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What Really Happened at the Sea

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What Really Happened at the Sea

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Series

Symposium

A Text Study – קריעת ים סוף

What Really Happened at the Sea

According to the Torah: Does God split the sea? Do the Israelites cross it? What is the wind for? Where are the Egyptians when they drown?

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What Really Happened at the Sea
Part 1

Contradictions, Doublets and Problems In Chapter 14

Introduction: Re-Reading the Torah Carefully

‍Some stories in the Torah are difficult to make sense of, especially in the details.[1] Often our familiarity with the stories masks this, such that we read without really paying attention to what we are reading. In addition, as readers we try to create coherence even when it might not be present—we give any text, but especially the Bible, the benefit of the doubt as we read.[2]  Nevertheless, careful reading of these difficult stories makes it clear that they don’t make sense as is. There are contradictory details, non-sequiturs, and confusing chronologies.

According to modern academic scholarship, this phenomenon is best explained by positing that such stories are composite, having been put together by a redactor (or redactors) from disparate materials. One of the classic illustrations of this is the account of Israel’s miraculous escape from the Egyptians at the Sea (Exodus ch. 14).[3] A close and careful reading of the story brings up several contradictions, doublets and problems of chronology.

1. Who is responsible for Pharaoh’s change of heart?

God says He will harden Pharaoh’s heart, causing him to chase after Israel (v. 4) and does so (v. 8). But Pharaoh seems to have a change of heart on his own (v. 5) and chases Israel without God’s involvement (vv. 6-7).

Not only is this contradictory, but this raises a chronological problem: If Pharaoh has a change of heart and chases Israel on his own, why does God still feel the need to harden his heart after the chase began?

Moreover, if the chase begins in vv. 6-7, why do vv. 8-9 repeat that Pharaoh chases after Israel? 

2. Where are the Egyptians when the Israelites notice them?

The Torah describes Pharaoh reaching the Israelites (v. 9). But then, they lift up their eyes and see the Egyptians approaching (v. 10). It sounds as if Pharaoh is suddenly further away in verse 10 than he is in verse 9.

3. Israel’s crying out

In the final phrase of verse 10, Israel calls out to God. But when describing this crying out (vv. 11-12), their comment is phrased as a complaint to Moses.

4. God’s comment to Moses

Even less comprehensible than the Israelites’ complaint is God’s response to Moses. Moses hears the complaint of the Israelites and tells them God will handle things (vv. 13-14). Then God tells Moses to stop crying out to him (v. 15). But nowhere does the Torah say that Moses cries out to God!

5. What Israel is supposed to do

Moses tells Israel to stand still and be quiet (vv. 13-14). Then God tells Moses to tell them to start walking and cross the sea (v. 15). What is Israel supposed to do?[4]

6. Strange pauses in the action

God tells Moses to stretch out his arm with his staff over the water and split it (v. 16). Before Moses does this, a cloud comes between the camps of the Israelites and the Egyptians and stays there all night (vv. 19-20). Then Moses stretches out his arm (without any mention of a staff) over the water (v. 21aα), but before the water splits, God sends a wind to blow all night (v. 21aβ), and then the sea splits (v. 21b). Are we supposed to picture Moses holding his arm out all night? Or holding his arm out and, and the water splits only 10 hours later?

7. The Egyptians are in two places at once

The Egyptian army chases the Israelites into the split sea (v. 23). But then, God looks at the Egyptian camp that he had held at bay all night (v. 24). But if they were held at bay by the cloud, how could they be chasing the Israelites into the sea?

8. Which way are the Egyptians running?

The Egyptians are chasing the Israelites into the split sea (v. 23). Thus they are in the middle of the two walls to their right and their left. Then, when their chariots get stuck and they realize God is fighting against them, the Egyptians panic and decide to retreat and run away from the Israelites (v. 24). But when Moses “unsplits” the sea, the Egyptians are still chasing the Israelites (v. 26).

Even stranger, verse 25 describes the Egyptians as running towards the sea. What sense does this make? Either they should be chasing the Israelites or retreating from the Israelites. For what possible reason would they run into one of the giant walls of water?

