The Berlin Topographical Statue Base Relief
Evangelical scholars are divided as to when the Exodus-Conquest events took place—some say the 15th century BC, while others hold to the 13th century BC. The chronological data in the Bible, however, clearly indicates that these events transpired in the 15th century BC, the Exodus occurring in 1446 BC, and the Conquest 1406–1400 BC (Wood 2008: 100). Now, for the first time, we have evidence from an Egyptian source which supports the earlier Biblical dating.
That source is an inscription housed in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. It appears on a gray granite block 18 in (46 cm) high, 16 in (39.5 cm) wide and of unknown thickness since it was cut from a larger piece. According to the Museum’s records, the block, most likely part of a statue base, was acquired in 1913 by Ludwig Borchardt from an Egyptian merchant. Borchardt (1863–1938) was a German Egyptologist who is best known for his excavations at Tell el-Amarna where he discovered the famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (ca. 1350–1334 BC).
The inscription is comprised of three name rings superimposed on Western Asiatic prisoners, the rightmost of which is only partly preserved due to substantial damage, probably incurred when the block was removed from its original context. Above the heads of the prisoners is a partial band of hieroglyphs which reads “…one who is falling on his feet…” The inscription was first published in 2001 by Manfred Görg, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Theology and Egyptology at the University of Munich (Wood 2005a). The first two names are easily read—Ashkelon and Canaan. The name on the right, however, is less certain. Görg restored the right name as Israel and dated the inscription to the reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279–1212 BC) in the Nineteenth Dynasty, based on a similarity of names to those on the Merenptah Stela (ca. 1210 BC).1 Görg also concluded, based on the spellings of the names, that they were copied from an earlier inscription from around the time of Amenhotep II (ca. 1453–1419). Israeli Egyptologist Raphael Giveon (1916–1985) previously dated the inscription to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC) (1981: 137). If these two scholars are right, this extra-Biblical Egyptian inscription would place Israel in Canaan at about the time of the Biblical date for the Conquest.
The Berlin inscription now has been analyzed in greater detail and republished by Görg and two other German scholars—Dr. Peter van der Veen, Instructor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology at the University of Mainz, and Christoffer Theis, M.A., Lecturer at the Institute of Egyptology, University of Heidelberg (2010). The new study confirms the earlier conclusions of Görg.
The authors point out that the names Ashkelon and Canaan largely were written consonantally and thus are closer to Eighteenth Dynasty examples from the reigns of Tuthmosis III (ca. 1504–1450 BC) and Amenhotep II, than to those from the times of Ramesses II and Merenptah (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16). In addition, ethnic renderings (“Canaanites”) in the inscriptions of Amenhotep II are similar to the name on the Berlin fragment, providing further evidence for an early date (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16).
The third name presents difficulties because of the broken nature of the right side of the inscription. A detailed examination of the relief, however, allowed the authors to reconstruct the name as Y3-šr-il (“Ishrael”), a name very close to Biblical yśr’l (“Israel”) (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 17–18). The theophoric element il, “God,” at the end of the name is written in a shortened form which again argues for an early date since the shortened form was in use prior to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC) (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16).
Topographical statue base relief fragment depicting three Canaanite place names superimposed on Western Asiatic captives. The relief was purchased in Egypt in 1913 and is now in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. (Photo from van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16.)
The major difference between the name on the inscription and the Biblical name is that the inscription has “sh” rather than “s.” This difference caused James Hoffmeier to reject the identification of the name on the inscription as that of the Israel of the Old Testament (2007: 241). But the authors point out that there is no known candidate for the name in the vicinity of Canaan and Ashkelon other than Biblical Israel (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 18–19, 20). It is entirely possible that the "sh" spelling is an archaic form, or perhaps the cuneiform rendering (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 19). Moreover, Egyptian scribes were not consistent in their usage of the hieroglyphs for "sh" and "s", and quite often interchanged them (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 19–20).
In summary, the authors of the new study believe that the name on the Berlin statue base fragment is that of Israel and that it was part of a name list originally written in the Eighteenth Dynasty. This is much earlier than the appearance of the name Israel on the Merenptah Stela. Furthermore, they conclude that their findings “indeed suggest that Proto-Israelites had migrated to Canaan sometime during the middle of the second millennium BCE” (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 21).
1. For a discussion of the Merenptah Stela and associated pictorial wall reliefs, see Wood 2005b.
1981 Three Fragments from Egyptian Geographical Lists. Eretz Israel 15: 137–139 and Plate 22.1 (Hebrew); English summary 81*.
2001 Israel in Hieroglyphen. Biblischen Notizen 106: 21–27 (German).
2007 What is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50: 225–47.
Veen, Peter van der, Christoffer Theis, and Manfred Görg
2010 Israel in Canaan (Long) Before Pharaoh Merenptah? A Fresh Look at Berlin Statue Pedestal Relief 21687. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 2.4: 15–25. (Offsite link).
Wood, Bryant G.
2005a Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Conquest. Bible and Spade 18: 98–99.
2005b Pharaoh Merenptah Meets Israel. Bible and Spade 18: 65–82.
2008 Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus. Bible and Spade 21: 97–108.
The date and nature of the Exodus have been subjects of scholarly debate since the beginnings of Egyptology in the mid-19th century, and the dispute continues unabated today.
"The exodus from Egypt is a topic around which whirl controversy, debate and heated argument. There is no consensus regarding the date of the Israelite slavery, nor its nature, nor even its historicity…It is an area where archaeological interpretation and biblical narrative collide" (Oblath 2007: 380).
Sadly, most contemporary Biblical scholars deny the historicity of God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt as documented in the Old Testament (Ex 2–12) and alluded to in the New Testament (Acts 7:36; Rom 9:17).
The “No Exodus” Theory
Not Mentioned in Egyptian Records
What are the reasons for the widespread skepticism concerning the Exodus? A major stumbling block is that there is no mention of Israelites in Egypt or of an Exodus from Egypt in Egyptian records:
The book [Exodus] relates to Egyptian history but only in a vague way. Not a single Egyptian is identified by name, not even the pharaohs, despite the fact that two of them, the pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus, are involved…. Historians acknowledge that, after more than two centuries of archaeological research, there is still an absence of evidence for the presence of Israel in Egypt (Johnstone 2007: 372).
What is usually implied by “evidence” is a reference to Israel or the Exodus in Egyptian written records. It is interesting that Johnstone uses the phrase “absence of evidence” with regard to the Exodus. There is an oft-repeated adage in Biblical and archaeological studies with regard to efforts to reconstruct events of thousands of years ago from the bits and tatters of information that have survived: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Rather than blindly accepting a learned scholar’s argument from silence to dismiss the factuality of the Exodus, let us look at the reality of the situation.
Where would one expect to find written records of the presence of Israel in Egypt, or of the Exodus? In Rameses, of course, the place where the Israelites were settled when Jacob and his family entered Egypt (Gn 47:11), where the Israelites labored as slaves (Ex 1:11) and where they departed under the leadership of Moses (Ex 12:37; Nm 33:3). Fortunately, we know a lot about Rameses, modern Tell el-Daba in the northeastern Nile delta, since it has been excavated almost continuously since 1966. What historical records have been found from the time period of the Exodus at ancient Rameses? Exactly nothing! In fact, the only historical document to be found from any period from all of the excavations in the area of ancient Rameses over a period of more than 40 years is one small 2x2 in (5x5 cm) fragment of a clay tablet. It appears to be part of a letter from the king of the Hittite empire to Rameses II (ca. 1290–1224 BC) concerning terms of a peace treaty between the two parties.
Surviving Egyptian inscriptions were, for the most part, propagandistic records carved in stone extolling the accomplishments of the god-king Pharaohs. An event that demeaned Pharaoh or Egypt would never be recorded. Moreover, writing was believed to be sacred, giving reality to the statements being recorded. If an event was not recorded, then it was as though it had never happened (Wheeler 2002).
And why did not Moses identify the Pharaohs of the oppression and Exodus? Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen provides the answer (1986):
[Pharaoh is] the common OT title for the kings of ancient Egypt. It derives from a phrase used for the royal palace and court until the New Kingdom when, in the mid-18th Dynasty, it came to be used of the king himself. It first so occurs under Thutmose III and IV (15th cent. B.C.), then with Ikhnaton (ca. 1360), and thereafter frequently…. The biblical and Egyptian uses of “pharaoh” correspond closely. Thus in the Pentateuch “Pharaoh” is used without a proper name precisely as in Egypt…. From the 10th cent. B.C. onward “Pharaoh” plus a proper name became common usage; cf. Pharaoh Hophra [Jer 44:30] and Pharaoh Neco [2 Kgs 23:29–35; 2 Chr 35:20–22; 36:3–4; Jer 46:2].
On a more positive note, I believe there is evidence for the presence of Israel in Egypt, albeit indirect. First, there is evidence for Asiatic slaves in Egypt during the period of the Sojourn, some even bearing Biblical names (Aling 2002; Hoffmeier 1997: 61– 62, 112–16; Luft 1993; David 1986: 189–93). Some of them were called “Habiru” (Hoffmeier 1997: 116), a designation for stateless individuals from which the name Hebrew may derive. Secondly, the earliest Asiatic settlement at Tell el-Daba has all the earmarks of being Israelite, including a four-room house, a plan adopted by the Israelites when they became sedentary during the judges period, and a tomb which is possibly that of Joseph (Wood 1977).
