Question #1: I wanted to call your attention to an interesting link about the possible site of the Exodus crossing. I think these people may be referring to the same approx. site as the TV special, up near the town of Aqaba. The TV special was very cool because of all the photography on the sea floor of chariots, wheels, etc..
Response #1: This is of course not the place of the crossing. Pharaoh and company didn't chase the Israelites all over Sinai then follow them through the gulf of Aqaba. The true site of the Exodus crossing, as can be easily discerned from a carful study of Exodus chapters 13-14, is the Red Sea proper, somewhere south of where today the Suez Canal begins, though the exact location can only be approximated (see the link to the diagram: "The Israelite Camp on the Red Sea"). After leaving Ramses, the Israelites went first to Succoth, then to Etham on the edge of the wilderness (Ex.13:20). But after this, they are instructed to "turn back" and camp "between Migdol and the sea" (Ex.14:1; Num.33:7). Notwithstanding the fact that a two stage journey with legs of rather rapid succession in the narrative is a dubious way to suggest a trek all the way across Sinai, and adding in the facts that Pharaoh and company catch up almost immediately on the one hand and that Moses had requested a "three day journey into the desert" on the other (which would sync with a shorter trip due south but not a longer trek eastward: Ex.8:27), perhaps the most critical objection to the Aqaba theory is that the Israelites "turned back" to get to the position wherein Pharaoh finds them. Now if they had reached the gulf then had "turned back" toward Egypt, they wouldn't be on the coast as they are in chapter 14, and if they had not yet reached it, the scenario is even less workable for by turning back prior to reaching water they would be even farther from the water.
This has become a somewhat popular theory out there in the ether for reasons that escape me. I had a long running conversation with an adherent some months ago who was accusing me the vilest sort of heresy for not giving into this pet theory. I don't doubt that something has been found under water off Aqaba, but I have seen too many of these sorts of archaeological claims turn out to be way over-blown to get too excited (does "Noah's ark on Mt. Ararat" ring a bell?), especially since my policy is to go with scripture even if my eyes were to tell me different.
For more on this please see:
Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart.
Secular Documentation for the Exodus.
The Supernatural Darkness during the Exodus from Egypt.
I have questions regarding Dr. Luginbill's theory of the Exodus route:
He interprets God's order to Moses to "turn back" as meaning He commanded them to back into Egypt. This not only does not make sense, but in light of Egyptian history is an impossibility. The Eastern border of Egypt was defended against "sand crossers" and other invaders by what is known as the "Wall of the Ruler"...a "Berlin Wall" if you will of fortresses and crocodile filled canals extending from the Red Sea to Pelusium. This wall existed from Joseph's time to well beyond the 18th dynasty. There was no way for a large number of people to have reentered Egypt without facing the Egyptian army defending its borders. You can read of the way Egypt guarded its borders in the story of Sinuhe, who had to slip by its fortress to freedom, and in "ancient Record of the Egyptians" where it is shown that ALL persons seeking entry stopped at the border and needed permission to enter. Recent discoveries at Tharu City, three miles east of the Suez show how incredible this defensive system was. Next, even IF the Israelites successfully reentered Egypt. they would have had to traverse several Egyptian Nomes or districts to get to the Red Sea...
Gentlemen, these Nomes existed since before 2000BC and continued till the Roman era. Each nome was ruled by a Normarch WITH HIS OWN ARMY. Yet you have the Israelites miraculously slipping by Egyptian fortresses and several Nomes and their armies to the Red Sea. It also does not make sense for Pharoah to "pursue" a people within his own borders given the fact he could simply have commanded his Nomarchs to intercept them. Finally, the charioteers of Egypt consisted of her noblemen, each coming from the 42 Nomes of Egypt. ...they were not a centralized group ready to give chase in a moment. If Pharaoh chose his best he had to call them from Upper Egypt as well as Lower Egypt which would have taken time...as each charioteer maintained his chariot in his own district. (See Breasted's "Records")
The bible makes it clear the Israelites weren't in Egypt by the time Pharaoh caught up to them... Even the Targums make this clear...placing Pi Hiharoth as a place where caravans crossing the desert stopped to rest.
Thanks for your time.
The first thing I would like to clarify here is that the study you reference at Ichthys is one of biblical exegesis, Exodus 14, not of secular history. No doubt there are many instances where archaeologists and Egyptian historians would quibble with the biblical account (not to say reject it all together out of hand). It seems to me that most if not all of your criticisms here are concerned with this issue. As to what constituted "Egyptian territory" in the thinking of the Israelites at that particular time, the interpretation advanced in "Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart" seems to me answer the questions posed; that is to say, it reasonably reconciles the statement in Exodus 13:8 with the Israelites statements in Exodus 14: 11-12 by understanding a certain amount of "back-tracking" in response to the Lord's command in Exodus 14:2. Just how far out of "Egyptian territory" the children of Israel had proceeded in the first place is not specified in scripture, not to mentioned that what constituted "Egyptian territory" – especially in the thinking of the Israelites as opposed to some official Egyptian designation – is certainly open to interpretation. Given the dissonance between Egyptian and biblical sources and the incompleteness of the archaeological record (along, of course, with the differences of opinion between many biblical and secular scholars as to the precise chronology of many of the things you mention), I am not sure that "impossible" is at all a fair characterization of this treatment. But even if it is, I place my faith in the biblical record, and am concerned exclusively in this regard with the correct interpretation of the Bible. On that point, I fail to see any inconsistency in the interpretation I have advanced in this respect: the picture presented is consistent with everything scripture says, even if it may seem impossible to some in light of the present state of secular scholarship on some of these points.