9. How many times are the Egyptians drowned?

The Egyptians are hurled into the sea (v. 27). Immediately afterwards, the waters return and the Egyptians are covered (v. 28). But weren’t they already hurled into the sea?

10. The bodies of the Egyptians

According to the logic of the narrative, the Egyptians should have drowned in the middle of the sea, since they were chasing the Israelites, who made it all the way to the other side (vv. 28-29). Yet, the Torah describes the bodies of the Egyptians as being on the shore (v. 30). How would the bodies have gotten there?

Summary

These ten points are the most glaring problems in the narrative of chapter 14. The inconsistencies, non-sequiturs, and contradictions suggest that this story was not written by one author.

Academic Solutions

Academic biblical scholars have a number of models to explain how a story like this has been put together. Each model has advantages and disadvantages, and it is unlikely that one model can explain all such cases of doublets, contradictions, and chronological problems. Some scholars believe that these stories are the result of a redactor or compiler splicing more than one version of a story together (Documentary Hypothesis). Others believe that contradictory supplementary material was added to an original narrative strand (Supplementary Hypothesis). Still others believe that the end product reflects both a combination of sources as well as redactional supplements.

Although we hope that over time we will be able to include a number of models and solutions, and point out the merits and problems of each, for now we will begin with a documentary solution.

Part 2

One Documentary Solution: Two Narrative Strands[5]

The simplest way to solve all of the problems enumerated above is to divide the text into two complete narrative strands,[6] each of these strands tells a complete story about the miraculous rescue of the Israelites at the sea by God. These stories are similar in plot, though not identical, and each uses slightly different language.

Summary of P Story[7]

In this story, God forces Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites.[8] God first has them turn back in the wilderness towards the sea, implying that they are stuck, and then he stiffens Pharaoh’s heart so that he feels the urge to chase after them. God’s goal is to perform a wonder so that the Egyptians know Yhwh is the all-powerful God.

Having his heart stiffened, Pharaoh chases after the Israelites and catches up to them at the sea. The Israelites cry out to God, but God says not to cry out but to start walking into the sea. God tells Moses to stretch his hand out over the sea; Moses does so and the sea splits.

The Israelites then begin to walk through the dry land in the middle of the sea, with the water forming two walls to either side of them. The Egyptians continue their pursuit, and enter the sea as well. When the Israelites reach the other side, God tells Moses to stretch his hand out over the sea again; Moses does so and the sea “unsplits,” drowning the pursuing Egyptians in the middle.

Summary of J Story

After the Israelites leave, Pharaoh and his courtiers have a change of heart and give chase. The Israelites look up and see the Egyptians approaching and are afraid. They complain to Moses, asking why he brought them into the wilderness to die, saying how they would have preferred to remain slaves. Moses tells them not to fear; the Israelites need not do anything but stand quietly and watch, God will handle this for them.

First, an angel of God takes the pillar of fire that was before them and places it behind them to separate the Egyptian army from the Israelite camp. This cloud stays in this spot throughout the night keeping the Egyptian army at bay. At the same time, God causes an east wind to blow throughout the night, pushing the sea back and turning the coastline into dry land.

In the morning, God causes a panic to fall upon the Egyptians, and locks their chariot wheels so they cannot move quickly. The Egyptians are so afraid that they wish to flee, but they are disoriented and flee towards what was once the coastline. However, at this point in the morning, the wind has (ostensibly) stopped blowing, and the waters of the sea return to their original place, presumably in a big wave. Thus, God has hurled the Egyptians into the sea. The Israelites see the bodies of the deceased Egyptians on the seacoast, and they fear God and trust in him and his servant Moses.

Comparison of Details

Despite their broad similarities, the stories are actually quite different in detail.

