The name Exodus refers to the second book in the Torah (five books of Moses), also the second book in the Tanakh (Old Testament). This term also refers to the Bible's description of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.

Exodus is the name given in the Septuagint to the second book of the Pentateuch. It means "departure" or "outgoing." This name was adopted in the Latin translation, and thence passed into other languages. The Hebrews called it by the first words, according to their custom, Ve-eleh shemoth (i.e., "and these are the names").

The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the Hebrew people as they left (exodus) Egypt for the promised land of Canaan. Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:20 -20:21. The book contains:

  1. An account of the increase and growth of the Israelites in Egypt (ch. 1)
  2. Preparations for their departure out of Egypt (2-12:36).
  3. Their journeyings from Egypt to Mt. Sinai (12:37-19:2).
  4. The giving of the law and the establishment of the institutions by which the organization of the people was completed, the theocracy, "a kingdom of priest and an holy nation" (19:3-ch. 40). (This section contains a single verse often cited as a proscription of witchcraft (22:18)).

The time comprised in this book, from the death of Joseph to the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness, is about one hundred and forty-five years, on the supposition that the four hundred and thirty years (12:40) are to be computed from the time of the promises made to Abraham (Gal. 3:17).

Moses is traditionally considered the author of Exodus. Modern critical biblical scholarship has shown that the book of Exodus has been redacted together from a number of earlier sources; see the entry on the Documentary hypothesis for more information.

Table of contents
1 Historical studies
2 Detailed summary
3 References

Historical studies

According to the Biblical account, it appears that 600,000 adult men left Egypt, and travelled with Moses first to Mount Sinai; some 40 years later their descendants invaded the land of Canaan. According to many Jewish souces, the total number of Israelites including women and children numbered some three million. Throughout history this story was generally accepted as historially accurate; belief in the details of this story wasn't a religious belief as such; rather, it was believed that this was a historical fact that the Bible faithfully recorded.

Recent archaeological research has cast doubt on this story. Archaeologists have shown that the Sinai was never host to millions of people, nor was there a massive population increase in Canaan during this time period. At this time in history, the land only had a population of between 50,000 to 100,000.

Archaeologists and historians have worked in the Middle East for many years to determine approximately how many people have lived in a given area at a given time. This is done by analyzing the evidence: buildings, trash, human waste product, skeletons, traces of ancients farms and fields, clothing, documents, and of course, historical records among those whom they encountered.

For fundamentalist Jews and Christians, these findings present a problem, as they would invalidate a major claim in the Bible. Non-fundamentalist factions of Judaism and Christianity find little problem with this issue.

Many rabbis in the Talmud stated that one should never interpret certain Torah verses literally. Later rabbis such as Maimonides taught that when scientific evidence contradicts a current understanding of the Bible, that means that we are obligated to reinterpret that verse in accord with science. For many traditional rabbis, such a position was not heresy. This view exists today within Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and parts of modern Orthodox Judaism. How can this text in Exodus be understood in light of these findings?

Hebrew University professor Abraham Malamat points out that the Bible often refers to 600 and its multiples, as well as 1,000 and its multiples, typologically in order to convey the idea of a large military unit. "The issue of Exodus 12:37 is an interpretive one. The Hebrew word eleph can be translated "thousand," but it is also rendered in the Bible as "clans" and "military units." When I look at the question as an Egyptologist, I know that there are thought to have been 20,000 in the entire Egyptian army at the height of Egypt's empire. And at the battle of Ai in Joshua 7, there was a severe military setback when 36 troops were killed." Therefore if one reads elephim as military units, the number of hebrew fighting men was between 5,000 and 6,000. This would give a total hebrew population of less than 20,000, something within the range of historical possibility.

However, the counts given for each tribe in Numbers 1-2 cannot be interpretted in this fashion. They are given in units of "thousands", "hundreds" and "tens" and in addition the total is given. No interprettation of eleph except "thousand" makes sense in that case, so the difficulty remains.

