Flight as Myth
“...Moses, or the compiler of the Book of Genesis, whoever he may have been, manifests a familiar acquaintance with the religious epics of Babylonia, which go back to the twenty-third century B.C., to a date, i.e., about 800 years earlier than the reputed time of Moses. By being worked into these early Hebrew documents, Babylonian ideas were ensured persistence and obtained a worldwide currency.”
Rev. Dr. A. Smythe Palmer, Babylonian Influence on the Bible and Popular Beliefs (3–4)
“The vanity of building up history out of myth by a process of rationalizing the primeval fables is indescribable!... The Hebrew miracles are Egyptian myths, and as such can be explained in accordance with nature….
“We have to face the fact, and it is well to do so in a manly fashion. We cannot wriggle out of it by squirming; we shall not avoid the collision by flinching. The light will not be shut out by blinking. The myths of Egypt supplied the mysteries of the world. The myths of Egypt are the miracles of the Hebrew writings, and a true explanation of the one must inevitably explode the false pretentions of the other. Half my labour has to be spent in reducing the Jewish mythology from the status of divine revelation and establishing its relative importance by the comparative method, which will be applied incessantly and remorselessly. The key of these writings was lost, and is found in Egypt.
“The original foundational matter of all the aptly named Mosaic writings is not, and was not, historical at all, but entirely mythical. The primordial Exodus, like the Genesis, belongs to the celestial allegory.
“...The myths of Egypt will be found to have been copied and reproduced, and declared to have been given directly from the hand and mouth of the Lord, whereas there was no revelation or divine origin in the matter. The Hebrews took them from the Egyptians...”
Gerald Massey, A Book of the Beginnings (2.176–178)
IT HAS BEEN SHOWN that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, that he cannot be identified in the historical record, and that the biblical Exodus story ranks as implausible if not impossible as history, defying logic and physical laws, and having no external corroboration, such as artifacts or literary accounts.
We have discussed also that there are a number of exoduses out of Egypt, the details of which could have been used to flesh out the biblical Exodus drama, which never happened as depicted. Moreover, we have discovered who the Israelites were, that their foundation was not like the story in the Bible, and that they practiced Egyptian-influenced Canaanite and Mesopotamian religion.
In reality, there is little reason to pronounce the supernatural Exodus epic any more historical than the great dramas of the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Baal myth, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Beowulf, Eddas, the Popol Vuh and other ancient writings.
Many of the major stories from the Old Testament are largely mythical, such as the supernatural tales full of magic and miracles. Although historical and geographical features may have been woven into the biblical tale (and incorrectly at that) to make it seem as history, the theme of the Exodus is a non-historical event ... and it constitutes a motif found in other myths, including, Egypt, Babylon, and other areas.
The Moses story as a whole reveals itself to be a mythical archetype that is typically historicized.
The Flight Archetype
Moses and the Exodus appears to be a Jewish emulation of an ancient mythical archetype. We have seen already that Tacitus discussed the “flight of Saturn” as the basis for the foundation of the city of Jerusalem. Influential French biblical scholar Rev. Samuel Bochart (1599–1667) in his Hierozoicon, like many others, associated the Exodus with the Set/Typhon story. He focused on the plagues as aspects of the latter myth and declaring that;
“the flight of Typhon is the Exodus of Moses from Egypt.”
As also noted, Plutarch complained about the Judaization of the Egyptian myth of Seth-Typhon fleeing his battle with Horus.
In Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride or “Isis and Osiris”, found in his Moralia, the Greek mythographer remarks:
But those who relate that Typhon’s flight from the battle was made on the back of an ass and lasted for seven days, and that after he had made his escape, he became the father of sons, Hierosolymus and Judaeus, are manifestly, as the very names show, attempting to drag Jewish traditions into the legend.
The original Greek of Plutarch’s Typhon tale (363c–d) is:
οἱ δὲ λέγοντες ἐκ τῆς μάχης ἐπ’ ὄνου τῷ Τυφῶνι τὴν φυγὴν ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας γενέσθαι καὶ σωθέντα γεννῆσαι παῖδας Ἱεροσόλυμον καὶ Ἰουδαῖον, αὐτόθεν εἰσὶ κατάδηλοι τὰ Ἰουδαϊκὰ παρέλκοντες εἰς τὸν μῦθον [mython].