No Evidence for a Conquest
The second major argument raised against the validity of the Exodus account is that archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Conquest as described in the book of Joshua is unhistorical (McKenzie 2008: 121):
Excavation over the past half century has revealed no evidence of destruction, and in some cases no occupation… for most of the cities… supposedly conquered by the invading Israelites. The two most famous examples, Jericho and Ai, are transparent etiologies [stories made up to explain something, such as a ruin]. Ai means “ruin.” The city [identified by the author as et-Tell] was abandoned before the Late Bronze Age and resettled as an unwalled village after 1200. It was, therefore, already a “ruin” when the Israelites supposedly conquered it, and the story explains how it became one. Jericho [according to the dating of Kathleen Kenyon] also was unwalled at the time of the supposed conquest. It had once stood as one of the world’s oldest cities and a symbol of the greatness of the Canaanite culture. Its acquisition by Israel, therefore, symbolized the complete possession of the land.
Since there was no Conquest, the Israelites could not have wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, ergo, no Exodus.
As readers of Bible and Spade know, evidence for the Conquest is one of our favorite subjects, and we have published a number of articles on the topic (on Ai: Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2003: 264–68, 2008c; see also Briggs 2005; on Jericho: Wood 1987, 1990, 1999c, 2003: 262–64; see also Ashley and Aust 2003), so we will not repeat that information here. Suffice it to say that the supposed discrepancies between the archaeological findings and the Biblical record concerning the Conquest are due to bad scholarship and improper interpretation of the archaeological data, not on any shortcomings of the Bible. In fact, archaeology, when properly understood, demonstrates the accuracy and eyewitness nature of the Biblical text with regard to Conquest events.
The Thirteenth Century Exodus Theory
Those who believe that there was an actual Exodus generally fall into two camps: those that believe that it happened in the 13th century BC, and those that believe that it happened in the 15th century BC. We shall begin by briefly reviewing the 13th century theory. The two main reasons put forward for placing the Exodus in the 13th century BC are the mention of the city of Rameses in Exodus 1:11 and the destruction of Hazor recorded in Joshua 11:11.
In Exodus 1:11 we read:
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
As mentioned above, the ancient city of Rameses built by Rameses the Great (Rameses II) is well known from Egyptian records and archaeological excavation. Thus, it is presumed that the Israelites helped build Rameses II’s capital city and that they were still in Egypt in the 13th century BC. Since we know from the Merenptah, or Israel, Stela that Israel was in Canaan early in the reign of Rameses II’s son Merenptah, ca. 1220 BC (Wood 2005a), the Exodus must have taken place 40 years or more prior to that, during the reign of Rameses II. This particular theory has gained favor with many scholars and, as a result, Rameses II is the Pharaoh of the Exodus in Hollywood and the popular media. There are, however, insurmountable obstacles associated with this reconstruction.
Disagreement with Biblical Chronology
A proponent of the “late” date for the Exodus is immediately confronted with the fact that this date is in disagreement with the internally consistent chronology of the Bible. The way scholars who favor this date deal with the Biblical data is to either explain it away or ignore it.
1. 1 Kings 6:1. The primary Scripture for determining the date of the Exodus is 1 Kings 6:1, which states:
In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.
Late-date proponents explain away this Scripture by saying that the 480 years cannot be taken literally, but must be understood as a figurative number. It is really 12 idealized generations of 40 years each. Since an actual generation is on the order of 25 years, the real time interval from Solomon’s fourth year to the Exodus is only 12 x 25 = 300 years. When we add this number to Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BC (Young, this issue, 121 n. 11), voilà, we have a year smack-dab in the reign of Rameses II, 1267 BC! Of course, this is an approximation, so the actual date could vary a few years either way from 1267.
In reality, the time interval between the Exodus and Solomon’s fourth year was 479 years, not 480, thus invalidating the 12 generations concept. The Israelites left Rameses in year 1, month 1, day 15 of the Exodus era (Ex 12:1; Num 33:3). Since Solomon began to build the Temple in year 480, month 2, the elapsed time was 479 years plus between 15 and 45 days. In addition, we know from genealogical data that there were more than 12 generations between the Exodus and Solomon’s fourth year. From Heman the musician, who lived in the time of David, back to Korah, who lived in the time of Moses, there were 18 generations (1 Chr 6:33–37). Adding one additional generation takes us to the time of Solomon, resulting in a total of 19 generations, far more than the imagined 12 generations of the late-date theorists.
To determine the correct year of the Exodus, we simply add 479 to Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BC, resulting in 1446 BC.
2. Judges 11:26. In this passage Jephthah tells the king of Ammon that Israel had been living in the land for 300 years prior to the beginning of the Ammonite oppression. Although we do not know precisely when the Ammonite oppression began, it had to have been sometime around 1100 BC (Davis 2008: 153; Ray 2005: 99; Steinmann 2005: 499), placing the Conquest at ca. 1400 BC and the Exodus in the mid-15th century BC. The only explanation for Judges 11:26 from the late-date camp that I am aware of is that of Kitchen (2003b: 209), who claims that Jephthah did not know what he was talking about:
Brave fellow that he was, Jephthah was a roughneck, an outcast, and not exactly the kind of man who would scruple first to take a Ph.D. in local chronology at some ancient university of the Yarmuk before making strident claims to the Ammonite ruler. What we have is nothing more than the report of a brave but ignorant man’s bold bluster in favor of his people, not a mathematically precise chronological datum.
3. 1 Chronicles 6:33–37. As explained above, the genealogy of Heman in 1 Chronicles 6:33–37 results in 19 generations from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon. If we use the rule of thumb of 25 years per generation, we obtain 19 x 25 = 475 years, very close to the more precise figure of 479 years in 1 Kings 6:1. Proponents of the late date have not provided an explanation for 1 Chronicle 6:33–37, as far as I know.
4. Ezekiel 40:1. As Rodger Young has pointed out (this issue, 115–17) this verse provides a precise date for a Jubilee year in 574 BC. According to Jewish sources, this was the 17th Jubilee. The first year of this Jubilee cycle was 622 BC (49 inclusive years). Going back 16 Jubilee cycles to when counting began brings us to 622 + (16 x 49) = 1406 BC, the year the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan. Since this was exactly 40 years from when the Israelites left Egypt (Dt 1:3; Jos 4:19, 5:10), the date of the Exodus can be precisely fixed at 1446 BC, independently of 1 Kings 6:1. The late-date camp is yet to respond to this precise method of determining the date of the Exodus.
Disagreement with Biblical History
A close reading of the context of Exodus 1:11 makes it clear that the 13th century model is incompatible with the Biblical narrative. If Hebrew slaves were involved in the construction of the new capital of Rameses II, the work would have started early in Rameses II’s reign, ca. 1280 BC. Using the 12-generation concept for the 480 years of 1 Kgs 6:1 places the Exodus just 13 years later in 1267 BC. It is not possible to fit the events between the building of the store cities and the Exodus (Ex 1:11–12:36) into a 13-year timespan.
Thus, the building of the store cities in Exodus 1:11 had to have occurred over a century prior to the beginning of the construction of Rameses II’s delta capital, long before Rameses II was even born. The appearance of the name Rameses in this passage and in Genesis 47:11 are examples of editorial updating of a name that went out of use. After the construction of Rameses II’s capital, the area came to be known as Rameses from that time forward. Other examples of such updating are Bethel (Gn 12:8; 13:3; 28:19), Dan (Gn 14:14; Dt 34:1; Jgs 18:29) and Samaria (1 Kgs 13:32; 16:24).
Another strike against the 13th century scenario is Psalm 136:15, which strongly indicates that the Pharaoh of the Exodus perished in the Reed Sea. Rameses II lived over 40 years beyond the proposed Exodus date of 1267 BC.
Destruction of Hazor
The book of Joshua tells us that the Israelites destroyed three cities by fire: Jericho (Jos 6:24), Ai (Jos 8:28) and Hazor (Jos 11:11). Evidence for destruction by fire should readily be discernable in the archaeological record, making these cities a primary focus of Conquest research. The second major pillar of the 13th century theory is that Hazor was destroyed at the right time to fit this time frame. Excavations have revealed that the city was massively destroyed by fire toward the end of the 13th century BC, most likely by the Israelites (Ben Tor 2006, 1998; Ben Tor and Rubiato 1999). The date of the destruction can be fixed at “1230 (or soon after)” based on inscriptional data (Kitchen 2003a: 27; low Egyptian chronology). But, if we assign this destruction to the Conquest, there would be no city for Deborah and Barak to conquer later on in the time of the judges (Jgs 4–5), since Hazor was not rebuilt until the tenth century BC in the time of Solomon (1 Kgs 9:15). Kitchen explains,
after Joshua’s destruction of Hazor [in 1230 BC], Jabin I’s successors had to reign from another site in Galilee but kept the style of king of the territory and kingdom of Hazor (2003b: 213).
