Restoration Quarterly 28.3 (1985/86) 135-43.
Copyright © 1985 by Restoration Quarterly, cited with permission.
Exodus 6:3 in Pentateuchal Criticism
SHAWN D. GLISSON
The verse with which this paper deals has no difficult words and
presents no significant problems in translation. Nevertheless, Exodus 6:3
has become a very controversial passage in Pentateuchal criticism.1 Because
of the supposed historical incongruity of this verse with much of the book
of Genesis (e.g., Gen. 4:26, "To Seth also a son was born, and he called
his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of the
Lord .”2),3 many Old Testament scholars found what they thought was the
1 E.g., Otto Essfeldt, "El and Yahweh," Journal of Semitic Studies 1 (1959):25-
37, by assuming a modified form of Wellhausen's documentary hypothesis,
theorizes that Exodus 6:2-3 indicates how Yahweh was at one time separate from
El, but supplanted his supremacy by assuming his name and later becoming the
one God of Israel. But G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament Against Its Environment
(Chicago: H. Regnery Company, 1951), p. 13, rejects this idea. Furthermore,
several scholars now reject the entire documentary theory because they are con-
vinced that no distinction can be made on the basis of divine names and titles.
E.g., Moses Hirsch Segal, "El, Elohim, and YHWH in the Bible," Jewish Quarterly
Review 46 (1955):89-115.
2 All Bible quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
3 John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The Interna-
tional Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1910),
pp. 126-127, asserts that Enosh "was the founder of the worship of Yahwe." He
does this by noting that the expression qr'bsm literally means to invoke the divine
name. But John T. Willis, Genesis, The Living Word Commentary (
Sweet Publishing Company, 1979), pp. 157-158, suggests the possibility that this
expression simply means "to praise or give thanks to the Lord" (see Isa. 12:4; 1
Chron. 16:18; Pss. 105:1; 116:17). From this he concludes that "the emphasis
would not be on the divine name ‘Yahweh,’ but on ‘the calling the name of
Yahweh,’ and ‘Yahweh’ would be used because this was the name familiar to the
author of Genesis. .. " Another possible explanation is offered by Samuel Sandmel,
other possible textual understandings of the verse aside from the accepted text:
(1) Rabbinic exegesis viewed the verb huchal as meaning "profaned" (i.e., "Then
men profaned the name of God in their prayers."); (2) the LXX renders the same
verb "hoped" (i.e., "He hoped to call
on the name of the Lord God."); (3)
as preserved by Origen, renders the verse "Then there began the being named in
the name of God" (i.e., the use of theophoric names). Sandmel rejects these
possibilities and holds to the MT. He concludes, "Of course, the verse [Gen. 4:26]
clashes [with Exod. 6:3, etc.]. But why emend the text?"
136 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
first clue to various documents existing in the Pentateuch.4 Thus, Exodus
6:3 was ascribed to the Priestly source (P), while portions of Genesis
containing YHWH (except for 17:1 and 21:1b) were ascribed to the
Yahwistic writer (J).5
This alleged historical incongruity between the J and P sources was
compounded when Exodus 3:13-15 was brought into the picture:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
and they ask me, What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say
this to the people of
also said to Moses, ”Say
this to the people of
the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of
Issac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my
name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout
all generations.... “
this passage Moses is at
he is in
been for the supposition that both of these accounts are referring to the
same calling of Moses by Yahweh. It is also said that both are recounting
the first time the tetragrammaton was made known to Moses.6
4 E.g., Arthur Gabriel Hebert, The Authority of the Old Testament (
of the various documents was first given in Exodus 6:3 where it is said that God
was known to the Patriarchs as El Shaddai and not by his name Yahweh." Cf. also
Henry Rowley, The Biblical Doctrine of Election (
(New York, NY: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914), pp. 12-13, 171ff.; Allen Hugh
McNeile, The Book of Exodus,
Methuen & Company, 1908), pp. 34-35.
5 In the English-speaking world, Samuel Rolles Driver, An Introduction to the
Literature of the Old Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1891), was the first
to use the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis to divide the Pentateuch into
the JEDP sources. For a more recent study of the J source, see Peter F. Ellis, The
Yahwist: The Bible's First Theologian (Notre Dame, IN: Fides Publishers, 1968).
6 E.g., Martin Noth, Exodus: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library
(Philadephia: Westminster Press, 1962), pp. 33, 58; G. H. Parke-Taylor, Yahweh:
The Divine Name in the
1975), pp. 18-19; and especially Immanuel Lewy, "The Beginnings of the Worship
of Yahweh: Conflicting Biblical Views," Vetus Testamentum 6 (1956):429-435.
