Beshalach (Shmot (Ex.) 13:17 - 17:16)

If you're unfamiliar with some of the terminology:

There is a long tradition of publicly reading the Pentateuch ("Torah" in the narrowest sense, the Five Books of Moses). There are several traditional cycles: a three year cycle of readings and a seven year cycle appear to be the most ancient (the seven year cycle, corresponding to the Sabbatical Year, appears to be the most ancient). About 1000 years ago, the Masoretes (also see Masoretic Text and, on the origins of Hebrew, see History of the Bible) began standardizing the Torah text and divided it into weekly readings, instituting an annual cycle.

Among other things, please note that it is entirely unlikely that either Rashi or Maimonides used the same text we use. How can I say such a thing? Simple. The Masoretic text wasn't available to them, it hadn't been finalized when they wrote their seminal works.

A weekly reading is called a "parshah," portion. Also called a "sedrah," each portion is given a name. The name is the first significant word(s) of the weekly parshah. Similarly, each book of the Torah takes its name from the first significant word of that book (so, the book and the first sedrah in that book have the same name).

A "chumash" (from "five," for the number of books) is a printed Torah of the Masoretic text, including vowels (a Torah scroll does not contain vowels, only consonants -- the Masoretes actually invented the vowel system) and usually contains a translation next to the text. A chumash is broken down into parshiot. Each parshah is followed by a traditional selection from the Prophets (called a haf'Tarah, not haf'Torah -- Hebrew: הפטרה‎ "parting," "taking leave"). A chumash often includes commentary and additional essays. 

"Shmot" (lit. "names"): the first significant word of the book also known as Exodus means "names." "These are the names of the children of Israel ...." Therefore the book and first reading is known as Shmot. As one commentator notes, even after 430 years in Egypt, they did not forget their (real) names.


 

 

Why we don't have the oil
2009 S.H. Parker

All maps are adapted from the Etz Chaim chumash. All Hebrew transcription and translations are from the Mechon-Mamre on-line chumash, unless otherwise noted.

Thus begins parshah Beshalach, the beginning of the journey out of Egypt:

וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה
(Shmot 13:17)

It is normally translated in words like this:

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: "Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt."

Late in the last century, Jews around the world lamented:

Oy, Moshe, Moshe! If only you'd turned right instead of left, we'd have the oil!

Examining the opening passage of Beshalach, however, makes it clear that Moshe did turn right (southeast instead of northeast).

 

From Goshen, the "way to the land of the Philistines" is the coast road. It is the shortest, most direct route from Egypt to Canaan. This is the route one would take from anywhere in northern Egypt, especially Goshen, to Canaan.

Note that Tanis, of Indiana Jones' "Raiders of the Lost Ark" fame, is just north of Goshen. Also, Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, two of the possible locations for the "Sea of Reeds" crossing are quite nearby and astride any southern route.

Taking the coast road, the People would have "turned left." But "God led them not by the way" of the coast road. Instead, the People went right, into the Sinai (and, keep in mind, what we now call the Sinai was not called that until 1500 or more years later, thanks to Queen Helena). In other words, they did turn right.

All of the evidence indicates that Israel moved south and east across the desert. We know that Israel came to Midian, where Moshe met with his father-in-law. Midian is in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. (So, it seems that Moshe took all of Israel to meet his in-laws!) In fact, one of the prime candidate sites for the "Mountain in Sinai," Horeb, is in what is now Saudi Arabia (see the DVD Exodus Revealed, for example; unfortunately the Saudi royal family refuses to allow excavation at the site).

Of course, 40 years later, they did turn left (north) to approach the land. This approach was on the east side of the Jordan, through Edom and Moab (as recorded), up and around the hill country of the south:

meaning that the entry into the land was from the east, belowe the Salt Sea, in the territory then known as "trans-Jordan" (that is, "across the Jordan").

If you remember this complaint of world Jewry, you may wonder about the phrase "Late in the last century." I would remind you, 1984 was the last century.

The Attraction of Canaan

So, we could have had the oil. That much is clear.

Why, then, did Israel turn back north and west, leaving the home of future riches and entering Canaan? From a Biblical point of view, the question is: Why is Canaan the land of the promise and not some other place?

Here, the answer is simple (if I recall correctly, Max Dimont makes this case in Jews, God and History). If you look at a map of the world and plot where the ancient civilizations were located, Canaan is the land bridge between them all. From Egypt to Akad (later, Sumer and, later still, Babylonia), one must journey through Canaan. From Assyria or Babylonia to Egypt or, even, Babylonia to Greece (much later, of course), one must journey through Canaan. From Persia to ... anywhere, again, right through Canaan. All the conquerors of late antiquity (Xerxes, Cyrus, Merneptah, Alexander, etc.) had to pass through Canaan.

