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  • The Border Lakes of Egypt

  • Historical Faith Society

    April 20, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Explore the different bodies of water proposed for shallow-water sea crossings near Egypt. Did all of these lakes even exist at the time of the Exodus? How large and deep were they? Were they capable of drowning the entire Egyptian army? See these points and more debated by the different groups involved.

  • Connie Rosario

    April 20, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    I love how science sometimes prove the validity of biblical narrative, however, even if it can’t, that does not prove it is invalidated. God can do anything. If he says the israelites crossed the Red Sea, which crashed down on the Egyptian army, then that’s what happened. You can try to prove it, but if you can’t, just remember: God’s ways are not our ways. He can turn mountains to rivers, seas to desert and he doesn’t need science to do it.

  • Deborah Hurn

    April 20, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    Well, that was well done, Tim and Co. There is one detail I would like to have added (and I don’t recall if this came up in my interview): the Bitter Lakes are by far the deepest body of water in the Suez Isthmus. They are 30 ft (10 m) deep near the northern shore, and that was the measurement before the Suez Canal refilled them, and dissolved the salt pan in the bottom.

    In support of this location, it should be noted that there are two important verbs in the account of the Red Sea crossing: “returned” (common verb) and “tossed” (uncommon verb):

    Exo 14:27-28 NRSV So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. (28) The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.

    A primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); generally to retreat; often adverbially again: - etc
    Total KJV occurrences: 1058
    A primitive root (probably identical with H5286, through the idea of the rustling of mane, which usually accompanies the lion’s roar); to tumble about: - shake (off, out, self), overthrow, toss up and down.
    Total KJV occurrences: 11

    This indicates that the army was swept into a body of water, consistent with the water “returning” (Ex 14:27, 28; see also the same verb in the hiphil (causative) in 15:19). Even though there is mention of two “walls” during the crossing, there is no mention of water coming from both sides during the collapse of the division.

    The above verbs and the omission of some kind of statement about the two “walls” crashing or collapsing together fit the idea of wind setdown from water from the lake being driven up the isthmus by the wind all night and held there. Then, when the wind stops, the water rushes back down the isthmus again and “tossed” the army off the shore into the lake. The water would keep coming so that the army could not regain the shore, and eventually the water “returned to its normal depth” (14:27) Thus, the account is specific and ‘scientific’.

    • Thomas Donlon

      April 21, 2021 at 12:05 am

      Deborah, the notion of the waters “returning” rather than just having thousand foot walls of water exploding back on the Egyptians has merit from several angles. The literary aspect —— it seems to better fit the word of God. Another factor is the explosive pressure of some thousand feet of water suddenly and instantly being unfrozen from their wall-like formation. As a kid, I read books about submarines in war. A small pin hole size leak in as submarine can create a jet of water that will just cut through a human being. Modern machining will sometimes involve using high pressure water to cut metals or whatever to shapes.

      This has a little bit of bearing on underwater research regarding the Exodus Yam Suph crossing site. At least in any fairly deep water, if the water was suddenly released from a nearby “wall of water” position, the water would literally explode inward and tear apart what it would hit — cutting the chariots into particles of mud and shards and reducing the unfortunate humans to little more than blast fragments or ooze. Am I possibly exaggerating the affects? Just thinking though about how the high pressure water cuts through nearly everything…

      WATER RETURNING though has a better implication for possible preservation of artificts.

      • Deborah Hurn

        April 21, 2021 at 1:18 am

        Wow, Thomas, interesting insights into what it would be like to instantly be at the bottom of the sea. Yours are original thoughts in regard to the ‘mechanics’ of a deep-sea crossing. Yes, two towering walls of water, 100s of metres deep, when they collide could indeed cause the disintegration of all bodies in the zone. But we can’t model it 🙂

        • Deborah Hurn

          April 21, 2021 at 1:23 am

          Well, if, as I propose, the Red Sea crossing was along the north shore of the Great Bitter Lake after floodwaters had been blown northward and exposed the shore… and if, consequent to the water returning to the lake, the army is tossed off the shore and into the lake, any remains would be exposed in later centuries when the Bitter Lakes were cut off from the Nile inundation (and any possible ingress from the Suez) and dried up to salt pans. So it would all be long gone, more’s the pity.