  1. In P, God wants the Egyptians to chase the Israelites, since he has a trick up his sleeve and plans on drowning Pharaoh and his army. In fact, he forces Pharaoh to do this so that God can drown him and show the world his true power. In J, however, Pharaoh chases after Israel of his own accord, forcing God’s hand.
  2. In P, the miracle is the splitting of the sea. In J, it is the wind blowing the coastal water back. (In J, the sea, which is unnamed, must certainly be the Mediterranean.)
  3. In P, the Israelites walk through the sea, and when the Egyptians try the same thing, they are drowned. In J, the Israelites and the Egyptians are both standing on the coast. The Israelites do not move throughout the story but stand stationary. The Egyptians are also stationary until the end, when, in confusion, they retreat towards the coastline, and are drowned by the returning water.
  4. In P, the narrative moves quickly. Immediately upon the arrival of the Egyptians, Moses splits the sea and the Israelites start crossing. In J, the unexpected arrival of the Egyptians forces God to stall, by placing the cloud and fire between the camps throughout the night, giving him time to bring a wind and blow back the coastline.

Theological Comparison

The different versions of the stories do not differ only in plot, but also reflect fundamentally different conceptions of how God functions.

In P, God is omniscient and omnipotent. He fully expects Pharaoh to chase after Israel, in fact, he forces Pharaoh to do so. In P’s conception, God stands in total control of human behavior and nature; Pharaoh is no more than a chess piece. God needs no assistance from the natural elements, and splits the sea splits immediately upon the entrance of the Egyptians, with nothing more than the symbolic gesture of Moses holding his arm over the sea.

This fits in with P’s creation story (Gen 1-2:4a), where an all-powerful God creates with his voice.

In J, God is powerful, but he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Pharaoh’s decision to chase after the Israelites comes unexpectedly. Although the Egyptian army will prove no match for God, God needs some time to handle the problem. Thus, God makes use of the cloud and fire to stall the Egyptians for the night, and God uses the wind to blow the water back.

This conception of God fits with the J creation story (Gen 2:4b-3:24). In this story, God doesn’t create by fiat, but builds Adam out of clay and Eve out of Adam. Adam doesn’t just come to life, but God blows the spirit of life into them. Moreover, God makes a rule that Adam (and Eve?) should not eat from the tree of knowledge, but does not know whether they will keep the rule, nor does God even know that the rule was broken until God happens to meet Adam and Eve hiding behind a bush to cover their nudity.[9] 

Reconstructing the Sources

Below is a reconstruction of the original two documents.