But where was this new capital located? Kitchen does not offer a candidate. Surveys in the region have determined that there was a gap in occupation in the area of Hazor and the Upper Galilee from ca. 1230 BC to ca. 1100 BC (Finkelstein 1988: 107), ruling out Kitchen’s solution to this major problem for the late-date theory. Not only is there no evidence at Hazor to support the late-date theory, but no evidence for occupation in the late 13th century BC has been found at Jericho (Marchetti 2003) or Ai (= Khirbet el-Maqatir; Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2008c).
There are a number of other less persuasive reasons given in support of a 13th century date for the Exodus, some of which I have dealt with in a series of articles critiquing the 13th century theory (Wood 2005b, 2007; Young and Wood 2008).
An Exodus in 1446 BC
We have outlined above the chronological data in the Bible that demonstrate that the Exodus took place in 1446 BC. This is supported by evidence from Jericho, Ai and Hazor showing that all three sites were burned by fire at the end of the 15th century BC, the time frame for the Conquest based on a 1446 BC Exodus. At Jericho, not only is there evidence for destruction by fire, but also that the destruction took place just after the harvest, the city walls fell, the siege of the city was short, and the city was not plundered, as the Bible records (Wood 1987, 1990, 1999c, 2003: 262–64; Ashley and Aust 2003). Our excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir have demonstrated that it meets all of the Biblical requirements to be identified as Joshua’s Ai, including destruction by fire (Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2003: 264–68, 2008c; Briggs 2005). At Hazor, the burning of Stratum XV/2 and the destruction of temples give evidence of the Israelite conquest of the city (Janeway 2003: 95; Wood 2003: 268–69).
The Pharaoh of the Exodus
A nagging question is, “who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?” Psalm 136:15 would lead us to believe that the Pharaoh of the Exodus died in the Sea of Reeds. All we need to do, then, to identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus is find a Pharaoh who died in 1446 BC. But this is no easy task. With our present Egyptian chronologies, we cannot pinpoint the death date of a particular Pharaoh to 1446 BC. There are three sets of dates in use: high, middle, and low. They vary by as much as 25 years and, according to the three chronologies, there was no Pharaoh who died in 1446 BC. Presently, the most plausible solution is that of William Shea, who believes he has found evidence that a Pharaoh died in 1446 BC and his death was covered up by Egyptian officials (2003a, 2003b: 245–48). Egyptian theology would not allow for the god-king to die while pursuing runaway slaves. By not recording the event, it would be as if it had never happened (Wheeler 2002).
Shea believes that Amenhotep II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Based on the high Egyptian chronology, Amenhotep II took the throne in 1450 BC, immediately after the death of his father Tuthmosis III. Four years later, according to Shea’s theory, he perished in the Reed Sea in 1446 BC. He was then replaced with another king who was given the same name and the entire incident was hushed up. But Shea has uncovered scribal slip-ups that left clues as to what had happened. As a result, it appears that there were two Amenhotep IIs who ruled from 1450 to 1425 BC: Amenhotep IIA, 1450–1446 BC, and Amenhotep IIB, 1446–1425 BC. Although the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of Kings in Luxor (KV 35) is not that of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but that of Amenhotep IIB, we do have some connections with the first Amenhotep II.
Amenhotep IIA at Perunefer
The events of Exodus 2–12 transpired in the royal delta city called Rameses in the Bible. This is a later name for the city, which was earlier known as Rowaty during the days of Joseph and Jacob, then Avaris during the oppression and Perunefer in the time of Moses. Finally, in the 13th century BC, Rameses II built a great capital there and it became known a Rameses from that time on. The royal residency from Moses’ day has been excavated, giving the backdrop against which the confrontation between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt took place (Wood 2008a, 2008b).
During the 15th Dynasty, ca. 1663–1555 BC, Egypt was ruled by Hyksos (foreign rulers) from southern Canaan who had their capital at Avaris. After the native Egyptians overthrew the Hyksos and drove them back to Canaan, Avaris was taken over by the Egyptians and renamed Perunefer. The tomb of Kenamun in the Valley of Nobles (number TT 93) puts us in touch with individuals associated with Perunefer and the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Kenamun’s mother Amenemopet was the nurse of Amenhotep II, undoubtedly Amenhotep IIA. Perhaps as a result of his mother’s connections with the royal family, Kenamun served as Superintendant of the Dockyard at Perunefer and later as Chief Steward of Amenhotep II, a position similar to that of Joseph (“over my [Pharaoh’s] house, Gn 41:40). In the tomb are several paintings of Amenhotep II, including a painting of young Amenhotep II on Amenemopet’s lap at Perunefer. As a young man Amenhotep IIA was famous for his athletic abilities and bravado. Translator John Wilson commented:
The pharaoh who has left us the most numerous records of his physical prowess was Amen-hotep II…. Amen-hotep II… gloried in his reputation for personal strength and prowess. His records therefore contrast with those of his predecessor and father, Thut-mose III, in emphasizing individual achievement (1969: 244, 245).
A stela found near the Sphinx at Giza tells of Amenhotep IIA’s superhuman skills as a horseman, archer, runner and rower. Here is an excerpt:
He was one who knew horses: there was not his like in this numerous army. There was not one therein who could draw his bow. He could not be approached in running. Strong of arms, one who did not weary he took the oar, he rowed at the stern of his falcon-boat as the stroke for 200 men. When there was a pause, after they attained half an iter’s course [about 1 km], they were weak, their bodies limp, they could not draw a breath, whereas his majesty was (still) strong under his oar of 20 cubits in length [ca. 34 ft] (Wilson 1969: 244).
In the third year of his reign, 1447 BC, one year before the Exodus, Amenhotep IIA led his first military campaign. It was to the area of “Takhshi,” in the vicinity of Damascus, Syria. The record of that campaign begins in a boastful manner typical of the other records of his reign:
He is a king very weighty of arm: there is none who can draw his bow in his army, among the rulers of foreign countries, or the princes of Retenu [Syria-Lebanon], because his strength is so much greater than (that of) any (other) king who has existed. Raging like a panther when he treads the field of battle; there is none who can fight in his vicinity…. Prevailing instantly over every foreign country, whether people or horses, (though) they have come in millions of men, (for) they knew not that Amon-Re [creator sun god] was loyal to him (Wilson 1969: 247).
The text then goes on to describe Amenhotep IIA’s brutal treatment of seven enemy princes of Takhshi:
His majesty returned in joy of heart to his father Amon, when he had slain with his own mace the seven princes who had been in the district of Takhshi, who had been put upside down at the prow of his majesty’s falcon-boat…. Then six men of these enemies were hanged on the face of the wall of Thebes, and the hands as well. Then the other foe was taken upstream to the land of Nubia and hanged on the wall of Napata [near the Fourth Cataract of the Nile] to show his majesty’s victories forever and ever in all lands and all countries of the Negro land; inasmuch as he had carried off the southerners and bowed down the northerners, the (very) ends of the entire earth upon which Re [the sun god] shines, (so that) he might set forth his frontier where he wishes without being opposed, according to the decree of his father Re (Wilson 1969: 248).
The boastful and arrogant attitude of Amenhotep IIA matches that of the Pharaoh of the Exodus described in the Bible. When Moses first confronted the Egyptian king, his response was, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Ex 5:2). His cruelty can be seen in his withholding the straw the Israelites needed for making mud bricks (Ex 5:6–9). In addition, he was stubborn and went back on his word on numerous occasions. Even after the death of the first-born, when he finally let the Israelites go, he reneged and pursued them. In spite of his human strength and abilities, Amenhotep IIA and his army were no match for the God of Israel.
The residency was suddenly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II, with no known reason:
The palace district was probably abandoned after the reign of Amenophis II [=Amenhotep II]…. The reason for the abandonment of this district, and, presumably, the entire city adjoining the district on the south is an unsolved puzzle at this time. Its solution would be of the greatest importance to historians. The suggestion that the peaceful foreign policy of the late reign of Amenophis II and Tuthmose IV made this militarily important settlement unnecessary is not convincing. A plague, such as the one documented for Avaris in the late Middle Kingdom, and associated with Avaris in later tradition, appears to be the most likely solution of this problem, although it cannot be proven at this time (Bietak and Forstner-Müller 2005: 93, 95; translation by ABR Board member Walter Pasedag).
Although Egyptian history does not provide an answer for this abandonment, Exodus 7–14 certainly does. As a result of the 10 plagues and the death of Pharaoh in the Sea of Reeds Perunefer became an unsuitable, or undesirable, place to live. With the Israelites and their God gone, it appears that the Egyptians quickly put a new Pharaoh on the throne, gave him the same name as the previous Pharaoh, and tried to put things back to normal, including making sure that none of these events were recorded in the history books.
The Asiatic Campaigns of Amenhotep IIB
Following the death of Amenhotep IIA in the fifth year of his reign in 1446 BC, there were two military campaigns of Amenhotep IIB to Syria-Palestine during the seventh (1444 BC) and ninth (1442 BC) years of his reign (Shea 2003a: 45–46, 2003b: 247). The tone of the records of these campaigns is much different than the earlier inscriptions of Amenhotep IIA—no arrogant and bombastic bragging here. Amenhotep IIB had been humbled by what had taken place in Egypt in 1446 BC. It appears that the main purpose of these campaigns was to replenish lost wealth, slaves, military personnel and military equipment. The table below lists the captives and booty brought back (Wilson 1969: 246, 247).
