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25th April, 2011

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And the waters were divided: but where?

The secular sport of explaining away Biblical miracles has been going strong lately. Not long ago, scientists reduced the star of Bethlehem to a mere supernova, and now Hans Goedicke. debunks the "parting of the waves" that saved the children of Israel from Pharaoh's army.

So reported Newsweek on May 18th, 1981. Goedicke speculated that the biblical "myth" of overwhelming waters was inspired by a tsunami triggered by a volcanic eruption on the Mediterranean island of Thera. His theory is yet one more contribution to the age-old pastime of unabashed Bible bashing. Whatever you do, don't take Moses' words seriously when he said that,

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (Ex. 14:21-22).

Reason argues against belief in such a miracle - that is if you take "reason" in the sense of personal experience. But if you start with the reasonable premise that everything that exists was created by a supreme "Someone", then it is perfectly reasonable to accept this account. Most don't accept it because they won't accept it. Even Bible scholars have joined ranks with atheists in throwing buckets of cold water over Exodus. One of their favorite tactics is simple minimilization; don't call the account utter rubbish, just understate it, just deflate it of its miraculousness. Nowhere is this tendency better illustrated than in standard explanations of the crossing of the Red Sea. Scripture is quite explicit that God led Israel right through the Red Sea:

He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up; so He led them through the depths. (Ps. 106:9).

Well, we'd better be honest here. "Red Sea" is translated from Hebrew "yam suph". "Yam" is the normal word for "sea", while "suph" is used in Scripture for aquatic plants that grow in shallow water (Ex. 2:5) and for mid-ocean seaweed (Jonah 2:6). Indeed, one could translate the term as "Sea of Reeds" or "Sea of Open-sea Seaweed", or something like that, as the minimalists insist. But such insistence betrays a total misunderstanding of the translator's task. "Proper" translation requires discovering what body of water is being referred to, and then to use the modern proper name! A study of passages such as 1 Kings 9:26 indicate as plainly as can be that the term was used for one or other of the arms of the sea we today call the Red Sea:

King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea [yam suph].

Solomon's city of Elath was built at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba. It would be perfectly appropriate to translate yam suph as "Gulf of Aqaba"! But it suits the skeptic's skeptical purpose to see the term as referring to a body of water that is shallow enough for reeds to grow in. (Please don't mention Jonah's deepwater experience!)

The route of the escape is then generally identified, at least in the early stages of the flight from Egypt, to be south from the store city of Ramses in the eastern Nile delta to the Bitter Lakes region. These are shallow lakes and marshy areas just to the north of the Gulf of Suez. The crossing of the sea would then be across these lakes and marshes, the yam suph where the miracle of deliverance occurred.1 (See the lakes to the east of Cairo in Google Earth image at top.)

This anti-Bible bullet has been fired and recharged and refired over and over. Yet it's a furphy if ever there was one. For starters - as has been pointed out over and over - the biblical account simply cannot be reconciled with the picture of Israelites sloshing through shallow waters and getting reeds up their nostrils. Scripture talks about a wall of water on either side. Further, the collapse of the water on top of the Egyptian army left not a single soldier alive to tell the tale (Ex. 14:28). But the proponents of the idea should shine brighter red with embarrassment than a cooked lobster for another reason:

On its way through Lake Timsah (at Al Ismailia), the Canal cuts into the Great and the Small Bitter Lakes. These lakes were dry salt valleys, 13km long and 5km wide, until they became part of the Suez Canal.2

In Moses' day, they were dry depressions! Don't believe that account? How about Encyclopedia Britannica?

On March 19, 1869, the waters of the Mediterranean were admitted to the Bitter Lakes, which within a few weeks became filled and thereby converted into a navigable channel. 3

Once the popular Bitter Lakes option has been eliminated, you are left with only two possibilities that match the biblical data: the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. Reasonable arguments have been proposed for possible crossing points on both these arms of the Red Sea. In both cases, you are talking about a passage through the water that would have extended for some ten or more miles. As for depth, a crossing at a logical point on the Gulf of Suez (between Ain Sukhna and Ras Sudar) would reach down to about 150 feet, while the most logical point of crossing on the Gulf of Aqaba (between Nuweiba and its unnamed opposite shore) would have taken the Israelites 2500 feet below the surface! Those who do not know the power of God (Mk. 12:24) simply will not accept either one. Those who do will sing and rejoice at such a demonstration of divine power.

1 "Red Sea" or "Sea of Reeds"?

2 Essay about the phenomenon of Lessepsian Migration

31970, Suez Canal

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