Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Crossing of the Red Sea
A paper presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Bible - 430, The Pentateuch.
by David T. White
Throughout the past 2000 years, man has placed the Israelites miraculous crossing of the Red Sea in numerous locations. Most of these locations have been placed somewhere between the delta of the Nile River and Mount Sinai in the Sinai peninsula. The traditional location of the Mountain of God presents many difficulties when attempting to locate a workable and textually accurate site for the miracle at the Red Sea. It is the contention of this paper that a more realistic site of the Mountain of God can be located in what is currently northwestern Saudi Arabia, and that this location offers many solutions to the multitudinous problems inherent with its traditional location in the Sinai peninsula and that the crossing site is located south of the present day Egyptian town of Neviot on the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Starting Point
There is little debate concerning the location of the starting point of the exodus. With few exceptions, scholars place the land of Goshen in and around the delta region of the Nile. One scholar, Dr. G. Maspero, states in his book, History of Egypt, that the Egyptian General of the Eastern Marches was positioned along the opening between the Sinai peninsula and the Egyptian delta region north of the Gulf of Suez. He states that this opening was fortified with a wall called "The Wall of the Pharaohs." Several theories place the crossing in one of the lakes in this area. However, the proximity of the Egyptian forces (with or without a fortified wall) and the lack of any artifacts (pillars, boundaries, alters, etc.) to date lend little credence to theories which place the miracle at the Red Sea so close to Egypt.
The Mountains of God
The location of the Mountain of God becomes central to the study of the Red Sea crossing site. Mount Horeb marks the eastern end of a line that started in the land of Goshen. Somewhere along this line is the Red Sea crossing site. Exodus 3:1 states that Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, priest of Midian, when he saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Every map that places Mount Horeb in the Sinai peninsula also places Midian in northwestern Saudi Arabia, the "backside (west end) of the wilderness" (Exodus 3:1).
The twentieth century is not the only century to question the whereabouts of the Mountain of God. The current Mountain of God located in the Sinai peninsula, Jebel Musa, was not the first proposed location of Mount Horeb. Previously, there were at least two predecessors, Jebel Serbal and Jebel Katherine.
The Current Traditional Site, Jebel Musa
In December 1873, Dr. Charles Beke made several astounding claims that he had located the true site of Mount Sinai in the Arabian countryside. He based this on his belief that this was the country of Midian as accounted for in the Biblical narrative. He attempted to place Mount Sinai at Jebel el Nur (the Mount of Light). Dr. Beke made several unique claims about the path of the exodus and the location of Mount Horeb. His claims as to the location of the land of Goshen, the city of Ramses, and the final destination are questionable. He correctly provides historical information that the geographic location of Egyptian mines are in the western side of the Sinai peninsula within a days journey of Jebel el Musa. Considering that the Hebrews were forced into labor as builders of cities (Exodus 1:11 f), it is reasonable to suggest that these mines would have been active during this time period of building, and at the very least, suggest that Egyptian territory extended well pass the Lake Timsah area into the Sinai peninsula. Exodus 12:33 says that the Egyptians were "urgent with the people, to send them out of the land in haste." The Israelites had not even the time to wait for the bread to rise, but were compelled to leave the land. If Mount Horeb was in the central Sinai peninsula, the Israelites would not have even been out of the territory controlled by Egypt.
Dr. Beke provides historical rational for the naming of Jebel Musa, and why it should not be considered as the Mountain of God. Dr. Beke records that there was a Bishop in the fourth century (c. 373 A.D.) named Moses for whom the mountain was named. (At that time, Jebel Serbal was contending Jebel Katherine which was thought at that time to be the true site.) Jebel Musa eventually became confused as being named after the prophet Moses and supplanted both Jebal Serbal and Jebel Katherine as the Mountain of God.
Jebel Serbal was regarded as Mount Sinai by some well into the sixth century. It is located a few miles away from the Wadi Feiran which was a highly prized and very well fortified region of mines of the Pharaohs. Secondly, Moses, if hiding from the Egyptians for murder (Exodus 2:15b), would be reticent to maintain any proximity to Egyptian territory. Thirdly, Jebel Serbal's lack of adequate water supply for two to three million people and their flocks for three months constitutes an unrecorded miracle of no small proportion. Fourthly, if two million plus people chose to leave us any evidence as to their encampment there, archaeologists have yet to discover it.
Jebel Katherine can be ruled out for much the same reason as Jebel Musa and Jebel Serbel: lack of water and no evidence recovered to date to establish the presence of the Israelites. It is probable that Emperor Justinian (early 6th century) constructed the cathedral located at the base of this mountain, perhaps in reaction to the propositions of Jebel Serbal as a possible site.