The P Text

יד:א וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: יד:ב דַּבֵּר֘ אֶל בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְיָשֻׁ֗בוּ וְיַחֲנוּ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ פִּ֣י הַחִירֹ֔ת בֵּ֥ין מִגְדֹּ֖ל וּבֵ֣ין הַיָּ֑ם לִפְנֵי֙ בַּ֣עַל צְפֹ֔ן נִכְח֥וֹ תַחֲנ֖וּ עַל הַיָּֽם: יד:ג וְאָמַ֤ר פַּרְעֹה֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל נְבֻכִ֥ים הֵ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ סָגַ֥ר עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הַמִּדְבָּֽר: יד:ד וְחִזַּקְתִּ֣י אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה֘ וְרָדַ֣ף אַחֲרֵיהֶם֒ וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה בְּפַרְעֹה֙ וּבְכָל חֵיל֔וֹ וְיָדְע֥וּ מִצְרַ֖יִם כִּֽי אֲנִ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ כֵֽן: // יד:ח וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק יְ-הֹוָ֗ה אֶת לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּרְדֹּ֕ף אַחֲרֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֹצְאִ֖ים בְּיָ֥ד רָמָֽה: יד:ט וַיִּרְדְּפ֨וּ מִצְרַ֜יִם אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם וַיַּשִּׂ֤יגוּ אוֹתָם֙ חֹנִ֣ים עַל הַיָּ֔ם כָּל סוּס֙ רֶ֣כֶב פַּרְעֹ֔ה וּפָרָשָׁ֖יו וְחֵיל֑וֹ עַל פִּי֙ הַֽחִירֹ֔ת לִפְנֵ֖י בַּ֥עַל צְפֹֽן: // יד:יδb וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל יְ-הֹוָֽה: // יד:טו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֔ה מַה תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ: יד:טז וְאַתָּ֞ה הָרֵ֣ם אֶֽת מַטְּךָ֗ וּנְטֵ֧ה אֶת יָדְךָ֛ עַל הַיָּ֖ם וּבְקָעֵ֑הוּ וְיָבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָֽׁה:יד:יז וַאֲנִ֗י הִנְנִ֤י מְחַזֵּק֙ אֶת לֵ֣ב מִצְרַ֔יִם וְיָבֹ֖אוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה בְּפַרְעֹה֙ וּבְכָל חֵיל֔וֹ בְּרִכְבּ֖וֹ וּבְפָרָשָֽׁיו: יד:יח וְיָדְע֥וּ מִצְרַ֖יִם כִּי אֲנִ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה בְּהִכָּבְדִ֣י בְּפַרְעֹ֔ה בְּרִכְבּ֖וֹ וּבְפָרָשָֽׁיו: // יד:כאαa וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת יָדוֹ֘ עַל הַיָּם֒ // יד:כאb וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם: יד:כב וַיָּבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חוֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם: יד:כג וַיִּרְדְּפ֤וּ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֔ם כֹּ֚ל ס֣וּס פַּרְעֹ֔ה רִכְבּ֖וֹ וּפָרָשָׁ֑יו אֶל תּ֖וֹךְ הַיָּֽם: // יד:כו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֔ה נְטֵ֥ה אֶת יָדְךָ֖ עַל הַיָּ֑ם וְיָשֻׁ֤בוּ הַמַּ֙יִם֙ עַל מִצְרַ֔יִם עַל רִכְבּ֖וֹ וְעַל פָּרָשָֽׁיו:יד:כזαa וַיֵּט֙ מֹשֶׁ֨ה אֶת יָד֜וֹ עַל הַיָּ֗ם //יד:כח וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ הַמַּ֗יִם וַיְכַסּ֤וּ אֶת הָרֶ֙כֶב֙ וְאֶת הַפָּ֣רָשִׁ֔ים לְכֹל֙ חֵ֣יל פַּרְעֹ֔ה הַבָּאִ֥ים אַחֲרֵיהֶ֖ם בַּיָּ֑ם לֹֽא נִשְׁאַ֥ר בָּהֶ֖ם עַד אֶחָֽד:יד:כט וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הַיָּ֑ם וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם:
14:1 Yhwh said to Moses: 14:2 Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 14:3 Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” 14:4 Then I will stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them, that I may gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am Yhwh. And they did so. // 14:8 Yhwh stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, 14:9 the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon. // 14:10bδ The Israelites cried out to Yhwh. // 14:15 Then Yhwh said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 14:16 And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground. 14:17 And I will stiffen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen. 14:18 Let the Egyptians know that I am Yhwh, when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” // 14:21aα Then Moses held out his arm over the sea // 14:21b The waters were split, 14:22 and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 14:23 The Egyptians came in pursuit after them into the sea, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and horsemen. // 14:26 Then Yhwh said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians and upon their chariots and upon their horsemen.” 14:27aα Moses held out his arm over the sea // 14:28 The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen—Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 14:29 But the Israelites had marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

