Concluding Lemche’s Early Israel

I finished up Niels Peter Lemche’s Early Israel.  I have four items:

1.  On pages 329-336, Lemche talks about the Sea of Reeds and Exodus 15.  He argues against S.I.L. Norin, whose position is that the union of the Exodus with the Sea of Reeds story, as well as the “victory hymn” in Exodus 15:1b-18, “date from the period of the Judges, that is, from a period less than one hundred years after the original historical event.”  Norin thinks that the combination of history with mythology (in this case, chaos-kampf, the battle between a deity and the sea, or a sea-monster) was present early on “in the history of the tradition”, whereas many other scholars have maintained that such a combination of history and myth came about in the exile, for we see it in Second Isaiah.  For Norin, however, the combination only reappeared in exile, after a period in which the Deuteronomists demythologized the Sea of Reeds story.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time detailing Lemche’s response to Norin, for, quite frankly, I don’t get Norin’s argumentation—he wants to tie the mythologization of the Sea of Reeds story to Egyptian chaos-kampf legends, presumably because that would mean that the Moses group from Egypt composed it (or so I assume is Norin’s position). Yet, Norin also says that Exodus 15 reflects the “Northwest Semitic Ba’al myth.”

What I do want to do is to make some points about dating when it comes to the Sea of Reeds story and Exodus 15.  A reason that some have held that Exodus 15:1b-18 is quite ancient is that it contains archaic tems, such as zu.  But, as Lemche points out, that particular term also shows up in later literature, such as the exilic Second Isaiah (Isaiah 42:24; 43:21).  Lemche thinks that Exodus 15:17 is crucial for the dating of the passage.  It mentions the sanctuary, which Lemche and others take to be Jerusalem.  So we have a southern poem that talks about the Exodus.  But, according to Lemche, the South (Judah) did not know about the Exodus and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds until 722 B.C.E., when the refugees from Northern Israel (which had just been destroyed by the Assyrians) brought those traditions down to Judah, since the Exodus was a Northern tradition (as it shows up in Hosea).  So the song in Exodus 15 had to come after 722 B.C.E.  And yet, according to Lemche, Exodus 15 doesn’t reveal any Deuteronomistic features, and so it had to precede the time of Deuteronomistic influence (which was during the reign of Josiah).  Consequently, Lemche says that the first half of the seventh century is a reasonable date for the hymn.

One more point: On page 333, Lemche briefly summarizes the views of Brevard Childs and G.W. Coats on the connection of the Sea of Reeds story with the Exodus.  For Childs and Coats, the story of the Sea of Reeds was originally attached to the wilderness stories, all of which served to tell about God’s protection of Israel from danger.  But P, who later reworked “the Exodus and desert period materials”, attached the Sea of Reeds story to the Exodus.  What basis Childs and Coats had for this, I have no idea.  (Maybe I’ll read an article and write a post about it).  On pages 142-143 of The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, though, Thomas Thompson presents the idea that, before its final redaction, the Exodus story ended with the slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn (since God says in Exodus 11:1 that he will bring one more plague, the death of the firstborn), meaning that the destruction of the Egyptian army in the sea was added later.  Thompson states on page 144 that “The narrative about the crossing of the Red Sea is connected with the Passover narrative by means of the passage in Exod. 13.20-22.”

But Thompson appears to differ from Childs and Coats.  Childs and Coats believe that the Sea of Reeds story was a part of the wilderness story, and was later connected to the Exodus story by the priest.  But what Thompson argues is that, in Exodus 14, the base story says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and delivered the Israelites himself, whereas the secondary (added) elements highlighted the role of Moses, as well as presented the Israelites complaining.  What’s odd is that God hardening the Pharaoh’s heart is repeatedly in the Exodus story, whereas the Israelites complaining is in the wilderness stories.  If the base narrative talked about God hardening the Pharaoh’s heart but not the Israelites complaining, that sounds to me like the Sea of Reeds story would have been a part of the Exodus narrative, not the wilderness narrative.

