In the Exodus narrative, Yam Suph (Hebrew: יַם-סוּף) is the body of water which the Israelites crossed following their exodus from Egypt. The same phrase appears in over 20 other places in the Hebrew Bible. While traditionally understood to refer to the Red Sea (the saltwater inlet located between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula), the appropriate translation of the phrase remains a matter of dispute; as does the exact location referred to. It is now often translated as Sea of Reeds — with several competing theories as to where this was.
Translation and location
The Hebrew word yam means 'sea', and the word suph by itself means 'reed', e.g. in Exodus 2:3; hence, a literal translation of yam suph—with the two words combined in construct state—yields 'sea of reeds'. This was pointed out as early as the 11th century by Rashi, who nonetheless identified the yam suph mentioned in the locust plague as the saltwater inlet located between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula—known in English as the Red Sea. More recently, alternative western scholarly understandings of the term have been proposed for those passages where it refers to the Israelite Crossing of the Sea as told in Exodus 13–15; as such, yam suph is often rendered as 'sea of reeds' or 'sea of seaweed' in modern translations, rather than as 'Red Sea'.
Proposals for the location of the yam suph of Exodus are manifold. It may refer to a large lake close to the Red Sea, which has since dried up due to the Suez Canal. It was in Egypt, specifically in the Suez valley next to the Sinai Peninsula, and north of the Gulf of Suez. It could also be the Gulf of Eilat, which is referred to as the yam suph in the Books of Kings (1 Kings 9:26). The Lake of Tanis, a former coastal lagoon fed by the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, has also been proposed as the place Moses parted the waters. Heinrich Brugsch suggested that the Reed Sea is Sabḫat al Bardawīl, a large lagoon on the north coast of the Sinai Peninsula.
More conjecturally, it has also been suggested that suph may be related to the Hebrew suphah ("storm") or soph ("end"), referring to the events of the Reed/Red Sea escape itself:
The crossing of the sea signaled the end of the sojourn in Egypt and it certainly was the end of the Egyptian army that pursued the fleeing Hebrews (Ex 14:23-29; 15:4-5). After this event at Yam Suph, perhaps the verb Soph, meaning "destroy" and "come to an end," originated (cf. Amos 3:15; Jer 8:13; Isa 66:17; Psa 73:19). Another possible development of this root is the word suphah, meaning "storm-wind"...The meanings "end" and "storm-wind" would have constituted nice puns on the event that took place at the Yam Suph.
- (The following translations are used in this section: KJV, Authorized King James Version of the Christian Bible; NJPS, New Jewish Publication Society of America Version of the Tanakh; SET, 'Stone Edition Tanach' from Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York. The Greek Septuagint translation is ἐρυθρά θάλασσα, "red sea", except where indicated below).
The occurrences of the term are as follows:
End of the eighth Plague of Egypt:
- KJV: "And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt."
- other translations: Exodus 10:19
- NJPS: "The LORD caused a shift to a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts, and hurled them into the Sea of Reeds; not a single locust remained in all the territory of Egypt."
- SET: "HASHEM turned back a very powerful west wind and it carried the locust-swarm and hurled it toward the Sea of Reeds; not a single locust remained within the entire border of Egypt."
Prologue to The Exodus:
- KJV: "But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt."
- other translations: Exodus 13:18
- NJPS: "So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed out of the land of Egypt."
- SET: "So God turned the people toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds. The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt."
The Passage of the Red Sea. After the pursuing Egyptians have been drowned in "the waters" of "the sea":
- KJV: "Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea."
- other translations: Exodus 15:4
- NJPS: "Pharaoh's chariots and his army he has cast into the sea: and the pick of his officers are drowned in the Sea of Reeds."
- SET: "Pharaoh's chariots and army He threw in the sea, and the pick of his officers were mired in the Sea of Reeds."
The Exodus continuing:
- KJV: "So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water."
- other translations: Exodus 15:22
- NJPS: "Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water."
- SET: "Moses caused Israel to journey from the Sea of Reeds and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur; they went for a three-day period in the Wilderness, but they did not find water. "
- KJV: "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."
- other translations: Exodus 23:31
- NJPS: "And I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands; and you will drive them out before you."
