken, yes, hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be to me a special-treasure from among all peoples. Indeed, all the earth is mine, 6 but you, you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. These are the words that you are to speak to the Children of Yisrael.'” 7 Mosheh came, and had the elders of the people called, and set before them these words, with which YHVH had commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together, they said: “All that YHVH has spoken, we will do.” And Mosheh reported the words of the people to YHVH.[15]This passage together with 24:3-10 are J’s frame of the covenant ceremony. Note the allusion to the Lord’s role in bringing about the Exodus, Moses is not mentioned.

ט וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה הִנֵּ֨ה אָנֹכִ֜י בָּ֣א אֵלֶ֘יךָ֮ בְּעַ֣ב הֶֽעָנָן֒ בַּעֲב֞וּר יִשְׁמַ֤ע הָעָם֙ בְּדַבְּרִ֣י עִמָּ֔ךְ וְגַם־בְּךָ֖ יַאֲמִ֣ינוּ לְעוֹלָ֑ם וַיַּגֵּ֥ד מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהֹוָֽה׃
9 YHVH said to Mosheh: “Here, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you, and also that they may have trust in you for ever.” And Mosheh told the words of the people to YHVH. [16]Note the double reporting of Moses’ interaction to the people, in vs. 8 and then again in vs. 9. It is likely that the second of Moses’ reports is a resumptive repetition suggesting that the first half of verse 9 was inserted by a later source. In this case the likely candidate is P, based on the mode of revelation – clouds – typical to P, and compare Exodus 13:20-21.

י וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֤ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ לֵ֣ךְ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר וְכִבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃ יא וְהָי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֑י כִּ֣י ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁ֗י יֵרֵ֧ד יְהֹוָ֛ה לְעֵינֵ֥י כׇל־הָעָ֖ם עַל־הַ֥ר סִינָֽי׃
יב וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ֤ אֶת־הָעָם֙ סָבִ֣יב לֵאמֹ֔ר הִשָּׁמְר֥וּ לָכֶ֛ם עֲל֥וֹת בָּהָ֖ר וּנְגֹ֣עַ בְּקָצֵ֑הוּ כׇּל־הַנֹּגֵ֥עַ בָּהָ֖ר מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃ יג לֹא־תִגַּ֨ע בּ֜וֹ יָ֗ד כִּֽי־סָק֤וֹל יִסָּקֵל֙ אוֹ־יָרֹ֣ה יִיָּרֶ֔ה אִם־בְּהֵמָ֥ה אִם־אִ֖ישׁ לֹ֣א יִחְיֶ֑ה בִּמְשֹׁךְ֙ הַיֹּבֵ֔ל הֵ֖מָּה יַעֲל֥וּ בָהָֽר׃ יד וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִן־הָהָ֖ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְכַבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃ טו וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃
10 YHVH[17]Due to the separation of this verse from its original context (vs. 3), J reintroduced the speaker (“the Lord”). said to Mosheh: “Go to the people, make them holy, today and tomorrow, let them scrub their clothes, 11 that they may be ready for the third day,[18]These instructions are similar to Jacob’s preparation upon returning to Bethel in E’s Genesis 35:2-3. for on the third day YHVH will come down before the eyes of all the people, upon Mount Sinai.[19]The detailed instructions surrounding who is to ascend to Mount Sinai, expanded in vss. 20-25, and once again in J’s additions to Chapter 24 are typical of J’s concern for divine prestige, only a select few may commune with the Lord, and only Moses may speak directly to Him. 12 Fix-boundaries for the people round about, saying: ‘Be on your watch against going up the mountain or against touching its border! Whoever touches the mountain – he is to be put-to-death, yes, death; 13 no hand is to touch him, but he is to be stoned, yes, stoned, or shot, yes, shot, whether domesticated-animal or man, he is not to live!’ When the (sound of the) ram’s-horn is drawn out, they may go up on the mountain.” 14 Mosheh went down from the mountain to the people, he made the people holy, and they washed their clothes, 15 then he said to the people: “Be ready for three days; do not approach a woman!”

