Passage of the Red Sea

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The Crossing the Red Sea (Hebrew: קריעת ים סוף Kriat Yam Suph) is a passage in the Biblical narrative of the escape of the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptians in the Book of Exodus 13:17-14:29. This story is also mentioned in the Qur'an in Surah 26: Al-Shu'ara' (The Poets) in verses 60-67. It marks the point in the Exodus at which the Israelites leave Egypt and enter into their wilderness wanderings.



(Summary of Exodus 12:37-15:21)

Yahweh chooses Moses to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the land of Canaan, which he has promised to them. The pharaoh agrees to their departure, and they travel from Ramesses to Succoth and then to Etham on the edge of the desert, led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. There Yahweh tells Moses to turn back and camp by the sea at Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, directly opposite Baal-zephon.

But Yahweh causes the pharaoh to pursue the Israelites with chariots, and he overtakes them at Pi-hahiroth. When the Israelites see the Egyptian army they are afraid, but the pillar of fire and the cloud separates the Israelites and the Egyptians. At Yahweh's command Moses holds his staff out over the water, and throughout the night a strong east wind divides the sea,[1] and the Israelites pass through with a wall of water on either side. The Egyptians pursue, but at daybreak Yahweh clogs their chariot-wheels and throws them into a panic, and with the return of the water the army of the Egyptians is destroyed. When the Israelites see the power of Yahweh they put their faith in Yahweh and in Moses, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for the crossing of the sea and the destruction of their enemies. (This song, at Exodus 15, is called the Song of the Sea).

The narrative contains at least three and possibly four layers. In the first layer (the oldest), Yahweh blows the sea back with a strong east wind, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land; in the second, Moses stretches out his hand and the waters part in two walls; in the third, Yahweh clogs the chariot wheels of the Egyptians and they flee (in this version the Egyptians do not even enter the water); and in the fourth, the Song of the Sea, Yahweh casts the Egyptians into "tehomat", the mythical abyss.[2]

Location of the crossing

The Israelites' first journey is from Ramesses to Succoth. Ramesses is generally identified with modern Qantir, the site of the 19th dynasty capital Per-Ramesses, and Succoth with Tel el-Maskhuta in Wadi Tumilat, the biblical Land of Goshen.[3] From Sukkoth the Israelites travel to Etham "on the edge of the desert," then turn back to Pi-hahiroth, located between Migdol and the sea and directly opposite Baal Zephon. None of these have been identified with certainty. One theory with a wide following is that they refer collectively to the region of Lake Timsah, a salt lake north of the Gulf of Suez, and the nearest large body of water after Wadi Tumilat.[4] Lake Timsah was connected to Pithom in Gesem at various times by a canal, and a late 1st millennium text refers to Migdol Baal Zephon as fort on the canal.[5]

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