The J Text

יד:ה וַיֻּגַּד֙ לְמֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם כִּ֥י בָרַ֖ח הָעָ֑ם וַ֠יֵּהָפֵךְ לְבַ֨ב פַּרְעֹ֤ה וַעֲבָדָיו֙ אֶל הָעָ֔ם וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ מַה זֹּ֣את עָשִׂ֔ינוּ כִּֽי שִׁלַּ֥חְנוּ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵעָבְדֵֽנוּ: יד:ו וַיֶּאְסֹ֖ר אֶת רִכְבּ֑וֹ וְאֶת עַמּ֖וֹ לָקַ֥ח עִמּֽוֹ: יד:ז וַיִּקַּ֗ח שֵׁשׁ מֵא֥וֹת רֶ֙כֶב֙ בָּח֔וּר וְכֹ֖ל רֶ֣כֶב מִצְרָ֑יִם וְשָׁלִשִׁ֖ם עַל כֻּלּֽוֹ: // יד:י וּפַרְעֹ֖ה הִקְרִ֑יב וַיִּשְׂאוּ֩ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל אֶת עֵינֵיהֶ֜ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם וַיִּֽירְאוּ֙ מְאֹ֔ד // יד:יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ֘ אֶל מֹשֶׁה֒ הַֽמִבְּלִ֤י אֵין קְבָרִים֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם לְקַחְתָּ֖נוּ לָמ֣וּת בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר מַה זֹּאת֙ עָשִׂ֣יתָ לָּ֔נוּ לְהוֹצִיאָ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: יד:יב הֲלֹא זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֗ר אֲשֶׁר֩ דִּבַּ֨רְנוּ אֵלֶ֤יךָ בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר חֲדַ֥ל מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וְנַֽעַבְדָ֣ה אֶת מִצְרָ֑יִם כִּ֣י ט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ עֲבֹ֣ד אֶת מִצְרַ֔יִם מִמֻּתֵ֖נוּ בַּמִּדְבָּֽר:יד:יג וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל הָעָם֘ אַל תִּירָאוּ֒ הִֽתְיַצְּב֗וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֶת יְשׁוּעַ֣ת יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם כִּ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר רְאִיתֶ֤ם אֶת מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹ֥א תֹסִ֛פוּ לִרְאֹתָ֥ם ע֖וֹד עַד עוֹלָֽם: יד:יד יְ-הֹוָ֖ה יִלָּחֵ֣ם לָכֶ֑ם וְאַתֶּ֖ם תַּחֲרִשֽׁוּן: // יד:יט וַיִּסַּ֞ע מַלְאַ֣ךְ הָאֱ-לֹהִ֗ים הַהֹלֵךְ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וַיִּסַּ֞ע עַמּ֤וּד הֶֽעָנָן֙ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֔ם וַֽיַּעֲמֹ֖ד מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶֽם: יד:כ וַיָּבֹ֞א בֵּ֣ין׀ מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֗יִם וּבֵין֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְהִ֤י הֶֽעָנָן֙ וְהַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וַיָּ֖אֶר אֶת הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְלֹא קָרַ֥ב זֶ֛ה אֶל זֶ֖ה כָּל הַלָּֽיְלָה: // יד:כאβa וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ יְ-הֹוָה׀ אֶת הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה // יד:כד וַֽיְהִי֙ בְּאַשְׁמֹ֣רֶת הַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵ֤ף יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעַמּ֥וּד אֵ֖שׁ וְעָנָ֑ן וַיָּ֕הָם אֵ֖ת מַחֲנֵ֥ה מִצְרָֽיִם: יד:כה וַיָּ֗סַר אֵ֚ת אֹפַ֣ן מַרְכְּבֹתָ֔יו וַֽיְנַהֲגֵ֖הוּ בִּכְבֵדֻ֑ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מִצְרַ֗יִם אָנ֙וּסָה֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֔ה נִלְחָ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם בְּמִצְרָֽיִם: // יד:כזβa וַיָּ֨שָׁב הַיָּ֜ם לִפְנ֥וֹת בֹּ֙קֶר֙ לְאֵ֣יתָנ֔וֹ וּמִצְרַ֖יִם נָסִ֣ים לִקְרָאת֑וֹ וַיְנַעֵ֧ר יְ-הֹוָ֛ה אֶת מִצְרַ֖יִם בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּֽם: // יד:ל וַיּ֨וֹשַׁע יְ-הֹוָ֜ה בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֛וּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יִם וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם: יד:לא וַיַּ֨רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת הַיָּ֣ד הַגְּדֹלָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה יְ-הֹוָה֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽירְא֥וּ הָעָ֖ם אֶת יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וַֽיַּאֲמִ֙ינוּ֙ בַּֽי-הֹוָ֔ה וּבְמֹשֶׁ֖ה עַבְדּֽוֹ:
14:5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?” 14:6 He ordered his chariot and took his men with him; 14:7 he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them. // 14:10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them and they were greatly frightened. // 14:11 And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? 14:12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” 14:13 But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which Yhwh will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. 14:14 Yhwh will battle for you; you hold your peace!” // 14:19 The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, 14:20 and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night. // 14:21aβ and Yhwh drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. // 14:24 At the morning watch, Yhwh looked down upon the Egyptian army from a pillar of fire and cloud, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 14:25 He locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for Yhwh is fighting for them against Egypt.” // 14:27aβ and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state, and the Egyptians fled at its approach. But Yhwh hurled the Egyptians into the sea. // 14:30 Thus Yhwh delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. 14:31 And when Israel saw the wondrous power which Yhwh had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared Yhwh; they had faith in Yhwh and His servant Moses.