Damascus and Baghdad, in fact all the great cities of the ancient world, are also located where multiple existing trade routes converge.

If you traveled by land in the ancient world, you traveled through Canaan. It's just that simple. And, among other things, this means that all the ideas of the world traveled into and through Canaan. In other words, Israel is the intellectual center of the world.

And that, my friends, is what keeps a people alive and vital for 4,000 years.

 

 

 

The Route Out of Egypt:
Where God Did or Did Not Lead Israel
2009 S.H. Parker

All maps are adapted from the Etz Chaim chumash. All Hebrew transcription and translations are from the Mechon-Mamre on-line chumash, unless otherwise noted.

 

 וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
-- Shmot 13:17

On its face, the opening passage of Beshalach appears to be simple narrative. Yet, in these few, simple words, there is much of historical and exegetical interest.

ולא נחם אלהים And God did not lead (lit. "comfort") [them]: This is a most unusual phrase. God often acts in the Biblical narrative. Mostly, God talks. When actions are ascribed directly to God, we find descriptions like:

and the like. When the causative is not used, the future tense is. As striking as this change of style in 13:17 is in translation, it is much more so in the Hebrew.

Such a simple declarative assertion of divine action is very, very rarely seen anywhere in Torah. And, here, it is in the simplest past tense.

Halpern, David's Secret Demons : Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, demonstrates that this is the way court histories were written in the ancient near east (and, all "histories" were court histories in the ancient world). The god was responsible. If the king failed to placate the god(s), the god(s) brought about evil consequences (i.e., losing a war). If the king "found favor" in the eyes of the god(s), the god(s) brought about good consequences (i.e., winning a war). 

Throughout the Prophets, we see exactly the same kind of language. There is one change from the court histories of the kings of the east, however. Failure to placate the gods is replaced by a new concept, "sin," disobedience to the Devine will. And "finding favor" (successfully placating), while that idea is still referenced frequently, is subsumed in the idea of "obedience" (obedience, which is to say "loyalty," causes "finding favor" and disobedience -- sin -- causes failure to find favor). Because later generations, particularly in Europe and Asia minor (viz., Greek and Roman proselytes to Paul's new religion), did not understand that this way of talking is entirely formulaic, read much, much more into the words of the Prophets than is actually there. Or, perhaps, the prophets were extending a mode of speech (as Halpern notes; the king did not for a moment think that he, himself, did not win, it was socially unacceptable to publicly display such arrogance in the steles put out for the public to see -- and this, apparently, is why Halpern claims that the steles, the public histories, were a bit of a joke on the public) the prophets were extending a mode of speech into a new way of conceiving the world. In this new world view, God actually did care what people did and how they did it. Where the ancient kings thought themselves god-like, even gods themselves (as in Egypt and Rome), the prophets were drawing out the consequences of the existence of a single God who made demands on people, especially on their behavior.

Kaufman, in The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile, also notes this unusual description, ולא נחם אלהים. What Kaufman points out, knowing that attributing responsibility to the god(s) was the proper and expected formula in near eastern writings, is that the kind of language we see here is precisely what one should expect from a thoroughly monotheistic writer. All the more so as there is no indication of discussion ("consultation"?) with Moshe and this omission is seriously striking, unprecedented in fact.

Kaufman is arguing against Wellhausen's view that monotheism was an evolutionary development in Israelite religion. Wellhausen's dating of the various literary sources in Torah had pretty much been discredited by the time Kaufman began publishing The Religion of Israel (the first of the eight volumes came out in 1937, the last in 1956, by which time Wellhausen's dating had been thoroughly discredited and the thesis in need of massive reinterpretation - Richard Elliot Friedman did so in Who Wrote the Bible?), however the notion that monotheism evolved over many centuries until the Prophets did not give way as easily as the remainder of Wellhausen's speculations (and much of Wellhausen is speculation, much of the remainder is simple invention; actually, Wellhausen claims -- asserts but never demonstrates -- that monotheism is actually invented by the Prophets, not inherited by them, and the Torah actually came later, after the literary prophets). Prof. Moshe Greenberg notes, in his preface to his (abridged) translation of The Religion of Israel:

Yet biblical scholarship, while admitting that the grounds have crumbled away, nevertheless continues to adhere to the conclusions.