Note that the last word in the Greek paragraph above is μῦθον mython, the accusative of μῦθος mythos, rendered here as “legend” but meaning also “myth,” as well as “word, speech,” hence “mouth.” Writing in the second century AD/CE, Plutarch is asserting basically that the Jewish tale is based on or woven into a myth.
As we can see, in the typical ancient fashion of attributing a culture to legendary heroes, such as Romulus and Remus founding Rome, some in antiquity averred there were two Jewish brothers named “Hierosolymus” and “Judaeus” or “Jerusalem” and “Judea,” respectively. Moreover, these brothers were said to be the sons of the god Seth or Typhon, also known as Apophis and Baal, the Hyksos’ main god, evidently serving as two tribal deities demoted from heavenly to human status.
Concerning the hybrid Egypto-Hyksos deity, Seth-Baal or Baal-Seth, Swiss Catholic theologian and Egyptologist Dr. Othmar Keel and German religion professor Dr. Christoph Uehlinger both state:
The influence of the Egyptian deity Seth on the Canaanite Baal is certain.... Seth-Baal...is encountered regularly on the seal amulets that were mass-produced during the Ramesses Period... He appears occasionally already in the Late Bronze Age...
Fig. 43. Seth-Baal (top), Baal-Seth and the sun god (bottom left two), and Seth with Amun name (bottom right), c. 16th–11th cents. BCE. Seal amulets (after Keel and Uehlinger, )
The Egyptian seal amulets of Seth-Baal in cruciform demonstrate a possible prototype for the famous “Alexamenos” graffito and for the story that the Jews worshipped an ass.
The syncretic Baal-Seth continued to hold prominence, especially as a war god and in association with a sun god. Both Baal and Seth are said to conquer sea serpents as well, while “at Lachish, Baal-Seth is shown adorned with two bull’s horns” and in “one hand he has struck a horned snake on the back of the neck,” elements similar to those within the Moses myth as well.
Keel and Uehlinger call Seth-Baal a “major deity,” commenting:
By means of the combination of Baal and Seth as serpent conquerors, the serpent, an Egyptian symbol of the danger in the dark of night and a Canaanite symbol of the stormy sea, became a symbol of danger in general. The god who could defeat such a creature is treated as a savior, pure and simple.
Those promoting this legend may have been Jews laying claim to Set or Seth as their ancestor, as with the biblical Seth of Genesis (4:25), third child of Adam and Eve and the progenitor of the “good” humans. This story fits in with the Hyksos following Seth and, possibly, with the much later Sethian
The Great Mendes Stele
The flight of Typhon out of Egypt represents an archetypal theme within Egyptian or “Kamite” religion. An important interpretation of this idea follows along the lines of “as above, so below,” with astrotheological connotation for the “coming out of Egypt”:
“Coming out of Egypt” is a Kamite expression for ascending from the lower to the upper heavens, which were divided in equinoctial signs.
The source of this contention is the Great Mendes Stele, as discussed in Records of the Past (8.91–92).
Fig. 44. Great Mendes Stele, 3rd cent. BCE. Formerly in Bulaq Museum, Egypt
Found at Bulaq/Boulaq or Mendes/Tanen, the stele/stela was translated by Egyptologist Dr. Heinrich Karl Brugsch-Bey (1827–1894) and dated to the 32nd Dynasty (305–30 BCE). At the top of the stele is the typical solar wingeddisk or hut, followed by an inscription:
Hut, the great god, Lord of the heaven, the giver of beams, who comes out of the horizon on the side of Upper Egypt, and gives a pure life!557
The other side refers to the “coming out of Lower Egypt,”558 the same region from which Moses and the Israelites likewise supposedly came out of that land. As we can see, the stele contains an emphasis on “coming out of Egypt,” both the Upper (south) and Lower (north) sides, in this case representing the movement of the sun across the sky.
