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.

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