- SET: "I shall set your border from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of the Philistines. "
In the wilderness, before the conquest of Canaan:
- KJV: "(Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwelt in the valley.) Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea."
- Other translations: Numbers 14:25
- NJPS: "Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites occupy the valleys. Start out, then, tomorrow, and march into the wilderness by way of the Sea of Reeds."
- SET: "And HASHEM said, “... The Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley - tomorrow, turn and journey toward the Wilderness in the direction of the Sea of Reeds.”"
The New King James Version translates "the Way of the Red Sea" (capitalized) at each occurrence, suggesting that the Israelites may have used an ancient trade route, but this is not reflected in other English translations and the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges argues that 'no definite road is meant'.
Just after the death of Aaron:
- KJV: "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 the way."
- other translations: Numbers 21:4
- NJPS: "They set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Sea of Reeds, to skirt the land of Edom. But the people grew restive on the journey,"
- SET: "They journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Sea of Reeds to go around the land of Edom, and the spirit of the people grew short on the way."
Continuing the wanderings in the Wilderness:
- KJV: "(10) And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red sea. (11) And they removed from the Red sea, and encamped in the wilderness of Sin."
- other translations: Numbers 33:10–11
- NJPS: "(10) They set out from Elim, and encamped by the Sea of Reeds. (11) They set out from the Sea of Reeds, and encamped in the wilderness of Sin."
- SET: "They journeyed from Elim and encamped by the Sea of Reeds. (11) They journeyed from the Sea of Reeds and encamped in the Wilderness of Sin."
- KJV: "These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab."
- other translations: Deuteronomy 1:1
- NJPS: "These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. — Through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab,"
- SET: "These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab; eleven days from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea."
- KJV: "But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea."
- other translations: Deuteronomy 1:40
- NJPS: "As for you, turn about, and march into the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Reeds."
- SET: "And as for you, turn yourselves around and journey to the Wilderness, by way of the Sea of Reeds."
- KJV: "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."
- other translations: Deuteronomy 2:1
- NJPS: "Thus, after you had remained at Kadesh all that long time, we marched back into the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Reeds, as the LORD had spoken to me: and skirted the hill country of Seir a long time. "
- SET: "We turned and jouneyed to the Wilderness toward the Sea of Reeds, as HASHEM spoke to me, and we circled Mount Seir for many days. "
Looking back on the events of the Exodus:
- KJV: "And what he did unto the army of Egypt, unto their horses, and to their chariots; how he made the water of the Red sea to overflow them as they pursued after you, and how the LORD hath destroyed them unto this day;"
- other translations: Deuteronomy 11:4
- NJPS: "what He did to Egypt’s army, its horses and chariots; how the LORD rolled back upon them the waters of the Sea of Reeds when they were pursuing you, thus destroying them once and for all;"
- SET: "and what He did to the army of Egypt, to its horses and its chariots, over whom He swept the waters of the Sea of Reeds when they pursued you, and HASHEM caused them to perish until this day; "
- KJV: "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed."
- other translations: Joshua 2:10
- NJPS: "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Sea of Reeds for you, when you left Egypt; and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings across the Jordan, whom you doomed."
- SET: "for we have heard how HASHEM dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds for you when you went forth from Egypt and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were across the Jordan - to Sihon and to Og - whom you utterly destroyed."
- KJV: "For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:"
- other translations: Joshua 4:23
- NJPS: "For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you, until you crossed, just as the LORD your God did to the Sea of Reeds, which He dried up before us, until we crossed."
- SET: "For HASHEM, your God, dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you crossed, as HASHEM, your God, did to the Sea of Reeds, which He dried up before us until we crossed."
In Joshua’s final speech to the Israelites:
- KJV: "And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea."
- other translations: Joshua 24:6
- NJPS: "— I freed your fathers — from Egypt, and you came to the Sea. But the Egyptians pursued your fathers to the Sea of Reeds with chariots and horsemen."
- SET: "I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and you arrived at the sea. The Egyptians pursued your forefathers with chariot and horsemen to the Sea of Reeds."
King Solomon’s fleet:
- KJV: "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."
