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

  • 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.