Reference: Red Sea
The sea so called extends along the west coast of Arabia for about 1,400 miles, and separates Asia from Africa. It is connected with the Indian Ocean, of which it is an arm, by the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. At a point (Ras Mohammed) about 200 miles from its nothern extremity it is divided into two arms, that on the east called the AElanitic Gulf, now the Bahr el-'Akabah, about 100 miles long by 15 broad, and that on the west the Gulf of Suez, about 150 miles long by about 20 broad. This branch is now connected with the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. Between these two arms lies the Sinaitic Peninsula.
The Hebrew name generally given to this sea is Yam Suph. This word suph means a woolly kind of sea-weed, which the sea casts up in great abundance on its shores. In these passages, Ex 10:19; 13:18; 15:4,22; 23:31; Nu 14:25, etc., the Hebrew name is always translated "Red Sea," which was the name given to it by the Greeks. The origin of this name (Red Sea) is uncertain. Some think it is derived from the red colour of the mountains on the western shore; others from the red coral found in the sea, or the red appearance sometimes given to the water by certain zoophytes floating in it. In the New Testament (Ac 7:36; Heb 11:29) this name is given to the Gulf of Suez.
The great historical event connected with the Red Sea is the passage of the children of Israel, and the overthrow of the Egyptians, to which there is frequent reference in Scripture (Ex 14; 14:15; Nu 33:8; De 11:4; Jos 2:10; Jg 11:16; 2Sa 22:16; Ne 9:9-11; Ps 66:6; Isa 10:26; Ac 7:36, etc.).
Hebrew: Sea of Suph ("seaweed"; like wool, as the Arabic means: Gesenius). The Egyptians called it the Sea of Punt (Arabia). Called "red" probably from the color of the weed, and the red coral and sandstone, not from Edom ("red") which touched it only at Elath; nor from Himyerites (hamar, "red" in Arabic; the Phoenicians too are thought to mean red men, and to have come from the Red Sea), as their connection with it was hardly so dose and so early as to have given the name. An ancient canal, begun by Sesostris, continued by Darius Hystaspes and Ptolemy Philadelphus, joined the Nile to it. Boundaries. On the W. Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia; on the E. Arabia; on the N. the isthmus of Suez; on the S. the straits of Bab el Mandeb ("gate of tears") joining it to the Indian ocean; 1,600 English miles long, by an average of 150 broad. The mountains on each side vary from 3,000 to 6,000 ft. high; the tops granite, underneath limestone, on the seashore light colored sandstone.
The northern end ("the tongue of the Egyptian Sea"), since the Exodus, has dried up for 50 miles. The land at the head of the gulf has risen, that on the Mediterranean has fallen (compare Isa 11:15; 19:5). This drying up has caused the ancient canal which conveyed the Red Sea commerce to the Nile (from about Hereopolis on the Birket et Timsah and lake of the crocodile to Bubastis at the Nile), and irrigated the country (wady Tumeylat) to be neglected and ruined. The country about has consequently become a gravely sand desert, with rank marsh land round the old sea bottom, called "the bitter lakes." Near them was the town Heroopolis, from which the gulf of Suez was called the Heroopolite gulf. Ras Mohammed, the headland of the Sinaitic peninsula, divides the Red Sea into two tongues: the western one the gulf of Suez, 130 miles long by 18 broad, narrowing to ten at the head; the eastern one the gulf of Akabah ("a declivity"), 90 long by an average of 15 broad.
Precipitous mountains 2,000 ft. high rise from the shore. The Arabah or Ghor connects it with the Dead Sea and Jordan valley. Anciently the gulf of Akabah was the Sinus Elaniticus, from Oelana or Elath at the northern end. No considerable stream falls into this large sea. The gulf of Suez is the shallowest part. The waters are remarkably transparent, so that the plants, corals, and rocks are visible to a great depth. Its phosphorescence is also noteworthy. This is the most northern part of the ocean where coral reefs are found. These take the outline of the coast, and being covered for some distance with only five or sir feet of water render access to land difficult. The western or Egyptian side of the Red Sea is of limestone formation; gebel Gharib 6,000 ft. high; the porphyry mountain, gebel ed Dukhkhan, inland, is about the same height; gebel ez Zeyt, "the oil ("petroleum") mount," is close to the sea.
