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Crossing the Red Sea

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Exodus Map

The black line traces the traditional Exodus route. Other possible Exodus routes are given in blue and green. More information at Stations list

The Passage of the Red Sea refers to the Biblical account of the passage of the Red Sea by Moses, leading the Hebrews (Israelites) on their journey out of Egypt and across the Red Sea as described in the Book of Exodus, chapters 13:17 to 15:21, so they would be able to rejoin their relatives in Edom and Midian and continue to move onward to enter the Promised Land (Canaan) following the stations of the Exodus.

In the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt when the book of Exodus tells us the Sons of Israel made their crossing of the Red Sea from Elim to Elat as described in chapters 13:17 to 15:12, they were following a well known route of the period. [1] In the 18th Dynasty Hatshepsut built a fleet to cross the Red Sea from Thebes Red Sea port at Elim to trade with Punt. [2] The trade brought the necessary materials for mummification to Succoth at Karnack where the Exodus says the Sons of Israel stopped off to pick up the bones of Joseph. [3] Frankincense from Punt and Myhr from Ethiophia [4] were used by the Egyptians in mummification and paid for with Nubian gold or Nub.

The trade route across the Red Sea to Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba is described thus in the Periplus of the Erythrian Sea. [5] [6]

Now to the left of Berenice, sailing for two or three days from Mussel Harbor [1] (Elim) eastward across the adjacent gulf, there is another harbor and fortified place, which is called White Village, [2] from which there is a road to Petra, which is subject to Malichas, King of the Nabataeans. It holds the position of a market-town for the small vessels sent there from Arabia; and so a centurion is stationed there as a collector of one-fourth of the merchandise imported, with an armed force, as a garrison. [7]

Even Earlier, in the 12th Dynasty there is a descriptian of Egyptian trade with Punt in "The Tale of the Shipwrecked sailor". [8]

Information on the site of the crossing is provided by the Priestly source, at Exodus 14:2, where God says to Moses: "Speak to the Children of Israel, and have them turn back and encamp before Pi-Hahiroth,(an Egyptian phrase) between Migdol (a semitic word meaning a height) and the sea, before Baal-zephon;(from semitic baal or power and Greek Zephyrus or west wind) you shall encamp opposite it, by the sea."

The stations of the Exodus after the crossing are in and around Elat at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba near Mt. Horab the place where Moses tended the flocks of his father in law in ancient Midian (i.e. on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba). [9]

Previous Station:
Pi-hahiroth
The Exodus
Stations list
Next Station:
Marah


Cause

Though the Bible puts forward four differing views on the mechanics of the Israelites Exodus, there is considerable correlation to historical places and events. The stations of the Exodus refer to real places and the order in which they are listed provides a route. The context of the story provides dates both from the time of Abraham and before the time of Solomon which places it during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt when the Hyksos were expelled and the capital of Egypt was established at Thebes. The first seven stations are located in Egypt in and around Thebes and its Red Sea port. The seventh involves the crossing of the Red Sea. The ninth through 13th stations are located across the Red Sea at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba near Mt. Horab where Moses tended the flocks of Jethro in Midian. Midian is described as having a border which runs up the border of Edomfrom Elat through Petra to Moab.

This places the Exodus at a time and place where Hatshepsut maintained a Red Sea fleet which was engaged in trade between Elim and Elat to provide goods reguired by the mummification industry at Karnak.

The Elohist source does not mention water at all, merely stating that the Israelites went via the Red Sea Wilderness, and that the wheels of the Egyptian chariots were "clogged". The Song of the Sea is unequivocal in describing how the Egyptians met their doom in the sea, in conjunction with a strong wind described as "the breath of Thy nostrils". The Yahwist gives a narrative structure to the image contained in the Song of the Sea, with a "a strong East wind" sent by God to blow back the waters, (although it's not clear from the narrative what body of water is involved, nor how large it is), which later return to drown the enemy. The Priestly source has the most dramatic image of all, and the one which has captured the public imagination[10], with Moses, on God's instructions, stretching out his rod to divide the waters in two great walls which God holds open to allow the Israelites to pass, and then causes to collapse upon the Egyptians.

There have been considerable and varied modern attempts to find a non-supernatural origin for the story. Some of the more popular include a tsunami produced by the explosion of a volcano on the island of Thera around 1550-1500BC or 1650-1600BC (the date is contentious), with the retreating waters before the large tsunami allowing the Israelites to pass and then returning to drown the Egyptians, or a wind drying out a shallow lake somewhere near the head of the Red Sea, around the Reed Sea so that the Israelites could cross on foot but the Egyptian chariots could not follow them. People have often focused on supernatural or miraculus explanations for Moses parting of the seas whereas the plain meaning involves nothing more exciting than crossing inside a ship such as those maintained by Hatshepsut for trade across the Red Sea with the hull holding back the waters so that the crossing may be made dryshod.

