The Exodus in Ancient Writings
“Except for the biblical story there is no literary evidence that there was ever an Egyptian Sojourn and Exodus as described in the Bible. This is true regardless of the date one assumes for the event, if there was such an ‘event’ at all.”
Dr. John C. H. Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible (87)
“The incipit of the Song of Moses, in Exodus 15.1—‘I will sing to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea’—clearly is to be counted as among the oldest compositions in the whole Bible. It seems very likely that the whole sequence of verses comprising the song [of the sea] contains in poetic form the germ of the narrative that becomes the fullblown story of the Exodus.”
Dr. William Franke, Universality and History: Foundations of Core (63)
“Contrary to those who claim that the Song of the Sea describes a historical battle, whatever historical core the exodus may have had, it is already thoroughly transformed into mythic proportions even in this early poetic composition. The Song exhibits the same basic structure as Enuma elish and the Ugaritic Baal cycle. The Divine Warrior overcomes his watery foe of chaos, creating a new order in the process... As in the Combat Myths, the Divine Warrior then retires to his (newly constructed) mountain sanctuary, from where he eternally rules his newly ordered cosmos (vs. 17–18).... Yahweh’s mountain sanctuary here is of course the temple on Mount Zion—Yahweh’s eternal ‘resting place’...”
Dr. Bernard F. Batto, Mythmaking in the Biblical Tradition: Slaying the Dragon (113–114)
THE LACK OF archaeological evidence demonstrating the Exodus story has led to the literalist apology that the text proves itself, regardless of extraneous circumstances. A more skeptical view such as evemerism claims that the oldest strata of the story contain an orally transmitted germ folktale recording a historical exodus of a much smaller scale, embellished over time with supernatural miracles and other mythical motifs. A closer scrutiny of the evidence, however, points to neither view as entirely correct. The third perspective or “mythicist position” posits that the story existed first as a mythical motif and was embellished over the centuries with many other nonhistorical elements, along with some historical or literal details, such as place-names or ethnic designations.
In the literalist argument, it is believed that the biblical scribes were honest, God-fearing men; therefore, what they have written must be historically correct.
As Oblath remarks:
With a recognition that direct archaeological evidence does not exist, supporters often turn to the exodus narrative itself for reinforcing its own historicity. Scholars such as Albright and R. Cohen have recounted the assumed scribal accuracy and pure conscientiousness in preserving this tale.326
The same argument could be made for the composers of any number of ancient texts, including the Homeric and Indian epics: Are we to suppose that these other stories bursting with miracles and supernaturalism represent “true history,” because their scribes presumably were precise, full of integrity and truly transmitting history as it actually occurred? Moreover, shall we ignore the commentary by those who continued the lineage of the biblical scribes, the Jewish rabbis—presumably also possessing integrity—who speak openly about the Bible containing allegory?
Regardless of the belief in the biblical text, there exists no solid scientific evidence of the Exodus as a historical event, as depicted in the Old Testament. Hence, this argument is not scientifically based but is circular.
Moreover, if the core represents a historical memory, it has been reproduced only as a hatred towards Egypt and its pharaohs overall, possibly for a number of perceived transgressions over a period of centuries, rather than a single historical event with accurately recorded details.
Song of the Sea
This literalist perspective is not held by skeptics, of course, who nonetheless may assert that there is a historical core to the tale, with mythical embellishment. One biblical pericope or “discrete literary unit” that allegedly demonstrates a “historical” core is the “Song of the Sea” or “Song of Moses” at Exodus 15:1–18.327 This song purportedly was sung on the day of the crossing of the Red Sea, a contention for which there is no evidence, since the crossing itself appears to be mythical.
This allegedly older text is pointed to by critical scholars as the possible basis and “historical” nucleus of the Exodus story, elaborated upon for centuries before being written down during the later centuries. It is significant that, while the verses in chapter 14 immediately preceding the Song tout Moses as Yahweh’s mouthpiece and equal, the patriarch is not named at all in the Song, other than at Exodus 15:1a, at the very beginning and easily interpolated. The purpose for this core text seems to be to demonstrate the superiority of the Jewish god over the esteemed deities of the region.328
In his monograph on the subject, Christian theologian Russell argues for the song’s composition between the 12th and eighth centuries BCE, mostly long after the purported events of the Exodus:
…the poetry of Exod 15:1–21 (specifically vv. 1b–18) was most likely composed during the mid-twelfth century B.C.E. (ca. 1150 B.C.E.)….
...the late eighth century B.C.E. is established as the terminus ad quem for Exod 15:1b–18 on the basis of compelling evidence for the date of composition of Ps 78 during the time of Hezekiah (early 7th century).329
As concerns source text criticism, Russell recounts that current scholarship tends to assign verses 1–18 and 20–21 to J and E, respectively, while verse 19 has been ascribed to the P, priestly redactor.330
Oblath avers the song’s composition around the 10th century,331 while others contend for a post-Exilic effort, after the middle of the sixth century (Babylonian exile) and even into the late fourth century BCE.332
Russell cites Psalm 78 along with several others as influenced by the Song of the Sea at Exodus 15,333 contending for a composition date in the late eighth century BCE, “following the fall of the Northern Kingdom.”334 Thus, Psalm 78 may have been reworked during Hezekiah’s reign, based on the Song, created centuries earlier.
Psalm 78 contains the verse that opens this present work regarding the utterance of “dark sayings from on old” ( חידת chiydah),335 a reference evidently to allegorical stories, in other words myths. The “old” qualification suggests we are discussing pre-Israelite and largely Canaanite myths. After this introduction comes a detailed summary of the Exodus story (Ps 78:12ff).