On these barren and solitary hills lived many of the early Christian hermits. The patriarch of the Coptic church is chosen from the monks of the convent of Anthony. Sesostris (Rameses II) was the "first who, passing the Arabian gulf in a fleet of long war vessels, reduced the inhabitants bordering the Red Sea" (Herodotus). Solomon built a navy at "Ezion Geber (now dry land), beside Elath on the Red Sea in Edom " (1Ki 9:26). (See EZION GEBER.) Jehoshaphat's ships were wrecked here on the reef Edh Dhahab (Ezion Geber, "giant's backbone"): 1Ki 22:48. Pharaoh Necho built ships in the Arabian gulf, manned by Phoenicians (Herodotus ii. 159). Pliny says their ship were of papyrus, like the Nile boats.
The Arab jelebehs, carrying pilgrims along the coast, have the planks sewed together with coconut fibber, and caulked with the date palm fibber and oil of the palma Christi, and sails of mats made of the dom palm. The Himyerite Arabs formed mostly the crews of the seagoing ships. On the Heroopolite gulf, besides Heroopolis (now perhaps Aboo Kesheyd) at its head, was Arsinoe founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus, and Berenice on the southern frontier of Egypt. On the Arabian coast Mu'eyleh, Yembo (the port of El Medeeneh), Juddah (the port of Mecca), and Mocha. The Red Sea and Egypt after the time of Alexander the Great was the channel of commerce between Europe and India. Subsequently the trade passed round the Cape of Good Hope. But now the overland mail and Suez canal are again bringing it by way of Egypt and the Red Sea. (On Israel's passage of the Red Sea, see EXODUS.)
The body of water, over 1000 miles in length, which divides Africa from Arabia. The Biblical interest of the name centres at its northern end in its two projections, the Gulf of Suez, running north-west, and the Bay of Akabah almost due north. The former once extended much farther to the north, along the route of the present Suez Canal. Anciently it was known as the Gulf of Hero
This sea is renowned in O.T. history on account of the miraculous passage made for the Israelites, and the destruction of their enemies therein.
The Red Sea, situated on the east of Egypt and the west of South Arabia, is somewhat in the form of the letter Y. Its southern extremity opens into the Indian Ocean, from whence it runs N.N.W. for about 1,400 miles, when it divides into two branches; the one on the east being the Gulf of Akaba, about 112 miles long; and the one on the west, the Gulf of Suez, about 200 miles long. It is the latter that the Israelites crossed, and, as is supposed, farther north than the gulf now extends, but the position is not known. It is to this branch that the Suez Canal has been attached, opening a passage to the Mediterranean Sea.
THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA. The number of the Israelites was probably about two millions. They encamped by the sea shore and Pharaoh naturally thought they were entangled in the land. With his army and his chariots he pursued after them. The Israelites greatly feared, but Moses said, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah." The angel of God and the pillar of the cloud went between the Israelites and the Egyptians. To the Israelites the cloud gave light, but to the Egyptians it was a cloud of darkness, all night. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and God caused a strong east wind to blow all that night, and the waters were divided, and the Israelites went over on dry land.
Pharaoh had not yet learned the power of Jehovah, and the Egyptians pursued them. God fought for the Israelites: He embarrassed the Egyptians, took off the chariot wheels, and thus so hindered them that they began to see that Jehovah was opposing them. It was, however, too late to retreat, Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and it returned in its strength, and they were overwhelmed. Their dead bodies were cast up on the sea shore.
The faith of the Israelites was confirmed by the destruction of the Egyptians: they feared Jehovah, and believed Jehovah and His servant Moses. He and the Israelites could then sing the song of redemption, and praise Him who had purchased them. He also would plant them in the mountain of His inheritance, yea, in the sanctuary which His hands had established. Jehovah shall reign for ever and ever. Ex. 14, Ex. 15. For the typical teaching of the passage of the Red Sea, see JORDAN.
1. Name. --The sea known to us as the Red Sea was by the Israelites called "the sea,"
and many other passages, and specially "the sea of Suph."
etc. This word signifies a sea-weed resembling wool, and such sea-weed is thrown up abundantly on the shores of the Red Sea; hence Brugsch calls it the sea of reeds or weeds. The color of the water is not red. Ebers says that it is of a lovely blue-green color, and named Red either from its red banks or from the Erythraeans, who were called the red people.