טז וַיְהִי֩ בַיּ֨וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֜י בִּֽהְיֹ֣ת הַבֹּ֗קֶר וַיְהִי֩ קֹלֹ֨ת וּבְרָקִ֜ים וְעָנָ֤ן כָּבֵד֙ עַל־הָהָ֔ר וְקֹ֥ל שֹׁפָ֖ר חָזָ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד וַיֶּחֱרַ֥ד כׇּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בַּֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ יז וַיּוֹצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֧ה אֶת־הָעָ֛ם לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וַיִּֽתְיַצְּב֖וּ בְּתַחְתִּ֥ית הָהָֽר׃
16 Now it was on the third day, when it was daybreak: There were thunder-sounds, and lightning, a heavy cloud on the mountain and an exceedingly strong shofar sound. And all of the people that were in the camp trembled. 17 Mosheh brought the people out toward Elohim, from the camp, and they stationed themselves beneath the mountain.[20]This is the first divine revelation since Moses was sent by God to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, and qualifies as the sign authenticating Moses’ leadership promised to Moses in 3:12.

יח וְהַ֤ר סִינַי֙ עָשַׁ֣ן כֻּלּ֔וֹ מִ֠פְּנֵ֠י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יָרַ֥ד עָלָ֛יו יְהֹוָ֖ה בָּאֵ֑שׁ וַיַּ֤עַל עֲשָׁנוֹ֙ כְּעֶ֣שֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁ֔ן וַיֶּחֱרַ֥ד כׇּל־הָהָ֖ר מְאֹֽד׃ יט וַיְהִי֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר הוֹלֵ֖ךְ וְחָזֵ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃ ששי כ וַיֵּ֧רֶד יְהֹוָ֛ה עַל־הַ֥ר סִינַ֖י אֶל־רֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַיִּקְרָ֨א יְהֹוָ֧ה לְמֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָהָ֖ר וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶֽׁה׃
18 Now Mount Sinai smoked all over, since YHVH had come down upon it in fire; its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all of the mountain trembled exceedingly.[21]Note that according to J, the Lord reveals himself through fire, as opposed to the cloud in P (vs. 9). 19 Now the shofar sound was growing exceedingly stronger – Mosheh kept speaking, and Elohim kept answering him in the sound (of a voice) – [22]The sudden switch from “the Lord” to “God” indicates E’s resumption, this verse introduces E’s seven commandments. 20 and YHVH came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. YHVH called Mosheh to the top of the mountain, and Mosheh went up.

כא וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה רֵ֖ד הָעֵ֣ד בָּעָ֑ם פֶּן־יֶהֶרְס֤וּ אֶל־יְהֹוָה֙ לִרְא֔וֹת וְנָפַ֥ל מִמֶּ֖נּוּ רָֽב׃ כב וְגַ֧ם הַכֹּהֲנִ֛ים הַנִּגָּשִׁ֥ים אֶל־יְהֹוָ֖ה יִתְקַדָּ֑שׁוּ פֶּן־יִפְרֹ֥ץ בָּהֶ֖ם יְהֹוָֽה׃ כג וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־יְהֹוָ֔ה לֹא־יוּכַ֣ל הָעָ֔ם לַעֲלֹ֖ת אֶל־הַ֣ר סִינָ֑י כִּֽי־אַתָּ֞ה הַעֵדֹ֤תָה בָּ֙נוּ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַגְבֵּ֥ל אֶת־הָהָ֖ר וְקִדַּשְׁתּֽוֹ׃ כד וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלָ֤יו יְהֹוָה֙ לֶךְ־רֵ֔ד וְעָלִ֥יתָ אַתָּ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֣ן עִמָּ֑ךְ וְהַכֹּהֲנִ֣ים וְהָעָ֗ם אַל־יֶֽהֶרְס֛וּ לַעֲלֹ֥ת אֶל־יְהֹוָ֖ה פֶּן־יִפְרׇץ־בָּֽם׃
21 YHVH said to Mosheh: “Go down, warn the people lest they break through to YHVH to see, and many of them fall; 22 even the priests who approach YHVH must make themselves holy, lest YHVH burst out against them.” 23 But Mosheh said to YHVH: “The people are not able to go up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying: ‘Fix boundaries for the mountain and make it holy!'” 24 YHVH said to him: “Go, get down, and then come up, you and Aharon with you, but the priests and the people must not break through to go up to YHVH, lest he burst out against them.”

