Sunday, February 01, 2004
The Prophetic Dimension of the Divine name: On Exodus 3:14a and its context
The Prophetic Dimension of the Divine name: On Exodus 3:14a and its context
Hertog, Cornelis Den
(ProQuest Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted.)
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF the divine statement in Exod 3:14a does not need to be proven. The statement has always been of crucial interest in the theological discussion about who or what is God; however, its meaning still needs to be clarified. There are many interpretations of the divine name, and the usual translation, "I am who I am," is certainly not the only one. This article attempts to go beyond the bewildering range of interpretations.1
The discussion of the syntax of the divine statement has produced valuable clues to a better understanding, and the investigation of the individual words, notably hyh, "to be," is also significant. Now it is especially the context of the statement that requires further investigation.
This study will first attempt to define the precise context of the divine statement and then examine its grammar. The result will be a new understanding.
1. The Incoherence of the Text?
The divine statement of Exod 3:14a is preceded by one of Moses' responses to his being sent (3:13): "Look, (when) I will come to the children of Israel and say to them: 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' (and) they say to me:
`What is his name?'-what then shall I say to them?112 However, the statement of v. 14a is not the only answer of God to this question; he also answers (v. 14b): "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: `Ehyeh ('ehyeh) has sent me to you"'; and (v. 15a): "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: `Yhwh, the god of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you."'
The classical analysis of this text (Exod 3:13-15) is that of source criticism.3 The triple answer is generally considered overcrowded, and the second and the third answers are very similar. There is only one speaker, but there are three introductions to the speech, one for each answer: "God said to Moses" (v. 14a); "And he said" (v. 14b); and "God said further to Moses" (v. 15). The evaluation of the triple answer as overcrowded is in itself highly subjective. Some repetition is not necessarily superfluous but may emphasize the solemn nature of a statement. Although the phenomenon of multiple introductions may be an indication of the combination of different sources, it may also be primarily a rhetorical device.4
The incongruity of God's first answer with the request for his name is sometimes adduced in support of a source analysis,. but this would be true only if the answer were interpreted as the explanation of the name. There is nothing in the text, nor is there a certain scheme, that requires such an interpretation. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible the explanation of a name most often follows the naming (e.g., Exod 2:10, 22; cf. also 33:19). In only a few other cases does the description of an event or an emotion precede the naming.6 In these cases, however, the event or the emotion is embedded in the entire situation, and so there is no flaw in the story line.
It is important to note that the seeming discontinuity between the request for a name and God's first answer in Exod 3:13-14 does not prove that the utterances came from different sources. The discontinuity is sometimes explained by reinterpreting the request for the name as a request for the meaning of the divine name.7 It is more often explained as a combination of a name and an explanation of the name (e.g., "Ehyeh, for I am") or as an evasive answer ("I may be whoever I may be").8
As a source analysis in itself is inconclusive, we must take another point of departure. In this connection it is noteworthy that the interpretation of Exod 3:14 as evasive can be supported by referring to other theophanies.
II. Theophanies and the Question of the Divine Name
The answers to the requests for the name in Genesis 32 and Judges 13 are usually understood as evasive answers, if not refusals.9 The counterquestion in both cases "Why do you ask for my name?," seems to suggest this. Moreover, the designation ... in Judg 13:18 is sometimes understood as "ineffable,"10 but pl'y may be better taken as a description of something that transcends human power and knowledge ("wonderful"; see esp. Ps 139:6; also Judg 13:19),11 Let us consider the answers more fully within their contexts.
In Genesis 32 the mysterious "man" asks after the struggle: "What is your name?" The answer is appropriately "Jacob" (32:29). When Jacob requests, "Please, let me know your name" (32:30), the counterquestion "Why do you ask for my name?" breaks the symmetry of the exchange. This may indicate the nonhuman nature of the interlocutor (his name is not as evident as with human beings) or his merely representative nature (he refers from himself to another). The conclusion of Jacob that he has seen God is in accordance with both interpretations; thus he indicates that in this "man" he has met God (cf. v. 29b).
In Judges 13 someone has appeared to the wife of Manoah and announced the birth of a savior, Samson. The narrator always refers to him as the "messenger of Yhwh" or "of God," thus a sort of angel. However, the woman describes him to her husband as a "man of God," thus as a prophet. When the messenger reappears, Manoah proposes preparing a goat as a meal. The former refuses to eat but, instead, suggests making an offering to Yhwh. The narrator then adds: "For Manoah did not know that he was Yhwh's messenger" (13:16). This sentence underlines the idea that the answer was an attempted correction. It also immediately precedes and explains Manoah's following saying: "What is your name? For if your word comes out, then we can honor you" (13:17). In this context the messenger's next answer is apparently an attempt to correct Manoah's misunderstanding. The counterquestion "Why do you ask for my name?" is now followed by: "It is ply, `wonderful"' (13:18). This addition obviously indicates the extraordinary, if not superhuman, status of the interlocutor.12
In sum, the answers to the requests for a name in Judges 13 and Genesis 32 are not reluctant but only indirect and allusive. Within the answers there is a shift from the proper name to the status of the interlocutor-his representation and/or otherness, especially evident in Judges 13. Moreover, the answers clearly attempt to reorient the human protagonist.
The question and its answer in Exodus 3 occur in another context. Whereas it is clear in Judges 13 that the interlocutor is to be understood as a human being, in Exodus 3 he has already revealed himself as a god (v. 6). The motif of the messenger is accordingly much less important and plays a role only in the beginning.13 In any case, it is now clear that Genesis 32 and Judges 13 do not substantiate the interpretation of the answer in Exod 3:14 as evasive.