2. Physical description. --In extreme length the Red Sea stretches from the straits of Bab el-Mendeb (or rather Ras Bab el-Mendeb), 18 miles wide. in lat. 12 degrees 40' N., to the modern head of the Gulf of Suez, lat. 30 degrees N., a distance of 1450 miles. Its greatest width may be stated at about 210 miles. At Ras Mohammed, on the north, the Red Sea is split by the granitic peninsula of Sinai into two gulfs; the westernmost, or Gulf of Suez, is now about 150 miles in length, with an average width of about 20, though it contracts to less than 10 miles; the easternmost or Gulf of el-'Akabeh, is about 100 miles long, from the Straits of Tiran to the 'Akabeh, and 15 miles wide. The average depth of the Red Sea is from 2500 to 3500 feet, though in places it is 6000 feet deep. Journeying southward from Suez, on our left is the peninsula of Sinai; on the right is the desert coast of Egypt, of limestone formation like the greater part of the Nile valley in Egypt, the cliff's on the sea margin stretching landward in a great rocky plateau while more inland a chain of volcanic mountains, beginning about lat. 28 degrees 4' and running south, rear their lofty peaks at intervals above the limestone, generally about 15 miles distant.
3. Ancient limits. --The most important change in the Red Sea has been the drying up of its northern extremity, "the tongue of the Egyptian Sea." about the head of the gulf has risen and that near the Mediterranean become depressed. The head of the gulf has consequently retired gradually since the Christian era. Thus the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled,
the tongue of the Red Sea has dried up for a distance of at least 50 miles from its ancient head. An ancient canal conveyed the waters of the Nile to the Red Sea, flowing through the Wadi-t Tumeylat and irrigating with its system of water-channels a large extent of country. It was 62 Roman miles long, 54 feet wide and 7 feet deep. The drying up of the head of the gulf appears to have been one of the chief causes of the neglect and ruin of this canal. The country, for the distance above indicated, is now a desert of gravelly sand, with wide patches about the old sea-bottom, of rank marsh land, now called the "Bitter Lakes." At the northern extremity of this salt waste is a small lake, sometimes called the Lake of Heropolis; the lake is now Birket-et-Timsah "the lake of the crocodile," and is supposed to mark the ancient head of the gulf. The canal that connected this with the Nile was of Pharaonic origin. It was anciently known as the "Fossa Regum" and the "canal of Hero." The time at which the canal was extended, after the drying up of the head of the gulf, to the present head is uncertain, but it must have been late, and probably since the Mohammedan conquest. Traces of the ancient channel throughout its entire length to the vicinity of Bubastis exist at intervals in the present day. The land north of the ancient gulf is a plain of heavy sand, merging into marsh-land near the Mediterranean coast, and extending to Palestine. This region, including Wadi-t-Tumeylat, was probably the frontier land occupied in pact by the Israelites, and open to the incursions of the wild tribes of the Arabian desert.
4. Navigation. --The sea, from its dangers and sterile shores, is entirely destitute of boats. The coral of the Red Sea is remarkably abundant, and beautifully colored and variegated; but it forms so many reefs and islands along the shores that navigation is very dangerous, and the shores are chiefly barren rock and sand, and therefore very sparsely inhabited so that there are but three cities along the whole 1450 miles of its west coast --Suez, at the head, a city of 14,000 inhabitants; Sanakin, belonging to Soudan, of 10,000; and Massau, in Albyssinia, of 5000. Only two ports, Elath and Ezion-geber, are mentioned in the Bible. The earliest navigation of the Red Sea (passing by the pre-historical Phoenicians) is mentioned by Herodotus: --"Seostris (Rameses II.) was the first who passing the Arabian Gulf in a fleet of long vessels, reduced under his authority the inhabitants of the coast bordering the Erythrean Sea." Three centuries later, Solomon's navy was built "in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea (Yam Suph), in the land of Edom."
The kingdom of Solomon extended as far as the Red Sea, upon which he possessed the harbors of Elath and Ezion-geber. [ELATH; EZION-GEBER] It is possible that the sea has retired here as at Suez, and that Ezion-geber is now dry land. Jehoshaphat also "made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold; but they went not; for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber."
See Elath, Eloth
See Eziongaber, or Eziongeber
The scene of this wreck has been supposed to be Edh-Dhahab. The fleets appear to have sailed about the autumnal equinox, and returned in December or the middle of January. The Red Sea, as it possessed for many centuries the most important sea-trade of the East contained ports of celebrity. The Heroopolite Gulf (Gulf of Suez) is of the chief interest; it was near to Goshen, it was the scene of the passage of the Red Sea, and it was the "tongue of the Egyptian Sea." It was also the seat of the Egyptian trade in this sea and to the Indian Ocean.
