The Book of Exodus: A biography, by Joel S. Baden 

by
23 August 2019

Mark Scarlata on the Exodus and its echoes

THIS small volume presents an accessible biography of Exodus as it has been received throughout history. In the opening chapter, Baden begins with an overview of how the book of Exodus came into being. He offers a standard historical-critical argument for its division according to the ancient sources (J, E, P). He argues that the lack of sufficient archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Exodus should be treated not as a history per se, but as a powerful story conceived by Semitic slaves from Egypt who settled in Canaan.

The second chapter explores how Exodus is received throughout the whole Bible. Baden examines Old Testament texts and the works of Philo and Josephus as examples of interpretation during the Second Temple period. He then turns to the New Testament and offers a brief overview of how Exodus shaped the Gospels (particularly Matthew) and the apostle Paul’s understanding of Christ. Baden then focuses on the ritual of the Passover, which has preserved Judaism since its ancient inception, and its Christian reinterpretation in the eucharist.

He follows with a chapter on the Law given at Mount Sinai, and offers Jewish interpretations, along with Christian polemics, which, sadly, often were expressed in anti-Semitic terms by the early Fathers. After discussing Jewish and Christian understandings of the Law, Baden then turns to historical appropriations of the Exodus story by Reformers such as Calvin and Luther, as well as nations such as America which saw themselves as the new Israel escaping the bondage of their oppressor. These themes were also taken up in the civil-rights movement and, later, in liberation theologies that emerged from South America.

Baden’s clear, insightful, and fascinating overview of Exodus demonstrates how powerful and inspiring this biblical narrative has been throughout history in religious, political, and social settings. One may disagree with his questioning of the historicity or composition of Exodus, but that will not diminish this rich study of the effects that the book has had over thousands of years, as people from all backgrounds have identified with its themes of new birth, liberation, and salvation.

The Revd Dr Mark W. Scarlata is Tutor and Lecturer in Old Testament at St Mellitus College.

The Book of Exodus: A biography
Joel S. Baden
Princeton University Press £21
(978-0-691-16954-5)
Church Times Bookshop £18.90

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

100 Best Christian Books

How many have you read?

Visit the 100 Best Christian Books website to see which books made our list, read the judges' notes and add your own comments.

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)