The Difficulty of Ex 24: Childs’ Proposal

Ex 24 is anything but easy with regard to clear connection in and style of the text.  Even a quick read makes a person scratch his/her head, wondering why it is a bit choppy.  One example: not only is this section of Exodus out of chronological order, even this chapter is “dischronologized.”  It seems as if vv 3-8 interrupt the flow of vv 1-2 and 9ff.  Of course, the author(s) no doubt had a reason for this order, but that’s tough to discern.  Here’s how Childs handles the tension.

He speaks about two ways this tension has been approached.  One (the LXX and the Targums) “attempted to fill in the missing gaps in the ongoing narrative and to harmonize the difficulties.”  The weakness of this approach “lies in its failure to deal seriously enough with the given text, substituting one’s own opinion of what the text should have said.”

The second approach, found in the “recent critical commentaries,” abandoning all effort to obtain a coherent account.”  Thy point out all the discrepancies in the text and focus solely on historical reconstructions of the text.  The weakness of this approach “lies in its complete atomizing of the narrative in disregard of the final stage of the text, and its failure to realize that the whole is more than its parts.”

“What is needed (Childs’ approach) is a synthetic approach which, while recognizing the historical dimension of the text, will seek to describe as objectively as possible what the final editor actually accomplished with his narrative.  In this way the expositor does not himself go beyond the witness of the text (something which both above approaches do).  He is also able to offer some value judgments on how successfully the last literary stamping has dealt with the older material of the tradition which was reworked into a new form.”

I agree with Childs here; neither the first nor the second approach is laudable.  Possibly people in the “conservative” camp would fall into the first group, the “liberals” would fall into the latter (to generalize terribly!).  There’s a better way, however, as Childs notes.

I do have a question with Childs’ final sentence there.  I could be reading it incorrectly, but it seems to me as if Childs stumbles a bit.  Notice how he said the reader offers “value judgments” on how the final editor  reworked the old material into a new form.  I believe that we should say that the editor was successful in reworking the older material into new form, because he did it! The judgment should be on us: how successful we are in seeing how he reworked the older material into new form.

Again, just some thoughts.  I could be wrong.  If “value judgments” means “humble guesses,” then I don’t have a problem with it.  Also, I’m not sure how we can know the “older material of the tradition.”  Let me know if you have some ideas!  I could use them!

Quotes from page 503 of Childs’ commentary on Exodus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1974).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

2 thoughts on “The Difficulty of Ex 24: Childs’ Proposal”

  1. I read the relevant sections of the commentary, and a few things come to mind as a way forward in this (a few ideas coupled with a few observations):

    1) It must be established that indeed the text has “compositional problems”, 499. He cites Perlitt as his source. But what he goes on to point out is literary problems, not textual problems.

    2) The relevant sections of the BHS critical apparatus must be consulted. A quick look and I see that mostly there are differences with the LXX. Which means we have to define the LXX! The LXX is not a single idea, it has its own tradition and transmission history.

    3) What we are really talking about is the LXX, the Targum and B19a. Perhaps a newer commentary will deal with 4QPaeloExod(m) — though a quick check of that shows me that Ex 24 is damaged.

    4) Archaeologically, Exodus 24 finds parallel in Israel at Gezer. The standing stones of Gezer demonstrate remarkable similarity to this text. Historically, what we read in Exodus 24 matches the ANE pattern. That is, it is not an invented story. I would be glad to post some photos of what I am talking about on my blog if you are interested in more on this. Some of this information comes from when I worked on staff with Gezer and was on the site. I am sure, however, that someone somewhere must have documented this connection in a commentary.

    My main point is that I am not ready to concede difficulties in Exodus 24 until I see more evidence than what Childs provides on pages 500-503. It is a short enough chapter in the Hebrew that a person could work through it, and then all of 19-24, in a reasonable amount of time. That would give one a feel of the vocabulary and style (sentence structure, transition phrases, etc.).

    Steve Rives
    Eastside Church of the Cross


    1. Steve:
      Thanks. The compositional problems are difficult to discuss. I guess it does, as you mentioned, matter how we define terms here. Since the LXX does indeed “go its own way” in translating some sections of Ex 24, and since the super-critical commentators make hay out of it, that does suggest there is something there that is out of the “ordinary” as far as the text goes. I have been working through the Hebrew for the first 23 chapters, and ch 24 does have its own differences, beginning with the opening phrase in v1.

      Mind you, I’m not questioning the historical event of which the text speaks – not at all! Basically, the text is tough, and Childs says neither the LXX nor the higher critical “way” is the right one. I was just wondering out loud if his way was a good alternative.

      If you do have a blurb on this on your blog somewhere, please feel free to point it out.

      thanks again,


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