We all know how León Uris used Exodus for the title of a historical novel. We know how “Exodus International” conceives of the homosexual lifestyle. We know how the heavy metal rock band “Exodus” wants fans. We know that Uris more than the others is bringing us, us readers, back to something else historical and literary.
Specifically, Uris uses the English word exodus in reference to another title. That title is a Hebraic Greek one: ᾠδὴ Μωυσέως ἐν τῇ ἐξόδῳ. Transliterally, we get that in English as “The Ode of Moses in the Exodus.” However this title has been appropriated by any particular Christian group, it was a title first written in Alexandria, Egypt, where (over a period of a century perhaps) the Hebrew scriptures were translated by Hellenistic Jews there into Greek. “Exodus” since that time has referred mostly to the second book of the Pentateuch, or in Hebrew more to Shemot of the Torah. Once these phrases are written, are translated, are transcribed and transliterated, then they gain the ability to serve as placeholders, as specific signs, pointers, referent markers.
I’m bringing this up to move forward from the two previous posts. In the first, we looked together at very contemporary (if some old but current) uses of the English word exodus. In the second post, we looked at what I said were the only three uses of the Greek word ἔξ·οδος in the “New Testament.” Now, I’m moving toward the Septuagint, which I referred to some in the previous paragraph above. And eventually, I want to get to what Aristotle and others before him did with the Greek word, before the LXX translators made it so Hebrew-Hebraic. I just want to backtrack a bit, nonetheless.
Luke is the only gospel writer to use the word ἔξ·οδος, and I remarked that this is only one use of three total in the whole NT. It’s special, then, right? Of course it is. Luke’s purportedly working his gospel out of various other gospels written. He alone inserts this word at a very key moment in his narrative. (And, on the one hand, this allows the writer of 2 Peter to mimic Luke with a similar sort of use of the Greek word. It allows Greek readers of the “book of Hebrews” in the NT to draw literary comparisons between the ἔξ·οδος of the people of Israel having made their way out of Egypt and the “way out” for Jesus, talking transfigured with Moses and with Elijah, and the “way out” for “Peter” who’s leaving readers behind some day, with strong reminders of key doctrines and practices. Luke, on the other hand, merely sets this up. He may not have intended such connections at all to later be made.) What has Luke done with ἔξ·οδος (that might be more to his purposes, to his literary purposes that is)?
What I want to focus on here is how Luke does not elaborate when he tells his Greek readers that Jesus and Moses and Elijah were talking about “τὴν ἔξ·οδον αὐτοῦ.” That is, even though the word is clearly special (because Luke knows the LXX history of the term, the Hebraic Hellene use of it), in this context, Luke leaves it to readers to make the connection. More than that, he does not make clear to his readers that he intends them to connect the word to the death of Jesus (although, as we’ll see when talking about how Greeks used the word, and how the LXX used the word too, it does often mean “death”). Luke does not do what the NLT translators have done (which is what Robert Alter calls the “heresy of explanation”); the NLT translators render the Greek into English for readers so that it’s a technical reference to “exodus” but a clearly unambiguous and closed meaning of “death” only: “And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.” (I’ve highlighted the explanation added into the translation.) So, to repeat, Luke is at once using a very special pointer word while also leaving its meanings open to his readers’ interpretation. This is wordplay. It’s playfulness; it performs like actors in a play; and it leaves much interpretive play (or hermeneutical wiggleroom, if you will).
What we need to do now is to let me backtrack on an earlier claim that this use of the Greek word by Luke is one of only three such uses in the NT. Luke has used the Greek phrase earlier when he translates the speech of Jesus. Jesus, in his context, is speaking a fable or a parable, given right after a sermon. Presumably, Jesus is speaking; that is, what Jesus “says” is not written down (until Luke writes it). Presumably, Jesus is talking in Hebrew Aramaic, given his audience. Presumably, then, Luke is translating what Jesus says aloud in speech, a sort of rhetorical teaching moment with the end interpretation dependent in large part on how the audience catches and attaches meaning to it.
As you read this other use of what we might call “exodus,” by Luke, please know I’m not making claims that Luke is doing anything particularly special with this. Rather, I’m only wanting to reinforce the idea that when he did do something special with “τὴν ἔξ·οδον αὐτοῦ” then readers are not forced to take “exodus” in the special instance in any particular or very technical way. So here it is:
χρῆσόν μοι τρεῖς ἄρτους
ἐπειδὴ φίλος [μου] παρεγένετο
καὶ οὐκ ἔχω ὃ παραθήσω αὐτῷ·
You recognize this as Luke 11:5b-6. And it’s actually Luke’s writing what Jesus is saying that someone in a parable that Jesus is telling is saying. In other words, there’s a person talking with a friend (“it’s a friend of yours, and you yourself are doing the talking” Jesus is saying to his listeners; and Luke is telling his readers as if they, we now, were overhearing all of this). Here’s how that’s was translated into KJV English:
lend me three loaves;
For a friend of mine
in his journey
is come to me,
and I have nothing to set before him”
We see nothing really special about “in his journey.” And Luke’s readers practically journey right past his “ἐξ ὁδοῦ.” But does that mean there’s no allusion to, no possible play on, ᾠδὴ Μωυσέως ἐν τῇ ἐξ όδῳ?
If we consider what Luke does with Part II of his gospel, then we might think again. Part II, of course, is the book of Acts or the Acts of the Apostles. There, Luke alone of all the gospel writers, of all the NT writers, gives this Jesus Journey a name. It’s τῆς ὁδοῦ, or as most English translation teams have rendered it, “The Way.” (See Acts 9:2; 18:25; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; and 24:22). What if Luke’s Greek readers read Part II of his gospel before they read part I? What if they saw him making a big technical deal out of naming the “Journey” or the “Way” so specifically? What if that sounded like something big, like ᾠδὴ Μωυσέως ἐν τῇ ἐξ όδῳ? What if then they read Part I and overheard Jesus having his listeners imagine themselves, in need, out of an exodus, appealing to a friend? What if they overheard Peter overhearing Jesus and Moses and Elijah then talking (in imagined Hebrew Aramaic, or was it Hebrew?) about “his exodus, his way out, his way through”?
As we work our way through our contemporary uses of exodus, the Heavily Semiticized (NT) Greek uses of a phrase, back towards earlier Hebraic appropriations and ancient Greek meanings of the word, I want to emphasize the literary skill of Luke. He’s no León Uris. But he does let readers read.