Oddly enough, Moses is never named in this Exodus psalm, as was the case with the pre-exilic prophets.
God Names Mentioned
In Psalm 78, it is not Moses but the Lord God who splits the rock for water and does other major acts of the Exodus. God is named in Psalm 78 as יהוה Yĕhovah/YHWH; ' אל el/El; ' אלהים elohiym/Elohim; ' עליון elyown/Elyon; and ' אדני Adonay/Adonai, comprising major god epithets and pre-Yahwist deities. Most of the time, the word for “God” is El, while YHWH is employed only in two places (78:4, 78:21).
Canaanite god El
Hence, this text appears to be the remake of a Canaanite composition exalting the high god El and interpolated to favor the southern kingdom of Judah, as opposed to the Israel of the north. Instead of Moses, Aaron or any other supposedly historical personages of the Exodus tale, Psalm 78 mentions Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim and Judah, the latter one raised above the former three northerners. The psalm is based apparently on Jacob’s purported sojourn in Egypt and the domination of the southern Israelites or Judahites over the northern kingdom, especially the Ephraimites.
In any event, there is no indication in Psalm 78 of any “historical Moses,” despite the fact that the text provides a detailed summary of the Exodus story. It would appear that the creators of the Moses myth used texts like Psalm 78 and the Song of the Sea to compose their foundational epic centuries later, creating a fictional “patriarch” to accomplish the miraculous tasks originally attributed to God. Hence, the psalm speaks of “dark sayings of old,” possibly denoting pre-Israelite Canaanite scriptures and pre-Mosaic core folklore.
The Song of the Sea contains a few Exodus story elements interspersed with hymns of praise for the god. The mention at 15:14 of the “inhabitants of Philistines” is an anachronism, as is the next verse (15:15) about the “chiefs of Edom.” It would seem that at least those parts of the text postdate the arrival of the Philistines and creation of the Edomite kingdom, centuries after the purported Exodus events. Again, these peoples were troublesome especially during the era of Hezekiah and Josiah, indicating the song’s propagandist refitting at that time.
First or Second Temple?
As one reason for his late dating of the song, theologian Dr. Charles F. Pfeiffer claims that Exodus 15:17 identifies the Second Temple, built in 516 BCE.336 Wheless points out the same anachronism, although he allows for it to be the First Temple, supposedly built sometime during the 10th to eighth centuries:
..the significant proof of long post-Mosaic authorship in these anachronic strophes of the Song: “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Yahveh, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary [ מקדש miqdash], O Yahveh, which they hands have established” [Exod 15:17]...
This mountain was Zion, at Jerusalem, and the sanctuary was Solomon’s temple; and Jerusalem did not come into the hands of the Chosen until partly captured by David. The temple was built by his son Solomon, some five hundred years after the so-called Song of Moses at the Red Sea, wherein these things are spoken of as if already existing. So this reputed Song of Moses was written centuries after the death of Moses.337
No First Temple
Hence, this part of the song may not be as old as other sections. It should be noted that there has never been found any evidence of the First Temple. Plus David and Solomon’s historicity as in the Old Testament is questionable.
Regarding the song as reflecting a historical Exodus, Oblath concludes:
It is evident that the Song of the Sea refers to a flight from an aggressive, pursuing enemy. It tells of a sea crossing at Yam Sûp [ ים סוף yam cuwph, meaning “red sea”], events strongly associated with the exodus from Egypt. Considered in isolation, however, it implies no more than a flight from “Pharaoh.” Any battle could be described in the song. There is no evidence within the song that would support a flight from Egyptian slavery.338
Although it may represent a core text upon which the rest of the Exodus tale was built, the core too shows few signs of being “historical.” On the contrary, it has the earmarks of a typical mythological epic of the era.
It is possible the Song of the Sea is a Canaanite/Amorite poem reworked after the alleged destruction by Ramesses III of Amurru or one of many other perceived transgressions by Egypt, to cast the land of the Nile and its rulers in a bad light as the “villain” in ancient mythology. Therefore, the core story may have been committed eventually to writing in Hebrew but nonetheless reflects an ancient Semitic mythological tradition. The inclusion of Moses in the Song would post-date Psalm 78 and Hezekiah.
The Baal Cycle
Another biblical text that appears to have been influenced by Ugaritic mythology is Psalm 29, about which Schniedewind remarks that the biblical text’s storm imagery “has strong parallels with the Baal imagery of a Ugaritic epic.” Schniedewind also states that Psalm 29 “shares much with the ‘Song of the Sea’ (Exodus 15:1–18), which is in many ways a polemic against Baal and the Canaanite religion.”339
Stripped of its historical anachronisms, the Song of the Sea possesses parallels with the Canaanite “Baal cycle,” which lends the core biblical text credibility as an older composition, borrowed from Canaanite mythology, not a historical tradition.
As Russell states:
Exodus 15:1b–18 resembles the Baal cycle in a number of striking ways…. The Baal narrative may be summarized around the themes of conflict, order, kingship and palace (or temple) building. There is an initial conflict between Baal and Yamm. Yamm represents watery chaos and thus threatens the order of the cosmos. Baal is victorious and is declared king… The victory of order over chaos has cosmological overtones. A palace is then built for Baal as a symbol of his authority… Conflict, however, arises again with a new threat, Mot. Baal is initially defeated, but he inevitably is victorious and his kingship is again declared.