III. Exod 3:14a in the Wider Context of the Hebrew Bible
A. The Names Yhwh and Elohim
Again we have to take a different starting point. In the preceding part of the narrative, both Yhwh and Elohim ('elohim) are used as divine names. Does the use of these names clarify Moses' question and its answer?
The two names are often seen as indicating different sources, but this is not self-evident. 14 It is quite possible to read the narrative in a literary and holistic way. Yhwh is a personal name, but Elohim, "God," is fundamentally a generic name,15 and the text apparently makes use of this difference between the names, as happens elsewhere.16 The sharp transition from Yhwh to Elohim in v. 4, unprecedented in a prose text,17 already seems to suggest that the difference between the names is significant here. The use of the generic name Elohim is suitable until the question of a specific name is brought up in vv. 13-15. The name Yhwh does occur in the preceding text, but only a few times and never with words suggesting a direct relationship of God with Moses. First, the designation "messenger of Yhwh" is used in relation to the miraculous burning bush (3:2), indicating the divine nature of the phenomenon to the reader but avoiding the idea that Yhwh is immediately recognizable (cf. Gen 16:7; Judg 6:12; 13:3). Second, the name occurs as a subject to indicate God's personal involvement in the phenomenon of the burning bush-creating the consequent need to maintain his distance (3:4). Third, this name appears, together with "said" but without "to (Moses)," in connection with the act to which it has been intimately linked: the exodus from Egypt (3:7-10).18 It appears that the name Yhwh is to be read on a different narrative level from that of the human protagonist, Moses. This kind of use gives the reader a certain advantage over Moses and simultaneously prepares for the introduction of the name in the dialogue between Moses and God in v. 15.19
We conclude that the use of the divine names in the earlier verses of Exodus 3 prepares for the introduction of the name Yhwh in the answer of v. 15. The previous use of the latter name suggests a positive interpretation of the answer in v. 14a. The precise meaning, however, remains to be defined.
B. "The God of the Fathers"
Let us consider in more detail the words by which Moses introduces himself to the Israelites: "The God of your fathers has sent me to you." Moses expects these words to lead to the Israelites' request for a name.20 It is thus their perspective, not that of Moses, that is at the center, and the designation "the God of the fathers" is apparently not enough for them.21 But why, exactly? We might answer simply: "the name of God is unknown until then.21 In this respect, we may point to the restricted use of the name Yhwh in the preceding section and to the connection of this name to the designation "God of the fathers" in the final answer of v. 15a. However, we should suspend judgment and first attempt to understand the designation at issue more precisely, noting its marked, preverbal position. The reason why the divine name is asked for just at this moment remains obscure, but perhaps an examination of the title "the God of the fathers" will clarify the background of the request for a name.22
In the narrative of the call of Moses (2:23-4:17), the title "the God of your fathers" occurs by itself only in v. 13. The most similar designation in the preceding verses is "the God of your father" in v. 6. In relation to Moses, God uses the singular "your father," whereas in relation to his fellow Israelites Moses employs the plural. The designation is accompanied in v. 6 by the triple expression "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." In 3:15; 4:5, and virtually also in 3:16, the title "the God of your [4:5: their] fathers" is preceded by the name of Yhwh and followed by the triple expression (in 3:16: "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob").
This triple expression occurs only in the narrative of the call of Moses and nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. The expression is reminiscent, however, of similar expressions in Genesis, which are simple (Gen 26:24; 46:1) or twofold in nature (Gen 28:13; 31:42; 32:10; cf. 31:53). One or both names of the patriarchs mentioned, Abraham or Isaac, are mostly accompanied by the designation "my" or "your father." There is only one instance of a combination with the title "the God of your father" (Gen 31:42, cf. v. 53), which is also found standing by itself.23
Thus, the singular title "the God of your father" and the triple expression of "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exod 3:6) are reminiscent of the patriarchal narratives of Genesis. Against this background, we shall inquire into the use of other divine names in these narratives.
C. Divine Names and Genesis
In the patriarchal narratives the most common divine names are Yhwh and Elohim. There is probably no rule about the use of these two names that covers all instances.24 The distribution of the names, however, is significant. In the narratives of Abraham and Isaac Yhwh predominates, while in the stories of Jacob and Joseph Elohim clearly prevails.25 As a consequence, the application of the name Yhwh may no longer be self-evident in the latter section of Genesis and in the beginning of Exodus. The reader is possibly sensitized to this issue by Jacob's unanswered request for a name in Gen 32:30. After that, the name Yhwh occurs only once in direct speech, in a clearly detached exclamation about halfway through the blessing of Jacob (49:18; cf. Genesis 38 [3x] and 39 [7x] for indirect speech).
In the patriarchal narratives there are also many particular divine names. El Elyon ('el 'lelyon, "God Most-High," Gen 14:18, 19, 20, 22), El Ro-i (... 16:13; see below), and El Olam ('el `olam, "the Everlasting God," 21:33) are found in the Abraham narratives. On the other hand, El Bethel ('..., "the God of Bethel," Gen 31:13, cf. 35:7), "the Frightful One of Isaac" (pahad yishaq, Gen 31:42, 53), "the Strong One of Jacob"(...) and "the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (... Gen 49:24) occur in relation to the patriarch Jacob. El Shaddai (... see below) is somehow related to all the patriarchs and also Joseph.26 With this multitude of names, the priority of the name Yhwh is not obvious. Moreover, nowhere in the entire first book of the Bible is the priority of this name stated, let alone substantiated.