כה וַיֵּ֥רֶד מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲלֵהֶֽם׃ כ א וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֵ֛ת כׇּל־הַדְּבָרִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לֵאמֹֽר׃ ↓↑ ב אָֽנֹכִ֖י֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣֥ית עֲבָדִֽ֑ים׃
25 Mosheh went down to the people and said to them,[23]See second comment on 19:11. 20 1 “Elohim spoke all these words, saying:[24]E’s “God” speaks, as opposed to “the Lord” in the following verse. 2 ‘I am YHVH your elo’ah, who brought you out from the land of Mitsrayim, from a house of serfs.’[25]J’s introduces the ten commandment with his basic article of faith: the Lord as He who brought the Israelites out of Egypt (as opposed to a human agent), and compare Exodus 3:7-8 (J)

לֹֽ֣א־יִהְיֶֽ֥ה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃
ג לֹֽ֣א־תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ ׀ וְכׇל־תְּמוּנָ֔֡ה
אֲשֶׁ֤֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣֙יִם֙ ׀  מִמַּ֔֡עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר֩ בָּאָ֖֨רֶץ מִתַָּ֑֜חַת וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר בַּמַּ֖֣יִם ׀ מִתַּ֥֣חַת לָאָֽ֗רֶץ׃ ד לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֥֣ה לָהֶ֖ם֮ וְלֹ֣א תָעׇבְדֵ֑ם֒ כִּ֣י אָֽנֹכִ֞י יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ אֵ֣ל קַנָּ֔א פֹּ֠קֵד עֲוֺ֨ן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִ֛ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֥ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִ֖ים לְשֹׂנְאָֽ֑י׃ ה וְעֹ֥֤שֶׂה חֶ֖֙סֶד֙ לַאֲלָפִ֑֔ים לְאֹהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֺתָֽי׃ ו לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא׃
(3) ‘You are not to have any other elohim before my presence.
3 (4) You are not to make yourself a carved-image or any figure
[26]E’s seven commandments are in point of fact seven interdictions, all beginning with “You shall not…”, the reasoning and positive commandments were added by J and P. that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth; 4 (5) you are not to bow down to them, you are not to serve them, for I, YHVH your elo’ah, am a jealous El, calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, to the third and the fourth (generation) of those that hate me, 5 (6) but showing loyalty to the thousandth of those that love me, of those that keep my commandments. 6 (7) You are not to take up the name of YHVH your elo’ah for emptiness, for YHVH will not clear him that takes up his name for emptiness.’

ז זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ׃ ח שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כׇּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒׃ ט וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַיהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כׇל־מְלָאכָ֜֡ה אַתָּ֣ה ׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ׃ י כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ׃
7 (8) ‘Remember the Shabbat day, to hallow it. 8 (9) For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work, 9 (10) but the seventh day is Shabbat for YHVH your elo’ah: you are not to make any kind of work, (not) you, nor your son, nor your daughter, (not) your servant, nor your maid, nor your domesticated-animal, nor your sojourner that is within your gates.[27]J adds a sweeping interdiction against idols, and one notes this sources’ high degree of discomfort with any divine representation in the additional punishments added in Exodus 32-33, following the sin of the Golden Calf. Note also J’s addition of the Sabbath commandment, the reasoning was likely added by P, since in Dtr’s edition of this commandment (Deut. 5:12-15) the first verses are quite similar but the reasoning is different. 10 (11) For in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in it, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore YHVH gave the Shabbat day his blessing, and he hallowed it.’[28]The reason for observing the Sabbath is rooted in P’s creation account of Genesis 1-2:3, and the idea that God rested on the seventh day.

יא כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ךָ לְמַ֙עַן֙ יַאֲרִכ֣וּן יָמֶ֔יךָ עַ֚ל הָאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃
11 (12) ‘Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days may be prolonged on the fertile-ground that YHVH your elo’ah is giving you.’[29]Allusions to Israel’s future inheritance of Canaan are very common in J, especially in the patriarchal narratives, and compare 12:7, the conclusion of Genesis 13, and Genesis 28:13-15.

