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WHERE IS THE RED SEA?

 

 

In discussing the thesis that the Exodus took place in Yemen and Saudi Arabia and not from Egypt to Canaan, the most frequent question and objection is the location of the "Red Sea" and how it was possible to get from there to Yemen.

 

We must first be clear about the term Red Sea which in the original Hebrew is written Yam Suf and because of the problem of ever finding any evidence for an Exodus in Sinai has been variously translated as "Red Sea" or "Reed Sea".

 

It might be useful to quote from the Encyclopaedia Judaica as to what the latest thinking on the problem is.

"RED SEA (Heb. PBs My, yam suf; lit. "Sea of Reeds"). The Hebrew term yam suf denotes, in some biblical references and in most later sources, the sea known as the Red Sea (as in Gr. EruqrF qalassa; Lat. Sinus Arabicus, Mare Rubrum; Ar. Bahr or al-Bahr al-Ahmar). The Red Sea is a long narrow strip of water separating the Arabian Peninsula from the northeastern corner of Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia) and forming the northwestern arm of the Indian Ocean to which it is connected by the Bab al-Mandib Straits (whose narrowest point is 21 mi. (33 km.) wide). In the northern part of the Red Sea are the Gulf of Elath (Aqaba) and the Gulf of Suez which enclose the Sinai Peninsula. With the opening of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea was connected with the Mediterranean. Its total area is 176,061.6 sq. mi. (456,000 sq. km.) and its length about 1,240 mi. (2,000 km., excluding the gulfs in the north). For most of its length it is 124–155 mi. (200–250 km.) wide and about 223 mi. (360 km.) at its widest point, near Massawa. Its mean depth measures approximately 1,640 ft. (500 m.); about 70% of its area is more than 656 ft. (200 m.) deep and its maximum depth, 7,741 ft. (2,360 m.), is northeast of Port Sudan. The Red Sea is the warmest and most saline of all open seas. The temperature of the surface water reaches 30°-33°-C (86°-91°-F) in July–September (near the shores it rises to 36°-C (97°-F) and drops to 23°-27°-C (73°-81°-F) in December-February. The average salinity near the surface is 40–41% which increases to 43% on the northern side, in the gulfs of Elath and Suez. Because of the wasteland nature of the area, the shores of the Red Sea are sparsely settled. Its port sites are few and for the most part small; the principal ones are Joba, Suez, Port Sudan, and Hudida.
History
In the Bible the Red Sea, apart from its problematical appearance in the route of the Exodus (see below), is clearly identified in the description of the borders of the land promised to Israel (Ex. 23:31) and in other passages describing the maritime activities of Solomon (I Kings 9:26) and later kings. In antiquity the two gulfs at its northern tip served as important navigation routes. The Gulf of Clysma (Suez) was used by the rulers of Egypt as the shortest route to the Mediterranean above the Isthmus of Suez. It was connected via the Bitter Lakes with the Nile and the Mediterranean by a canal which already existed in the days of Necoh and which was repaired by Darius I, the Ptolemies, and the Romans. The Gulf of Elath was a vital outlet to the south for the kings of Israel and Judah and their Phoenician allies. David acquired access to the sea and this was maintained by his successors until the division of the kingdom; it was later regained by Jehoshaphat and Uzziah. Still later the Nabateans used it for their maritime trade and overland transport to Petra and Gaza. In the Hellenistic period the discovery of the monsoon wind systems revived direct trade with India via the Red Sea; this trade continued throughout the Roman period. During the Byzantine period the Red Sea was the only trade route to the East open to the empire, which explains the tenacity with which the Byzantines fought for its control against the Jewish kings of Himyar. From the seventh century onward the Arabs dominated the Red Sea, except for a brief period during which Elath was held by the crusaders. The discovery of the sea route to India and Turkish domination put an end to international trade on the Red Sea; it was revived with the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869.


The Red Sea and the Problem of the Exodus


Tradition has identified the sea which engulfed Pharaoh's army with the Red Sea ever since the Septuagint translation of the Bible in the third century B.C.E. This identification was adopted by Josephus and the Christian pilgrims and is still accepted by some scholars. They place the crossing of the Red Sea in the vicinity of Suez and point out the high tides in the Red Sea (up to 6 1/2ft.), but they fail to explain how an east wind could have driven the waters back at this point (Ex. 14:21). Most of the scholars who accept the southern route of the Exodus maintain that the Red Sea was crossed at the Great Bitter Lake, but here too an east wind could lower the water level by only a few inches at the utmost. This theory, furthermore, is unable to account for the places Pi-Hahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-Zephon which the Israelites passed. The majority opinion today identifies the Red Sea of the Exodus with one of the lagoons on the shores of the Mediterranean. Some locate it at Bahr Manzala (Gardiner, Loewenstamm) or the Sirbonic Lake (Jarvis, Mazar, Noth) and identify Pi-Hahiroth with Tell al-Khayr, Migdol with Pelusium, and Baal-Zephon with the sanctuary of Zeus Cassius on the isthmus dividing the lake from the sea, the former being occasionally inundated by waves from the latter when an east wind is blowing (cf. also Exodus).

[Moshe Brawer/Michael Avi-Yonah]"

 

You can see how even this article has problems about the theory of "The Exodus" and for good reason. The evidence as presently presented is inconclusive at best and for the minimalists, non-existent. 

 

Let us see how our thesis solves the problem.

As they state quite clearly, the Arabic equivalent of Yam (Sea) is Bahr.

So if we could find a Bahr Suf in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, would that give pause to the critics?

We quote from The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation of Yemen

"The Empty Quarter.  This includes the Yemeni desert, which is penetrated by wild undergrowth especially along its ends with the highlands.  As we move further into the Empty Quarter, plants and water become rare and moving sand dunes take over.  The Empty Quarter had had different names over history from being called Al Bahr Al Rajraj (moving sea), Al Bahr Al Safi (smooth sea), the Yemeni greater desert and AL Ahqaf desert."

This wonderful photograph with kind permission of the great Photojournalist Tor Eigeland.

Yes, my friends there is a Yam Suf  in Arabia and occasionally there is a flash flood when  the wadis of Asir empty their waters into it.

 

 

 The vast desert of the Empty Quarter just begins to the right.

 

Michael S. Sanders

on location (back next week)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

 


 




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