The overall movement in the Song of the Sea from a conflict involving Yhwh’s use of the sea in the defeat of Pharaoh’s hordes to references about Yhwh’s holy place, and finally to the declaration of Yhwh’s eternal kingship roughly follows this sketch of the Baal cycle.340
It is further noteworthy that the focus of Baal is his “holy mountain,” the “beautiful hill of my might,” while Exodus revolves around Mount Sinai, holy hill of Yahweh.341
Regarding this correspondence, Schniedewind comments that the “story concerning Baal and Yamm is in many ways typical of Near Eastern cosmological stories (cp., Enuma Elish; Exodus 15) and marks Baal’s rise to power with his defeat of Yamm (cp. Marduk’s victory over Tiamat).” He also reminds that “Baal was worshipped throughout Syria-Palestine, and the Baal cycle necessarily is a primary source for understanding the religious beliefs of the entire ancient Near East.”342
Although Russell admits that the parallels are striking, even to certain phrases, he maintains that the differences are significant: To wit, the Baal cycle is mythology, whereas the “events of the Song of the Sea take place on the plains of human history.”343 However, it appears that the Song in reality is the mythical core of the later historicized Exodus story, constructed around the Baal cycle and turned into pretended “history.”
In this regard, speaking of Exodus 15, Dutch theologian Dr. Carola Kloos states that “the Reed Sea story originates in the myth of the combat with Sea, which has been ‘historicized,’ i.e. turned into pseudo-history, by the Israelites.”344 Kloos also concurs that Psalm 29 is dependent in significant part on Baal mythology, and she concludes that the psalm “pictures Yhwh throughout as Baal...”345
The Canaanite Baal-cycle core dates to earlier than the 12th century, and it may have been reworked during the subsequent centuries to revolve around the emerging Israelites, as a demonstration of how their henotheistically elevated god Yahweh was superior to the Egyptian pantheon.
In the Baal cycle, the protagonist defeating the sea or sea god “Yamm” is considered the savior, reflected also at Exodus 15:2:
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The original Hebrew is:
וארממנהו א ׃ א בי ו להי א אנוהו ז לי ל ה ו ישועה י יהי־לי ו ה ע זמרת זי
The Hebrew here for “salvation” is ישועה yĕshuw'ah, essentially the same as Yehoshua or Yeshua, “Joshua” or “Jesus.”
All of these terms derive from the root word ישע yasha', which is used some 200 times in the Old Testament,346 reflecting a frequent focus on deliverance and salvation. With such an emphasis, it is not difficult to understand why a salvation cult eventually would be created, apparently as an extension of a Yeshua/Joshua cult based on this Israelite’s salvific and messianic role as leader of the conquest of Canaan and entry into the Promised Land.
In this same regard, ישע yasha is used to describe the Lord God, rendered as “savior” at 2 Samuel 22:3 and Psalm 106:21, for example. At 2 Samuel 22:2– 3, we read about David singing:
The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; thou savest me from violence.
The original Hebrew is:
י משגבי ו שעי מ קרן א גני צ חסה־בו א ורי ו להי מפלטי־לי ו ׃ ס מצדתי י לעי הוה תשעני מ ׃ מ חמס ו שעי מנוסי
The word here for “the LORD” is יהוה Yĕhovah or Yahweh, while “God” is ' אלהים elohiym, the plural word for “gods,” in the Ugaritic/Canaanite pantheon. “Salvation” is expressed by ישע yesha', while “savior” and “savest” or “to save” are both denoted by forms of ישע yasha'.347 Note the word for “rock” in the LXX is πέτρα petra, the same as the name “Petros” or “Peter.”
As we can see, there is a heavy emphasis in the Old Testament on salvation and Yahweh as a savior. Again, this fact of reverence for salvation explains why a salvific cult was created in Christianity, with the “savior,” Yeshua, as its mythical founder.
The term for “Lord” at Exodus 15:2, יה Yahh,348 is used generally in later poetic texts, tending to cast doubt on an early date for this important passage. Russell proffers Psalms 68:5 and 19 as examples of an early usage of יה Yahh; however, might not these examples also be later interpolations? Russell also points out that the terms for “strength and protection” in Exodus 15:2— ' עז oz and זמרה zimrah, the latter rendered generally as “song”—are found in the exact form as a divine epithet in the Ugaritic texts, thereby also giving them antiquity.349 This fact serves to demonstrate that the core text drew upon Canaanite literature and cosmology.
In the next verse, Exod 15:3, “Moses” also calls the Lord a “man of war” and names him as יהוה Yĕhovah or Yahweh, and so on. Hence, Yahweh is a warrior and war god, as well as a savior.
Semitic Influence on Egyptian Texts
The Canaanite myth of the battle between Baal and Yamm/Yam spread well beyond the borders of the Levant, making its way to Egypt. As concerns the cultural exchange between the Levant and Egypt, Redford remarks:
A number of Asiatic myths appear rendered with very little modification into Egyptian. The aforementioned story of Yam and the Goddess, so well known from Ugarit and the Phoenician cities of the Levantine coast, has turned up in a beautiful, though fragmentary, papyrus now in the J.P. Morgan library. Yam exacts tribute from the gods, who reluctantly acknowledge him as overlord…. it would appear that Seth (Ba’al) eventually championed the gods’ cause and defeated Yam. Other papyri deal with the sex life of Anath and her lusty paramour of the Ba’al-type of deity. Here again Seth adopts the role of Ba’al….350
Thus, the Baal-Yam myth migrated to Egypt, with the Egyptian god Set/Seth substituting for Baal. It is significant to note also the similarity between Seth and Jacob, “the supplanter,” possibly representing not a historical patriarch but a god, “in Egypt.”351
Redford cites other writings that reveal Near Eastern influence on Egyptian culture, including language, remarking:
The impact Levantine and Mesopotamian culture made on Egypt of the New Kingdom is nowhere more vividly reflected than in the lexicon of the Egyptian language. Hundreds of Canaanite words turn up in New Kingdom documents…352
Again, for centuries the cultural exchange between Canaan and Egypt included myths and language.
