As I have worked through the Evidence of the Exodus thus far I have had a number of people ask, “But what about the actual crossing of the Red Sea? Is there any evidence for that?” One person wrote to me and said, “I understand the name for the Red Sea in Hebrew actually means “reed sea”. Does that mean the Israelites only crossed a shallow body of water filled with reeds?”
There is a story told which is possibly apocryphal; it may even be a joke.
A young man boarded an interstate bus in Dallas head for the California. He had just become a Christian and was reading his Bible on the bus and as it happened he was reading in Exodus. When he got to the part of the story of the Israelites escaping Egypt he got excited and was making exclamatory comments and showing some emotion. When he reached the parting of the Red Sea he was very excited and expressing his emotions as he read with comments like, “Wow that’s amazing.” A well dressed, middle-aged man sitting behind him leaned forward and asked what he was reading. The young man told him he was reading the Bible and was up to the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt.
The man then disclosed that he was a professor at a theological seminary in Dallas. He cautioned the young man not to read too much into the Bible stories, stating they were merely Hebrew myth and legend. He said, “Young man, Yam Suph in Hebrew means “sea of reeds’. It was no more than 15 cms of water with some reeds growing in it. You have to know how to read the Bible.”
The young man settled back into his seat somewhat disappointed at what the professor had told him. The man settled back feeling satisfied that he had set the young man straight. After a short time, the young man again burst forth with his excited, emotional responses to what he was reading in the Bible. The man leaned forward again and asked, “Young man, why are you getting emotional again. I told you that you can’t trust what you read in the Bible. It is largely Hebrew myth and legend.”
“Oh I know you said that, sir. But I have just read that the whole Egyptian army has been drowned in just six inches of water. Sir that’s a miracle.”
Yes it is true that [Yam Suph] could possibly be translated at a “sea of rushes or reeds”. There are no reeds or bulrushes growing in the Red Sea, either in the Gulf of Suez or in the Gulf of Aqaba. As in the account above, fictional story or not, you have to take the complete Biblical account of the Exodus as one before you criticize one part here and another part there. There have been all sorts of theories which have been offered to explain the story.
Just a legend or a myth created to embellish Jewish history and make the nation into something it is not. Maybe they crossed a shallow part of the Red Sea at low tide.Perhaps what they crossed was an inland lake in another region.
What is important for us is to find the place where this event took place and examine it. The above theories all strike problems much like the professor’s explanation above. Tidal variations around the world don’t result in differentials between high and low tide enough to drown the entire Egyptian army. The idea that the Israelites merely crossed a shallow lake is ludicrous. Why would they not simply go around the lake? And if they went through the water to shake the pursuers off, why would the Egyptians themselves not simply skirt the water and meet up with the Israelites around the other side. In short, rather than conjecture we have to attempt to find the actual site of the crossing.
What clues does the Bible give us as to where they crossed?
The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.Exodus 13:20
Then they left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. They left Etham and turned back toward Pi-hahiroth, opposite Baal-zephon, and camped near Migdol. They left Pi-hahiroth and crossed the Red Sea into the wilderness beyond. Then they traveled for three days into the Etham wilderness and camped at Marah.Numbers 33:6-8
That is strange to leave Etham and cross the waters and then land at Etham again, unless Etham is the region north of the Gulf of Aqaba and down along the coast on both sides of the sea. It is likely that Etham has a linguistic correspondence with Edom, the current name for that same area. The other interesting link is that Edom (from Genesis 25:30) means red. The cliffs on both sides of the Red Sea in the region of Edom (Etham) glow red, especially in the light of the rise or setting sun, early morning or late afternoon.
If the Israelites followed the traditional southern route across the desert of Sinai it would bring them out on to the Red Sea at just this point. That would mean they would have travelled the route that all camel caravans and travelers took. They would also have by-passed the high mountains rising to 2,000 metres in the central part of the peninsula. It all makes sense that God would guide them by pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire at night to this area. It would be the best place to cross the Red Sea geographically.
Let’s look for more evidence there.