Also depicted on the stele, as the “Great God of Mendes,” is Horus in his form of Harpocrates, the Child, the morning sun, styled additionally RaHorakhti or “Horus of the Two Horizons.” Like Hut, he is a solar deity, addressed on the stele thus:
Long live the Sun-Horus, the strong youth, the Lord of the diadems, the glorious, the golden Horus, who has crowned his father, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lord of the country, the friend of Amen, to whom the Sun has granted victory, the Son of the Sun...559
Horus is called here the “Son of the Sun” and “Ptolemaios,” reflecting the belief in the pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphius (309–246 BCE)560 as the living Horus. As such, he is also he “Who loves the Ram” and “whom the gods praise, whom the goddesses praise in his form of the Living Ram, who is rich in male power, who is the Prince of the Deities.”561
The Ram and Son of the Ram
In keeping with this ruminant theme, the Mendes stele contains a representation of a ram with a disk and horns, along with the inscription: “The sacred Ram-god, the Great God, the Life of Ra, the Generative Ram, the Prince of young women...” On this stele, we also read about the “holy Ram in the meadows of Mendes” who is the “Lord of the city of Mendes.”562
On the other side is written, “The life, the Lord of the land, the Lord of might, Mer-Amen, the Son of Ra...” Brugsch-Bey notes that this part refers to Ptolemy II regarding the legend of the ram: “The King, the Ram, the Life of Ra, the Ram, the Life of Osiris, the Ram of Rams, the Prince of Princes...”563
The Horus-king is also called “This excellent god the image of the divine Ram,” as well as the “divine efflux of the prolific Ram” and the “eldest son of the Ram, the creator of that which exists, who is enthroned in the seat of the Prince of the gods...”564 Horus the Child is deemed the son of the ram god as well.565
As we can see, there is tremendous focus on the virile Ram, associated with divinity, the pharaoh and the sun. Throughout the Pentateuch too great emphasis is placed on the sacred ram, sacrificed on a variety of occasions in order to please and appease Yahweh, including all through the Exodus story.
In this regard, Orthodox Jewish rabbi Avraham Greenbaum recounts the tradition of the Exodus in the spring as occurring in the zodiacal sign of Aries:
The Exodus from Egypt took place under the spring-time astrological sign of Aries, the Ram. In flagrant defiance of Egyptian worship of the Ram, the Children of Israel took their paschal lambs and slaughtered them as a sacrifice to HaVaYaH, showing that God alone rules in heaven and on earth.566
In this case, the Exodus would represent the movement of the sun out of the desolate winter signs into the promised land or meadows of spring.
The plaguing of humanity with some sort of disease or affliction is common throughout history, and such catastrophes frequently were attributed to divine intervention of one sort or another. If there is one or more omnipotent deity in charge of everything, it has been believed, it must be him (or them) causing the epidemic or disaster.
Indeed, any number of gods or goddesses over the millennia have been blamed for natural disasters and diseases, including Seth/Baal, the god of the Hyksos and later Jewish sects. We have seen already that the plagues story emulates the pestilence of Typhon/Set.
Hence, the Exodus tale represents a literary device drawing upon the region’s worldview as far as religious thinking is concerned. If one were trying to make an all powerful God above the rest, one would ascribe a series of plagues to him or her alone. If Yahweh is the god also of Seth-worshippers, it follows that the pestilence deity’s attributes were attached to him and emphasized.
Pagan Divine Intervention
As in the Homeric epics, as well as so many other religious stories globally that involves divine intervention, the ancient gods were portrayed constantly as “messing around” with petty little humans. The controlling of plagues by a deity is a relatively common motif in antiquity. For example, Pausanias the Greek traveler writer (c. 110–180 AD/CE) repeatedly attributes either the staying or averting of plagues to various gods, including Apollo (1.3.4, 7.41.8, 8.41.8ff), Artemis (2.7.7ff), Hermes (9.22.1) and Pan (2.32.6).592
European historian Dr. Joseph P. Byrne summarizes this common motif:
Epidemics were usually understood as having been let loose upon the world by supernatural forces: one or many gods, demons or spirits of the dead. In most cases, these heavenly beings were not seen as acting randomly but as responding to particular human actions that offended them.
