As god deems it prudent to avoid the land of the Philistines (I'm not quite sure why that would constitute a problem, as all other surrounding countries were also full of unbelievers - make that "believers in competing gods"), they decide to take the hard road (very spiritual, that) through "the wilderness of the Red sea", clearly the obvious choice for 600.000 men, women & children without any supplies. One small consolation: god himself will lead the procession, during the day as "a pillar of cloud", during the night as "a pillar of fire".
God, still not done with Pharaoh, tells Moses he will again "harden his heart", so that Pharaoh will come after the Israelites (sensible, as they basically destroyed the whole country and stole all the valuables). When the Israelites perceive the approaching army they are afraid, but Moses reassures them: god will fight for them (not much of a battle then, is it). Moses "lifts up his rod" (hur hur) & divides the waters of the Red sea. Using his amazing superpowers to generate darkness, god gives the Israelites ample opportunity to cross the sea bed between walls of water (Cecil B must have been really proud of that scene); when the Egyptians follow, Moses gets instructions to close the waters (presumably by lowering his rod. Couldn't resist, sorry) "with a blast of thine nostrils" (big bad wolf, anyone?). All Egyptians drown miserably (fair fight or what). The men sing & the women dance: wow lord, thou sure art mighty. Just wait till other people hear what our god can do!
At this place, I'd like to stop the narrative for a moment to ruminate on the concept of "my people". If this means "descendants of Adam" it would necessarily include everyone; so where do all the other people come from, those who can be tortured, enslaved and killed for worshiping the wrong gods? (and what about these other gods' origins?) An example: in those early days, just after Cain slew his brother Abel, we are tersely informed Cain "knew his wife, and she conceived". Where the fuck did she come from? (At least that would explain all those other humans: a murderer's progeny. No wonder they all turned out rotten.) Anyway, one wonders why god, so enamoured of smiting and slaying, allowed fratricidal Cain to live on & prosper - if braining your brother with a rock doesn't count as a heinous crime I don't know what does. Hence, it might be safe to assume JHWH to be a homeless & minor god, possibly banned from Mt Olympus for bad behavior (temper temper…), who selected a random group of dolts and commanded them to be his people. When he had his fair share of believers (every religion starts as a voice in one man's head, rising from an obscure sect to a cult before reaching bloated adulthood in the shape of a state-sanctioned tax-exempted institution), his very own Minitrue so to speak, they rewrote history for him, "proving" everything his creation. Gods need believers or they die (compare Terry Pratchett's magisterial "Small gods").
Back to the Red sea & beyond: at every hardship (and there are plenty), the people "murmur against Moses and Aaron" for taking them away from their sheltered lives for a mad trek through hellish deserts. Indeed, one wonders why. After some praying, the lord gracefully provides a daily quotum of "a small round thing", manna (white "wafers made with honey", with a hint of coriander). There is enough for everybody (again, throwing a shadow all the way to the new testament, where the menu consists of bread and fish, although that's nothing compared to one biscuit feeding half a million people). On day 6, a double portion is handed out, as even the divine bakeries are closed on a sabbath. We are casually informed, by the way, that the Israelites ate manna in the desert for 40 YEARS before arriving in Canaan… that's one HELL of a detour, possibly via Antarctica. On their journey, they pass through a desert called Sin (easy to see where Bunyan got his mirthless inspiration from). Unsurprisingly, water for 600.000 proves hard to find. Subversion increases, so after palaver with the boss, Moses shows a new trick with his magic rod, smiting a rock to bring forth water (you know the joke about the man who could crack walnuts with his penis? As he grew older & his eyesight failed him, he switched to coconuts). And when at some point a fight breaks out between Amalek and Joshua (whatever), Moses holds up his staff; as long as he holds it, Joshua is winning. But Moses gets tired, so he sits down on a rock while Aaron and Hur (more whatever) hold up his arms. Joshua eventually wins, and god swears permanent war with Amalek's people "from generation to generation". Don't even try to understand.
When hearing of the return of Moses (after 40 years that must have been then), Jethro, his father-in-law, comes to greet him, bringing along Moses' wife and two sons (I thought they were with him all the time? Furthermore, we were only informed about son #1, Gershom; where did #2 come from? It would be fitting for Moses, himself a cuckoo's egg, to find his family increased in similar manner). Jethro, observing Moses passing divine law for the whole tribe, suggests a legal system, its concept almost foreshadowing Roman army structure. This makes sense & is duly done.
