Leuchter-reimagining the Sea and Moses

I have often given reasons on this blog about why the exodus from Egypt happened. Bible writers embellished the story and there are accounts that do not entirely jibe. But there were Semitic laborers exploited by the Egyptians and there were exodus-like events that the Egyptians themselves recorded.

This is stuff that I have gone over before. So I am not going to argue with Mark Lauchter, who in The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity, develops his theory without a historical exodus from Egypt.

His theory is that Egyptian troops in about -1209 displaced an Israel made up of lowlanders in Canaan, forcing them to become highlanders. They survived this precarious, “wilderness” experience. Some of them developed a theology that it was God who enabled them to survive. They expressed this theology as mythology.

This is how he interprets Exodus 15:1-19, the Song of the Sea. The Sea is not a place near Egypt. It is the mythological Yam that appears in much of the region’s literature, especially at Ugarit. Yam corresponds to Poseidon. In the Ugaritic cycle he fights on behalf of the chief of gods, EL.

So Exodus 15 contains a poetic myth that expresses the idea that God fights against Israel’s enemies, the egyptians. The horses and chariot drivers reflect that Egypt was the enemy, but do not refer to the actual drowning of a chariot force. The passage has been inserted after the narrative of Exodus 13 and 14, but did not originally have anything to do with the narrative there.

Exodus 15:13 and 15:17 are about God providing a new home for Israel in the highlands.

A problem is that the myth repeatedly attributes victory to YHWH, not to EL.  But YHWH is not usually associated with Yam.

Leuchter accepts the work of scholars who see Emergent Israel as organized around chiefdoms which named EL as their divine kinsman. Hence, the name Isra-EL

So how did YHWH worship impinge upon EL worship? This is where Leuchter begins to discuss the Levites. There is evidence that YHWH was worshiped in the desert southwest of Canaan by Shasu herdsmen and Midianites. Moses and Aaron seem to come out of this area.

One thing about Moses that we can take as solidly historical is that he married a Midianite woman. Given the stigma later attached to Midianites, no one would have invented this.

However, Moses seems to be an Egyptian name. Leuchter does not think this necessarily means Moses led people out of Egypt. Egypt had interests in the areas where YHWH was worshiped. They must have had officials stationed there.


(I am aware of a port at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba and copper mining interests at Timna and in Edom. Egypt used a lot of foreigners even in command positions. So how many Egyptians would there have been? Rock drawings at Timna show hunting partys with a mixture of people. Not all the elites were Egyptians. Sometimes Egypt organized short-term military and mining expeditions. There was a tent shrine to the goddess Hathor at Timna. There must have been some Egyptian priests there.)


Leuchter imagines Moses as one of these officials who went rogue, married into a Midianite family and attached himself to Israelite settlements in the transjordanian highlands. He pushed the religious reform involved in equating EL with YHWH, which resulted in the Song-of-the-Sea mythology.

Now, since there are several Egyptian names among the early Levites, there must have been a small group of these rogue Egyptians. Moses was the one to whom Israelite memory attached the most significance.

Even if you think this is far-fetched in detail, don’t lose sight of the fact that YHWH worship merged with EL worship at some early point. Levites must have played a role.

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Leuchter-reimagining the Sea and Moses

  1. Pingback: Leuchter-reimagining the Sea and Moses — theoutwardquest | James' Ramblings

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