We note here another important feature in the patriarchal narratives. Sometimes the use of a new divine name is inspired by a peculiar event, namely, a new divine appearance. For example, the "messenger of Yhwh" appears to Hagar, who has fled after being humiliated by her mistress, Sarah. He reveals to her that she will have many offspring and give birth to a son. After this, she calls to God as El Ro-i, literally, "God [is] seeing me," because he has taken notice of her (Gen 16:13; cf. 22:23). Another example is the name El Shaddai, proclaimed by God himself (Gen 17:1). In this case the meaning of the name is not explained, which is one reason why the name remains obscure for us; the significance of this name is, however, underlined by the particular, covenantal context of its appearance.
If the question of Exod 3:13 is understood along these lines, Moses would suppose the Israelites to ask for a new divine name because of a new appearance of God-God's appearance to him.27 Can this interpretation be defended? And if so, why is the request for a name so perplexing for Moses? In any case, this interpretation does not logically follow from the texts just discussed.
A The Names Ehyeh and Yhwh
God does indeed mention a new divine name in his second answer in Exod 3:14: "Ehyeh ('ehyeh) has sent me to you." The combination of Ehyeh-literally, "I shall be" or "I am"-with a verb form in the third person suggests that the former is a name. There is probably a good reason, then, that the introduction of this answer is closely linked to the question that Moses finally asked in v. 13. "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel" is reminiscent of "what shall I say to them?"
However, the second answer is followed by a third, which resembles it closely but differs significantly in one way: "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: Yhwh ... has sent me to you." Moreover, this answer is followed by a strong affirmation (v. 15b): "this is my name forever and this is my memorable title from generation to generation." This is why most exegetes do not see Ehyeh as a real name, but only Yhwh. In their view Ehyeh, "I am," only serves as a transition between "I am who I am" of v. 14a and "Yhwh" of v. 15a. Pronounced as yaweh or something like yahaah,28 the name Yhwh can be understood as referring to the third person, "he (will be I is)." God speaks of himself as Ehyeh. but others should speak of him as Yhwh. But is this correct?
The matter is not all that simple. According to the second answer, it is Moses who has to say: "Ehyeh has sent me to you." Thus, it is not only God but also Moses who may utter the word "Ehyeh." Moreover, no matter how provisional it might be, Ehyeh does function as a name. As such, the word must have sounded rather strange. A first-person verb form never serves as a proper name elsewhere in Biblical Hebrew. Names are generally given by others and are therefore coined from the point of view of the giver. Nevertheless, there are some proper names that are explained as first-person verb forms. In these cases too, however, the content is considered to be pointing to the giver of the name, not to the person named. For example, the name Naphtali is explained as "(A God-struggle) have I struggled (with my sister)" (Gen 30:8), and is therefore evidently understood as "my struggle." The point is that the text connects "I" to the adoptive mother, Rachel, and not to her adopted son.29 Accordingly, the name Ehyeh is highly unusual, and it thus calls attention to itself to a degree that seems contrary to its supposed transitional function.
One might ask why, if the use of the first person is insignificant, it is not avoided altogether. Even in Exod 3:14a the use of the first person is not necessary, for God might have said, putting himself in the "shoes" of Moses: "He is who he is." This would cohere with the suggestion of v. 15a that the name of Yhwh is a third-person form; but it would also deprive God's answer of its character of revelation, which the first-person form signifies. Generally speaking, there is a nearly unbridgeable gap in the Hebrew Bible between revelatory words of God, on the one hand, and speaking about and to God, on the other. Speaking revelatory words is the main task of prophets, and they most often speak in the first person to represent God.30 In other circumstances such as worship, people speak to and about God as "you" and "he."
All this suggests that the distinction between Ehyeh and Yhwh is not insignificant. It is of primary importance how God names himself; how people (the Israelites) refer to him is secondary. The name Ehyeh may be conceived of as a real name and even as God's true name.31 It provides, as it were, a glance into heaven.32 As a sequel to the name Ehyeh, the name Yhwh is, in a certain sense, only a derivative. Yhwh is the name that people use and also should use (v. 15b), but it is presented as the mere human counterpart of the real divine name, Ehyeh.
Nevertheless, the name Ehyeh also owes its force to its connection to the old divine name, Yhwh. Indeed, if this name was said to be secondary and derivative, this does not mean it is nonessential or insignificant. When the priority of Ehyeh has been made clear, then the name Yhwh can be given unrestricted use, bursting out in all its glory. In fact, v. 15b affirms the proclamation of the name in a hymnic way (cf. Pss 102:13; 135:13). Moreover, the name Yhwh holds the first place in a five-part name: "Yhwh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Such a "great name" has royal, majestic connotations, as Egyptian usage and also that of the Hebrew Bible show.33
One still asks, What is the reason why the name Ehyeh is put forward in the present context? In this connection we return to a question raised in the previous section.
IV. Moses Is "Sent"
The cause of Moses' perplexity seems to be indicated by his own words, notably by his self-introduction. He says that he has been "sent." No one had ever been sent before by God to convey a message on his behalf. According to Genesis, God appeared to the ancestors and other persons in dreams, as a voice, or incarnate, but only to address the persons in question, not others. Therefore, Moses cannot appeal to precedent or to an existing divine name to legitimize his mission. Indeed, it might be said that "the God of your fathers" and "has sent" in Moses' self-introduction are virtually incompatible terms. Who, then, would not sympathize with his embarrassment?
