Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14–15 -- By: Richard D. Patterson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 161:641 (Jan 2004)
Article: Victory at Sea: Prose and Poetry in Exodus 14–15
Author: Richard D. Patterson


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

Richard D. Patterson

Richard D. Patterson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Semitics and Old Testament, Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia.

The practice of setting forth a historical event in both prose and poetic form occurs with some frequency in Hamito-Semitic literature. Watts notes that poetic “hymnic prologues and epilogues frequently bracket the central narrative.”1 He points out, however, that “the cuneiform texts use hymnic material as structural (primarily concluding) elements in both prose and poetic compositions, but do not mix the modes of presentation.”2 Likewise Lichtheim, commenting on the Kadesh battle inscription of Ramses II, observes that “the combination, in historical inscriptions, of prose narratives with poems extolling the royal victories is of course not new. What is new is that the poem should be more than a brief song of triumph that sums up the narration and should itself be narrative.”3 In fact in Egyptian literature poetry often occurs within historical prose narrative. Thus Ramses’s inscription is formed with a prose introduction and conclusion as well as providing a prose narrative at one point to give the setting for Ramses’s heroic extraction of himself from surrounding Hittite forces.4 Having been deserted by his own soldiers in the critical hour of battle against the people of the area, Ramses asserted, “I attacked all the countries, I alone.”5

Following a prose heading, he told in poetic lines of his personal 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 nineteenth dynasty pharaoh Merneptah (1234-1222 B.C.)7 and the twenty-fifth dynasty king Piye (751-716 B.C.).8 Merneptah’s i...

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