The story now switches back to the beginning of the exodus. When the party reaches Sinai after 3 months, god announces a public appearance; everybody is to wash & wear their best clothes. But they only see what looks like Mount Sinai erupting. Alone on the mountain, Moses hears the 10 commandments for the first time, followed by a long cascade of further commandments comprising all important do's & don'ts regarding slaves, women, animals & violence (the punishment for most misdemeanors being a terse "… will surely be put to death". Carroll's Red Queen would have understood). From here comes the famous "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Jesus will have a lot of explaining to do later). Some interesting rules:
- if an animal kills a person, and it was known to be a vicious animal, the owner is responsible & must be killed; the animal gets stoned
- if you dig a trap and catch an animal, you can keep it but must pay the owner
- rape should be followed by marriage (a practice still alive today, incredibly); if the father of the girl doesn't give her to the rapist, he has to buy her "according to the dowry of virgins"
- 22:18 "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", arguably the worst advice ever to come from god. We really should put a sticker on the front of this book: DO NOT TAKE LITERAL YOU DAFT BASTARDS
- zoophilia also merits death (I feel almost sorry for all those lonely shepherds)
- several times, other gods are viciously denied
- 22:29 "the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt give to me" - not sure what he wants to do with those
- the same for firstborn animals: after 7 days with their mom, they're mine… whoohaha (maniacal laughter)
Moses returns to his people, dutifully relates all he heard, and the party moves on, led by an angel showing the way, with god's promise of "I will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come" providing that warm glow of love and security we know so well from christendom. He is then called back up on the mountain for 40 days to receive "tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written". Intriguingly, god now suddenly demands additional "offerings" - not just burnt animals but valuables. He proceeds to describe at great length, and in painstaking detail, what the sanctuary containing his "tables" should look like (dimensions, materials, colours - it sounds expensive, there's a lot of gold involved for the ornamentation). In the sanctuary, Aaron is to be main priest. His priestly uniform and inauguration ceremony are described, again at some length. After describing an incense altar, god demands cash for "atonement money" (at this point we can no longer ignore the alarm bells ringing in our heads. As Moses is the only one allowed/able to communicate with his god, this puts him in a very privileged but unverifiable position: he can claim and demand anything or appoint family members to high office - sounds familiar, right?, making him the first in a long line of religious confidence tricksters (aka "prophets") culminating (so far) in L. Ron Hubbard and his space operas). Once more stressing the importance of the sabbath day, god signs off by handing over the stone tables "written with the finger of god".
Meanwhile, in base camp, the Israelites start to worry Moses won't return (as he's their only link to god, they have every right to be worried), so they ask Aaron to make them other gods to pray to. Aaron complies, gathers golden earrings, melts them down, fashions a calf, puts it on a pedestal & has the people worship it. God hears of it (how?), gets angry/jealous and wants to kill 'em all, but Moses calms him down until "the lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people". Like a child throwing a tantrum, incredible. Moses then descends the mountain, but viewing the saturnalia around the golden calf he is so angry & dismayed he drops the stone tables. What a dolt. He burns the golden calf & chides his brother. All the "sons of Levi" (his direct kin, that is…) unsurprisingly declare themselves "on the lord's side" and kill some 3000 men (this is turning ugly & totalitarian real fast). Moses then returns up the mountain, where god, still miffed at the Israelites, threatens to abandon them for being "stiffnecked". Weirdly, he "spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" - but some lines later he tells Moses no one can see him & survive (Medusa?), so he will only partly lift the clouds covering him & show Moses his "back parts" (LOL). Is it possible to look god in the face, yes or no? Our author seems undecided.
Moses is instructed to bring his own tables this time so god can rewrite his commands (entirely in the spirit of Joseph Smith, the second set of commandments is formulated slightly different). As (in 34:28) there is only mention of "the" 10 commandments, I wonder what became of all the others. My guess: in 40 days Moses had only time for 10. Rock carving's hard work.
Moses repeats the instructions regarding architecture, sacrifices & offerings; the people believe & gladly hand him their valuables (a timeless story indeed). Following divine instruction, craftsmen now build the tabernacle, ark (of the covenant - to put the stone tables in) and altar, and fashion the priestly clothes. All is set up as god (or Moses?) wants it.