Sing! Sing a Song

I am looking for songs or sung prayers that might have existed in the pre-Exodus period.  To be used by my characters in the weeks before and after leaving Egypt.  Date is potentially 1313 BCE.

  • Since it’s a novel, I don’t need music, though notes about the sound of it or the instruments used are useful.
  • I’m looking for material contemporary to the Egyptian Hebrews, not material about them (so not Mah Tovu, for example).
  • I know I can invent my own prayers, either from lines in Torah, other sources, or my own head.  And I likely will.  But I’d like to see what’s out there first.

Although I want a variety of songs for different usages, one specifically that I’m looking for is a song that is easy to sing and progressive, in the sense that you can point to any part and know how far into the song you’ve gotten (like one of the numbered songs or a song that adds pieces to each verse).

Why?  Because I envision it as a method for midwives to know how far apart a laboring woman’s contractions are.  It’s not perfect, because everyone sings at a different pace, but it would be a good tool for judging progress.

Known Songs

Song of the Sea

The Song of the Sea is the first song I know of in the Torah.  I absolutely will be using it, but am mostly looking for material that comes before it (plus some other things that come in the couple months following it).

“The Song of the Sea is noted for its archaic language. It is written in a style of Hebrew much older than that of the rest of Exodus. A number of scholars consider it the oldest surviving text describing the Exodus, dating to the pre-monarchic period. An alternative is that it was deliberately written in an archaic style, a known literary device.  Proposed dates range from the 13th to the 5th century BCE.”

Reproduction of oil painting, “The Song of Miriam”, 18th century, Paulo Malteis

Song of Songs

Song of Songs is lovely but late.  It appears to have been written somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd century BCE.

“The earliest parts of Jewish prayer are the Shema Yisrael (“Hear O Israel”) (Deuteronomy 6:4 et seq), and the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24–26), which are in the Torah. A set of eighteen (currently nineteen) blessings called the Shemoneh Esreh or the Amidah (Hebrew, “standing [prayer]”), is traditionally ascribed to the Great Assembly in the time of Ezra, at the end of the Biblical period.”

Jewish Prayer Wikipedia

The Priestly Blessing

The Priestly Blessing comes later than the start of the Exodus, but not by much.  It would be quite reasonable to imagine it being used by Aaron and sons but deriving from earlier blessing tradition.  

Extrabiblical evidence such as the two silver Iron Age amulets found at Ketef Hinnom, contemporary Phoenician and Punic amulets and bands, and blessing inscriptions from the southern Levant have shown that the language of the Priestly Blessing derived from a broader tradition of apotropaic text, which was often inscribed on metal and worn in order to provide protection against evil.

Versions of the blessing are often found in mortuary and cultic contexts, and anticipate early Jewish commentaries that relate the blessing to death. Although specific words in the Priestly Blessing are commonly found in the Bible, the syntactic sequences in which they occur suggest parallels not to other biblical passages, but to blessing inscriptions from late Iron Age southern Levant. In particular, it has been suggested that the enigmatic instruction to “put [Yhwh’s] name on the Israelites” in Numbers 6:27 reflects an ancient practice of physically wearing the deity’s name and blessing for protection against evil.

While the custom of this blessing for parents to their children on erv Shabbat probably came much later, it could have roots in ancient use.  The Iron Age (500 BC – 332 BC) is too recent but it’s still pretty old.

My plan is to use parts of this prayer.


The Shema is another old (but not quite old enough) prayer that I don’t currently have plans for, but I could include.

Rachamana D’Aney

Then there is Rachamana D’Aney (which has a separate blog post).  This prayer is absolutely too late to be included; it’s not even in Hebrew.  But I include it anyway.  Why?  1) Because it speaks to the heart break of slavery and 2) Because I love it.  

I include it in a women’s Rosh Chodesh gathering two weeks before they leave Egypt.

Song of the Well

Song of the Well is the second of two named songs in Torah (the first being Song of the Sea). It comes towards the end of the forty years of wandering, just after Miriam dies and Moses has to take over her task of providing water to the people in the desert.

Although the song appears later in Exodus, it’s fair to say it would have been used to give thanks to the well when Miriam first conjured it. This doesn’t meet my requirement of a song used before Exodus (wells were not miraculous in villages near the Nile River) but I will find a place for it in the novel.

1 Comment

  1. Michael Norwitz

    July 19, 2020 at 10:21 am

    I’ve always loved songs in books, and reconstructions of old songs. I know there’s a limit to how much space you want to take up with this material in the book but I look forward to the associated CD.

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