5. Passage of the Red Sea. --The passage of the Red Sea was the crisis of the exodus. It is usual to suppose that the most northern place at which the Red Sea could have been crossed is the present head of the Gulf of Suez. This supposition depends upon the erroneous idea that in the time of Moses the gulf did not extend farther to the northward then at present. An examination of the country north of Suez has shown, however, that the sea has receded many miles. The old bed is indicated by the Birket-et Timsah, or "lake of the crocodile," and the more southern Bitter Lakes, the northernmost part of the former probably corresponding to the head of it the at the time of the exodus. It is necessary to endeavor to ascertain the route of the Israelites before we can attempt to discover where they crossed the sea. The point from which they started was Rameses, a place certain in the land of Goshen, which we identified with the Wadi-t-Tumeylat. They encamped at Succoth. At the end of the second day's journey the camping place was at Etham, "in the edge of the wilderness."
Here the Wadi-t-Tumeylat was probably left, as it is cultivable and terminates in the desert. At the end of the third day's march for each camping place seems to mark the close of a day's journey the Israelites encamped by the sea, place of this last encampment and that of the passage would be not very far from the Persepolitan monument at Pihahiroth. It appears that Migdol was behind Pi-hahiroth and on the other hand Baalzephon and the sea. From Pi-hahiroth the Israelites crossed the sea. This was not far from halfway between the Bitter Lakes and the Gulf of Suez, where now it is dry land. The Muslims suppose Memphis to have been the city at which the Pharaoh of the exodus resided before that event occurred. From opposite Memphis a broad valley leads to the Red Sea. It is in part called the Wadi-t-Teeh, or "Valley of the Wandering." From it the traveller reaches the sea beneath the lofty Gebel-et-Takah, which rises in the north and shuts off all escape in that direction excepting by a narrow way along the seashore, which Pharaoh might have occupied. The sea here is broad and deep, as the narrative is generally held to imply. All the local features seem suited for a great event. The only
RED SEA, celebrated chiefly for the miraculous passage of the Israelites through its waters. They were thrust out of Egypt, says Dr. Hales, on the fifteenth day of the first month; "about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside women and children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks and herds, even very much cattle," Ex 12:37-39; Nu 11:4; 33:3. After they set out from Rameses, in the land of Goshen, in the neighbourhood of Cairo, their first encampment was at Succoth, signifying "booths," or an "enclosure for cattle," after a stage of about thirty miles; their second, at Etham, or Adsjerud, on the edge of the wilderness, about sixty miles farther; "for the Lord led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: but God led the people about by the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea," or by a circuitous route to the land of promise, in order to train them and instruct them, in the solitudes of Arabia Petraea, Ex 13:17-20; De 32:10. Instead of proceeding from Etham, round the head of the Red Sea, and coasting along its eastern shore, the Lord made them turn southward along its western shore, and, after a stage of about twenty or thirty miles, to encamp in the valley of Bedea, where there was an opening in the great chain of mountains that line the western coast, called Pi-hahiroth, the mouth of the ridge between Migdol westward, and the sea eastward, "over against Baal-zephon," on the eastern coast; to tempt Pharaoh, whose heart he finally hardened, to pursue them when they were "entangled in the land," and shut in by the wilderness on their rear and flanks, and by the sea in their front. The leading motive with Pharaoh and his servants was to bring back the Israelites to bondage, and of the Egyptians in general, to recover the treasures of which they had been spoiled, Ex 14:1-5. So Pharaoh pursued the Israelites by the direct way of Migdol, with six hundred chariots, his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, over against Baal-zephon. When their destruction, or their return to bondage, seemed to be inevitable, the Lord interposed and fought for Israel. He opened for them a passage across the Red Sea, where it was about twelve miles wide, and brought them through in safety; while he drowned the Egyptians, who blindly followed them to their own destruction, Ps 77:18, &c.
On this memorable deliverance Moses composed a thanksgiving, which he and the Israelites sung unto the Lord. It is also a sublime prophecy, foretelling the powerful effect of this tremendous judgment on the neighbouring nations of Edom, Moab, Palestine, and Canaan, the future settlement of the Israelites in the promised land; and the erection of the temple and sanctuary on Mount Zion, and the perpetuity of the dominion and worship of God.