- other translations: 1 Kings 9:26
- The Septuagint here has ἐπὶ τοῦ χείλους τῆς ἐσχάτης θαλάσσης, meaning "on the shore of the extremity of the sea"
- NJPS: "King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Sea of Reeds in the land of Edom."
- SET: "King Solomon made a fleet in Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth, on the coast of the Sea of Reeds, in the land of Edom."
Jeremiah bemoaned his own fate. Why had he been the one chosen to not only foretell the horrors of destruction but to witness them, and even to be at the mercy of the brethren he had tried to save? But there is no doubt that the exiled Jews in Babylon found strength in his prophecy that there would be redemption and glory seventy years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah did not live to see his prophecy fulfilled, but many of those who had heard his prophecies were among the ones who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah to inaugurate the Second Temple.
- KJV: "The earth is moved at the noise of their fall, at the cry the noise thereof was heard in the Red sea."
- other translations: Jeremiah 49:21
- NJPS: "At the sound of their downfall The earth shall shake; The sound of screaming Shall be heard at the Sea of Reeds."
- A translation of this text does not occur at this point in the Septuagint. An approximate correspondence is found at Jeremiah 29:21, referring to just "the sea".
- SET: "(20) Therefore, hear the counsel of HASHEM that He has devised against Edom, and His thoughts that he has conceived against the dwellers of Teman: the youngest of the flock will indeed drag them off; he will indeed devastate their pasture. (21) From the sound of their fall the earth quakes; a cry, at the Sea of Reeds their voice is heard."
God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:
- KJV: "(7) Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea. (8) Nevertheless he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known. (9) He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness."
- other translations: Psalms 106:7–9
- NJPS: "(7) Our forefathers in Egypt did not perceive Your wonders; they did not remember Your abundant love, but rebelled at the sea, at the Sea of Reeds. (8) Yet He saved them, as befits His name, to make known His might. (9) He sent is blast against the Sea of Reeds; it became dry; he led them through the deep, as through a wilderness."
- SET: "(7) Our fathers in Egypt did not contemplate Your wonders, they were not mindful of Your abundant kindness, and they rebelled by the sea, at the Sea of Reeds. (8) But He saved them for His Name's sake, to make known His might. (9) He roared at the Sea of Reeds and it became dry, and He led them through the depths as through a desert. "
God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:
- KJV: "Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea."
- other translations: Psalms 106:22
- NJPS: "wondrous deeds in the land of Ham, awesome deeds at the Sea of Reeds."
- SET: "wondrous works in the land of Ham, awesome things by the Sea of Reeds."
A song of God's creation and rulership of the world in general and Israel in particular:
- KJV: "(13) To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: (14) And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: (15) But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever."
- other translations: Psalms 136:13–15
- NJPS: "(13) Who split apart the Sea of Reeds, His steadfast love is eternal; (14) and made Israel pass through it, His steadfast love is eternal; (15) Who hurled Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of Reeds, His steadfast love is eternal;"
- SET: "(13) To Him Who divided the Sea of Reeds into parts, for His kindness endures forever; (14) and caused Israel to pass through it, for His kindness endures forever; (15) and threw Pharaoh and his army into the Sea of Reeds, for His kindness endures forever."
After the Second Temple was rebuilt (349 BCE), Nehemiah was one of the 120 members of the Men of the Great Assembly, a council which functioned over several generations and rejuvenated the Jewish Nation. They prayed successfully against Idolatry, composed the standard Jewish prayers and brought about the dramatic flowering of the Oral law, the primary repository of divine wisdom (see: Tanakh).
- KJV: "And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;"
- other translations: Nehemiah 9:9
- NJPS: "You took note of our fathers’ affliction in Egypt, and heard their cry at the Sea of Reeds;"
- SET: "You observed the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt, and You heard their outcry at the Sea of Reeds. "
- "Exodus - Chapter 13 (Parshah Bo and Beshalach) - Tanakh Online - Torah - Bible". chabad.org. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
- "Rashi on Exodus 10:19". Sefaria.
- Larry O'Hanlon (21 September 2010). "Moses' Red Sea parting explained by computer model". Discovery News. Discovery Communications, LLC. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
- John McClintock and James Strong (1883) Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 8, Red Sea, p. 966.
- Hoffmeier, James Karl (1999). Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1. OCLC 47007891.