But are there any arguments for this view? It is obvious that slh, "send," is a key word in the text. The verb is connected not only to "the God of your fathers" in Moses' question but also to the names of Ehyeh and Yhwh in God's answer. In the story it appears in Exod 3:10 for the first time: "Go now, I send you to Pharaoh, bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt!" After Moses' objection, "Who am I ... ?," God promises his assistance and offers a sign (v. 12).34 The words by which the sign is introduced are worth noting: "and this is the sign that I myself have sent you." These words strongly affirm the nature of Moses' task as a matter of being "sent" by God. It is quite significant, then, that the word "send" is again used in Moses' next response in v. 13.
These findings combined with other facts clearly show that Moses is being depicted as a prophetic figure.35 Indeed, if elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible being "sent" is at issue, it usually concerns a prophet.36 Further, as spoken by God, the words "Thus shall you say. to the children of Israel" (3:14, 15) are reminiscent of the well-known quotation formula of the prophets: "Thus has Yhwh said" (Isa 7:7; Jer 2:2, 5; etc.).37 It is also significant that in the following verses (3:16-17) Moses is clearly intended to act as a messenger of God: first, he is urged by the formula of commission "Go... and say . . ." (cf., e.g., Isa 6:9; Jer 2:1, 2); second, he has to speak in the name of God, thus in the first person, saying to the Israelites: "I have taken account, yes, taken account of you. . . .", In addition, as a prophetic figure Moses is allowed to participate in the foreknowledge of God (3:18-22; cf. Amos 3:7)38 and even in his deliberations (4:1-9; cf Isaiah 6).
If Genesis may be considered to be the background of Exod 3:13, or at least representative of it,39 then in the case of Moses it is not only a particular mission that is in question but the very act of sending by God. In a sense, Moses is the first prophetic figure in the history recounted by the biblical narratives 44 It is just this fact that requires the justification of his mission by a new divine name. By its revelatory nature (see the previous section), the name Ehyeh is particularly appropriate to this function.41
V. The Statement of Exod 3:14a
In order to determine the precise meaning of the statement of Exod 3:14a, "ehyeh Wer 'ehyeh, we must consider the syntax of the statement and the way this statement is connected to the context. There are several views on the syntactical structure of the statement.42 If the statement is viewed in isolation, the most logical interpretation is that the two instances of the verb form 'ehyeh are to be taken in the same way, and that the particle aser has its usual relative (but very general) function. That is to say, the sentence has to be understood as an idem per idem construction, whereby a following clause repeats words of the preceding clause. Only the context could force the understanding of the sentence of v. 14a in another direction; and as it will appear, there is no need to suppose this.
The effect of an idem per idem construction is either to give indefiniteness to a statement or to intensify it. The latter function has been contested,43 but if this function is assumed, it is seen as depending on the context. There seems to be much confusion in this matter. The construction has the two functions indeed, but they depend in the first place on the syntax. At least two syntactical constructions can be distinguished: (1) In one type of idem per idem construction, the subordinate clause follows the main clause. A case in point is the exclamation of the fleeing David: "I am going where [wherever] I am going!" (2 Sam 15:20).44 In such cases the subordinate clause suggests by its nature that it is characterizing something-- here the destination or the place-but since that clause essentially characterizes this something in terms of what has already been said, what is said remains indefinite.45 (2) In another type of idem per idem construction, the subordinate clause precedes the main clause. A good example is Moses' instruction concerning the manna on Sabbath's eve: "What you need to bake, bake [it], what you need to boil, boil [it]" (Exod 16:23).46 In this type the subordinate clause sets something in the foreground, but by repeating what the subordinate clause declares, the main clause underlines the characterization already given.
Instances of this construction with a noun or nominal phrase need not be considered here. The case of Exod 3:14 must yield an indefinite sense because of the sequence of a main clause and a subordinate clause (that is, type 1).
The question remains, however, in which way this indefinite sense should be understood. This depends both on the context and on the function of the verb used here, hyh. Let us first deal with the function of the verb. On this subject, too, there are conflicting views. Formerly, a concrete and dynamic primary meaning of "becoming," "happening," or "being active" was given to the verb.47 This view has exerted influence until now; but in recent years more formal approaches have called it into question. Generally speaking, the use of the verb contrasts with the use of nominal (verbless) sentences, and so its primary function is to indicate tense and mood.48 Still, it remains an open question whether hyh might also have a meaning of its own. This question is particularly relevant when the verb is used absolutely, without adjective, noun, prepositional phrase, or something comparable; and this is the case in Exod 3:14. A few remarks should be made concerning this question.
1. The verb hyh in itself does not differentiate a stative sense ("being") from a mutative sense (e.g., "becoming").49 More generally, like many other Hebrew verbs, hyh does not distinguish between a state and the arrival of that state, that is, between its continuous and the ingressive aspect.50 When a noun or adjective functions as predicate, the verb in itself indicates only category or identity.51 In this respect hyh is not more concrete than the verb "be" and other Indo-Germanic equivalents, though it is often thought to be,52 presumably from a nineteenthcentury evolutionary understanding; on the contrary, it is even more abstract.
2. If hyh is used without a predicate, one might try to recover this from the context. However, this attempt at restoration appears to be difficult in many cases: there may be no (or no adequate) preposition (e.g., Exod 8:11; 21:22, 23), or the noun or pronoun that is supposed to situate the subject may lie several verses back (e.g., 5:13, cf. 5:10; 9:28, cf. 9:25) or even follow after some clauses.53 This last situation is exemplified in a certain answer of Job to one of his friends: "Please turn back, let [there] be no unrighteousness" (Job 6:29). This is followed, only after another clause, by a sentence with the locative-existential particle yep and a prepositional phrase: "Is there (yes) [any] unrighteousness on my tongue?" The difficulties of restoring a complement, notably a prepositional phrase, strongly suggest that hyh can situate the subject by itself, but only very generally. Thus, it may mean "occurring" or "being present." Closely related to this use is the usage of hyh in the sense of "existing" (i.e., being somewhere). In this case, not only things but also persons may function as the subject.54
3. Some texts illustrate clearly that hyh may also have a mutative connotation when it is used absolutely. In these cases the verb is paralleled by qwm, "arise" (Isa 7:7; 14:24) or 'br, "perish" (Jonah 4:10)55 and can be translated "appear" or "take place."
