FROM ‘SIGN/אֹ֜ות ’ TO ‘MEMORIAL/‘ זִכָּרֹ ון֙ ’ IN EXODUS 13:1-16

Hendrik Bosman


From the perspective of cultural memory the cultic tradition of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in Exodus 13:3-10 acted as a sign (‘אֹ֜ות ’) and a memorial or commemoration (זִכָּרֹון ’) of the Exodus as an act of divine deliverance. The dialectic between ‘sign’ and ‘memorial/commemoration/reminder’ is framed by references to the consecration of the first-born male (13:1-2, 11-15) and the phylacteries (tefillin) that functioned as a sign (‘אֹ֜ות ’) on the hand and symbols (‘טֹוטָֹּ ֹ֖ פת ’) on the forehead (13:16). Exodus 13 is not merely the duplication of material arguing for the observance of the Passover in the previous chapter (12:14-28) but it constitutes a combination of the cognitive act of remembering and the ritual act of comme-moration. It will be argued that the central role of memory and commemoration as complementary concepts in the observance of the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread is expanded by adding the instruction of wearing a ‘sign’ on the hand and between the eyes. These signs can be considered as embodied metaphors respectively for power and action and for perception and observation; thus going beyond the mere ritual or cultic commemoration of the exodus. This interpretation will be tested by comparing Exodus 13 with other texts in the Hexateuch where a similar link between ‘sign’ and ‘memorial’ is found. The element of ‘sign’ adds to the notion of ritual commemoration the cognitive evocation of remembrance – a potent mechanism to enhance the identity shaping function of cultural memory (Ex 12:13; Num 17:3,5; Josh 4:6f).


Cultural Memory; Exodus 13:1-16; Feast of Unleavened Bread; Memorial; Sign

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