The Song of the Sea (Forerunners)

The Song of the Sea,” which comprises Exodus 15:1-18 and tells of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt via the Red Sea, is one of the oldest parts of the Bible. Explaining the early form of Hebrew in which it was written, James Kugel notes that the Hebrew prefix ha- (a definite article corresponding to our word “the”) only developed in later Hebrew, so that while in the rest of the Old Testament ha- can be found in abundance, in “The Song of the Sea” “it is not found even once.”

While the song appears later in the Exodus than the prose version of the escape, in chapter 14,  Kugel points to other songs in the Old Testament that were also placed amid later prose renditions of the same events: the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, Hannah’s Hymn in 1 Samuel 2, David’s song in 2 Samuel 22, and Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale. In every case the version in verse came first and, as Kugel summarizes one prevailing theory, they were perhaps “prose rewritings of an ancient cycle of songs, an anthology that may have been put together in David’s time, perhaps even a lengthy poetic epic.” Only later were the prose and verse renditions gathered in the same book—in this case, what became Exodus. And this is only one suggestion of the long compositional history which sits behind the entire Old Testament, much of which is unknown. (For as honest a look I know at how the Old Testament came to be written, do check out Kugel’s How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now.)

Below we take four steps back: a recent translation of the song by Everett Fox, the King James translation from 1611, a transliteration of the original Hebrew, and finally the original Hebrew itself, from the Masoretic text.

 


Translated by Everett Fox

1. Then sang Moshe and the Children of Israel
this song to YHWH,
they uttered this utterance:

I will sing to YHWH,
for he has triumphed, yes triumphed,
the horse and its charioteer he flung into the sea!

2. My fierce-might and strength is YAH,
he has become deliverance for me.

This is my God—I honor him,
the God of my father—I exalt him.

3. YHWH is a man of war,
YHWH is his name!

4. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he hurled into the sea,
his choicest teams-of-three
sank in the Sea of Reeds.
5. Oceans covered them,
they went down in the depths
like a stone.

6. Your right-hand, O YHWH,
majestic in power,
your right-hand, O YHWH,
shattered the enemy.

7. In your great triumph
you smashed your foes,
you sent forth your fury,
consumed them like chaff.

8. By the breath of your nostrils
the waters piled up,
the gushing-streams stood up like a dam,
the oceans congealed in the heart of the sea.

9. Uttered the enemy:
I will pursue,
overtake,
and apportion the plunder,
my greed will be filled on them,
my sword I will draw,
my hand—dispossess them!
10. You blew with your breath,
the sea covered them,
they plunged down like lead
in majestic waters.

11. Who is like you among the gods, O YHWH!
who is like you, majestic among the holy-ones,
Feared-One of praises, Doer of Wonders!
12. You stretched out your right hand,
the Underworld swallowed them.

13. You led in your faithfulness
your people redeemed,
guided them in your fierce-might
to your holy pasture.

14. The peoples heard,
they shuddered;
writhing seized Philistia’s settlers,
15. and then, terrified,
Edom’s chieftains,
Moav’s “rams”—
trembling did seize them;
then melted away
all Canaan’s settlers.

16. There fell upon them
dread and anguish;
before your arm’s greatness
they grew dumb like stone.

17. Until they crossed—your people, O YHWH,
until they crossed—the people you fashioned.
You brought them, you planted them
on the mount of your heritage,
foundation of your royal seat
which you prepared, O YHWH,
the Holy-Shrine, O Lord,
founded by your hands.
18. Let YHWH be king for the ages, eternity!

 

 


King James Version

1. Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.

2. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name.

4. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea.

5. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.

6. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

7. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.

8. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

9. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.

10. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

11. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?

12. Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.

13. Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.

14. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.

15. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.

16. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.

17. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.

18. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.

 

 


Hebrew Transliteration

1. äz yäshiyrmosheh ûv’nëy yis’räël et-haSHiyräh haZot layhwäh waYom’rû lëmor äshiyräh layhwäh Kiy-gäoh Gääh šûš w’rokh’vô rämäh vaYäm

2. äZiy w’zim’rät yäH way’hiy-liy liyshûäh zeh ëliy w’an’wëhû élohëy äviy waárom’men’hû

3. y’hwäh iysh mil’chämäh y’hwäh sh’mô

4. mar’K’vot Par’oh w’chëylô yäräh vaYäm ûmiv’char shälishäyw †uB’û v’yamšûf

5. T’homot y’khaš’yumû yär’dû vim’tzôlot K’mô-även

6. y’miyn’khä y’hwäh ne’Däriy BaKoªch y’miyn’khä y’hwäh Tir’atz ôyëv

7. ûv’rov G’ôn’khä Tahároš qämeykhä T’shaLach cháron’khä yokh’lëmô KaQash

8. ûv’rûªch aPeykhä neer’mû mayim niTZ’vû kh’mô-nëd noz’liym qäf’û t’homot B’lev-yäm

9. ämar ôyëv er’Dof aSiyg áchaLëq shäläl Tim’läëmô naf’shiy äriyq char’Biy Tôriyshëmô yädiy

10. näshaf’Tä v’rûchákhä KiŠämô yäm tzälálû Kaôferet B’mayim aDiyriym

11. miykhämokhäh Bäëlim y’hwäh miy Kämokhäh ne’Där BaQodesh nôrä t’hiLot osëh fele

12. nä†iytä y’miyn’khä Tiv’läëmô äretz

13. nächiytä v’chaš’D’khä am-zû Gääl’Tä nëhal’Tä v’äZ’khä el-n’wëh qäd’shekhä

14. shäm’û aMiym yir’Gäzûn chiyl ächaz yosh’vëy P’läshet

15. äz niv’hálû aLûfëy édôm ëylëy môäv yocházëmô räad nämogû Kol yosh’vëy kh’näan