From these records we gain insight into the Egyptian reconstruction plan following the Exodus. The first two years were spent rebuilding the Egyptian army as much as possible. In year seven a campaign was mounted to Syria with the partially reconstituted army to regain a portion of what Egypt had lost in the Exodus events. The results were comparable to earlier campaigns of Tuthmosis III. Another two years were then spent integrating the new personnel and equipment into the army, as well as using the newly acquired wealth to manufacture additional war materiel. Egypt was now prepared to launch the mother of all raids in 1442 BC. The captives and booty taken in that campaign were several orders of magnitude greater than any other recorded Egyptian campaign. This brought Egypt back to what it was prior to 1446 BC, ready to once again resume its role as one of the ancient world’s greatest superpowers.
Defacing of Hatshepsut’s Image
There is one other event in Egyptian history that might be related to the Exodus. The image and name of Hatshepsut, aunt, step-mother and co-regent with Tuthmosis III, was systematically removed from monuments throughout Egypt. The explanation most often given is that when Tuthmosis III came of age, there was a power struggle resulting in the forceful removal of Hatshepsut from power in ca. 1483 BC. A backlash from this event was the systematic removal of references to her rule. There are a number of problems with this interpretation, however. The main one is that there is evidence the desecration did not begin until sometime after Tuthmosis III’s 42nd year of reign, over 20 years after he became sole ruler (Petrovich 2006: 108). It is possible that the desecration was carried out during the reign of Amenhotep II. If so, the Exodus could provide a more reasonable explanation. Hatshepsut is the most likely candidate for the princess who adopted Moses (Ex 2:10; Hansen 2003). If so, Amenhotep IIB might have held her responsible for the events of 1446 BC and thus carried out a campaign to remove her name and image from history.
Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence clearly point to 1446 BC as the date of the Exodus. Critics say the lack of any reference to this event in the records of ancient Egypt is proof that the Exodus never happened. We should not expect to find such written records, however, because of the lack of historical records of any kind from Rameses and the Egyptian penchant for keeping negative events from their history by not recording them. An Asiatic settlement at the site of Rameses from the time of Joseph and records of Asiatic slaves from the period of the sojourn provide indirect evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt. A royal residence from the time of Moses fitting the Biblical description has now been found at Rameses. Royal inscriptions indicate that there were two Pharaohs with the name Amenhotep II—the first being the Pharaoh of the Exodus who perished in the Reed Sea in 1446 BC and the second a replacement who campaigned in Syria-Palestine to replenish the wealth, slaves and army lost in the Exodus.
Bryant G. Wood, ABR Director of Research, is principal archaeologist and director of ABR’s excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir. He has a MS in Nuclear Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a MA in Biblical History from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in Syro-Palestinian Archaeology from the University of Toronto.
2002 Joseph in Egypt: Second of Six Parts. Bible and Spade 15: 35–38.
Ashley, Scott, and Aust, Jerold
2003 Jericho: Does the Evidence Disprove or Prove the Bible? Bible and Spade 16: 54–56.
Ben Tor, Amnon
1998 The Fall of Canaanite Hazor—The “Who” and “When” Questions. Pp. 465–67 in Mediterranean Peoples in Transition, Thirteenth to Early Tenth Centuries BCE, eds. Seymour Gitin, Amihai Mazar and Ephraim Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
2006 The Sad Fate of Statues and the Mutilated Statues of Hazor. Pp. 3–16 in Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever, eds. Seymour Gitin, J. Edward Wright and Jack P. Dessel. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.
Ben Tor, Amnon, and Rubiato, Maria T. 1999 Excavating Hazor Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City? Biblical Archaeology Review 25.3: 22–39.
Bietak, Manfred, and Foster-Müller, Irene 2005 Ausgrabung eines Palastbezirkes der Tuthmosidenzeit bei ‘Ezbet Helmi/Tell el-Dab‘a, Vorbericht für Herbst 2004 und Frühjahr 2005. Egypt and the Levant 15: 65–100.
Briggs, Peter 2005 Testing the Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua. Pp. 157–96 in Beyond the Jordan: Studies in Honor of W. Harold Mare, ed. Glenn A. Carnagey, Sr. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock.
David, A. Rosalie
1986 The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt: A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh’s Workforce. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Davies, Norman de Garis
1930 The Tomb of Ken-amun at Thebes. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Davis, John J.
2008 Conquest and Crisis, 3rd ed. Winona Lake IN: BMH Books.
1988 The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
2001 Khata‘na-Qantir or Avaris-Piramesse. Pp. 23–127 in Tell el-Dab‘a I: Tell el-Dab‘a and Qantir, the Site and its Connection with Avaris and Piramesse, ed. Ernst Czerny. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 23. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Hansen, David G.
2003 Moses and Hatshepsut. Bible and Spade 16: 14–20.
Hoffmeier, James K.
1997 Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. New York: Oxford University.
2007 Exodus, Book of. Pp. 371–80 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 2, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.
2003 Hazor 2002. Bible and Spade 16: 92–96.
Kitchen, Kenneth A.
1986 Pharaoh. P. 821 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.
2003a An Egyptian Inscribed Fragment from Late Bronze Hazor. Israel Exploration Journal 53: 20–28.
2003b On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eisenbrauns
1993 Asiatics in Illahun: A Preliminary Report. Pp. 291–97 in Sesto Congresso Internazionale Di Egittologia: Atti 2, eds. Gian M. Zaccone and Tomasco R. di Netro. Torino, Italy: International Association of Egyptologists.
McKenzie, Steven L.
2008 Israel, History of. Pp. 117–31 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 3, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.
2003 A Century of Excavations on the Spring Hill at Tell Es-Sultan, Ancient Jericho: A Reconstruction of Its Stratigraphy. Pp. 295–321 in The Synchronisation of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. 2, ed. Manfred Bietak. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Naville, Edouard H.
1891 Bubastis (1887–1889). Egypt Exploration Fund Memoir 8. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.
Oblath, Michael D.
2007 Exodus, Route of. Pp. 380–83 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 2, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.
2006 Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh. The Master’s Seminary Journal 17: 81–110.
Ray, Paul J., Jr.
2005 Another Look at the Period of the Judges. Pp. 93–104 in Beyond the Jordan, ed. Glenn A. Carnagey, Sr. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock.
Shea, William H.
2003a Amenhotep II as Pharaoh of the Exodus. Bible and Spade 16: 41– 51.
2003b The Date of the Exodus. Pp. 236–55 in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, eds. David M. Howard, Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti. Grand Rapids MI: Kregel.
Steinmann, Andrew E.
2005 The Mysterious Numbers of the Book of Judges. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 491–500.
2002 Ancient Egypt’s Silence about the Exodus. Andrews University Seminary Studies 40: 257–64.
Wilson, John A.
1969 Egyptian Historical Texts. Pp. 227–64 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed., ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University.
Wood, Bryant G.
1987 Uncovering the Truth at Jericho. Archaeology and Biblical Research Premier Issue: 6–16.
1990 Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence. Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2: 44–59.
1997 The Sons of Jacob: New Evidence for the Presence of the Israelites in Egypt. Bible and Spade 10: 53–65.
1999a Kh. el-Maqatir 1999 Dig Report. Bible and Spade 12: 109–14.
1999b The Search for Joshua’s Ai. Bible and Spade 12: 21–30.
1999c The Walls of Jericho. Bible and Spade 12: 35–42.
2000a Kh. el-Maqatir 2000 Dig Report. Bible and Spade 13: 67–72.
2000b Khirbet el-Maqatir, 1995–1998. Israel Exploration Journal 50: 123–30.
2000c Khirbet el-Maqatir, 1999. Israel Exploration Journal 50: 249–54.
2001 Khirbet el-Maqatir, 2000. Israel Exploration Journal 51: 246–52.
2003 From Ramesses to Shiloh: Archaeological Discoveries Bearing on the Exodus–Judges Period. Pp. 256–82 in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, eds. David M. Howard, Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti. Grand Rapids MI: Kregel.
2005a Pharaoh Merenptah Meets Israel. Bible and Spade 18: 65–82.
2005b The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 475–89.
2007 The Biblical Date for the Exodus is 1446 BC: A Response to James Hoffmeier. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50: 249– 58.
2008a New Discoveries at Rameses. Bible and Spade 21: 28–32.
2008b The Royal Precinct at Rameses. Bible and Spade 21: 21–27.
2008c The Search for Joshua’s Ai. Pp. 205–40 in Critical Issues in the Early History of Israel, eds. Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul J. Ray, Jr. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.
Young, Rodger C., and Wood, Bryant G.
2008 A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a Late-Date Exodus-Conquest. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51: 225–43.
Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus.pdf (3.50 mb)
In the 1980's, two articles of vital interest on the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the book of Daniel were published from among the Dead Sea scroll textual finds made originally in 1952 in Cave 4 at Qumran. The publication by Professor Eugene Ulrich, “Daniel Manuscripts from Qumran” (1989), gives us full insight into these pivotal textual finds and follows the one published two years earlier on other parts of these finds (Ulrich 1987).