GLISSON/EXODUS 6:3 137
Even though several scholars still look to the Kenites for the begin-
nings of Yahweh-worship in
most would agree that the P source has the most accurate account of the
three supposed biblical references.9 It is thought that the J source was
attempting to make Yahweh worship seem to exist from the beginning of
time. It is also explained that the E source in Exodus 3 was attempting
to show the significance of
when he encountered YHWH. This would explain why E has both the
calling and the revelation accounts at Horeb instead of
7 Julian Morgenstern, "The
Oldest Document of the Hexateuch," Hebrew
College Annual 4 (1927):1-138, maintains that sections of Exod. 33-34; 4:24-26;
and Num. 10:29-33a are part of an original document which he terms the Kenite
Document (K). Harold Henry Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua: Biblical Traditions
in the Light of Archaeology (London, England: Oxford University Press, 1948),
pp. 143-161, has one of the best defenses of this theory. Martin Noth, Genesis: A
Commentary, The Old Testament Library (London: S. C. M. Press, 1961), p. 104,
also supports this theory. But the Kenite hypothesis is by no means as certain.
This has been pointed out by several scholars. E.g., William J. Phythian-Adams,
The Call of
Roland de Vaux, "Sur l'Origine Kenite ou Madianite du Yahvisme," in William
F. Albright Festschrift: Eretz-Israel, ed. A. Malamat 9 (1969):32, makes this obser-
vation: "Nous ne savons pas quelle divinite les Madianites adoraient, nous ne
savons rien de leur culte ni de leur sacerdoce." H. Brekelmans, ‘Exodus XVIII
and the Origins of Yahwism
224, makes a strong case against the Kenite hypothesis by noting that Jethro's
relationship with Moses was political and not religious.
8 The exact etymological origin of the tetragrammaton has never been conclu-
sively determined. For some possibilities, see William F. Albright, "Contributions
to Biblical Archaeology and Philology: The Name Yahweh," Journal of Biblical
Literature 43 (1924):370ff.; and Roland de Vaux, "The Revelation of the Divine
Name YHWH," in Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in Honour of
Goynne Henton Davies, eds. J. J. Durham and
J. R. Porter (
Press, 1970), pp. 48-75.
9 E.g., James Plastaras, The God of the Exodus: The Theology of the Exodus Nar-
ratives (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1966), pp. 90-91. For an
overall description of P, see Curt Kuhl, The Old Testament: Its Origins and Com-
position, trans. C. T. M. Herriott (
pp. 55-64. But see also Casper J. Labuschagne, "The Pattern of the Divine Speech
Formulas in the Pentateuch," Vetus Testamentum 32 (1982):286-296, who denies
the existence of a P source.
10 For a good summary of this view, see Bernhard W. Anderson, "Names of
God," in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick (New
traditions forming this alleged discrepancy.
138 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
But it must be asked at this point, is it necessary to attribute the
accounts of Genesis 4:26b (15:1-2, etc.); Exodus 3:13-15; and Exodus
6:3 into three different sources? In view of (1) the historical background
of the Exodus passages in their ancient Near Eastern setting, (2) the Hebrew
text and syntax of Exodus 6:3, and (3) the theological significance of this
passage in the book of Exodus as a whole, it would seem that such is not
necessary.11 Perhaps a discussion of these points will make this conclusion
A study of the historical background of Exodus 6:3 and Exodus
3:13-15 reveals that neither passage suggests that this was when Moses
first learned of the name YHWH.12 But in Exodus 3:13, this conclusion
seems to contradict this, for it speaks of Moses as having the people of
suggest to the modern reader that
ton, this was not the case for the ancient Hebrew reader. When a person
wished to know the simple name of someone or something in Hebrew,
the interrogative pronoun mi was generally used (cf. Gen. 33:5; Num.
22:9; Josh. 9:8).13 The interrogative pronoun mah, on the other hand,
was generally used when one wanted to understand an inner quality or
characteristic of someone or something (e.g., Exod. 16:15).14
This understanding seems natural since the explanation of the Name
which is given in verse 14 suggests that the tetragrammaton was commonly
known. Here Moses has just asked a question of character, i.e. "What kind
of God are you?" The Lord responds paronomastically, "I am who I am."15
11 Michael Butterworth, "The Revelation of the Divine Name?" Indian Journal
of Theology 24 (1975):45-52, argues that Exod. 3 and 6 cannot be divided into
12 McNeile, The Book of Exodus, p. 34, however, says that both essays depict
God "revealing the Name for the first time."