יב לֹ֥֖א תִּֿרְצָ֖‍ֽח׃
לֹ֣֖א תִּֿנְאָֽ֑ף׃
לֹ֣֖א תִּֿגְנֹֽ֔ב׃
לֹֽא־תַעֲנֶ֥ה בְרֵעֲךָ֖ עֵ֥ד שָֽׁקֶר׃
יג לֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ךָ
לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ֙ וְשׁוֹר֣וֹ וַחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃
12 (13) ‘You are not to murder.
You are not to adulter.
You are not to steal.
You are not to testify against your fellow as a false witness.
13 (14) You are not to desire the house of your neighbor,
[30]The bulk of E’s seven commandments. Note the symmetrical frame: The first two commandments are parallel to the final two commandments. Not having another God, is similar to not coveting another man’s wife, and not making an idol in the divine realm is similar to bearing false witness in the human realm. you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor, or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.'”[31]Just as J expanded the first commandment detailing the forbidden representations of God, he expands this final commandment and adds five further items, one is forbidden to covet.

שביעי יד וְכׇל־הָעָם֩ רֹאִ֨ים אֶת־הַקּוֹלֹ֜ת וְאֶת־הַלַּפִּידִ֗ם וְאֵת֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר וְאֶת־הָהָ֖ר עָשֵׁ֑ן וַיַּ֤רְא הָעָם֙ וַיָּנֻ֔עוּ וַיַּֽעַמְד֖וּ מֵֽרָחֹֽק׃ טו וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה דַּבֵּר־אַתָּ֥ה עִמָּ֖נוּ וְנִשְׁמָ֑עָה וְאַל־יְדַבֵּ֥ר עִמָּ֛נוּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים פֶּן־נָמֽוּת׃ טז וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל־הָעָם֮ אַל־תִּירָ֒אוּ֒ כִּ֗י לְבַֽעֲבוּר֙ נַסּ֣וֹת אֶתְכֶ֔ם בָּ֖א הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וּבַעֲב֗וּר תִּהְיֶ֧ה יִרְאָת֛וֹ עַל־פְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְבִלְתִּ֥י תֶחֱטָֽאוּ׃ יז וַיַּעֲמֹ֥ד הָעָ֖ם מֵרָחֹ֑ק וּמֹשֶׁה֙ נִגַּ֣שׁ אֶל־הָֽעֲרָפֶ֔ל אֲשֶׁר־שָׁ֖ם הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
14 (15) Now all of the people were seeing the thunder-sounds, the flashing-torches, the shofar sound, and the mountain smoking; when the people saw, they faltered and stood far off. 15 (16) They said to Mosheh: “You speak with us, and we will hearken, but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die!” 16 (17) Mosheh said to the people: “Do not be afraid! For it is to test you that Elohim has come, to have awe of him be upon you, so that you do not transgress.” 17 (18) The people stood far off, and Mosheh approached the fog where Elohim was.[32]The beginning of the Book of the Covenant which was reorganized by J to suit his structural agenda, this section did not fit in his framework, and thus was placed before the opening phrase in 21:1.[33]If this short section seems to be out-of-place, you are not alone in thinking that it might fit better just before Exodus 19:19. Why it was placed after the Decalogue, at the beginning of the section that scholars have named “the Book of the Covenant” is a matter of speculation. Given that the end of the Book of the Covenant presents a vision of the theophany related to the boundaries around Har Sinai, the J layer redactor(s) may have wanted to provide this section as a preface. (The Book of the Covenant continues from Exodus 20:18-24:10 (in Dr. Yoreh’s reckoning.) –Aharon Varady