The Combined Text

(P shown below in blue, J in dark red.)

יד:א וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְ-הֹוָ֖ה אֶל מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר: יד:ב דַּבֵּר֘ אֶל בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְיָשֻׁ֗בוּ וְיַחֲנוּ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ פִּ֣י הַחִירֹ֔ת בֵּ֥ין מִגְדֹּ֖ל וּבֵ֣ין הַיָּ֑ם לִפְנֵי֙ בַּ֣עַל צְפֹ֔ן נִכְח֥וֹ תַחֲנ֖וּ עַל הַיָּֽם: יד:ג וְאָמַ֤ר פַּרְעֹה֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל נְבֻכִ֥ים הֵ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ סָגַ֥ר עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם הַמִּדְבָּֽר: יד:ד וְחִזַּקְתִּ֣י אֶת לֵב פַּרְעֹה֘ וְרָדַ֣ף אַחֲרֵיהֶם֒ וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה בְּפַרְעֹה֙ וּבְכָל חֵיל֔וֹ וְיָדְע֥וּ מִצְרַ֖יִם כִּֽי אֲנִ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ כֵֽן:
14:1 Yhwh said to Moses: 14:2 Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 14:3 Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” 14:4 Then I will stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue them, that I may gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that I am Yhwh. And they did so.
יד:ה וַיֻּגַּד֙ לְמֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם כִּ֥י בָרַ֖ח הָעָ֑ם וַ֠יֵּהָפֵךְ לְבַ֨ב פַּרְעֹ֤ה וַעֲבָדָיו֙ אֶל הָעָ֔ם וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ מַה זֹּ֣את עָשִׂ֔ינוּ כִּֽי שִׁלַּ֥חְנוּ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵעָבְדֵֽנוּ: יד:ו וַיֶּאְסֹ֖ר אֶת רִכְבּ֑וֹ וְאֶת עַמּ֖וֹ לָקַ֥ח עִמּֽוֹ: יד:ז וַיִּקַּ֗ח שֵׁשׁ מֵא֥וֹת רֶ֙כֶב֙ בָּח֔וּר וְכֹ֖ל רֶ֣כֶב מִצְרָ֑יִם וְשָׁלִשִׁ֖ם עַל כֻּלּֽוֹ:
14:5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?” 14:6 He ordered his chariot and took his men with him; 14:7 he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them.
יד:ח וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק יְ-הֹוָ֗ה אֶת לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּרְדֹּ֕ף אַחֲרֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֹצְאִ֖ים בְּיָ֥ד רָמָֽה: יד:ט וַיִּרְדְּפ֨וּ מִצְרַ֜יִם אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם וַיַּשִּׂ֤יגוּ אוֹתָם֙ חֹנִ֣ים עַל הַיָּ֔ם כָּל סוּס֙ רֶ֣כֶב פַּרְעֹ֔ה וּפָרָשָׁ֖יו וְחֵיל֑וֹ עַל פִּי֙ הַֽחִירֹ֔ת לִפְנֵ֖י בַּ֥עַל צְפֹֽן:
14:8 Yhwh stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, 14:9 the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon.
יד:י וּפַרְעֹ֖ה הִקְרִ֑יב וַיִּשְׂאוּ֩ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל אֶת עֵינֵיהֶ֜ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם וַיִּֽירְאוּ֙ מְאֹ֔ד
14:10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them and they were greatly frightened.
וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל יְ-הֹוָֽה:
The Israelites cried out to Yhwh.
יד:יא וַיֹּאמְרוּ֘ אֶל מֹשֶׁה֒ הַֽמִבְּלִ֤י אֵין קְבָרִים֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם לְקַחְתָּ֖נוּ לָמ֣וּת בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר מַה זֹּאת֙ עָשִׂ֣יתָ לָּ֔נוּ לְהוֹצִיאָ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:יד:יב הֲלֹא זֶ֣ה הַדָּבָ֗ר אֲשֶׁר֩ דִּבַּ֨רְנוּ אֵלֶ֤יךָ בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר חֲדַ֥ל מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וְנַֽעַבְדָ֣ה אֶת מִצְרָ֑יִם כִּ֣י ט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ עֲבֹ֣ד אֶת מִצְרַ֔יִם מִמֻּתֵ֖נוּ בַּמִּדְבָּֽר: יד:יג וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶל הָעָם֘ אַל תִּירָאוּ֒ הִֽתְיַצְּב֗וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֶת יְשׁוּעַ֣ת יְ-הֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם כִּ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר רְאִיתֶ֤ם אֶת מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹ֥א תֹסִ֛פוּ לִרְאֹתָ֥ם ע֖וֹד עַד עוֹלָֽם: יד:יד יְ-הֹוָ֖ה יִלָּחֵ֣ם לָכֶ֑ם וְאַתֶּ֖ם תַּחֲרִשֽׁוּן:
14:11 And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? 14:12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” 14:13 But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which Yhwh will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. 14:14 Yhwh will battle for you; you hold your peace!”
יד:טו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֔ה מַה תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ: יד:טז וְאַתָּ֞ה הָרֵ֣ם אֶֽת מַטְּךָ֗ וּנְטֵ֧ה אֶת יָדְךָ֛ עַל הַיָּ֖ם וּבְקָעֵ֑הוּ וְיָבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָֽׁה: יד:יז וַאֲנִ֗י הִנְנִ֤י מְחַזֵּק֙ אֶת לֵ֣ב מִצְרַ֔יִם וְיָבֹ֖אוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וְאִכָּבְדָ֤ה בְּפַרְעֹה֙ וּבְכָל חֵיל֔וֹ בְּרִכְבּ֖וֹ וּבְפָרָשָֽׁיו: יד:יח וְיָדְע֥וּ מִצְרַ֖יִם כִּי אֲנִ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֑ה בְּהִכָּבְדִ֣י בְּפַרְעֹ֔ה בְּרִכְבּ֖וֹ וּבְפָרָשָֽׁיו:
14:15 Then Yhwh said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 14:16 And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground. 14:17 And I will stiffen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen. 14:18 Let the Egyptians know that I am Yhwh, when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
יד:יט וַיִּסַּ֞ע מַלְאַ֣ךְ הָאֱ-לֹהִ֗ים הַהֹלֵךְ֙ לִפְנֵי֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶ֑ם וַיִּסַּ֞ע עַמּ֤וּד הֶֽעָנָן֙ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֔ם וַֽיַּעֲמֹ֖ד מֵאַחֲרֵיהֶֽם: יד:כ וַיָּבֹ֞א בֵּ֣ין׀ מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֗יִם וּבֵין֙ מַחֲנֵ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיְהִ֤י הֶֽעָנָן֙ וְהַחֹ֔שֶׁךְ וַיָּ֖אֶר אֶת הַלָּ֑יְלָה וְלֹא קָרַ֥ב זֶ֛ה אֶל זֶ֖ה כָּל הַלָּֽיְלָה:
14:19 The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, 14:20 and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night.
יד:כא וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת יָדוֹ֘ עַל הַיָּם֒
14:21 Then Moses held out his arm over the sea
וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ יְ-הֹוָה׀ אֶת הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה
and Yhwh drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground.
וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם: יד:כב וַיָּבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חוֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם: יד:כג וַיִּרְדְּפ֤וּ מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֔ם כֹּ֚ל ס֣וּס פַּרְעֹ֔ה רִכְבּ֖וֹ וּפָרָשָׁ֑יו אֶל תּ֖וֹךְ הַיָּֽם:
The waters were split, 14:22 and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 14:23 The Egyptians came in pursuit after them into the sea, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and horsemen.
