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Home Forums The route of the Exodus through the Red Sea The detour to a dead end – the different options

  • Historical Faith Society

    December 18, 2020 at 4:35 am
  • Deborah Hurn

    December 30, 2020 at 8:55 pm

    The Exodus narrative and Numbers itinerary of the exodus journey both describe a “turn” between the station of Etham and the station at the site of the Red Sea crossing, Pi-hahiroth:

    Exo 13:18-20 JPS But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; …. (20) And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.

    Exo 14:1-3 JPS And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: (2) ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal- zephon, over against it shall ye encamp by the sea. (3) And Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel: They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.

    Num 33:6-7 JPS And they journeyed from Succoth, and pitched in Etham, which is in the edge of the wilderness. (7) And they journeyed from Etham, and turned back unto Pihahiroth, which is before Baal-zephon; and they pitched before Migdol.

    The first implication of these texts is that the nation left the Way of the Wilderness of the Red Sea at Etham which road would otherwise have continued to (and through) the Wilderness of the Red Sea.

    The second implication is that the path taken by Israel represented some unexpected change of direction, a ‘bend’ in their route, albeit to a known and named cluster of three sites: Pi-hahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-zephon.

    The third implication is that this change of direction from the expected route took them to the Red Sea shore nonetheless.

    The fourth implication is that Israel was in some way trapped (“entangled” and “shut in”) at Pi-hahiroth such that they could not continue on their pathway out of Egypt.

  • Roger Waite

    January 1, 2021 at 2:56 am

    To appraise the different route options I believe we also need to clarify the usage of the Hebrew for “turn back”. How is this Hebrew phrase used elsewhere in the Old Testament?

    Does it always mean a u-turn as argued by Steve Rudd or can it also mean a regular turn to the left or the right?

    Most uses of the Hebrew “shub” do indicate a full turn.

    One example that probably means the latter is Joshua 19:12

    “And turned (Heb: shub) from Sarid eastward toward the sunrising [this border wouldn’t have turned 180 degrees] unto the border of Chislothtabor, and then goeth out to Daberath, and goeth up to Japhia.”


    January 1, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    The directive to turn back may have been to reorganize the entire group. Had those toward the rear falling off the back needed assistance, the people assets in front would be able in fact may have had to collect and assist them as they turned back onto the winding trail. It would also have enabled the strong the position of rear guard. I doubt is was God second guessing himself; if too many knew about the maneuver ahead of time it probably wouldn’t have been as effective as God’s plan.

    • Michael Nielsen

      January 3, 2021 at 4:16 pm

      There is something truly interesting about this ´turn´ that the Israelites all of a sudden made, because it put them in a very vulnerable position. They had mountains on both sides of them, the Red Sea in front of them and now also Pharʹaoh’s army behind them.

      However, I do agree. It was not God second guessing himself. This ´maneuver´ was all a part of Gods big plan. Not only would he free his people from Egypt, he had also promised to punish Pharʹaoh for what he had done. God had already warned Phar´aoh of what to expect. In Exodus 9:14-16 God says to Phar´raoh. “(14) For now I am directing all my blows to strike your heart, your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. (15) For by now I could have thrust my hand out to strike you and your people with a devastating plague, and you would have been wiped out from the earth. (16) But for this very reason I have kept you in existence: to show you my power and to have my name declared in all the earth.”

      This was God tricking Pharʹaoh into believing that the Israelites were “sitting ducks”. But why?

      Exodus. 14:4 tells us exactly what God had planned and why. “I will allow Pharʹaoh’s heart to become obstinate, and he will chase after them, and I will glorify myself by means of Pharʹaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians will certainly know that I am Jehovah. So that is what they did.”

      This was God´s moment to show his power because this ´maneuver´ led to Phar´aoh´s entire army being wiped out and this way God made sure that his holy name was glorified and made known among the surrounding nations.