These points suggest that because of the possible absolute use, hyh in Exod 3:14a refers at least to "presence." The context has to answer the question whether this presence implies a change of situation. Context also has to clarify in which respect this presence is indefinite.
As noted above, prior to the divine statement in Exod 3:14a Moses indicated that God's sending him to the people of Israel was unprecedented in comparison with his direct revelations to the ancestors. How, then, can he, Moses, convince the people of the divine message? It is against this background that the first answer of God in v. 14a acquires its full meaning. In this context the indefinite effect of the construction is realized as indefiniteness in relation to people's expectations: God may be different from what he was thought to be in line with his earlier revelations. Thus, he stresses the surprising nature of his presence and appearance and, in this manner, paves the way for his representation by Moses.
In the same context, the use of the preformative conjugation in the two instances of 'ehyeh is understandable. This conjugation will serve to bridge the gap between the two times in question: the time of the ancestors and that of Moses, the time of direct revelation and that of revelation by mediation. This abridgment can be thought of as taking place in different ways. (1) In both cases )ehyeh could have an iterative or habitual nuance; a translation would then be: "I am wont to be what I am wont to be."56 (2) In both cases 'ehyeh could also indicate the general nature of the statement, with a translation in the present tense being preferable. In fact, the distinction between these conceptions seems to be only theoretical.57
Even when this issue is put aside, a good translation of the divine statement is not easy. The usual translation in the present tense, "I am who I am," may easily be misunderstood by modern minds; it sounds like merely an identification of God with himself, as if God refers back to himself as something closed in itself, very individual and apart from his appearance.58 A translation that renders the open nature of the statement should be preferred. Possible translations include: "I am there as I am there" or, more markedly, "I am present as I am present."
The call narrative of Exod 3:1-4:17 introduces Moses as a mediator between God and people, who as such will set the scene, quite exceptionally, for four biblical books (cf. the worthy ending in Deut 34:10-12). Naturally, this introduction can occur only against the background of the preceding biblical book, Genesis. All this appears clearly in the justification of Moses' mission in Exod 3:13-15. Moses suggests that the Israelites will call his mission into question by asking for a divine name. In the present text, the question of the Israelites is without doubt reminiscent of the question of the Hebrew "brother" who contests the right of Moses to intervene (2:14). Against the background of Genesis, however, it especially indicates the unprecedented fact that God is sending someone to other people. To this key question God gives no fewer than three different answers, constituting three different moments in a single discourse:
1. At first God bypasses the request for a name-which is therefore not introduced by: "Thus shall you say . . ."-and takes notice of the underlying problem: how to connect the sending of someone with the (direct) appearances to the ancestors? In his answer God picks up a word used earlier, the word 'ehyeh (3:12), but this word now has to function in a new context. By means of the idem per idem construction God stresses the unforeseen and surprising nature of his appearance.
2. In his second answer God uses the same word, 'ehyeh, as a new divine name to legitimize the sending of Moses. As a first-person word, Ehyeh expresses a meeting with God himself, and so it is preeminently appropriate for the function of transmitting a divine message. It also continues the content of the first answer. It is only by the second answer that the first answer also becomes an explanation of a name, that is, an indication of the sense of Ehyeh.
3. The third and final answer is explicitly presented as an addition to this second answer by ... unusual in a speech introduction, meaning "still," "further," or perhaps better in this context (cf. 4:6), "moreover." God now declares Yhwh as both his name and the name to be used. This name is not introduced as a new name, hitherto unknown, however, but is reintroduced; that is, after the use of the name Ehyeh its meaning is reassessed. As a third-person form it should be reminiscent of the first-person form, and thus of God's primacy in speaking.
After these observations, one may wonder what the historical background of the text is. Was there a need to ground the prophetic function in a great predecessor, Moses (cf. Hos 12:14)? Or was the text part of the process leading to the subordination of the prophets or the prophetic texts to the Torah of Moses (cf. Deut 18:15, 18; Jer 26:4-5; also Exod 7:1-2)? The relativizing of the name Yhwh in relation to Ehyeh may even suggest that the former's use had become less self-evident; and then this text would belong to the historical process that led to the avoidance of the name Yhwh. These are, however, issues for a more extensive study.
1This article builds on my dissertation, "Het zonderlinge karakter van de godsnaam: literaire, psychoanalytische en theologische aspecten van het roepingsverhaal van Mozes (Exodus 2.23-4.17)" (Amsterdam, 1996; available through the author), esp. chap. 6. The exegesis in the dissertation evolves through the exposition of a critical, syntax- and text-oriented typology of existing exegeses of Exod 3:14.
2 My English translations of biblical texts attempt to render the distinctive features of the Hebrew as much as possible. I have taken advantage of Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (New York: Schocken, 1997) and Aleida G. van Daalen, "The Place Where YHWH Showed Himself to Moses: A Study of the Composition of Exodus 3," in Voices from Amsterdam (ed. Martin Kessler; SBLSS; Atlanta: Scholars, 1994) 133-44, esp. 136-38.
