Subscribe to the BASNY Newsletter

Israelite Writing: From Hyksos to Hellenistic

The Society of Biblical Literature recently reviewed Back to Reason: Minimalism in Biblical Studied by Niels Peter Lemche. According to reviewer Susanne Scholz:

To him, the historical-literary situation is obvious and undisputable. The Hebrew Bible is Hellenistic literature.

Several chapters of the book target scholars who have participated in the minimalist/maximalist debate. Simply based on the excerpts in the book review, one readily ascertains that the debate was quite heated and at times highly personal. But such acrimony is not the purpose of this blog.

According to the book review, Lemche acknowledges that other minimalists such as Philip R. Davies suggest the Persian period as the time of writing. Whether or not Lemche analyzes why some scholars designate the Persian period while he does the Hellenistic is not stated in the review. It would be interesting to know what the criteria for differentiating a Hellenistic origin from a Persian period origin are.

Also according to the book review, a similar scenario occurs with the Exilic period. Here Lemche notes the work of John Van Seters. Again it would be useful to know the diagnostics for differentiating Exilic, Persian, and Hellensitic writing. Perhaps Lemche does in the book but one cannot tell from the book review.

Earlier periods in time also have their champions. Whether or not they are mentioned in the book cannot be determined from the review. For example, Frank Moore Cross and his students are closely associated with writing in the time of Josiah. In fact, Josiah earns a pre- and post-Josiah selection. There are writings which occurred while Josiah was still alive and the writer was optimistic. Then there was the writing after death of Josiah and there was a need to explain why history had not worked out as prophesized.

Lately, there has been new and even earlier addition to the time frame selected for Hebrew Bible writing. Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Römer champion the reign of Jeroboam II. Based on the archaeology, they posit that the successful reign of this king was the time, or a time, of biblical writing.  Finkelstein in particular has churned out article after article about patriarch after patriarch to show that the successful reign of Jeroboam II was the time of origin for these stories.

The sequence can be pushed back even further. Antony Campbell has posited a prophetic stratum for the writing of the Hebrew Bible roughly from Ahijah to Elijah created from the Elisha circle of prophets. He then has suggested a multitude of levels for such writings from Deuteronomy to II Kings. He even has identified by chapter and verse the anonymous writers who authored the different strands. So we are dealing here not with one person at one time who is the author, but multiple people over extended time and with different points of view.

The process of writing the Hebrew Bible can be pushed back even further before Ahijah and the divided kingdom. Gerhard von Rad thought of the Solomonic kingdom as a time of enlightenment that dazzled the world as they knew it. Truly such writing was a golden age for the writing of the Hebrew Bible.

The story can be pushed back another generation. The reign of King David also has its champions such as Kyle McCarter among others. In this situation, the writer as in the time of Solomon is writing about events in the present including David’s Rise to Power, the Court History, and the Succession. Of course, these writers of the 10th century had much less to write about then subsequent writers. But it is easy to imagine a series of scrolls from the time of David, of Solomon, of Ahijah to Elijah, of the Jehu dynasty by Jeroboam II, to the time of Josiah when they began to be combined by the northerners who had fled to Judah.

There is still more. Saul, too, has his supporters such as Kyle McCarter, again, and Marsha White. These writing are not as lengthy as some of the other writings. They are more focused on the legitimacy of Saul as the first king of Israel. One could add anti-Saul polemics found in the Book of Judges as writings originating in the time of Saul as well.

This time of the monarchy also marked a transition from poetic writing celebrating the heroic warrior to prose writing of storytelling. Mark Smith has written of this period in time.

As for the time of the earliest poetry, the Albright School has been the most vocal champions of Late Bronze Age I writing or composing of these songs.

So if one steps back and looks at the question of the writing of the Hebrew Bible, one sees that there is scarcely a time period that has not been proposed as a time of writing of the Hebrew Bible.

What can one conclude from this brief overview of candidates for the writing of the Hebrew Bible?