In this regard, we find several stories about plagues in Greece, especially one at Athens described by Thucydides, which allegedly killed the Athenian leader Pericles (c. 495–429 BCE). Byrne then names Latin writers Lucretius (99–55 BCE), Virgil (70–19 BCE) and Ovid (43 BCE–17 AD/CE) as utilizing the Athenian plague account in their own works. In this regard, Apollo in particular is highlighted, as the sun was considered to be the great healer against illness and infirmity. Another famous episode of god-induced affliction occurs in the poem about Oedipus’s patricide by the Greek writer Sophocles (496–406 BCE).594
The Romans likewise kept records of pestilences, some of which were destroyed with the Celtic Gaul sacking of Rome in 390 BCE.595 The later Roman writer Titus Livius or “Livy” (1.31) composed an account about one of Rome’s early kings, Tullus Hostilius (fl. 673–641 BCE), who “brought a plague on the city and on himself because of his neglect of the gods, rendering both it [the city] and him afraid and ineffective.”596 Byrne further relates:
A similar charge of bringing a plague on Rome as a result of religious impropriety was leveled at Scipio Aemelianus (censor in 142 BCE) by one of his rivals... As in many cultures, plague signaled to the Romans that their community was in some way out of favor with the gods, and that special consultation and communal action were required. Devastating plagues circa 436–33 BCE and circa 293 BCE induced the Romans to consult the Sibylline Books (a collection of mystic and prophetic writings attributed to oracular priestesses) and to take action through the dedications to Apollo the Healer in 433 BCE...and by bringing the cult of the healing god Asclepius to Rome and establishing it on Tibur island about 293 BCE... In both cases, these actions were said to have been immediately successful...
Rome’s story, however, is also one of nearly continual war, and numerous plagues and epidemic diseases played roles at different stages and at key moments in that story....
In addition to accounts of historical plagues, plague became a kind of literary motif in Roman literature of the Golden Age (first century BCE...). Most authors...owe their descriptions and structure to the famous accounts of the Athenian plague (428–427 BCE) by the historian Thucydides (2.47–54)...597
As we can see, the blaming of plagues on gods and goddesses has been common, and religious propitiation is believed to be the remedy, which explains the establishment and installation of healing sects in various places. Such is the perspective also in the biblical accounts, which seek to appease Yahweh by means of mass sacrifices, by following the onerous law, as well as by numerous other measures.
The biblical composers of the fictional plagues story had much natural pestilence from which to draw as well, including locusts that continually swept through Egypt and Israel. Since plagues and epidemics often were recorded in antiquity, it is possible that there were written texts of various pestilence accounts that the Bible writers utilized, perhaps during the Babylonian exile, if this part of the Exodus story was during that time.
Ra, Hathor and the Bloody Nile
In a myth similar to the biblical plague in which Egypt’s water is turned to blood (Exod 7:14–25) but preceding the composition of that biblical myth by hundreds to thousands of years, the Egyptian sun god Ra sends his “divine eye” in the form of Hathor to punish the people for their treachery and rebellion against him. Hathor slaughters so many that their blood floods the Nile, turning it red. At this point, Ra repents and, in order to slake Hathor’s bloodthirstiness, dyes a lake of beer blood red.598 It is noteworthy that Hathor is a goddess of inebriation at whose festival the participants became intoxicated specifically with wine, in an act of “sacral drunkenness.”599
Nergal the Pestilent
During the second millennium BCE, Mesopotamian scribes wrote about the Semitic underworld god Nergal, like the Greek deity of death Hades, “both benevolent and punitive,” as a “protector of kings.” He is also a “destroying flame” and “mighty storm,” a “fearsome warrior god who looses war, pestilence and devastation upon the land.”600
In a hymn from the Bronze Age entitled “An adab to Nergal for Šu-ilīšu” (39–53), we read:
Lord of the underworld, who acts swiftly in everything, whose terrifying anger smites the wicked, Nergal, single-handed crusher, who tortures the disobedient, fearsome terror of the Land, respected lord and hero, Nergal, you pour their blood down the wadis [gullies] like rain. You afflict all the wicked peoples with woe, and deprive all of them of their lives.601
Nergal sounds very much like the later biblical Yahweh, as represented in many biblical verses.
Storm God of Hatti
We find other “plague prayers” in Hittite writings from the 14th century BCE, centuries before the Exodus story was written down, by this Indo-European ethnicity who thrived for centuries in the Levant. One of these prayers was spoken by a “priest of the gods,” the Hittite king Mursilis II (fl. c. 1321–1295 BCE), who complained to the “stormgod of Hatti” that a pestilence had been causing “constant dying” for some 20 years. “Will the plague never be eliminated from the land of Hatti?” he asks desperately.602 It has been suggested that prisoners of war brought the plague to Mursilis’s land.