3 See Werner H. Schmidt, Exodus I (BKAT 211; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1988) 130-34 (cf. ibid., 168-79); Andrds Ibdez Arana, "Ex 3,14a, explicaci6n de un nombre singular: YHWH," EstBib 57 (1999) 375-88, esp. 376-77; Hubert Irsigler, "Von der Namensfrage zum Gottesverstandnis: Exodus 3,13-15 im Kontext der Glaubensgeschichte Israels," BN 96 (1999) 56-96, esp. 62-66 (all with further references).
4See E. J. Revell, "The Repetition of Introductions to Speech as a Feature of Biblical Hebrew," VT 47 (1997) 91-110. See also Georg Fischer, Jahwe unser Gott: Sprache, Aufbau and Erzahltechnik in der Berufung des Mose (Ex 3-4) (OBO 91; Fribourg: Universitatsverlag; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989) 41-45; Mosh6 Anbar, "Formules d'introduction du discours direct au milieu du discours A Mari et dans la Bible," VT 47 (1997) 530-36.
5 Sean McEvenue, "The Speakers) in Ex 1-15," in Biblische Theologie and gesellschaftlicher Wandel: Far Norbert Loh/ink (ed. Georg Braulik, Walter Gross, and Sean McEvenue; Freiburg/Basel: Herder, 1993) 220-36, esp. 227-28.
6 Gen 25:30; 29:33-35; 30:6-8, 11-13, 18-21. On the two types of explanations of names see A. S. van der Woude, "sem," in Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997) 1355.
7 E.g., Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus (Hoboken: Ktav, 1992) 66-71; see also Augustin Rudolf Miiller, Martin Bubers Verdeutschung der Schrift (ATSAT 14; St. Ottilien: EOS, 1982) 81-93.
8 For the former view, see, e.g., Van Daalen, "Place Where YHWH Showed Himself," 140-41; for the latter, see William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1-18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 2; New York: Doubleday, 1999) 205, 225.
9 See A.-M. Dubarle, "La signification du nom de lahweh," RSPT 35 (1951) 3-21, esp. 7; Cornelis Houtman, Exodus, vol. 1 (Historical Commentary on the OT; Kampen: Kok, 1993) sec7.3.2; Propp, Exodus 1-18, 223-24.
10 See G. F. Moore, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges (ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1895) 321.
11 Ibid., 322 (about the root pli); Luis Alonso Schokel, Josue y Jueces (Los Libros Sagrados; Madrid: Ediciones Cristiandad, 1973) 214.
12 In similar cases adjectives may imply divine status. See Isa 57:15; Mal 1:11; Ps 99:3.
13 The position of "Yhwh's messenger" in relation to Yhwh varies in the Hebrew Bible. See, e.g., H. D. Neef, "`Ich selber bin in ihm' (Ex 23,21): Exegetische Beobachtungen zur Rede vom `Engel des Herrn' in Ex 23,20-22; 32,34; 33,2; Jdc 2,1-5; 5,23," BZ 39 (1995) 54-75.
14 See Jacob, Exodus, 51-52 (however, the rendering is not entirely accurate; cf. Jacob, Das Buch Exodus [Stuttgart: Calwer, 1997] 46).
15The use of the article (ha) seems to be syntactically conditioned: without it Elohim is used
as a subject, with it as an object (following Aleida G. van Daalen, by personal communication). Otherwise, e.g., Jacob, Exodus, 52.
16 See Donald J. Slager, "The Use of Divine Names in Genesis," BT 43 (1992) 423-29; Anthony Abela, "U. Cassuto's Alternative Explanation of the Divine Names Phenomenon Within the Abraham Narrative in Genesis," in The Bible in Cultural Context (ed. Helena Pavlineovd and Dalibar Papougek; Brno: Czech Society for the Study of Religions, 1994) 11-23.
17 See Frank Polak, "Theophany and Mediator," in Studies in the Book of Exodus (ed. Marc Vervenne; BETL 126; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1996) 113-47, esp. 119-20 n. 20. Polak notes the concurrence in poetry of both divine names in parallelism (e.g., 2 Sam 22:47; Pss 47:6; 56:11; 58:7; 68:17; 69:14; 70:2, 6).
18 Kare Berge arrived at the same conclusion. See Reading Sources in a Text: Coherence and Literary Criticism in the Call of Moses (ATSAT 54; St. Ottilien: EOS, 1997) 132-33. Cf. also Exod 18:1; 20:2; Ezek 20:5-6; Hos 12:10; 13:4. The related oracle of Exod 6:2-8 explicitly connects the name Yhwh and the exodus for the first time (see esp. vv. 6-7).
1'9 See Van Daalen, "Place Where YHWH Showed Himself," 138, 139, 142; Jonathan Magonet, "The Names of God in Biblical Narratives," in Words Remembered, Texts Renewed: Essays in Honour of John EA. Sawyer (ed. Jon Davies, Graham Harvey, and Wilfred G. E. Watson; JSOTSup 195; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1995) 80-96, esp. 83.
20 Brevard S. Childs, Exodus (OTL; London: SCM, 1974) 66.
21 See Houtman, Exodus, 366. He points out that the designation is vague (cf. 3:6) and that, consequently, there are bound to be calls for more information.
22 We restrict our investigation to the function of the designation in the present biblical text; the text of Genesis is supposed to have been present to the composer of Exodus 3(:13-15) to some significant extent. Most studies on this title involve a discussion of the religion of the patriarchs. See the literature referred to in chap. 3 of my dissertation (above, n. 1).