The Deep and Other Allegories
The Song of the Sea thus appears to be derived from Semitic and Egyptian mythology, not a “historical” Exodus of whatever size. Referring to Exodus 4–5, Russell remarks that “Yhwh uses the primordial waters as his weapon.”353 In this regard, Exodus 15:5 employs the word תהום tĕhowm for the “deep waters” that supposedly cover the pharaoh; as we shall see, this term is utilized within the context of the great sea monster or leviathan.354 The same word is used at Exodus 15:8 to describe the “deeps…congealed in the heart of the sea.”
As Batto says:
The creation myth structure of the Song alone should be confirmation enough that Pharaoh and his hosts are viewed in larger-than-life proportions, that Pharaoh-Egypt has been metamorphosed into the primeval foe of the Creator. For this reason the poet has Pharaoh and his army cast into the sea and sunk to its abyssal depths. Pharaoh and the sea merge as a single entity. This explains why in verses 6–8 Yahweh’s ire seems to shift from Pharaoh to the sea itself...355
Again, the Hebrew word for “sea,” ים yam, is essentially the same as the Canaanite/Ugaritic name for the sea god, Yamm, battled against in the Baal cycle. Hence, in YHWH/Moses’s control of the Yam Suph or “Red Sea” we have an echo of this battle.
Preceding this yam pericope, the word for “chariots” at Exodus 15:4 is מרכבה merkabah,356 in the singular, a term popular within the mystical and allegorical Jewish tradition called the Kabbalah. An associated concept is the mysterious and otherworldly “wheel within a wheel” of the biblical prophet Ezekiel (1:4–26), to be discussed below. The same term מרכבה merkabah is used to describe Yahweh’s “throne-chariot” in the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere.357
Fig. 32. Deity labelled either ‘YHW’ (Yahu) or ‘YHD’ (Judea), seated on winged chariot wheel, holding bird, 4th century BCE. Silver coin from Gaza, British Museum
Moreover, 2 Kings 23:11 employs the same term to describe the רכבות השמש merkabah hashemesh: “chariots of the sun” or “Shamash’s chariots.” Hence, the word’s use in the Exodus story need not concern a historical or actual chariot but could represent an allegorical concept associated with deity.
In this regard, Dr. Jan van Goudoever remarks:
The Merkaba (chariot)-theology is developed in the Qumran writings and in the Enoch traditions, especially in the Third Enoch. There it is said “And the appearance of its splendour is like unto the splendour of the sunshine in the summer solstice.”358
The word “chariot” appears in Semitic texts in a poetic context,359 while real charioteers in the Levant attained an esteemed class, called by the IndoEuropean term maryannu, or mrynm in the Semitic. Interestingly, one of these charioteers in the Ugaritic texts is called ysril or “Israel.”360 In any event, the inclusion of chariots in the Song is a reflection of a mythical motif,
Previously, we discussed the notion of the “Red Sea” and that Batto disagrees with its literal association with the Exodus. Regarding the reference to the “Red Sea” at Exod 15:4–5, Batto reiterates his observations:
It has been fashionable to translate yam sûp as “Reed Sea” and to suggest that we have preserved here an authentic historical memory that Israel escaped from Egypt by wading across a shallow papyrus marsh—hence the name “Reed Sea/Marsh”—which their Egyptian pursuers were unable to negotiate in their heavy horse-drawn chariots. Elsewhere I have argued that the presence of yam sûp here cannot be due to authentic historical memory that the battle occurred at some “Reed Sea.” The whole Reed Sea hypothesis is nothing more than a figment of scholarly imagination. Biblical yam sûp always and everywhere refers to that body of water which we today identify as the Red Sea or one of its extensions...361
Batto also states that “it is not likely that the placement of Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh in or near the Red Sea in the Song of the Sea derives from authentic historical memory,” continuing:
Rather, the presence of yam sûp here is explained by the mythological connotations inherent in the name itself. Yam sûp literally means “the Sea of End/Extinction”... To these ancient Israelites yam sûp really was the sea at the end of the world. As such it was heavily freighted with all the mythological connotations associated with primeval sea.362
Thus, the Red Sea was employed to historicize an ancient myth, the Baal cycle-type battle between the hero and Yamm, while Yahweh and Moses control Yam.
At Exodus 15:10, we read about the “wind” that the Lord blew in order to control the waters, which some have tried to find in “history.” The Hebrew term used in this verse is רוח ruwach, which also refers to God’s “breath” and the Holy Spirit.363 Again, this entire song seems to be a typical allegorical and mythological poem, not the recounting of a historical event. In other religions and mythologies, the wind is personified, considered to be a deity, as in the Egyptian god Shu, also an Egyptian lawgiver and vine deity. Here we can see a germ, perhaps, of the personified “Holy Spirit.”
The word for “earth” or “land” at Exodus 15:12—“Thou didst stretch out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them”—is ' ארץ erets,364 which can refer also to the “underworld.”365 Russell cites the Akkadian and Ugaritic cognates for ' ארץ erets, indicating the term’s pre-Hebrew significance.366 Hence, again, this song could be viewed as poetic allegory based on older Canaanite underworld myths.