Rešef of Canaan
An even more direct precedent for Yahweh as pestilence god is the Canaanite/Ugaritic underworld deity Rešef, as discussed in the Ras Shamra texts.603 Rešef is portrayed wearing the horns of a gazelle, resembling
depictions of Amun, Baal, Dionysus, Moses, Pan and others. In this regard, speaking of “bulls” and “gazelles” in a Ugaritic composition from Ras Shamra the Krt Text who may represent human officials, Gray remarks that they were likely “priests” and that they may represent Baal, “whose cult animal was the bull, and Rešef, who is represented with a head-dress mounted with gazelle-horns.”604
Gray further states that the “bulls” were “seventy in number” and possibly reflect a priestly order of Baal, whose “cult animal was the bull and who is represented by bull’s horns on his helmet.”605 The seventy (70) are prominent also in a text discussing the slaughter of oxen, sheep, goats, asses and other animals to Baal, as offerings at his funeral.606 Seventy also is the number of the Canaanite Elohim, “gods” or “sons of El,” discussed below.
Rešef was revered during the eighth century in the Aramaean states of Syria, also included in a Phoenician inscription that portrays him as “Reshef of the Bucks.”607 Hence, his worship extends from before the Bible was written and well into the time when the Jews first emerged as a separate tribe, constituting a direct cultural precedent.
As we can see, it was a common mythical religious theme to blame the actions of a people for a pestilence or disaster striking them. If one were to write a divine intervention story of deliverance, the plagues would fit in as a mythical or allegorical literary device. It is possible that the biblical composers drew from such sources as the Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite and Hittite plague and pestilence tales or a prevalent archetype that influenced them all.
The khus are offered cakes, which must not be stolen, as one must testify in the Hall of Maat not to have done so, in the famous spell 125 of the Book of the Dead:
I have not purloined the cakes of the gods. I have not carried off the cakes offered to the khus.626
The cakes of the gods and glorified spirits sound similar to the manna from heaven for the chosen people.
Many of these themes are central to Egyptian religion, and it is likely that educated Jewish priests and scribes were aware of them. Indeed, these metaphysical and allegorical attributes fit in well with the kabbalistic interpretation of Israelite 600,000 as “heavenly souls.”
It should also be noted that the Book of the Dead in one form or another was transmitted by copyists from its earliest appearance in the 16th century BCE to the Roman period, around 50 BCE, eventually widely available to priests and the common people alike of various cultures.
Cyrus the Christ
At Isaiah 45:1, the Persian king Cyrus (600/576–530 BCE) is celebrated as the “Lord’s anointed” or Christ, as the word appears in the Septuagint:
οὕτως λέγει κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ
Thus says the LORD God to his [my] Christ, to Cyrus627
The original Hebrew for “Christos” is משיח mashiyach, “Messiah.”
Cyrus was said to have employed 600,000 foot soldiers in his assault on Babylon that supposedly freed the Jews in Exile.628 It could be that this number in the Exodus was struck upon also as a commemoration of that event of freedom from bondage, if its inclusion postdates the Cyrus story, or that the number in the Cyrus tale is likewise more of the same “sacred numerology” storytelling.
Either way, it is possible the Exodus account echoes in part or draws from this situation with the messiah Cyrus, who became a beloved figure in Jewish tradition for supposedly freeing the Jews from captivity. This purported escape from Babylon could also be construed as a divinely ordained exodus event.
There has been skepticism as to the historicity of the Cyrus tale as well, as some Jews may have resided voluntarily in Babylon, studying at the university and/or libraries there, while the “Lost Tribes” story seems to have been exaggerated in order to explain why the northern kingdom worshipped differently from the southern kingdom.
In any event, Cyrus the Christ, savior of the Jews, is depicted as wandering in the wilderness with 600,000 men. The Moses episode could have incorporated some of Cyrus’s legend into it as well, or both could have drawn from the same mythical motif.
Like Cyrus before him, Alexander the Great was also said to have “six hundred thousand horsemen” during his campaign.629 Rather than representing historical Hebrew forces, this number again appears to have significance on its own, including and especially when describing righteous warriors, heavenly armies or spiritual souls of some manner.
