Exodus Part V: Why Would The Book of Exodus Mimic the Poem?

  1. The Comparative Method

Modern critical study of the Bible has adopted the so-called comparative method as a major tool to further understand the Bible. If a scholar can find texts among the cultures adjacent to ancient Israel, these texts can be used to further educate us about a biblical text by noting similarities between the biblical text and the other ancient culture’s text.

The number of the similarities; their distinctiveness; the dating of the ancient text; and other facets may not only help us to understand the biblical text, but also and perhaps more importantly, it may lead us to conclude that the biblical text was written under the influence of or in response to the other text.  Professor Berman queried: “Why the one-way direction, from extra-biblical to biblical?”  Because…”The answer is that Israel was largely a weak player, surrounded politically as well as culturally by much larger forces, and no Hebrew texts from the era prior to the Babylonian exile (586 BCE) have ever been found in translation into other languages. Hence, similarities between texts in Akkadian or Egyptian and the Bible are usually understood to reflect the influence of the former on the latter.”

2.     The Dynamics of Appropriation

Professor Berman believes that the Book of Exodus using the same terms to glorify God as the Poem used to glorify Pharaoh is the result of “the dynamics of appropriation.” Professor Berman explains this as follows:

“Comparative method can yield dazzling results, adding dimensions of understanding to passages that once seemed either unclear or self-evident and unexceptional. As an example, consider the familiar biblical refrain that God took Israel out of Egypt ‘with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.’ The Bible could have employed that phrase to describe a whole host of divine acts on Israel’s behalf, and yet the phrase is used only with reference to the exodus. This is no accident. In much of Egyptian royal literature, the phrase ‘mighty hand’ is a synonym for the pharaoh, and many of the pharaoh’s actions are said to be performed through his ‘mighty hand’ or his ‘outstretched arm.’ Nowhere else in the ancient Near East are rulers described in this way. What is more, the term is most frequently to be found in Egyptian royal propaganda during the latter part of the second millennium.”

Israel was a weak nation which was always overshadowed by Egypt.  “For weak and oppressed peoples, one form of cultural and spiritual resistance is to appropriate the symbols of the oppressor and put them to competitive ideological purposes.”   Thus, it was only natural that the Israelites would adopt and adapt “one of the best-known accounts of one of the greatest of all Egyptian pharaohs.”

Ramesses II was perhaps Egypt’s greatest Pharaoh and he lived in perhaps Egypt’s greatest time.  Certainly, for Ramesses II the Battle at Kadesh was a cataclysmic battle.  Ramesses II was known as the “Great”.  The stoppage (for one could not call it a defeat) of the Hittites was an important event-the Hittites had not been stopped before.  Ramesses made sure that his countrymen knew of his success.  He had an account of the battle inscribed on monuments all across his empire.  Ten copies of this inscription still exist.  This broadcasting of this event made this Battle the best known event in the ancient world, even eclipsing events of Greece and Rome.  The inscriptions were done in a way-bas reliefs-depicting the battle- such that even illiterate people could understand what had happened.

Thus, by adopting The Poems language, style, linguistic tricks, the Israelites depicted themselves and their God in a fashion that exalted their God above all other Gods.  The Israelites had defeated the Pharaoh who had defeated the dreaded and nearly invincible Hittites.


Exodus Part IV: Textual Similarities of the Poem to the Book of Exodus

One of the modern analyses of the Book of Exodus focuses upon the similarities of the Poem, that is the description of Pharaoh Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh, and the Book of Exodus.  This line of inquiry has been most strongly advocated by Joshua Berman, who is a professor of Bible at Bar-Ilan University and at Shalem College in Israel, and a research fellow at the Herzl Institute.  What follows is a condensation of his essay which appeared in Mosaic on March 2, 2015 under the title: “Was There an Exodus?”  Professor Berman is a proponent of the school of thought that the Exodus did, in fact, occur.

