New Evidence From Egypt on the Location of the Exodus Sea Crossing Part 1 -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 19:1 (Winter 2006)
Article: New Evidence From Egypt on the Location of the Exodus Sea Crossing Part 1
Author: Gary A. Byers

New Evidence From Egypt on the
Location of the Exodus Sea Crossing
Part 1

Gary A. Byers


It may come as a surprise to many students of the Bible that in the original Hebrew text the body of water the Israelites crossed when leaving Egypt is called yam suph, “Sea of Reeds,” not Red Sea (Ex 15:4, 22; Dt 11:4; Jos 2:10; 4:23; 24:6; Neh 9:9; Ps 106: 7, 9, 33; 136:13, 15). Unfortunately, yam suph has been rendered “Red Sea” in nearly all of our translations, the Jerusalem Bible and the New Jewish Publication Society Hebrew Bible being notable exceptions.

The “Red Sea” phrase came into the account with the third century BC translation of the Old Testament into Greek. Called the Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX), its translators made yam suph (“Sea of Reeds”) into eruthrá thálassē (“Red Sea”). The Latin Vulgate followed their lead with mari Rubro (“Red Sea”) and most English versions continued that tradition.

Unfortunately, “Red Sea” was not a translation at all, and the LXX translators understood that. While we do not know their reasoning, they gave yam suph a historicized interpretation, based on their understanding of the region at the time (Kitchen 2003: 262; Hoffmeier 1996: 206; 2005: 81). When the Bible indicated the Israelites crossed a significant body of water on Egypt’s eastern border, the LXX translators connected it with the body of water they knew as the Red Sea. Instead of translating the Hebrew phrase literally, they offered this historical identification as their interpretation of the text.

I suggest this is an unfortunate translation that has confused the issue for centuries and has kept us from appreciating the real historical accuracy of the Exodus and sea crossing accounts. In the late 20th century, scholars began to reestablish the meaning of the Hebrew text to its Egyptian context in a fresh way and then connect it with recent archaeological evidence (see Hoffmeier 2005: 81–85).

The Red Sea

But, you ask, what about the Red Sea? The Red Sea includes two fingers of Indian Ocean salt water that extend northward into the Biblical world and help separate the two continents of Africa and Asia. The Red Sea’s eastern branch is known as the Gulf ofAqaba(Arabic)or Gulf of Elat(Hebrew), and the western branch is known as the G...

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