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

The view that the Israelites travelled through Arabia is founded on two presuppositions: that Mount Sinai was not in the Sinai Peninsula but rather in Arabia and that the only body of water clearly identified in the ÆOld Testament as the Red Sea or yam suph is the Gulf of Aqaba.

This theory agrees with the “southern route” hypothesis that Rameses was Qantir and that Succoth was Tell el-Maskhuta. From that point on, however, the proposed routes are entirely different.

  • The Arabian theory discounts the bodies of water and fortifications in the Suez area, assuming that the Egyptians pursuit did not begin until after Israel had entered the Sinai Peninsula.
  • This system postulates that Israel would have followed the Darb el-Hajj, a trade route linking Arabia to Egypt that proceeds in a nearly straight line from just north of the Gulf of Suez to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. However, since the Sinai was considered Egyptian territory, the Israelites probably would have hurried during this part of the march in order to quit the pharaoh’s domain before he changed his mind. If so, their journey to Arabia would have taken them to the northern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba.
  • The next stop on this itinerary would have been Etham. There is, in fact, a Mount Itm (also written as Ithem ot Yitm) at the northeastern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. Exodus 14:1-4 (cf. Numbers 33:7) states that the Israelites “turned back” after nearing Etham to give the Egyptians the impression that they were lost. It is conceivable that the column actually rounded the northern tip of the Gulf of  Aqaba, then did an about face on the western side of the gulf. Thus the Israelites would have been on the western side of the northern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba at the time they were nearly overtaken by the Egyptians. The procession would from that point have crossed th Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) after the parting of the waters.
  • This third theory places the Israelites, after having crossed the sea, just south of Mount Itm in what the Bible calls the “Desert of Etham” (Numbers 33:8). This desert could have been the area near Mont Itm northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba. This region is also referred to as the Desert of Shur (Exodus 15:22).
  • From here Israel would have headed south, along the western edge of Arabia, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Aqaba/Red Sea. Marah could have been the oasis at modern al-Malha..27).
  • Elim, where there were “twelve springs and seventy palm trees” (Exodus 15), could have been Ainua, an area where similar conditions wxisted.
  • Israel again set up camp by the Gulf og Aqaba/Red Sea (Numbers 33:10), then moved on to the Desert of Sin (Numbers 33:11), where the wanderers encountered an unusually heavy dew (see Exodus 16:13-14). This phenomenon would suggest that they had moved east into the higher elevation of the Arabian Hisma, where the dew would have tended to be heavier.
  • From there the Israelites would have travelled to Dophkah before proceeding to Sinai, which according to this theory was most likely the volcanic Monut Bedr.

This third theory represents an intriguing interpretation of the exodus itinerary, though little serious work to date has been done to confirm it.

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