        • Thomas Donlon

          April 21, 2021 at 8:03 pm

          Deborah, after a bit more thought, I know that sometimes lake dams open up some gates (or whatever the better word is maybe spillways?) to let water shoot out of the dam (to prevent the dam from overflowing, or sometimes to help clear out sediment in the rivers). It would likely be lethal to jump onto that jet of water and would tear apart what was unfortunate enough to be in its path.

          Another thought occurred to me. Depending on how far apart these wall of water are, there would be a lot of momentum in the sea on both sides of the divide to surge towards to the middle. Tim’s films portrayed the water rushing together and then being smooth. But the physics would be that the water would rush together and there would be an immense clash of these powerful forces of water that would continue and in a tsunami like fashion flow up onto the beaches and create a huge surge of water in the middle. The deeper the water the more the water would pile up on the surface. Additionally the speed of all this would create jets of water surging upward at the impact where the walls of water smashed together. This wouldn’t be like the twenty foot splash or so that a wave creates against pier or concrete barrier, it would be immense. The phrase in the Bible that you cited about waters “returning” indicates a more tame recovery of the parted seas.

  • Deborah Hurn

    May 4, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    Here is a concession re the suitability of the Bitter Lakes by Graham Davies who otherwise speaks of the biblical texts as late compilations of ‘traditions’. I will maintain that it is impossible for so much geographical detail to have survived hundreds of years as ‘tradition’ and written up by people who had never been to these regions and still be accurate across the books and match the terrain.

    [73] Another possibility which deserves renewed consideration is that… the Bitter Lakes, where many scholars would locate [the crossing] on the basis of features other than the reference to ‘Yam Suf’, were continuous with the Gulf of Suez and so naturally known by the same name. Subsequently the land rose and the lakes were separated from the Gulf, and then it was more appropriate to refer to the place of the crossing as ha-yam (which could mean ‘the lake’); while the tradition of a crossing of Yam Suf, which was not completely suppressed, led to a new location of the event on the Gulf of Suez. The geological events assumed by this theory can be shown to have occurred by the evidence of rock-formations near Suez and around the Bitter Lakes* but it has never been shown conclusively that the Bitter Lakes were joined to the open sea in the historical period…. But the discoveries that have been made are compatible with a lowering of the shore-level of up to 2 metres in the [74] historical period, and this seems to be all that the proponents of the northerly extension of the Gulf of Suez envisage.** Moreover, both Glueck and Rothenberg hold that there has been such a change in the shore-level at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba.***

    Davies, Graham I. The Way of the Wilderness: A Geographical Study of the Wilderness Itineraries in the Old Testament. SOTS: Monograph Series 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009.
    * Albright, William F. “Exploring in the Sinai with the University of California African Expedition.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 109 (1948): 5–20: 15; Har-El, Menashe. The Sinai Journeys: The Route of the Exodus. [Hbw], Tel Aviv, 1968: 97.
    ** Bourdon, Claude. “La route de l’Exode de la terre de Gessé à Mara.” Revue Biblique (1892-1940) 61 (1932): 370–92: 381.
    *** Glueck, Nelson. The Other Side of the Jordan. New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1940: 107; Rothenberg, Beno. “König Salomons Hafen Im Roten Meer New Entdeckt.” Das Heilige Land 97 (1965): 18–28: 27; The age of the 'sill of Shalluf' is not necessarily an obstacle to the theory (cf. Simons, Jan J. The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament: A Concise Commentary in XXXII Chapters. Leiden: Brill, 1959: 248 n. 213).

