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!”

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