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Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14-15


Following a prose heading, he told in poetic lines of his per- sonal strength and valor in the face of combat.

Head on he charges a multitude, His heart trusting his strength; Stout-hearted in the hour of combat, Like the flame when it consumes. Firm-hearted like a bull ready for battle, He heeds not all the lands combined; A thousand men cannot withstand him, A hundred thousand fail at his sight. 6

Other notable examples include the victory steles of the nine- teenth dynasty pharaoh Merneptah (1234-1222 B.C.)7 and the twenty-fifth dynasty king Piye (751-716 B.C.).8 Merneptah's in- scription has a prose introduction that gives the king's titulary, followed by a formal encomium to the king, and a long epic poem telling of the king's mighty exploits and his return to Egypt in peace. The stele of King Piye includes a freer mixture of prose and poetry. The poetry is often set within the prose narrative to provide dramatic detail in direct speech. Interestingly Moses' Egyptian homeland provides the clearest examples o f the use of poetry within prose narrative.9 Thus Watts remarks, “It is ancient Egyp- tian, more than Semitic, literature which provides a number of partial parallels and one very close parallel (the Piye Stela.) to the Hebrew usage." 10

The Pentateuch displays a remarkable pattern of utilizing po- etry to provide historical information and as a literary device to give structure to the narrative.11 Sailhamer suggests that in the Pentateuch there is deliberate placement of poetry after narrative sections and before an epilogue.

6 7 8 Ibid., 2:63. Ibid., 2:73-78. Merneptah's stele is better known as the so-called "Israel Stele." Ibid., 3:66-89. Lichtheim agrees with a growing number of Egyptian scholars who say the name of the Cushite king commonly rendered as Piankhy should be rendered Piye (or Pi).

9 10 11 Moses is both the assumed author and narrator throughout this study. Watts, "Song and the Ancient Reader," 138. The technique of inserting poetry in a prose narrative is attested elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., the well-known "Song of Deborah" in Judges 5). This observation in no way questions the inerrancy of the Old Testament canonical form (Michael A. Grisanti, "Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 [2001]: 577-98).

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