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Passage of the Red Sea

Passage of the Red Sea

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The Crossing of the Red Sea (Hebrew: קריעת ים סוף Kriat Yam Suph) is a passage in the Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 narrative of the escape of the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians in the Book of Exodus . This story is also mentioned in the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

 in Surah 26: Al-Shu'ara' (The Poets) in verses 60-67. It marks the point in the Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

 at which the Israelites leave Egypt and enter into their wilderness wanderings.

Narrative


(Summary of Exodus 12:37-15:21)

Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

 chooses Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the land of Canaan
Canaan
Canaan is a historical region roughly corresponding to modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan...

, which God has promised to them. The Egyptian pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

 agrees to their departure, and they travel from Ramesses
Ramesses
Ramesses is the name conventionally given in English transliteration to 11 Egyptian pharaohs of the later New Kingdom period. The name essentially translates as "Born of the sun-god Ra"....

 to Succoth
Succoth
Succoth may mean:* The Jewish festival of Sukkot.* The Egyptian place of Succoth , near the start of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.* Succoth, Argyll and Bute, a village in Argyll and Bute, Scotland...

 and then to Etham
Etham
Etham was the second place at which the Israelites stopped during the Exodus. According to the Torah, Etham was on the edge of the wilderness . It has been suggested that Etham is another name for Khetam, or fortress, on the Shur or great wall of Egypt, which extended from the Mediterranean Sea...

 on the edge of the desert, led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire
Pillar of Fire
Pillar of Fire can refer to* Pillar of Fire , a manifestation of God in the Tanakh* Pillar of Fire Church, a religious community in Zarephath, New Jersey* Pillar of Fire by Judith Tarr* Pillar of Fire by Antony Tudor...

 by night. There God tells Moses to turn back and camp by the sea at Pi-hahiroth
Pi-hahiroth
Pi-hahiroth is the fourth station of the Exodus. The fifth and sixth stations Marah and Elim Thebes Red Sea Port, are located on the Red Sea. The biblical books Exodus and Numeri refer to Pi-hahiroth as the place where the Israelites encamped between Baal-zephon and Migdol while awaiting an attack...

, between Migdol
Migdol
Migdol, or migdal, is a Hebrew word which means either a tower , an elevated stage , or a raised bed . Physically, it can mean fortified land, i.e. a walled city or castle; or elevated land, as in a raised bed, like a platform, possibly a lookout...

 and the sea, directly opposite Baal-zephon
Baal-zephon
Baal-zephon is a Hebrew name which means 'lord of the north', and refers both to a god the Hellenes knew as Zeus Kasios, the god of Mount Aqraa on the Syrian shore and associated with thunderbolts, the sea and a protector of maritime trade, and a place named in the Bible and described as being...

.
But Yahweh causes the pharaoh to pursue the Israelites with chariots, and he overtakes them at Pi-hahiroth. When the Israelites see the Egyptian army they are afraid, but the pillar of fire and the cloud separates the Israelites and the Egyptians. At Yahweh's command Moses holds his staff out over the water, and throughout the night a strong east wind divides the sea, and the Israelites pass through with a wall of water on either side. The Egyptians pursue, but at daybreak Yahweh clogs their chariot-wheels and throws them into a panic, and with the return of the water the pharaoh and his entire army are destroyed (see ). When the Israelites see the power of Yahweh they put their faith in Yahweh and in Moses, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for the crossing of the sea and the destruction of their enemies. (This song, at Exodus 15, is called the Song of the Sea
Song of the sea
The Song of the Sea is a poem that appears in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible, at . It is followed in verses 20 and 21 by a much shorter song sung by Miriam and the other women...

).

The narrative contains at least three and possibly four layers. In the first layer (the oldest), Yahweh blows the sea back with a strong east wind, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land; in the second, Moses stretches out his hand and the waters part in two walls; in the third, Yahweh clogs the chariot wheels of the Egyptians and they flee (in this version the Egyptians do not even enter the water); and in the fourth, the Song of the Sea, Yahweh casts the Egyptians into "tehomat", the mythical abyss
Abyss (religion)
Abyss refers to a bottomless pit, to the underworld, to the deepest ocean floor, or to hell.The English word "abyss" derives from the late Latin abyssimus through French abisme , hence the poetic form "abysm", with examples dating to 1616 and earlier to rhyme with "time"...