The Land of Midian
One important point that the scholars have neglected to explain (with some validity) is the location of Midian. It is obvious that it is difficult to locate with any accuracy and with the exception of a tradition, the same can be said about Mount Horeb. Yet, our maps show Mount Horeb in the Sinai peninsula but place Midian in Saudi Arabia.
Paul, in writing to the Galatians, uses a Rabbinic allegory to show the relationship Christians have to the Law. "Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children." (Galatians 4:25). In his allegory, the children of Isaac represent Christianity, inheritors of the promise. The children of Hagar represent the inheritors of the Law or slavery. In explaining his allegory, Paul states that Mount Sinai is in Arabia. Either Paul did not know where Arabia was, or the Sinai peninsula belonged to Arabia during Paul's time or Mount Horeb is not in the peninsula.
Since Exodus tells us that Moses was in the backside or western edge of Midian when he ascended the Mountain of God, it is reasonable to claim that, where ever the mountain is, it is in Midian. As to the location of Midian no one can be sure. The nomadic society of the Midianites ensures that there is not a specific geographical location for their people. The land of Midian would most likely refer to where ever they were at the time, possibly within certain "boundaries" during certain generations. However, placing Midian in the Sinai peninsula during Moses' generation would be precariously close to the Egyptians (as far as Moses would be concerned) and not a good hiding place for someone wanted for murder by the Egyptians. However, placing Midian in Saudi Arabia offers good protection from Egypt with the Gulf of Aqaba betwixt and an indisputable wilderness to the east. This would have been a good location for a renegade Moses and a renegade slave nation. It is difficult to locate Midian by using the scant textual references to it. However, we can locate Mount Horeb on the west of Midian during Moses' time and in Arabia during Paul's time. Sense the mountain has not moved, Midian and Arabia must have.
Jebel el Lawz
Jebel el Lawz is a mountain in northwestern Saudi Arabia a few miles east of the center of the Gulf of Aqaba which has some very interesting features. These features include: a darkened top, a large valley with water, two alters, 12 bases for pillars, the remains of a boundary about the base of the mountain and a cave.
In 1984 Jebel el Lawz was photographed and preliminary research was conducted. In 1987 this mountain was photographed again and the pictures later published. This mountain possesses the following, very interesting features:
1) An alter that is outside of an apparent boundary which has Egyptian petroglyphs of a worshipper giving homage to a calf god. Saudi Arabian archaeologists identify the petroglyphs as Egyptian Hathor and Apis bulls. "These petroglyphs are unique to this area; all others [in this area] portray goats or camels." Exodus 32:4-5 says,
And he [Aaron] received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD."
2) A second alter that lies within a boundary and twelve foundations for pillars. Exodus 24:4 records the event.
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.
3) A boundary of several stone piles separating the mountain from the valley below. Again in Exodus we have the record of the building of such a boundary in 19:23-24.
And Moses said to the LORD, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for thou thyself didst charge us, saying, Set bounds about the mountain, and consecrate it." And the LORD said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.
4) The top of the mountain is blackened as if it where burnt as stated in Exodus 19:18.
And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
5) I Kings 19:8-9 tells of when Elijah visited Mount Horeb.
And he [Elijah] arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. And there he came to a cave, and lodged there;
The unique physical evidence of Jebel el Lawz combined with its unique location in the traditional land of Midian suggests that it is a plausible contender as the Mountain of God. None of the other mountains can boast any archeological evidence, an adequate valley for two to three million people, an adequate water supply (baring divine intervention) and a location that is textually correct in the Land of Midian. If Goshen is the starting point and Jebel el Lawz is the ending point, there is only one body of water in between, the Gulf of Aqaba.
Aqaba -- Red Sea or Reed Sea?
The theory of the "Reed Sea" crossing site is a conjecture based on two pieces of information, 1) all the Hebrew scholars translate the words 'yam suph' as Reed Sea or Sea of Reeds, and 2) the traditional site of the Mountain of God being in the Sinai peninsula. These two postulates remove the Gulf of Aqaba as a contender, therefore, the crossing site must be west of the gulf. Based on this information the scholars could only arrive at the conclusion that the crossing occurred west of the Sinai peninsula either in the Gulf of Suez or the marshy region north of the Gulf.
