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In the Exodus narrative, Yam Suph (Hebrew: יַם-סוּף, romanizedYam-Sūp̄, lit.'Red Sea') or Red Sea, sometimes translated as Sea of Red, is the body of water which the Israelites crossed following their exodus from Egypt. The same phrase appears in over 20 other places in the Hebrew Bible. This has traditionally been interpreted as referring to the Red Sea, following the Greek Septuagint's rendering of the phrase. However the appropriate translation of the phrase remains a matter of dispute; as does the exact location referred to.

Translation and location

The Gulf of Aqaba, to the east/right. Also visible are the Gulf of Suez to the west/left, the Sinai Peninsula separating the two gulfs, and part of the Red Sea in the lower left corner.
Ancient Nile delta.
The Nile delta at the time of Herodotus, according to James Rennell (1800).

The Hebrew word yam means 'sea', and the word suph by itself means 'reed', e.g. in Exodus 2:3; hence, a literal translation of yam suph—with the two words combined in construct state—yields 'sea of reeds'. This was pointed out as early as the 11th century by Rashi,[1] who nonetheless identified the yam suph mentioned in the locust plague as the saltwater inlet located between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula—known in English as the Red Sea.[2] The term was rendered as 'Red Sea' in the King James Version, the most widely utilized English translation of the Bible. More recently, alternative understandings of the term have been proposed for passages in which it refers to the crossing the Red Sea as told in Exodus 13–15; as such, yam suph is sometimes rendered as 'sea of reeds' or 'sea of seaweed' in modern translations, rather than as 'Red Sea'.[3] If the vowel is placed differently "Soph" could be translated "Sof" which means 'end' and this passage has also been translated as "Sea at the End."[4]

Proposals for the location of the yam suph of Exodus are manifold. It may refer to Lake Timsah, which has since become part of the Suez Canal. Lake Timsah was in Lower Egypt, specifically in the Suez valley next to the Sinai Peninsula, and north of the Gulf of Suez. It could also be the Gulf of Aqaba, which is referred to as the yam suph in the Books of Kings (1 Kings 9:26). The Lake of Tanis, a former coastal lagoon fed by the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, has also been proposed as the place Moses parted the waters.[5]

Heinrich Karl Brugsch suggested that the Reed Sea is Lake Bardawil, a large lagoon on the north coast of the Sinai Peninsula.[6] More recently, Manfred Bietak and James K. Hoffmeier have argued for an identification with the Ballah Lakes.[7] Hoffmeier equates yam suf with the Egyptian term pa-tjufy (also written p3 ṯwfy) from the Ramesside period, which refers to lakes in the eastern Nile delta.[8] He also describes references to p3 ṯwfy in the context of the Island of Amun, thought to be modern Tell el-Balamun.[9] Reeds tolerant of salt water flourish in the shallow string of lakes extending from Suez north to the Mediterranean Sea, which Kenneth Kitchen argues are acceptable locations for yam suf.[10]

More conjecturally, it has also been suggested that suph may be related to the Hebrew suphah ("storm") or soph ("end"), referring to the events of the Reed/Red Sea escape itself:

The crossing of the sea signaled the end of the sojourn in Egypt and it certainly was the end of the Egyptian army that pursued the fleeing Hebrews (Ex 14:23-29; 15:4-5). After this event at Yam Suph, perhaps the verb Soph, meaning "destroy" and "come to an end," originated (cf. Amos 3:15; Jer 8:13; Isa 66:17; Psa 73:19). Another possible development of this root is the word suphah, meaning "storm-wind"...The meanings "end" and "storm-wind" would have constituted nice puns on the event that took place at the Yam Suph.[11]


(The following translations are used in this section: KJV, Authorized King James Version of the Christian Bible; NJPS, New Jewish Publication Society of America Version of the Tanakh; SET, 'Stone Edition Tanach' from Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York.[12] The Greek Septuagint translation is ἐρυθρά θάλασσα, "red sea", except where indicated below).

