Jewish Studies Exodus as a Theme
Stephen C. Russell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0142


According to the Hebrew Bible’s exodus tradition, the Israelites went free from Egyptian slavery, witnessed the destruction of the Egyptians in a final confrontation at the Reed Sea, and journeyed from Egypt to the land promised to their ancestors. The story is told most expansively in the book of Exodus, which also commands the Israelites to tell the story to one another (Exodus 13:8). Outside of the narrative itself, the Hebrew Bible refers to the exodus well over a hundred times, most often using short formulae (e.g., 1 Kings 12:28). The exodus is one of the Bible’s best-known and most-loved stories. In this brief bibliographic survey, I will point to some of the more important and accessible resources for understanding how the themes of the exodus tradition relate to Levantine history, how they drew on ancient Near Eastern literary motifs and forms, how they developed in the Iron Age in ancient Israel and Judah, how they were expressed in the book of Exodus, in what contexts they were invoked in other biblical literature, and how they were received in post-biblical literature.

General Works

To get some sense of the beauty and complexity of this ancient story, the reader who does not know Hebrew should read the book of Exodus in a crisp, compelling translation, such as Alter 2004. Helpful starting points for exploring the book’s themes include Sarna 1986 (cited under Ancient Near Eastern Literary Context); Sarna 1991; Propp 1999; Propp 2006; and Dozeman, et al. 2014. A recent comprehensive treatment of the exodus from a variety of perspectives is Levy, et al. 2015.

  • Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.

    Translation of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Alter’s sensitive and rigorous word choices give the some sense of the rhythms and valences of the original text. His masterful commentary illuminates literary features of the text.

  • Dozeman, Thomas B., Craig A. Evans, and Joel N. Lohr, eds. The Book of Exodus: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 164. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014.

    This collection of essays by leading scholars offers a broad introduction to the many interpretative challenges facing the reader of Exodus.

  • Levy, Thomas E., Thomas Schneider, and William H. C. Propp, eds. Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2015.

    This comprehensive collection of essays treats the biblical exodus tradition from a variety of literary, archaeological, cultural, and scientific perspectives.

  • Propp, William H. C. Exodus 1–18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 2. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

    Translation of and commentary on Exodus 1–18.

  • Propp, William H. C. Exodus 19–40: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 2A. New York: Doubleday, 2006.

    Translation of and commentary on Exodus 19–40.

  • Sarna, Nahum M. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991.

    Translation of and commentary on Exodus.

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