It has been shown that the story of Yahweh’s pillars of cloud and fire cannot be taken as literal history. Describing the appearance of the biblical pillar of fire and the subsequent routing of the Egyptians, in his Miscellanies (1.24) early Church father Clement of Alexandria (2nd–3rd cents. AD/CE) asserts that the Greeks borrowed this fiery military strategy:
Perceiving this, Miltiades [c. 550–489 BCE], the Athenian general, who conquered the Persians in battle at Marathon, imitated it in the following fashion. Marching over a trackless desert, he led on the Athenians by night, and eluded the barbarians that were set to watch him....
...when Thrasybulus [d. 388 BCE] was bringing back the exiles from Phyla, and wished to elude observation, a pillar became his guide as he marched over a trackless region. To Thrasybulus by night, the sky being moonless and stormy, a fire appeared leading the way, which, having conducted them safely, left them near Munychia, where is now the altar of the light-bringer (Phosphorus) [Venus].
From such an instance, therefore, let our accounts become credible for the Greeks, namely, that it was possible for the omnipotent God to make the pillar of fire, which was their guide on their march, go before the Hebrews by night. It is said also in a certain oracle, “A pillar to the Thebans is joy-inspiring Bacchus...”630
Clement contends that, on several occasions, the pagans adopted this pillar motif from the Hebrew scriptures, thus making a firm association between the two. In fact, the Church father essentially equates Yahweh’s pillar with “Dionysus the pillar,” to be discussed. We would do likewise, averring, however, that the biblical scribe(s) borrowed the more ancient pagan mythical motif and reworked it to revolve around the Israelites.
In a number of instances, it seems that very old mythical germs can be found in both the Indian and Egyptian cultures, which share many other attributes, as do the Indian and Jewish. Indeed, there are several reasons to aver that the “Abrahamites” represent a tribe of Semitic Brahma followers who migrated to what became Israel, via Ur, possibly from India. Not the least of these reasons is the comparison between Abraham and the god Brahma, particularly in consideration of the fact that the same name was found at Ebla in tablets from the 23rd century BCE.
Also highly suggestive is the remark by Aristotle, according to Josephus (Ap. 1.22/1.179), that the Jews were the remnants of ancient Indian philosophers styled Καλανοί Kalanoi, commonly rendered “Calami” or “Calani,” and “Judaei” by the Syrians.639 Moreover, we know that trading between Sumer and the Indus Valley occurred as early as the third millennium BCE,640 with human settlement in the Indus possibly as early as 7,500 years ago.641 There is little reason to insist that there were no shared, borrowed or exchanged religious beliefs in these regions during these many thousands of years.
It is also possible that, during this era, some Semites ended up in the Indus Valley along with any Sumerians, and that sometime later a tribe of them moved back into the Mesopotamian region to become “Abrahamites.” These then may have moved into the Levant and mingled with other Semites there, acquiring attributes of other deities and having their tribal god Brahma demoted to a patriarch. This movement might explain Aristotle’s Jewish Indian philosophers.
Moreover, Indo-European tribes such as the Hittites and Mitanni also thrived in the Levant for centuries, the latter of whom worshipping Indian deities.
Alexander and Cyprus
Josephus (Ant. 2.16.5/2.348) relates another sea crossing, when the Pamphylian Sea “retired” and afforded passage to Alexander and his troops, because it was the “will of God to destroy the monarchy of the Persians...”642
Strabo (14.6.3) tells a story also about the Pamphylian Sea and the island of Cyprus, recalling a scene similar to the crossing of a sea in the same region while chased by “arrows.” The historian recounts that a poet, whom he surmises to be Hedylus (3rd cent. BCE), wrote about a voyage from the Cilician shore to the beach of Curias on Cyprus, across the “impassable sea,” referring to the area of the Mediterranean between that island and the southern coast of Turkey:
…we hinds, sacred to Phoebus, racing across many billows, came hither in our swift course to escape the arrows of our pursuers…it is a matter of untold amazement to men to think how we ran across the impassable stream by the aid of a vernal west wind…643
The mythical passage across a body of water can be found in the Americas as well, as in the Maya story recorded in the Popol Vuh regarding the tribes that “crossed the sea, the waters having parted when they passed,” reflecting the ancestral exodus from the homeland of Tulán.644 This mythical motif, therefore, evidently reflects an archetype that dates back many thousands of years, possibly accompanying various peoples as they migrated out of Africa and into the Near, Middle and Far East.