Exodus 15:14 refers to the inhabitants of פלשת Pĕlesheth, rendered in English “Philistia” and in Greek Φυλιστιιμ Phulistiim, referring to the Philistines. As we have seen, the Philistines did not exist during the time when the Exodus is purported to have happened, so this verse represents one of the anachronisms previously mentioned. All in all, there remains little reason to insist that the Song of the Sea recounts a historical event. It may well be an older Canaanite poem, reworked by the later Jews, utilized as the basis for their foundational tradition.
Song of Moses
Current scholarship demonstrating the non-historicity of the Pentateuch includes discussion of the “Song of Moses” at Deuteronomy 32:1–43, a lengthy recitation clearly not composed by a historical Moses.
32 Listen, you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.
2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. Deuteronomy 32:1-2
Concerning the song’s attribution to Moses as asserted in Deuteronomy 31:19 and 31:22, biblical scholar Dr. Paul Sanders remarks that “present-day scholars almost universally deny the historicity of these claims” and that “Deut. 32 would have been composed in a later period of Israel’s history.”367
19 “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. Deuteronomy 31:19
22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites. Deuteronomy 31:22
In his monograph The Provenance of Deuteronomy 32, Sanders provides the scholarship for this contention of non-Mosaic origin for the “Song of Moses.” Likewise, we can assert that the rest of the Pentateuch too was not written by a historical Moses but was composed many centuries after his supposed existence, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was political, to compete with the founding myths of other nations.
Just as in the Exodus themes, Sanders demonstrates that elements of the Song of Moses are pre-Mosaic, emanating from Ugaritic/Canaanite mythology. These pre-Israel and mythical elements in turn were drawn upon to flesh out of the Exodus story.
The Song of Deborah
As important as the texts claimed to contain germ verses about a supposed “historical” exodus are various records of relevant eras devoid of such tales. For example, along with Psalm 78—which attributes the miracles in the Exodus account to Yahweh himself and never mentions Moses—a peculiar lack of the Exodus in the literary record occurs in the biblical book of Judges, which purports to record the first organized era after the Israelites’ arrival in Canaan. Moses and Joshua barely are mentioned in Judges, only briefly in order to give some “historical” basis.
Part of Judges (5:2–31), the “Song of Deborah” recounts the conquest of peoples in Canaan by the Israelites, representing a summary of germane themes in the Pentateuch. However, the actual foundational story itself is never mentioned in any specifics. Like the Song of the Sea, Deborah’s ditty contains anachronisms such as victory over the Edomites, reflecting once more the enemies of Hezekiah and Josiah centuries later.
The date of Deborah’s song has been estimated to be 1200 to 900 BCE, making it very old and predating the Hebrew script. The older date is based on internal evidence only, such as linguistic forms, the supposed “history” it contains and when Deborah purportedly lived (c. 1200–c. 1124/1067 BCE), according to the biblical chronology. In reality, these older linguistic forms could represent archaicisms from an underlying oral tradition, originally Canaanite, since they evidently were in existence before the emergence of Hebrew as a separate Semitic dialect.
No Moses or Joshua
Neither of Israel’s purported national founders, Moses and Joshua, is included in Deborah’s song about Canaan’s conquest. The limited discussion in Judges of Moses, the purported divine lawgiver who allegedly appointed Israel’s first judges, is very strange. Throughout the text, there were many opportunities that, had the writer known the Exodus story and Moses’s receipt of the law on Mt. Sinai, he or she would have taken to bring up these themes. Moreover, the song contradicts or differs from a number of reputed “facts” in the preceding chapter 4 of Judges; hence, one or both of these accounts could not be historically accurate.
No Evidence of the Exodus
In the entire book, there are only a few references to Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, as at Judges 2:1, where the angel of the Lord mentions the Israelites “brought up from Egypt” and given the Promised Land. There remains no extant, corroborating archaeological or literary evidence for the existence of Israelites in any meaningful manner during Deborah’s purported time.
In any event, Deborah’s song provides no evidence of the Exodus, which, if she were truly the great heroine of a mere generation later, is inexplicable. As Oblath points out:
...the Song of Deborah mentions nothing about an exodus from Egypt. Nor does the text say anything concerning Moses, nor a war waged between YHWH and Pharaoh. In short, the song does not describe how Israel arrived inside the land of Canaan. Given no biblical account of an exodus, such an event could not be concluded, or even inferred, from the text in Judges.368
If genuinely ancient to whatever extent, the Deborah poem would represent only a repeated tradition of Israel in Canaan and would not prove any of the events of the Exodus.
Sisera and the Chariots of Iron
An example of where Moses surely would be recalled, were the Exodus historical and had involved the patriarch, can be found in the account of the Canaanite general Sisera’s defeat. In this story, Yahweh routes Sisera and his 900 “chariots of iron” (Jdg 5:15), a scene reminiscent of the Red Sea drowning of the pharaoh and his army in chariots. Yet, the writer of Judges appears to be oblivious to this important and decisive moment in Israel’s alleged history.
Instead, the figure of Samson is the book’s most famous hero, defeating the Philistines, into whose hands the Israelites had been delivered for 40 years (Jdg 13:1), the familiar length of time used repeatedly in the Exodus story. Samson may have been the epithet of a local solar, fertility and wine-vine god at Timnah, in the vineyards of which the hero kills a lion, to discover a beehive full of honey inside the animal (Jdg 14:5–9). It should be evident that this implausible tale does not reflect a historical event.