First, Professor Berman (hereinafter ‘Berman’) notes that the beginning of the Poem and the beginning of Exodus 14 through 15 are parallel in nature.  Both describe a protagonist army on the march, unprepared for battle when each is attacked by a large force of chariots, which then cause the protagonist army to break ranks.  Next, the protagonist appeals to his god for help and the god answers that the protagonist can move forward with the god’s assistance.  For example, Amun responds to Ramesses by saying, “Forward! I am with you, I am your father, my hand is with you.”  The Lord responds to Moses by saying, “Tell the Israelites to go forward!”

Berman then examines the change in the Poem, whereby Pharaoh assumes divine or quasi-divine proportions.  This allows Berman to compare directly the actions of Pharaoh to God.

Thus, in each account it is “the king” (i.e. God in Exodus and Pharaoh in the Poem), who fights the enemy alone, unaided by his troops. Ramesses single-handedly takes on the Hittites.  As was quoted before, according to the Poem, Ramesses says: “No officer was with me, no charioteer, no soldier of the army, no shield-bearer…”  Likewise in Exodus 14:14, God declares that Israel need only remain passive, and that He will fight on their behalf: “The Lord will fight for you, and you will be still.”

Further, once the enemy understands that it is fighting a divine force, the enemy seeks to escape, but not before the enemy countenances that they fighting a divine force which cannot be beaten.  In the Kadesh poem, the Hittites retreat from Ramesses: “One of them called out to his fellows: Look out, beware, don’t approach him! See, Sekhmet the Mighty is she who is with him!”  Likewise, the Egyptians in Exodus in 14:25 recognize that they are fighting against divinity: “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”  It is also instructive to note in both cases the enemy recognizes that it is fighting a particular divinity.

There are other elements which are striking: the submergence of the enemy in water.   Berman wrote, however “The Kadesh poem does not assign the same degree of centrality to this event as does Exodus—it does not tell of wind-swept seas overpowering the Hittites—but Ramesses does indeed vauntingly proclaim that in their haste to escape his onslaught, the Hittites sought refuge by “plunging” into the river, whereupon he slaughtered them in the water.”

In both accounts, there are no survivors. The Kadesh poem: “None looked behind him, no other turned around. Whoever of them fell, he did not rise again.” Exodus 14:28: “The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen . . . not one of them remained.”

Berman believes that the most striking parallels between the two accounts are how the troops view their “king”: as a “mighty arm”.  Seeing the mighty arm, the corpses of the enemy strewn around them, both the Israelites army and the Egyptian army are compelled to sing a hymn of praise. Berman argues these two hymns are very much alike.

The Kadesh Poem:

“Then when my troops and chariotry saw me, that I was like Montu, my arm strong, . . . then they presented themselves one by one, to approach the camp at evening time. They found all the foreign lands, among which I had gone, lying overthrown in their blood . . . . I had made white [with their corpses] the countryside of the land of Kadesh. Then my army came to praise me, their faces [amazed/averted] at seeing what I had done.”

Exodus 14:30-31:

“Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. And when Israel saw the great hand which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord.”

Further, after the battle, the winning armies offer a paean to the king.  Berman continues “In each, the opening stanza comprises three elements. The troops laud the king’s name as a warrior; credit him with stiffening their morale; and exalt him for securing their salvation.”

The Kadesh Poem:

“My officers came to extol my strong arm and likewise my chariotry, boasting of my name thus: ‘What a fine warrior, who strengthens the heart/That you should rescue your troops and chariotry!’”

“You are the son of Amun, achieving with his arms, you devastate the land of Hatti by your valiant arm.”

Exodus 15:1-3:

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord . . . ‘The Lord is my strength and might; He is become my salvation . . . the Lord, the Warrior—Lord is His name!’”

“Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the foe!”

Exodus-Modern Scholarship Part III

  1. The Egyptians Are Encircled

Unexpectedly, the Hittites attacked the Amun division, causing Ramesses II to rue his lack of reconnaissance.  In response, Ramesses II sent urgent messengers to hasten the arrival of the Ptah and Seth divisions of his army, which were still some distance away on the far side of the River Orontes.

