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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Sin, ]סַי; Sept. Σάϊς [v.r. Τάνις ] or Συήνη; Vulg. Pelusium), the name of a town and of a desert perhaps adjoining, upon which modern researches have thrown important light.
1. A city of Egypt, which is mentioned in Ezekiel 30:15-16, in connection with Thebes and Memphis, and is described as "the strength of Egypt," showing that it was a fortified place. The name is Hebrew, or, at least, Shemitic. Gesenius supposes it to signify "clay," from the unused root סַי, probably "he or it was muddy, clayey." It is identified in the Vulg. with Pelusium Πηλούσιον, "the clayey or muddy" town, from πηλός; and seems to be preserved in the Arabic Et-Tineh, which forms part of the names of Fum et-Tineh, the Mouth of Et-Tineh, the supposed Pelusiac mouth of the Nile, and Burg or Kal'at et-Tineh, the Tower or Castle of El- Tineh, in the immediate neighborhood, "tin" signifying "mud," etc., in Arabic. This evidence is sufficient to show that Sin is Pelusium. The ancient Egyptian name is still to be sought for; it has been supposed that Pelusium preserves traces of it, but this is very improbable. Champollion identifies Pelusium with the Poresoum or Peresom (the second being a variation held by Quatremere to be incorrect) and Baresoum of the Copts, El-Farma of the Arabs, which was in the time of the former a boundary city, the limits of a governor's authority being stated to have extended from Alexandria to Pilak-h, or Philae, and Peremoun (Acts of St. Sarapamon MS. Copt. Vat. 67, fol. 90, ap. Quatremere, Memoires Geog. et Hist. sur l'Egypte, 1, 259). Champollion ingeniously derives this name from the article ph prefixed to ep, "to be," and oum, "mud" (L'Egypte, 2, 82-87; comp. Brugsch. Geogr. Inschr. 1, 297). Brugsch compares the ancient Egyptian Ha-rem, which he reads Pe-rema, on our system Pe-rem, "the abode of the tear," or "of the fish rem" (ibid. pl. 55, No. 1679). Pelusium he would make the city Samhat (or, as he reads it Sam-hud), remarking that "the nome of the city Samhud" is the only one which has the determinative of a city, and comparing the evidence of the Roman nome coins, on which the place is apparently treated as a nome; but this is not certain, for there may have been a Pelusiac nome, and the etymology of the name Samhat is unknown (ibid. p. 128; pl. 28, 17).
The exact site of Pelusium is not fully determined. It has been thought to be marked by mounds near Burg et-Tineh, now called El-Farma, and not Et-Tineh. This is disputed by Capt. Spratt, who supposes that the mound of Abu-Khiyar indicates where it stood. This is further inland, and apparently on the west of the old Pelusiac branch, as was Pelusium. It is situate between Farma and Tel-Defenneh. Whatever may have been its exact position, Pelusium must have owed its strength not to any great elevation, but to its being placed in, the midst of a plain of marsh land. and mud, never easy to traverse. The ancient sites in such alluvial tracts of Egypt are in general only sufficiently raised above the level of the plain to preserve them from being injured by the inundation. It lay among swamps and morasses on the most easterly estuary of the Nile (which received from it the name of Ostium Pelusiacum), and stood twenty stades from the Mediterranean (Strabo, 16, 760; 17, 801, 802; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 5, 11). The site is now only approachable by boats during a high Nile, or by land when the summer sun has dried the mud left by the inundation; the remains consist only of mounds and a few fallen columns. The climate is very unwholesome (Wilkinson, Mod. Egypt. 1, 406. 444; Savary, Letters on Egypt, 1, let. 24; Henniker, Travels).
The antiquity of the town of Sin may perhaps be inferred from the mention of "the wilderness of Sin" in the journeys of the Israelites (Exodus 16:1; Numbers 33:11). It is remarkable, however, that the Israelites did not immediately enter this tract on leaving the cultivated part of Egypt, so that it is held to have been within the Sinaitic peninsula, and therefore it may take its name from some other place or country than the Egyptian Sin. (See No. 2.),
Pelusium is noticed (as above) by Ezekiel, in one of the prophecies relating to the invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, as one of the cities which should then suffer calamities, withl probably, reference to their later history. The others spoken of are Noph (Memphis), Zoan (Tanis), No, (Thebes), Aven (Heliopolis), Pi-beseth (Bubastis), and Tehaphnehes (Daphnae). All these, excepting the two ancient capitals, Thebes and Memphis, lay on or near the eastern boundary; and, in the approach to Memphis, an invader could scarcely advance, after capturing Pelusium and Daphnae without taking Tanis, Bubastis, and Heliopolis. In the most ancient times, Tanis, as afterwards Pelusium, seems to have been the key of Egypt on the east. Bubastis was an important position from its lofty mounds, and Heliopolis as securing the approach to Memphis. The prophet speaks of Sin as "the stronghold of Egypt" (30:15). This place it held from that time until the period of the Romans. Pelusium appears to have been the perpetual battlefield between the Egyptians and their foreign enemies. As early as the time of Rameses the Great, in the 14th century B.C., we find Sin proving itself to be what the prophet termed it, "the strength of Egypt." One of the Sallier papyri in the British Museum contains a record of the war between the Egyptians and the Sheta; and the victory which Rameses gained in the neighborhood of Pelusium is detailed at length. The importance of this victory may be gathered from the fact that the Sheta are said to have made their attack with 4500 chariots. As Diodorus specifies the number of this Pharaoh's army, which he says amounted to 60,000 infantry, 24,000 cavalry, and 27,000 chariots of war, it is no wonder that he was enabled successfully to resist the attacks of the Sheta. Diodorus also mentions that Rameses the Great "defended the east side of Egypt against the irruptions of the Syrians and Arabians with a wall drawn from Pelusium through the deserts, as far as to Heliopolis, for the space of 1500 furlongs."
