Posted by: mattcolvin | October 17, 2020

Notes on LXX Exodus 7

6:30 – Moses protests that he has a speech impediment. The Greek word is ἰσχνόφωνος, from ἰσχνός, “dry, withered, weak” and φωνή, “voice.”

7:1 – The Lord’s shocking statement, “Behold I have given you as God to Pharaoh” indicates that Moses is a stand-in for YHWH in relation to the king of Egypt. But he further says that “Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.”

7:3-4 – There follows the series of first person future verbs as YHWH outlines what He will do: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt…and I will send forth my hand against Egypt and I will lead my people out with my power…”

7:5 – The result of all this will be that the Egyptians will recognize the lion from his claw: “And all the Egyptians shall know that I am (ἐγώ εἰμι) the Lord stretching out my hand against Egypt…” Note the ἐγώ εἰμι that is YHWH’s scarlet pimpernell, as it were.

7:7 – So Aaron is three years older than Moses, making this yet another instance of the younger having precedence over the older.

7:9 – Aaron’s rod will become a large snake (δράκων). It remains a matter of controversy whether δράκων and ὄφις are really interchangeable synonyms, but the LXX does seem to distinguish between them here, since Ex. 4:3 had Moses’ rod become an ὄφις, and 7:15 repeats this language concerning it, while 7:9 says that Aaron’s rod became a δράκων. It seems to me that it would be more normal to call a garter snake or a krait an ὄφις – something small and slithery, maybe poisonous – while pythons and anacondas would definitely fall into the category of δράκοντες.

Above: the manuscript by Renaissance-era Cretan scribe Ange Vergece (Ἄγγελος Βεργίκιος) of Manuel Philes’ bestiary poem De Animalium Proprietate, showing a δράκων (top right) and an ὄφις (bottom right).

My friend John Barach points out that the Hebrew behind δράκων in this passage is actually תַנִּֽין, tannîn, which is the word used for the primordial sea monster of Canaanite mythology, as well as the “great whales” (κήτη τὰ μεγάλα) of Genesis 1:21. Garter snakes aren’t in it. Crocodiles might be.

7:11 – A number of different words are used for the court magicians whom Pharaoh summons to compete with Moses and Aaron in performing miracles. They are called σοφισταί (wise men = magi?), φαρμακοί (sorcerers; etymologically, users of potions), and ἐπαοιδοὶ (enchanters; etymologically, users of incantations). We might consider whether Joseph and Daniel can also be considered to fall into any these categories, i.e. professional court magicians. 2 Timothy 3:8’s identification of these magicians by name (“Jannes and Jambres”) is not from Genesis, but is derived from the Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres, which is mentioned by Origen and preserved in fragments in both Greek (Chester Beatty papyrus XVI) and Ethiopic. Jannes “and his brother” are also mentioned in the Damascus Document from Qumran. What impulse led later writers to assign names to villains whom Exodus had left anonymous?

7:12 – It is interesting that the LXX says that Aaron’s rod did not “eat up,” but rather “drank down” (κατέπιεν) the rods of the Egyptian sorcerers. This denotes the act of swallowing, not of biting or chewing, so that it is an apt description of the peristalsis by which a snake would swallow another snake. In the narrative of the wizards’ duel, this indicates the victory of Aaron over the Egyptian sorcerers, but they have put up enough of a show of competitiveness that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (7:13).

7:19 – It is noteworthy that the Lord includes mention, not only of the Nile itself, but also of the irrigation canals (διώρυγαι) which the Egyptians used – a detail that indicates knowledge of historical Egyptian custom. He also targets τὰ ἕλη (“the marshes”) and πᾶν συνεστηκὸς ὕδωρ (“every body of standing water”). The water in these also will be turned to blood, which is the more remarkable because they are not connected to the Nile’s flow, and must be changed separately from it.

This verse also specifies that water turned to blood ἔν τε τοῖς ξύλοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς λίθοις, “in their wooden [vessels] and in their [vessels of] stone.” It is an interesting distinction, because Judaism had different rules for the purity of stone vessels and vessels of other materials. Sarna suggests that the phrase is a merism, intended to indicate any vessel whatsoever. It is curious, and reminds me of another pairing of wood and stone, albeit with different words, which appears in an enigmatic and much-discussed line of Hesiod’s Theogony: ἀλλὰ τί ἦ μοι ταῦτα περὶ δρῦν ἢ περὶ πέτρην; “But what is my business around tree or rock?” It also appears in the Iliad 22.126-8: “There is no way now from tree or from rock (ἀπὸ δρυὸς οὐδ’ ἀπὸ πέτρης) to converse with him.”

7:20 – Note the action here: καὶ ἐπάρας τῇ ῥάβδῳ αὐτοῦ ἐπάταξεν τὸ ὕδωρ… “and lifting up his staff he struck the water.” This action will be explicitly recalled in 17:5-6, when Moses is commanded to strike the rock at Meribah to make water come out. Thus, the same staff causes the Egyptians’ water to become undrinkable and brings forth drinkable water from the rock for the Hebrews.

7:22 – I have always found it comical that “the enchanters of the Egyptians did likewise with their enchantments,” – so that the final result was presumably that even more water in Egypt was turned to blood!

7:25 – ἀνεπληρώθησαν ἑπτὰ ἡμέραι – The weekly cycle is a parody of the creation week as the Lord gradually unmakes the land of Egypt.


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