  • Frederick W. Baltz

    January 15, 2021 at 10:13 am

    In Exodus 3:3 Moses says to himself that he will “turn aside” to see this great sight, the burning bush. The verb is sur. It is my belief that Israel had reached Etham, which I think was past the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, as shown by Humphreys. Even today the Arabs call it Yuttum. This was at the far edge of the wilderness. When Israel turned back (shuv) by the way they had come, it appeared to Pharaoh that they could go no farther from Egypt. The wilderness now held them prisoner. Turning back from Etham would have taken them on the path they used when they came to Etham, around the northern end of Aqaba, and the sites which I think are Migdol, Baal-Zephon, and Pi-Hahiroth are all right there. They have been overlooked, because today the water that once stood in the Timna Valley has dissipated. There is strong evidence that this area was actually humid 3500 years ago. Moving from these sites to the water takes you to the end of an eroded-but-measurable higher elevation that crosses the valley to the east. It is mapped with satellite technology in my book, Exodus Found. The identification of these three sites, which are very close to each other, thus leads to identifying the place of crossing. I believe shuv is important in all this, as is the location of Etham. A crossing at Nuweiba would require the verb sur, not shuv.

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 16, 2021 at 11:25 am

      Hi Frederick.

      It is hard to know where to start with this topic: “The detour to a dead end – the different options.” This small section of the exodus journey has a large context of geographical and chronological markers which must all be held in mind at once. So any attempt to focus on just the section between Etham and Pi-hahiroth is liable to soon get off-topic.

      I guess the basic considerations in regard to a proposed crossing through the Elath-Aqaba Gulf or the southern Arabah (all the one Rift Valley) are the temporal and spatial indications in the texts. The exodus journey has so far proceeded in what appear to be daily stages, and continues with reference to daily stages thereafter. A daily stage for a pastoral company is unlikely to be more than 20 km per day, maybe less (I can provide references for this). So we must be looking at around two weeks of travel from Goshen to a Red Sea crossing site in the Rift Valley. This really does not seem to be the scenario depicted in both the Exodus narrative and the Numbers itinerary.

      A proposed frantic flight across the 250+-km-wide Sinai Peninsula to the Elath-Aqaba Gulf without details or stations is disconnected from the realia of the distance and conditions, cannot provide an ancient road, asks too much of the Hebrew slaves and Pharaoh’s army, does violence to the itinerary sequence of known regions and sites (i.e. Egypt’s border, the Wilderness of Shur, Shur, Etham), and defers and displaces all subsequent itinerary ‘action’ (Marah, 3 days in the Wilderness of Shur, Elim, the Wilderness of Sin, 3 more stations, and the Wilderness of Sinai) to the other side of the Aqaba Gulf over a much smaller area. Most of these issues belong in other threads. I really don’t know how to address this one without first an extensive discussion about the journey to this point and the journey beyond.

      • Frederick W. Baltz

        January 16, 2021 at 3:36 pm

        Thanks, Deborah, for your response. You are of course quite right that putting the crossing where I think it happened means other sites also have to be relocated in different places than has been previously thought. That will be what we Aqaba-crossing supporters have to continue to address.

        • Deborah Hurn

          January 17, 2021 at 12:59 am

          Frederick, I would like to be directed to where Aqaba-crossing proponents have made serious efforts to reconcile all the itinerary data (i.e. all the geographical data, both biblical and extra-biblical). What success have they had? How has their Mount Sinai identity improved the clarity of the wilderness narrative?

          ISTM, and I may be forgetful here, that much is made of favorable features of the various mountain candidates, and the few exodus stations are reidentified between Egypt and the preferred crossing sites, but then it all stops there. The wilderness itinerary in large part remains unresolved beyond the first stage (Goshen-to-Sinai).

          And what has been achieved? Let’s keep in touch with what is at stake here. We are not interested in these questions just for the fun of controversy, of being ‘right’ over some biblical mystery, or of being fans of this or that maverick archaeologist. IF YOUR MOUNT SINAI IDENTITY does not release considerably more new information from the biblical texts… if it does not resolve more intractable geographical puzzles of the biblical narratives of the exodus and wanderings era… then:

          1. the biblical texts continue to appear inauthentic and historically unreliable and nothing has been gained

          2. the biblical texts may still be authentic and historically reliable but we have the wrong mountain and nothing has been gained.

        • Deborah Hurn

          January 17, 2021 at 5:14 am

          To illustrate the point I have been making on these threads regarding the centrality of the wilderness itinerary to the question of the identity of Mount Sinai, I copy below a section from Joel Richardson’s recent book making the case for Jebel al-Lawz as Mount Sinai.