1. Writing was continuous throughout the life of the Israelite people. This does not mean that writing occurred every day or even every year, but that there were periods when events in history were happening that necessitated explaining them so Israel wrote.

2. These writings over time were part of what differentiated Israel from its neighbors where writing tended to be about the current king until Herodotus and Hellenistic times changed the rules.

3. These writing were not necessarily for the general population especially as the texts grew longer. Rather they became more like academic writings today meant only for other academics (priests) as they battled for power.

4. Writers did not necessarily share the same world view (Nimrod versus Tower of Babel) but they were able to include alternate views in a single text as part of a political compromise.

5. The writers can be grouped into schools which survived for centuries:

Levites who were part of Israel since the Exodus and championed the covenant

Aaronids who were part of Israel since the Exodus and who brought a Mesopotamian outlook to the process befitting their Benjaminite origin and who would have accepted a temple in Bethel

Zadokites or Jebusites who were latecomers to Israel in the time of David and were more concerned for the temple in Jerusalem and had little interest in the Exodus.

Remarkably they were all able to function within a single rubric of the Hebrew Bible even longer than the North and South have been able to do so far in the United States with a single constitution.

Part of the reason Israel was able to survive as a people in ancient times whereas other small peoples fell by the wayside was that its tradition of writing held it together. To realize that one needs to step back, look at the larger picture, and recognize the importance of writing to Israel right from its start.

“Joseph and His Allies in Genesis 29-30” by Daniel E. Fleming and the Exodus

“Joseph and His Allies in Genesis 29” by Dan Fleming is a contribution to the new book Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of P. Kyle McCarter Jr. Previously I examined the contribution of Heath Dewrell on “Yahweh the Destroyer.” His scholarship complemented the existence of an historical Exodus although in his article he specifically disavowed any attempt to address the Exodus.

In this article, Fleming’s interest is “the particularity oddity of Joseph as the culmination of the birth sequence” in the Jacob material. He asserts that “the birth narrative leaves us with a political geography for the wife sequence sharply at odds with ordinary readings that are informed by the later equation of Jacob with Israel.” Unlike Dewrell, Fleming, makes no reference to the Exodus at all. However his study illuminates who the people of the Exodus were.


At various times in the writing of my book The Exodus: An Egyptian Experience I considered including chapter on the peoples of the Exodus. An overview of the proposed peoples would have included the following groups.

Amorite Hyksos Levites – This section drew on the work of Richard Friedman and Marc Leuchter on the violence associated with the Levites. They both saw an Egyptian connection. I expanded on their work in “A Hyksos Levite Led the Exodus in the Time of Ramesses II,” my contribution to Five Views of the Exodus (2021). It is from this group that the tradition of 400-year Delta/Land of Goshen sojourn originated in conjunction with the 400 Year Stela of Ramses II.

Canaanite Na’ar Ephraim – This military-based-component of ancient Israel derived from a special division created within the Egyptian army of Canaanites. They helped rescue Ramses II at Kadesh for which they received little credit since Ramses won the battle all by himself. One may speculate that some of their commanding officers were Hyksos. This group produced mighty archers who arms were made strong by the God of Jacob and the war leader Joshua. In early Israelite history they were always angling to be part of a battle.

Amorite Benjaminites – This also military-based component of ancient Israel brought a Mesopotamian perspective to the new people. The section would have drawn on the work of Fleming. They were more recent arrivals in Egypt (Habiru captives?) and possibly were integrated into the Egyptian police called Medjay which did not mean one had to be Nubian or black anymore.

Canaanite Manasseh/Machir – These non-warrior people had a dual identity. On the one hand they had been in Egypt. On the other hand, they consisted of people, families, and clans but not tribes in the land of Canaan who joined Israel once the latter arrived in the land. These people would have brought with them the experience of being slaves in the land of Canaan, an approach some scholars take for all of ancient Israel.

