SEA OF REEDS?
Virtually every map of the Exodus route found in biblical archaeology textbooks manages to avoid a Red Sea crossing entirely. This, unfortunately, is so even for so-called biblical maximalists (archaeologists that claim to believe the Bible as God’s word). This is to be expected with scoffers like Wellhausen, Noth, and Bernard Anderson, but it is even found in the works of professed Bible believers like Randall Price, J.A. Thompson, Alfred Hoerth and many others who, apparently, being intimidated by their atheist colleagues, have parroted the party line by suggesting that the translators were mistaken in their translation of Red Sea. In the words of Thompson:
“The term Red Sea can generally be translated Sea of Reeds. The translators of the Old Testament have been responsible for a misunderstanding here. The reference is evidently not to the Red Sea proper, but rather to some of its marshy extensions to the north in the region of Succoth. The name is too general for us to be able to identify the place today, but it was evidently well known, for the same name occurs in several Egyptian records.”1
This theory is based upon the possible Egyptian connection between the Egyptian word for papyrus, ‘dhuf’, and the Hebrew word ‘suf’, which can mean reed. Thompson fails to mention that the Egyptian words that are used in Egyptian descriptions of the Sea of Reeds are ‘fus nshare’ not ‘dhuf’. Of course, this is because he is following his atheist colleagues blindly without bothering to verify their information, which, in this case, is misinformation, since none of them will mention that the Egyptians did not use ‘dhuf’ in connection with the so-called Sea of Reeds. His final authority is the degenerate world of academia, not the Final Authority. There is no reason to assume that the Hebrew word ‘suf’ is a metathisized form of the Egyptian ‘fus’. Even if it were relevant that Hebrew ‘suf’ and the Egyptian ‘dhuf’ are related, it may even be fairly probable, but they are not used in the same way, and they do not have the same range of meanings. It is shameful that a professed defender of the Bible would believe and repeat a deceitful theory contrived by atheists to try to explain away one of God’s greatest historical miracles. If you ignore the conflating of words, the argument might still sound somewhat convincing on the surface to those who have not submitted to God’s authority. One of the meanings of the Hebrew word ‘suf’ is reed, but it also means seaweed. Having snorkeled in the Red Sea, I can testify that there is plenty of seaweed to be found in it. Jonah 2: 5 makes it obvious that seaweed is indeed the meaning in Hebrew: “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.” Here the word translated as “weeds” is suf. I do not know of any scholar, minimalist or maximalist, who has tried to suggest that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and was on the bottom of a swamp of reeds. However, there is another possible meaning for the word. The reading ‘sof’ also has been suggested in the relevant passages, which would suggest the meaning ‘end of the sea’ or ‘sea extremity’ as the base meaning of ‘yam suph’. The verbal root of ‘soph’ is ‘suf’, which means ‘to put an end to’. It may be possible that ‘suf’ may have same meaning as ‘sof’. Gesenius states that ‘suph’ cannot be derived from this verbal root, but gives no reason why not. Indeed, such a statement has no basis beyond speculative consensual agreement among scholars. There is no etymological, phonological, or any other type of evidence on which to state that there is no relationship between the two words. However, whether it means “seaweed” or “end”, based on etymology alone, there is no honest reason to exclude the “Red Sea” as the translation. Of course, anyone who has bothered to read the Bible can tell that it is a sea. The Bible’s description of mighty waters makes translating it as a swamp silly.
Exodus 15:4-10: 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. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
This is not the description of a swamp. Anyone who suggests that it is a swamp, is suggesting that this is an exaggerated, mythologized account, and is accordingly calling the Bible a lie. Why on earth would a so-called maximalist do exactly that? Furthermore, two questions that Thompson and most other Bible correctors do not ask is what Solomon was doing placing a fleet of ships in a swamp in Egyptian territory, and how did Edom expand its territory to border a swamp in North Egypt. The following passage uses the same name as in Exodus, the yam suf.
1 Kings 9:26: And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.
Oddly, Anderson, a proponent of JEPD theory and severe critic of the veracity of the Bible, at least presents this information in his introduction to the Old Testament, while Thompson, the alleged maximalist, ignores it entirely.
“It is true that in some biblical passages Yam Suph has a wide meaning which could apply to the Gulf of Suez (Num. 33:10-11) or the Gulf of Aqabah (I Kings 9:26), the two arms of water which extend out of the Red Sea.”2
In addition to the verse from Numbers that Anderson mentions (quoted below), the Pentateuch itself has other references to the yam suf, which are translated as the Red Sea in the Bible. Consider the following examples:
Exodus 23:31 “And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.”
Numbers 14:25 “(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) To morrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.”
Numbers 21:4 “And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of
Numbers 33:10 “And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red sea.”
Deuteronomy 1:40 “But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea.”
Deuteronomy 2:1 “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.”
Anderson attributes the translation “Red Sea” to a misunderstanding by the Septuagint that was passed on through the Latin Vulgate. It does not seem to cross his mind that the misunderstanding might be on the part of modern day Bible scoffers who seek to willfully discredit the Bible every chance that they can get. Is it not possible that the ancient authors, or author, of the LXX may have had a better understanding of the geography of their region than 19th century German and 20th century American atheists? None of the above examples would make any sense whatsoever, if they were references to a swamp in Egypt. These examples are more than enough to discredit this attack on the word of God.
1 Thompson, J.A. The Bible and Archaeology, Third Edition, Fully Revised. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.
2 Anderson, Bernard W. Understanding the Old Testament, Fourth ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986, p. 77.
John Hinton, Ph.D.
Bible Restoration Ministry
A ministry seeking the translating and reprinting of KJV equivalent
Bibles in all the languages of the world.