16. TiPol álëyhem ëymätäh wäfachad Big’dol z’rôákhä yiD’mû Kääven adyaávor aM’khä y’hwäh adyaávor am-zû qäniytä

17. T’viëmô w’ti‡äëmô B’har nachálät’khä mäkhôn l’shiv’T’khä Päal’Tä y’hwäh miQ’däsh ádonäy Kôn’nû yädeykhä

18. y’hwäh yim’lokh’ l’oläm wäed

 


Original Hebrew (Masoretic text)

אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־מֹשֶׁה֩ וּבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֤ה הַזֹּאת֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ לֵאמֹ֑ר אָשִׁ֤ירָה לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְבֹ֖ו רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם

עָזִּ֤י וְזִמְרָת֙ יָ֔הּ וַֽיְהִי־לִ֖י לִֽישׁוּעָ֑ה זֶ֤ה אֵלִי֙ וְאַנְוֵ֔הוּ אֱלֹהֵ֥י אָבִ֖י וַאֲרֹמְמֶֽנְהוּ
יְהוָ֖ה אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה יְהוָ֖ה שְׁמֹֽו
מַרְכְּבֹ֥ת פַּרְעֹ֛ה וְחֵילֹ֖ו יָרָ֣ה בַיָּ֑ם וּמִבְחַ֥ר שָֽׁלִשָׁ֖יו טֻבְּע֥וּ בְיַם־סֽוּף
תְּהֹמֹ֖ת יְכַסְיֻ֑מוּ יָרְד֥וּ בִמְצֹולֹ֖ת כְּמֹו־אָֽבֶן
יְמִֽינְךָ֣ יְהוָ֔ה נֶאְדָּרִ֖י בַּכֹּ֑חַ יְמִֽינְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה תִּרְעַ֥ץ אֹויֵֽב

וּבְרֹ֥ב גְּאֹונְךָ֖ תַּהֲרֹ֣ס קָמֶ֑יךָ תְּשַׁלַּח֙ חֲרֹ֣נְךָ֔ יֹאכְלֵ֖מֹו כַּקַּֽשׁ
וּבְר֤וּחַ אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ נֶ֣עֶרְמוּ מַ֔יִם נִצְּב֥וּ כְמֹו־נֵ֖ד נֹזְלִ֑ים קָֽפְא֥וּ תְהֹמֹ֖ת בְּלֶב־יָֽם
אָמַ֥ר אֹויֵ֛ב אֶרְדֹּ֥ף אַשִּׂ֖יג אֲחַלֵּ֣ק שָׁלָ֑ל תִּמְלָאֵ֣מֹו נַפְשִׁ֔י אָרִ֣יק חַרְבִּ֔י תֹּורִישֵׁ֖מֹו יָדִֽי
נָשַׁ֥פְתָּ בְרוּחֲךָ֖ כִּסָּ֣מֹו יָ֑ם צָֽלֲלוּ֙ כַּֽעֹופֶ֔רֶת בְּמַ֖יִם אַדִּירִֽים
מִֽי־כָמֹ֤כָה בָּֽאֵלִם֙ יְהוָ֔ה מִ֥י כָּמֹ֖כָה נֶאְדָּ֣ר בַּקֹּ֑דֶשׁ נֹורָ֥א תְהִלֹּ֖ת עֹ֥שֵׂה פֶֽלֶא

נָטִ֙יתָ֙ יְמִ֣ינְךָ֔ תִּבְלָעֵ֖מֹו אָֽרֶץ
נָחִ֥יתָ בְחַסְדְּךָ֖ עַם־ז֣וּ גָּאָ֑לְתָּ נֵהַ֥לְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ֖ אֶל־נְוֵ֥ה קָדְשֶֽׁךָ
שָֽׁמְע֥וּ עַמִּ֖ים יִרְגָּז֑וּן חִ֣יל אָחַ֔ז יֹשְׁבֵ֖י פְּלָֽשֶׁת
אָ֤ז נִבְהֲלוּ֙ אַלּוּפֵ֣י אֱדֹ֔ום אֵילֵ֣י מֹואָ֔ב יֹֽאחֲזֵ֖מֹו רָ֑עַד נָמֹ֕גוּ כֹּ֖ל יֹשְׁבֵ֥י כְנָֽעַן
תִּפֹּ֨ל עֲלֵיהֶ֤ם אֵימָ֙תָה֙ וָפַ֔חַד בִּגְדֹ֥ל זְרֹועֲךָ֖ יִדְּמ֣וּ כָּאָ֑בֶן עַד־יַעֲבֹ֤ר עַמְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֔ה עַֽד־יַעֲבֹ֖ר עַם־ז֥וּ קָנִֽיתָ
תְּבִאֵ֗מֹו וְתִטָּעֵ֙מֹו֙ בְּהַ֣ר נַחֲלָֽתְךָ֔ מָכֹ֧ון לְשִׁבְתְּךָ֛ פָּעַ֖לְתָּ יְהוָ֑ה מִקְּדָ֕שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כֹּונְנ֥וּ יָדֶֽיךָ

יְהוָ֥ה ׀ יִמְלֹ֖ךְ לְעֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד

כִּ֣י בָא֩ ס֨וּס פַּרְעֹ֜ה בְּרִכְבֹּ֤ו וּבְפָרָשָׁיו֙ בַּיָּ֔ם וַיָּ֧שֶׁב יְהוָ֛ה עֲלֵהֶ֖ם אֶת־מֵ֣י הַיָּ֑ם וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּתֹ֥וךְ הַיָּֽם
וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲחֹ֧ות אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת
וַתַּ֥עַן לָהֶ֖ם מִרְיָ֑ם שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְבֹ֖ו רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם

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