          Richardson, Joel. Mount Sinai in Arabia: The True Location Revealed. WinePress Media. Kindle edition., 2018.

          [102] The Itinerary 
          The itinerary of the exodus—the route the Israelites took to the sea crossing, as well as the many specific locations they stopped or stayed at on the other side—are recorded in both Exodus and Numbers. Among all of the various candidates for Mount Sinai, scholars work diligently to reconstruct an itinerary that will validate their favored mountain. Thus, to defend any particular mountain as a valid candidate within the academic community, one must be able to look not merely to the mountain itself but also to the surrounding regions to see if they can be made to align with the biblical narrative. Can the areas around the mountain accommodate such a large number of people? Are the distances between one encampment and the [103] next realistic in terms of how far a large group of people are able to travel within a certain timeframe? Is there any archeological evidence that a large group of people were ever there? These are the kinds of questions that scholars ask when assessing any of the various candidates. Such discussions literally fill volumes. As such, some have argued that the itinerary as described in both Exodus and Numbers cannot be reconciled with the al-Lawz-as-Sinai view. In response, it must be said that first, validating an itinerary is a challenge for each of the various candidates out there. It is by no means a unique objection for Jebel al-Lawz. Second, an itinerary supporting al-Lawz as Mount Sinai is by no means more complicated than any other candidate. Further, none of those who make such charges against the al-Lawz theory has ever even explored or been to the region, making such objections questionable at best. Third, it must be said that among all of the various issues related to the study of the exodus, the itinerary is the most complicated. Instead of identifying one location, we are now trying to validate numerous locations. There is a wide range of complex interrelated issues, from debates concerning how many actual Israelites were present for the exodus, to dating the exodus, to archeology, to seeming contradictions in different accounts, to linguistic textual matters. In the end, as Professor Frank Cross has said: “At best we can only speculate. A mountain of paper has been expended in attempting to locate the stations of the exodus in Numbers 33. There are almost as many views as there are scholars.”2 So by no means is this objection one that sets al-Lawz apart as more objectionable than any other candidate. While working through an itinerary for Jebel al-Lawz is no doubt a matter that will be worked through by scholars in the days ahead, as we have shown, the evidence that al-Lawz is Sinai is solid enough that we need not let this be viewed as an objection that represents any real problem.

          I would agree with most of Joel’s points here about making the argument for a mountain candidate from the itinerary, and, conversely, about making the argument for an itinerary from a mountain candidate. Yes, it is a very large complex investigation. But I don’t agree with Frank Cross that at best we can only speculate. The difficulty of the task does not make it irrelevant. Some candidates (or one) will be a better match for the geographical data than others. In essence, Joel is saying “Ah, it’s too hard to make our case from the location: rather, let’s focus mostly on the features of our preferred mountain.” This approach has not served us well, however. Arguments from the features of the mountains tend to cancel each other out: as Beitzel notes, they all claim everything (first post in ).

          Attributes of the proposed mountains

      • Thomas Donlon

        January 17, 2021 at 12:05 am

        My personal “take-away” from having watched RSM I & 2 (I just yesterday digitally rented RSM 2) is a need for great humility. From Tim’s videos I think I’m seeing some three or more proposed Yam Suph crossing sites along the Egyptian border. And their are four proposed crossing sites in the film for the gulf of Aqaba. So Tim’s videos have a minimum of seven total proposed crossing sites and just rumors of archaeological evidence. And even for place names you might think are nailed down (such as Migdol) I recollect Tim putting up a clip showing that his different advocates for a Yam Suph crossing near Egypt have four proposed Migdol locations.

        Furthermore the discussion of the location of Yam Suph seemed to have gotten a bit polarized. Some discussion seemed to insist strongly that it was The Red Sea and at least one or two people seemed to suggest that the Yam Suph was the gulf of Aqaba. One intellectual really pressed that all the clear indications or usages in scripture required Yam Suph to be the gulf of Aqaba. Yet perhaps he missed one.

        And the LORD changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. (Exod. 10:19 NIV)

        (Perhaps all the locusts flew over the Red Sea to be deposited in the gulf of Aqaba, but I think the Professor overlooked that scripture, maybe because of its vagaries.) I know just enough Hebrew to know that the word in Exodus 10:19 is Yam Suph. Many of the scholars have the whole region of water (both the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba) as Yam Suph, and probably we need to accept that. It is natural that the Bible with its focus on Israelite lands is going to more frequently mention the part of this body of water that forms their southernmost boundary point.