The occurrences of the term are as follows:[13]

Exodus 10:19

End of the eighth Plague of Egypt:

Exodus 13:18

Prologue to The Exodus:

Exodus 15:4

The Passage of the Red Sea. After the pursuing Egyptians have been drowned in "the waters" of "the sea":

Exodus 15:22

The Exodus continues:

Exodus 23:31

During God's further instruction to Moses after the Ten Commandments:

Numbers 14:25

In the wilderness, before the conquest of Canaan:

The New King James Version translates "the Way of the Red Sea" (capitalized) at each occurrence, suggesting that the Israelites may have used an ancient trade route, but this is not reflected in other English translations and the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges argues that 'no definite road is meant'.[18]

Numbers 21:4

Just after the death of Aaron:

Numbers 33:10–11

Continuing the wanderings in the Wilderness:

Deuteronomy 1:1

The opening verse of the book of Deuteronomy has an occurrence of Suph on its own. Some translations, including the Septuagint, have taken this as an abbreviation for the full form, others not:

Deuteronomy 1:40

Moses reviews the strategy after the initial failure to invade Canaan.

Deuteronomy 2:1

As above:

Deuteronomy 11:4

Looking back on the events of the Exodus:

Joshua 2:10

Testimony of Rahab to Joshua's spies before the conquest of Jericho:

Joshua 4:23

Joshua’s speech to the troops shortly before the conquest of Jericho:

Joshua 24:6

In Joshua’s final speech to the Israelites:

1 Kings 9:26

King Solomon’s fleet:

Jeremiah 49:21

Jeremiah bemoaned his own fate. Why had he been the one chosen to not only foretell the horrors of destruction but to witness them, and even to be at the mercy of the brethren he had tried to save? But there is no doubt that the exiled Jews in Babylon found strength in his prophecy that there would be redemption and glory seventy years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah did not live to see his prophecy fulfilled, but many of those who had heard his prophecies were among the ones who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah to inaugurate the Second Temple.

Psalms 106:7–9

God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:

Psalms 106:22

God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:

Psalms 136:13–15

A song of God's creation and rulership of the world in general and Israel in particular:

Nehemiah 9:9

After the Second Temple was rebuilt (349 BCE), Nehemiah was one of the 120 members of the Men of the Great Assembly, a council which functioned over several generations and rejuvenated the Jewish Nation. They prayed successfully against Idolatry, composed the standard Jewish prayers and brought about the dramatic flowering of the Oral law, the primary repository of divine wisdom (see: Tanakh).

