RED SEA, THE (Hebr. Yam suph, "Sea of Reeds"; Gk. Eruthra thalassa, "Red Sea"; Egyptian, kem-ver, "Black water"): The sea located in the Bible east of Egypt by the fact that in the exodus the Hebrews crossed it on the way to Horeb and Kadesh. The name is given in the Old Testament both to the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Akaba (Ex. xxiii. 31; Num. xxi. 4; Deut. ii. 1; I Kings ix. 26). It is still debated whether the Hebrew name is Semitic or a loan word (from the Egyptian twfi). In connection with the Exodus it is necessary to remember that in the time of the Pharaohs the western arm of this sea extended as far as Wadi Tumilat, i.e., to about the middle of the Isthmus of Suez, and that to the northern part of this arm the Egyptian name kem-ver was given. The Egyptians called the Red Sea below Suez "the Sea of Sailing Around." The meaning "sea of reeds" has been called in question on grounds of natural history, yet is settled by Ex. ii. 3, 5; Isa. xix. 6. Beds of reeds are still to be found in the region, though not common on the Red Sea, and the reed grows in fresh water. In attempting to account for the Greek-Roman name "Red Sea," in Jonah ii. 5, the meaning "sea grass" has been proposed for the Hebrew suph, and it is conjectured that the name is derived from the fact that this reddish sea growth abounds in those waters. But that name could not on this ground be applied especially to this body of water since the growth is common to all seas, and the poem in Jonah is not particularly pertinent to the argument. No very noticeable red phenomenon is observable in the Red Sea, either of animal life, vegetation, cliffs, or coral (so C. B. Klunzinger, Bilder aus Oberägypten, p. 263, Stuttgart, 1877). Ebers has suggested that the name may have come from Erythran ("red-skinned") inhabitants of the region. Herodotus means by "Red Sea" the Indian Ocean, and he generally calls the Gulf of Suez the "Arabian Gulf," though he employs also the term "Red Sea." What now goes by that name, the waters from the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, northward to the peninsula of Sinai, has existed since the chalk age, though its area is growing less through the elevation of the land about its shores.
Upon the events related in Ex. xiii.-xv., dealing with the passage of the sea by the Hebrews who had sojourned in Egypt, some light has been thrown by the excavations carried on under the Egypt Exploration Fund (q.v.), especially the investigations in the Wadi Tumilat under E. Naville in 1883. It has been shown that a "treasure city" (Ex. i. 11) existed there of which the name was probably Pithom ("sanctuary of the god Tum"). A stone was found by Naville bearing the inscription Ero Castra, showing the location there of the Greek city Heroopolis, the Roman Ero Castra, which the Coptic version of Gen. xlvi. 28-29 brings into connection with Goshen in the land of Rameses and with Pithom (cf. Ex. i. 11). The Coptic translator seems to have known that Heroopolis was the site of the earlier Pithom. From Greek and Roman writers of the period 300 B.C.-150 A.D. it is known that the Red Sea reached as far as this place and was navigable. Geological evidence fully corroborates this testimony, and the recession of the waters has taken place in the present geological era. The reports of canal-building in this region by Necho II. and Darius refer doubtless to the dredging of an old channel. The stations of the Hebrews as given in the two narrations of J and P do not accord, as is shown by a parallel presentation.
J. P. Gen. xlv. 10 and Ex. viii. 22, "land of Goshen" Gen. xlvii. 11, "land of Ramses"; Ex. xii. 13, "land of Egypt"; Ex. xii. 37, "Ramses to Succoth." Ex. xiii, 17-18, "not the way of the land of the Philistines, . . . but . . . the way of the Red Sea." Ex. xiii. 20, "Etham in the edge of the wilderness"; Ex. xiv. 2, 9, circuit to Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon. Ex. xv. 22, 23, 27, "wilderness of Shur," "Marah," "Elim." Ex. xvi. 1, "Elim."
- The data given by J is intelligible in the light of present knowledge. The "way of the land of the Philistines" is the old caravan route which passes by the southeast corner of the Mediterranean. The "way of the wilderness of the Red Sea" led through the Wadi Tumilat past Pithom to the region of the Bitter Lakes and the wilderness of Shur, which, according to Gen. xxv. 18, was "before Egypt," i.e., on its eastern border. Since the Hebrews were hemmed in by the border fortresses, there was no alternative but to ford the sea at a shallow spot. It would appear that the combination of a strong east wind and an ebb tide, producing a complete drying-up of the waters, was not an uncommon phenomenon. In the opportune happening of this phenomenon Moses would see the favoring hand of his God, and he led his people across during the night. The earlier construction of the passage led Moses and the Hebrews southward toward Suez; the discovery of Naville has made this hypothesis untenable. The account of P is less intelligible. For the "land of Rameses" see GOSHEN. Succoth is equated with the frequently recurring Egyptian term Thuku or Thuket, the name of a district in the region of Pithom. Etham may be the Hebrew rendering of the Egyptian hetem, "fortress," several of which guarded the eastern boundary of Egypt against the nomads. Ex. xiv. 2 by the use of "turn" creates a puzzle as to the location of the camp. A Migdol is known to have existed twelve Roman miles from Pelusium, somewhere near Tell al-Her, but to pass this would lead the Israelites by "the way of the Philistines," which was forbidden (J). Pihahiroth is not yet definitely made out. Present knowledge does not permit more exact following-out of the narrative of P.
- (H. GUTHE.)