23 Gen 31:5 ("my"), 29 ("your" p1.); 43:23 ("your" pi.); 46:3; 49:25; 50:17 ("your" sing.).
24 See Slager, "Use of Divine Names in Genesis," 423-29; Abela, "U. Cassuto's Alternative Explanation of the Divine Names," 11-23.
25 Sometimes El also occurs, either in nominal sentences (Gen 33:20; 46:3) or with qualifiers (35:1, 3; 49:25-"the lei of your father"). See Rolf Rendtorff, "El als israelitische Gottesbezeichnung," ZAW 106 (1994) 4-24, esp. 6-7.
26 Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25 (without El]; cf. Exod 6:3.
27 See James G. Murphy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book Exodus (Edinburgh: Clark, 1866) 31-32; S. T. Anderson, "I Am that I Am," The Old Testament Student 4 (1885)
310-11 (with reference to [G.?] Bush); Alan Cole, Exodus (TynOTC; London: Tyndale Press, 1973) 69. See also Ramban [Nachmanides], Commentary on the Torah: Exodus, Shemoth (New York: Shilo, 1973) 34. The last already states, among other things, that "inherent in his question was the request ... to say, by what Divine attribute is he sent to the Israelites."
28 Whereas the former pronunciation has been broadly accepted, the latter may be preferred (Exod 3:13-15 would then offer an example of "partial derivation"). See Max Reisel, The Mysterious Name of YH.WH. (SSN 2; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1957) 36-61; George Wesley Buchanan, "The Pronunciation of the Tetragram," RevQ 13 (1988) 413-19.
29 In Ruth 1:20 Naomi (lit., "my agreeableness") proposes changing her name to Mara ("bitterness") "because Shaddai has dealt bitterly with me." This name lacks an indication of the first person, but it is obviously conceived from the viewpoint of the person named. This clearly happens in exceptional circumstances and only as the reversal of the real name.
30 See Ann M. Vater, "The Communication of Messages and Oracles as a Narration Medium in the Old Testament" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1976) 11, (27), 30, 35, 165; eadem, "Narrative Patterns for the Story of Commissioned Communication in the Old Testament," JBL 99 (1980) 365-82, esp. 372. Vater builds on an article of Rolf Rendtorff, "Botenformel and Botenspruch," ZAW 74 (1962) 165-77, esp. 176.
31 See Edmond Jacob, Carl-A. Keller, and Samuel Amsler, Osee, Joel, Abdias, Jonas, Amos (CAT; Neuchatel: Delachaux & Niestle, 1965) 22.
32 See Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 24; New York: Doubleday, 1980) 199: "This [Exod 3:14] assumes that the people will recognize and acknowledge this name [Ehyeh], perhaps a secret name, as opposed to the public name Yahweh." Cf. also n. 41. Contrary to what Andersen, Freedman, and also E. Jacob (n. 31) think, however, Ehyeh does not function as a name elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, not even in Hos 1:9. See Cornelis den Hertog, "De godsnaam in Hosea 1:9: Een commentaar op Exodus 3:14?" Amsterdamse Cahiers voor Exegese van de Bijbel en zijn Tradities 17 (1999) 75-88.
33 Fischer, Jahwe unser Gott, 143 (with further references). It is not only 2 Sam 23:1 and Isa 9:5 (here the first, personal name is missing, as in Exod 3:6) that have to be mentioned, but also Gen 49:24-25, with, in the middle of the blessing of Joseph, four or five divine names. This depends on whether or not "the Shepherd" and "the Stone of Israel" are counted as one title. It may be noted that Raymond de Hoop translates "the Shepherd of Israel's stone" and takes "stone" to mean "stele." See Genesis 49 in its Literary and Historical Context (VTSup 29; Leiden: Brill, 1999) 180, 198-205.
34 See C. den Hertog, "Concerning the Sign of Sinai (Exodus 3:12)," in Unless someone guide me: Festschrift for Karel A. Deurloo (ed. Janet Dyk et al.; Amsterdamse Cahiers voor Exegese van de Bijbel en zijn Tradities Supplement Series 2; Maastricht: Shaker, 2001) 33-41.
ss See Moshe Greenberg, Understanding Exodus (New York: Behrhouse, 1967) 96-97; Wolfgang Richter, Die sogenannten vorprophetischen Berufungsberichte: Eine literaturwissenschaftliche
Studie zu I Sam 9,1-10,16, Ex 3f and Ri 6,llb-17 (FRLANT 10!; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 112-14.
36 See Jer 14:14, 15; 23:21, 32; 27:15; 28:9, 15; 29:9, 31; 43:2; Ezek 13:6; Neh 6:12. Cf., in relation to Moses, Num 16:28-29 and also Exod 4:13.
37 For this relationship, see Vater, "Communication of Messages," 65.
38 Greenberg, Exodus, 86.
39 As is evident from the self-presentation of God in v. 6 and its rendering in v. 13 by Moses,
Moses is supposed to have some knowledge of ancestral traditions. See van Daalen, "Place Where YHWH Showed Himself," 140; Berge, Reading Sources, 114, 124; contra, e.g., Christopher Seitz, "Call of Moses and the 'Revelation' of the Divine Name: Source-Critical Logic and Its Legacy," in Theological Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs (e4. Christopher Seitz and Kathryn Greene-McCreight; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 145-81, esp. 151-52.
40 This does not deny that Abraham is called a prophet (Gen 20:7). This title refers to Abraham's special relation with God as indicated by his visions and his participation in God's consultations (chap. 18). See Karel A. Deurloo, "Abraham, profeet (Gen. 15 en 20)," Amsterdamse Cahiers voor Exegese en Bijbelse Theologie 9 (1988) 35-46.