In the end, I did not write this chapter. It would have been too long in time and pages for the publisher. It also would have violated my self-imposed parameters of limiting the study of the Exodus to the Egyptian record and not becoming bogged down in biblical exegesis.

With this background in mind, let’s turn to what Fleming wrote.


Fleming alerts the reader that “we are constantly in danger of letting perspectives of later biblical contributors govern our interpretation because it has not occurred to us to imagine different realities below the surface of their work.” I suppose an historical Exodus would qualify here. In a footnote, he adds that in his previous book, The Legacy of Israel in Judah’s Bible: History, Politics, and the Reinscribing of Tradition, he addressed the birth narrative as setting the core for the Jacob story. “The analysis offered here examines what I now conclude to be a contrasting set of assumptions that underlie the fully formed Jacob narrative.”

Towards that end, he observes: “In the birth narrative itself, the three most prominent peoples of the central highlands are missing: Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin.”

Fleming then analyzes the tribes of the birth narrative. He notes that it mainly concerns the half-brothers of Joseph. The tribes entail the political hub of the northern kingdom. These tribes identify with but are separate from Joseph. It is the family of Jacob where Joseph stands alone as the long-awaited son of Rachel.


In the next section, Fleming addresses Jacob’s journey to Haran. The significance of the site of Bethel is examined. He repeats his observation about the story in the central highlands omitting the people otherwise located in this area: Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. He states that:

The separate genealogical explanation of Ephraim and Manasseh as sons of Joseph, and the idea that Benjamin was a second son of Rachel, both find ways to make sense of these familiar groups in relation to a story that ignored them.  

He concludes that both Manasseh and Ephraim are presented as people separate from Joseph. He then declares:

Nothing in Gen 29:1-30:24 offers a clear geographical setting for its composition and transmission as a separate tale and text.

Fleming posits that the Jacob story comes from the central highlands. It reaches us by way of the scribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. He calls its perspective archaic. It precedes the incorporation of these “brother” peoples into a larger or Greater Israel. Chronologically, that means at least by the time of the 9th-century Omrides. There is nothing in it which would suggest a time of Assyrian intrusions into the land of Israel (or Syria). There is nothing in it that would suggest a time of tension between Israel and the Aramaeans such as at Damascus.

He concludes with:

Yet this is a text with deep historical interest and deep roots in the Bible’s past. Genesis 29-30 provides one biblical clue to the web of names and political alignments that underlay what finally coalesced as the ambitious kingdom of Israel, with a lesser Israel just one of those identities.


This review does not do full justice to the article Fleming has written or the arguments he has proposed. My interest here is what it means for the Exodus or, rather, how the historical Exodus can contribute to understanding the family of Israel.

To do so, the following working hypothesis may be considered:

1. By the time of Thutmose III at the latest there existed peoples of Jacob-el and Joseph-el. What these two people did to warrant such honors has been lost in the mists of history. It is reasonable to conclude that Fleming’s family of Jacob goes back at least to the 15th century.

2. When Moses participated in Seti’s campaign in Canaan, he encountered these people. Seti does not mention them but it is reasonable to conclude that the El people opposed the Baal Egyptian rule. They saw themselves as slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt. Seti’s campaigns brought Moses in contact with both the Yahweh-worshiping Shasu and the El-worshiping Canaanites. Fortunately Ramses’s erasure of him was not complete otherwise that information would be lost. These contacts highlight the important of human agency in understanding the Exodus.

3. The Exodus consisted of the Levites, Benjaminites, Ephraimites, and Machir/Manasseh.

4. Once Israel was in the land of Canaan, the family of Jacob-el and other anti-Egyptian peoples became allies of Israel. They participated in the war against Rameses III (Sisera) as independent tribes and not as part of Israel but with a shared enemy.

5. There came a time when the family of Jacob decided it wanted to become part of Israel.

2 Samuel 5:1 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh [BROTHERS]. 2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you that led out and brought in Israel; and Yahweh said to you, `You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before Yahweh, and they anointed David king over Israel.