Kaufman's argument is that passages like this demonstrate that there had been a monotheistic revolution. By the time of the exodus, monotheism had taken firm hold in Israel. "By the time of" meaning "not later than." In fact, by the time the Torah is committed to writing (whether during the desert sojourn or later is irrelevant -- Kaufman is able to demonstrate that the stories of Bereshit are clearly ancient, pre-dating the exodus by centuries) monotheism was so entrenched that Kaufman can open his book with:

If one examines the biblical account of the origins of Israelite monotheism and the story of its battle with and eventual triumph over paganism, he will discover a strange fact: the Bible is utterly unaware of the nature and meaning of pagan religion. [emphasis added]

(This is, indeed, the first sentence of Kaufman's book in Greenberg's translation/abridgement.)

(If there was vestigial paganism in Israel, one must wonder if the 40 years in the desert wasn't partially to allow it to die out.)

In other words, whenever the Biblical accounts were created, whether orally or in writing is, again, irrelevant, Israel was so thoroughly monotheistic that it no longer knew or understood what "paganism" was or had been, nor what "paganism" meant. It is not simply at Moshe's time; the representation of paganism that Kaufman demonstrates as defective, completely permeates Torah. Again, note, the foundation stories, from the creation of the world, through the patriarchs, up to the Egyptian enslavement are demonstrably ancient, as Albrecht showed. And, these centuries old stories all share the common misconception of paganism.

In short, this seemingly minor passage, "God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines," whenever it was first uttered, already shows how ancient and accepted monotheism was in Israel. "Israelite religion was an original creation of the people of Israel. It was absolutely different from anything the pagan world knew; its monotheistic world view has no antecedents in paganism" (Kaufman, p.2).

 

 

 

 

The Route Out of Egypt:
Why the Route Makes Sense
2009 S.H. Parker

All maps are adapted from the Etz Chaim chumash. All Hebrew transcription and translations are from the Mechon-Mamre on-line chumash, unless otherwise noted.

 וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
-- Shmot 13:17

 

To me, the most interesting phrase in this passage is כי קרוב הוא. Above, it is rendered as "although that was near." But that is not the plain meaning (p'shat) of the words.

The pivotal word is כי (pronounced "key"). This is a word with many uses. Rashi (and I don't remember where) lists a number of them. But the primary meaning of כי is "because."

Therefore, the phrase should be translated: "God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines because it was close by." Because it was near. 

"Because?" What kind of causal relation can there be between not leading by a certain route and its nearness? None, of course. Instead, the relation is to the next idea: "when they see war [alternately: upon seeing war]." ("God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines because it was close by. 'Because,' God said: 'perhaps they will repent on seeing war and return to Egypt.'")

Israel is led the long way 'round in order to avoid "war." Does this make sense?

Yes, it does.

To understand just how much sense it does make consider this: the main route to Canaan, "the way to the land of the Philistines," would almost certainly have Egyptian military installations all along it, a number of them (archaeologists have, indeed, uncovered several and they are huge). This is the route an invading army from the east would (and did) take (while Canaan was usually within the Egyptian sphere of influence, it was, in the end, the buffer between Egypt and the empires of the east, Sumer, Babylonia, Persia, etc.). Several thousand former slaves approaching one of these installations would almost certainly provoke "war."

But, you may be thinking, Paro had let the people go ("expelled" is more like it):

 

וַיָּקָם פַּרְע הלַיְלָה, הוּא וְכָל-עֲבָדָיו וְכָל-מִצְרַיִם, וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּמִצְרָיִם: כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת.


 וַיִּקְרָא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן לַיְלָה, וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִתּוֹךְ עַמִּי--גַּם-אַתֶּם, גַּם-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּלְכוּ עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, כְּדַבֶּרְכֶם.

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: 'Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said.

-- Shmot 12:30-31

But nowhere is it recorded that Paro had his edict committed to papyrus and disseminated. Moshe was raised in the royal household. He knew its ways. He knew its protocols. He may have been slow of speech but he wasn't stupid. He knew that without a royal order, a laissez passez, having arrived in advance of his appearance, there would be a full-blown military response at the first fort he came upon.

So, the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succot (Shmot 12:37):

From Succot, either they journey due east across the northern part of the dessert or drop further south to follow one of the known trade routes across the center or south part of the dessert.

The coastal area is known to have had numerous forts. The central and southern trade routes are not known to have military installations (southern fortifications are found only on the Ethiopian border). In fact, the movement southward, to Succot, skirted the forts southwest of the main population centers (see Keller, The Bible as History, first edition). 

So, yes, avoiding the main road, avoiding the Egyptian army, makes sense.