I would suggest that the translation of 'yam suph' is a non-issue and is relatively insignificant to the whole of the event. The question does not lie in translation but in location. The whereabouts of the Reed Sea is conjecture born of the location of Jebel Musa. Upon the discrediting of heretofore mentioned sights in the Sinai peninsula and the insertion of Jebel el Lawz in Arabia, we are free to understand that the possible crossing site choices now include the Gulf of Suez, the northern marshes, Lake Timsah, and the heretofore omitted, Gulf of Aqaba. The next step is to narrow the field of crossing sites to the most likely place by considering the physical characteristics that are described as being present at the location of the crossing.
I Kings 9:26 tells us that King Solomon had a navy fleet stationed on 'yam suph'.
And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea [ yam suph], in the land of Edom.
The question now becomes, where is the most logical location of King Solomon's navy, the marshy lakes of Suez, Lake Timsah, the Gulf of Suez or the shores of Aqaba? To choose the Gulf of Suez would require the relocation of Ezion-geber, Eloth and Edom. To choose the marshy lakes of Suez or Timsah would be to insult the wisdom of Solomon. The only logical conclusion for King Solomon's navy is the Gulf of Aqaba, yam suph. When we locate the above listed cities, there is seldom any question placing them around the Gulf of Aqaba which concedes yam suph as Aqaba. It is only when Mount Horeb is moved to the Sinai peninsula that a problem arises as to the location of the ever moving Sea of Reeds.
Much of the confusion comes from the LXX translation of yam suph. Either the translators of the LXX new specifically which body of water was yam suph and translated it by a contemporary name, Red Sea, or they suffered the same confusion as we have and opted not for a transliteration, but rather, took a stab in the dark and pick the Red Sea. In either case, it is interesting to note that they did not pick the marshy lakes of Suez, the Gulf of Suez, or Lake Timsah. Perhaps in 400 B.C., they knew where Mount Horeb and the crossing site were and considered the matter obvious, after all, it was where Solomon had his ships.
The Exodus Route
The Exodus begins from the land of Goshen which is at the delta of the Nile River. They then would have traveled, south through the Milta pass using a common trade route and encamped at Etham which may be located at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba now known as Elat. Exodus 13:17ff says;
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, "Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt." But God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle... and they moved on from Succoth, and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.
The biblical text has previously located the wilderness for us -- in Midian (Exodus 3:1).
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Since the text offers no clue that the wilderness sited in chapter thirteen is different than the one sited in chapter three, it would appear that Etham is on the edge of an Arabian wilderness.
After camping at Etham, God ordered Moses and his followers to turn back and go south (Exodus 14:1-2),
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-ha-hi'roth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Ba'al-ze'phon; you shall encamp over against it, by the sea.
Using the dry wadi system, this would bring the Israelites south to a delta near the modem day village of Neviot. This fits the description that Josephus gives of the area where the Israelites were when Pharaoh attempted his assault on the them.
Josephus gives us a geographical description of the crossing site as his generation understood it.
...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 (the Israelites) flight; wherefore they (the Egyptians) were pressed upon the Hebrews with their army, where [the ridges of] the mountains were closed with the sea; which army they placed at the chops of the mountains, that so they might deprive them of any passage into the plain.
The geography of the Lake Timsah area is far lacking in meeting with this description. However, the Wadi Watir, which leads to the delta south of Neviot on the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula, fits Josephus' description very well.
Physical Evidences at Neviot
The beach at Neviot offers a location that meets the description given in scripture and augmented by Josephus. The specific site is accounted for thusly; 1) Josephus states "for there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea..." Strong correlates with this description by his translation of Pi-hahiroth as " mouth of the gorges". 2) Based on careful consideration of the Septuagint translation's record of the crossing, there exists strong evidence that the event of the crossing occurred in an extremely narrow geographic location, such as would be found in a central plain of two diametrically opposed mountains. The language of the contemporary grammarians suggests that Pharaoh found the distressed Israelites " hemmed in or enclosed" (sugkleiw) in a narrow passage (Exodus 14:3b). The use of the term "Pi-hahiroth" by some scholars, in contrast with the Septuagint's parallel "encampment" (or dwelling area) might suggest that the sight was used as a common rest area for large groups such as military battalions or landed mariners showing again the LXX translators choice possibly being explained by familiarity with the site.
The sight of Baal-zephon may be solved by a ruin of old Egyptian origin on the beach at Neviot. This building may also be Migdol as that is the Egyptian word for "fortress." Baal-zephon may be it's proper name. To put this in perspective I will paraphrase Exodus 14:2, "Tell the people of Israel to turn back and go to an encampment which is located between a fortress called Baal-zephon and the sea.
