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RED SEA Summary and Overview

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RED SEA in Easton's Bible Dictionary

The sea so called extends along the west coast of Arabia for about 1,400 miles, and separates Asia from Africa. It is connected with the Indian Ocean, of which it is an arm, by the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. At a point (Ras Mohammed) about 200 miles from its nothern extremity it is divided into two arms, that on the east called the AElanitic Gulf, now the Bahr el-'Akabah, about 100 miles long by 15 broad, and that on the west the Gulf of Suez, about 150 miles long by about 20 broad. This branch is now connected with the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. Between these two arms lies the Sinaitic Peninsula. The Hebrew name generally given to this sea is "Yam Suph". This word "suph" means a woolly kind of sea-weed, which the sea casts up in great abundance on its shores. In these passages, Ex. 10:19; 13:18; 15:4, 22; 23:31; Num. 14:25, etc., the Hebrew name is always translated "Red Sea," which was the name given to it by the Greeks. The origin of this name (Red Sea) is uncertain. Some think it is derived from the red colour of the mountains on the western shore; others from the red coral found in the sea, or the red appearance sometimes given to the water by certain zoophytes floating in it. In the New Testament (Acts 7:36; Heb. 11:29) this name is given to the Gulf of Suez. This sea was also called by the Hebrews Yam-mitstraim, i.e., "the Egyptian sea" (Isa. 11:15), and simply Ha-yam, "the sea" (Ex. 14:2, 9, 16, 21, 28; Josh. 24:6, 7; Isa. 10:26, etc.). The great historical event connected with the Red Sea is the passage of the children of Israel, and the overthrow of the Egyptians, to which there is frequent reference in Scripture (Ex. 14, 15; Num. 33:8; Deut. 11:4; Josh. 2:10; Judg. 11:16; 2 Sam. 22:16; Neh. 9:9-11; Ps. 66:6; Isa. 10:26; Acts 7:36, etc.).

