Full Text for Exodus- Volume 7 - Where did the Hebrews cross the Red Sea? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY EDUCATION NETWORK EXODUS DR. DAVID ADAMS #7 Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. 10 E. 22nd Street Suite 304 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> I am enjoying this, as well. I know that I'm getting ahead of things here since we'll obviously be speaking of the exodus itself in detail. But just where did the Hebrews cross the Red Sea? >> Well, David, I thought that we might take this up a little later in the course. But really it's okay to deal with this now. Because as we look at the account of the exodus later in the course, I think at that point I would like our emphasis to be on the literature and the theology of the text. So even though we may be getting ahead of ourselves just a bit, I think it's good that we go ahead and take this up at this point when we're talking about geography so that later on we can focus on the theology of the text at that point. So let's go ahead and deal with this question of where the Israelites or Hebrews crossed the Red Sea and where Mount Sinai is. These two issues are really the two main geographic questions related to the book of Exodus. Where did the Israelites cross the Red Sea and where is Mount Sinai? Ironically, rather like the location of the empty tomb in the New Testament, we don't know exactly where it is, you know. And there may be a -- you know, there's a lot of information in the Bible, a lot of geographic information in the Bible. But none of it tells us exactly what we need to know because we don't know where the place names were. We know what the names of the places were. But we don't know which places correspond to the names. So while the Bible gives us a lot of information, we haven't quite yet figured out how to use the information to tell us the exact location of where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and where Mount Sinai is. And I don't know. Maybe God did that intentionally. Sometimes I think that maybe God doesn't want us to know the exact location because we would be inclined to think that the location is what's important and kind of honor it as a special place. I think of the things that people do with things like the Shroud of Turin and how that becomes the focus. And let's assume for the moment for the sake of argument that the Shroud of Turin really is the burial cloth of Jesus. Well, even if it is, so what? You know, it's the resurrection of Christ that's important, not the cloth that he was wrapped in. In the same way it's critically important for the Old Testament faith, you know, that God led the Israelites out of Egypt and led them across the sea and destroyed the Egyptian army there and met with them on Mount Sinai. But maybe if we actually knew the exact locations, we would be inclined to put the emphasis on the place rather than the event. So sometimes I think maybe, you know, God has in his grace preserved us from knowing the exact location. Nevertheless, having said that, we do have to at least deal with the issue of where these things are. These two things, the location of the Red Sea and the location of Mount Sinai, are interrelated in which the location of one is going to shape which options you choose for the location of the other. Because they have to be in some reasonable course that the Israelites could have followed as they went from one to the other. And so let's kind of, you know, track along with Israel as it leaves. We're told in Exodus Chapter 13 and 14 and again in the book of Numbers -- and by the way, in Numbers Chapter 33 we get almost a stop-by-stop itinerary of Israel's path. It doesn't make for exciting reading. But it's tremendously interesting to archeologists because all of the places where Israel stopped are mentioned by name. It's just we don't know where the modern equivalences of those names are for most of the sites. And there have been several doctoral dissertations written on the subject. And you know, send me an e-mail message. I'll send you the titles of them if you really want to follow up in that much detail. But in any case, the Bible tells us clearly that Israel started the exodus from the city of Rameses in the Delta. That's in the northeastern part in the northeastern Delta. In Numbers 33:3 it tells us specifically that. And Exodus 13:17 and 18 implies it pretty clearly, as well. So they started there. And then even the direction they moved is a little bit unclear to us. Did they begin going to the east? Or did they begin going to the south? One thing we know from Exodus 13 Verses 17 to 18 is that God told them not to take the main highway that runs along the coast. He says -- just let me read the passage from Exodus 13. "Then it came to pass when Pharaoh had let the people go that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines." And by the way, that's the technical name of the highway. The way of the land of the Philistines is like Interstate 95. It's the name of the road that runs along the coast between Egypt and the land of the Philistines. So he did not lead them by the way of the land of Philistines, "all of that was near." Again, so they were northeast. They were right there on the highway. But God didn't lead them that way. And the text continues and says, "For God said, 'Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt." Well, the point here is that since this was the main highway, this was where all of the Egyptian army