The parting of the Red Sea

One of the most dramatic elements of the exodus from Egypt is the escape across the red Sea, when God apparently caused the waves to part to allow his people to flee before bringing them crashing in on the Pharaoh's men.

So far no concrete evidence of this event has been located, but some commentators have claimed to have discovered chariot wheels in the Red Sea. Yet, many dispute that the artefacts are indeed chariots, and a chariot hub allegedly discovered in the 1980's has mysteriously disappeared, and so cannot be verified.

Many scholars have also pointed out that the biblical passage may not actually refer to an area of sea at all. The original Hebrew phrase is "yam suph" which can be translated as "Sea of Reeds" And may actually refer to a marshy region north of the Gulf of Suez, which includes the "Bitter Lakes" and Lake Timsah. The water level in that area is fairly variable and evaporation can cause it to drop sharply, exposing fingers of land which allow people to cross. In fact, that is exactly the route taken by the Israeli army during the Six-Day War 1967 (AD)!

The tale itself is an interesting parallel with a tale from the Westcar Papyrus (thought to date to the Middle Kingdom but set during the reign of Sneferu (Old Kingdom). The story, known as the tale of the turquoise pendant tells that one of the royal ladies was distraught when she dropped her charm in the water while rowing for the amusement of Sneferu. The king called for the assistance of a priest who caused the water to part so that the charm could be retrieved.

copyright J Hill 2010
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