RED SEA in Smith's Bible Dictionary

1. Name. --The sea known to us as the Red Sea was by the Israelites called "the sea," #Ex 14:2,9,16,21,28; 15:1,4,8,10,19; Jos 24:6,7| and many other passages, and specially "the sea of Suph." #Ex 10:19; 13:18; 15:4,22; 23:31; Nu 14:25| etc. This word signifies a sea-weed resembling wool, and such sea-weed is thrown up abundantly on the shores of the Red Sea; hence Brugsch calls it the sea of reeds or weeds. The color of the water is not red. Ebers says that it is of a lovely blue-green color, and named Red either from its red banks or from the Erythraeans, who were called the red people. 2. Physical description. --In extreme length the Red Sea stretches from the straits of Bab el-Mendeb (or rather Ras Bab el-Mendeb), 18 miles wide. in lat. 12 degrees 40' N., to the modern head of the Gulf of Suez, lat. 30 degrees N., a distance of 1450 miles. Its greatest width may be stated at about 210 miles. At Ras Mohammed, on the north, the Red Sea is split by the granitic peninsula of Sinai into two gulfs; the westernmost, or Gulf of Suez, is now about 150 miles in length, with an average width of about 20, though it contracts to less than 10 miles; the easternmost or Gulf of el-'Akabeh, is about 100 miles long, from the Straits of Tiran to the 'Akabeh, and 15 miles wide. The average depth of the Red Sea is from 2500 to 3500 feet, though in places it is 6000 feet deep. Journeying southward from Suez, on our left is the peninsula of Sinai; on the right is the desert coast of Egypt, of limestone formation like the greater part of the Nile valley in Egypt, the cliff's on the sea margin stretching landward in a great rocky plateau while more inland a chain of volcanic mountains, beginning about lat. 28 degrees 4' and running south, rear their lofty peaks at intervals above the limestone, generally about 15 miles distant. 3. Ancient limits. --The most important change in the Red Sea has been the drying up of its northern extremity, "the tongue of the Egyptian Sea." about the head of the gulf has risen and that near the Mediterranean become depressed. The head of the gulf has consequently retired gradually since the Christian era. Thus the prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled, #Isa 11:15; 10:5| the tongue of the Red Sea has dried up for a distance of at least 50 miles from its ancient head. An ancient canal conveyed the waters of the Nile to the Red Sea, flowing through the Wadi-t Tumeylat and irrigating with its system of water-channels a large extent of country. It was 62 Roman miles long, 54 feet wide and 7 feet deep. The drying up of the head of the gulf appears to have been one of the chief causes of the neglect and ruin of this canal. The country, for the distance above indicated, is now a desert of gravelly sand, with wide patches about the old sea-bottom, of rank marsh land, now called the "Bitter Lakes." At the northern extremity of this salt waste is a small lake, sometimes called the Lake of Heropolis; the lake is now Birket-et-Timsah "the lake of the crocodile," and is supposed to mark the ancient head of the gulf. The canal that connected this with the Nile was of Pharaonic origin. It was anciently known as the "Fossa Regum" and the "canal of Hero." The time at which the canal was extended, after the drying up of the head of the gulf, to the present head is uncertain, but it must have been late, and probably since the Mohammedan conquest. Traces of the ancient channel throughout its entire length to the vicinity of Bubastis exist at intervals in the present day. The land north of the ancient gulf is a plain of heavy sand, merging into marsh-land near the Mediterranean coast, and extending to Israel. This region, including Wadi-t-Tumeylat, was probably the frontier land occupied in pact by the Israelites, and open to the incursions of the wild tribes of the Arabian desert. 4. Navigation. --The sea, from its dangers and sterile shores, is entirely destitute of boats. The coral of the Red Sea is remarkably abundant, and beautifully colored and variegated; but it forms so many reefs and islands along the shores that navigation is very dangerous, and the shores are chiefly barren rock and sand, and therefore very sparsely inhabited so that there are but three cities along the whole 1450 miles of its west coast --Suez, at the head, a city of 14,000 inhabitants; Sanakin, belonging to Soudan, of 10,000; and Massau, in Albyssinia, of 5000. Only two ports, Elath and Ezion-geber, are mentioned in the Bible. The earliest navigation of the Red Sea (passing by the pre-historical Phoenicians) is mentioned by Herodotus: --"Seostris (Rameses II.) was the first who passing the Arabian Gulf in a fleet of long vessels, reduced under his authority the inhabitants of the coast bordering the Erythrean Sea." Three centuries later, Solomon's navy was built "in Ezion-geber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea (Yam Suph), in the land of Edom." #1Ki 9:20| The kingdom of Solomon extended as far as the Red Sea, upon which he possessed the harbors of Elath and Ezion-geber. [ELATH; EZION-GEBER] It is possible that the sea has retired here as at Suez, and that Ezion-geber is now dry land. Jehoshaphat also "made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold; but they went not; for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber." #1Ki 22:48| The scene of this wreck has been supposed to be Edh-Dhahab. The fleets appear to have sailed about the autumnal equinox, and returned in December or the middle of January. The Red Sea, as it possessed for many centuries the most important sea-trade of the East contained ports of celebrity. The Heroopolite Gulf (Gulf of Suez) is of the chief interest; it was near to Goshen, it was the scene of the passage of the Red Sea, and it was the "tongue of the Egyptian Sea." It was also the seat of the Egyptian trade in this sea and to the Indian Ocean. 