bases were located because this is -- if Egypt was going to be invaded, it would have been along this highway. The Assyrians or the Hittites would have come down the road the way of the sea, which changes names in which you get to Egypt to the way of the land of the Philistines. And so this is where Egypt's army was. And God knowing the people well, you know, thought that they would be discouraged if they came upon the Egyptian army in the desert in its bases. And so he was going to lead them by some other route other than the main highway. So Verse 18 tells us "God led the people around by the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea." This is another name of a highway. This is the road that presumably runs south. Although, we're not exactly sure which road had this name. Most people think it's the road that runs south from the Delta along -- basically very near the course of the modern Suez Canal to the south to what is today the Gulf of Suez. And so the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt. So we read in Exodus 13 Verses 17 and 18. Then we read in Verse 20 that they stopped at Succoth, another city in the Delta, and encamped at a place called Etham on the edge of the wilderness. And again, we're not quite sure whether they were going east or south. But whichever way they were going, God told them to turn around, to make a U turn. And so in Exodus 14 Verses 2 and 3 God says to Moses, "Speak to the children of Israel that they turn and encamp near a place named Pi Hahiroth between Migdol and the sea opposite Baal Zephon." Listen to all of this geographic detail that God is giving us. We ought to be able to locate this spot exactly. The problem is, we don't know where Pi Hahiroth is. We don't know where Migdol is. Migdol really means fortress. It's a common noun. So there's even a debate whether this is Migdol with a capital M, a place called Migdol, or is this just a fortress, a military site? And Baal Zephon -- well Baal Zephon is the name of a mountain in Syria. And it's also the name of several shrines in Egypt where Baal was worshiped among the Egyptians. So there's actually several religious sites in Egypt that was called Baal Zephon. They were little temples to the god Baal, the Canaanite god as he was worshiped in Egypt. So while there's a lot of detail here, none of it really helps us exactly know where they were located. One of these days we may determine from archeology. But today we don't know. And the reason God tells them to make this U turn in Verse 3 is God says, "Pharaoh will say to the children of Israel 'They are confused by the land. And the wilderness has closed them in.'" And so God, you know, says, you know, Pharaoh will think the Israelites are just kind of wandering around lost here because they start off in one direction and make a U turn and go back. The problem is for us locating the crossing point, were they going south and did they turn back north or were they going east and then turned back to the west? And this is a question that comes up time and again when we consider the options for where Israel crossed. The other problematic question in locating the Red Sea is the name itself. The Hebrew -- you'll have to take my word for this. But the Hebrew for Red Sea is Yam Suph. Yam means sea and Suph in Hebrew means basically any kind of plant that grows in water. It can be a reed, you know, that kind of grows in marshy land or grassland. Or it can be seaweed. In the book of Jonah, the word Suph means seaweed. So it's really any kind of water plant. Most people take it to mean a sort of marshy -- a water area where there's marshland on the edges, where there are reeds growing along the coast. Although, we don't really know for sure. The other question related to this: Is Yam Suph a place name or is it just a common noun? You know, are there lots of places called Yam Suph? You know, reedy seas or marshy seas. So is there just one place or are there many places? Well, what we know for sure is that the location that the Israelites crossed the water and that Pharaoh's army was destroyed was not what we call the Red Sea today. What we call the Red Sea today is this large body of water that's at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. And that's much too far south for the Israelites to have crossed. And there was no place for them to cross to. So they didn't cross what we call the Red Sea today. Our use of the term Red Sea in the book of Exodus is actually an anachronism. It comes from a later time. We ought to call it the Yam Suph or the sea of reeds or something like that. The Red Sea as we call it today has two fingers, one that goes north along the west side of the Sinai Peninsula and one that goes north along the east side of the Sinai Peninsula. The one that's on the west side today we call the Gulf of Suez. The one on the east side we today call the Gulf of Acaba. And most people or many people think that it was one of these two bodies of water, one of these two fingers of the Red Sea, that was called Yam Suph in biblical times. Now, the most traditional location of the crossing of the Red Sea then is the northern tip or the northern edge of this finger of the Red Sea that extends to the west, the Gulf of Suez. This is the most traditional location. It works well with the traditional location of Mount Sinai because you cross and then you just kind of go straight south to get to the traditional location of Mount Sinai. The problem with the Gulf of Suez is that so far