The expansion of Israel to include the family of Jacob-el necessitated changes.

Someone revised the Song of Deborah to emphasize the roles of Yahweh and Israel.

Someone created a “sons of Jacob” pericope. In my book Jerusalem Throne Games, I focused on the sons stories in Genesis 2-11. I situated them in the time of Solomon and named the authors and what they wrote. That process of writing continued on to include Genesis 29-30.

Someone decided to make Joseph a focal point of that pericope.

Someone decided to write the first version of the story of Joseph.

I recall decades ago sitting in the kitchen of Kyle McCarter. He was standing, leaning against the counter or refrigerator. We were talking about David and who had authored His to Power. I said, “Abiathar.” I now realize he was writing in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon as well. Someone should write a book about him.

“Yahweh the Destroyer: on the Meaning of יהוה” by Heath D. Dewrell and the Exodus

In the new book Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Setting in Honor of P. Kyle McCarter Jr., the opening contribution is by Heath D. Dewrell entitled  “Yahweh the Destroyer: on the Meaning of יהוה”. In his contribution Dewell examines the etymology of the national god of ancient Israel and Judah which he calls “a topic of perennial interest.” In the opening paragraph, he identifies the two most prominent understandings of Yahweh both of which are not the one expressed in Ex. 3:14.  They are “he causes to be” or from the Arabic “he blows” as in a storm god.

In so far as the Exodus is concerned, Dewrell draws a line in sand he will not cross: “Without going too far afield into questions concerning the historicity of Moses and the exodus…” His analysis of the national god of Israel and Judah proceeds by ignoring the very biblical event that causes those entities to be. It is certainly understandable why Dewrell, presumably limited by deadline and word count considerations for his contribution, would not want to venture forth into the issue of the historicity of the Exodus. Ironically, though, the historicity of the Exodus strengthens the very case he makes in this contribution. And that will be the subject of this blog.


In his first section, Dewrell addresses the issue of the spelling of the name of the deity (6-11). He begins by noting that the majority of scholars hold that yhwh represents the original form of the name of Israel’s god. He reviews the scholarship of those of have questioned this spelling. The Mesha Stele, a non-biblical attestation of the deity by a foreign people in the ninth century BCE of yhwh carries a great deal of weight for him.

Therefore, both our earliest evidence for the name and what one would expect historico-linguistically point to the longer form as having been the older one and the shorter forms as being secondary. Freedman and O’Connor’s assertion that “the longer form is obviously original” thus remains persuasive.


Speaking of Freedman, Dewrell next turns to the dominant theory most closely associated with William F. Albright, Frank Moore Cross Jr. and David Noel Freedman (12-17). In a footnote, Dewrell even pushes the interpretation back an academic generation to Paul Haupt, Albright’s teacher.

Here Dewrell takes exception to the epithets which have been added to “he causes to be.” Specifically, the effort to link Yahweh to El and to make the true name in its fullest form “He who creates (heavenly) armies.” This El-Yahweh deity then is enthroned on the cherubim just as El alone is in both Ugaritic and Punic iconography. This expansion thereby enables these scholars to connect the deity to the Ark Narrative.

Dewrell’s objection to this scenario is the absence of the title “Yahweh who creates the heavenly army” from the archaeological evidence. The title is an academic construct not supported by the evidence. He questions whether “Yahweh was originally a deity in the mold of El as depicted in the literature from Ugarit. Dewell cites the archaic poetry of the Bible, specifically the Song of the Sea and the Song of Deborah as expressing a deity who is a warrior. Yahweh marches to battle against his enemies on behalf of his people, and when he marches he comes from the southeast according to McCarter. Such behavior contrasts with Canaanite El who is a non-militaristic pantheon patriarch deity. Instead, Yahweh and El originally were two different deities with different characteristics.