Historical arguments

Many archaeologists, including Israel Finkelstein and William G. Dever, regard the Exodus as non-historical, at best containing a small germ of truth. Others such as Trudy Dothans and Kenneth Kitchen attempt to show historical correlations. In his book, The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein points to the appearance of settlements in the central hill country around 1200, recognized by most archaeologists as the earliest settlements of the Israelites.[11] Others point to the settlements at Timna near Elat at the head of Aqaba which combine Egyptian artifacts with semitic settlements dating to the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt While Finkelstein Uses evidence from earlier periods, to show a cyclical pattern to these highland settlements, corresponding to the state of the surrounding cultures, The Dothans and Ken Kitchen have used textual artifacts such as the form of contracts, the price of slaves and the historical references to people and places to date the Exodus. Finkelstein suggests that the local Canaanites would adapt their way of living from an agricultural lifestyle to a nomadic one and vice versa. Kenneth Kitchen begins with Abraham and Edom and follows through the form of the several different contracts with the gods of Genesis, El Shaddai, Yahwah, El Roi and Moloch to show how the order of the blessings and curses correspond to the artifacts of historical ultures. [12]

When Egyptian campaigns into Canaan [13] there are five hundred years of semitic presence in Edom before the invasion of the Sea Peoples,[14] following the expulsion of the Hyksos as mentioned in the Amarna letters refer to groups such as the Apiru being engaged in banditry are examined in the context of the battles of Genesis, the Conquest and Judges [15] The central hill country could no longer sustain a large nomadic population, so they went from nomadism to sedentism.[16] Dever agrees with the Canaanite origin of the Israelites but allows for the possibility of a Semitic tribe coming from Egyptian servitude among the early hilltop settlers and adds that "an exhaustive analysis of the topography of the northern Nile Vally in ancient times does not reveal any point where the water could have been easily forded," but also argues that any naturalistic explanation "misses the point of the biblical story" which is "The events are the magnalia dei, the 'mighty acts of God', or they are nothing."[17] [18]

Biblical minimalists, such as Philip Davies, Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson, regard the Exodus as ahistorical.

Biblical edits by authors J and P adding a role for God

The narrative in Exodus is the briefest and the least miraculous, although God is present: He leads the Israelites out of Egypt, not by "the way of the land of the Philistines," i.e. the Mediterannean coast, "which was near," but "through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea." The Egyptians pursue the Israelites, who complain to Moses that he has led them to their deaths; but "the angel of God which would go before the camp of Israel moved, and went behind them," and removes the Egyptian chariot wheels (or clogs them), "and drove them on heavily." KJV Exodus 15:22 lets us know that the children of Israel went into the midst (middle) of the sea on dry ground: and the waters were walled (like walls) unto them on their right hand and on their left.
Red sea passage

"Crossing of the Red Sea", Toros Roslin (a medieval Armenian illumination).

J begins with the Israelites being led out of Egypt by God in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh changes his mind about his decision to allow them to depart, and chases after them with his chariots. Moses tells the people not to be afraid, for God will aid them. The pillar of smoke then stands between the Israelites and the Egyptians all night, separating them, while God sends a wind to blow back the sea. In the morning "the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud," the waters returned, "and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore." The J narrative ends with Moses leading the Israelites in singing the Song of the Sea.

P has the most elaborate account, and the most active role for God. It is P that introduces the itinerary of Pi-hahiroth, Migdol and Baal-zephon, who tells the reader that it is part of God's plan to send Pharaoh after the Israelites in order to demonstrate His power, and who shows God commanding Moses to stretch out his rod and divide the waters, "a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left," so that the Egyptians are destroyed when Israelites cross over and the two walls collapse.

The Song of the Sea

The Song of the Sea, which according to the hypothesis is the version the others are based upon, (together with lost oral traditions), is a song of triumph over the defeated enemy: "With the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, The floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea." The Song concludes with rejoicing at the effect that God's destruction of the Egyptians will have on the Israelites' future enemies: "Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Philistia, the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them."

The Documentary Hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis, which, in its various permutations, represents the consensus of modern biblical scholarship on the authorship of the Torah, is a hypothesis that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament are composed from documents from different sources, and that the various narratives it contains were composed many centuries after the events they describe.

See also

References

  1. Wikipedias article on Hatshepsut explains how she reestablished the trade networks that had been disrupted during the Hyksos occupation of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period, thereby returning to Karnak access the necessary mortuary materials for the mummification of Egypts dead.
  2. Hatshepsut oversaw the preparations and funding for a mission to the Land of Punt. The expedition set out in her name with five ships, each measuring 70 feet (21 m) long bearing several sails and accommodating 210 men that included sailors and 30 rowers. Many trade goods were bought in Punt, notably frankincense and myrrh.
  3. The Egyptians returned from the voyage bearing thirty-one live frankincense trees, the roots of which were carefully kept in baskets for the duration of the voyage.
  4. Hatshepsut had these trees planted in the courts of her Deir el Bahri mortuary temple complex in the nineteenth year of her reign.
  5. Lionel Casson(1991). The Ancient Mariners. PUP. ISBN 06910147879.
  6. George Bass(2004). A History of Seafaring. Walker and Company. ISBN 08027-0-3909.
  7. Hatshepsut had the expedition commemorated in relief at Deir el-Bahri
  8. Dr. Muhammed Abdul Nayeem, (1990). Prehistory and Protohistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Hyderabad. ISBN.
  9. Nelson Glueck(1959). Rivers in the Desert. HUC. ISBN.Discusses The evidence for the Exodus in the Negev
  10. David Morris: Six in Ten Take Bible Stories Literally. 64 percent believe the story of Moses parting the Red Sea is "literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word."
  11. I Finkelstein and N. Na'aman, eds., From Nomadism to Monarchy (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994)
  12. William H McNeil and Jean W Sedlar, (1962). The Ancient Near East. OUP. ISBN. Discusses the evidence for Habiru and hapitu in Canaan
  13. Gerard Herm(1975). The Phoenicians. William Morrow^ Co. Inc.. ISBN 0-688-02908-6.
  14. James B. Pritchard, (1968). The Ancient Near East. OUP. ISBN.
  15. Michael Roaf(1990). Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. Equinox. ISBN 0-8160-2218-6.
  16. Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86912-8. 
  17. Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-2126-X.  pages 16, 21
  18. Renfrew, Colin and Bahn, Paul (2004). Archaeology. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500 284415.

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