as we know, it was never a place where reeds grow along the edge of the water. In other words, the name Yam Suph would not seem to apply very much to the Gulf of Suez. And so some people object to it. It is also a little far south. Some people would prefer a more northerly location. So while the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez is the most traditional site, it's the one that many maps and Bible atlases, particularly older ones, more conservative and traditional ones, will show as the location. We don't know for sure that it was. More recently people have proposed one of the lakes that was taken up by the forming of the Suez Canal and no longer exists. There were a series of lakes that ran from this -- from the tip of the Gulf of Suez north. And there were two of them that were interconnected that were called the bitter lake -- the Greater Bitter Lake and the Lesser Bitter Lake. There was another lake to the north of that called Lake Timsah. And all of this land was kind of marshland in ancient times. It would have fit the description Yam Suph very well. The problem with these are that they -- they were fairly shallow. Particularly the Lesser Bitter Lake. And so they evaporated and dried up. Some of them have evaporated and dried up. Even in ancient times some of them existed and they were eventually incorporated into the Suez Canal. So none of them actually exist today. However, the advantages of these sites are they are very close by. They are in the direct line of march of Israel. Whether they were going south or east they had to pass by one of these lakes, either Lake Timsah or the Lesser or Greater Bitter Lakes. They would certainly have been places where there were reeds or marsh plants growing on the border. And at least the Greater Bitter Lake, the southernmost of these three, would probably certainly have been deep enough for Pharaoh's army to drown in without any doubt. So many atlases today, more recent ones, will show the southernmost of the Bitter Lakes, the Great Bitter Lake, as the location where Israel crossed the Red Sea. Some people complain and raise the objection that these were not deep enough. We really don't know how deep they were in biblical times. Certainly Lake Timsah was probably not deep enough. It would have perhaps taken an even greater miracle for God to drown them in Lake Timsah than the parting of the seas. But the Greater Bitter Lake was probably deep enough. And that may be -- in my own personal view, may be the best candidate out of all of them, the southern part of the bitter lakes, the great bitter lake. Another location is a lake. It's called a lake. But it's really kind of connected to the Mediterranean Sea to the north called Lake Manzala today. This is a more northern location. And it assumes that the Israelites started south from Rameses and then turned and went back to the north because this is very near Rameses and Succoth in the northern part of the Delta. So it's very close by. That's an advantage. It's also a reedy marshy area. So the name is appropriate. It fits the confused picture well. The idea that they would have gone south and then turned back north. They would certainly have been confused about where they were going to do that. And that pits with what the Bible says. The downside of this is perhaps it was a little too confusing. Because it's hard to see how they could have been so confused about land that they lived in since this was so close to where they lived. This was basically in their neighborhood. It's perhaps a little too much to think that even Pharaoh would have thought they would have been confused by this. It's also a little problematic with regard to the instruction for them to avoid the main highway. Because once they went across Lake Manzala, they would have been on the highway. Now, some people make that a positive. The fact that God had to tell them not to stay on the highway suggests they were very near it. And they read that as positive evidence for Lake Manzala if so, then you would have to assume that once they crossed it, they made another very sharp turn to the south. And that's possible. But it is at least an issue that we have to be concerned with in this location. A fourth option is a relatively modern one. That is a modern suggestion. It is this little fingertip of land that stretches out to the northwest right along the coastline. It's known to us today as Lake Serbonis or Lake Serbonis. And there's a little land bridge you can see if you look at a map that the Israelites could have gone out on that almost forms like -- almost like a little chain of islands right along the edge of the sea. And the idea is that they were moving along this island chain that may have been connected in ancient times a little more than it is today. And that God parted the waters on land that wasn't very deep. And then you know, in bringing the waters together, maybe the Egyptian army was swept off the land bridge into the deeper waters on either side or something like that. But there was a well-known archeologist in the 1950s who suggested this location far to the north and to the east to the traditional location. And the reason he preferred it was because this was the location of one of the temples that was known as Baal Zephon in ancient times. And so because Exodus 14 tells us the location Baal Zephon, you know, some archeologists have argued that this was the location that we should follow and that perhaps Israel followed this land bridge and crossed a