Dewrell uses a couple of footnotes over two pages in length in smaller font to source these assertions. He then summarizes his position contra Cross, that:

Yahweh does not appear originally to have been linked to Canaanite El, which makes it unlikely that the origin of Yahweh’s name is to be found in an El epithet.

I agree with Dewrell but would take the analysis one step further. My interest is in biblical history. Therefore the question I would ask is related to human agency. Who is the person who linked these two deities of different characteristics and locations together? Who named the people after El and the deity worshipped as Yahweh? I do not address these questions in my book The Exodus: An Egyptian Experience, since I too drew a line in the sand as to what I would include in the book. But once you accept an historical Exodus, then it becomes easier to ask why Moses sought to link these deities at a time when Ramses was so closely connected to Baal. The question then becomes one not of theology, literature, or abstract forces of long duration but of power politics.


In this section Dewrell addresses the familiar purported Midianite-Kenite thesis (18-23). This thesis derives from the apparent home of Yahweh the warrior god identified in the previous section. Dewrell notes the wide support for the notion that Yahweh originally was venerated among the Kenites, Midianites, and/or Edomites. The connection derives from the biblical evidence that (i) depicts both Moses and Yahweh being in this area, (ii) identifies Cain the Kenite, and (iii) the Egyptian archaeological evidence of the Land of the Shasu, YHW. Dewrell concludes:

While none of these pieces of evidence is conclusive, the fact that several independent bits of circumstantial evidence all point to the idea that Yahweh was somehow associated with the area south of Israel may indicate a cultural memory with possible roots in historical reality.

The historical reality is the Exodus and the missing ingredient is human agency provided by Moses. In an earlier blog this year (Egyptologists, Biblical Scholars, and The Exodus

March 10, 2022), I wrote:

When Moses flees to the wilderness he does so as one who previously had organized, planned, and participated in a campaign against the Shasu. He is no Sinuhe. He already knows the name “Yahweh” but “led thee out of the land of Egypt” is his new hope, vision, and political goal.

Moses does not encounter the Kenites by chance. These smiths are the one neutral or protected people among the various Shasu tribes. [An idea I picked up from Kyle years ago.] They offer him a sanctuary or safe haven. Moses marries into/is inducted into the Kenite tribe. He now has the mark of Cain which renders him safe from those he had fought as a Hyksos Egyptian under Seti. At this point Moses does not expect to be wandering in the wilderness when he leads people out of Egypt against the will of Ramses. Some of the Shasu decide to assist Moses in his effort against Egypt. Later they will become Calebites and be included in the Exodus narrative alongside those who did depart from Egypt. The kingdom of Judah under David thus will be an odd combination of Canaanite Jebusites (Elyon) who had been allies of Egypt, Amorite Benjaminites (Shaddai) who had been part of the Exodus from Egypt and had a Mesopotamian orientation, and Shasu Calebites (Yahweh) who became allies of Israel during the Exodus.

This scenario was not in my book. That study was limited to Egyptian sources. This reconstruction partakes of biblical exegesis which would have added a whole new dimension to the book and made it much longer. However it does reveal the opportunity available to a biblical scholar if one should abandon one of the accepted Exodus paradigms listed above [multiple explanations for the Exodus].

Here one may trace the origin of Dewrell’s “cultural memory with possible roots in historical reality” to an actual historical reality.

For the remainder of this section, Dewrell dismisses the proposed storm god proposition of Knauf leading to the definition of “to blow.” He concludes that the linkage of a storm god based on the Arabic root “to blow” in an area bereft of rain to be invalid on both accounts. Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age inhabitants of Midian/Edom were as likely to have spoken an Edomite-related language with its affinities to Hebrew as Arabic.

Dewrell combines these sections about the meaning of Yahweh with the observation:

As with the thesis of Albright, Freedman, and Cross, there is no evidence to disprove this reconstruction. It does, however, rely on several suppositions for which we have no real evidence. If one were able to produce a cogent explanation that required fewer unverifiable assumptions, then one might appeal to Occam’s razor and prefer it to those that require more involved reconstructions. Here I will attempt to provide such a solution.