The Hittites, however, also had forces near the rear of Ramesses’ forces, and Muwatalli’s, chariots attacked and encircled the Re division, which was caught in the open and almost destroyed. Some of its survivors fled to the safety of the Amun camp, but they were pursued by the Hittite forces.

Thus, now the situation was that the Amun division was engaged in and around its camp.  The Re division was routed with elements of it fleeing to the perceived safety of the Amun camp.  The other two divisions, Ptah and Seth, were fighting a rear guard action.

Then, the unthinkable happened for the Egyptians. The Hittite chariots began their assault and crashed through the Amun camp’s shield wall. The Amun troops were now engulfed by panic as well.

The difference between the chariots of the Hittites and the Egyptians became the difference in this pitched battle.  The Egyptian chariot carried two men: a driver and a warrior, armed primarily as an archer and carrying a short thrusting spear.  The Hittite chariot carried three men: a driver and two warriors, one armed as an archer and the other as a heavy infantry man, who dismounted from the chariot and fought on foot.  This was because the Egyptians had modified the chariot such that the axle was further back, allowing the Egyptian chariot to be lighter resulting in a more maneuverable and faster chariot.  The Hittite chariot was a heavy weapon designed to attack infantry formations; the Egyptian chariot was designed to protect infantry from chariots.  The Egyptian bow man had a longer range than the Hittite bowman, because of their composite bows.

The attack by the Hittites started to wane on the Amun camp, because impeding obstacles of such a large camp forced many Hittite charioteers to slow their attack; some drivers were killed in chariot crashes. In the Egyptian account of the battle, Ramesses describes himself as being deserted and surrounded by enemies:

…No officer was with me, no charioteer, no soldier of the army, no shield-bearer …”

Only with help from the gods did Ramesses personally defeat his attackers and return to the Egyptian lines:

…I was before them like Set in his moment. I found the mass of chariots in whose midst I was, scattering them before my horses…

3. The Egyptians Counter Attack

The Poem continues by describing how the pharaoh, now facing a desperate fight for his life, summoned up his courage, called upon his god Amun, and fought valiantly to save himself. According to the Poem, Ramesses personally led several charges into the Hittite ranks together with his personal guard, as well as some of the chariots from his Amun division and survivors from the routed division of Re, employing both the superior maneuverability of  his chariots and the power and range of Egyptian bows.  Ramesses apparently sensed that the Hittites were overextended and tired.

The Hittite soldiers, meanwhile, who understandably believed their enemies to be totally routed, stopped to loot the Egyptian camp and, in doing so, became easy targets for Ramesses’ counterattack. Ramesses’ action was successful in driving the Hittites back towards the Orontes River and away from the Egyptian camp, while in the ensuing pursuit, the heavier Hittite chariots were easily overtaken and dispatched by the lighter, faster, Egyptian chariots.

  1. Final Phase-The Hittites Summon Their Reserves

Although he had suffered a significant reversal, Muwatalli still commanded a large force of reserve chariots and infantry.  He also still possessed the town with its walls. As the Hittite retreat reached the river, Muwatalli ordered another thousand chariots to attack the Egyptians, this contingent being mainly composed of the high nobles who were the king’s bodyguard, that is elite troops.

This time, however, it was the Hittites would be surprised due to their lack of reconnaissance.  For, as the Hittite forces approached the Egyptian camp, the Ne’arin troop contingent from Amurru suddenly arrived, catching the Hittites off-guard. Seeing this, Ramesses having reorganized his forces, because he was expecting help, simultaneously attacked from the camp.

After six charges, the Hittite forces were almost surrounded.  Pinned against the River Orontes, the remaining elements of the Hittites, not overtaken in the withdrawal, were forced to abandon their chariots and other weapons in an attempt to swim the River Orontes. According to Egyptian accounts, that is the Poem and the Bulletin, they swam hurriedly “as fast as Crocodiles swimming” and many of them drowned.

Next week, we will discuss, why the Battle of Kadesh is important to the story of Exodus.

Exodus-Modern Scholarship Part II

  1. Openings Movements of The Battle of Kadesh

Ramesses II describes his arrival on the battlefield and then the battle in the two principal inscriptions he wrote concerning the battle, the so-called “Poem” and the “Bulletin”.