very narrow strip of water at the edge of what is today Lake Serbonis. Again, that's possible certainly. But the major problem that arises here is this would, again, put Israel right along this highway that God told them to avoid. This strip of land runs parallel to the highway, just to the north of the highway. And once they cross, they would have again been right on the highway, well along the highway. And so the same problem arises. Why would they have gone along that way when basically that's the course that God told them to avoid? Well, maybe if you think about the rest of Israel's history, that's not such an unusual question. But at least it's a concern for Lake Serbonis as a suggestion. The last suggestion that we'll talk about is in some ways the most unusual. And that's the Gulf of Acaba. The Gulf of Acaba remember is that fingertip of water that is along the east side of the Sinai Peninsula. All the way across -- to get there -- the Israelites would have to cross the entire Sinai Peninsula to get there. This is suggested by some for several reasons. First, it later on in biblical history -- in I Kings Chapter 9 Verse 26 there's a specific reference to Yam Suph, which is clearly identified with the Gulf of Acaba. So in I Kings 9:26 we read "King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of Yam Suph in the land of Edom." We know where Ezion Geber is. And we know where Elath is. And they are both on the coast of the Gulf of Acaba. And so in Solomon's time the Gulf of Acaba was known as Yam Suph. For that reason, some people think it must be the same site in biblical times. However, as we already mentioned, Yam Suph could be a general name for any body of water where sea plants grow. So another reason that some people like this site is it's very near the land of the Midian. It's the -- traditional home of the Midianites is in northern Arabia. And remember, Moses was living with the Midianites during this time and was -- Jethro was the priest of Midian. And so there's a good tie-in there, as well. The problem with this is simply its distance. Now, the biblical record doesn't tell us exactly how long they traveled before they got to the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds. But the clear impression was that it was only a couple of days. It mentioned three places that they camped. And so the kind of general impression was that it was maybe the third or the fourth day out. And remember, along the early -- well, you can't remember because we haven't actually talked about it yet. But in the book of Exodus in the earlier chapters, Moses several times tells Pharaoh he's going to take the Israelites three days out into the wilderness. So the general sense that you get from Exodus is that this place was fairly close, within sort of a three or four days' march for the Israelites. Although, it doesn't tell us that directly and explicitly. This site, by the way, is very popular with several evangelical groups these days who want to locate Mount Sinai just across the river in Saudi Arabia. So this raises the question of the location of Mount Sinai. Personally I think it's unlikely that the Gulf of Acaba could be the location simply because of the chronological problems. The sense that you get from reading the account is that they -- they traveled a relatively short distance and then crossed the Red Sea. Then they traveled a relatively long distance to get to Mount Sinai. If you think that the Gulf of Acaba was the location, then that's exactly reversed. They had to travel a long distance and then a short distance to get to Mount Sinai. And it just doesn't quite seem to fit the chronologies of the biblical text as well. Although, it's not really explicit. Well, this takes us to Mount Sinai. And we'll have to deal with Mount Sinai a little more quickly here. The traditional location of Mount Sinai is a place called Jebel Musa in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula now, when we say this is the traditional site, the tradition identifies this as the site goes back to the fourth century after Christ, the 300 ADs. So while it's a tradition, it's not a tradition that extends all the way back to biblical times, as far as we know. This is an impressive mountain. It's the biggest most dominant mountain in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Some people like it because it's such an impressive site. But really, why does it have to be impressive? The Bible doesn't actually tell us it's the tallest mountain around. It fits in with any of the locations of the crossing of Yam Suph that are on the eastern side. You know, whether it's the Gulf of Suez or the Greater Bitter Lakes, it fits in pretty well. It doesn't fit in as well with Lake Manzala or Lake Serbonis. But the Great Lakes or the Greater Bitter Lake rather or the Gulf of Suez fit in fairly well. Another option, if not Jebel Musa is another mountain in that same general area. There are actually several traditions that identify different mountains in that same general region as the mountain. None of the traditions are all that old, however, and we have no idea -- no way to evaluate how likely they are. This was very rough land. There's no place to get anything much to eat or drink in this land. And of course, this ties in with the biblical record fairly well, that God provided them with food and water miraculously because there was no place for them to get it along the land here. Another location is a mountain known as Jebel Halal which is