5. Passage of the Red Sea. --The passage of the Red Sea was the crisis of the exodus. It is usual to suppose that the most northern place at which the Red Sea could have been crossed is the present head of the Gulf of Suez. This supposition depends upon the erroneous idea that in the time of Moses the gulf did not extend farther to the northward then at present. An examination of the country north of Suez has shown, however, that the sea has receded many miles. The old bed is indicated by the Birket-et Timsah, or "lake of the crocodile," and the more southern Bitter Lakes, the northernmost part of the former probably corresponding to the head of it the at the time of the exodus. It is necessary to endeavor to ascertain the route of the Israelites before we can attempt to discover where they crossed the sea. The point from which they started was Rameses, a place certain in the land of Goshen, which we identified with the Wadi-t-Tumeylat. They encamped at Succoth. At the end of the second day's journey the camping place was at Etham, "in the edge of the wilderness." #Ex 13:20; Nu 33:6| Here the Wadi-t-Tumeylat was probably left, as it is cultivable and terminates in the desert. At the end of the third day's march for each camping place seems to mark the close of a day's journey the Israelites encamped by the sea, place of this last encampment and that of the passage would be not very far from the Persepolitan monument at Pihahiroth. It appears that Migdol was behind Pi-hahiroth and on the other hand Baalzephon and the sea. From Pi-hahiroth the Israelites crossed the sea. This was not far from halfway between the Bitter Lakes and the Gulf of Suez, where now it is dry land. The Muslims suppose Memphis to have been the city at which the Pharaoh of the exodus resided before that event occurred. From opposite Memphis a broad valley leads to the Red Sea. It is in part called the Wadi-t-Teeh, or "Valley of the Wandering." From it the traveller reaches the sea beneath the lofty Gebel-et-Takah, which rises in the north and shuts off all escape in that direction excepting by a narrow way along the seashore, which Pharaoh might have occupied. The sea here is broad and deep, as the narrative is generally held to imply. All the local features seem suited for a great event. The only points bearing on geography in the account of this event are that the sea was divided by an east wind. Whence we may reasonably infer that it was crossed from west to east, and that the whole Egyptian army perished, which shows that it must have been some miles broad. On the whole we may reasonably suppose about twelve miles as the smallest breadth of the sea. The narrative distinctly states that a path was made through the sea, and that the waters were a wall on either hand. The term "wall" does not appear to oblige us to suppose, as many have done, that the sea stood up like a cliff on either side, but should rather be considered to mean a barrier, as the former idea implies a seemingly needless addition to the miracle, while the latter seems to be not discordant with the language of the narrative. It was during the night that the Israelites crossed, and the Egyptians followed. In the morning watch, the last third or fourth of the night, or the period before sunrise Pharaoh's army was in full pursuit in the divided sea, and was there miraculously troubled, so that the Egyptians sought to flee. #Ex 14:23-25| Then was Moses commanded again to stretch out his hand and the sea returned to its strength, and overwhelmed the Egyptians, of whom not one remained alive, Ibid. 26-28. (But on the whole it is becoming more probable that the place where the Israelites crossed "was near the town of Suez, on extensive shoals which run toward the southeast, in the direction of Ayim Musa (the Wells of Moses). The distance is about three miles at high tide. This is the most probable thee Near here Napoleon, deceived by the tidal wave, attempted to cross in 1799, and nearly met the fate of Pharaoh. But an army of 600,000 could of course never have crossed it without a miracle."--Schaff's Through Bible Lands. Several routes and places of crossing advocated by learned Egyptologists can be clearly seen by the accompanying maps. The latest theory is that which Brugsch-bey has lately revived that the word translated Red Sea is "Sea of Reeds or Weeds," and refers to the Serbonian bog in the northeastern part of Egypt, and that the Israelites crossed here instead of the Red Sea. "A gulf profound, as that Serbonian bog . . . where armies whole have sunk." --Milton. And among these armies that of Artarerxes, king of Persia, B.C. 350. But it is very difficult to make this agree with the Bible narrative, and if is the least satisfactory of all the theories. --ED.)