The Song of Deborah has been analyzed as reflecting astral religion or astrotheology, focusing on the pericope (Jdg 5:20) which states that the stars were part of the victorious Israelite army:
From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sis′era
עם־סיסרא נ ׃ מ לחמו ה מסלותם נ כוכבים מ לחמו ן־שמים
Here the Hebrew word for “heaven” is שמים shamayim,369 the same term used to describe the “sky” as well as “God’s heaven,” along with the sky deities in Canaanite myth, previously noted. Shamayim appears over 400 times in the Old Testament, including at Isaiah 47:13, combined with the verb הבר habar, “to divide,” indicating “astrologers.” The Hebrew term for “stars” in this passage is כוכב kowkab, also used in conjunction with another word, חזה chozeh, “seer,” to indicate “stargazers.” (Is 47:13) The same term כוכב kowkab is employed to denote the “star of Messiah” or “star out of Jacob” (Num 24:17).
This story follows on the heels of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, which is demonstrably fictional and is omitted from Judges, and there is little reason to suspect that the song of Deborah itself is historical.
Nonhistoricity of Deborah
In this regard, Deborah herself may represent not an ancient historical personage but a mythical character, possibly a demoted goddess or anthropomorphized divine epithet. This sort of mythmaking turning tribal gods into demigods, heroes, patriarchs, prophets, elders, saints, disciples and so on was common in antiquity, as cultures and ethnicities merged, and as monotheistic supremacism or henotheism were developed.
Massey equates Deborah, along with her seven princes and companions, with the “goddess Seven” of Egypt:
Deborah was the first, the primordial Word, the oracle of the beginning, identical as such with Tep (Eg.), the tongue, and Teb, a name of Typhon, the living Word; one with Wisdom of the seven pillars, and Arke of the beginning. Her name also identifies Deborah with the north, or hinder part. Before her time, we are told that the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through the byways. There was no celestial chart, no roads mapped out, no inhabitants in heaven. Hers was the time of the SHEPHT, the judges (princes) the seven companions who are the Elohim of Genesis, whose judgment-seat was the mount, and who rode on white asses. Following Deborah, “They chose new gods; there was war in the gates.” [Jdg 5:8] Hers was the reign of Peace. Hept (Khept) means peace and plenty. Hers was the time when mankind were of one tongue, the golden age associated with the name of Sut or Saturn.
Her consort is Lapidoth ( ,)לפידות the lightner; his name signifies lightnings. Another Hero is Barak, whose name has the same meaning. Barak is Sutekh; Bar the Son, the Ar, is one of Sut’s names. Sutekh or Barak was the glorious war-god, fierce as fire, the fulminator against the powers of darkness, one of the first, as the star Sothis and son of the Sabean mother, to pass through the Hades of death...370
Massey was of the opinion that, like much else in the Bible, this story takes place not on earth but in the heavens, in emulation of Egyptian myth. The number seven, it should be recalled, frequently represented in antiquity the Pleiades or “Seven Sisters.”
The Bee Goddess
Deborah also may be the bee goddess who came with the tribe of Issachar when the early Iron Age hill settlements were established.371 Honey, it should be noted, was a “substance of resurrection-magic,” with the dead embalmed in it and “ready for rebirth.”372 In this regard, independent scholar of mythology Barbara G. Walker relates:
Myths presented many symbolic assurances that the Goddess would restore life to the dead through her magic “bee-balm.” Worshippers of Demeter called her “the pure mother bee,” and at her Thesmophoria festivals displayed honey-cakes shaped like female genitals. The symbol of Aphrodite at Eryx was a golden honeycomb. Her priestess bore the name of Melissa, “Queen Bee,” the same as the Jewish Queen Deborah, priestess of Asherah, whose name also meant “bee.”373
Elsewhere Walker states:
“Queen Bee,” a ruler of Israel in the matriarchal period, bearing the same name as the Goddess incarnate in early Mycenaean and Anatolian rulers as “the Pure Mother Bee.” Deborah lived under a sacred palm tree that also bore her name, and was identified with the maternal Tree of Life, like Xikum, the Tree of Ishtar. The Bible
called her a “prophetess” or “judge” to disguise the fact that she was one of the governing matriarchs of a former age (Judges 4:4).
One of Deborah’s alternate names was Jael, “the Goddess Jah,” possibly the same one patriarchal Persians called “Jahi the Whore,” an earlier feminine form of Yahweh.374
Writing about Jael (Jdg 4:22), Walker further states:
“Wild She-Goat,” alternate name for the Israelite queen Deborah as a mate of the scapegoat-god, Baal-Gad or Pan, Ja-El was the same as the Persians’ primal Goddess Jahi, adopted by tribal queens of the pre-patriarchal period. Jael sacrificed Sisera in a strange way, nailing his head to the ground (Judges 4:21), which may be likened to the priestess of Artemis Tauropolis nailing the heads of their victims to crosses.375
Fig. 33. Jael killing Sisera. (Speculum Humanae Salvationis, c. 1360)
Concerning the Persian goddess Jahi the Whore, Walker comments:
Oddly enough, some of the earliest forms of the name of the Jewish God seem to have been masculinized versions of the name of Jahi. Variations include Jahu, Jah, Yahu, Iau, Jaho. Some myths indicate that this God like Ahriman once had a serpent form and may have played the part of the Great Mother’s serpent.376
The emergence of Yahweh as perhaps a masculinization of the old Persian serpent and fertility goddess Jahi is significant, as is his possible early role as the serpent of the Goddess.
As part of her magical and godly attributes, Walker contends, Jael/Deborah was said to “cast victory spells” for the Israelites (Jdg 4:8). She was said also to rule for 40 years, another usage of the ubiquitous number 40, discussed below.
