Exodus for Ordinary People by Paul Poulton
Slightly eccentric but worthwhile book to help us understand Exodus, with a focus on the historical, chronological and geographical
Exodus for Ordinary People: Unwrapping the Second Book of the Bible
by Paul Poulton
Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock)
Reviewer: Pieter J. Lalleman
In 29 short chapters Paul Poulton presents background material to the Book of Exodus and offers a paraphrase of the storyline. The focus is on the first half of Exodus. Poulton is fond of exact dates for the events in Israel’s history because he is convinced that they all happened exactly as described in the Scriptures. From this point of view he talks back to the sceptics and for example identifies the pharaoh of the exodus and the princess who adopted Moses. He also intimates that the burning bush was 116 miles from Moses’ home in Midian.
Poulton does not allow for any uncertainties. I tell my students to allow more margins of uncertainty.
This book by Poulton follows after Genesis for Ordinary People (2014). Initially he refers back to this first book too often, repeating elements from it such as a commentary on the Flood story. There are other digressions as well, such as the entire chapter 12, and many connections to other parts of the Bible.
The author does not offer complete interpretations of verses or passages, but largely limits himself to the historical, chronological and geographical aspects of the text. Thus he explains the large numbers (2 million Israelites!) and solves the problem that Moses’ father-in-law is apparently called both Reuel and Jethro; buy the book if you want to know his solutions. Some of his interpretations are surprising and useful, others I found less convincing. He argues that – unlike his army – the pharaoh himself did not drown in the sea.
Much of the information in this book is rather technical, but the tone is generally light-hearted. The inclusion of some maps of Egypt would have been useful. There are some footnotes, but most facts are not referenced. Poulton also uses phrases such as ’there are online photographs available’ without providing the exact reference.
All in all, this is a slightly eccentric, worthwhile but expensive book to help us understand Exodus, to be used in addition to a standard commentary.
The Revd Dr Pieter J. Lalleman teaches Bible at Spurgeon's College