Summary: Dr. Fred Baltz argues that the simplest interpretation of the evidence favors Timna as the site where Moses and Israel crossed the sea during the Exodus from Egypt.
“Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.”-Exodus 14:2 (ESV)
Cutting Away the Complexity
Ockham’s Razor has long been a rule used for common-sense problem-solving: prefer the solution which (A) takes into account all the facts, and (B) is the simplest. The problem of finding the place where Moses led Israel through the sea requires a book to do justice to all the issues involved. But the solution presented here for the location of the crossing site just east of Mt. Timna is essentially simple, consistent with Ockham’s Razor.
Israel Camped at Etham, Northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba
Led by Moses, Israel traveled from Succoth to Etham (Numbers 33:6), “on the edge of the wilderness.” Most discussions of the crossing since the mid-20th Century have looked in eastern Egypt for Etham, thinking it is a corruption of “Khetem,” an Egyptian word for fortress. They have reasoned that the place of crossing must also be somewhere along the eastern edge of Egypt. But the wilderness has another edge, across the Sinai Peninsula. An Etham appears there on old maps (Etham, Ithm, Ythm, Yuttum).
A Pillar of Cloud and Fire led Israel for multiple days and nights (Exodus 13:21-22), suggesting that Israel traveled some distance from Egypt. Israel was headed toward Midian (Exodus 3:12). Biblical Etham must then be directly on the only path to Midian from Egypt, the path around the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba. That’s where the Etham appears on old maps, just past the head of the Gulf to the east.
From Etham Israel Turned Back the Way They Came
Having reached the Wilderness of Etham, Israel was ordered to turn back (Exodus 14:1). The Hebrew word for turn back is “shuv.” It means to go back to where you were before, not in some other direction. This order would have required Israel to retrace their steps, coming again to the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Three Biblical Landmarks are Located on This Path
Turning-back would return Israel to three landmarks which they had just passed on their way to Etham. If Etham were west of the head of the Gulf, and if Israel turned aside instead of back, they might have come to Nuweiba beach, a popular candidate for the place of crossing. But turning back from Etham’s true location would have brought Israel to the three places we encounter in the text. Migdol, Baal-Zephon, and Pi-Hahiroth may all be identified there as precise locations very close together.
There’s no need to complicate this by imagining places now gone, or interpreting the landmarks in other ways including compass directions.
When Israel turned back, the center of an ancient copper mining industry was directly before them. It was a flat-topped hill now known as Slaves Hill. Today it is the centerpiece of modern Timna Park. Traveling craftsmen long ago occupied this site. A wall at the top of Slaves Hill is now interpreted by archaeologists as a defensive wall for the miners and smelters on top. This made Slaves Hill a fortress.
The Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon says a raised, flat area of land, and also a fortress are rendered in Hebrew by the word migdol. The simple conclusion is: we have found biblical Migdol. It’s Slaves Hill.
On the northeast end of the Migdol is a worship site with a natural, stone altar. Carved on the altar is a human-like figure standing on either a camel or a bull. Art from this period in the Mideast depicts the god Baal, a.k.a Hadad, standing on a bull. Such a figure cast in copper was found at Timna, also. The simplest conclusion is that the figure cut on the altar is Baal. That name was used with a second name to denote places (e.g.s., Baal-Shalishah, Baal-Peor), so we might expect the name of this altar to have been Baal-Zephon, god of the north, the patron god of the mariners who sailed the near-by Gulf of Aqaba.
A few hundred yards from the Migdol is the stone formation called the Pillars of Solomon, and just below it are the remains of an Egyptian shrine devoted to the goddess Hathor. Early in the 20th Century Sir Alan Gardiner suggested that the biblical term Pi-Hahiroth meant house of Hathor. The simplest interpretation of the evidence says that we now have our Pi-Hahiroth near the Migdol and Baal-Zephon. To find such worthy candidates for the three biblical sites so close together adds to the likelihood that they are in fact the true sites, chosen to place Israel at precisely the right place for the impending opening of the sea.
