Red Sea - Sea of Reeds - resources

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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Looking over the literature on the Exodus, the Sea of Reeds Crossing theory is fairly entrenched as the default position, and most of the maps and archaeology follow accordingly. I'm interested in any books or articles which argue for a literal Red Sea crossing and give a counter-proposal as to the route out of Egypt to Mount Sinai.

I am surprised how little consideration is given to the "knock-on" effects of the Sea of Reeds theory. E.g., the use of "Red Sea" (Yam Suph) in other OT texts for areas which cannot refer to this swampy lake or lagoon; what this means in terms of two million people crossing it; as well as the use of "Red Sea" in the New Testament and extra-biblical literature.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Doesn't the NT unequivocally speak of them crossing the Red Sea?

The NT references:

Acts 7:36, "He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years."

Heb. 11:29, "By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned."

To me it seems clear that the "Red Sea" is not an accommodation to the mistakes of earlier interpreters. But at this point I am looking for counter-proposals which locate sites and map out the journey.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
You may have already seen this, but Douglas Stuart in his Exodus entry in the New American Commentary series thinks the "sea of reeds" idea is quite untenable. His comments on 10:18-20, 13:18; 15:4,22; and 23:31 would be relevant.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
You may have already seen this, but Douglas Stuart in his Exodus entry in the New American Commentary series thinks the "sea of reeds" idea is quite untenable. His comments on 10:18-20, 13:18; 15:4,22; and 23:31 would be relevant.

Thanks Ruben. Is there any information or references on alternate proposals?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
On 10:18-20

This strong wind bore up (NIV “caught up” is interpretive, making it sound as though the locusts left against their will) the locusts, speeding them away from Egypt, and blew them (tqʿ; not “carried them”) to/toward (“into”) the Red Sea, that is, the great body of water lying directly to the east of Egypt. The term here translated “Red Sea” is yam sup, rendered “Sea of Reeds” by many commentators, a far too limited body of water for the scenario described here.174 In other words, this is one of the passages that suggests yam sup really means “Red Sea,” not “Sea of Reeds.” God’s special removal of the locusts resulted in the complete absence of locusts anywhere in Egypt. Note that the text does not say that the locusts drowned in the Red Sea—only that the wind blew them in that direction out of Egypt.

On 13:18, a footnote dealing with "the desert road towards the Red Sea"
On this route see also vv. 20ff. F. Regalado suggests that the sea through which the Israelites passed was one of the lakes now incorporated into the Suez Canal district, i.e., either Lake Timsah or Lake Ballah, but not the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea itself. Our position is that the sea was indeed the Red Sea, but it is not impossible that the lakes of the Suez region were loosely included in the Hb. term yam sup in Bible times (“The Location of the Sea the Israelites Passed Through,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 13 [2002]: 115–34).​

On 15:4
Note the reference to “deep waters” in v. 5, waters that “covered them” so that “they sank into the depths.” This is simply further evidence, preserved in the song, that what happened to the Egyptians was not some sort of bogging down in shallow water or muddy terrain but drowning in a large body of deep water. Bodies do sink “like a stone” or other heavy object when they drown; later, when they have bloated, they can rise to the surface and wash to shore (14:30)—if they are near enough to shore for that to happen.

And the relevant footnote:

Some scholars who regard the song as an early composition fail to note the implications of its assertion of the drowning of the Egyptians in deep water when advancing the theory that the encounter at the “Reed Sea” was simply a case of Israelites getting away on foot in marshes where chariots could not follow, later embellished by centuries of tradition into the narrative of chap. 14. The arguments of B. F. Batto against the notion that there was a small body of water known as the Reed Sea (yam sûp, supposedly meaning “reed sea,” that later became associated with the Red Sea are strong (“The Reed Sea: Requiescat in Pace,” JBL 102 [1983]: 27–35). Batto concludes that “at no point in Israelite history is there any evidence that yam sûp ever referred to a body of water other than the Red Sea. All occurrences of the tern yam sûp fit adequately … There is no reason whatever to posit the existence of a second yam sûp. In short, the hypothesis that the Israelites experienced deliverance from their Egyptian pursuers at some historical body of water whose name was dimly but accurately preserved as the “Reed Sea” should be laid to rest forever.”

On 15:22
Once across the Red Sea, the Israelites went to Shur. This is a vast, rugged, and sparsely populated wilderness region in the northern Sinai, stretching from what in modern times is the eastern side of the Suez Canal to the Negev of Israel.

And the mildly relevant footnote:

Crossing into Shur involved crossing the area that might be described as the “Red Sea-border lakes-Suez Canal depression” (what in modern times is the route of the Suez Canal) that formed the functional eastern border of ancient Egypt. Shur was the largely waterless region to which Hagar fled from Sarah’s persecution, and was blessed to find a well (Gen 16:7) and one of the places associated with Abraham’s sojourns (Gen 20:1). K. A. Kitchen emphasizes the relatively informal way boundaries and districts were identified and named as illustrated by the term “wilderness of Shur.” He identifies the “wilderness of Shur/Etham” with the Isthmus of Suez as it extends from Timsah to the Suez Gulf: “Thus after crossing the lakes section of yam suph (be it Ballah, Timsah, or Bitter), the Hebrews (if headed south) would go through the Shur/Etham desert past the Etham (Ismailia) zone, on past the latitude of Suez, the three days’ march (thirty-six to forty-five miles at twelve to fifteen miles per day) to Marah, Elim, then (again) to yam suph. This was simply a stop by the east (Sinai) shore of the Suez Gulf” (On the Reliability of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 262–63). Some of the tribes David kept at bay by periodic preemptive raids were associated with the region of Shur as well (1 Sam 27:8) since the northeastern edge of that region bordered extreme southwestern Judah.​

On 23:31
The traditional borders of the promised land are here described, beginning with the “Red Sea” (presumably the Gulf of Aqaba at its extreme northern shore) on the southeast; and from there to the “Sea of the Philistines” (the Mediterranean) all along the west; and from the “desert” (the wilderness Negev of Judah, south and southwest) to the “River” (the Euphrates on the northeast).