From Discovery Until Publication
Let me first briefly describe the outrageous delay that has occurred in the publication of many of the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered way back in 1947–1948. Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has played a major role in pushing for publication in a number of articles over the past few years, especially in 1989 and 1990 (Shanks 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1989d, 1990). There have been charges of a scandal because there are about “400 separate unpublished texts arranged on 1,200 different [photographic] plates” hidden for some 40 years from the scrutiny of the scholars. Hershel Shanks, the editor of BAR, says that “a reasonable guess is that 100 of these [unpublished texts] are Biblical texts on 200 plates” (1989c:20).
The charges regarding the non-publication of these Dead Sea scroll texts were taken up in the summer of 1989 by the public press. For example, the New York Times in a July 9, 1989, editorial, “The Vanity of Scholars,” complained that “the scrolls were discovered in 1947, but many that are in fragments remain unpublished. More than 40 years later a coterie of dawdling scholars is still spinning out the work while the world waits and the precious pieces lapse into dust.”
Fortunately, various encouraging developments have taken place since the summer of 1991, and we can look forward to a speedy publication of the remaining scroll fragments and texts.
The significance of the Daniel fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls was voiced first in 1958 when professor Frank M. Cross of Harvard University published The Ancient Library of Qumran, a comprehensive survey of the scrolls. In the second edition of the book (1961), Professor Cross refers to the fragments of the Daniel scrolls: “One copy of Daniel is inscribed in the script of the late second century BC; in some ways it is more striking than that of the oldest manuscripts from Qumran” (43).
This was fantastic news from a scholarly point of view, for the text of Daniel has long been considered suspect by many scholars on various grounds we’ll be discussing below. The question now was: How much of the book of Daniel is on this scroll, and precisely what sections are preserved and how does it compare with the rest of the Hebrew text of the book of Daniel?
In November 1989, more than 35 years after its discovery and more than 25 years after Cross made his astounding declaration, this text, along with others from Cave 4 on the book of Daniel, were finally published. Only a few scraps of fragments from Cave 4, which contain but “five tiny fragments, all from the prayer in chapter 9 but none with more than one complete word” (Ulrich 1989:3), remain to be published (i.e., the fragments of the scroll designated 4QDane).
The fragments of the Daniel scrolls from Cave 4 were assigned for publication to Cross (Cross 1956:86) as long ago as 1951 (Benoit 1956:76). He was a member of the original group of editors of the Dead Sea scrolls appointed in 1953 (Shanks 1989c:18). But some time ago Cross entrusted the Daniel materials from Cave 4 to Eugene Ulrich of the University of Notre Dame (Shanks 1989a:57), a former student of his. In 1987 Ulrich published the materials from one scroll of Cave 4, namely, 4QDana. Now he has published the materials of the two other major scrolls, 4QDanb and 4QDanc.
Contents of the Dead Sea Scroll Daniel Manuscripts
While these exciting new publications will have our major attention in this paper, we need to mention the other previously published Qumran materials on Daniel.
This means that we have at our disposal from the Dead Sea scrolls parts of all chapters, except Daniel 9 and 12. Of course, the unpublished 4QDane is to have a few words of various parts of Daniel 9. There is also an overlap of a number of passages in Daniel 1, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. Reference to Daniel 12 is made in 4QFlorilegium, an anthology of midrashic materials [rabbinical commentaries] on 2 Samuel and Psalms 1, 2.
Significance of the Scrolls
It is a highly surprising phenomenon that no fewer than eight manuscripts of Daniel have been identified among the materials discovered in three of the 11 caves of Qumran. In order to appreciate the significance of this fact, we need to compare it with the manuscript finds of other Biblical books from the same caves.
To my knowledge, the most recent listing of published materials (as of 1992) from the Dead Sea scrolls appeared in 1977. The listing speaks of 13 fragments of scrolls from the Psalms; nine from Exodus; eight from Deuteronomy; five from Leviticus; four each from Genesis and Isaiah (Fitzmyer 1977:11–39); and no fewer than eight scrolls representing Daniel. Although we have no sure knowledge yet of the total scrolls that have been preserved from the Bible at Qumran, it is evident from this comparison that the book of Daniel was a favorite book among the Qumran covenantors.
At this juncture we need to make another point. According to current historical-critical opinion, the book of Daniel originated in its present form in the Antiochus Epiphanes crisis, that is, between 168/167–165/164 BC. It seems very difficult to perceive that one single desert community should have preserved such a significant number of Daniel manuscripts if this book had really been produced at so late a date. The large number of manuscripts in this community can be much better explained if one accepts an earlier origin of Daniel than the one proposed by the Maccabean hypothesis of historical-critical scholarship, which dates it to the second century BC.
Date of the Daniel Dead Sea Scrolls and Its Significance
Dates for the Daniel scrolls, published in 1955, were given by John C. Trever as the Herodian period for 1QDana and late Herodian period for 1QDanb (1964-1966:323–36). In other words, these manuscripts could come from about 60 AD or earlier (Hartman and Di Lella 1978:72).
This date is still very significant because the Masoretic text (MT) from which our Bibles are translated comes from a major manuscript that is dated to 1008 AD (Wurthwein 1979:35). In other words, we are able to compare for the first time in history the Hebrew and Aramaic of the book of Daniel with manuscripts of the same book that are about 1,000 years older. A comparison between the MT and the earlier manuscripts contained in 1QDana, 1QDanb, and 6QDan, based upon a careful study of the variants and relationships with the MT, reveals that “the Daniel fragments from Caves 1 and 6 reveal, on the whole, that the later Masoretic text is preserved in a good, hardly changed form. They are thus a valuable witness to the great faithfulness with which the sacred text has been transmitted” (Mertens 1971:31).
These textual witnesses demonstrate that the MT was faithfully preserved and confirm that the Hebrew and Aramaic text of Daniel is reliable.
The date for the three Daniel manuscripts published by 1989 is also of great importance, along with those of the earlier publications. Some of the recently published scrolls on Daniel are even older than the previously published ones. The date of 4QDana is assigned to about 60 BC and 4QDanb to about 60 AD (Ulrich 1987:17). The oldest manuscript of Daniel by far is 4QDanc, which Cross dated in 1961 to the “late second century BC” (Cross 1961:43). Scholars who support a date for the writing of the book of Daniel in the Maccabean crisis at about the middle of the second century BC will be able to say that 4QDanc is “only a half century later than the composition of the book of Daniel” (Ulrich 1987:17). This means for supporters of this dating that the manuscript evidence for Daniel is as close to the autograph as the Rylands Papyrus is to the Gospel of John. I quote: “It is thus, for the Hebrew Bible, comparable to the Rylands manuscript of the Johannine Gospel for the New Testament” (Ulrich 1989:3). The latter comparison means that the papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John, published in 1935, that is, Rylands 457, which was dated in the first half of the second century AD, effectively refuted claims of scholars who had attempted to date the Gospel of John to the latter part of the second century AD. The Rylands papyrus was within 25 to 50 years of the writing of the Gospel of John.
For those supporting the historical-critical date of the book of Daniel new issues are being raised. Since there is a manuscript of Daniel that supposedly dates within 50 years of the autograph, is there enough time for the supposed traditio-historical and redaction-critical developments allegedly needed for the growth of the book? Supporters of the Maccabean dating hypothesis of Daniel will be hard put to explain all of this in their reconstructions. To express it differently, do the early dates of the fragments from Cave 4 leave enough room for the developments, editorial and redactional as well as others, that are so often proposed (e.g., Koch 1986:20–24)? The verdict seems to be negative, and an earlier date for Daniel than the second century is unavoidable.
Dead SeaScrolls and the Original Hebrew/Aramaic Text of Daniel
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, many scholars questioned the faithfulness of the Hebrew text and took great freedom in amending, changing, and adjusting the Hebrew text. This freedom has been significantly curtailed by the Qumran findings.
With regard to Daniel, many scholars have regarded the Hebrew and Aramaic text as of no greater authority than other ancient translations such as the Septuagint (the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the version attributed to Theodotion. Among the reasons given is that the Septuagint treatment of Daniel is less literal, less closely related to the MT, than the treatment given to the rest of the Old Testament. This fact has led some to assume that the MT of Daniel is of relatively little value.
Moreover, the Septuagint version of the book of Daniel, available in only two ancient manuscripts, is said to be periphrastic [use of many words] and expansionistic, containing considerably more material than the MT, aside from such deuterocanonical additions as the Story of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Young Men (Moore 1977).
The official Greek translation of Daniel used in ancient times was that of Theodotion, an Ephesian (ca. 180 AD). His translation, which has antecedents (Schmitt 1966), has “the distinction of having supplanted the current version of the book of Daniel” (Jellicoe 1968:84). Further, around 400 AD Jerome ventured the opinion that the Septuagint “differs widely from the original [Hebrew], and is rightly rejected.”