13 See Friedrich H. W. Gesenius, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, ed. Emil Kautzsch,
English ed., revised by Arthur E. Cowley (
reprinted., 1980), pp. 113, 443-444.
14 John Alexander Motyer, The Revelation of the
Divine Name (
Press, 1959), pp. 18-21, agrees with this conclusion. He has made an excellent
study of the use of the Hebrew interrogative pronouns. Cf. Martin Buber, Moses:
The Revelation and Covenant (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 48; and
S. Childs, The Book of Exodus, Old Testament Library (
15 See Barry J. Beitzel, "Exodus 3:14 and the Divine Name: A Case of Biblical
Paronomasia," Trinity Journal, n.s. 1 (1980):16.
GLISSON/EXODUS 6:3 139
This was not an evasive answer,16 but a revelation of divine character.17
Perhaps the emphasis is upon the ever-presence of the Lord: "I shall be
there for whatever help I am to be there."18 Or perhaps the emphsis should
be upon the fact of his existence as in B. N. Wambacq's paraphrase: Je
suis, J'existe. Au moment voulu, vous in aure' l'experience. Croyez-moi!"19
It ought also to be noticed that the context of Exodus 3 is against
the idea that Moses and
15-16). As Sigmund Mowinckel accurately notes,
Yahweh is not telling his name to one who does not know it.
Moses asks for some "control" evidence that his countrymen
may know, when he returns to them, that it is really the god
of their fathers that has sent him.... The whole conversation
presupposes that the Israelites know this name already.20
The language used in Exodus 6:2-3 also presupposes a knowledge of
the name of Yahweh. This is made clear when one understands the intro-
ductory phrase, ‘ani YHWH, in the light of its ancient Near Eastern
setting. From the perspective of this time period, this formula becomes
the introduction of the well-known God of Israel, rather than a revelation
16 Bernardus Dirk Eerdmans, ''`The Name Jahu," Oudtestamentische Studien 5
(1948):12, thinks that this was an evasive answer. But against this view is Karl
Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance,
1, pt. 1: The Doctrine of the Word of God,
trans. G. T. Thompson (
T. & T. Clark, 1961), pp. 386-391.
17 Moses Hirsch Segal, The Pentateuch: Its Composition and Its Authorship
(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), p. 5, correctly notes, "The actual answer to the
question: ‘I am that I am’ (v. 14) does not give the name of the Deity. It gives
the significance and the interpretation of the name YHWH, but not the name itself."
18 Kaufmann Kohler, "The Tetragrammaton and Its Uses," Journal of Jewish
Lore and Philosophy 1 (1919):21, gives this as a possible rendering among several
19 ‘Eheyeh aser 'eheyeh," Biblica 59 (1978):336. This also seems to be the
emphasis of the LXX in their rendering: Ego eimi ho on. See also Edward Schild,
"On Exodus iii 14 -"I Am That I Am," Vetus Testamentum 4 (1954) :296-302,
who translates it, "I am the One who is."
20 C. R. North, "Pentateuchal Criticism," in The Old Testament and Modern
Study, ed. Harold Henry Rowley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), p. 54, quoting
Sigmund Mowinckel, The Two Sources of Predeuteronomic Primeval History (JE) in
Genesis I -XI (Oslo, Norway: n.p., 1937), p. 55. Mowinckel made this statement
in an attempt to justify his view that E uses YHWH in Genesis.
140 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
of the divine name.21 For example, the introdctory formula in Yehawmilk's
inscription is "I am Yehawmilk,
of Y'dy, it is written, "I am Kilamuwa, the son the Hayya."23 Azitawadda
begins, "I am Azitawadda, the blessed of Ba'l, the servant of Ba,l."24 From
these examples it becomes clear that the use of the first singular personal
pronoun was often employed as introductory formulas by kings already
known by the people. It is very plausible that Exodus 6:2 is following this
The problem of Exodus 6:3 can also be approached by examining
the syntax of the text. Several possibilities have been suggested, which
would alter the general rendering of the text.25 But the explanation that
21 Umberto Cassuto,
A Commentary on the Book of Exodus,
(Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967), pp. 76-77, gives four reasons for this verse not
being a revelation of a new name not previously known: (1) The custom of Eastern
monarchs was to begin with a similar introductory formula; (2) if it was a new
revelation, it would read, "My name is YHWH," not "I am YHWH"; (3) the
phrase "I am YHWH" is often used in the Old Testament and it is not understood
as a revelation in these cases; (4) this formula is also in Exod. 6:6, 7, 8 and it is not
understood as a revelation in these verses.