מפטיר יח וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה כֹּ֥ה תֹאמַ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם כִּ֚י מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי עִמָּכֶֽם׃ יט לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּן אִתִּ֑י אֱלֹ֤הֵי כֶ֙סֶף֙ וֵאלֹהֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּ לָכֶֽם׃ כ מִזְבַּ֣ח אֲדָמָה֮ תַּעֲשֶׂה־לִּי֒ וְזָבַחְתָּ֣ עָלָ֗יו אֶת־עֹלֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁלָמֶ֔יךָ אֶת־צֹֽאנְךָ֖ וְאֶת־בְּקָרֶ֑ךָ בְּכׇל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃ כא וְאִם־מִזְבַּ֤ח אֲבָנִים֙ תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לִּ֔י לֹֽא־תִבְנֶ֥ה אֶתְהֶ֖ן גָּזִ֑ית כִּ֧י חַרְבְּךָ֛ הֵנַ֥פְתָּ עָלֶ֖יהָ וַתְּחַֽלְלֶֽהָ׃ כב וְלֹֽא־תַעֲלֶ֥ה בְמַעֲלֹ֖ת עַֽל־מִזְבְּחִ֑י אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־תִגָּלֶ֥ה עֶרְוָתְךָ֖ עָלָֽיו׃
18 (19) YHVH said to Mosheh: “Say thus to the Children of Yisrael: ‘You yourselves have seen that it was from the heavens that I spoke with you. 19 (20) You are not to make beside me elohim of silver, elohim of gold you are not to make for yourselves! 20 (21) A place-for-slaughter of fertile-ground, you are to make for me, you are to slaughter upon it your offerings-up, your sacrifices of shalom, your sheep and your oxen! At every place where I cause my name to be recalled I will come to you and bless you. 21 (22) But if a place-for-slaughter of stones you make for me, you are not to build it smooth-hewn, for if you hold-high your iron-tool over it, you will have profaned it. 22 (23) And you are not to ascend my place-for-slaughter by ascending-steps, that your nakedness not be laid-bare upon it.'”

The Masoretic text presented here is from Rabbi Dr. Seth (Avi) Kadish’s Miqra al pi ha-Mesorah. For the translation in English, I have adapted the translation of Everett Fox in the Schocken Bible (1997), mostly to re-Hebraize divine names, place names, and personal names. Instead of Fox’s “slaughter-site,” I have translated mizbeaḥ as “place-for-slaughter.” Instead of “beast” for behemah, I have “domesticated-animal.” (Elsewhere, I translate behemah as “herd-animal.”) Instead of “soil” for adamah, I have “fertile-ground.” Aside from these, I have made minor punctuation changes.

