Writing assignment #1:
The narrative of the makkot (Shemot 6-11)

J. M. W. Turner (UK, 1775-1851), "The Fifth Plague of Egypt"

Writing Assignment #1: The Makkot – Structure and Purpose

The basic assignment is to study the narrative of the makkot in Exodus 6-11, and to think carefully and critically about the structure of this part of the book and the themes adumbrated therein.

  • 1. Read the text, slowly, carefully, and repeatedly.
  • 2. Take notes, including observations and questions about the “big issues” you encounter in reading this text.
  • 3. Read Rashbam’s comments on Shemot 7:26.
  • 4. Read Nechama Leibowitz’s short article on “the purpose of the makkot,” posted on Angel.
  • 5. Read Tehillim 78 (focusing on vv. 42-51), and Tehillim 105 (focusing on vv. 27-36).
  • 6. Read Ziony Zevit, “Exodus in the Bible and the Egyptian Plagues,” Bible Review (link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-...; PDF posted on Angel).
  • [There is a massive amount written about the Exodus within the context of Ancient Egypt, known to us historically from archaeology and from thousands of texts discovered over the past two centuries. Many lectures, some better than others, may be found here: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-....] On Angel, in the Exodus 6-11 folder, is posted a short, accessible book with relevant essays, as well.]

Now that you’ve read a lot….

  • 7. Write a short essay in which you articulate how you see the structure and meaning of the makkot in the context of the story of יציאת מצרים. Specific questions that may be part of your thinking include:
  • a. How are the makkot structured in Shemot? How else could they be structured? (Here the two מזמורים in Tehillim that also contain “narratives” of the makkot may be useful for comparison.)
  • b. What is the purpose of the makkot? What interpretive possibilities are there? Which are followed by some of the commentators? Are there clues or indications in the biblical text itself which you think support one possibility or another?
  • c. How does the knowledge that modern readers have of ancient Egypt help, or hinder, us as readers of the Torah in this case?

When you are done, please upload your work to the dropbox in the Angel folder for the assignment, or send me a link to your work if it is online. The work is due at the end of the first week back, Friday, October 24. (Late work will not be accepted.)

שנה טובה and חג שמח!

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