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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:1, Spring 2022

Epistles: A Sea Change? Finding the Biblical Red Sea

By Barry J. Beitzel

Biblical Archaeology Review

Where was the biblical Red Sea?1

This sea—yam suf in Hebrew, which literally means “sea of reeds”—features prominently in the Exodus tradition: Moses stretches out his hand, God parts the sea, and the Israelites cross on dry ground—a miraculous escape from the advancing Egyptian army (Exodus 14). But where did the biblical writers believe this crossing took place?

The primary view places the crossing close to Egypt’s eastern border, either at the northernmost segment of the Gulf of Suez or perhaps more preferably at one of the ancient marsh-like reedy lakes that separated easternmost Egypt and Sinai (see map). This longstanding and widespread view is rooted in both Jewish and Christian texts from the medieval period and earlier, in early Jewish and Christian maps (some of which date to the 13th century), and in early Christian pilgrimage accounts (going back to the very first pilgrimage record of Egeria, an aristocratic woman from Spain, in c. 382 C.E.).a

A second, more recent view equates the Red (or Reed) Sea—in all 26 of its biblical citations, without exception—with the modern Gulf of Aqaba (or Gulf of Eilat). It situates the Exodus crossing more than 250 miles from Egypt’s Delta. This interpretation jettisons established scholarship and the early sources alike.2

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