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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â€œ WHY TARRY THE WHEELS CHARIOT ? â€ (JUDG 5,28)
of Tiglath Pileser I (late 12th-early 11th centuries BCE) provide a
fairly proximate parallel to this propagandistic strategy, delineating
that rulerâ€™s accomplishments in a way that exaggerates the
historical reality. Notably, Tiglath Pileserâ€™s scribes attribute to him
an accomplishment rather similar to Merneptahâ€™s claim regarding
Israelâ€™s â€œseedâ€, when he claims to have utterly demolished the
fields of Kummuhu upon his first campaign there 25. The trope of
burning farmlands in the Assyrian chronicle becomes a metaphor
for the complete conquest of a people, though it is clear from the
various chronicles of this same king that there was, indeed, no
such complete conquest. Rather, Tiglath Pileser had to return to the
same region several times before subduing its population.
The Merneptah Steleâ€™s use of similar language and imagery is
suggestive of a similar manipulation or exaggeration of the reality
regarding his interaction with Israel. Whatever skirmish transpired
between him and the early Israelites of the late 13th century BCE,
his success must have been embarrassingly protracted 26. The lack
of an outright boast of domination over the totality of Israelite
territory suggests that his chariot forces were unable to penetrate
the hilly terrain these Israelites claimed as their homeland 27.
Consequently, the survival of the hinterland villages against the
efforts of later lowland Canaanites such as Sisera may similarly be
credited to the ineffectual nature of chariots as instruments of
warfare in the highland hills. Even if (as the poem suggests) some
The stele appears to declare victories in a succession of battles, and the allusion
to an already enslaved people seems out of place with the rhetorical aims of
such military propaganda.
The text appears in A.K. GRAYSON, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles
(Locust Valley, NY 1970) 189.
There are some indications that his campaign met with some degree of
success, but was by no means a sweeping victory. The extent of his success in
the region appears to end just south of the central-northern highlands, which
supports the view espoused here that his chariot brigades were unable to
penetrate the hinterland hills north of the region of Benjamin. On the evidence
suggesting a limited scope to Merneptahâ€™s successful efforts in this part of
Canaan, see RENDSBURG, â€œThe Date of the Exodusâ€, 519-520.
A later parallel utilizing a similar rhetorical strategy is that of
Sennacheribâ€™s famous claim that Hezekiah was kept â€œlike a bird in a cageâ€
during the formerâ€™s Judahite campaign of 701 BCE. Sennacheribâ€™s words
suggest victory, though this contrasts the strategy deployed at Lachish and
elsewhere in the same campaign of destroying the city, suggesting a stalemate.