        Possibly nothing in this particular comment I’m posting is likely to be new to you, Deborah. So, I’m not trying to create an impression that I’m arguing about anything.

        • Deborah Hurn

          January 17, 2021 at 5:36 am

          Yes, Thomas, the issue regarding the plague of locusts and where they end up is a strong argument for locating the Red Sea (also) in the Suez Isthmus (Ex 10:19). There is just no way that locusts could be blown 300 km from the Nile Delta across the Sinai Peninsula and land in the Gulf of Aqaba, and even if they did, who would report it back to Egypt?

        • Deborah Hurn

          January 17, 2021 at 9:17 am

          This is right on, Thomas:

          Many of the scholars [in the RSM docos] have the whole region of water (both the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba) as Yam Suph, and probably we need to accept that. It is natural that the Bible with its focus on Israelite lands is going to more frequently mention the part of this body of water that forms their southernmost boundary point.

          I agree with these points: both gulfs (Suez and Elath-Aqaba) and the Red Sea of which these gulfs are the two northern extensions are all part of the biblical “Red Sea” (yam suf in Hebrew, erythra thalassa in Greek, mare rubrum in Latin). The ancients must surely have known this. The biblical texts show that the authors had excellent geographical knowledge. How much regional precision is revealed by notes for when they *entered* and *left* wildernesses?

          Num 33:15-16 NRSV
          (15) They set out from Rephidim and camped in the wilderness of Sinai.
          (16) They set out from the wilderness of Sinai and camped at Kibroth-hattaavah.

          And yes, having crossed the first gulf (probably in its isthmus through the border lakes) and headed across the Sinai Peninsula to Kadesh and thence to Canaan, the Israelites had no further experience of the Suez Gulf. Hence thereafter the head of the Elath gulf as their southernmost boundary point accounted for all subsequent references to the Red Sea.

        • Thomas Donlon

          March 10, 2021 at 7:27 am

          In my wanderings around the internet I came across a page where Geographer Fritz had an interview.

          He actually addressed the issue I discussed about the locusts being carried into the Red Sea. He argued that the Hebrew had a directional -ah- at the end. (That directional is there in the Hebrew.) So the scripture doesn’t exactly demand that all the locusts were dropped into the sea but that they were blown in that direction. So this opens up the door a bit towards his argument that the Gulf of Aqaba is the Yam Suph and not any other body of water. I’m not saying I agree with Fritz, but now I do NOT KNOW that he is wrong. Previously, I knew he was wrong (or thought I knew) now I’m less sure and more open-minded on that question and his scholarliness seems to be more intact. And to add a bit more support to Dr. Fritz’s viewpoint he mentioned that certain plagues of Egypt were mentioning various locations that frogs were appearing from. If the Yam Suph included all the marshland areas that would have been a fine place to use the word Yam Suph if that is also included in the Yam Suph definition. Again nothing conclusive in my book, but it puts his geography back in the game. Now I’m back to my undecided old self again on this whole topic.

          • Deborah Hurn

            March 10, 2021 at 9:01 am

            Thomas, the directional ‘ah’ makes no difference to the argument for either gulf… they are both SE from Egypt/Goshen. The Suez Isthmus is up to 60 km from the Eastern Delta, but the Aqaba Gulf is 300 km from the same. Who would be there on the far side of the Aqaba Gulf to note the arrival of the (by now pulverised) locusts, know where they come from (?!), and jog back 300 km to Egypt to let them know that the locusts had arrived in Teman or whatever they called it over there? These are local plagues and places, and the texts are full of local Egyptian knowledge.