Detailed summary

Ch. 1-4

The Israelites living in Egypt are oppressed by forced labor by a new Pharaoh who desires to destroy them. The male infant of a Levitic family is found by Pharaoh's daughter, who calls him "Moses" and adopts him. Moses grows up as an Egyptian, but eventually sympathizes with his suffering brethren. He flees the country because he has slain an Egyptian overseer. He goes to Midian, becomes shepherd to the priest Jethro, and marries the latter's daughter Zipporah. As he is feeding the sheep on Mount Horeb, God appears to him from a thorn-bush which, though burning, is not consumed. God reveals himself, and orders Moses to go before Pharaoh and demand the release of his brethren. God overcomes Moses' reluctance by His promises of supreme aid, and appoints his brother Aaron to be his assistant. Moses then returns to Egypt.

Ch. 5-6

As Pharaoh not only refuses Moses' request, but oppresses the people still further, Moses complains to God, who thereupon announces to him that He will now display His power and will surely liberate Israel. At this point the genealogy of Moses and his family is inserted, in order that it may not later interrupt or weaken in any way the story which follows.

Ch. 7-20

God sends nine plagues: (1) the changing of the waters of the Nile into blood; (2) frogs; (3) vermin; (4) noxious animals; (5) death of the cattle; (6) boils upon men and beasts; (7) storms, killing men and beasts; (8) locusts that devour all vegetation; (9) deep darkness for three days. Pharaoh is untouched by the first plague, which his magicians can imitate; after the second plague, which they can reproduce, but not check, he begins to supplicate; after the third plague he allows his magicians to comfort him; from the third on he makes fresh promises after each plague, but recalls them when the danger is past.

Ch. 11-13

The last, decisive blow occurs: the death of all the first-born of the Egyptians. After this, Pharaoh dismisses the Israelites. They go first from Rameses to Succoth. Chap. 12 contain supplementary regulations regarding the future observance of Passover.

Ch. 13-14

Repenting his clemency, Pharaoh, with chariots and horsemen, pursues the Israelites. The Israelites have reached the shores of the Sea of Reeds, and have been divinely guarded by day by a pillar of cloud, and by night by a pillar of fire. The Israelites pass dry-shod through the waters, which marvelously recede before them while engulfing Pharaoh and his entire army. Moses and his people sing a song of praise to God.

Ch. 14-18

The Israelites journey into the desert. In the desert of Sin they complain of lack of food. God sends them quails, and from this time on, except on the Sabbath, sends them a daily shower of manna. Upon arrival at Rephidim the people again complain of lack of water. God gives them water from a rock. Amalek attacks Israel and is vanquished by Joshua. God commands eternal war against Amalek. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, having heard of Israel's deliverance, visits Moses, bringing him his wife Zipporah and their two children, whom Moses had left behind at home. On Jethro's advice Moses appoints subordinate judges.

Ch. 19-20

In the third month the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. God announces to them through Moses that, having by his power liberated them, they will now constitute them God's people; the Israelites are made a nation of priests. The Israelites accept this call. With thunder and lightning, clouds of smoke and noise of trumpets, God reveals himself to them on Mount Sinai and pronounces the Ten Commandments.

Ch. 21-24

The Ten Commandments, are followed by enactments relating to civil law: (1) indemnifications for injuries done to, a fellow man; (2) duties toward persons who have no actual claims, though they are dependent on the good will of others. In conclusion there are the promise of the land of Canaan as the reward of obedience, and the warning against the pagan inhabitants. God then enters into a solemn covenant with the people, through Moses. He calls Moses up into the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the Law and further instructions.

