Mark Leuchter, «'Why Tarry The Wheels of his Chariot?' (Judg 5,28): Canaanite Chariots and Echoes of Egypt in the Song of Deborah.», Vol. 91 (2010) 256-268
The closing verses of the Song of Deborah include a curious reference to chariotry (Judg 5,28) at a rhetorically potent moment in the poem. The present study examines the implications of the use of this image against the mythopoeic impulses in the poem, the larger historical background of early Israel's confrontations with Canaanite aggression in the 12th century BCE and the memory of Egyptian strategies of hegemony from the late Bronze Age. The effects of these memories and experiences leave profound impressions in the social and mythic matrices embedded in a broad spectrum of Biblical traditions.
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264 MARK LEUCHTER
this claim, as settlements in the highlands from that time show no
d i s t u r b a n c e or disruption until well beyond the period of
Merneptahâ€™s reign 21. Indeed, the rhetoric of the inscription is itself
indicative of this fact: Merneptahâ€™s scribe boasts of other geographic
locales that fell to the king, but (as is well known) refers to Israel as a
â€œ people â€, not as a land 22. There is no mention made of an area that is
dominated by his armies, which suggests that the author of the
inscription is deploying a sly rhetorical device to soften or blur the
memory of a less-than-successful campaign against the highlands. If
Merneptah utilized chariots in a manner consistent with other
19th dynasty Pharaohs â€” a likelihood, given the fact that the
depiction of his predecessors as master charioteers stems from his
own time 23 â€” then his scribeâ€™s choice to avoid mentioning Israelite
land holdings may relate to the inefficacy of Merneptahâ€™s chariot
brigades in that area of Canaan.
As a matter of propaganda, the scribe could make the
amorphous claim that Merneptah had dominated a people called
Israel, but the ambiguity regarding where this Israel was to be
f o u n d follows the device of deliberate ambiguity in royal
propaganda when full victory could not be declared 24. The annals
For an overview of settlements and dates of destruction in the late
13 through the mid 11th centuries in the central highlands, see R.D. MILLER,
Chieftains of the Highland Clans. A History of Israel in the 12th and
11th centuries B.C. (Grand Rapids, MI 2005) 97-103.
For a summary discussion, see MILLER, Chieftains, 93-95. The people-
d e t e r m i n a t i ve occurs in other contexts within the stele, though as
G.A. RENDSBURG notes, the determinative in relation to Israel is unique â€” â€œThe
Date of the Exodus and the Conquest/Settlement: A Case for the 1100sâ€, VT 42
(1992) 518. It is notable however that the steleâ€™s presentation of the Sea People
also present them as landless, for it is clear that whatever measure Merneptah
took against the Sea People, they maintained a geographic foothold especially on
the southeastern Mediterranean coast. In both cases, then, the depiction of
people independent of a geographic location is offered in relation to groups that
clearly persisted unabated and beyond Egyptian control.
On the dating of the relevant details to Merneptahâ€™s reign rather than
that of Rameses II, see F. YURCO, â€œMerneptahâ€™s Palestinian Campaignâ€,
JSSEA 8 (1978) 70.
Here I differ in opinion from the reading offered by RENDSBURG (â€œ The
Date of the Exodusâ€, 517-518) that the Merneptah stele refers to the
domination of an Israel during a period of enslavement, which in his view
explains the people-determinative as opposed to a regional depiction.