Moses has made the trip between Goshen and Mount Horeb twice before, once as a result of his exile which led him to Midian, and once on his return to Egypt. At the direction of God, Moses was bringing the people back to Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:12). It is reasonable to suggest that Moses would have followed the same route from Egypt directly to Midian and God's mountain that he used twice before. It was not until the Israelites came to Etham that God told Moses to turn the people back the way they came and then south to Baal-zephon. The fact that God had told Moses to turn back into the wadi system of the Sinai peninsula would explain the description of the Israelites being "entangled" in the land (Exodus 14:3). Josephus records that the Egyptians had overtaken the Israelites and drove them into what Josephus describes for us as "a narrow place." Josephus continues, "[The Egyptians] also seized on the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might fly, shutting them up between inaccessible precipices and the sea." They were trapped in the valleys of the mountains of that region and boxed in by the coastline of the gulf. The possible presence of an Egyptian fortress in the area (Baal-zephon) may account for the Egyptian's familiarity of the region and how they knew where to surround the Israelites.
Neviot is the home of a peculiar pillar which the Israelis moved from the beach near Neviot and mounted in concrete along the road when they took possession of the area during the Six Day war. Unfortunately, since its move, the pillar has been vandalized and it's inscription is no longer readable. However, directly across the gulf on the Saudi shore, there is a matching pillar. Fortunately, the Saudi pillar's ancient Hebrew/Phoenician inscriptions are still intact. A portion of the Saudi pillar reads, "Moses, Pharaoh, Mizraim [Hebrew for Egypt], Death, Yahweh, and Solomon." This would suggest that King Solomon thought that the crossing site started at Wadi Watir's delta.
By far the most intriguing evidence is the discovery of what appears to be the coralized remains of chariots and an apparent golden chariot wheel in the water off the shore south of Neviot. Exodus 14:6-7 explains that Pharaoh ordered all of his chariots to pursue his exiting work force, including 600 " special" (gold plated?) chariots.
So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-ha-hi'roth, in front of Ba'al-ze'phon.
Josephus enumerates the forces that were killed in the Red Sea as "600 chariots, 50,000 horsemen and 200,000 footmen." It should be reasonable to assume with an army of at least 250,600 men and an indeterminate number of horses and chariots, all destroyed with in a few square miles, some evidence would still exist. There has been reported the remains of twenty chariots in depths up to about 63 meters. Although a preliminary survey was conducted a few years ago, no archeological expedition has investigated this exciting possibility.
There is an eight mile long land bridge conveniently starting at the beach at Neviot and running eight miles across the Gulf to the Saudi shore where the second pillar is located. According to US government nautical charts, the land bridge descends to approximately 3000 feet. On either side of this land bridge the depth is in excess of 5000 feet. The deepest point of this bridge would likely contain the bulk of the Egyptian army.
When Mount Horeb, the
Mountain of God, is located in the Sinai peninsula, it dictates that the crossing
point is somewhere west of that position. This argument is partially supported
by the Hebrew text which states that the body of water was called " yam
suph". However, the same word, yam suph, is used to describe the body
of water that King Solomon had a fleet of ships. The same argument that places
King Solomon's navy in the Gulf of Aqaba can also place the crossing site in
the for us, "Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia...". The Biblical
text, descriptions by Josephus, and preliminary archeological survey of Jebel
el Lawz in Saudi Arabia all combine to support a location ~'
of Mount Horeb in northwestern Saudi Arabia.
There is little argument that the Mountain of God has been moved around by scholars for the past 2000 years. The crossing site has always been difficult to locate and only an educated guess made as to it's location. Regardless if there are actual chariot remains that have been preserved over 3500 years or not, the supporting evidence stands on it's own merit for your consideration. Hopefully, the Saudi government will allow access to Solomon's second pillar and Jebel el Lawz in order to expose tangible evidence to this theory. In the mean time, we must content ourselves to the research of libraries and common sense.
Beke, Charles. The
late Dr.--- Charles Beke's Discoveries of Sinai in Arabia and of Midian.
Ed. by his widow. London: Truebner and Co.,1878.
Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews Book 2. Trans. William Whiston. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.
Maspero, Dr. G. History of Egypt v. 2. London: Grolier Society, 1903.
Phillips, Wendell. Qataban and Sheba, Exploring the Ancient Kingdoms on the Biblical Spice Routes of Arabia. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.,1955.
Robinson, E. and E. Smith. Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea. Boston: Crocker & Brewster,1841.
Williams, Larry. The Mountain of Moses, The Discovery of Mount Sinai. New York: Wynwood Press, 1990.
Wright, G. and F. Filson (eds.). The Harper Atlas of the Bible. New York. Harper & Row, 1987.
Wyatt, Ron. The Exodus and the Red Sea Crossing.
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