Thus we have two ancient Greek versions of Daniel, and only the one by Theodotion has a close affinity with the MT. These, along with some other considerations, have caused leading modern scholars to have little confidence in the MT. Professor Klaus Koch is a supporter of the hypothesis that there is no authoritative, original text for the book of Daniel available. He suggests that while we have a Hebrew/Aramaic text and two Greek versions, none of these three is original, and that an original text is to be reconstructed with the best tools available (Koch et al. 1980:22, 23; Koch 1986:16–21). This essentially is also the view of L. Hartman and A.A. Di Lella, who point out that there are “no iron rules or golden rules” in this process of textual reconstruction (Hartman and Di Lella 1978:75). These and other scholars assume that the book of Daniel in its entirety was written originally in the Aramaic language and that the Hebrew parts of the book are translations from Aramaic into Hebrew.
Other scholars, however, oppose this hypothesis.
Evidently this is a complex picture. The newly published Daniel materials from Qumran appear to throw important new light on the issue of the original text of Daniel. We say this because there is great harmony between the MT and the Cave 4 finds of the book of Daniel. Thus it no longer seems permissible to dismiss the Hebrew-Aramaic text as unreliable.
We need to note the following:
1. When it comes to variants, the eight Dead Sea scroll Daniel manuscripts, for the most part, are very close to each other.
2. There is no significant abbreviation and no lengthy expansion in any of the manuscript fragments. “The text of Daniel in these [Cave 4] Daniel scrolls conforms closely to later Masoretic tradition; there are to be found, however, some rare variants which side with the Alexandrian Greek [Septuagint] against the MT and Theodotion” (Cross 1956:86).
3. These manuscript fragments do not contain any of the additions that are in all the Greek manuscripts, such as the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Young Men, and the Story of Susanna.
4. The change from Hebrew into Aramaic is preserved for Daniel 2:4b in 4QDana as it was previously in 1QDana. Thus two different manuscripts give evidence to this change. The change from Aramaic into Hebrew in Daniel 8:1 is clearly manifested in both 4QDana and 4QDanb, just as in the MT.
Based on the overwhelming conformity of these Qumran Daniel manuscripts with each other and with the MT, despite the few insignificant variants that agree with the Septuagint, it is evident that the MT is the well-preserved key text for the book of Daniel. An eclectic approach, using the Hebrew/Aramaic text, the Greek, and other versions as if they were all on the same level without giving priority to the Hebrew text is no longer supportable, if it ever was previously. The Hebrew/Aramaic Masoretic text of the book of Daniel now has stronger support than at any other time in the history of the interpretation of the book of Daniel.
The Daniel Dead Sea Scrolls and Canonical Book of Daniel
When Professor D. Barthélemy published in 1955 the first fragmentary Daniel manuscripts from Cave 1 of Qumran, that is, 1QDana and 1QDanb, he ventured the opinion that “certain indications permit the thought that Daniel had perhaps not yet been considered at Qumran as a canonical book” (Barthélemy and Milik 1955:250). This idea perpetuated itself for years afterward. In 1964, however, F.F. Bruce stated that the book of Daniel “may well have enjoyed canonical status among them [the Qumran sectaries]” (Bruce 1964:57). In his 1989 Daniel commentary, written before the newest publications of the Qumran Daniel manuscripts were accessible, John Goldingay stated, “There are no real grounds for suggesting that the form of the Qumran manuscripts of Daniel indicates that the book was not regarded as canonical there, though neither for affirming that it was (Goldingay 1989:xxvii).
These doubts and uncertainties about the canonicity of Daniel among the Qumran people can now be laid aside for good. They have been based largely on the “roughly square proportions of the columns of 1QDana and because Pap6QDan is written on papyrus” (Ulrich 1987:19). But professor Ulrich now says,
From Cave 4 we now have overriding evidence on both points from manuscripts of books indisputably authoritative or ‘canonical,’ including Deuteronomy, Kings, Isaiah, and Psalms.... However one uses in relation to Qumran the category of what is later explicitly termed ‘canonical,’ the book of Daniel was certainly in that category (Ulrich 1987:19).
Canonicity is supported also by the so called 4QFlorilegium, a fragment that employs the quotation formula “which written in the book of Daniel the prophet.” Such a formula is typical of quotations from canonical Scripture at Qumran. It is similar also to Matthew 24:15, where Jesus refers to “Daniel the prophet.”
Inasmuch as Daniel was already canonical at Qumran at about 100 BC, how could it have become so quickly canonical if it had just been produced a mere half century before? While we do not know exactly how long it took for books to become canonical, it may be surmised that insofar as Daniel was reckoned to belong to the canonical books, it had a longer existence than a mere five decades, as the Maccabean dating hypothesis suggests. Both the canonical status and the fact that Daniel was considered a “prophet” speak for the antiquity of the book of Daniel. An existence of a mere five decades between the production of a Biblical book in its final form and canonization does not seem reasonable.
Thus the canonical acceptance of the book of Daniel at Qumran suggests an earlier origin of the book than the second century BC. In 1969, based on the evidence available at that time regarding the Qumran Daniel texts, Roland K. Harrison had already concluded that the second century dating of the book of Daniel was “absolutely precluded by the evidence from Qumran, partly because there are no indications whatever that the sectaries compiled any of the Biblical manuscripts recovered from the site, and partly because there would, in the latter event, have been insufficient time for Maccabean compositions to be circulated, venerated, and accepted as canonical Scripture by a Maccabean sect” (Harrison 1969:1127).
Subsequent to this, he stated that based on the Qumran manuscripts, “there can no longer be any possible reason for considering the book as a Maccabean product” (Harrison 1979:862). The most recent publications of Daniel manuscripts confirm this conclusion.
Baillet, M. and Milik, J.T.
1962 Les ‘Petites Grottes’ des Qumran, 1. Texte, 2. Planches, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan, 3 (Oxford: Clarendon).
Barthélemy, D. and Milik, J.T.
1955 Qumran Cave 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan 1 (Oxford: Clar-endon).
Benoit, P., et al.
1956 Editing the Manuscript Fragments from Qumran (4Q). Biblical Archaeologist 19:75–96.
1985 Exegesis at Qumran. 4QFlorilegium in Its Jewish Context. JSOT 29 (Sheffield: JSOT Press).
1964 Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Cross, F.M., Jr.
1956 Cave 4 of Qumran (4Q). Biblical Archaeologist 19:83–86.
1961 The Ancient Library of Qumran, 2nd ed. (Garden City NY: Doubleday).
1977 The Dead Sea Scrolls. Major Publications and Tools for Study (Missoula MT: Scholars Press).
1990 The Dead Sea Scrolls. Major Publications and Tools for Study, Revised Edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press).
1968 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 5–12 sowie Esther 1–2, 15 (Bonn: R. Habelt).
1989 Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 30 (Dallas: Word Books).
1969 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 1–2(Bonn: R. Habelt).
1977 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 3–4 (Bonn: R. Habelt).
1969 Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
1979 Daniel, Book of. Pp. 859–66 inInternational Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Hartman, L.F. and Di Lella, A.A.
1978 The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible, vol. 23 (Garden City NY: Doubleday).
1990 The Book of Daniel Confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 1/2:37–49.
1968 The Septuagint and Modern Study (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
1986 Daniel, BKAT 22/1 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner Verlag).
Koch, K. et al.
1980 Das Buch Daniel, Ertage der Erforschung 144 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft).
1971 Das Buch Daniel im Lichte der Texte vom Toten Meer, Stuttgarter Biblische Monographien 12 (Wurzburg: Echter Verlag).
1977 Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions, Anchor Bible, vol. 44 (Garden City NY: Doubleday).
1966 Stammter soqenannte “Theodotion” - Text bei Daniel wirklich von Theodotion? (Gottingen: Vanden-hoeck and Ruprecht).
1989a At Least Publish the Dead Sea Scroll Timetable. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/3:56–58.
1989b The Dead Sea Scroll Scandal. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/4.
1989c What Should Be Done About the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls? Biblical Archaeology Review 15/5:18–22.
1989d New Hope for the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/6:55–56, 74.
1990 Dead Sea Scroll Variation on “Show and Tell”—It’s Called “Tell, But No Show.” Biblical Archaeology Review 16/2:18–21.
1912 The Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint, vol. 4, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Clarendon).
1964–1966 Completion of the Publication of Some Fragments From Qumran Cave 1. Revue de Qumran 5:323–44.
1987 Daniel Manuscripts From Qumran, Part 1: A Preliminary Edition of 4QDana. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 268:17–37.
1989 Daniel Manuscripts from Qumran, Part 2: Preliminary Editions of 4QDanb and 4QDanc. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 274:3–26.
1979 The Text of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
(Originally republished in Bible and Spade with permission from Ministry, January 1992.)
King David was in a very inhospitable environment with disastrous circumstances beyond his control when he composed Psalm 63. His son, Prince Absalom, instigated a revolt against him. King David fled eastward from Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, most likely at the end of the summer (cf. 2 Sam. 16:1). David escaped to the Levitical city of Mahanaim, in the friendlier region of Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River (2 Sam. 17:24; CBA 109).
As we examine this psalm, we will see David’s desire to worship the Lord even though he had been cut off from access to the sanctuary in Jerusalem. He uses three metaphors from his own personal experience to convey this desire and how God might bring it to pass: (a) thirsting for the Lord in the wilderness, (b) satisfaction after a gourmet banquet in the sanctuary, and (c) following the Lord as his Shepherd and trusting in His protection so he can return to the sanctuary and worship the Lord.
