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Bible Dictionaries
Red Sea (Reed Sea)

Holman Bible Dictionary

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Body of water God dried up in the Exodus. Red Sea is a common translation of two Hebrew words yam suph . Yam means “sea,” but suph does not normally mean “red.” Suph often means “reeds” ( Exodus 2:3 ,Exodus 2:3,2:5; Isaiah 19:6 ) or “end,” “hinder part” (Joel 2:20; 2 Chronicles 20:16; Ecclesiastes 3:11 ). Yam suph could be translated “Sea of Reeds” or “Sea at the end of the world.” The earliest known translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Greek Septuagint about 200 B.C.) translated yam suph consistently with Erthra Thalassa “Red Sea.” Jerome continued the process in the Latin Vulgate (A.D. 400) by using Mare Rubrum “Red Sea” for yam suph . Most English translations have followed the Vulgate and use “Red Sea” in the text with a footnote indicating the literal translation is “Reed Sea.” TEV uses various terms to translate yam suph : “Gulf of Suez (Exodus 10:19 ); “Red Sea” (see footnote on Exodus 13:18 ); and “Gulf of Aqaba (1 Kings 9:26 ).

We do not know who first suggested the translation “Reed Sea.” In the eleventh century the French Jewish scholar Rashi spoke of yam suph in terms of a marsh overgrown with weeds. In the twelfth century Ibn Ezra, a Spanish Jew, commented that yam suph in Exodus 13:18 may be so named because reeds grow around it. Martin Luther translated yam suph as Schilfmeer : “Reed Sea.” Although the name “Reed Sea” has been widely accepted by many scholars, there have been many recent attempts to prove the term “Sea of Reeds” is not a legitimate reading for yam suph .

The Old Testament uses the term yam suph to refer to more than one location. In Exodus 10:19 it refers to the Gulf of Suez as the place where the locusts were driven and destroyed. In 1 Kings 9:26 it refers to the Gulf of Aqaba where the ships of Solomon's navy were stationed. The same location may be indicated in Jeremiah 49:21 where the cries of Edom could be heard. The “Way of the ( yam suph ) Red Sea” is part of the name of a highway out of Egypt (Exodus 13:18; Numbers 14:45; Numbers 21:4; Deuteronomy 1:40; Deuteronomy 2:1; Judges 11:16 ). The “Red Sea” was the name of a camp along the way from Egypt (Numbers 33:10-11 ). Yam suph marked the ideal southern border of Israel ( Exodus 23:31 ), but the most significant reference of “Red Sea” in the Old Testament was to the place where God delivered Israel from Pharaoh's army (Exodus 15:4 ,Exodus 15:4,15:22; Numbers 21:14; Duet. Numbers 11:4; Joshua 2:10; Joshua 4:23; Joshua 24:6; Nehemiah 9:9; Psalm 106:7 ,Psalms 106:7,106:9-11 ,Psalms 106:9-11,106:22; Psalm 136:13-15 ).

No one knows the exact location of the place where Israel crossed the “Red Sea” on their way out of Egypt. Four primary theories have been suggested as to the place of the actual crossing of the isthmus of Suez: (1) the northern edge of the Gulf of Suez; (2) a site in the center of the isthmus near Lake Timsah; (3) a site at the northern edge of the isthmus and the southern edge of Lake Menzaleh; and (4) across a narrow stretch of sandy land which separates Lake Sirbonis from the Mediterranean Sea. Although no one knows the exact site of the crossing, the weight of the biblical evidence is on the side of suggested site number two. See Exodus Event.

Ralph L. Smith

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Red Sea (Reed Sea)'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​r/red-sea-reed-sea.html. 1991.
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