  • Deborah Hurn

    May 6, 2021 at 2:06 am

    A nice topographic description of the Suez Isthmus by another 19th-century scholar; Samuel Colcord Bartlett. His account simply and clearly lists in order from Med to Red the border lakes of Egypt, noting they are separated by four ‘sills’ (ridges) across the Isthmus:

    Med Sea – Lake Menzaleh [Qantara ridge] Ballah Lakes [El-Gisr] Lake Timsah [Serapeum] Bitter Lakes [Chaloof] Suez Gulf

    [157] The Isthmus of Suez at its narrowest part is seventy miles wide. The canal, indeed, measures one hundred miles (164 kilometres) from Port Said to Suez, but it does not cross the narrowest place nor follow a straight line. Following the line of the canal southward, we pass for many miles through the broad Lake Menzaleh, and reach first a series of sandy downs, the highest point of which is Kantara, “the bridge” between the eastern and the western deserts. Here ran one of the greatest thoroughfares of the world, the highway between Egypt and the East. Passing next the shallow Lake Ballah, we reach El Guisr, the greatest elevation on the isthmus, about ten miles in width, and at its highest point sixty-five feet in height. Then comes Lake Timsah, the “crocodile” lake, midway between the two seas. South of it is the second elevation, the heights of Serapeum, about eight miles broad, and at its [158] highest point sixty-one feet high. South of this lie the Bitter Lakes, a great depression, extending south-easterly some twenty-two miles in length, and from two and a half to five miles in breadth. Their greatest depth is about thirty-five feet below the sea-level. Before the water was admitted in 1867 by the modern canal, this depression was, and had for ages been, dry. The bottom was covered with a layer or layers of salt of great extent (seven miles by five) and of variable thickness, but reaching the depth of thirty-three feet. Between the Bitter Lakes and the Red Sea lies the third and last barrier, the heights of Chaloof, about five miles broad from north to south, and rising for a short distance twenty feet or more above the sea-level. Then follows the sandy plain of Suez for a distance of about ten miles, rising but a few feet (about four [m] on the average) above the level of the sea.

    Bartlett, Samuel C. From Egypt to Palestine Through Sinai, the Wilderness and the South Country. New York, NY: Harper, 1879.

    Note that the Bitter Lakes lie between the Serapeum ridge and the Chaloof. The Bitter Lakes depression in the 19th century was around 10 m deep (30+ feet) but actually deeper because of the thick salt pan on the bottom which has probably now long dissolved by the ingress of water in the Suez Canal. The Great Bitter Lake is the deepest of the border lakes, large and deep enough to drown an army in turbulent conditions.

    • Deborah Hurn

      May 6, 2021 at 9:09 am

      Bartlett recounts an interview with the father of the Suez Canal, French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps at age 74. De Lesseps’ theory of the early stations of the exodus is too sketchy and confusing to reproduce here but the latter section confirms some details about the Hamsin wind and the floodway N of the Bitter Lakes:

      [149 n. 39] Baal-zephon he indicates at the high ridge of Serapeum; and near this latter place, north of the Bitter Lakes, he locates the crossing. The theory evidently supposes a marshy or watery region, overflowed at times, and difficult to cross. He regards the “chamseen” [Hamsin] from the SE as bearing an important part in the catastrophe–a wind which comes at the time of harvest, and is so violent as to stop all work. He mentioned several facts of interest, e.g. that the salt deposit in the Bitter Lakes is thirty feet thick, with thin layers of soil interposed.; that he has seen the northern part of the Gulf of Suez blown almost dry; and that in the region of the Bitter Lakes he himself once, while riding on horseback, became entangled in the morass, and with difficulty escaped.

      Bartlett gives more detail re the salt pan in the Bitter Lakes as it was before the Canal re-filled the lakes. Its thickness of 10 m, together with the 10 m open depth of the lake basin brings the original lake depth to 20 m:

      [157 n. 4] A section drawing of the Suez Canal Company’s… shows it [the salt pan] to be more than thirty feet. A letter from M. Mauriac, engineer of the company… also gives it at “ten metres”. He writes: “The bank of salt is divided by parallel and horizontal strata of six or seven tenths of a metre in thickness, alternating with thin strata of sand; which shows that this depth has been produced in a long course of periods, when the sea at extraordinary heights traversed the plateau and swept into the lakes. Then, the sea returning to its ordinary limits, the evaporation left a layer of salt, which was afterward covered by a layer of sand brought by the chamseen.”

