Posted by: mattcolvin | March 15, 2022

“Just who is going?” – merisms, holisms and other nuances of language in Exodus 10 LXX

Exodus 10

10:6 – καὶ ἐκκλίνας Μωυσῆς ἐξῆλθεν ἀπὸ Φαραω – “and Moses turned away and went out from [the presence of] Pharaoh.” This is a narrative marker showing that Moses is not present for the discussion between Pharaoh and his servants.

10:7 – Pharaoh’s servants, confronted with the threat of locusts, ask their master, “How long will this be a snare (σκῶλον, Heb. מֹוקֵ֔שׁ, from יָקֹשׁ, “to ensnare”) to us?” The same root is behind Psalm 124:7: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.”

Pharaoh’s servants urge him to “send the people (τοὺς ἀνθρώπους) out” in contrast to Pharaoh’s reneging in 10:11: “Let the men (οἱ ἄνδρες, not inclusive of women) go.”

10:8 – καὶ ἀπέστρεψαν τόν τε Μωυσῆν καὶ Ααρων πρὸς Φαραω – “And they turned Moses and Aaron back to Pharaoh…” Another narrative marker. Having prevailed upon Pharaoh, his servants recall Moses and Aaron, who had departed in 10:6.

τίνες δὲ καὶ τίνες εἰσὶν οἱ πορευόμενοι; – lit. “But who and who are the ones going?”, a literal rendering of the Hebrew מִ֥י וָמִ֖י, which has the sense of “Precisely who…?” or “Just who is going?” (Alter) The question implies that Pharaoh does not grant permission for all the Hebrews to leave.

10:9 – Moses’ answer uses comprehensive merism to specify that the entirety of the Hebrew population is to go: “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and daughters and flocks and cattle.” Among the three terms “we,” “our young,” and “our old,” every living generation of Israelites is specified.

Note the grounds given for this comprehensiveness: “For it is a festival of the Lord our God.” This is why all generations are required.

10:10 – καθότι ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς, μὴ καὶ τὴν ἀποσκευὴν ὑμῶν – “Because I am sending you out, I’m not sending out all your livestock, am I?” A rhetorical (μὴ) question indicating that Pharaoh does not assent to the dismissal of the Hebrews’ goods. This is the LXX’s rendering of a rather vexed Hebrew verse, which might be best rendered, “May the Lord be with you as much as I will let you go, and your little ones.” The Hebrew amounts to a refusal, and a wish that the Lord may not be with them. The word ἀποσκευή means “baggage, household goods,” and is an attempt to translate the Hebrew טַפְּכֶ֑ם, which as Cassuto notes, can sometimes mean “your livestock”, but at other times means “your children” (when women have already been mentioned separately), and at still other times, “your women and children” in contrast to men. Here, Pharaoh’s refusal of permission for the women and children is grounded in the immediately following sentence: ἴδετε ὅτι πονηρία πρόκειται ὑμῖν – “See ye that evil lies ahead of you.” (Therefore, don’t seek to bring your women and children into it.)

10:12 – The plague of locusts, designated in the collective singular ἀκρίς, “the locust,” is described as eating up πᾶσαν βοτάνην…καὶ πάντα τὸν καρπὸν τῶν ξύλων, “every herb and every fruit of the trees.” This is very specific diction lifted from Genesis 1:12. The locusts are thus agents of de-creation.

10:12 – Whereas the south wind brought the locusts to Egypt (ὁ ἄνεμος ὁ νότος ἀνέλαβεν τὴν ἀκρίδα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν), it then brings them to rest (κατέπαυσεν) upon it, rather than blowing them away. Verse 19 will see the locusts removed by the wind.

10:15 – De-creation is expressed again by ἐφθάρη ἡ γῆ, “the land/earth was destroyed.” (10:15) Note the rhetorical force of the word order that conveys the totality of the destruction: “There was not left any green thing among the trees and among all the herb of the field in all the land of Egypt.”

10:16 – Pharaoh confesses his sin with a perfect verb, Ἡμάρτηκα, as well as confessing that he has sinned “in the sight of the Lord” (ἐναντίον κυρίου) as well as “against you” (εἰς ὑμᾶς).

10:19 – The same construction of totality that was used in 10:15 for the denuding of Egypt’s vegetation by the locusts is now deployed for the removal of the locusts by the wind: “there was not left a single locust (οὐκ ὑπελείφθη ἀκρὶς μία) in all the land of Egypt.”

10:21 – The darkness of the next plague is described as ψηλαφητόν, “able to be handled.” The root is the same as the verb used in 1 John 1:1, “which our hands have handled (ἐψηλάφησαν).”

10:28-29 – There is tragic irony in Pharaoh’s threat, “On the day that you appear to me, you shall die,” and in Moses’ response, “I will no longer appear to you to your face.” One midrashic tradition (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 2:6) holds that Pharaoh personally led his army and perished in the sea.


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