What is the 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.