22 “Yehawmilk of Biblos," trans. Franz Rosenthal, in Ancient Near Eastern
Texts Relating to the
ed., edited by James B. Pritchard (
23 "Kilamuwa. of Y'DY-SAM'-
24 "Azitawadda of Adana," trans. Franz Rosenthal, in ANET, p.655.
25 E.g., L. August Heerboth, "Was God Known to the Patriarchs as Jehovah?"
Concordia Theological Monthly 4 (1933):345-349, argues that Exod. 6:3 should be
a question, even though the he-interrogative is absent from the verse. He renders
the verse, "I am Jehovah and have appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto
Jacob as God Almighty. And regarding my name Jehovah was I not known to
them?" This interpretation has difficulties because (1) it does not fit the context of
Exod. 6 well, and. (2) it is not supported by any Hebrew grammarian. See Hinckly
Gilbert Mitchell, "The Omission of the Interrogative Particle," in Old Testament
and Semitic Studies in Memory of William Rainey Harper, vol. 1, ed. Robert Francis
Francis Brown, and George Foot Moore (
Press, 1908), pp. 115-129, who restricts the number of occurrences in the Old
Testament to 39, of which he attributes 12 or 17 to a corruption of the text.
Exod. 6:3 was not one of the 39 occurrences. Another possible solution is offered
by William J. Martin, Stylistic Criteria and the Analysis of the Pentateuch (
Tyndale Press, 1955), pp. 16-17. He believes that the lo’ in Exod. 6:3 should be
lo. He thus renders the verse, "I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Issac,
and to Jacob as God Almighty, and verily (lo), by my name the Lord I did make
myself known to them." This idea, however, cannot be proved. There is no indi-
cation of a corrupt text in this verse. Yet a number still hold this view. Cf. Raymond
F. Surberg, "Did the Patriarchs Know Yahweh?" Springfielder 36 (1972):125-126;
and Robert Dick Wilson, "Yahweh (Jehovah) and Exodus 6:3," in Classical Evangel-
ical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, ed. Walter C. Kaiser (
MI: Baker Book House, 1972), pp. 29-39.
GLISSON/EXODUS 6:3 141
can best be supported on an objective grammatical basis is the following
rendering: "I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty,
but as for my reputation as the Lord, I was not known to them." This
translation is supported by at least three grammatical reasons.
First, the b in the phrase be'el shaddai may mean "in the capacity of,"
"in the character of," or "as."26 Second, since the latter half of the verse
(i.e., wushemi YHWH) has no governing preposition, the preposition from
the first half of the verse probably governs both halves.27 And third, the
term shemi means "my reputation, fame, or character" in Exodus 6:3.28
But the problem would not be resolved if one stopped here. The
nagging question still persists: Why does Exodus 6:3 say that the patriarchs
did not know the character of YHWH?29 The answer comes when one
realizes the meaning of knowing YHWH in the theology of the book of
Exodus and in the theology of the Old Testament as a whole.30
To the Hebrew mind, knowledge and experience were closely con-
nected. The Hebrew work yadae which is used in Exodus 6:3 in the
niphal, means "to know," "to yearn to know," and "to come to know in
the process of things" (i.e., by experience).31 Therefore, when one speaks
26 See Gesenius, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, p. 379; and Raymind Abba, "The
Divine Name Yahweh," Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961) :323-324, both of
whom cite this verse as an example of this meaning.
27 See Gesenius, Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, p. 384; and Motyer, The Revelation
of the Divine Name, pp. 14-15.
28 See Francis Brown, Samuel R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, eds., A Hebrew
and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (
ed., 1966), p. 1028;; Max Reisel, The Mysterious Name of Y. H. W. H. (Assen,
Bruce Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, ed. S. D. F. Salmond (New
29 Unacceptable is the solution of Fred G. Smith, "Observations on the Use
of the Names and Titles of God in Genesis," Evangelical Quarterly 40 (1968) :103-
109, who argues that the Genesis writer inserted the tetragrammaton into the
Genesis text because at the time of its writing it was the common name of God.
Smith, however, offers no explanation for Gen. 4:26 and admits that he is "baffled"
by it. Furthermore, he does not explain Gen. 22:14, which would seem to be even
more baffling to one who holds this view.
30 See Elmer A. Martens, "Tackling Old Testament Theology," Journal of the
Evangelical Theololgical Society 20 (1977):123-132, who views the pericope of
Exod. 5:22-6:8 and the identity of Yahweh as the unifying theme of Old Testament
theology. See also J. Gerald Janzen, "What's in a Name? `Yahweh' in Exodus 3
and the Wider Biblical Context," Interpretation 33 (1979):227-239.