      Bartlett, Samuel C. From Egypt to Palestine Through Sinai, the Wilderness and the South Country. New York, NY: Harper, 1879.
  • Deborah Hurn

    May 6, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    The following information wouldn’t be normally counted as evidence for the location of the Red Sea crossing, but for me it is. 🙂 The very location where I propose that ancient Israel crossed the isthmus to escape the Egyptian army is the same location where the modern Israeli army crossed the isthmus in the opposite direction to defeat the Egyptian army.

    On the 6th October 1973, Egypt attacked Israel’s Bar-Lev line along the east bank of the Suez Canal, an act of war timed to coincide with the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. By the fourth day of operations, the eastern side of the Canal was in Egyptian hands to a depth of 10-20 km (6-12 miles). Israel regrouped for a counter-attack, benefiting from their exact knowledge of the terrain from earlier Sinai campaigns. On 16th October 1973, the 11th day of the Yom Kippur war, Israeli commandos crossed the Canal.

    [236] “The Canal crossing was effected north of the Great Bitter Lake, near the village of Deversoir, at the exact junction of the sectors of the Second and Third Egyptian Armies. Within an astonishingly short time, that bridgehead was enlarged…. [and] the advance of Israeli tanks on African [Egyptian] soil began…. The Israeli General Staff quickly realized its opportunity and sent major forces through the gap in the Egyptian front at Deversoir. These troops thrust towards Suez behind the Egyptian lines, and, in a joint action with the units attacking on the eastern side, by 23rd October 1973 succeeded in completely encircling the Egyptian Third Army on both banks of the Canal. That encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army of 20,000 men decided the outcome of the war.”

    Walser, Gerold. “Battlefields and Roads: From Romano-Byzantine Days to the Present.” In Sinai: Pharaohs, Miners, Pilgrims, and Soldiers, edited by Beno Rothenberg, translated by Ewald Osers, 1st Eng. ed., 221–37. Berne: Kümmerly & Frey, 1979.

    God has a wonderful sense of irony, symmetry, and poetry.

    “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain).

    • Deborah Hurn

      May 6, 2021 at 1:10 pm

      Where the quote above says “on both banks of the Canal”, what that means (according to the accompanying map) is this: The Israeli troops and tanks surrounded the Egyptian Third Army and penned it in along the western shore of the Bitter Lakes. The Egyptians had their backs to the sea and were facing the break-through Israeli army on their western side. Behind them along the far eastern shore of the Bitter Lakes was more of the Israeli army holding the recovered Bar-Lev line. You could say the Egyptians “were entangled in the land; the wilderness shut them in.” The armies were engaged around the very same body of water where Pharaoh and his army drowned about 3400 years before.

      I have this book; if anyone wants a scan of the text and the maps, email me.

      • Deborah Hurn

        May 7, 2021 at 3:49 am

        Another ‘undesigned’ historical allusion between the two Egypt-Israel encounters at the Bitter Lakes in the Suez Isthmus:

        The 1973 Yom Kippur war was largely conducted in tanks for speed and protection in desert conditions, the same reason Pharaoh took 600 of his best chariots to recapture the Hebrew slaves in 1447 BCE. Egyptian tanks and Soviet missiles outnumbered and outgunned Israel’s forces, and it is estimated that the IDF lost up to 40% of their southern armoured groups during the first two days of the war. This was no easy rout and Israel suffered a near-defeat with tragic loss of life. In 1974, drawing on lessons from the Yom Kippur war, Israel started to develop their own tanks, which they called… Merkava, “chariot”. The first Merkava Mk. 1 tanks were supplied to the IDF in April 1979. Thereafter, the Merkava series has represented the backbone of Israeli armoured elements.

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