            • Deborah Hurn

              March 10, 2021 at 9:47 am

              OK, so Fritz says the Exodus text implies that the locusts were blown towards the Red Sea (which he IDs as the Aqaba Gulf) but not all the way over there? Yet the border lakes in the Suez Isthmus are a lot closer and in the same general direction from Goshen. Fritz doesn’t even have a firm ID for Mount Sinai, yet locates the Red Sea crossing in the deep Rift Valley. I just don’t understand the need to have a deep-sea crossing way over there… if they want a gulf crossing, why not stick with the Suez Gulf which is closer to Egypt and shallower, though still deep? That used to be the preferred location. For some reason unknown to me, it just disappeared from the popular crossing options (even though it is Josephus’ location) while still retaining Jebel Musa as Mount Sinai. The Saudi Sinai and Aqaba Gulf crossings are hollow proposals. Nothing works with the itinerary. They have to fit five or six wildernesses, three days, and six stations into the few km from the east shore of the Aqaba Gulf to Jebel al-Lawz. Not to mention a week for the manna, a ‘plague’ of quails, and the problem of finding a real oasis that might be Elim. We went through most of that on another thread in detail and checked it out on Google Earth. Not to mention what happens a year later getting from Sinai to Kadesh through only one wilderness, three days, and three named stations.

              Timeframe, distances and campsites between the sea and the mountain

  • Frederick W. Baltz

    January 17, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    Hello, Deborah,

    You have asked…

    · to be directed to where Aqaba-crossing proponents have made serious efforts to reconcile all the itinerary data (i.e. all the geographical data, both biblical and extra-biblical).

    · What success have they had?

    · How has their Mount Sinai identity improved the clarity of the wilderness narrative?

    Let me first say again that I am not a proponent of Nuweiba as the crossing site. In fact, I believe it cannot be the crossing site because of the role the wind must play according to the text. The same would be true for the Straits of Tiran. I am not necessarily a proponent of Jebel al-Lawz as Sinai. I do think Sinai was a volcanic mountain, and I am still trying to learn whether that in any way applies to Lawz. It certainly seems that the answer is no, but some say at least some of the rock there is volcanic. I have more work to do on that question. I think the more serious contenders are a volcano in the Harrat Rahah , and Hala-l-Bedr. In my reading of the events in Exodus, the Pillar of Cloud and Fire is best explained by a volcano. I realize that theophany is involved here, but that does not eliminate a physical, historical basis for the theophany. I also realize that cloud and fire were later at the Tabernacle and in the Temple. So we have something that in one instance is large enough to separate an army from an encamped people, and in another instance is small enough to fit within a building. That would suggest that the theophanic manifestations were not based on just one physical phenomenon.

    I differ with Colin Humphreys on when the Exodus occurred, and on where the crossing happened, although our respective proposed sites are only about twelve miles apart. For Humphreys the crossing happened because of a wind setdown that drove water at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba south. The wind would have been the prevailing wind from the northeast. This has been challenged on the grounds of a lower sea level in ancient times, and on the actual physics involved in whether such a wind setdown was/is possible on this body of water. My crossing candidate is a large lake that was not organically connected to the Gulf of Aqaba, though conceptually a part of it. It was thus part of the Yam Suph, but not subject to the problems associated with wind setdown on the Gulf. I believe the wind that divided the water was from the southeast, and that it brought with it the volcanic pillar from Sinai which Israel had seen in the distance. I can show from space images that volcanic plumes can curve with the wind and travel long distances across the ground without dissipating. This is what came between the Egyptian army and Israel, with its noxious gasses, its volcanic lightning, and its volcanic ash. I further believe this ash, some of which settled on the ground, is what infiltrated the chariot wheel bearings, causing them to turn with difficulty. That is why, in my re-creation of the events, Sinai must be southeast of the crossing site. The counterclockwise storm-force wind leads to that conclusion, as does the location of Midian.

    A word about Josephus… I have a chart in my book that compares the biblical texts to Josephus’ information which he claims is from the Scriptures. It becomes quite clear that he includes things not in the Bible, and excludes things which are in the Bible. It is impossible to believe that he is relying on the Scriptures for this as he claims. I believe we must be extremely cautious about using him to supply background that confirms any particular theory about the crossing. Someone once jokingly said, “Never completely trust anyone who has survived a suicide pact.” Seriously, here I find no reason to trust Josephus’ claims. Nuweiba crossing supporters rely on him and they shouldn’t. Having said that, I think that my crossing site proposal would probably fit what Josephus says as well as the Nuweiba site in some ways. But I don’t want to rely on Josephus at all.