The 12 Watery Divisions
Adding to the mythical notion of the parting of the Red Sea is the idea from antiquity that the waters were divided into 12 sections, representing the 12 tribes:
The Targum of Jonathan says, the waters were divided into twelve parts, answerable to the twelve tribes of Israel, and the same is observed by other Jewish writers…grounded upon a passage in Psalm 136:13 and suppose that each tribe took its particular path.645
It should be recalled that the division of 12 in ancient mythology after the first millennium BCE often had to do with the zodiacal signs, to be discussed.
Controlling the Waters
As can be seen, the theme of sea/water crossing is not original or unique to the Exodus story, and there are many other ancient stories of legendary figures doing likewise,646 reflecting the mythical motif of controlling “unruly waters.” As part of these controlling-the-waters cycles, we find stories of battles between divine heroes and sea monsters around the Mediterranean.
Baal and Prince Sea/Judge River
In its description of the Exodus tale, The Oxford Companion to the Bible refers to the story as “embellished” and “mythological,” using the ancient pre-Israelite core myth of the battle between the storm god and the sea:
Embellishment, heightening and exaggeration can also be observed... in the Septuagint, the Hebrew phrase meaning “sea of reeds” is translated as “Red Sea,” further enhancing the miracle. Likewise, the number of those escaping, according to Exodus 1.15 a small group whose obstetrical needs could be handled by only two midwives, becomes six hundred thousand men, as well as women and children (Exod. 12.37), an impossible population of several million.
Another tendency is to mythologize. The escape of the Hebrews at the sea is recast as a historical enactment of an ancient cosmologonic myth of a battle between the storm god and the sea, found also in biblical texts having to do with creation (Job 26.12– 13; Jer. 31.35; Pss. 74.12–17; 89.9–12; 93; 104...). This mythology is explicitly applied to the Exodus in Psalm 114, where the adversaries of the deity are the personified Sea and Jordan River, who flee at God’s approach at the head of Israel...; Sea and Jordan are clearly related to Prince Sea and Judge River, the parallel titles of the adversary of the Canaanite storm god Baal in Ugaritic mythology (note the echoes of this motif in the New Testament, in such passages as Mark 4.35–41 par.; Rev. 21.1).647
Here we see the learned opinion that the Exodus, if originally a small historical event, has been embellished straight out of the myths of the Canaanites, specifically as concerns the battle between Baal and “Prince Sea” or “Judge River,” personified natural elements.648 From what has been demonstrated here, however, the Exodus is not a historical event with mythical additions but a pre-Israelite myth historicized. Gray suggests this myth represents the annual festival celebrating the “agricultural new year.”649
As part of this literalization of myths, Psalm 114 states:
When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.
In this pericope appears the personified sea fleeing, as well as a rock-to-water miracle, both of which motifs are put in the context of the Exodus from Egypt. The word here for “sea” is ים yam, which a Semitic speaker might recognize also as the sea god Yamm, particularly if personified, as in this biblical verse. “Jordan” refers to the river, which is yet another body of water, one localized to Israel, across which the Israelites led by Joshua were said to walk dryshod,650 a motif possibly based midrashically on Psalm 114.
In any event, we can see that Baal versus Yamm is equivalent to Yahweh/Moses controlling Yam. This psalm also contains the miracle of producing water from a rock, credited in antiquity not only to the god of Jacob and/or to Moses but also to deities of other cultures. Its presence in this psalm—attributed not to Moses but to Yahweh—underscores its allegorical or mythical nature.
Another example of Yahwistic control of the rivers and sea appears at Habakkuk 3:8:
Was thy wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was thy anger against the rivers, or thy indignation against the sea, when thou didst ride upon thy horses, upon thy chariot of victory?651
Like Psalm 114 and many other biblical verses, this passage sounds much like a nonhistorical, mythical and astrotheological core struck upon by the Pentateuchal composers of the Exodus tale, who turned it into “history.”