PhD thesis

These first paragraphs describe how I set out my work a couple of years ago now:
The aim of my PhD is to describe how and what a “close reading” of the God-Moses dialogues as part of the wider narrative of Exodus contributes to an understanding of the significance of the name “Yhwh” in order to inform wider study about the character of God in Biblical Theology.

My work thus far has involved reviewing existing literature in order to contextualise the project appropriately and develop a methodology for a “close reading”. I have reviewed historical-critical approaches to the question of the meaning of “Yhwh”, the explanatory phrase “I am who I am” and the role of Moses, as well as more recent approaches that pay more attention to the “final form” of the text.

I have also reviewed works related to the concept of a “close reading” of the text in the area of narrative analysis, drawing on critics of both secular and biblical literature. In addition to this I have investigated some theories of how conversation works both in everyday life, and in the biblical text, and their applicability to the Exodus dialogues in order that critical features of the Moses-God dialogues will not be missed.

I have reviewed works from a literary perspective regarding the portrayal of God in the Biblical narrative, and related these works to the way in which the character of God is understood in Old Testament theologies. This in turn helps to inform my review of how different historical-critical approaches and perspectives have understood the meaning of the name Yhwh.

I have worked through an exegesis of the texts containing dialogue between Moses and God in Exodus informed by the above literature review and methodological work. I will also bring conclusions from my study into dialogue with how the meaning and significance of the name Yhwh has been understood in Old Testament theology, with particular attention to tensions perceived between God’s presence and freedom, and God’s mercy and punishment.

My PhD has now been approved – I am Dr Arnold! The “abstract” – short summary reads as follows:

YHWH’s statement to Moses, “I will be what I will be”, has been much discussed by biblical scholars and theologians. For much of the last century this discussion related to matters of etymology or history of religion, or the precise grammar of the text. However, recently there has been renewed interest in understanding the statement in its present context as part of the book of Exodus, and in particular its role in the call of Moses. My thesis seeks to deepen understanding of the implications of this statement through a close reading of the dialogues between Moses and YHWH.

My close reading of individual dialogues involves three steps: first investigation of the way in which the narrator portrays the actions of the characters, then the manner in which the narrator portrays individual speech of the characters and finally the way in which an analysis of the dialogues utilising principles from the socio-linguistic field of Conversation Analysis adds to an understanding of the characters.

Through this close reading I show that the phrase “I will be what I will be” is best understood as linking the meaning of the name YHWH to the verb “to be” and in particular God’s promise to “be with” Moses in 3:12. The phrase affirms both YHWH’s presence with Moses and his freedom to be present in the manner he chooses and the implications of this affirmation of presence and freedom are worked out more fully in the narrative of Exodus.

In the thesis my reading of the dialogues in Exodus 3-4 shows that YHWH transforms Moses into the means by which YHWH delivers his people from Egypt and also by which YHWH is present with his people. My examination of the dialogues in Exodus 5-7 demonstrates that YHWH’s plans are accomplished by his speech which re-designates and reshapes those with and about whom he is speaking. My analysis of Exodus 19-24 finds that the dialogues demonstrate YHWH’s freedom to be present as he chooses to different people at different points. Exodus 32:7-33:11 gives further meaning and significance to the divine name in terms of YHWH’s withdrawal in response to the idolatry of the people. From the final section of dialogue, Exodus 33:12-34:35, I show that the intercession of Moses is critical to the demonstration of YHWH’s mercy and compassion. My analysis of each of these dialogues demonstrates that a key means by which YHWH is present to his people is in and through Moses.


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