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.
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?