On the Right Road, The Route of the Exodus and Red Sea Crossing

While sitting in a church service recently, I happened to open my Bible to a page that showed a map of the route of the Children of Israel winding their way through the wilderness after having exited Egypt. This reference map did not show just one trail marking the obvious path of the Israelites, but a total of five different ideas from five different scholars going in five different directions through the Sinai peninsula. It demonstrated the Israelites crossing various proposals for the Red Sea in various locations, with ideas about the location of Mount Sinai shown, literally, all over the map. It looked a bit like one of those find-your-way-through-the-maze puzzles I used to enjoy as a kid.

I have heard it said that “theories abound when none are correct.” Bible students and scholars have puzzled over the route of the Exodus for centuries. You can understand the inability to deduce the true route of the Exodus and the placement of these immensely important locations, such as the Red Sea crossing and Mount Sinai, a generation ago. At that time scholars were limited by having only the text of the Scriptures and the geography of the land. But with modern archaeology and the technology now available, this should certainly not be the case today. We are given quite an extensive history of these events in the books of Exodus through Joshua, including itineraries, names of locations, and stopping points along the way. So it is quite stunning the degree to which scholars are stumped in trying to pinpoint the route the Israelites took on their way from Egypt to Palestine.

Various proposed routes of the Exodus and Wilderness Wandering.

We have been told that this event never happened. In that case there would simply be no evidence of a massive group of people migrating out of Egypt, as the Bible speaks of, and wandering through the wilderness at the time when this was supposed to have occurred. But this is not the case. In our previous article we demonstrated that ancient pottery has been located at various sites within the Sinai desert, and what has been found matches what we are calling “Exodus pottery.” Archaeology has shown that it is right there for all to see (and has been for a very long time), but it has been overlooked by everyone as belonging to the Israelites due to the fact that the accepted biblical chronology is off. Way off. By way of review, scholars have believed that it is absolutely necessary to place the Exodus events in the middle of the second millennium B.C. (around 1450 B.C.) However, this actually dates the Exodus a full thousand years too late. All of this is due to a single copy error in 1 Kings 6:1, a vitally important passage in biblical chronology.

The good news is that this has now been realized, and this error in chronology need not proceed any further. We have now seen from numerous examples that inserting one thousand years into biblical chronology brings about the very unlikely result of the alignment of biblical history with secular history and archaeology. The bad news is that it is hard to get us humans to step out of our box of premises and preconceived ideas when they have been so firmly ingrained within us. Be that as it may, when the chronology is corrected and these events are placed in the third millennium B.C. (2450 B.C.) rather than the second– a full one thousand years earlier than the traditionally accepted dates– we suddenly see clarity instead of confusion.

The extensive “surface surveys” that have been carried out throughout the Sinai peninsula have actually uncovered much “Exodus pottery,” not only demonstrating the evidence of the mixed multitude in the wilderness, but also bringing to light the route which they took. Our goal in this article is to see if tracing this discovered pottery throughout the Sinai peninsula will show us the actual locations of sites the Bible mentions on the route, take us to the location of the Red Sea crossing, and eventually to the location of the true Mount Sinai. The archaeological evidence that appears with this corrected chronology shows one, and only one, correct route of the Exodus.

An Overview of the Biblical Account

According to Genesis 47:11, the Exodus began out of a place called “Rameses.” (This was very likely not the name of this location at the time of the Exodus, but was a name of common usage for this location at a time significantly later than the historical event. Without getting into the details here, it will suffice for now to just mention that this appears to be the case with a number of names of Old Testament places.) This may refer to a region rather than a city.

The biblical account then records three different places where they stopped before crossing the “Red Sea”: Succoth, Etham, and Pi-hahiroth. While we have the names of these places recorded for us, through the years scholars have disagreed about where they were actually located. The first location named in the Bible was Succoth1, and we are not told how long they remained there. It is likely that it was not very long.

The second stop, Etham, was located on the edge of the desert2 where water and other food sources would likely have been more available. They likely would have stayed in this area longer than in Succoth. At Etham they were on the threshold of entering into the land of Canaan, but God did not want them entering the Promised Land this way, because they were not yet ready for war.3 He was also not finished dealing with Egypt.

God then instructed them to turn back and camp at the third location called Pi-hahiroth4, in front of the sea, where a trap was being set for the Egyptian army.

We discussed previously that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Merenre Antyemsaf II, who would have seen the Israelites turning back as a sign of them aimlessly wandering about, not knowing what they were doing. Even after all that he and his nation had been through in the plagues, he decided to round the Israelites up and bring them back into slavery. He thought he had them trapped against the water at Pi-hahiroth, but that night, God sent an all-night wind which drove the waters back and a path dried up in the sea.5 We are all familiar with the dramatic account of how this Pharaoh and his army chased after them, the waters then falling in on the entire Egyptian army, drowning them in the sea.

