Hebrew: Sea of Suph ("seaweed"; like wool, as the Arabic means: Gesenius). The Egyptians called it the Sea of Punt (Arabia). Called "red" probably from the color of the weed, and the red coral and sandstone, not from Edom ("red") which touched it only at Elath; nor from Himyerites (hamar, "red" in Arabic; the Phoenicians too are thought to mean red men, and to have come from the Red Sea), as their connection with it was hardly so dose and so early as to have given the name. An ancient canal, begun by Sesostris, continued by Darius Hystaspes and Ptolemy Philadelphus, joined the Nile to it. Boundaries. On the W. Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia; on the E. Arabia; on the N. the isthmus of Suez; on the S. the straits of Bab el Mandeb ("gate of tears") joining it to the Indian ocean; 1,600 English miles long, by an average of 150 broad. The mountains on each side vary from 3,000 to 6,000 ft. high; the tops granite, underneath limestone, on the seashore light colored sandstone.
The northern end ("the tongue of the Egyptian Sea"), since the Exodus, has dried up for 50 miles. The land at the head of the gulf has risen, that on the Mediterranean has fallen (compare Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 19:5). This drying up has caused the ancient canal which conveyed the Red Sea commerce to the Nile (from about Hereopolis on the Birket et Timsah and lake of the crocodile to Bubastis at the Nile), and irrigated the country (wady Tumeylat) to be neglected and ruined. The country about has consequently become a gravely sand desert, with rank marsh land round the old sea bottom, called "the bitter lakes." Near them was the town Heroopolis, from which the gulf of Suez was called the Heroopolite gulf. Ras Mohammed, the headland of the Sinaitic peninsula, divides the Red Sea into two tongues: the western one the gulf of Suez, 130 miles long by 18 broad, narrowing to ten at the head; the eastern one the gulf of Akabah ("a declivity"), 90 long by an average of 15 broad.
Precipitous mountains 2,000 ft. high rise from the shore. The Arabah or Ghor connects it with the Dead Sea and Jordan valley. Anciently the gulf of Akabah was the Sinus Elaniticus, from Oelana or Elath at the northern end. No considerable stream falls into this large sea. The gulf of Suez is the shallowest part. The waters are remarkably transparent, so that the plants, corals, and rocks are visible to a great depth. Its phosphorescence is also noteworthy. This is the most northern part of the ocean where coral reefs are found. These take the outline of the coast, and being covered for some distance with only five or sir feet of water render access to land difficult. The western or Egyptian side of the Red Sea is of limestone formation; gebel Gharib 6,000 ft. high; the porphyry mountain, gebel ed Dukhkhan, inland, is about the same height; gebel ez Zeyt, "the oil ("petroleum") mount," is close to the sea.
On these barren and solitary hills lived many of the early Christian hermits. The patriarch of the Coptic church is chosen from the monks of the convent of Anthony. Sesostris (Rameses II) was the "first who, passing the Arabian gulf in a fleet of long war vessels, reduced the inhabitants bordering the Red Sea" (Herodotus). Solomon built a navy at "Ezion Geber (now dry land), beside Elath on the Red Sea in Edom " (1 Kings 9:26). (See EZION GEBER.) Jehoshaphat's ships were wrecked here on the reef Edh Dhahab (Ezion Geber, "giant's backbone"): 1 Kings 22:48. Pharaoh Necho built ships in the Arabian gulf, manned by Phoenicians (Herodotus ii. 159). Pliny says their ship were of papyrus, like the Nile boats.
The Arab jelebehs, carrying pilgrims along the coast, have the planks sewed together with coconut fibber, and caulked with the date palm fibber and oil of the palma Christi, and sails of mats made of the dom palm. The Himyerite Arabs formed mostly the crews of the seagoing ships. On the Heroopolite gulf, besides Heroopolis (now perhaps Aboo Kesheyd) at its head, was Arsinoe founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus, and Berenice on the southern frontier of Egypt. On the Arabian coast Mu'eyleh, Yembo (the port of El Medeeneh), Juddah (the port of Mecca), and Mocha. The Red Sea and Egypt after the time of Alexander the Great was the channel of commerce between Europe and India. Subsequently the trade passed round the Cape of Good Hope. But now the overland mail and Suez canal are again bringing it by way of Egypt and the Red Sea. (On Israel's passage of the Red Sea, see EXODUS.)
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