    I think Humphreys’ identifications for the sites on Israel’s way to Sinai make a great deal of sense. They basically follow the Hajj route. He argues for them in The Miracles of Exodus. The later wandering by stages takes Israel near my crossing site proposal again, to Jotvata and Avrona. All this follows from locating the crossing at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba. The eleven day journey from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea works for this region as well if Sinai is to the southeast of the head of the Gulf. I suppose one of the biggest differences in viewpoints here involves Shur. Humphreys identifies this with a mountainous wall rather than a wall of fortresses.

    I certainly have respect for your work, and I do not mean this lengthy reply as anything other than an attempt to answer your questions. My crossing candidate is quite new, and I thank you for asking your questions.

    • Deborah Hurn

      January 17, 2021 at 6:06 pm

      Frederick, your comment re Josephus:

      A word about Josephus… I have a chart in my book that compares the biblical texts to Josephus’ information which he claims is from the Scriptures. It becomes quite clear that he includes things not in the Bible, and excludes things which are in the Bible. It is impossible to believe that he is relying on the Scriptures for this as he claims. I believe we must be extremely cautious about using him to supply background that confirms any particular theory about the crossing.

      I agree… his account is a kind of midrash on the biblical account, apparently designed to make it even more dramatic, what Karen Strand Winslow calls ‘imaginative interpretation’. Some other scholarly opinions:

      Kittel, Rudolf. A History of the Hebrews. Translated by John Taylor. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate, 1895.

      [134] Josephus... gives a continuous history of the Hbws, and thus supplies a parallel narrative to that of the Bible. But his account is, in almost all points, marked by two characteristics. It is unduly embellished and exaggerated till it becomes fabulous. It is coloured with an intentional bias in favour of the Levitical and hierarchical. The consequence is that, at any rate so far as this period is concerned, it nowhere bears the character of an original document which might be set over against the Old Testament.

      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. (1979):

      [7] In fact he gives rather different versions of the beginning of the route in the Antiquities and in the Contra Apionem [Against Apion], but in view of the apologetic character of the latter work we may confidently regard the account in the Antiquities as containing the results of Josephus' own research into the Biblical text and local traditions. The Contra Apionem is however of considerable interest for the light which it sheds on other contemporary views of the route of the Exodus, and cannot be ignored here. p.8 Josephus is not dependent on the LXX to the extent that Philo is.... At the same time his transcriptions agree with LXX against MT, and he interprets 'Goshen' in Gen. 46:28-9 as the ancient name of Heroopolis just like LXX.... [but] A starting-point for the journey close to modern Cairo, like the site of Heliopolis, is essential if the rest of Josephus' interpretation of the beginning of the route is to be intelligible.

      and more from Davies:

      [10] deals with where Mount Sinai was for Josephus: After crossing the 'Red Sea' the Israelites made for Mount Sinai (AJ 3.1). Josephus does not give such a precise account of this part of the route--which may mean that this was not such a great concern of contemporary tradition as the location of places connected with the Exodus itself. What he does say can be, and has been, taken as evidence that he knew nothing of the tradition that Mount Sinai was in the south of the Sinai peninsula.... It has therefore been suggested that for Josephus Mount Sinai was in north-west Arabia. [Gese, 1967: 89-91] There is an obstacle to this theory in the one statement about the location of Mount Sinai itself which Josephus does make: he says it is 'between Egypt and Arabia' (Contra Apionem 2.25). This is difficult to reconcile with its being in Arabia proper.

      Notes from:

      Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn. Sinai and Palestine: In Connection with Their History. London: John Murray, 1856. p. 36)

      Josephus has constructed an account that describes the place of crossing as “narrow … between inaccessible precipices and the sea; for there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea, which were impassable by reason of their roughness, and obstructed their flight”. <i style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”>A.J. 2.15.3. Josephus also states that the start was made from Letopolis, which he identifies with the Egyptian Babylon, A.J. 2.15.1., that is, old Cairo. This city is not near the Eastern Delta where Goshen is now identified but is further upriver (south) along the Nile in the vicinity of Memphis. If the Israelites started out from this city, standing almost at the entrance of a valley (Wadi Tawarik) that leads eastward towards the Suez Gulf, they would have followed that course throughout.