Of a great deal of interest is the fact that there exists at least 10 copies of the Poem of the Battle of Kadesh.  We will be returning to the Poem itself a little later.  For now, it is our main source of information about the battle.  Although there is information in the so-called Bulletin, our focus will be upon the Peom, due to its relationship with the Book of Exodus.

The Battle of Kadesh was probably the greatest chariot battle in ancient times. The battle pitted the two superpowers of the era against each other.  As is often the case when two superpowers collide, the battle did not result in a decisive victory for either side.

Now then, his majesty had prepared his infantry, his chariots, and the Sherden of his majesty’s capturing,…in the Year 5, 2nd month of the third season, day 9, his majesty passed the fortress of Sile. [and entered Canaan] … His infantry went on the narrow passes as if on the highways of Egypt. Now after days had passed after this, then his majesty was in Ramses Meri-Amon, the town which is in the Valley of the Cedar.

His majesty proceeded northward. After his majesty reached the mountain range of Kadesh, then his majesty went forward…and he crossed the ford of the River Orontes, with the first division of  Amun “He Gives Victory to User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re”. His majesty reached the town of Kadesh…The division of Amun was on the march behind him; the division of Re was crossing the ford in a district south of the town of Shabtuna at the distance of one iter from the place where his majesty was; the division of Ptah was on the south of the town of Arnaim; the division of Seth was marching on the road. His majesty had formed the first ranks of battle of all the leaders of his army, while they were (still) on the shore in the land of Amurru.


As Ramesses and the Egyptian advance guard were about 5 or 6 miles from Kadesh, they met two Shasu (nomads).  These Shasu who told Ramesses that the Hittites were “in the land of Aleppo, on the north of Tunip”, some 120 miles or so away.  The Shasu said that the Hittites were “(too much) afraid of Pharaoh to come south. This was, the Poem states, a false report ordered by the Hittites “with the aim of preventing the army of His Majesty from drawing up to combat with the foe of Hittites.”

Egyptian scouts then returned to his camp bringing two new Hittite prisoners. These two turned out to be another set of Hittite spies.  It was from this second set of spies, aftweer they had been beaten and tortured, that Ramesses II learned true situation: The Hittite army was not 120 miles away, but was, in fact, near by.

When they had been brought before Pharaoh, His Majesty asked, ‘Who are you?’ They replied ‘We belong to the king of Hatti. He has sent us to spy on you.’ Then His Majesty said to them, ‘Where is he, the enemy from Hatti? I had heard that he was in the land of Khaleb, north of us.  They of  Tunip replied to His Majesty, ‘Lo, the king of Hatti has already arrived, together with the many countries who are supporting him… They are armed with their infantry and their chariots. They have their weapons of war at the ready. They are more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach. Behold, they stand equipped and ready for battle behind the old city of Kadesh.  

Ramesses decided to try to take Kadesh, before the Hittites could.  To do so, he ordered his Amun division to speed towards Kadesh.  It was at the head of the column, but separated from the other three divisions by some distance.  As it neared Kadesh, it went into camp.

This turn of events separated Ramesses II’s forces, because now the Amun division was far ahead of his other three divisions, Re, Ptah, and Seth.  Unfortunately and apparently unbeknownst to Ramesses, the Re division had fallen far behind the other two divisions of Ptah and Seth, and now was falling further behind as the front two divisions, having received and having complied with Ramesses II’s order.

Thus, Muwatalli had a golden opportunity. Two of Ramesses’ divisions were alone and dangling, so to speak, the RE and the Amun.  Muwatill’s plan was to hit both of them.

Next week, we will continue with the Battle of Kadesh.

Contest-Send Your Suggestions Now!

Let’s try this again.  Maybe I was wrong to limit entries only to the United States.  No entries were received in the original contest and thus no book copy was awarded.  Now, this contest is open to all!