After seeing such a deliverance from the true and living God, and learning what this God was able and willing to do for them, the Israelites then turn south, and head through the Wilderness of Shur.

Details of the Route Demonstrated by “Exodus Pottery

After adjusting our dates to the corrected biblical chronology, once again we suddenly see harmony appear where before was complete confusion. While there is no evidence of the Exodus in the Sinai desert in the second millennium B.C., things dramatically change when we look in the third millennium B.C.

Three “clusters” of sites containing what we have labeled as “Exodus pottery” dating to the third millennium B.C. were located along an ancient road in the Northern Sinai. While archaeological surveys have been conducted throughout the Sinai peninsula, revealing this same sort of pottery throughout the region (indicating years of wandering throughout this wilderness), the most important survey conducted concerning our present discussion was in the Northern Sinai some decades ago, revealing these three “clusters” of sites. Let’s see if these sites that were found match what we are told in the biblical account.

Below is a map demonstrating the route that the “Exodus pottery” reveal when placing the archaeological surveys along side of the biblical account of the story. On this map we are demonstrating where the archaeological data show these locations to be, and the route that was taken. Marked on the map are names of the three initial locations where the Bible says the multitude stopped corresponding to the three sites where significant clusters of pottery shards have been located.

Map of the Sinai peninsula showing the route of the Exodus. Open circles mark the location of archaeological sites; solid circles mark modern towns.

Distribution of sites by quantity of pottery shards found and distance from Suez, and Dr. Aardsma’s identification of these data with the Israelite encampments at Succoth, Etham, and Pi-hahiroth. The arrows mark only the approximate centroids of the three clusters of sites; each individual encampment would consist of the entire cluster of sites located around the centroid in the graph.

The data shown in the graph above result from the work of extensive surface surveys conducted by archaeologists Eliezer Oren and Yuval Yekutieli6 back in the 1970s, with Dr. Gerald Aardsma’s identification of the Israelite encampments coinciding with the data.7 Three separate clusters of sites along the ancient road connecting Egypt and Canaan are revealed by this graph. These three clusters correspond to the first three encampments of the Israelites: Succoth, Etham, and Pi-hahiroth. Let’s look at each one of these stopping points along the route and see how the biblical account correlates with the archaeological data. We will not go in order of events as described in the story, but in order of ease of identification of each site.

Location #1: Etham

Etham is the first location we will look at. It is the most easily identified of the three locations since the Bible tells us that God had the Israelites to “turn back” from this point.8 So this will be the cluster of sites where shards were located that are the furthest away from their starting point (noted as Suez on the graph.) The Bible also locates Etham as on the edge of the wilderness.9 As we discussed previously, this is a region where food and water were more readily available. They may have stayed in Etham significantly longer than they had in Succoth. The greater numbers of pottery shards found there (as illustrated on our chart) suggests this was the case. Oren and Yekutieli show that the location of the furthest cluster of sites, which we are identifying as Etham, are fittingly located on the edge of the desert.

Next to these unattractive conditions, there exist in the northeastern Sinai, between Rafah and El Arish, better ecological conditions that are conducive to permanent settlement and to a combination of a pastoral mode of life with rural agriculture.10

Location #2: Pi-hahiroth

The location of Pi-hahiroth is also easy to identify because the biblical account says that it is located on the shore of a sea of water.11 It is this sea of water that a pathway opens through as a strong wind blows through it, and is crossed by two million people in the night.12 On our map it is obvious that this is definitely the case with the left most cluster of sites, the one labeled as Pi-hahiroth. Oren and Yekutieli marked this site “BEA34”, and they describe it as “one of the largest sites” they discovered.

An interesting fact about Pi-hahiroth is that the Bible describes it as located “opposite Baal-zephon” (an idol and land marker of that day) and says that this location faces Baal-zephon.13 The location of this Baal-zephon has been uncertain, as is the case with nearly all of these early sites. However, one candidate which has been suggested has been the location marked as Kasion on our map. Kasion is located on a hill on the narrow natural dam which separates Lake Bardawil from the Mediterranean Sea. So it could certainly be said that this site faces Baal-zephon, and is opposite Baal-zephon, if Kasion is indeed Baal-zephon. A quick search for Baal-zephon on Wikipedia brought up the following interesting information,

According to Herodotus (who considered [Baal-zephon] to mark the boundary between Egypt and Syria), at Ras Kouroun (or Kasion), a small mountain near the marshy Lake Bardawil, the “Serbonian Bog” of Herodotus, where Zeus’ ancient opponent Typhon was “said to be hidden”. Here, Greeks knew, Baal Sephon was worshipped.14

Location #3: Succoth

The final cluster of sites, which is the middle cluster, and would have been Israel’s first stop, is Succoth. The name Succoth means “booths,” and was likely named this by the Israelites themselves. These “booths” would have been very temporary shelters made of readily available vegetation, such as branches, twigs, and reeds. An implication here is that this location is far removed from any town or village of this time period, which is certainly the case with the identification of Succoth on our map. The Bible tells us that the Children of Israel lived in these booths:

