Rewriting the Exodus
Inaugural Professorial Lecture
Newman University, Birmingham, UK
23 May 2016
It was wonderful to celebrate with Sue her appointment as Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism here at Newman, and to recognise the quality of her scholarship and field of research. The theme of Sue’s inaugural professorial lecture was an often overlooked and little known 2nd century BCE text attributed to Ezekiel the Tragedian: The Exagoge. Written in iambic trimeter, it is a retelling in dramatic form of the biblical story of the exodus from Egypt. Sue’s presentation demonstrated how this text is a highly instructive example of the ways in which a text can be appropriated and adapted for different audiences and/or contexts. The lessons we can learn from the Exagoge can shed light on the reception and re-use of Hebrew and Christian biblical traditions throughout history.
Sue’s wide and detailed knowledge of Judaism within the Second Temple Period and its writings (particularly the Jewish Pseudepigrapha and its links with the Jewish diaspora) helped to locate the Exagoge and provide some clues concerning its use, as well as shedding light on its form and textual characteristics.
The Exagoge is a fascinating text that exemplifies the creative approach of (at least some within the) Jewish communities at that time to their scriptures; demonstrating points of commonality and divergence. It highlights the ways in which biblical traditions were approached with a blend of authority and also creative freedom. Perceived problems within the biblical account are addressed within the play. For example, it is generally accepted that the author lived as a diaspora Jew in Egypt, possibly in Alexandria. Accordingly, the rather problematic depiction of the Egyptians in the biblical account for a Jewish audience who had become well integrated into Egyptian society was adapted. Therefore, the account of the Israelites plundering the Egyptians as they left the land (Ex 12:35-36) is altered so that the Egyptian’s themselves gave gifts of jewels and clothes to the Israelite women as recompense for the hard work they had had to endure (lecture 28.15). In the Exagoge, it is the Pharaoh only who is depicted as the villain of the piece – possibly reflecting the less than appreciative attitudes held by the Egyptian populace to certain Ptolemaic rulers of the time!
Other ‘problems’ include the reluctant figure of Moses as depicted in the biblical narrative, who is transformed into a more decisive and heroic figure. Also addressed is the biblical condemnation of Moses’ foreign wife that would not necessarily sit easily with a highly multicultural audience.
Sue concludes with some pertinent observations concerning what the Exagoge (and texts like it) can tell us about the place and role of the Hebrew scriptures within Judaism at this time, Judaism within its diasporic setting and its influence, and the lessons that we might take from it today.
I am delighted that Sue has generously allowed us to provide a link to the Panopto recording of her complete lecture so that those who could not make it to the actual day don’t miss out.
You can view it either by clicking on the screenshot image above or clicking the tab below. Sue’s lecture starts at approximately the 8 minute mark