I announce that I am offering a free electronic copy of my book, Casting Lots, to the individual who emails me the best idea for a blog topic.  Email your suggestions to wdmceachern@gmail.com.  Please include your name and address (so I can mail you the copy of the book), as well as whether or not I may use your first name and first letter of your last name and town and state of residence in announcing the winner and the suggested topic.

This contest is open to all and you must be 18 or older to win.  This contest is void where prohibited by law.  All entries become my property and can be used by me in my discretion.  The winner will be determined solely by me.  This contest will end on April 25, 2015 at 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time.  In my discretion, I can award two or more prizes, but each winner will receive a free electronic copy of my book, Casting Lots.  Suggestions should include a suggested topic and no more than 50 words explaining the suggested topic.  Suggestions of more than 50 words will not be accepted.

Much good luck to you!  I look forward to reading your entries!

Exodus: Modern Scholarship-Part I

Exodus: Modern Scholarship-Part I

How important is the Exodus to a modern Christian or Jew?  If the Israelites were not slaves in Egypt, then did the Passover not occur?   If Moses did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt, what is the validity of the Ten Commandments?    These questions, I think, are central to the beliefs of both, Christian and Jew.

Christianity evolved from Judaism; both are religions which see the hand of God working in history.  It is a cornerstone of the beliefs of both religions that God is revealed in history.  If God did not save the Israelites from Pharaoh, then does God not exist?  Is the entire story of the Israelites in Egypt a massive literary fabrication?  Did God not visit the plagues upon Egypt?  Did God not part the Red Sea?  Did manna not flow from the heavens?  Did God not give Moses the Ten Commandments? Are the sacred texts of both religions perpetuating one great lie?

The text in question is the Book of Exodus.   What evidence is there that the events set forth in the Book of Exodus happened?

To answer these questions, we must go back to that era-the reign of Ramesses II.

The defining moment of his reign was the Battle of Kadesh. How did this battle come about?  Why is it so important?  How does it relate to the Exodus?

This first part of our Exodus story will explore the background of the Battle of Kadesh and will discuss the battle.  In part two, we will review how it relates to the Book of Exodus.

  1. The Background to The Battle of Kadesh

Although Kadesh was fought in 1274 BC, the seeds of this conflict planted years before. The grandfather of Ramesses II, Ramesses I and his father, Seti I, both ascended the throne of Pharaoh while Egypt was in decline. Each, tried to restore the glory of Egypt through military conquest.  Seti I, in particular, made several campaigns into Canaan and Syria, re-occupying lost Egyptian fortresses and military outposts as well as by garrisoning cities in the region. Seti I not only occupied the Mediterranean coast in this area, but drove north towards the Hittite Empire and actually fought a battle in the area of Kadesh where he commemorated his victory with a stela. Ramesses II accompanied his father on these campaigns in Syria and Canaan.

When Ramesses II became Pharaoh, he continued his father’s policy and continued to campaign in both Canaan and Syria. In the fourth year of his reign, he made it his goal to recapture Amurru, which he accomplished. The capture of Amurru invoked the displeasure of the Hittite king, Muwatalli.  Muwatalli decided to confront the Egyptians and to prevent their further incursions north into his Empire.

During the non-campaigning season, Ramesses II stockpiled a tremendous amount of weapons and armaments in order to continue his campaign north during his fifth year as King. Muwatalli was not idle during this time. He not only mustered his Army, but also invoked the treaties requiring military service by his allies.  According to the Egyptian military records of the era, these allies amounted to some 19 nations.

Ramesses II set out in May 2012 74 BC to begin his campaign. In slightly over a month, he reached the area of Kadesh from the south. His army was in the four divisions, named Amun, Re, Seth, and Ptah.  He may have had with him Canaanite mercenaries, although these may have been left in Amurru. The Ptah division was apparently a new, green division that may not have received full training.

The Hittite king, although he was very close to the Egyptian army, his presence in the presence of the Hittite army was unknown to the Egyptians. Apparently, the Hittites had employed two spies who told her Ramesses II that the Hittites were still in Aleppo far to the north.

In the next part, we will discuss the Battle of Kadesh.