He gives a singular account of an attempt on the part of his younger brother to murder this great Pharaoh, when at Pelusium after one of his warlike expeditions, which was happily frustrated by the adroitness of the king (Diod. Sic. 1, 4). Herodotus relates (2, 141) that Sennacherib advanced against Pelusiim, and that near Pelusitum Cambyses defeated Psammenitus (3, 10-13). In like maner the decisive battle in which Ochus defeated the last native king, Nectanebos (Nekht-nebf), was fought near this city. It was near this place that Pompey met his death, being murdered by order of Ptolemy, whose protection he had claimed (Hist. Bell. Alexand. p., 20, 27; Livy, 45, 11; Josephus, Ant. 14, 8, 1; War, 1, 8, 7; 1, 9, 3). It is perhaps worthy of note that Ezekiel twice mentions Pelusium in the prophecy which contains the remarkable and signally fulfilled sentence, "There shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt" (30, 13). As he saw the long train of calamities that were to fall upon the country, Pelusium may well have stood out as the chief place of her successive humiliations. Two Persian conquests and two submissions to strangers first to Alexander, and then to Augustus may explain the especial misery foretold of this city: "Sin shall suffer great anguish" (Ezekiel 30:16).
We find in the Bible a geographical name which has the form of a gentile noun derived from Sin, and is usually held to apply to two different nations, neither connected with the city Sin. In the list of the descendants of Noah, the Sinite, סַינַי, occurs among the sons of Canaan (Genesis 10:17; 1 Chronicles 1:15). This people, from its place between the Arkite and the Arvadite, has been supposed to have settled in Syria north of Palestine, where similar names occur in classical geography, and have been alleged in confirmation. This theory would not, however, necessarily imply that the whole tribe was there settled, and the supposed traces of the name are by no means conclusive. On the other hand, it must be observed that some of the eastern towns of Lower Egypt have Hebrew as well as Egyptian names, as Heliopolis and Tanis; that those very near the border seem to have borne only Hebrew names, as Migdol; so that we have an indication of a Shemitic influence in this part of Egypt, diminishing in degree according to the distance from the border. It is difficult to account for this influence by the single circumstance of the Shepherd invasion of Egypt, especially as it is shown yet more strikingly by the remarkably strong characteristics which have distinguished the inhabiants of Northeastern Egypt from their fellow countrymen from the days of Herodotus and Achilles Tatius to our own.
Nor must we pass by the statement of the former of these writers that the Palestine Syrians dwelt westward of the Arabians to the eastern boundary of Egypt (2 Chronicles 3:5). Therefore it does not seem a violent hypothesis that the Sinites were connected with Pelusium, though their main body may perhaps have settled much farther to the north. The distance is not greater than that between the Hittites of Southern Palestine and those of the valley of the Orontes, although the separation of the less powerful Hivites into those dwelling beneath Mount Hermon and the inhabitants of the small confederacy of which Gibeon was apparently the head is perhaps nearer to our supposed case. If the wilderness of Sin owed its name to Pelusium, this is an evidence of the very early importance of the town and its connection with Arabia, which would perhaps be strange in the case of a purely Egyptian town. The conjecture we have put forth suggests a recurrence to the old explanation of the famous mention of "the land of Sinlim," אֶרֶוֹ סַינַים, in Isaiah (Isaiah 49:12), supposed by some to refer to China. This would appear from the context to be a very remote region. It is mentioned after the north and the west, and would seem to be in a southern or eastern direction. Sin is certainly not remote, nor is the supposed place of the Sinites to the north of Palestine; but the expression may be proverbial. The people of Pelusium, if of Canaanitish origin, were certainly remote compared to most of the other Canaanites, and were separated by alien peoples, and it is also noticeable that they were to the southeast of Palestine. As the sea bordering Palestine came to designate the west, as in this passage, so the land of Sinim may have passed into a proverbial expression for a distant and separated country. (See SINIM); (See SINITE).
2. A "wilderness" (מַדְבִראּסַין; Sept. ἔπημος Σίν; Vulg. desertum Sin) which the Israelites reached after leaving the encampment by the Red Sea, (Numbers 33:11-12). Their next halting place (Exodus 16:1; Exodus 17:1) was Rephidim, either Wady Feiran, or the mouth of Wady es-Sheikh, (See REPHIDIM); on which supposition it would follow that Sin must lie between those wadies and the coast of the Gulf of Suez, and of course west of Sinai. Since they were by this time gone more than a month from Egypt, the locality must be too far towards the southeast to receive its name from the Egyptian Sin of Ezekiel 30:15, called Σάϊς by the Sept., and identified with Pelusium. (See above.) In the wilderness of Sin the manna Was first gathered, and those who adopt the supposition that this was merely the natural product of the tarfa bush find from the abundance of that shrub in Wady es-Sheikh, southeast of Wady Ghurundel, a proof of local identity. (See ELIM).
As the previous encampment by the Red Sea must have been in the plain of Mukhah, the "wilderness of Sin" could not well have been other than the present plain el-Kaa, which commences at the mouth of Wady Taiyibeh, and extends along the whole southwestern side of the peninsula. At first narrow, and interrupted by spurs from the mountains, it soon expands into an undulating, dreary waste, covered in part with a white gravelly soil, and in part with sand. Its desolate aspect appears: to have produced a most depressing effect upon the Israelites. Shut in on the one hand by the sea, on the other by the wild mountains, exposed to the full blaze of a burning sun, on that bleak plain, the stock of provisions brought from Egypt now exhausted we can scarcely wonder that they said to Moses, "Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exodus 16:3). (See EXODE).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Sin'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/sin.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.