Dewrell now proposes his own “cogent explanation for the meaning of Yahweh (23-27). His starting point is:

1. Yahweh was a deity worshiped primarily if not exclusively by people who spoke Hebrew
2. the earliest literature portrays him as a warrior god
3. the most natural place to begin the etymological search is in the language of the people who venerated him.

He observes that the overarching depiction of Yahweh in archaic biblical poetry is as an agent of destruction. Yahweh annihilates enemies of Israel. This leads him to examine Hebrew terms for destruction and disaster like הוה. After reviewing the relevant biblical texts, Dewrell concludes that the Hebrew root and the character of Yahweh “both support tracing the etymology of Yahweh’s name to “destruction.” He also notes that Holzinger had made a similar suggestion years ago in 1893. Unfortunately, in the passing years there was some confusion over whether HWY (destruction) or ḤWY had been printed. This led to a misunderstanding in the subsequent scholarship including a footnote where a ח is used instead of a ה perpetuating the problem.

It thus appears that a minor typographical error is responsible for the [destruction] proposal’s having lain in obscurity ever since!

Imagine scribal error in the 20th century carrying forward into the 21st!

Dewrell concludes by situating Yahweh the destroyer with other Late Bronze and Iron Age Northwest Semitic deities of conquest and destruction: Anat (to be violent/subdue), Chemosh (to conquer/subdue), Reshep (to burn), and Deber (plague).  One can’t help but notice in this litany of deities that he ignored Egypt.


There is an Egyptian goddess who deserves consideration in the defining of Yahweh, the destroyer. She is Sekhmet who figures prominently in the Egyptian myth involving the destruction of man. Here are some excerpts about her from my book, The Exodus: An Egyptian Story.

The final aspect of Ra to be discussed concerns Sekhmet, the “Powerful One.” In The Book of the Cow of Heaven, there is an episode about The Destruction of Mankind….. The story tells of the old and weary sun-god Ra seeking to destroy the human race because of suspected rebellions plotted by people against him….

Hathor then commences slaughtering the people in the desert in the form of the goddess Sekhmet, a ferocious leonine deity, the “Powerful One.” Sekhmet provided a counterpart to the nurturing female goddess. This goddess was the bringer of plague and disease who breathed fire against her enemies. In the Egyptian tradition, the annual inundation and the corresponding annual mortal epidemic from pathogenic agents were attributed to the destructive force of the goddess Sekhmet. Consequently, the Egyptians developed rituals to protect themselves from this death.

            The Egyptians attributed other natural phenomena to her. The hot desert winds were an expression of her breath. She was a military patroness to kings and a symbol of their power. She exulted in her bloodlust, triumphant in her massacre of humans. One is left with the image of a raging lioness wading in the blood of killed humans in all her glory. In the myth, Sekhmet commenced her destruction of mankind in the form of the Eye of Ra, one of her most important manifestations. She was an excellent destroyer.

Sekhmet certainly is worthy of inclusion into the pantheon of destructive deities listed by Dewrell. When the people went forth from Egypt, they brought with them these Egyptian motifs of plagues, diseases, flowing red water/blood, magic, and New Year executions to restore cosmos/maat as part of their cultural memory. It was a story of Yahweh the destroyer prevailing against Sekhmet the would-be destroyer of humanity who once again had been thwarted by humans.

The challenge then for biblical scholars is to trace the Egyptian-based motifs into the written biblical texts via oral tradition. Perhaps when the covenant renewal ceremonies were performed at Mount Ebal, it included a reenactment of the triumph of Yahweh, the destroyer, and the Egyptians who served Ramses who had been tasked with the executing Moses and his supporters to begin the New Year. I wonder who acted in the role of the “destroyer” in the performance. I wonder who the destroyer at Passover actually was. In any event, the concept of Yahweh the destroyer perfectly complements the historical reconstruction of the Exodus from Egypt.