Exodus in the Prophets
Absent in Judges, the earliest that traces of the Exodus story can be discerned is the eighth century, in the writings of the biblical prophets:
The earliest mentions are in the prophets Amos (possibly) and Hosea (certainly), both active in 8th century BCE Israel. In contrast, Proto-Isaiah and Micah, both active in Judah at much the same time, never do. It thus seems reasonable to conclude that the Exodus tradition was important in the northern kingdom in the 8th century, but not in Judah.377
Evidently by this time, the southern kingdom Judeans had not adopted the Canaan-conquest foundational myth, which makes sense since Joshua was significantly a northern kingdom hero. Indeed, he evidently was originally a Semitic “god of salvation” remade into a patriarch; hints of his esteem as a god can be seen in the Joshua cult of the Samaritans and Dead Sea Zadokites, as well as the New Testament Jesus.378
Absent Egyptian Record
We have seen that there exists no real evidence of the Exodus story in the Bible until the time of the prophets at the earliest, and no evidence for Moses until post-Exilic times. Nor is there any extrabiblical record of this supposedly historical occurrence. Literalist apologies for why there exists no specific Egyptian documentation of these extraordinary events include that people suffering so would not be interested in writing things down, as they scrambled to stay alive—and to protect their beloved children, undoubtedly, who were being slaughtered mercilessly by Yahweh.
On the contrary, all over the world people have felt compelled to chronicle their suffering, and the Exodus story itself is a record of Israelite misery. By this logic, the Exodus story would not have been written down by those who purportedly experienced the distress; hence, it must be either hearsay or fictional.
As we have seen, another excuse for the lack of a corroborative historical record is that the Egyptians naturally would be humiliated completely and try to erase such a resounding defeat from their memories and history. This last part is difficult to believe, as by the 10th biblical plague, for instance, the country would be completely decimated, and refugees would be fleeing to other parts, where they assuredly would tell others about what supposedly had happened to them. Of course, the apology at that point might be that nobody survived to escape and tell anyone. In this case, there would also not be anyone to pursue the fleeing mass of slaves.
Moreover, such reasoning does not take into account the Egyptian outposts such as in Canaan and elsewhere, which certainly would be aware that everyone in their country was either dead or enduring a horrendous calamity which likewise would have destroyed the economy, including as far as these very colonies.
The bottom line is that these numerous devastating supernatural events would have reverberated well into the Near and Middle East, and possibly farther, into India and even China. The Bedouin and other travelers through the Sinai also likely would have heard about a mass of two to three million people camping there for 40 years, and the flight of so many laborers from Egypt would have destroyed the economy as well.
The Ipuwer Papyrus
Even though it has been contended that the Egyptians were too “humiliated” by the Exodus to include it in their written records, some researchers have pointed to the Egyptian text called the Ipuwer Papyrus as “probably a description of these events.”
The Ipuwer Papyrus, also called the “Admonitions,” describes the usurpation of wealth from the Egyptians to their slaves; hence, it is similar to the biblical story that the Hebrews were given the “unimaginable” riches of the Egyptians to take with them on their journey to the Promised Land. It remains difficult to explain how the Hebrews could carry all that booty—and who would give it to them, since most of Egypt was dead.
The papyrus has been dated either to several centuries before the Exodus supposedly happened, possibly between 1850–1600 BCE, or to the 13th century at the latest. Current scholarship also avers that some of the text may be as old as the time of the pharaoh Khety I (c. 2130–2080 BCE). As we can see, there is no consensus as to its date, much less what it purportedly contains as “history.” Because of its apparent age, however, the text would predate the era of Moses by centuries and thus could not be relating the Exodus tale.
The Ipuwer text is directed at the sun god and names foreigners as bedu or Bedouins, typical Asiatic hordes, like the shasu and ‘apiru, to be discussed below.379 The Egyptians had been dealing with these “vile Asiatics” for over a thousand years before the Exodus purportedly happened.380 To reiterate, during this time there were numerous ingresses and exoduses by Asiatics from the east, who came and went countless times over the centuries.
The Ipuwer papyrus’s writer appears to be lamenting the destruction of the scribe’s country by these alien Asiatics, whom some have surmised were the Hyksos, the Semitic peoples who occupied part of Lower Egypt during the second millennium BCE. Christian apologist Dr. Stephen C. Meyer avers that the lamentations refer to the “second intermediate period when the Hyksos rose to power.”
Since this text was composed evidently over a period of centuries, it may be part of a genre of “lamentations,” like similar texts of the Egyptians and Sumerians. In this regard, German Egyptologist Dr. Ludwig D. Morenz (b. 1965) comments:
In respect of their content and form...the “Admonitions” are strikingly close to the Sumerian city laments (Quack 1997), and, from Egypt itself, to the laments for the dead.... In the “Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur,” the decline of the land and its (capital) city is bewailed first, while that of the cities follows.381
Morenz further surmises that, as had these earlier Sumerian writings, the Ipuwer text serves as propaganda to justify a power shift from Memphis to Hieracleopolis.382 The changeover occurred at the end of the Old Kingdom, around 2150 BCE, many centuries before the alleged historical Exodus.
There are lamentations in the Bible as well, with an entire book by that title bemoaning Jerusalem, like the Sumerian texts lamenting a city. For decades since various pagan lamentations texts were discovered, there has been within academia a debate about whether the biblical version drew directly from Mesopotamian compositions or represents an independent manifestation of a “broad literary tradition of laments.”383
As Morenz concludes: “Whatever their historical relationship may be, Mesopotamian lament literature and the book of Lamentations obviously share similar motifs, themes and images.”384 Hence, if it has any significance in this matter, the Ipuwer text would demonstrate the non-historical nature of the Exodus, as part of a genre.
