Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is the "Way of Philistines"

In Exodus 13:17, we're told:

It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn't lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, "If the people encounter war, they'll change their minds and go back to Egypt." [The Message]
Writing thousands of years later, various interpreters including the Ramban, assume that God here is worried that His people might be attacked by Philistines. This is probably a mistake. As per Nahum Sarna, the Way of the Philistines [=דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים] was, in fact, a name for the Via Maris, an ancient trade route that linked Egypt with Mesopotamia. Later the same route was called (Issiah 9:1) the דֶּ֤רֶךְ הַיָּם֙ or Way of the Sea [= Via Maris]

The Via Maris is in purple. The King's Highway, mentioned in Numbers 20:17, is in red
Sarna reasons that such an important trade route was likely fortified by the Egyptians, and suggests that God's concern in Exodus 13:17 is not marauding Philistines but Egyptian soldiers who might have seen the mob of unprotected Israelites as an opportunity for sport and profit.


Search for more information about mistakes our Rabbis made at 4torah.com.

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