See also


  1. ^ "Exodus - Chapter 13 (Parshah Bo and Beshalach) - Tanakh Online - Torah - Bible". Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Rashi on Exodus 10:19". Sefaria.
  3. ^ "International Standard Version". The ISV Foundation.
  4. ^ "New Heart English Bible". Wayne A. Mitchell.
  5. ^ Larry O'Hanlon (21 September 2010). "Moses' Red Sea parting explained by computer model". Discovery News. Discovery Communications, LLC. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  6. ^ John McClintock and James Strong (1883) Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 8, Red Sea, p. 966.
  7. ^ Hoffmeier, James K. (2021). "The Hebrew Exodus from and Jeremiah's Eisodus into Egypt in the Light of Recent Archaeological and Geological Developments". Tyndale Bulletin. 72 (December): 73–95. doi:10.53751/001c.32999.
  8. ^ Hoffmeier, James K. (2008). The Archaeology of the Bible. Lion Hudson. p. 54. ISBN 978-0825461996.
  9. ^ Hoffmeier, James K. (2005). Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0195155464.
  10. ^ Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003). On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 261–63. ISBN 978-0802849601.
  11. ^ Hoffmeier 1999, p. 214.
  12. ^ The Twenty-Four Books of the Bible, newly translated and annotated; edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman; The ArtScroll Series; Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York; 1998.
  13. ^ Wigram, George V. (1996) [1874]. The Englishman's Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-208-7.
  14. ^ Annot.:"10:19-20. God changed the east wind, which brought the locusts, to a west wind that blew them away. Not a single locust remained, not even those that the Egyptians had preserved for food (Midrash)."
  15. ^ Annot.:"13:18. Sea of Reeds. This may have been the Gulf of Suez, which branches northward from the Red Sea and separates Egypt from the Sinai Desert; but what is known today as Red Sea is south of the Sinai Peninsula and so far south of the populated area of Egypt that it is unlikely that the Exodus and the later Splitting of the Sea could have taken place there. It may be that the Sea of Reeds was the Great Bitter Lake, which is between the Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea; or the north of Egypt; or it may have been the southern Mediterranean."
  16. ^ Annot.:"15:22-27. After the momentous miracles at the sea, how could they have doubted God's readiness to give them a necessity of life -- water? Rabbi Hirsch explains that the purpose of Israel's journey through the Wilderness was to show that God is involved in daily, "petty" human affairs, as well as in cosmic occurrences. It is easy to think, as many still do, that God creates worlds and splits seas, but is unconcerned with the water or food supply of communities and individuals. This is what frightened the Jews in the Wilderness. When there was no water, the nation feared that it was being left to its own devices. The people were not wronk in asking for water - thirsty people surely have that right - but in protesting so vociferously."
  17. ^ Annot.:"The Sea of the Philistines is the Mediterranean, and the River is the Euphrates. ibn Ezra comments that this verse, which describes the great extent of the land, explains why it would have to be conquered gradually." and from the Wilderness until the River, for I shall deliver the inhabitants of the Land into your hands and you shall drive them away from before you.
  18. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Deuteronomy 1:40, accessed 24 October 2015.
  19. ^ Annot.:"In this book, Moses was the speaker ... In Deuteronomy, Moses chose the words and conveyed the commandments as he understood them. 1:1. The combination of words with he spoke, instead of the more common he said, implies strong words of rebuke. Lest the people become overconfident that they would not succumb to the influences of Canaan, Moses reminded them of their many sins and rebellions since the Exodus; if the people could sin when they were surrounded by miracles, surely they would be in greater danger without constant reminders of God's Presence. But in order not to embarrass and offend his listeners, he alluded to the sins by using place names or other veiled references. Moreover, as the Midrash cites: Rabbi Yochanan said, “We have reviewed the entirety of Scripture, but we have not found any place with the name Tophel or Laban!” And, as Ramban explaines, it is unlikely that these are all descriptions of where Mosesspoke, for if so, the Torah would be giving “more signs and boundaries than one who sells a field.” Thus, for example, Onkelos and Sifre interpret the term the Wilderness as an allusion to the Wilderness of Sin, where the people complained that they had been led into a desert to starve (Exodus 16:1-3); and Di-yahab, literally, “abundance of gold,” recalls that when God blessed the people with an abundance of gold when they left Egypt, they used His gift to make the Golden Calf."
  20. ^ Annot.:"2:1. This verse telescopes thirty-eight years, from the sin of the spies until the new generation was ready to enter the Land."
  21. ^ Annot.:"11:1-7. Moses continued to exhort his people, telling them that they had a special responsibility to be loyal to God, because they had experienced His greatness and mercy firsthand."
  22. ^ Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. (1986) [1851]. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 0-913573-44-2.
  23. ^ Annot.:"9:26. Also called Elath (Deut. 2:8) or Eilat."
  24. ^ Annot.:"The enemy, who was earlier compared to a ferocious lion (v.. 19), is here likened to the youngest sheep, because Edom will be conquered by Israel, which is regarded lightly by all its enemies (Kara)."
  25. ^ Annot.:"106:7. Exodus 14:10-12."
  26. ^ Annot.:"106:9-11. Exodus 14:15-31."
  27. ^ Annot.:"9:9-11. See Exodus 14:9-35."