The close proximity of the three sites to each other fits Numbers 33:7-8, which says Israel camped before Migdol and left from Hahiroth. Their camp remained stationary; it encompassed both these landmarks. That same text says Pi-Hahiroth is east of Baal-Zephon, and this also corresponds to the layout of our proposed sites.
But Where Was the Water?
How did Moses and Israel pass through the sea where there is no sea? Timna is twelve miles from the water of the Gulf. No wonder people have looked elsewhere for the sea crossing site! But the appearance of the region now is far different from what it was 3500 years ago. The Dead Sea is only one hundred miles away, and core samples taken from the bottom there tell a story of severe climate change. The concentrations of pollen from living plants at different levels beneath the sea floor testify to conditions in this region that were actually humid in the time of Moses and the Exodus.
Timna is gradually rising due to forces within the earth. Geologists have shown that one earthquake alone raised some of the ground there three feet. There has been a gradual drying of the Timna area. Major springs have ceased to flow. A medieval irrigation system now stands dry. A repaired well—clearly once in use—is now a seven meter deep dry hole.
Rain fell on Timna in the past due to the humid conditions, much more than the scant rains of today. But even today in the Timna Valley ephemeral lakes form after the spring rains. These appear on one map from 1896, when a cartographer was there at just the right time of year. The lakes are all that’s left of what must once have been a small sea.
Turning the clock back to those humid times we can recreate the appearance of that sea, conceptually a part of the Gulf of Aqaba, the biblical Yam Suph. It stretched some ten miles to the north. It was wider farther north as well. With the calm following the strong wind (Exodus 14:21), which blew the water north and divided the sea for Israel, that water came rushing back south. Entering the narrow region of the sea, it stood upward in a giant wave that destroyed the Egyptian chariot force.
The Simple Conclusion: This is Where Israel Walked on Dry Ground Through the Sea
Israel had crossed the sea, experiencing the water as a wall on their right and on their left (Exodus 14:22). The biblical word for wall used here, “chomah,” carries the sense of barrier. Unlike the picture in our minds from DeMille’s great film, these walls were large pools on each side of Israel’s path, all that was left when the wind drove the water to the north. (See the Thinker articles by two scholars taking different approaches in a Red Sea Miracle film critique and response.)
There’s one remaining challenge to our consistent simplicity. Can we locate a place east of Timna with a raised path across the now-dry valley? We do indeed find it through satellite mapping. It starts directly below Migdol, Baal-Zephon, and Pi-Hahiroth, our landmarks. The simplest interpretation of all these facts is that we have found the now-eroded path through the sea walked by Moses and Israel north of the Gulf of Aqaba. This was a real event in history, not a groundless legend. That is also the simplest interpretation of all the facts.
Some will bring objections. For instance, some will say this location can’t work with the rest of Israel’s biblical itinerary. Others will say the Egyptian place names demand that the crossing was on the edge of Egypt. A longer discussion would demonstrate that no objection is fatal to the case for Timna with its straightforward simplicity.
What Could be Next?
Chariot wheels are alleged to lie on the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba at Nuweiba, but there is still no proof that they are chariot wheels, or that they exist at all. Might bronze Egyptian weapons yet be retrieved from the Timna crossing site with metal detectors? Might burials found near the east end of the raised bar at Timna turn out to include Egyptian soldiers? There’s still more to explore, and more reason for you to keep thinking.
TOP PHOTO: The red line traces Israel’s journey from Egypt (left) across the Sinai to Etham where the red line ends. Mt. Sinai, their destination, was in Midian, which was east of the Gulf of Aqaba on the right. (NASA image)
Dr. Fred Baltz has authored the book Exodus Found, which gives proposals for many aspects of the Exodus account while testing the hypothesis: “The Exodus events are best understood as real events demonstrating a supernatural use of the natural.”