And the related footnote:

Doubts about the meaning of יַם־סוּף, traditionally translated “Red Sea” but often assumed to refer not to that body of water but to a smaller, tidal “Sea of Reeds,” have been largely laid to rest by B. F. Batto in his article, “The Reed Sea: Resquiescat in Pace,” JBL 102 (1983): 27–35. See also our comments on 13:17–18; 14:2; 15:5.

Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 254, 324, 351-352, 365, 549.

In addition to the Batto article, he references John Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament, 134 as placing Pi-Hahiroth near the Gulf of Suez. That's everything I saw that seemed relevant, but if I come across anything else I'll make a note of it.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Though Nahum Sarna takes a "sea of reeds" position in his JPS Exodus commentary, he does make this admission in a foonote:

It should be noted, however, that yam suf must refer to the Gulf of Akaba in Num. 21:4; Deut. 1:40; 2:1; 1 Kings 9:26; Jer. 49:21. See N. M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus (New York: Schocken, 1986), 106–108.

Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991).
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I synthesize way too much outside material, besides analyzing the biblical material for its internal coherence on my own, to be able to offer any scholarly resources that specifically have guided me to my present views. I know they have been defended...

But for what its worth: I think Israel really crossed the Red Sea--the real thing--at the Gulf of Aqaba, probably down at its southern outlet where it is narrowest, somewhat consistent with Nahum Sarna's literary interpretation (not his literal interpretation) that Ruben notes above.

I interpret Ex.14:3, "And Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in," to indicate Pharaoh was about to conclude that the "lost" host was trapped in the relatively narrow confines of what is today known as the Sinai Peninsula, having gone out eastward; but ignorant of the highways to the open lands still further east (actually under divine direction, Ex.13:17), they moved (Pharaoh must have thought) too far south. They would have to turn hard north once they hit the water's edge, and be turned into the teeth of his pursuing/waiting army.

Most of the biblical antiquties scholars I know of identify the eastern seaboard of the Gulf of Aqaba as the ancient home of the Midianites (among other tribes), which Reuel, the priest of Midian, was helped by Moses; and from whom Moses got his wife, Ex.2:16ff. Which was the place, I believe, of the "backside of the desert," of the burning bush, and the place to which God told Moses he should lead the people (under the Lord's direction).

I don't believe the modern "Mt. Sinai" is the Mt. Horeb/Sinai of the Exodus. I take Paul's reference to "mount Sinai in Arabia," Gal.4:25, to refer to someplace in the much larger Arabian territory/peninsula (which interpretation is usually extended to include the region more familiarly known today as Sinai).

In short, I believe the escape over the Red Sea makes best sense when we bracket (as fungible and at times loosely/generally ascribed) place names--which may be no more reliably ancient than the Christian era search for a convenient monastery location--and look to the biblical record of actual events and to geography. It also helps not to be saddled with the critic's disbelief in the historicity of the Exodus. Modern Sinai has the look of a trap from a satellite view, from a military map view, and is close enough to make Pharaoh's snare plausible.

My view has not been the common or consensus view in history. I could be wrong, and I can live with that. But it has some advantages, as I reckon them.

If I can think of some specific resource, I will post it.
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thanks Ruben. You've gone above and beyond. I will add Stuart to my list of nay-sayers on the Sea of Reeds.

So far I am coming up with very few counter-proposals. The options seem to be two possibilities on the Suez, and two possibilities on the Aqaba.

Looking at the Aqaba theories, I doubt that amount of distance could be covered in three days, so it seems like a stretch.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Looking at the Aqaba theories, I doubt that amount of distance could be covered in three days, so it seems like a stretch.

If I may ask, what do you mean when you mention covering the distance in three days? I assume this has something to do with the original request made of Pharaoh for a three-day journey.

I ask because I've long thought the Aqaba crossing makes the most sense simply looking at the biblical account, though I suspect I haven't studied the issue as thoroughly as either you or Bruce have. It has seemed plain to me, though, that wherever Sinai is it must be further than a three-day journey from Egypt, and for some reason the original request did not have Sinai as its target. But what is your thinking when you bring up the three days?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
My pleasure, Matthew.

My own understanding has always been that Israel crossed the Gulf of Suez. Locating the precise point is difficult, of course, especially since it has been suggested that in the past that branch of the Red Sea may have extended higher, and at some point may even have naturally connected with the Mediterranean. If Israel crossed at a time when the Great Bitter Lake and the Gulf of Suez were not differentiated, for instance, it might have been somewhere that we would no longer recognize as part of the Red Sea.

What I've gathered as I've done some work in Exodus is that yam suph refers to the Red Sea, including either of its northern branches (which explains the references to the Gulf of Aqaba).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
But what is your thinking when you bring up the three days?

Taking note of the three places of "pitching" before crossing the sea taken in connection with the request for a three days' journey into the wilderness and the direction to "turn" at Etham, the edge of the wilderness.
 
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