Arabic for holy mountain. Jebel Musa by the way, is Arabic for the mountain of Moses. And Jebel Halal is further to the north and further to the east closer to the land of Israel in the northeast part of the Sinai Peninsula. There are, again, Arab traditions that connect this. Even the name holy mountain makes the connection. But these are later traditions even than the ones associated with Jebel Musa. It's -- it has an advantage in that it's a little closer. They didn't have to travel quite so far. And it does fit some other parts of the narrative perhaps a little bit better. However, you know, it's -- it's an odd choice because it's so far to the north. Again, you get to the question of how far -- how close did they stay to that highway that they were supposed to stay away from? So again, this location fits fairly well with going across the Great Lakes -- the Greater Bitter Lake, less well across the Gulf of Suez. It goes well with Mount Serbonis or -- I'm sorry; Lake Serbonis or Lake Manzala. The other options are even vaguer. Some have suggested a mountain in the western part of the Sinai desert. The problem with that is there really aren't any mountains in the western part of the Sinai desert. At least not any big ones. And so if you're looking for a big mountain, you're out of luck there. The advantage of that location is that it is close. It does fit the sense of the biblical record pretty well. But there's no obvious prominent mountain for them to go to there. But again, the Bible doesn't tell us that the mountain is all that prominent. The last suggestions, some mountain in Saudi Arabia. And this is tied into the Gulf of Acaba theory of the crossing. And this is, again, a very popular option among some conservative evangelicals these days. Ironically, it was also a very popular option among the liberals in the 19th century. The liberals liked it because there were volcanos there and they interpret the smoke in Exodus 19 as being a volcanic eruption. Modern evangelicals tend to like it because of the association with Midian that we already mentioned and the association of Yam Suph with the Gulf of Acaba mentioned in the book of Kings that we've already mentioned. And there's some groups that have -- you can find them on the Internet. I don't recommend that you do it because I think they are probably a little wacky, to be honest. But there's some groups that have claimed to have sneaked into Saudi Arabia and discovered the mountain. And they say there's even burn marks on the top of it where the smoke left a stain and so forth. Well, you can look at the web sites and evaluate it for yourself. From my perspective, it doesn't fit the sense of the chronology of the biblical record very well. So I think it's unlikely that one of the mountains in Saudi Arabia could be the location. Although, you certainly see it mentioned a lot these days in popular writings. So those are our options with regard to Mount Sinai. Which options you pick for the crossing point and for Mount Sinai will shape the route that the Israelites took. There are basically sort of four major routes. There's the traditional route that crosses one of the bodies of water and then basically goes south through the Sinai Peninsula to the southern part and then north back toward Israel. There's the central Sinai route, which has them crossing probably the Greater Bitter Lakes and then cutting diagonally across the middle of the Sinai Peninsula probably connecting the Greater Bitter Lakes or Jebel Halal, a mountain like that. There's the northern route that would work with Lake Manzala or Lake Serbonis that runs basically kind of parallel to the road that God told them to stay away from. And then there's the fourth route, the one that would take them across probably a nomadic camel trail down from Egypt to Ezion Geber basically at the northern tip of the Gulf of Acaba. This would be the route they would take if you think the Gulf of Acaba is the crossing location and that Mount Sinai is in Saudi Arabia. So one of these four routes is most likely to be the route of the Exodus. But it's unlikely I think that we'll ever know for sure which one it is. If you go, you know, today to the Sinai Peninsula on the tourist trips, they will take you to Jebel Musa. It's a remarkable site. It's worth visiting in any case. There's a wonderful monastery there at the foot of the mountain. It's been there since the fourth century. Very important site in the history of Christian monasticism. You can climb the several thousand steps up the mountain. There's a place where you can buy soft drinks along the way. It's a commercial tourist kind of thing. And it's a wonderful site from which to watch the sunrise I'm told. So they usually start you off in the climb in the middle of the night so you can get to the top of the mountain just before sunrise and watch the sun rise. So if you're ever in the Sinai Peninsula that's probably the place to go. If it's the actual place, that's great. If not, it's still a great place to visit. So we don't know where the locations are. But the important thing is that wherever it was, this was a real place that God accomplished these things. Like the empty tomb, we don't know where it was in the area of Jerusalem. But the important thing for us is not the location of the tomb specifically but what God did there. And that's what we'll focus on when we look at the actual exodus account in the book of Exodus later on. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***