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.

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