The precise place of this passage has been much contested. Some place it near Suez, at the head of the gulf; others, with more probability, about ten hours' journey lower down, at Clysma, or the vale of Bedea. The day before the passage, by the divine command, the Israelites encamped beside Pi-hahiroth "between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon," Ex 14:2; Nu 33:7. Pi-hahiroth signifies "the mouth of the ridge," or chain of mountains, which line the western coast of the Red Sea, called Attaka, "deliverance," in which was a gap, which formed the extremity of the valley of Bedea, ending at the sea eastward, and running westward to some distance, toward Cairo; Migdol, signifying "a tower," probably lay in that direction; and Baal-zephon, signifying "the northern Baal," was probably a temple on the opposite promontory, built on the eastern coast of the Red Sea. And the modern names of places in the vicinity tend to confirm these expositions of the ancient. Beside Attaka, on the eastern coast opposite, is a head land, called Ras Musa, or "the Cape of Moses;" somewhat lower, Hamam Faraun, "Pharaoh's Springs;" below Girondel, a reach of the gulf, called Birket Faraum; and the general name of the gulf is Bahr al Kolsum, "the Bay of Submersion." These names indicate that the passage was considerably below Suez, according to the tradition of the natives. The depth and breadth of the gulf, from Suez downward, is thus described by Niebuhr: "I have not found in this sea, from Suez southward, any bank or isthmus under water. When we departed from Suez, we sailed as far as Girondel, without fear of encountering any such. We had in the first place, the road of Suez, four fathom and half; at three German leagues from Suez, in the middle of the gulf, four fathoms; and about Girondel, near the shore, even to ten fathoms." Bruce, also, describing the place of passage opposite Ras Musa, or a little below it, says, "There is here about fourteen fathom of water in the channel, and about nine in the sides, and good anchorage every where. The farthest side, the eastern, is a low sandy coast, and a very easy landing place." Shaw reckons the breadth of the gulf at this place about ten miles; Niebuhr, three leagues and more; Bruce, something less than four leagues; we may therefore estimate it about twelve miles, from their joint reports. But this space the host of the Israelites could easily have passed in the course of a night, from the evening to the ensuing morning watch, or dawn of day, according to the Mosaical account. And surely the depth of the sea was no impediment, when the Lord divided it by "a strong east wind," which blew across the sea all that night, and made the bottom of the sea dry land; "and the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground, and the waters were a wall unto them, on their right hand and on their left," Ex 14:21-22.
In the queries of Michaelis, sent to Niebuhr, when in Egypt, it was proposed to him to inquire upon the spot, whether there were not some ridges of rocks where the water was shallow, so that an army at particular times may pass over; secondly, whether the Etesian winds, which blow strongly all summer from the north-west could not blow so violently against the sea as to keep it back on a heap, so that the Israelites might have passed without a miracle. And a copy of these queries was left, also, for Bruce, to join his inquiries likewise; his observations on which are excellent: "I must confess, however learned the gentlemen were who proposed these doubts, I did not think they merited any attention to solve them. This passage is told us by Scripture to be a miraculous one; and if so, we have nothing to do with natural causes. If we do not believe Moses, we need not believe the transaction at all, seeing that it is from his authority alone we derive it. If we believe in God, that he made the sea, we must believe he could divide it when he sees proper reason; and of that he must be the only judge. It is no greater miracle to divide the Red Sea than to divide the river Jordan. If the Etesian wind, blowing from the north-west in summer, could keep up the sea as a wall on the right, or to the south, of fifty feet high, still the difficulty would remain of building the wall on the left hand, or to the north. Beside, water standing in that position for a day must have lost the nature of fluid. Whence came that cohesion of particles which hindered that wall to escape at the sides? This is as great a miracle as that of Moses. If the Etesian winds had done this once, they must have repeated it many a time before and since, from the same causes. Yet Diodorus Siculus says the Troglodytes, the indigenous inhabitants of that very spot, had a tradition from father to son, from their very earliest ages, that 'once this division of the sea did happen there; and that, after leaving its bottom some time dry, the sea again came back, and covered it with great fury.' The words of this author are of the most remarkable kind: we cannot think this Heathen is writing in favour of revelation: he knew not Moses, nor says a word about Pharaoh and his host; but records the miracle of the division of the sea in words nearly as strong as those of Moses,