This page was last updated on 29 June, 2017.
The Re(e)d Sea
In the map above you see “Gulf of Suez”, “Gulf of Aqba” and “Red Sea”.
Some people include are 3 in the Red Sea, some don’t.
I’ll keep all 3 separate because that makes things more clear.
1. Yam Suph
Exod 13:18 But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.
1Kgs 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.
1) reed, rush, water plant
1b) sea of rushes
1b1) of Red Sea
1b2) of arms of Red Sea
1b3) of Gulf of Suez
1b4) of sea from straits to Gulf of Akaba
(sûp) reed, waterplant. (KJV “flags,” “weeds”; ASV, RSV “reeds,” “weeds.”)
This noun is primarily a general term for marsh plants. It can also designate rushes (Isa 19:6), seaweed (Jon 2:5 [H 6]) or marsh reeds (Ex 2:3, 5). Etymologically, it is related to Egyptian twi “marsh plant,” “papyrus.”
871a (yam) sea, west, westward, (ASV and RSV similar, although rsv sometimes uses adjective “western”).
yam is used over three hundred times referring to “sea,” and over seventy times referring to “west” or “westward.” Once (Ps 107:3) it is translated “from the south” but this must be a manuscript error, although in Isa 49:12 also yam is opposite to north.
Suph = water plant → Red is just wrong outdated translation.
Yam = Sea (more about west and south later)
Sup Yam = Sea of water plants.
So that name doesn’t single out the Red Sea as the only possible candidate.
It’s fair to assume that the plants were abundant and very visible, because the body of water was named after it.
“Sea of reeds” and “Sea of seaweeds” are both not acceptable at this point because it expresses a bias toward fresh or saltwater. That’s fine as conclusion but not as a start of a search.
Exod 2:3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
Exod 2:4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.
Exod 2:5 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-
Suph is translated in the following ways:
Not a single translation I’ve checked translates it as ‘red’. But in other instances like the crossing or locust being driven out of Egypt only of the translations use ‘red’.
The Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses when she was went bathing in the river. The river was the Nile and not the Red Sea, which is 200 miles from her home.
Yam suph is just a general name for a body of water with many plants.
The Red Sea translation isn’t a translation but doctrine/interpretation/opinion.
There many yam suphs around the world.
If doesn’t even remotely mean ‘red’ how did that doctrine creep in. It must have some origin, right? The oldest (complete) OT version in existence isn’t in Hebrew but in Greek. A team of Jewish scholars living in Alexandria, Egypt translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. In that translation they didn’t chose a literal translation. They knew the crossing wasn’t in one of the many shallow rivers or lakes with plants in it. They chose to translate ‘yam suph’ as the place where Moses crossed the Red Sea. But the Hebrew is divinely inspired and therefore in no way wrong; assuming no Scribal errors crept in.
So both are correct. No matter which place we pick as the place of crossing must take into account both translations. It was the Red Sea and it had water plants in it.
Together they give extra detail. The Red Sea is 1200 miles long. The Gulf of Aqba adds another 120 miles to that. Not a great way of pinpointing a location…
Suph is a loanword from the Egyptian word twf meaning “papyrus” -
Etymologically, it is related to Egyptian twi “marsh plant,” “papyrus.” -
That’s interesting. Papyrus only grows in mostly in fresh water. There is a papyrus plant that grows in slightly salty water but none grow in salty water. That rules out that the crossing was through saltwater.
And that causes a huge problem/riddle because the Red Sea is the saltiest sea in the world. Not a single reed/papyrus plant found in it. Not in the main Red Sea, not in the Gulf of Suez, not in the Gulf of Aqba.
2. Blue Sea, red coral and red mountain
The Red Sea looks deep blue most of the time. Except during spring tide, the deep red coral gets visible and giving the water a red color.
Spring tide has nothing to do with the seasons. It’s an extra high, high tide or an extra low, low tide. While low and high tides occur daily the spring tides occur far less frequent because they are linked to full and new moon. Once a lunar month the tide is extra low, and during that brief time of a very shallow Red Sea it looks red.
This red coral is found in many place in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqba.
Before being given its present name, the Persian Gulf was called many different names. The classical Greek writers, like Herodotus, called it "the Red Sea".
The Persian Gulf was also called Red Sea by ancient (5th century BC) writers. And yes red coral is abundant in that gulf too. So that could explain the name.
Along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqba (Midian) there are many mountains of red sandstone and red granite. Sometimes the mountains extent into the gulf. During sunset for a brief period of time at sunset the water colors deep red due to reflection.
3. Fresh water plants growing in salt water
So now we know why the Red Sea is called red. We also know it’s very salty and reeds of papyrus never grows in it. But still the original name very strongly points to fresh water with reeds, papyrus or similar plants.
I believe the answer to the above question lies in the unusual geography of the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Czech explorer Alois Musil, in The Northern Hegaz, written in 1926, describes an extremely unusual feature of the northern seashore at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba: it contains fresh water.
He writes: “At low tide the rocky shore was laid bare for a distance of about two hundred yards, uncovering numerous springs which gushed forth with great strength.” Musil then emphasizes the excellent quality of this fresh water: “The animals [camels] did not wish to drink from the fresh water from the well, preferring to go to the sea shore where they very readily drank from the many springs which flowed there.”
What is the origin of the water in these freshwater springs at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba? It comes from rain water falling on the mountains bordering the Arabah. The water is then funneled along and under the sand of the Arabah down towards the Gulf of Aqaba, where it breaks out on the seashore as freshwater springs. The head of the Gulf of Aqaba thus has an extremely unusual physical geography. The seashore is a boundary between the salt waters of the gulf to the south and the freshwater coming down to the seashore from the north.
In addition, Edward Robinson (Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1841) describes a marsh at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba when he visited it in 1838, which would have been a fresh water marsh fed by freshwater funneled down the Arabah. This marsh still exists today, and reeds grow in it today, as they do in other places around the head of the Gulf of Aqaba
Certain area’s of the Red Sea have many big freshwater springs saturating the sea soil with high quality fresh water.
The result is freshwater soil in which fresh water reeds grow.
Fresh water soil in the middle of one of the saltiest seas!
And that solves the age old mystery. That proves there aren’t any translation errors.
So while the translations are different they all are correct and together they help to pinpoint the crossing.
Those fresh water area’s are only found in a few area’s of the Gulf of Aqba.
Those area’s can be narrowed down even more by the places mentioned in the Bible. The exact location of many towns is debated/unknown but even an approximation narrows down the area. We already narrowed down from over 1400 miles of Red Sea coast to just the Gulf of Aqba part. And did so by showing both Hebrew and Greek and both Old and New Testament are correct.
This page gave some reasons why the sea was called Red Sea.
This page also makes a case for the “Sea of Weeds/Reeds” translation with likely is wrong as you can read on the next page.
Fortunately the translation has zero impact on locating the sea…