- The Twenty-Four Books of the Bible, newly translated and annotated; edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman; The ArtScroll Series; Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York; 1998.
- Wigram, George V. (1996) . The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-208-7.
- Annot.:"10:19-20. God changed the east wind, which brought the locusts, to a west wind that blew them away. Not a single locust remained, not even those that the Egyptians had preserved for food (Midrash)."
- Annot.:"13:18. Sea of Reeds. This may have been the Gulf of Suez, which branches northward from the Red Sea and separates Egypt from the Sinai Desert; but what is known today as Red Sea is south of the Sinai Peninsula and so far south of the populated area of Egypt that it is unlikely that the Exodus and the later Splitting of the Sea could have taken place there. It may be that the Sea of Reeds was the Great Bitter Lake, which is between the Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea; or the north of Egypt; or it may have been the southern Mediterranean."
- Annot.:"15:22-27. After the momentous miracles at the sea, how could they have doubted God's readiness to give them a necessity of life -- water? Rabbi Hirsch explains that the purpose of Israel's journey through the Wilderness was to show that God is involved in daily, "petty" human affairs, as well as in cosmic occurrences. It is easy to think, as many still do, that God creates worlds and splits seas, but is unconcerned with the water or food supply of communities and individuals. This is what frightened the Jews in the Wilderness. When there was no water, the nation feared that it was being left to its own devices. The people were not wronk in asking for water - thirsty people surely have that right - but in protesting so vociferously."
- Annot.:"The Sea of the Philistines is the Mediterranean, and the River is the Euphrates. ibn Ezra comments that this verse, which describes the great extent of the land, explains why it would have to be conquered gradually." and from the Wilderness until the River, for I shall deliver the inhabitants of the Land into your hands and you shall drive them away from before you.
- Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Deuteronomy 1:40, accessed 24 October 2015.
- Annot.:"In this book, Moses was the speaker ... In Deuteronomy, Moses chose the words and conveyed the commandments as he understood them. 1:1. The combination of words with he spoke, instead of the more common he said, implies strong words of rebuke. Lest the people become overconfident that they would not succumb to the influences of Canaan, Moses reminded them of their many sins and rebellions since the Exodus; if the people could sin when they were surrounded by miracles, surely they would be in greater danger without constant reminders of God's Presence. But in order not to embarrass and offend his listeners, he alluded to the sins by using place names or other veiled references. Moreover, as the Midrash cites: Rabbi Yochanan said, “We have reviewed the entirety of Scripture, but we have not found any place with the name Tophel or Laban!” And, as Ramban explaines, it is unlikely that these are all descriptions of where Mosesspoke, for if so, the Torah would be giving “more signs and boundaries than one who sells a field.” Thus, for example, Onkelos and Sifre interpret the term the Wilderness as an allusion to the Wilderness of Sin, where the people complained that they had been led into a desert to starve (Exodus 16:1-3); and Di-yahab, literally, “abundance of gold,” recalls that when God blessed the people with an abundance of gold when they left Egypt, they used His gift to make the Golden Calf."
- Annot.:"2:1. This verse telescopes thirty-eight years, from the sin of the spies until the new generation was ready to enter the Land."
- Annot.:"11:1-7. Moses continued to exhort his people, telling them that they had a special responsibility to be loyal to God, because they had experienced His greatness and mercy firsthand."
- Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. (1986) . The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 0-913573-44-2.
- Annot.:"9:26. Also called Elath (Deut. 2:8) or Eilat."
- Annot.:"The enemy, who was earlier compared to a ferocious lion (v.. 19), is here likened to the youngest sheep, because Edom will be conquered by Israel, which is regarded lightly by all its enemies (Kara)."
- Annot.:"106:7. Exodus 14:10-12."
- Annot.:"106:9-11. Exodus 14:15-31."
- Annot.:"9:9-11. See Exodus 14:9-35."
- Hoffmeier, James Karl (1999). "The Problem of the Re(e)d Sea". Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 199–222. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1. OCLC 47007891.
- Hoffmeier, James Karl (2005). "Red Sea or Reed Sea". Ancient Israel in Sinai: the evidence for the authenticity of the wilderness tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 81–5. ISBN 978-0-19-515546-4. OCLC 56526680.