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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Where in the Middle East was the Red Sea?

I've been online a bit of late researching the fairly recent (as Bible scholarship goes) theory that the Israelites, upon escaping from Israel, crossed that part of the Red Sea now known as the Gulf of Aqaba (in Israel, the Gulf of Eilat). Even Snopes has tried to debunk the theory, and the best they can come up with after five years is "Undetermined."

I'm not happy with the slipshod manner in which this theory has been investigated on the ground, but I will say one thing: It's clear that "the Red Sea" (when doubly capitalised in the KJV, it's always a translation of yam suf) does, in at least a handful of places in the Torah, refer to the shoreline of Edom on an arm of the Indian Ocean (interestingly, both 'Edom' and 'Indian' can carry the connotation of the colour red).

Thus it has to be at least a possibility, from a biblical perspective, that the Israelites walked across the Gulf of Aqaba on dry ground. Moreover, even Eusebius in his Encyclopedia located it there. However, apparently out of respect for Constantine's mother, who had located Mt Sinai in what is now (because of her) known as the Sinai Peninsula, he failed to explicitly locate Mt. Sinai in Midian (where it must have been, if the Gulf of Aqaba was crossed in the Exodus).

The problem is, it doesn't appear to be a physical possibility. The Gulf is at least 800 meters deep at the center of its portion of the Great Rift Valley. I have yet to see a sea chart of any stretch of the Gulf that would allow for passage by foot should the water level drop--unless it were to freeze over, and that goes against the statement that the Israelites crossed over "on dry ground."

The Gulf-of-Eilat theory requires that the Israelites covered about 200 miles in what appears from Exodus to be a three-day period. Usually proponents of this route are semantically able to stretch that out to about a week, but still--could an entire nation really cover 30 miles a day, even if that day were prolonged by a massive nightlight overhead?

I found documentation to show that this is basically impossible by natural means--of course if God wanted to, he could have made all the toddlers run 10 miles an hour around the clock, but were that the case, they could have made the trip in only one day!

The Spanish Road was a 16th-century supply line linking the Hapsburg Empire's domains in the Low Countries and Italy. Although sea travel around the Iberian peninsula was faster, the Road was preferred because it ran entirely through territory friendly to the Hapsburgs. Marching soldiers could average 12-15 miles a day along its 1000-km length. And it wasn't darkness that limited them to that--it was the sapping heat of summer, when the days were longest. The fastest trek on record, during the dark month of February, averaged 23 miles a day.

If an army at forced march couldn't top 23 miles a day, even 30 miles a day for an entire nation on the move is supernaturally fast. Fifty to sixty miles in three days over level land, however, is entirely within the realm of possibility. Thus we are forced to accept a Red Sea Passage over the Gulf of Suez.

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