Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea

A Song Similar in Other Myths

“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.

Circular Reasoning

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.

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 -----------

15 Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying:

“I will sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
The Lord is a man of war;
The Lord is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them;
They sank to the bottom like a stone.

“Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power;
Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
And in the greatness of Your excellence
You have overthrown those who rose against You;
You sent forth Your wrath;
It consumed them like stubble.
And with the blast of Your nostrils
The waters were gathered together;
The floods stood upright like a heap;
The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue,
I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
My desire shall be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword,
My hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with Your wind,
The sea covered them;
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
13 You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.

14 “The people will hear and be afraid;
Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed;
The mighty men of Moab,
Trembling will take hold of them;
All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
16 Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
In the mountain of Your inheritance,
In the place, O Lord, which You have made
For Your own dwelling,
The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.

18 “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”       Exodus 15:1-18

The Hebrew name for "Lord" in the song is Yaweh

This literalist perspective 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”.  This song purportedly was sung (and composed?) on the day of the crossing of the Red Sea, for which there is no evidence, since the crossing 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 Exodus Chapter 14 immediately preceding the Song tout Moses as Yahweh’s mouthpiece and equal.  However the patriarch is not named at all in the Song, but named right before the song 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.

In his monograph on the subject, Christian theologian Russell argues for the song’s composition between the 12th and 8th centuries BCE, 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 Psalm 78 during the time of Hezekiah (early 7th century).

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.

Oblath avers the song’s composition around the 10th century, while others contend for a post-Exilic effort, after the middle of the 6th century (Babylonian exile) and even into the late 4th century BCE.

Wrong Geography Again!

14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;     Exodus 15:14-15

The Song of the Sea contains a few Exodus story elements interspersed with hymns of praise for the god.  The mention at verse 14 of the “inhabitants of Philistines” was five centuries after the time of Moses! 

Also the next verse 15 is about the “chiefs of Edom.” The text clearly postdates the arrival of the Philistines and creation of the Edomite kingdom  Again this happened centuries after the purported Exodus events.

These names peoples were troublesome especially during the era of Hezekiah and Josiah, indicating the song’s writer of propaganda didn't know prior history.  He is caught in a fabrication.

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, 800 years after the Moses life time period.   

Wheless points out the same error of time, although he allows for it to be the First Temple, supposedly built sometime during the 10th to 8th 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 thy 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.

Note: Written 500 to 800 years after the Moses time period, depending on which temple you think the Song of the Sea is talking about.

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 as history in the Old Testament is questionable.

Regarding the song as reflecting a historical Exodus, Scholar 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.

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.  With this concept, the inclusion of Moses in the Song would post-date Psalm 78 and Hezekiah.

The Baal Cycle

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
    Sirion[b] like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
    the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks[c]
    and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”    Psalm 29:3-9

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’, which is in many ways a written attack against Baal and the Canaanite religion.”

Aside its historical inaccuracies, the Song of the Sea possesses parallels with the Canaanite “Baal cycle.”  It lends the core biblical text credibility as an older composition, borrowed from Canaanite mythology, and not as 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 follows this sketch of the Baal cycle.

Note:  the focus of Baal is his “holy mountain,” the “beautiful hill of my might,” while Exodus revolves around Mount Sinai, holy hill of Yahweh.

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 worshiped throughout Syria-Palestine, and the Baal cycle necessarily is a primary source for understanding the religious beliefs of the entire ancient Near East.”

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.”  However, it appears that the Song in reality is the mythical core of the later history claimed 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.”  

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...”

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 of gods.

Salvation Cultus

In the Baal cycle, the protagonist defeating the sea or sea god “Yamm” is considered the savior, reflected also in the following verse:

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.   Exodus 15:2

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, 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. 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.    2 Samuel 22:2– 3

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.

Yahh

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….

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.

Chariots

Preceding this yam pericope, the word for “chariots” at Exodus 15:4 is מרכבה merkabah, 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). The same term  מרכבה merkabah is used to describe Yahweh’s “throne-chariot” in the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere.

 

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

11 And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathanmelech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire.     2 Kings 23:11

The above verse 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.”

The word “chariot” appears in Semitic texts in a poetic context, while real charioteers in the Levant attained an esteemed class, called by the Indo-European term maryannu, or mrynm in the Semitic. Interestingly, one of these charioteers in the Ugaritic texts is called ysril or “Israel.”  In any event, the inclusion of chariots in the Song is a reflection of a mythical motif, not history.

Reed Sea?

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...

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.

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.

Ruach

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.  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.”

Underworld Earth

The word for “earth” or “land” at Exodus 15:12—“Thou didst stretch out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them”—is ' ארץ erets, which can refer also to the “underworld.”  Russell cites the Akkadian and Ugaritic cognates for ' ארץ erets, indicating the term’s pre-Hebrew significance.  Hence, again, this song could be viewed as poetic allegory based on older Canaanite underworld myths.

Philistines

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 another one of many history errors.  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 to show to all they have the superior god.

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