Ch. 25-31

In order that God may dwell permanently among the Israelites, they are given instructions for erecting a sanctuary. The directions provide for: (1) a wooden ark, gilded inside andoutside, for the Tables of the Covenant, with a cover similarly gilded as "mercy seat" for the Divine Presence; (2) a gilt table for the so-called "shewbread" ( ); (3) a golden candlestick for a light never to be extinguished; (4) the dwelling, including the curtains for the roof, the walls made of boards resting on silver feet and held together by wooden bolts, the purple curtain veiling the Holy of Holies, the table and candlestick, and the outer curtain; (5) a sacrificial altar made of bronzed boards; (6) the outer court formed by pillars resting on bronze pedestals and connected by hooks and crossbars of silver, with embroidered curtains; (7) preparation of the oil for the candlestick. Then follow directions for the garments of the priests: (1) a shoulder-band (ephod) with two onyx stones, on each of which are engraved the names of six of the tribes of Israel, also golden chains for holding the breastplate set with twelve precious stones, in four rows; (2) a robe for the ephod, with bells and pomegranates around the seam; (3) a golden miter plate with the inscription "Holiness to the Lord"; (4) a coat; (5) a miter; (6) a girdle.

Then follow directions for ordaining the priests, including robing, anointing (of Aaron), and a seven days' sacrifice; the institution of daily morning and evening offerings; directions for making a golden altar of incense, to be set up in front of the inner curtain, opposite the Ark of the Covenant. directions for making a laver and stand of brass, to be set up between the Tabernacle and the altar of sacrifice; the preparation of the holy oil for anointing and of the holy incense; appointment of the master workmen Bezaleel and Aboliab to direct the work; the observance of the Sabbath.

Ch. xxxii-xxxiv

While Moses is on the mountain the people become impatient and urge Aaron to make them a golden calf, which they worship with idolatrous joy. God informs Moses and threatens to abandon Israel. Moses at first intercedes for the people, but when he comes down and beholds their madness, he angrily breaks the two tablets containing the divine writing. After pronouncing judgment upon Aaron and the people he again ascends to God to implore forgiveness for them, as God is about to withdraw from them His blessed presence and to leave them unguided in the wilderness. Moses' intercession prevails. When he petitions God to tell him who will accompany them, what He intends to do, and how He will manifest His splendor, God commands him to make new tablets, and reveals Himself to Moses as a God of inexhaustible love and mercy. He assures Moses that in spite of their way wardness He will lead Israel into the Promised Land, giving Moses in token thereof new commandments applicable only to that land. He commands the Israelites not to have intercourse with the pagan natives, to refrain from all idolatry, and to appear before Him on the three pilgrimage festivals. Moses then returns to the people, who listen to him in respectful silence.

Ch. xxxv.-xl.

Moses collects the congregation, enjoins upon them the keeping of the Sabbath, and requests gifts for the sanctuary. The entire people, men and women, high and low, respond willingly and quickly, and under the direction of the superintendent they make: (1) the dwelling, including the curtains, the walls, and the veil; (2) the Ark and cover; (3) the table; (4) the golden candlestick; (5) the golden altar of incense; (6) the altar of burnt offerings; (7) the laver; (8) the outer court. An estimate of the cost of the material follows. Next comes the preparation of the garments of the priests, including: (1) the ephod with the onyx stones, together with the breastplate and its twelve precious stones and its golden chains; (2) the robe of the ephod; (3) the coats for Aaron and his sons; (4) the miter and bonnets; (5) the breeches;(6) the girdle; (7) the golden plate of the crown. Moses inspects the work when completed and praises it, and the sanctuary is set up on the first of the second month.


W. F. Albright From the Stone Age to Christianity (2nd ed.) Doubleday/Anchor

W. F. Albright Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (5th ed.) 1969, Doubleday/Anchor

Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing, entry on "Population", volume 13, column 866.

Y. Shiloh, "The Population of Iron Age Palestine in the Light of a Sample Analysis of Urban Plans, Areas and Population Density." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR), 1980, 239:25-35

Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel Nahum Sarna, Shocken Books, 1986 (first edition), 1996 (reprint edition), chapter 5, "Six hundred thousand men on foot".

Those Amazing Biblical Numbers: Taking Stock of the Armies of Ancient Israel William Sierichs, Jr.

The Rise of Ancient Israel : Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution October 26, 1991 by Hershel Shanks, William G. Dever, Baruch Halpern and P. Kyle McCarter, Biblical Archaeological Society, 1992.


Exodus (album) - The 1977 album by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Exodus (movie) - The 1960 movie based on the novel by Leon Uris.