יד:כד וַֽיְהִי֙ בְּאַשְׁמֹ֣רֶת הַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵ֤ף יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעַמּ֥וּד אֵ֖שׁ וְעָנָ֑ן וַיָּ֕הָם אֵ֖ת מַחֲנֵ֥ה מִצְרָֽיִם: יד:כה וַיָּ֗סַר אֵ֚ת אֹפַ֣ן מַרְכְּבֹתָ֔יו וַֽיְנַהֲגֵ֖הוּ בִּכְבֵדֻ֑ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מִצְרַ֗יִם אָנ֙וּסָה֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֣י יְ-הֹוָ֔ה נִלְחָ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם בְּמִצְרָֽיִם:
14:24 At the morning watch, Yhwh looked down upon the Egyptian army from a pillar of fire and cloud, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 14:25 He locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for Yhwh is fighting for them against Egypt.”
יד:כו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְ-הֹוָה֙ אֶל מֹשֶׁ֔ה נְטֵ֥ה אֶת יָדְךָ֖ עַל הַיָּ֑ם וְיָשֻׁ֤בוּ הַמַּ֙יִם֙ עַל מִצְרַ֔יִם עַל רִכְבּ֖וֹ וְעַל פָּרָשָֽׁיו: יד:כז וַיֵּט֙ מֹשֶׁ֨ה אֶת יָד֜וֹ עַל הַיָּ֗ם
14:26 Then Yhwh said to Moses, “Hold out your arm over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians and upon their chariots and upon their horsemen.” 14:27 Moses held out his arm over the sea,
וַיָּ֨שָׁב הַיָּ֜ם לִפְנ֥וֹת בֹּ֙קֶר֙ לְאֵ֣יתָנ֔וֹ וּמִצְרַ֖יִם נָסִ֣ים לִקְרָאת֑וֹ וַיְנַעֵ֧ר יְ-הֹוָ֛ה אֶת מִצְרַ֖יִם בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּֽם:
and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state, and the Egyptians fled at its approach. But Yhwh hurled the Egyptians into the sea.
יד:כח וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ הַמַּ֗יִם וַיְכַסּ֤וּ אֶת הָרֶ֙כֶב֙ וְאֶת הַפָּ֣רָשִׁ֔ים לְכֹל֙ חֵ֣יל פַּרְעֹ֔ה הַבָּאִ֥ים אַחֲרֵיהֶ֖ם בַּיָּ֑ם לֹֽא נִשְׁאַ֥ר בָּהֶ֖ם עַד אֶחָֽד:יד:כט וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הַיָּ֑ם וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם:
14:28 The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen—Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 14:29 But the Israelites had marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
יד:ל וַיּ֨וֹשַׁע יְ-הֹוָ֜ה בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֛וּא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יִם וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם: יד:לא וַיַּ֨רְא יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת הַיָּ֣ד הַגְּדֹלָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה יְ-הֹוָה֙ בְּמִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽירְא֥וּ הָעָ֖ם אֶת יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וַֽיַּאֲמִ֙ינוּ֙ בַּֽי-הֹוָ֔ה וּבְמֹשֶׁ֖ה עַבְדּֽוֹ:
14:30 Thus Yhwh delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. 14:31 And when Israel saw the wondrous power which Yhwh had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared Yhwh; they had faith in Yhwh and His servant Moses.

Conclusion

By dividing the biblical account into two discrete, originally separate stories, the source critical solution creates two coherent stories out of one incoherent one. Moreover, by seeing each story on its own, and seeing how they were combined, we understand that the problems in the composite story are not a consequence of needlessly complex writing, but represent two fundamentally different traditions about what happened at the sea and why.

Published

January 29, 2015

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Last Updated

November 14, 2019

Footnotes

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