The route of the exodus – southern route (Exodus 13)

A widely accepted view of the route of the exodus holds that Israel escaped Egypt near what is now the Wadu Tumilat and headed south into the Sinai Peninsula. Before considering the viability of this route, however, it helps to consider two realities about the eastern delta during the New Kingdom period.

  • The Egyptians fortified their northeastern frontier (the land between the Gulf f Suez and the Mediterranean Sea) to prevent waves of Asiatic migrants from Syria and Canaan from entering Egypt. The heaviest fortification was in the north, along the Mediterranean Sea, which provided the primary means of access into Egypt. For hundreds of years the Egyptians had struggled to bar the door to these alien peoples, and their recent experience with the Hyksos had only increased their fear and hatred of “Asiatics” (i.e. Semites).
  • A series of water boundaries between Egypt and the Sinai extended up from the Gulf of Suez to the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. North of Lake Timsah Travelers encountered a series of marshy bodies of water (now dry) called the Ballah Lakes. Evidence exists that a canal system extended from Lake Timsah to the Ballah Lakes and on to the Mediterranean. This system would have created a series of water obstacles in the isthmus between Egypt and the Sinai.

These considerations aside, according to this second theory the Israelites’ itinerary would have been as follows:

  • Rameses is presumed to be on the site of Qantir in the eastern delta.
  • Succoth, the first stop, is near modern Tell el-Maskhuta. Located at the eastern end of the Wadi Tumilat, southeast of Rameses, Succoth reflects the Egyptian name, Tjeku. Each of these names refers both to a central fortress and to the general region around it.
  • Etham is the next proposed site, but no such place is known in this vicinity. In addition, Etham under this senario is notoriously difficult to locate. According to this theory the Israelites arrived here before the crossing of the Red Sea, while we know from Numbers 33:7-8 that they passed through the “Desert of Etham” immediately after the Red Sea crossing.
  • Pi Hahiroth was near Baal Zephon and Migdol. These three names are obscure, but some scholars suggest that Pi Hahiroth, because it can be translated “mouth of the canals”, was located on the northern edge of Lake Timsah where it joined the canal system. Thus the name could relate to the canal system in the region north of the Gulf of Suez.
  • After leaving Pi Hahiroth, Israel according to this paradigm crossed the Red Sea. According to Exodus 14:21 a strong east wind blew all night long, dividing the sea to allow the Israelites – but not the pursuing Egyptians – to cross. To complicate the situation, the identity of the Red Sea itself is disputed.
  • Having crossed the Red Sea the Israelites headed to Mount Sinai. If the Red Sea was in fact Lake Timsah or the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez, Mount Sinai was probably Jebel Musa (“Mountain of Moses”) in the southern Sinai.
  • The other locales  leading up to the mountain (Marah, Elim, Dophkah and Rephidim) would, according to this theory, all have been in Southwestern Sinai. Again, it is vital to recognize that locating any or all of these sites is at this point a highly speculative endeavour.

Of the three routes mentioned (see my other postings on Exodus 13), this one is the most widely espoused, but it too has a number of serious difficulties. For a depiction of the exodus routes, see the map posted with the northern route theory.

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