Historical and Geographical Setting
This psalm’s superscription reads: “A psalm of David when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.” The Wilderness of Judah (Midbar Yehuda) is a specific geographical location within the tribal territory of Judah (Josh. 15:21, 33, 48, 61). It is situated to the east of the cultivated farmland of the Hill Country of Judah and slopes down to the Dead Sea with a vertical drop right before the sea. Its northern limit was the Hill Country of Ephraim, delineated by the present-day Wadi Auja to the north of Jericho, and it extended south about 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the Biblical Negev. The words wilderness and desert are used interchangeably in different translations of the Bible for the Hebrew word midbar. The same will be done in this article.
The Wilderness of Judah is easily distinguished on a geological map because it is composed of Senonian soft chalk. The chalk formation is not conducive to agriculture, but grass and flowers do grow there during the rainy season, thus providing food for pasturage.
The prophet Isaiah describes the wilderness (of Judah) in his comfort passage (40:3-9). The Voice, John the Baptizer (cf. Mark 1:3, 4), was crying out: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath [ruach = hamsin winds] of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:6-8; all quotations from Scripture are from the NKJV). Isaiah is describing the phenomenon of the hot, dry hamsin winds that blow from the Arabian Desert soon after Passover in the spring. This east wind kills all the grass and flowers very quickly. David had used a similar word picture in Psalm 103:15-17.
Bethlehem, the hometown of David, was in the transitional zone between the agricultural land of the Hill Country of Judah and the pastures of the Wilderness of Judah. As its name, literally House of Bread, implies, there was plenty of fertile soil around Bethlehem in which to grow wheat and barley (cf. Ruth 2), and yet just to the east was the place for shepherding.
There are three periods in David’s life when he was in the Judean Desert. For each period in the wilderness, there were important lessons for David to learn.
For young David, the Wilderness of Judah was a place of growing and learning. While tending his family’s flock, he honed his hunting skills by killing a lion and a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-37). There was plenty of time to practice using his slingshot. His preparation paid off when he went big-game hunting in the Elah Valley and bagged the giant, Goliath. There was plenty of time to fine-tune his musical talent as well. The Lord used David’s skillful harp playing to calm the distressing spirit that possessed King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Lord would also use David’s musical abilities to bless and instruct the souls of men and women throughout the ages as they sang his psalms, some of which were composed in the Judean Desert.
The wilderness also afforded David solitude and quiet times to contemplate the Lord, His ways, and His attributes. At night, while tending his flock, he saw the majestic starlit sky and sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).
While in the wilderness, David also learned some lessons in shepherding that would be helpful when God called David to shepherd His people Israel (2 Sam. 7:8). Yet David realized it was the Lord who was his Shepherd and He was the One who provided for David, guided, protected, and comforted him until he dwelt in the House of the Lord forever (Ps. 23). The prophet Ezekiel tells us that, in the future, a resurrected David will be the shepherd over a united Israel (34:22-25; cf. Jer. 30:9).
The second time David spent time in the Judean Desert was during his flight from Saul (1 Sam. 19:18-27:6; CBA 92).
The final time David was in the Judean Desert was when he fled from his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15-19). The internal evidence of Psalm 63 suggests that the historical setting for this psalm was during this flight. The psalm was composed after David had become king (63:11) and after he had seen the Ark of Covenant (63:2).
There is no consensus among Bible teachers as to the literary structure of this psalm. For the purpose of this exposition, one phrase (actually one word in Hebrew) that repeats itself three times in this psalm will be used as the touchstone for each stanza. That phrase is “my soul” (63:1, 5, 8). The word God (Hebrew El) is found only in verses 1a and 11 and it forms an inclusio (bracket) for this psalm.
The psalm begins with a superscription that is part of the inspired psalm and states where this psalm was composed. Unfortunately, it does not tell us the circumstance (the when), but the time frame can be discerned by examining the internal context of the psalm.
The psalmist longs to worship the Lord in the sanctuary in Jerusalem, but he cannot, because he is in the Wilderness of Judah fleeing from those seeking to kill him. His confidence is in the steadfast, covenant love (hesed) of God, because it is better than life itself. The psalmist trusts the Lord to protect him from his enemies so that he will again be able to rejoice and praise the Lord in the sanctuary.
David’s Declaration of Faith and His Purpose in Life. 63:1a
David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith:
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You.
David declares his faith in the Lord as his personal God. For David, God was not an idol of gold, silver, wood, or stone. He was the living God who acted in history and was intimately involved in David’s life. David had a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, a person can have the same personal relationship with the Lord through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our personal relationship with the living God begins by realizing that we are sinners because we have offended a holy God. Our sin separates us from God. Yet God reached down to His creatures by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to live a perfect life, not sinning once, and then dying on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem in order to be the Perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins. The Lord Jesus did the hard part to reconcile us to God – He died. But three days later, He was bodily resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that all sin had been paid for, Satan had been defeated, and death had been conquered. Now He offers each of us salvation as a free gift, which one can receive by simply putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus and trusting Him alone for salvation. When a person puts his or her trust in Christ alone, he or she is born into God’s family and becomes a child of God (John 1:12).
In this verse we also see David’s purpose and priority in life. He states: “Early will I seek You.” His purpose in life was to seek the Lord and His face. This he could do in the tent sanctuary that rested near his palace in Jerusalem. His priority was to do this early, apparently early in the morning. This passage seems to suggest that the first thing he did in the morning was to leave his palace and visit with the Lord in the tent sanctuary. This pattern can also be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He would rise up early in the morning for prayer (Mark 1:35).
David’s Soul Is Thirsting for God in the Wilderness. 63:1b-4
In the first stanza, David sings:
My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
David uses hyperbolic language to describe his longing for the presence of the Lord in His sanctuary. The Judean Desert is depicted as a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. David, when he was a shepherd in the Judean Desert, knew where all the springs and waterholes were. In the summertime, even when it is extremely dry, there is water in the desert. It may be scarce, but there is water nonetheless. Yet this language expresses the fact that David is totally cut off from the Lord and His sanctuary in Jerusalem. The people with David, however, were hungry, weary, and thirsty when they got to Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17:29).
In the rainy months (October to April), the Judean Desert gets between 100 millimeters and 350 millimeters (4-14 inches) of water. Most of the rain falls in the Hill Country; rainfall tapers off to about 100 millimeters near the Dead Sea (Rasmussen 1989: 42). There are five sources of water in the wilderness. Three of the sources are natural: rainwater, springs, and waterholes that collect run-off water. The other two sources are man-made: wells and cisterns dug by the inhabitants of the area (Hareuveni 1991:57-66).
I have the utmost respect for the sun and dry heat in the Judean Desert in the summer. The air is so dry that your perspiration evaporates almost instantaneously, which means that one may be unaware that he is dehydrating. Therefore, it is very dangerous to be in the Wilderness of Judah without adequate water.
The first summer I was in Israel, I experienced what David describes. Several fellow students and I walked the approximate 14 kilometers (8 ½ miles) down the Wadi Qelt from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jericho on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Each of us had brought one canteen of water. In the blazing summer heat, it was not enough. By the time we got to the oasis of Jericho, each of us had a headache and was very thirsty. I’ll tell you, freshly squeezed orange juice never tasted so good!
Later, when I was a field-trip instructor in Israel, I always encouraged my students to drink plenty of water. I informed them that I knew where all the toilets were in Israel and would be glad to stop if they ever needed to use them. I would quip, “It is easier to stop for toilets than it is to take you to the hospital because of dehydration!” Water is essential for survival in the Judean desert. Now, when I hike in Israel during the summer months, I leave early in the morning, wear a hat, and take two or three one-and-a-half-liter bottles of water with me.
In the second verse, David reminisces about the power and glory of God in the sanctuary. Early in his reign, after he had conquered Jerusalem, David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from Kiryat Jearim (2 Sam. 6:12-23) and placed it in a tent dwelling (2 Sam. 7:2, 6). He had the desire to build a house for the Lord, but was not allowed to build it because he was a man of war and had blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3). Yet God made a covenant with David that stated that his son would build a house for the Lord and that one of his sons would sit upon the throne of David forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). After this unconditional covenant was made, David went into the tent and sat before the Lord and prayed (2 Sam. 7:18-29). More than likely, David saw the Ark of the Covenant, God’s strength and glory, on this occasion (cf. Ps. 78:60-61; 96:6; 132:8).
When David fled from Absalom, the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem. David insisted that they take it back. He said to Zadok: “Carry the Ark of God back into the city. If I find favor (chen) in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight (hephzati) in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26).