31 Rudolf Bultmann, “ginosko, gnosis, epiginosko, epignosis,” in Theological Diction-
ary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley
(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 1:696-697.
142 RESTORATION QUARTERLY
of knowing someone in the Old Testament, he is implying some kind of
recalled experience (e.g., sexual--Gen. 4:1; visual--Gen. 12:11; political-
In the book of Genesis the patriarchs knew God in the character of
God Almighty.32 John Alexander Motyer accurately notes the significance
of this name in Genesis:
. . . it was the claim of El Shaddai to be powerful where man
was weakest, and He exerts this claim supremely by promising
to an obscure and numerically tiny family that they should one
day possess and populate a land which, in their day, was inhab-
ited and owned by people immeasurably their superiors in
number and power.33
Motyer substantiates this observation by pointing out three ways God
made known his character as an Almighty God to the patriarchs. (1) He
took over human incapacity in the lives of the patriarchs in order to raise
up a great nation; (2) he changed the name of Abram and Jacob to
symbolize their transformed human nature; (3) he promised to them
boundless posterity in the land of promise.34 In these important ways, the
patriarchs came to know God as El Shaddai by experience.
When one turns to the book of Exodus, he sees that it was God's
desire to fulfill his promise which he had made to the patriarchs. Before
he could do this with any meaning, however, God had to show to the
people what kind of God he was. This meant acting in a significant way,
because at this time no one knew YHWH, since no one had experienced
his forthcoming actions. This is seen very cleary in Exodus. It is recorded
that Pharaoh did not know him (Exod. 5:2); the patriarchs had not known
him (Exod. 6:3);
know him (Exod. 7:5); even Moses did not know him (Exod. 8:22).
Because of this widespread ignorance of YHWH-ignorance of his
character, not of his name--something had to be done in order to educate
the people. This first came in the form of the plagues (Exod. 7:5,17;
8:10, 22; 9:14, 29, 30; 10:2; 11:7) and second by the exodus itself (Exod.
6:7; 14:4,18; 16:6, 12). After these experiences it could then be said that
of this name, see Lloyd R. Bailey, "Israelite 'El Sadday and Amorite Bel Sade,"
Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968): 434-438; J. Ouellette, "More on 'El Sadday
and Amorite Bel Sade," Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969) :470-471; William
F. Albright, "The Names Shaddai and Abram," Journal of Biblical Literature 54
(1935) :180-193; and Norman Walker, "A New Interpretation of the Divine Name
'Shaddai,' " Zeitschrift ftir die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 72 (1960):64-66.
33 The Revelation of the Divine Name, pp. 29-30.
34 Ibid., p. 29.
GLISSON/EXODUS 6:3 143
the people knew YHWH (cf. Exod. 18:11; 29:46; Deut. 4:35, 39; 7:9;
With this understanding in mind, the difficulty of Exodus 6:3 no
longer seems to exist. This is so because knowing the Lord, which is a
major theme of the book of Exodus,35 could come only after the people
else for that matter) could not have possibly known YHWH in this way.
Only those who were able to recall the most significant event recorded in
the Old Testament were able to know YHWH in a fuller sense. This is
not to say, however, that the patriarchs did not know the name YHWH.
On the contrary, they knew and used the name often, but without the
significance it took when God delivered his people and kept his promise.36
35 This theme of knowing the Lord is picked up by the prophets. They lament
the state of the people, since they do not know YHWH (e.g., Isa. 1:3; Jer. 9:3, 6),
but they tell of a day when they would know the Lord. It would come only after
they had experienced his judgment (e.g., Isa. 49:23, 26; 52:6; 60:16; Jer. 16:21;
Ezek. 6:7, 10, 13, 14; 7:4).
36 1 Sam. 3 provides the best analogy for this point. Samuel was born to a
YHWH-worshipping family. His mother prayed (1 Sam. 1:10ff.), worshipped (1
Sam. 1:19), and sacrificed to (1 Sam. 1:24) YHWH. His father also sacrificed to
YHWH (1 Sam. 1:3, 21). When Samuel was young, he was dedicated to YHWH
(1 Sam. 1:22) and he ministered before YHWH (1 Sam. 2:18) under Eli (1 Sam.
3:1), who was a priest of YHWH (1 Sam. 1:9). Year by year Samuel grew in the
presence of YHWH (1 Sam. 2:21, 26). Yet, even with this background, I Sam.
3:7a says, "Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord (YHWH) . . ." Obviously,
the meaning of this verse is that Samuel had not yet come to know the Lord by
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