41 Cf. Hans Kosmala, "The Name of God (YHWH and HU)," in Studies, Essays and Reviews (3 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1978) 1. 1-4, esp. 2: "When Moses, therefore, is asked to say: "I am" has sent me to You,' it means that he should not speak of this god in the third person, as people might speak of him in his absence, but in such a way that it became obvious to them that God had personally appeared and presented himself to Moses as existing and active and speaking in the first person." P. Heinisch (Das Buch Exodus [HSchAT; Bonn: Hanstein, 1934] 52) already connected the use of Ehyeh to the speaking of a messenger in the first person, although, according to him, the change from Ehyeh to Yhwh does not arrest the attention.
42 See Andr6 Caquot, "Les dnigmes d'un h6mistiche biblique," in Dieu et l'etre: Exegeses d'Exode 3,14 et de Coran 20,11-24 (ed. Paul Vignaux et al.; Paris: $tudes Augustiniennes, 1978) 17-26, esp. 19-22 (three options); A. Niccacci, "Esodo 3.14a: 'lo sari quello the ero'e un parallelo," Liber Annuus 35 (1985) 7-20, esp. 7-11 (four options).
43 In favor of this function, see, e.g., Th. C. Vriezen, "'Ehje "ser lehje," in Festschrift Alfred Bertholet (ed. Walter Baumgartner et al.; TUbingen: Mohr, 1950) 498-512; for the opposite view, see, e.g., Dubarle, "La signification du nom," 7-12.
44 See Exod 4:13; 33:19; 1 Sam 23:13; 2 Kgs 8:1; Ezek 12:25; Hos 9:14; Sir 44:9.
45 See Norbert Kilwing, "Noch einmal zur Syntax von Ex 3,14," BN 10 (1979) 70-79, esp. 74.
46 Cf. Jer 15:2 and 43:11 (both with a nominal construction); Esth 4:16 and Gen 43:14 (both with ka'cT.der, "as").
47 See Carl Heinz Ratschow, Werden and Wirken (BZAW 70; Berlin: Topelmann, 1941).
48 Rudiger Bartelmus, HYH. Bedeutung and Funktion eines hebraischen "Allerweltswortes"-- zugleich ein Beitrag zur Frage des hebrdischen Tempussystems (ATSAT 17; St. Ottilien: EOS, 1982) passim, e.g., 92, 102, 113-14.
49 For this distinction, see Charles H. Kahn, The Verb 'Be' in Ancient Greek (Foundations of Language Sup. 16; Dordrecht/Boston: Reidel, 1973) 194-98.
50 Ernst Jenni, "Lexikalisch-semantische Strukturunterschiede: Hebraisch HDL - deutsch `aufhbren/unterlassen,"' ZAH 7 (1994) 124-32, esp. 127-28. He gives many examples such as mlk, "be king" and "become king"; yd', "know" and "learn"
51 Bartelmus, HYH, 106-14. The word "mutative" has been chosen here and not the alternative "kinetic" (see Kahn, Verb 'Be', n. 52) because in the cases concerned hyh does not seem to indicate the process of change but only the fact of a new element-class relation (see Bartelmus).
52 This conception appears in relation particularly to the Old Greek translation. See C. den Hertog, "Exodus 3:14 in de Septuaginta: `Ik ben de zijnde' - Een metafysische uitspraak?" NedTTs
53 (1999) 1-16, esp. 4 (with references).
53 Contra Johannes P Floss, "Verbfunktionen der Basis HYY," BN 30 (1985) 35-101. In Floss's view hyh is devoid of any meaning, because he thinks it possible to restore the complement in every case. However, he does not account for the difficulties of this restoration. This appears, for example, from his idiosyncratic treatment of Exod 3:14 (see Floss, " `Ich bin mein Name,'" in Text, Methode and Grammatik: Wolfgang Richter zum 65. Geburtstag [dargebracht] [ed. Walter Gross, Huber Irsigler,
and Theodor Seidl; St. Ottilien: EOS, 1991] 67-80). It is also illustrated by his treatment of hyh in Genesis I (see also Floss, "Schbpfung als Geschehen?" in Nachdenken uber Israel: Bibel und Theologie: Festschrift fur Klaus-Dietrich Schunck [ed. H. Michael Niemann, Matthias Augustin, and Werner H. Schmidt; BEATAJ 37; Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1994] 311-18). He connects the phrase "[there] was evening and [there] was morning" to "over the face of the waters" (v. 2) and to "on the earth" (v. 11), respectively. However, such a precise localization would imply a recommencing of the counting of the days after the change of place in v. 11, but that is not warranted.
54 See, e.g., Ps 33:9 (II 11 ctrut cmd, "stand"); and Obad 16; Job 3:16; 10:19; Sir 44:9, respectively.
55See also Gen 1:3, 6; Eccl 1:9; 3:15.
56This is mentioned as a possibility by S. R. Driver (The Book of Exodus [CBSC; Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1911] 23-24, 40-41) but abandoned in favor of a translation in the future tense-without argumentation, however.
57 Indicative of this are the different approaches taken in grammatical works. See, e.g., Bartelmus, HYH, 59 (with references); Bruce K. Waltke and M. O'Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990) 506 (31.3e); Christo H. J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naud6, and Jan H. Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999) 148 (19.2.4).
58 A famous psychoanalyst associates the divine statement with the concept of individuality. See D. W. Winnicott, "Sum, I Am," in idem, Home Is Where We Start From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst (ed. Clare Winnicott et al.; New York: Norton, 1986) 55-64, esp. 57.
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