RED SEA in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

RED SEA a long, narrow arm of the ocean separating Asia from Africa. It was called by the Hebrews "the sea," Ex 14:2, Gal 1:9, Ex 17:16, 2 Chr 11:21, Acts 20:28; Ex 15:1, Ex 6:4, 1 Kgs 15:8, 1 Kgs 16:10, Acts 1:19; Josh 24:6-7, etc.; the "Egyptian Sea," Isa 11:15, but especially the "Sea of Suph," apparently so named from the wool-like weeds growing in it.Ex 10:19; Gen 13:18; Ex 15:4, Ex 15:22; Eze 23:31; Num 15:25; Num 21:4, etc. The Greeks applied "Eruthra Thalassa" or "Red Sea" to it in common with the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean; in the N.T. it is applied to the western gulf, now known as the "Red Sea." Acts 7:36; Heb 11:29. This name is derived, perhaps, from the red coral or zoophytes in the sea, or, as some conjecture, from Edom, which signifies "red." The Egyptians called it the "Sea of Punt" or Arabia, and the Arabs "Bahr el Hejaz," or "El-bahr el-Ahmar." See Map of Sinai, at the end of this volume. Physical Features. - The Red Sea consists of a long, narrow arm of the Indian Ocean, projecting north-west inland a distance of 1450 miles. It is connected with the ocean by the narrow strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, only 18 miles wide. The sea, at its greatest breadth, is 221 miles; toward its northern end it gradually contracts, and then divides into two arms - the Gulf of Akabah on the east, and the Gulf of Suez on the west, the latter extending to within 70 miles of the Mediterranean. Between these two arms is the Sinaitic peninsula. The Red Sea covers an area of about 180,000 square miles, and is at some places 1000 fathoms deep, but its average depth is from 400 to 600 fathoms. The shores are flanked by a network of submerged coral-reefs and islands extending a long way from the coast and rendering the navigation of the sea perilous, especially in its narrower parts. The western of the two arms, now called the Gulf of Suez, is 150 miles long, and about 20 miles in average breadth. An ancient canal once connected the Nile with this arm of the Red Sea. It was built, as some suppose, by the Pharaohs, and is certainly known to have been in use for navigation in the fourteenth century before Christ. It was about 62 Roman miles in length, 54 feet wide, and about 7 feet deep. It has been recently utilized in the construction of a modern canal. A greater ship-canal, opened in 1869, now connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea at Suez. The eastern arm, called the Gulf of Akabah, is 105 miles long and about 15 miles wide. No rivers fall into the Red Sea, but a large number of rain-torrents run into it. The water is a blue color, remarkably clear, and changing to green near the shoals or reefs. Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary, the sea has been shown to be subject to the tides, the difference between high and low tide being from 3 to 7 feet. The north wind prevails in summer in the northern part of the sea; the south-east wind in winter, especially in the southern part of the sea; but the north-west is most prevalent in this part of it in winter. The coasts of the Red Sea are chiefly barren rock or sand, and therefore generally destitute of inhabitants. A short distance inland the mountains are from 4000 to 7600 feet high. There are only two or three towns of consequence in the entire 1400 miles of its African side. Suez, a town of 14,000 inhabitants, Koser, the harbor of Upper Egypt, with 1200, Sanakim, a seaport of Soudan, with 10,000, and Masau'a, a port of Abyssinia, with 5000, are the only towns of any size on the African shore. There are few also on the Arabian side, the most important being Jedda, where the Muslims point out a stone structure called "Eve's Tomb," a building of comparatively recent times. The mother-of-pearl shells were once very abundant, but have diminished of late, from the eagerness of fishermen in prosecuting their trade. Many curiously-colored shells are also gathered and sold as curiosities to travellers - among them the murex, the "porcelain shell," the pink wardam - and black, purple, and white coral is very abundant. One of the most important questions in regard to the physical features of the Red Sea is the extent of its northern extremity. Formerly it was maintained that the land at the head of the Gulf of Suez had gradually risen and the sea retired. How much farther north it extended in historic times was not definitely determined, but it was estimated at not less than 50 miles, which would narrow the land at the isthmus to about 20 or 25 miles in width. The repeated explorations of the isthmus seemed to show that in the times of Moses the sea included the "Lake of the Crocodile " and the more southern of the "Bitter Lakes," as then the northern end of the Red Sea, but this is now sharply disputed. Scripture Reverences. - The grand event associated with the Red Sea is- the passage of the Israelites and the overthrow of the Egyptians. Ex 14-15. This miraculous event is frequently referred to in the Scriptures. Num 33:8; Deut 11:4; Josh 2:10; Judg 11:16; 2 Sam 22:16; Neh 9:9-11; Ps 66:6; Isa 10:26; Acts 7:36; 1 Cor 10:1-2; Heb 11:29, etc. The place of the crossing has been a matter of much controversy. It should be remarked, as preliminary to this discussion, that the head of the gulf is probably at least 50 miles farther south than it was at the time of the Exodus. If the Red Sea then included the Bitter Lakes of Suez and the Birket el-Timsah ("Lake of the Crocodile"), the crossing may have been farther north than would now appear possible. Thus the predictions of Isaiah, Isa 11:15; Isa 19:5, "The Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian Sea," "The waters shall fail from the sea," are fulfilled. Stanley says that the place of passage has been extended by Arab tradition down the whole Gulf of Suez. The following are the principal theories respecting the place of crossing of the Red Sea: 1. The modern theory of Schleiden, revived by Brugsch, that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea, but the Serbonian bog. This conflicts with the plain narrative of Scripture, which says they crossed the Red Sea. And it also requires that Rameses be transferred to Zoan, about 40 miles farther north than Brugsch had positively fixed it from the inscriptions, in his earlier works. 2. The tradition of the peninsular Arabs, which places the crossing south of Jebel Atakah. But the physical features of the country are against this place, for the mountains shut down to the sea, leaving only a foot-path impracticable for such a host to pass, and this mountain extends for about 12 miles. 3. M. de Lesseps puts the passage between the Crocodile Lake and the Bitter Lakes, while M. Ritt finds it along the dike at Chaloof. If the Red Sea extended to these points, its depth and breadth then have not been proved sufficient to meet the scriptural conditions. 4. Others, as Niebuhr, Laborde, Wellsted, Robinson, Hengstenberg, Tischendorf, Ewald, Kurtz, Keil, Schaff, Bartlett, place the crossing in the neighbourhood of Suez. This general locality seems to meet the requirements of the narrative. Robinson made a thorough investigation, and concluded that the place of passage was near the small arm of the sea which runs up from Suez. A strong north-east wind, acting upon the ebb-tide, would drive out the water from the shallower part, while the deeper portions would still remain covered, thus constituting a wall (or defence) to the Israelites on the right hand and on the left. Others insist upon the likelihood of the crossing from Wady Tawarik, farther south, since it is argued that a sea at least 12 miles broad would have been needed to overwhelm the whole army of the Egyptians. But so many have been the changes of this region in the lapse of ages that it will not probably be possible to decide with certainty upon the exact spot. Either of the two points last suggested, in Robinson's opinion, "satisfies the conditions of the case; in either the deliverance of the Israelites was equally great and the arm of Jehovah alike gloriously revealed." After crossing, the Israelites marched down and encamped on the east side of the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez). Num 33:10. From the way of the Red Sea came locusts, Ex 10:12-19, and the quails which supplied them with food came from the same source. Num 11:31. They journeyed by the way of the Red Sea (the eastern arm or Gulf of Akabah) to compass Edom. Num 21:4. In the prosperous reign of Solomon he "made a navy of ships" at Ezion-geber and Elath, which were ports at the head of the Gulf of Akabah. 1 Kgs 9:26; 1 Kgs 10:22; 2 Chr 8:17-18.

RED SEA in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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.)