.

Location of the crossing


The Israelites' first journey is from Ramesses
Pi-Ramesses
Pi-Ramesses was the new capital built by the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt Pharaoh Ramesses II at Qantir near the old site of Avaris. The city had previously served as a summer palace under Seti I and may have been originally founded by Ramesses I Pi-Ramesses (Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning...

 to Succoth
Sukkot (place)
The name Sukkot appears in a number of places in the Hebrew Bible as a location:* An Egyptian Sukkot is the second of the stations of the Exodus. Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave Egypt, and they journey from their starting point at Rameses to Succoth...

. Ramesses is generally identified with modern Qantir
Qantir
Qantir is a modern village in Egypt. Qantir is believed to mark what was probably the ancient site of Ramesses II's great capital, Pi-Ramesse or Per-Ramesses . This city is situated about north of Faqus in Sharqiyah province of the eastern Nile Delta, about 60 miles north-east of Cairo.-...

, the site of the 19th dynasty capital Per-Ramesses, and Succoth with Tel el-Maskhuta in Wadi Tumilat, the biblical Land of Goshen
Land of Goshen
The Land of Goshen is named in the bible as the place in Egypt given to the Hebrews by the pharaoh of Joseph, and the land from which they later left Egypt at the time of the Exodus...

. From Sukkoth the Israelites travel to Etham
Etham
Etham was the second place at which the Israelites stopped during the Exodus. According to the Torah, Etham was on the edge of the wilderness . It has been suggested that Etham is another name for Khetam, or fortress, on the Shur or great wall of Egypt, which extended from the Mediterranean Sea...

 "on the edge of the desert," then turn back to Pi-hahiroth
Pi-hahiroth
Pi-hahiroth is the fourth station of the Exodus. The fifth and sixth stations Marah and Elim Thebes Red Sea Port, are located on the Red Sea. The biblical books Exodus and Numeri refer to Pi-hahiroth as the place where the Israelites encamped between Baal-zephon and Migdol while awaiting an attack...

, located between Migdol
Migdol
Migdol, or migdal, is a Hebrew word which means either a tower , an elevated stage , or a raised bed . Physically, it can mean fortified land, i.e. a walled city or castle; or elevated land, as in a raised bed, like a platform, possibly a lookout...

 and the sea and directly opposite Baal Zephon. None of these have been identified with certainty. One theory with a wide following is that they refer collectively to the region of Lake Timsah
Lake Timsah
Lake Timsah, also known as Crocodile Lake, is a lake in Egypt on the Nile delta. It lies in a basin developed along a fault extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez through the Bitter Lakes region. In 1800, a flood filled the Wadi Tumilat, which caused Timsah's banks to overflow and...

, a salt lake north of the Gulf of Suez
Gulf of Suez
The northern end of the Red Sea is bifurcated by the Sinai Peninsula, creating the Gulf of Suez in the west and the Gulf of Aqaba to the east. The Gulf of Suez is formed within a relatively young, but now inactive rift basin, the Gulf of Suez Rift, dating back about 28 million years...

, and the nearest large body of water after Wadi Tumilat.
Lake Timsah was connected to Pithom
Pithom
Pithom also called Per-Atum or Heroöpolis or Heroonopolis Pithom also called Per-Atum or Heroöpolis or Heroonopolis Pithom also called Per-Atum or Heroöpolis or Heroonopolis (Greek: or , Strabo xvi. 759, 768, xvii. 803, 804; Arrian, Exp. Alex. iii. 5, vii. 20; Joseph. Ant. Jud. ii. 7. § 5;...

 in Gesem at various times by a canal, and a late 1st millennium text refers to Migdol Baal Zephon as fort on the canal.

The Hebrew term for the place of the crossing is "Yam Suph
Yam Suph
Yam Suph is a phrase which occurs about 23 times in the Tanakh and has traditionally been understood to refer to the salt water inlet located between Africa and the Arabian peninsula, known in English as the Red Sea...

". Although this has traditionally been thought to refer to the salt water inlet located between Africa and the Arabian peninsula, known in English as the Red Sea
Red Sea
The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. In the north, there is the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez...

, this is a mistranslation from the Greek Septuagint, and Hebrew suph never means "red" but rather "reeds." (While it is not relevant to the identification of the body of water, suph also puns on the Hebrew suphah ("storm") and soph ("end"), referring to the events of the Exodus).