      We must accept Josephus’ starting point if we accept his account of the crossing, for the two are inseparable. From the north near Goshen, it would not be possible to reach this point on the western shore of the Gulf, 30 km (19 miles) south of Suez, for the same mountain ridges that Josephus says prevented their escape from Pharaoh’s pursuit, would also prevent access via the coast. As the general area of Goshen/Rameses is accepted to lie just outside the Eastern Delta between the royal residences on the Nile and the approach from Canaan by the Way of Shur (cp. Gen. 46:28-29,34; 47:11), we have no choice but to dismiss this part of Josephus’ account.

      Other problems with the details of his narration are:

      • The account of the stages between Rameses and the Red Sea are rendered meaningless, for the rugged valley (Wadi Tawarik) leads from the very doors of Old Cairo, in a straight line from the Nile to the coast of the Suez Gulf, and does not support the detail that the people ‘turned back’ in order to become trapped (Ex. 14:1).
      • The ‘valley’ here on the shore is not narrow being at least 15 km (9½ miles) wide.
      • The sea here is presently at least 20 km (12½ miles) wide and [I haven’t checked] over 100 m deep.

  • Deborah Hurn

    May 5, 2021 at 9:11 am

    There are several threads on the exodus journey as far as the Red Sea crossing, so it is hard to choose the best one for some posts. In another thread,* I said that the 19th-century explorers were doing just great working out the route before the archaeologists got involved. William Matthew Flinders Petrie was one such… who also happened to become the first stratigraphic archaeologist! But not before he had done his best on the exodus route. I agree with Petrie on the direction of the exodus route and the locations of the early stations (more or less). He got the journey correct as far south as Elim at Ayn Musa. But from there, lacking the Har Karkom option for Mount Sinai in the Southern Negev, he has to stretch the itinerary to reach Jebel Musa in the Southern Sinai. Petrie’s assistant and companion Charles Trick Currelly wrote the last four chapters on Mount Sinai and associated regions. Perhaps Petrie was not prepared to commit to a Southern Sinai.


    Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Researches in Sinai. New York: Dutton, 1906.

    [203] The position of the Israelites is said to have been in Goshen (Gen 47:27) identified with the western end of the Wady Tumilat, where it begins to branch from the Delta. Next, they were employed in building forts in the Wady Tumilat [204] at Pithom and Rameses (Ex 1:11). The latter of these towns was their rallying point for departure (Ex 12:37), whence they travelled to Succoth, which is the Egyptian Thuku, a district near Pithom, presumably east of that place, which is now known as Tell el Maskhuta. Thence they camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness, and this is therefore somewhere near the east end of the Wady Tumilat. It seems that this is the district of Aduma, as the Bedawyn [bedouin] of this land in the time of Merneptah asked to pass the Egyptian frontier at the fort of Thuku to go to the lakes of Pithom for pasture….

    [204] The Israelites were ordered next to “turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon”… (Ex 14:2). Of these names only Pi-hahiroth has been found anciently, in Paqaheret, of which Osiris was god (Naville, Pithom, pl.8). The sea we know to have extended up thru the Bitter Lakes to near Ismailiyeh [a modern town on the N shore of Lake Timsah], for as late as Roman time this was known as the gulf of Hieroopolis, which is Pithom. Now the only Serapeum or shrine of Osiris in this region is that about 10 miles south of Ismailiyeh, described as 18 miles from Pithom-Ero in the Antonine itinerary. And thus the “turn” which the Israelites took would be a turn southwards, down the west side of the Hieroopolis Gulf [Bitter Lakes extension of the Suez Gulf]. There must have been a Migdol-tower on the hills behind them, and Baal Zephon on the opposite side of the gulf. Here they were “entangled in the land, the wilderness had shut them in,” not having rounded the head of the gulf [into Sinai], as would have been expected. This part of the gulf was probably the shallowest, as it is now dry land [205] between the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. Here, therefore, was the most likely place for the “strong east wind” (Ex 14:21) to blow the waters back and leave a dry crossing. Hence the “wilderness of Shur” was the east side of the gulf between the present Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah (Ex 15:22). The name of Shur occurs in two other passages; it is “Shur which is before Egypt” (Gen 25:18) and Hagar is said to flee to Beer-lahai-roi, between Kadesh and Bered, in the way to Shur (Gen 16:7,14). These show merely that Shur was a district somewhere on the east border of Egypt.

    The miraculous sea crossing

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