“Reed Sea” or “Red Sea?” (Exodus 13, 14) -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 01:2 (Spring 1988)
Article: “Reed Sea” or “Red Sea?” (Exodus 13, 14)
Author: Anonymous

“Reed Sea” or “Red Sea?” (Exodus 13, 14)

Was the “Red Sea” through which the Israelites passed merely a shallow “Reed Sea”? Did the Israelites walk through shallow water to reach salvation on the other side?

The Hebrew words translated in our Bibles as “Red Sea” are yam suf. Yam, of course, means “sea”. For centuries it has been assumed that Hebrew suf referred to swamp plants, or “reeds”. And so it is translated in Hebrew dictionaries.

Unfortunately, some scholars often try to explain away the miraculous. In this case, the writers of some study material and Sunday School quarterlies have attempted to make the crossing less than a miracle. They postulate that the Israelites simply walked across a shallow swamp.

That may work alright for the Israelites. However, the other event, the drowning of all of Pharaoh’s army, is then unexplained. Wouldn’t it be a miracle if the army drowned in only a few inches of water? Whatever one believes, truly there was a great miracle here. Is it any harder to believe that a body of water actually parted to let the Israelites go through, then came together again to drown the Egyptians? What was this body of water?

The Septuagint (LXX) translators (from Hebrew to Greek) rendered yam suf as eruthra thalassa. This means “red sea.” No one has discovered yet how they got “red” from suf. Nor did they always translate sufas “red,” either. In 1 Kgs. 9:26 it is translated the “extremity of the sea.” (see also Ju. 11:16 for a different rendering.) Other sources of that time applied erutthra thalassa: to the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and, of course, to the Red Sea. Thus, it applied to the Gulf of Aqaba as well as to the Gulf of Suez (Ex. 23:31; Deut. 1:40, 2.1; 1 Kgs. 9:26).

The point to all this is that, regardless of the translation, the sea referred to was the equivalent of other deep seas, not just some shallow swamp. The Gulf of Aqaba, for instance, is quite deep even close to shore (and is full of the most delightful and beautiful sea life).

Although no one can finally answer the question “Reed Sea or Red Sea?,” it does not really matter what it is translated. It obviously was plenty deep enough to require a tremendous miracle for Israel to pass through while drowning Pharaoh’s army.

The entire event of the destruction of Pharaoh’s army is a continuation of the series of plagues God miraculously wrought upon Egypt.

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