One of the more fascinating chapters in your book is the one concerning the Song of the Sea [Exodus 15]. I suppose I could devote a lifetime just to studying that poem. There was, however, one claim in your book that I found puzzling. You wrote that there is no reference to the splitting of the sea in the song, only to Egyptian soldiers drowning (“sus verochevo yarah bayam“). Yet the term “nitzevu kemo ned nozelim” is understood by both Rashi and the Targum to be referring to waters standing as pillars. Is that not a reference to krias yam suf [the splitting of the sea]? I understand that Rashi and Targum are ancient interpreters, but I am aware of no other translation of that phrase. I would appreciate if you could clarify this point.
I think Frank Cross’s point (he is the originator of this theory — and my former colleague at Harvard) is that nitzevu kemo ned nozelim was originally intended only to describe the height of the waves during this storm at sea, which took place be-lev yam (Exod. 15:8), a phrase that usually means the “open sea,” that is, nothing close to shore (cf. Prov. 23:31, 30:19). It was there that the waters “stood up like a heap” (or “stood up like a wall,” in the new JPS translation). In Cross’s reconstruction, the story recounted in this song was thus altogether focused on the Egyptians. They are apparently pursuing the Israelites (who, at this point, may have already crossed the sea by one means or another – in any case, they are not present). Crossing the sea in boats or rafts, they are overtaken by a sudden storm and drowned by the high waves.
But this same phrase, “nitzevu kemo ned nozelim,” was, according to Cross’s theory, misinterpreted (perhaps deliberately?) to mean that the waters actually parted, standing up like a wall on either side and leaving a path between them for the Israelites to walk through on their way to the other side. A far more miraculous event! Then the pursuing Egyptians were drowned when the two walls of water suddenly stopped standing and fell on top of them, as the narrative in chapter 14 suggests. But such a scenario really doesn’t fit the description of the Egyptians’ death. They “went down like a stone” or “sank like lead” — descriptions that would be unlikely, Cross argued, if they were already walking on the sea bottom.