You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 23:33-43

An interesting report by Oren and Yekutieli states the following,

“It looks as if the inhabitants lived in booths. . . ” 15

The Crossing of the Red Sea

The Bible says that the Children of Israel crossed the “Red Sea” in Exodus 15:22. Many have associated this “Red Sea” that the Bible account speaks of with what we know of as the Red Sea in the region today. However, it is incorrect to make this assumption. Many Bible translations have a marginal note that says, “Literally, Sea of Reeds.” In Hebrew the word used is yam-suph. Biblical scholar, Egyptologist and historian Kenneth A. Kitchen explains,

The yam-suph would not be the Red Sea of today; . . . the Hebrew term corresponds to Egyptian tjuf, “papyrus,” and should here be rendered “sea of reeds.” 16

The body of water shown on our map, next to Pi-hahiroth, would be a very obvious candidate for this yam-suph or “sea of reeds.” Lake Bardawil, as it is known today, is a marshy saltwater lake. In the Rand McNally Bible Atlas, while discussing bodies of water in the region, Emil G. Kraeling says regarding this body of water:

On certain portions of this lake there are big areas of rushes, so that the name “Sea of Reeds” would be an appropriate designation.

The lake is forty-five miles long and thirteen miles wide. Major C. S. Jarvis, one-time governor of Sinai, describes it as an enormous clay pan about six to ten feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, and separated from the sea by a very narrow strip of sand, one to three hundred yards in width.17

As shown on our map above, the Israelites crossed a portion of this lake, a sub-lake, that is about three miles long. Though shallow enough to be partially emptied and dried by wind in a single night, the body of water must also be deep enough to drown Pharaoh and his army. The reported six to ten foot depth of Lake Bardawil seems about perfect.

What is the possibility that such a large number of people could get across this body of water in a single night, as the biblical account demands? According to Dr. Gerald Aardsma, the portion of Lake Bardawil north of Pi-hahiroth seems easily crossed by two million people in a single night. Dr. Aardsma states,18

This sub-lake is presently just over three miles across. This distance can easily be covered in forty-five minutes by a person who is walking briskly. The real question, however, is whether two million people could funnel through the wind-dried path through this portion of the lake in time. The answer to this question depends upon how wide the wind-dried path was, which we are not told. However, to get a feel for the time needed for the Israelites to cross, first note that the sub-lake of Lake Bardawil north of Pi-hahiroth is some three miles wide. Assume that the middle third of this sub-lake was dry, making a one mile wide path. This leaves one mile wide strips of water on either side of the path to be “like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Exodus 14:29). If they walked at the rate of four miles per hour, and each person took up an area of six square feet, then I calculate it would take the group roughly fifty-two minutes to get across.

All of these factors continue to contribute to the very strong case for the events of the Exodus being found in the third millennium B.C. rather than the second millennium B.C. The utter lack of archaeological evidence being found within the traditional dates has given the liberal scholar abundant “proof” for their case that the Exodus is merely mythological and never really happened. It has also given the conservative scholar a major headache in attempting to map the route of an event that they believe is historical but cannot find any archaeological evidence for.

But, as we have seen (and will continue to see), everything changes quite dramatically when we begin to look for this evidence in the correct time frame, where the correct biblical chronology tells us it should be found. As we have mentioned previously, these articles do not answer every single question one might have concerning this new approach to biblical chronology. But my hope is that, at the least, it will become increasingly obvious that inserting one thousand years into biblical chronology is doing something quite astounding– bringing clarity out of confusion. I think we are on the right road.

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Footnotes
  1. Exodus 12:37
  2. Exodus 13:20
  3. Exodus 13:17
  4. Exodus 14:1-2
  5. Exodus 14:21
  6. E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement,” Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 6–22.
  7. Dr. Gerald Aardsma, The Exodus Happened 2450 B.C. (2008): http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/products/The_Exodus_Happened_2450_BC.PDF
  8. Exodus 14:1-2
  9. Exodus 13:20; Numbers 33:6
  10. E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement,” Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 6. (English translation provided by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.)
  11. Exodus 14:2; Numbers 33:7
  12. Exodus 14:21-22
  13. Exodus 14:2
  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal-zephon#cite_ref-20
  15. E. D. Oren and Y. Yekutieli, “North Sinai During the MB I Period—Pastoral Nomadism and Sedentary Settlement,” Eretz-Israel 21 (1990): 8. (English translation provided by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman.)
  16. K. A. Kitchen, “The Exodus,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 2, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 430.
  17. Emil G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas, (New York: Rand McNally, 1961), 106.
  18. Dr. Gerald Aardsma, The Exodus Happened 2450 B.C. (2008): http://www.biblicalchronologist.org/products/The_Exodus_Happened_2450_BC.PDF

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