The Elohist Source - Moses Cycle: A Mirror-Reading with the Mira Scriptura Methodology

The Moses Cycle is primarily concerned with defending Moses’ descendants as high priests.  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Moses Cycle. However, I’ve changed my views slightly since that episode.  If you’re not familiar with the Elohist Source and it’s cycles, be sure to check out all of the podcast episodes in that series.


Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Elohist was addressing and is opposed to the Elohist narrative itself.

Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1 Opposing Narrative

1. Moses’ descendants should not be high priests
2. because [Moses did not bring] the [Israelites] out of Egypt
3. because [Elohim did not send Moses]
4. because Aaron brought the Israelites out of Egypt
5. because Moses was not an Israelite
6. because [Moses’] kindred [was not] in Egypt
7. because [Moses'] father-in-law [was not] Jethro
8. because Jethro was Moses’ father
9. because Moses was not a priest of Elohim
10. because [the mountain Moses went to was not] the mountain of Elohim
11. because Jethro [was] the priest of Midian
12. because [Elohim] was not the God of [Moses'] father
13. because Moses did not carry the staff of Elohim
14. because [Moses’ God’s] people were not the Israelites
15. because Moses and the elders served two different gods
16. because the descendants of Aaron should be high priests
17. because [The golden calves] are [Israel's] gods
18. because [The golden calves] brought [Israel] up out of Egypt
19. because the serpent of bronze priesthood should be high priests
20. because the serpent of bronze saved the Israelites
21. because Moses [did not sit] as judge for the people
22. because [the Elders of Israel sat] as judges
23. because whoever has a dispute may go to [Aaron and Hur]

Aspect #1 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. The Elohist is fighting a battle of priesthood supremacy and promotes the Mosaic priesthood over all others, including the Aaronic priesthood.  The Yahwist will come later and manipulate the narrative to support a Levitical priesthood, and, ironically, the Priestly Source will come even later to promote the Aaronic priesthood over all others.

2. The Elohist takes 5 instances to state that Moses was the one who brought them out of Egypt.

3. The Elohist takes 5 instances to state that Elohim was the one who sent Moses.

4. Anywhere that Aaron may have been in an Aaronic Exodus narrative, the Elohist adds Moses and supplants Aaron. Was Aaron at the mountain of Elohim?  Moses was there first and Aaron meets him there. Did Aaron assemble the elders? Yes, but with Moses.  Did Aaron speak with the King of Egypt?  Yes, but with Moses. Did Aaron hold up the Staff of Elohim to win the battle?  Only because he was helping Moses hold it up.

5. If Moses was not an Israelite, then he would have less credibility to lay claim to a high priesthood.

6. Moses asks Jethro if he can go see his kindred in Egypt.

7. With 13 instances in the Moses Cycle, the Elohist makes an effort to promote the idea that Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law.

8. With blood ties to Jethro, the descendants of Moses are connected to a Midian past. But the family connections are too well known among Israel to deny the connection, so the Elohist switches the family connection from father to father-in-law.

9. Moses spoke to Elohim and Elohim would answer him.  The Elohist makes it clear throughout the narrative that Moses is a follower of Elohim.  So which god did Moses serve according to the opposing narrative?  We may have a clue in the name that Elohim gives Moses, which was “I am”. The Elohist combines the identities of the god “I am” with Elohim so that Moses serves the Israelite God.

10. Why is a mountain in the south by Midian, the place for a northern Israelite God?  The Elohist doesn’t give us an answer but is sure to let us know that the mountain is indeed the mountain of Elohim.  With the most instances (14) in the Elohist source, this is an important point for the Elohist.

11. Jethro is directly referred to as a priest of Midian.

12. Elohim declares that He is the God of Moses’ father, inferring that Jethro was not Moses’ father.

13. There are 5 instances where the Elohist let’s the reader know that Moses is the one who has the staff and that it is the staff of Elohim as opposed to some other god’s.

14. Elohim told Moses that the Israelites were His people, and Jethro heard all that Elohim had done for Moses and for His people Israel.

15. The Elohist shows how Moses served the same God as the elders by putting them together and saying “our God”, “has met with us” and “has revealed himself to us”

16. The Aaronic priesthood seems to be the main competitor with the Mosaic priesthood.  The Elohist takes steps to show that Moses was just as good and even better than Aaron.  The only other priest mentioned is Hur, but he doesn’t seem to be that much of a concern for the Elohist.

