What’s the Oldest Verse in the Bible?

by Andrew Forrest

It should be obvious that events don’t have to be written down in the order in which they occur.  You could, for example, have two books on your shelf: a book about the Revolutionary War, published in 2014, and a book about the Vietnam War, published in 1986.  The older book is the one about the more recent event.  And, just because a book is a new publication about an old event does not mean that the book is unreliable.  For example, the book in question could reliably be based on firsthand accounts; you could have a book about the Revolutionary War, published in 2014, that is based on George Washington’s letters.  In short, the date of the account and the date of the event accounted do not have to go together.

"Parting of the Red Sea," by Julia Kuo (http://oldandnewproject.com/portfolio/parting-of-the-red-sea/)

“Parting of the Red Sea,” by Julia Kuo (http://oldandnewproject.com/portfolio/parting-of-the-red-sea/)

The same principle applies to the Bible.  For example, most scholars believe that some of the letters of Paul such as 1 Thessalonians and Philippians were written earlier than the Gospels, even though the Gospels tell of events that happened earlier than the letters of Paul.  (There were certainly earlier accounts of the life of Jesus that the Gospel writers used when composing their works, but these early works are lost to history.)

Whoever it was who wrote down Exodus in the form in which we have it–tradition says it was Moses, but we cannot know for sure–whoever it was certainly did not write it down while the events he (or she) describes were actually happening.  Only after the fact, when the Israelites were free and clear, would anyone have had time or inclination to record the experiences of the Exodus.  Which is why I find Exodus 15:21 so fascinating.

The Oldest Verse in the Bible

In Exodus 15, we read a brief little poem that some scholars believe is the oldest poem in the Bible:

20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’”

Exodus 15:21 is called “Miriam’s Song,” and some scholars believe it is a victory song that comes from the time immediately after the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.   In other words, Miriam’s song in Exodus 15;21 could be the spontaneous song of victory that the Israelite women burst into after realizing that they were free at last!

How cool is that?

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2 comments

Melinda Smith September 11, 2014 - 5:53 am

Just a curiousity: We believe Moses wrote at least some of Exodus. In this chapter, the author designates Miriam as Aaron’s sister, making her also the sister of Moses, the young lady who watched the small ark that contained her baby brother that Pharaoh’s daughter found in the water. The same young lady who ran to get her mother to care for baby Moses for Pharaoh’s daughter. Why the designation of Miriam as Aaron’s sister and not both Aaron and Moses?

Another curiosity: Moses was in his own mother’ care, according to Scripture, until he was older when his mother took him back to Pharaoh’s daughter to become her son. How hard was that for the mother? If there were Miriam and Aaron and Moses, there may have been additional children in the family. Can you imagine, after Moses was taken back to live with the Pharaoh’s family, what his sisters and brothers conversation might have been like around the breakfast table! Miriam: If we have bread and water one more morning… Aaron: Yeah, Moses told me he had eggs Benedict for breakfast!

But there seems to be no resentment toward Moses by the siblings as they leave Egypt. God was in control from the beginning!

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Andrew Forrest September 11, 2014 - 2:57 pm

Melinda,

Maybe it’s because Moses is such a set-apart personality–he spoke with God and lived–that he is just on another plane than Aaron. So, Miriam is described as Aaron’s sister because he is more “ordinary” that Moses? Just a theory.

Yes: I think the interplay between Moses and Pharaoh and the rest of the family is just fascinating to contemplate. You can see that it would make a great movie: Moses, the one who is neither Hebrew nor Egyptian.

Fascinating stuff.

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