General scholarly opinion is that the Exodus story combines a number of traditions, one of them at the "Reed Sea" (Lake Timsah, with the Egyptians defeated when the wheels of their chariots become clogged) and another at the far deeper Red Sea, allowing the more dramatic telling of events.

The Hebrew term yam suf really means 'reed sea'. Reeds tolerant of salt water flourish in the shallow string of lakes extending from Suez
Suez
Suez is a seaport city in north-eastern Egypt, located on the north coast of the Gulf of Suez , near the southern terminus of the Suez Canal, having the same boundaries as Suez governorate. It has three harbors, Adabya, Ain Sokhna and Port Tawfiq, and extensive port facilities...

 north to the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Anderson Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England...

 and James Hoffmeier state that these reedy lakes and marshes along the isthmus of Suez are acceptable locations for yam suf. The ancient yam suf is not confined to the modern Red Sea. Hoffmeier equates yam suf with the Egyptian term pa-tjufy (also written p3 twfy) from the Ramesside period, which refers to lakes in the eastern Nile delta. He also describes references to p3 twfy in the context of the Island of Amun, thought to be modern Tell el-Balamun. Tell el-Balamun was the most northerly city of Pharaonic Egypt, located at (31.2586 North, 31.5714 East), about 29 km southwest of Damietta
Damietta
Damietta , also known as Damiata, or Domyat, is a port and the capital of the Damietta Governorate in Egypt. It is located at the intersection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile, about north of Cairo.-History:...

.

Legacy


The theme of Moses at the crossing of the Red Sea was taken up by the sycophants of Constantine
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

 and applied to the battle of the Milvian Bridge (312). The theme enjoyed a vogue during the fourth century on carved sarcophagi
Sarcophagus
A sarcophagus is a funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved or cut from stone. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σαρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγειν phagein meaning "to eat", hence sarkophagus means "flesh-eating"; from the phrase lithos sarkophagos...

: at least twenty-nine have survived in full or in fragments. Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 cast Maxentius
Maxentius
Maxentius was a Roman Emperor from 306 to 312. He was the son of former Emperor Maximian, and the son-in-law of Emperor Galerius.-Birth and early life:Maxentius' exact date of birth is unknown; it was probably around 278...

. drowned in the Tiber, in the role of Pharaoh, both in his Ecclesiastical History
Church History (Eusebius)
The Church History of Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea was a 4th-century pioneer work giving a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th century. It was written in Koine Greek, and survives also in Latin, Syriac and Armenian manuscripts...

and in his eulogistic Life of Constantine.

See also

  • Crossing of the Red Sea (Bronzino)
    Crossing of the Red Sea (Bronzino)
    The Crossing of the Red Sea is a fresco painting by the Italian artist Agnolo di Cosimo, known as Bronzino, finished in 1541-1542. It is housed in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence....

  • The Exodus
    The Exodus
    The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

    , Exodus
  • Moses
    Moses
    Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

    , Musa
    Islamic view of Moses
    Musa , known as Moses in the Old Testament, is considered an Islamic prophet, messenger, lawgiver and leader in Islam. Moses is mentioned more in the Quran than any other individual, and his life is narrated and recounted more than that any other prophet...

  • Mount Sinai
    Mount Sinai
    Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

  • Plagues of Egypt
    Plagues of Egypt
    The Plagues of Egypt , also called the Ten Plagues or the Biblical Plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical Book of Exodus, Israel's God, Yahweh, inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth...


Further reading

  • Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols.
  • Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vols. I - III, trans. by Miriam Lichtheim (1973–1980)
  • Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 vols., ed. Jack Sasson
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica,
  • Hallo, William W., ed. The Context of Scripture, 2 vols. thus far of 3 projected.
  • Henri Frankfort, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (Chicago)
  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [alias "ISBE"], fully rev. ed., 4 vols., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley.
  • Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. + Supplement.
  • Oxford Bible Atlas, 3rd ed.
  • Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 5 vols.
  • Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (first published 1969) or the combination of Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 2nd ed., corr. and enl. (1955) and Pritchard, James B., ed. The Ancient Near East: Supplementary Texts and Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. (1969)
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 3 vols., ed. Donald B. Redford.
  • William H. Stiebing Jr., Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture (Longman, 2003)

External links