David resigned his fate to the Lord but was fully confident in His sovereignty and lovingkindness. In verse three, David declares that the LORD’s “lovingkindness is better than life.” The Hebrew word for lovingkindness is hesed and it has a powerful word picture associated with it. Like a stork (hesedu) that lovingly watches over and guards its young so the Lord is lovingly loyal to the covenants that He made with His people Israel. He is faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him. He watches over His people, provides for them, and protects them because He made unconditional covenants with Abraham and David. Because he understood this important attribute of God, David said that, even with parched lips, he would praise the Lord. He blessed the Lord by lifting up his hands and would do this for the rest of his life (63:4; cf. Ps. 104:33; 146:2; 1 Tim. 2:8)
David’s Soul Is Satisfied in the Lord as after a Gourmet Banquet. 63:5-7
In the second stanza, David sings:
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
Although David was thirsty because of the dryness of the wilderness, he was satisfied and content because his confidence was in the Lord and His promises. As the king lay awake that night contemplating the lovingkindness of the Lord, he was reminded of the sacrifices that were offered in the sanctuary. He said he was satisfied as with “marrow and fatness,” in other words, the best and richest food. David could be contemplating a banquet in his palace, but it is more likely that he was thinking about the sacrifices in the sanctuary. The “fatness” (chlev) was the result of the pleasant Bar-B-Q aroma of burning animal fat on the altar. The Mosaic Law prohibited people from eating any fat (Lev. 7:23-25) because all the fat was for the Lord (Lev. 3:16). Don’t worry; God does not have a problem with cholesterol! We do. David’s palace was not that far away from the sanctuary, and, if the wind were blowing just right, he could smell the sweet-smelling aroma of burning fat.
As David lay awake that night in the Plains of the Wilderness (2 Sam. 17:16) near Jericho, he was trying to sort out the day’s events. He was thankful to the Lord for His help in getting his family and followers out of Jerusalem before Absalom’s army was able to approach the city and do any harm to it. He remembered the goodness of God and meditated on the Lord Himself.
The word meditate is the same word used in Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night.” It is in the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) that the Lord and His ways are revealed. The word meditate is a pastoral word that David gleaned from observing his sheep. Sheep have four stomachs. The sheep would eat the grass and flowers in the fields, and the foliage would go down into one stomach. Later, while the sheep was resting in the shade, it would regurgitate, which is the same word that is translated meditate, the foliage, chew it over again, and send it back down to another stomach.
I am sure David had large portions of the Torah memorized so that at night he could bring to mind those passages that spoke of the Lord and apply them to his present situation. God is an avenging God. “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Deut. 32:35). When David heard that Ahithophel was conspiring with Absalom, David prayed: “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).
David rejoices in the shadow of God’s wings. Some commentators have suggested the wings were a reference to the cherubim above the mercy seat in the sanctuary. Moses used a similar word picture in Psalm 91:4: “He [the Almighty] shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” David uses this word picture in other psalms (Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1). I think David’s word picture came from nature. Perhaps that evening David had seen a partridge in the wilderness gathering her young under her wings when she felt threatened by the people with David, or, in the heat of the afternoon, the young might have sought shade under their mother’s wings.
The Lord Jesus uses a similar illustration in His Olivet Discourse. He said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).
Twice in this stanza David praises the Lord with rejoicing in spite of his terrible circumstances. The Lord Jesus might have had this psalm and David’s circumstances in mind when He instructed his disciples: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). This was the same lesson that James the son of Zebedee recounted in the opening verses of his epistle: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2).
David, as he fled over the back side of the Mount of Olives, was cursed by Shimei at Bahurim (2 Sam. 16:5-14). David’s servants wanted to behead Shimei, but David forbad them. He said: “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (16:11-12). When the revolt was over, Shimei sought forgiveness from King David and it was granted to him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). On his deathbed, however, David instructed his son Solomon to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9). Solomon eventually carried out this instruction when Shimei reneged on an oath he had made to the Lord at Solomon’s request (1 Kings 2:36-46).
David’s Soul Follows His Shepherd as a Defenseless Lamb. 63:8-10
In the third stanza, David sings:
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek my life, to destroy it,
Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
They shall fall by the sword;
They shall be a portion for jackals.
David turns to his younger days for the word picture of a defenseless lamb following close by its shepherd for protection. The right hand of God is always the hand of power and protection. David was advised by his commanders to stay within the walls of Mahanaim while they went out to fight Absalom’s army. The revolt ended with the slaughter of twenty thousand Israelites in the woods of Ephraim and the death of Absalom at the hands of Joab (2 Sam. 18:1-18, 28). The dead went into the “lower parts of the earth,” another description of Sheol, the place of the departed spirits (cf. Luke 16:19-31; Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol).
The bodies of the dead were eaten by scavengers. The Hebrew word shaliem is translated foxes or jackals. In the context, jackals makes more sense because jackals are the vacuum cleaners, or scavengers, of the desert. On a number of occasions as he wandered in the Judean Desert, David would have seen dead animals. Later, when he walked past the same place, the animal carcass would be gone. Jackals had been there and cleaned up the mess, bones and all. The only thing to be seen was the jackal poop! David is saying that his enemies would not be afforded a proper burial with their families, as was the Israelite custom and practice.
Absalom’s body, however, was placed in a pit in the forest of Ephraim and covered with a huge pile of rocks (2 Sam. 18:17). This was to keep the jackals away, but it also symbolized the death of a rebellious son who should have been stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21).
David’s Declaration of Praise because His Critics Are Silenced. 63:11
David concludes this psalm by singing:
But the king shall rejoice in God;
Everyone who swears by Him shall glory;
But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
David speaks of himself in the third person as “the king.” His victory, however, was bittersweet. The revolt had been suppressed, but his son was dead. On a personal level, David mourned the death of his son (2 Sam. 18:33-19:7), yet he says in this psalm that, because the revolt was over, the king rejoiced.
David and his followers had sworn an oath to the Lord and were victorious because they feared Him (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). But those who had not sworn by the Lord were speechless (Ps. 38:12; 41:5-8). This is a euphemistic way of saying they died. Ahithophel hung himself and Absalom was killed by Joab and his men (2 Sam. 17:23; 18:14-15).
Singing Psalm 63
The songwriter David Strasser adapted the first part of this psalm in his composition of the lyrics for the song “Step by Step.”
O God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You!
O God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You!
I will seek You in the morning,
And I will learn to walk in Your ways.
And step by step You’ll lead me,
And I will follow You all of my days.
Lessons from the Psalm for Our Daily Life
There are several lessons that we can learn from this psalm that should encourage us in our daily walk with the Lord.
The first lesson is set forth by the eloquent late fourth century AD preacher, John Chrysostom (“golden-mouthed”) of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, when he commented: “That it was decreed and ordained by the Primitive Fathers that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” Based on the phrase, “early will I seek you” (63:1), this psalm was sung on a daily basis during the morning liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Without being legalistic or ritualistic, perhaps this practice of singing, or reading this psalm, at the beginning of our daily quiet time would sharpen our focus on the Lord in spite of any adverse circumstances in which we might find ourselves. Also, David and the Lord Jesus set apart the early morning hours for prayer and communion with the Father. We should follow their example and set apart a portion of our day for Bible reading and prayer.
The second lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David resigned his fate to a sovereign God who was in control of the affairs of history. He was content with whatever the Lord had in store for his future; whether he lived or died he would be content because the lovingkindness of the Lord was better than life. He knew that if he died, he would be with the Lord forever. The Apostle Paul had the same attitude. When he wrote to the Philippian believers, he said: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21; cf. Acts 20:24).
The third lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David rejoiced in the Lord in spite of his terrible circumstances. This he could do because he remembered the Lord and meditated on Him and His ways. Our contentment and joy is based on Christ’s unfailing lovingkindness and mercy toward us and is not based on our circumstances. The Lord Jesus is always faithful to us and can be trusted to get us through our difficult circumstances. Thus, we can live joyfully and triumphantly in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus when He said to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). Similarly, James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).
The fourth lesson to be learned is that God will eventually vindicate His children and set things in order. David was confident that those who sought his life would have a reversal of fortune and God would judge them. This lesson is probably the most difficult to learn because we have no control over our future. We see Christians being martyred for the cause of Christ, and God does not seem to act on their behalf. Ultimately, God will set things in order, if not in this life, then He will do so in the future. For those who are martyred, there is the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).
The final and probably most important lesson for the believer in the Lord Jesus who is walking close to the Lord is that there is no spiritual refreshment to be gained from watching most of the popular television shows or movies, listening to contemporary secular music, or even reading the latest fiction book if it is devoid of spiritual content and Biblical truth. Refreshment and satisfaction for the soul are found only in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God. It is only when we are content and refreshed that we can come together corporately to truly worship and sing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sole focus must be on Him.
Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev.
2002 The Carta Bible Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta [abbreviated as CBA].
1980 A Note on Psalm 63: A Psalm of Vigil. Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92: 435-436.
1974 The Psalms. London: Soncino. 11th Impression.
1973 Commentary on the Old Testament. Psalms. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
2003 Landscape, Nature, and Man in the Bible. Jerusalem: Carta.
1991 Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Lod: Neot Kedumim.
1973 Psalm 1-72. An Introduction and Commentary on Books 1and 2 of the Psalms. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.
1953 The Book of Psalms. Vol. 1. Dublin: Browne and Nolan.
Perowne, J. J. Stewart
1976 The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
1989 Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
1990 Word Biblical Commentary. Psalms 51-100. Vol. 20. Dallas, TX: Word.
Van Gemeren, Willem
1991 Psalms. Pp. 3-880 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Edited by F. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Associates for Biblical Research is a Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and biblical research. Founded in 1969, ABR is unique as the only evangelical Christian organization conducting professional archaeological field work in Israel. For about the ministry of ABR, visit www.BibleArchaeology.org