2.  On pages 376-377, Lemche offers his view on the Documentary Hypothesis.  Essentially, he says that there were a number of theological movements from the time of Josiah’s reform through the exile, meaning that the Deuteronomists were not the only game in town.  Rather, there were different theological movements, such as J.  Psalm 44, according to Lemche on page 356, was an exilic Psalm that knew of the Deuteronomistic “view of history”, yet disagreed with it, affirming that Israel did not disobey God’s covenant (contra the Deuteronomists, who held that Israel was being punished for sin).  So there were different points of view.

Lemche disagrees with the idea that J was composed during the time of the United Monarchy, which some have argued on the basis of J’s emphasis on Judah, the tribe of King David.  For Lemche, J could have focused on Judah after the division of the United Monarchy, through the exile, and even after the exile—for J was from Judah, and thus naturally exalted Judah (page 364).  As Lemche notes, Chronicles mentions Judah and excises stuff about Northern Israel, but most scholars view the Chronicler as post-exilic.  Moreover, Lemche doubts that the United Monarchy could have produced J because, in his eyes, the South was unaware of traditions such as the Exodus until 722, when the North brought them down to the South.

So were the Yahwist and the Deuteronomists mere contemporaries, writing their own works, without supplementing each other?  Lemche states on page 377 that the Yahwist could have supplemented the Deuteronomistic narrative with a “concrete expression…concerning the promise to the fathers”, and a later “phase of Deuteronomistic redaction” worked that theme “into the Deuteronomistic literature”, after which “the theme was also adopted by the Priestly tradition.”  So, even if Lemche doesn’t think that the Deuteronomistic ideas were dominant from the time of Josiah’s reform through the exile, he does appear to hold that the Deuteronomists gained a measure of power at some point—enough to edit elements of the Hebrew Bible and for the Jews to accept their contribution.

3.  On page 383, Lemche presents his view on oral tradition—and the attempts to discover the earliest one, presumably because that gives one access to the historical event behind it.  Lemche agrees with John Van Seters that the oral traditions in the Abraham narrative originally were not even about Abraham, but the Yahwist made them about Abraham.  That must be why Lemche says on page 417 that Van Seters maintains that J created the Abraham traditions in exile—even though, in Abraham in History and Tradition—Van Seters uses Olrik to identify pre-Yahwist oral traditions in the Abraham narrative.  And so, if we have oral traditions that aren’t about anyone specific, how can we date them—or arrive at anything historical through them?

4.  As in Ancient Israel, Lemche believes that ancient Israel came about when Canaanite peasants left Canaanite city-states and became Hapiru, or refugees—and came to the central hills.  In Early Israel, Lemche offers more support for this claim, for he notes that, during the Amarna period, the king of Byblos (in Phoenicia) says that peasants working for the state are emigrating (page 427), indicating that this sort of thing happened.  Moreover, archeology indicates that the Late Bronze Age was a time of poverty—for there isn’t much quantity of imports, plus the pottery is poor in quality.  Lemche factors into the equation Egypt’s wars, which stifled trade and must have resulted in a heavier tax burden for the Egyptian provinces (such as the Canaanite city-states).  So there were reasons that peasants left the Canaanite city-states.  Contra many scholars of his time, however, Lemche did not regard the fleeing Hapiru as nomads, for how could nomads tend their herds in the forests of the central hills (though Lemche says elsewhere in the book that the Hapiru could have easily cleared the forests by setting a fire)?

In Early Israel, Lemche expresses problems with the notion that Israel was a united amphictyony or confederation of tribes prior to the time of the United Monarchy, which emerged in the tenth century.  And yet, does not the thirteenth century Merneptah Stele refer to a people “Israel”, indicating that they were one unit?  On page 431, Lemche wrestles with this issue.  He says that we “have no way of knowing how many of the OT tribes may have belonged to such a coalition”, but he speculates that it may have consisted of the Rachel tribes, which could have been “independent tribes within some kind of league”, or as “secondary segments of a primary unit called Israel.”  So there was some sort of amphictyony or confederation, in Lemche’s view?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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