The Ipuwer text also exemplifies very ancient messianic ideas reflected in the much later Jewish and Christian ideology. In discussing Ipuwer’s laments for instance, Breasted remarks:
The peculiar significance of the picture lies in the fact that, if not the social programme at least the social ideals, the golden dream of the thinkers of this far-off age already included the ideal ruler of spotless character and benevolent purposes who would cherish and protect his own and crush the wicked. Whether the coming of this ruler is definitely predicted or not, the vision of his character and his work is here unmistakably lifted up by the ancient sage—lifted up in the presence of the living king and those assembled with him, that they may catch something of its splendor. This is, of course, Messianism nearly fifteen hundred years before its appearance among the Hebrews.385
In recalling this “golden age,” Ipuwer mourns the reign of the king under Re or Ra, reflecting the solar divinity as “savior,” a very ancient and widespread notion.
As we can see, significant “biblical” ideas find their place in much older literature, which is not “historical” but represents a genre, including lamentations and messianism. In any event, the Ipuwer papyrus cannot be said to reflect a historical account of the biblical Exodus. If there is any relationship, it may be that parts of the Exodus story started out as an allegorical and/or propagandistic lamentation such as we find in this type.
Discovered in the 19th century at the headquarters of Akhenaten’s cult and written using cuneiform in Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language, the Amarna letters date from Amenhotep III’s reign until the demise of his “monotheistic” successor, Akhenaten (14th cent. BCE). The letters represent a cache of about 200 cuneiform tablets that address the rulers of many different regions in the Near and Middle East, including the Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Cypriot, Hittite, Mitanni, Phoenician, Syrian and Ugaritian. True to the nature of the Akhenaten cultus, the Amarna texts constantly invoked the sun as Lord, in phrases such as “the eternal sun,” “the sun, god of my father,” “my sun” and so on.
Thus, the Amarna letters are not all administrative or diplomatic, as they also contain religious ideas, such as the following solar hymn:
To the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life... your slave and dust under your feet. At the feet of the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, I bowed down seven times seven times. I heard the words of the tablets of the King my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, and the heat of your slave and the dust under the feet of the King, my lord, my sun, my god, the breath of my life, is exceeding glad that the breath of the King my lord, my sun, my god has gone out to his slave and to the dust under his feet.386
This 30-year correspondence comprising some 400 letters and spanning two Egyptian kingships also involves kings and other rulers in lesser or more obscure areas such as Amurru, Beruta, Gezer, Megiddo, Qadesh, Qatna, Taanach, Zidon and elsewhere. Yet, in all this mass, we find not a single recognition of any certain Israelite presence but, instead, reference to nomadic Semitic “robbers” called ‘apiru or Hapiru/Habiru. In all this correspondence dealing with these Levantine peoples who would have been surrounding the Israelites, there is no mention of the Hebrews in Egypt or elsewhere whatsoever, as if they did not exist or were of so little consequence as to be unrecognized.
According to some of the numerous dates assigned to the purported events of the Exodus, these letters were composed around the time of, or decades to centuries after, the biblical texts. Yet, they make no mention of the horrendous destruction of the plagues and deaths, even though they highlight many other problems. They also show that the Canaan of this theorized Exodus era and even decades later was full of Egyptian influence. As Redford says, “The occupation by Egyptian troops of Canaanite towns is well attested in the Amarna Letters and in Egyptian inscriptions.”387
At this same time, Canaanites were engaged in Egypt, as they had been for centuries, including and especially those later called Phoenicians:
Asiatics are found as goldsmiths, coppersmiths and shipwrights, and one even rose to superintendent of all construction work of the king. One young Canaanite, Pas-Ba’al, possibly taken prisoner under Thutmose III [c. 1479–c. 1425 BCE], became chief draftsman in the Temple of Amun, and six generations later his descendants are still occupying this office. Scribes of Syrian extraction turn up commonly, especially in the treasury. A chief physician Ben-’anath is known, belonging to the prestigious “Mansion-for-Life.”388
Thus, the Amarna letters reveal abundantly the longtime and intimate cultural interchange between the Levant and Egypt, before and/or during the purported time of the Exodus.
Ilimilku and the Legend of Keret
In one Amarna letter, mention is made of a man named Ilimilku (fl. 1350– 1335 BCE), also transliterated as Milkilu, Milk-ilu or Milku-ilu, who “caused the loss of all the territories of the king.”389 There did exist a prominent Ilimilku, an Ugaritic high priest who wrote down the Canaanite myths of Baal and of El in the Legend of Keret found at Ugarit/Ras Shamra. The name appears to signify Ilu-milkom, or “King Ilu/El,” reflecting a common tradition of theophoric or “god-bearing” names for priest-kings.
The Legend of Keret (c. 1500–1200 BCE) describes the trials of a king—a purported son of the god El—the solution of which sounds very biblical, as a precursor of various OT tales, such as making war on the neighboring kingdom to demand a wife and booty. This tale, however, is devoid of Hebrew influence, as are the Amarna texts. In the end, it is obvious that, at the time of the Amarna correspondence, there was no significant proto-Israelite “Hebrew” people.
As was the case with the archaeology and scientific analysis, the extant literature of the Levant and Egypt does not reveal a historical Exodus, whether biblical or otherwise. In the end and as was the case with the archaeology, the literary record does not provide evidence of a “historical” Exodus. Rather, the core story appears to be mythical, based on Canaanite and Egyptian religion, mythology and tradition, altered in order to cast Egypt and its rulers as the villains of ancient cosmological battling. A number of biblical scriptures support this view, including the Song of the Sea, Song of Moses and Song of Deborah.
Fig. 34. Map of Near East during Amarna period showing regional powers: Egyptians, Hittites, Mitanni, Kassites (after Historical Atlas, fig. 6)