17.  The Elohist provides an alternative explanation for the golden calves and their role in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt: they were created by Aaron while Moses was gone.  The Elohist also covers his tracks for the narrative since the original reader would have expected some evidence of the golden calves from that time (the serpent of bronze was apparently still around). This problem is avoided by having Moses melt them down, put them in water and having the Israelites drink it.

18. See #17.

19. In addition to undercutting the golden calves, the Elohist hits the bronze serpent priesthood will a similar narrative that takes them out of the running for the high priesthood.  Yes, the bronze serpent saved the Israelites from snake bites, but only because Elohim told Moses to create the bronze serpent. We might speculate that Hur was the high priest of this cult, but the Elohist never makes that connection.

20. See #19

21. The function of high judge seems to be tied into the priesthood here (we see that Eli and Samuel were also both priest and judge), and the Elohist pushes for a Mosaic judgeship as well. The Elohist makes it clear that Moses was high judge of the Israelites.

Moses was also given Elohim's law on the two tablets.  Where were these tablets so that Israel could know that Moses' descendants should be high priests?  Moses destroyed them in his anger at the golden calf incident.  Two of the laws that were given to Moses were a slam against the priestly competition:  No gods before Elohim and no idols.  Those was directed at the golden calves and the bronze serpent.

22. Historically, the elders of Israelites were likely the high judges of their respective tribes, so the Elohist creates a narrative to explain this history and why Moses superseded all of them.

23. Aaron and Hur may have had a historical record of being high judges of Israel, so the Elohist creates a narrative to explain that history as well.

Aspect #2 Opposing Narrative            

1. There was conflict between Jethro’s descendants and Aaron’s plus Moses’ descendants

Aspect #2 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. The Elohist makes room for Aaron and Hur to be supporting priesthoods in Israel.  Jethro (and his descendants) are cut out completely of any kind of Israelite priesthood.  However, the Elohist wants to maintain good relationships between all parties, and does this by using the relationship of Jethro with Aaron and Moses as a parallel. Jethro is shown in a good light by letting Moses go in in peace, by greeting each other in a friendly manner, by Jethro dispensing good advice, by having Jethro offer a sacrifice to Elohim, and having Aaron and the elders eat bread with Jethro in the presence of Elohim.

Aspect #3 Opposing Narrative

1. Joshua had higher status than Moses

Aspect #3 Elohist Response With Commentary

1.  Although it’s not clear why the Elohist feels the need to elevate Moses over Joshua, we could speculate that the descendants of Joshua were after the high judge aspect of the priesthood that the descendants of Moses were after.  We see in Judges that military heroes were often judges.  

The Elohist tells how Joshua did what Moses told him, that Joshua’s victory over Amalek was dependent on Moses raising his staff, and Joshua is described as being Moses’ assistant.

Aspect #4 Opposing Narrative

1. Shiphrah and Puah killed Hebrew baby boys
2. because [Pharaoh ordered Egyptian midwives to kill Hebrew baby boys]

Aspect #4 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. Why Shiphrah and Puah are singled out in the Elohist narrative is unclear.  Since the Elohist is concerned about Moses’ lineage, we might speculate that they were listed somewhere in the genealogy of Moses’ descendants.

2. The Elohist provides an explanation as to how the midwives could be ordered to kill the babies and yet still be innocent: they lied to pharaoh.  The reason they lied was because they feared Elohim, and He gives them families for fearing Him.  Elohim giving them families is essentially an endorsement of their descendants by Elohim and a signal for other Israelites to accept them.

Aspect #5 Opposing Narrative     

1. Some towns, villages and lands were Amorite and not Israelite

Aspect #5 Elohist Response With Commentary

1. If there were still Amorites in the land of Israel, then those Amorites could break away from the kingdom of Israel. The Elohist prevents this by saying that all the inhabitants of that area were of Israelite descent because all of the Amorites were killed.

Aspect #6 Opposing Narrative

1. The inhabitants of Bashaan were descendants of King Og and his people

Aspect #6 Elohist Response With Commentary    

1. Similar to Aspect #5, the Elohist eliminates the idea that some inhabitants of Bashaan were not Israelite by saying that all of the original inhabitants were killed.  Any threat from the kingly line of Og is also eliminated because he was killed along with his people.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.