Apr 052015

I have long had my doubts about popularised ideas reflected in SFX presentations of how the dividing of the Red Sea took place. In particular, the idea that the Israelites walked between towering vertical walls of water caused by the strong east wind which blew all night before they crossed.

Having considered the facts presented by a number of scientific explorations of the sub-aquatic land bridge at the Nuweiba crossing point of the Gulf of Aqaba, I became convinced of certain facts.

1) A wind strong enough to carve a trench through the water at Nuweiba would have been impossible to stand against, much less walk through while transporting baggage.

2) Only a considerable tidal recession in the Gulf of Aqaba could feasibly have exposed the land bridge between Nuweiba and Arabia (Midian).

So where did the idea of walls of water come from? The two references in the Bible read:

“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.” Exodus 14:22

“But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left.” Exodus 14:29

The descriptive phrase in both verses is identical: “the waters were a wall unto them”, but how and why “unto them“? Doesn’t this imply an obstruction or barrier? Why would any of them want to walk to the left or right when a dry path was straight ahead of them?

The word for wall in both verses is H2346 in Strong’s dictionary:

“chowmah kho-maw’ feminine active participle of an unused root apparently meaning to join; a wall of protection:–wall, walled.”

Therefore an expanded English reading of both verses would read the phenomenal description as “the waters were a wall of protection unto them on their right hand and on their left.” In other words, the waters on their left and right were no threat but were a protection from something.

The threat in this scenario was of being overtaken, outflanked and corralled by the pursuing Egyptian army. On either side of the Nuweiba land bridge are deep chasms, not shallows. It would have been impossible for the Egyptians to have overtaken the Israelites in such a manoevre.

They would have had to wait for the entire Israelite entourage to complete their crossing before pursuing hard to encircle them on the opposite shore. This would need to be done quickly before the Israelites had gone too far or dispersed into Midian. Such an incursion would otherwise be seen by the Midianites as an Egyptian invasion. A Midianite defensive counter attack would have left the entire Egyptian army with their backs to the sea with little hope of supply or evacuation.

The Bible describes this hot pursuit quite precisely along with the disastrous consequences for the Egyptian charioteers:

“And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.” Exodus 14: 23

The popular notion of the Israelites walking through the dry bottom of a trench in the sea could have been supported had a different Hebrew word for wall been used. A perfectly descriptive Hebrew word for a trench wall is H7023 in the Strong’s dictionary:

“qiyr keer or qir (Isa. 22:5) {keer}; or (feminine) qiyrah {kee-raw’}; from 6979; a wall (as built in a trench):–+ mason, side, town, X very, wall.”

I therefore submit that the word wall in text is used figuratively as qualified by the Hebrew word combined with “unto them” to describe a protective barrier against being outflanked and overtaken.

I believe that the parting of the sea occurred in the following manner. A strong east wind over the main body of the Red Sea and distant from Nuweiba caused a tidal recession in the Gulf of Aqaba, exposing the land bridge between Nuweiba and Midian but leaving the flanking deep chasms full of water, thus providing flank protection for the crossing.

Exodus 14:27,28 describe a rapid returning tide. “And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.” The word “returned” used is H7725 in the Strong’s dictionary:

“shuwb shoob a primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); generally to retreat; often adverbial, again:–((break, build, circumcise, dig, do anything, do evil, feed, lay down, lie down, lodge, make, rejoice, send, take, weep)) X again, (cause to) answer (+ again), X in any case (wise), X at all, averse, bring (again, back, home again), call (to mind), carry again (back), cease, X certainly, come again (back), X consider, + continually, convert, deliver (again), + deny, draw back, fetch home again, X fro, get (oneself) (back) again, X give (again), go again (back, home), (go) out, hinder, let, (see) more, X needs, be past, X pay, pervert, pull in again, put (again, up again), recall, recompense, recover, refresh, relieve, render (again), requite, rescue, restore, retrieve, (cause to, make to) return, reverse, reward, + say nay, send back, set again, slide back, still, X surely, take back (off), (cause to, make to) turn (again, self again, away, back, back again, backward, from, off), withdraw.”

It is in no way descriptive of the collapse of trench walls but is appropriate to describe a returning tidal surge.

The song of Moses in Exodus 15 also gives descriptions of certain details consistent with the causes and effects of a tidal recession and subsequent return which swept the Egyptian army into the deep chasm:

“the waters were gathered together” (by a strong east wind), “the floods stood upright as an heap” (in the main body of the Red Sea, causing a tidal recession in the Gulf of Aqaba) v.8

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.” vs.4,5

“they sank as lead in the mighty waters.” v.10

“the earth swallowed them.” v.12

Drowned Egyptians were seen washed up on the shore afterwards but it is highly probable that the most heavily armoured were swept into the chasm north of Nuweiba.

It is easy to see where the English text in Exodus might be misconstrued, leading to the idea of a trench through the waters of the Red Sea but a little study and knowledge of marine meteorology reveals that no natural laws need have been defied. However, we can always depend on Hollywood SFX to make the truth seem ridiculous.