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Note the immediate switch for God to “the Lord”, indicating a J addition. In E, the way God helped the Israelites is unspecified, J whose immediate concern throughout the Exodus narratives is divine aggrandizement, specifies the Lord’s role in defeating the Egyptians and rescuing the Israelites.
  2. Moses’ family who were introduced in Chapter 2(J) reappear here – to the more focused E, only Jethro is important for his advice. In fact according to E, Moses wife and children descended to Egypt with him in 4:19ff, and so logically would still be with him. To account for this discrepancy J adds that Moses sent his wife away, and now she comes back with her father.
  3. According to E Moses’ wife and children were already with him (4:19ff) and thus this verse section was likely added on by J, in order to reintroduce us to Moses’ family and give Jethro another excuse for coming to visit Moses.
  4. Jethro heard of Moses’ exploits and came to congratulate him at the Mountain of God which according to E was close to Jethro’s abode (since Moses meandered there while shepherding Jethro’s sheep in Exodus 3).
  5, 11. See penultimate comment.
  6. Only Jethro is mentioned here as coming to see Moses (E), and indeed Moses greets only Jethro (vs. 7) and not his wife and children.
  7. Just as in vs. 1 the text specifies the miracles acknowledged by Jethro which accords with J’s exodus agenda. Note that Jethro becomes a Yahwist (a worshipper of Yhwh) in these verses, which makes Moses’ marriage to his daughter more “kosher”, indeed Jethro’s name according to Exodus 2 is “Reuel” – “Friend of God.
  8. In Numbers 11, J expands the appointment of judges to include 70 elders, who are Moses subordinates and have the divine spirit upon them as well.
  9. The Israelites are a much larger nation in J than they are in E, and thus require officers over the thousands.
  10. In E, Moses accepts Jethro’s advice because of his authority as his father in law, whereas according to J, Jethro – for all practical purposes accepted the Lord as the most powerful deity – and this acknowledgment give his advice a standing it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
  12. According to the final verses of Numbers 10 (J), at least one member of Jethro’s family – his son Hobab – remains with Moses, but as in Exodus 18, he too departs, these episodes are a symmetrical pair within the Yahwistic Moses Cycle.
  13. Typical Priestly itinerary verses, according to E, the Israelites have already arrived at the Mountain of God. P seemingly skips over Chapter 18, which may reflect this author’s discomfort with the judicial innovations offered by Jethro, preferring that power be consolidated with the priests.
  14. Since Moses is already at the Mountain of God, all he has to do is climb the mountain. The Elohistic narrative sequence (Moses going up the mountain, followed by God’s instructions re. the revelation vss. 10-11) is interrupted by J (and note the use of “the Lord” in this verse and throughout vss. 3-8), who reimagines this revelation as a covenant between the Lord and His special people.
  15. This passage together with 24:3-10 are J’s frame of the covenant ceremony. Note the allusion to the Lord’s role in bringing about the Exodus, Moses is not mentioned.
  16. Note the double reporting of Moses’ interaction to the people, in vs. 8 and then again in vs. 9. It is likely that the second of Moses’ reports is a resumptive repetition suggesting that the first half of verse 9 was inserted by a later source. In this case the likely candidate is P, based on the mode of revelation – clouds – typical to P, and compare Exodus 13:20-21.
  17. Due to the separation of this verse from its original context (vs. 3), J reintroduced the speaker (“the Lord”).
  18. These instructions are similar to Jacob’s preparation upon returning to Bethel in E’s Genesis 35:2-3.
  19. The detailed instructions surrounding who is to ascend to Mount Sinai, expanded in vss. 20-25, and once again in J’s additions to Chapter 24 are typical of J’s concern for divine prestige, only a select few may commune with the Lord, and only Moses may speak directly to Him.
  20. This is the first divine revelation since Moses was sent by God to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, and qualifies as the sign authenticating Moses’ leadership promised to Moses in 3:12.
  21. Note that according to J, the Lord reveals himself through fire, as opposed to the cloud in P (vs. 9).
  22. The sudden switch from “the Lord” to “God” indicates E’s resumption, this verse introduces E’s seven commandments.
  23. See second comment on 19:11.
  24. E’s “God” speaks, as opposed to “the Lord” in the following verse.
  25. J’s introduces the ten commandment with his basic article of faith: the Lord as He who brought the Israelites out of Egypt (as opposed to a human agent), and compare Exodus 3:7-8 (J)
  26. E’s seven commandments are in point of fact seven interdictions, all beginning with “You shall not…”, the reasoning and positive commandments were added by J and P.
  27. J adds a sweeping interdiction against idols, and one notes this sources’ high degree of discomfort with any divine representation in the additional punishments added in Exodus 32-33, following the sin of the Golden Calf. Note also J’s addition of the Sabbath commandment, the reasoning was likely added by P, since in Dtr’s edition of this commandment (Deut. 5:12-15) the first verses are quite similar but the reasoning is different.
  28. The reason for observing the Sabbath is rooted in P’s creation account of Genesis 1-2:3, and the idea that God rested on the seventh day.
  29. Allusions to Israel’s future inheritance of Canaan are very common in J, especially in the patriarchal narratives, and compare 12:7, the conclusion of Genesis 13, and Genesis 28:13-15.
  30. The bulk of E’s seven commandments. Note the symmetrical frame: The first two commandments are parallel to the final two commandments. Not having another God, is similar to not coveting another man’s wife, and not making an idol in the divine realm is similar to bearing false witness in the human realm.
  31. Just as J expanded the first commandment detailing the forbidden representations of God, he expands this final commandment and adds five further items, one is forbidden to covet.
  32. The beginning of the Book of the Covenant which was reorganized by J to suit his structural agenda, this section did not fit in his framework, and thus was placed before the opening phrase in 21:1.
  33. If this short section seems to be out-of-place, you are not alone in thinking that it might fit better just before Exodus 19:19. Why it was placed after the Decalogue, at the beginning of the section that scholars have named “the Book of the Covenant” is a matter of speculation. Given that the end of the Book of the Covenant presents a vision of the theophany related to the boundaries around Har Sinai, the J layer redactor(s) may have wanted to provide this section as a preface. (The Book of the Covenant continues from Exodus 20:18-24:10 (in Dr. Yoreh’s reckoning.) –Aharon Varady

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