In our Lord Jesus,
Your thoughtful response is very much appreciated. Let me clarify my stance as briefly as possible: There is, of course, more than one theory of the Exodus Route....Gulf of Suez, Gulf of Aquaba, north, south, etc.
My contention is simply that the most popular theory about the Exodus almost totally disregards the details given in the bible.
1. The Bible is clear that the Hebrews left Egypt on 15 Nissan...the daylight following Passover. On this there can be no debate.
2. Some secular and even "Christian" theories claim the Hebrews went next a location in the Wadi Tumilat Naville claims is the Succoth of the bible. This region has always been a military and religious center in Egypt, the religious capital of the 13th Nome. Why Moses would, one lead his people to a militarized zone complete with a fortress is beyond understanding...but the basic fact is it was IN Egypt, a fact Naville admits, contradicts the scripture does it not?
3.Pharaoh granted the Hebrews their wish to travel three days OUTSIDE Egypt into the desert...correct? Nothing indicates he broke his promise. He was later told the people had fled...how could this be if they had returned or were returning to Egypt? Why chase people who had come back home? this makes no sense. The East border of Egypt was but a 2 hour chariot ride from the capitol, why amass an army to chase people so close?
4. If you read Diodorus and other ancient writers you will see the East Delta and the region all they way to the Gulf of Suez was then a highly developed and well populated area of Egypt....the idea of 2 million or so people "wandering" at will, a mass of people 12 miles wide, unmolested through the equivalent of Connecticut is improbable at best. Diodorus records over a thousand towns in that area. The ruins of many cities have been uncovered from the Delta south to the Suez, the Suez region was a major trading site and well fortified against sea faring invaders. There was simply no place 2 million could have camped by the shore without being attacked by Egyptian soldiers LONG before the arrival of Pharaoh.
5. You stress they "turned back"..however other translations simply say the Hebrews were told to "turn" and camp at PiHahiroth. There isn't enough certainty in the translations to assert they actually returned all the way to Egypt. This must be put aside as conjecture.
Sir, the "popular" theory of the exodus unfortunately runs into a brick wall of the reality of Egyptian history. Recent arcehlogical discoveries, as recent as last year, pinpoint the ancient eastern border of Egypt at Tharu or Sile, just east of the Suez....a chain of fortresses from Pelusium to the Gulf of Suez has also been discovered. (Read "Journal of Near Eastern Studies".) A crossing of the Gulf of Suez is ruled out by the words of Exodus....which again states plainly the Hebrews left egypt 15 Nissan, the cries of the panic hebrews make it plain they were in a wilderness, not highly developed and civilized Egypt where, in your location, they would have seen towns and ships and people by the thousands in those days. "What wilderness?"
Secular theorists who claim the Hebrews crossed a marsh such as Lake Ballah or Timsah also face the same cold hard reality of history...huge fortresses lay in front of those lakes meaning the Hebrews would have emerged in front of thousands of Egyptian soldiers. Again, this makes no sense at all. A leading Exodus theorist, a Mr Mattfeld of "Bible origins" finally admitted to me the "popular" route of the Exodus only works if you rewrite the bible's account and ignore some of the points it makes. Since he does not believe in God he says he feels free to rewrite the story any way he choses to suit his theories. Another theorist, popular on the web, Mr Birkitt, admitted historical facts render the popular theory meaningless and he is rethinking all of it. The "popular" Exodus route makes no sense on either end actually. Mainly because the Hebrews are depicted as "wandering" in the land around what many believe to be "Kadesh", on the southern border of Israel. Look at any map theorizing the wandering in the Desert of the Hebrews and you will see them in the Negev of Israel...which was THE LAND OF CANAAN itself from the time of Abraham to Moses. The popular route makes the preposterous assertion that the Hebrews, banned from Canaan by God, then wandered for 40 years IN Canaan....the very same land God told Abraham to get up and walk the length thereof. Canaan's border the bible says, stretched from the Gulf of Aquaba to the Wadi of Egypt, the same border as today...
I believe God meant what He said, personally. He said the Hebrews would not even SEE Canaan after their rebellion, yet many Christians defy the literal translation and have the Hebrews wandering through south Canaan as far as the Dead Sea...to them the word of God must have no meaning. How they then explain how it was the Hebrews went unmolested by the Canaanites all that time, (anyone remember Arad?) only to have to war against them when Joshua sent Caleb to the very same Negev to defeat the Kings is so unbelievable it is no wonder so many doubt "Christians" and their bible.
I sir, simply take the Bible at its word. I neither add nor subtract, nor am I bound to the traditions of men. The Bible states the Hebrews LEFT Egypt 15 Nissan, I believe it...that rules out a Gulf of Suez crossing as all of its western shore in IN Egypt. And I reject the very notion of the Hebrews wandering in the Negev. After all, why show Moses Canaan from a mountain top? He had seen most of it every day for 40 years. There is more than one theory regarding the route of the Exodus and the 40 years wandering. Unfortunately the one most widely believed completely dismisses the details given in the bible.
Thanks for your time..I did not mean to write a book
Thank you for your response. In reply, I would not characterize the view presented in my study "Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart" as either 1) "the popular view", or 2) in harmony with the multiple theories you relate in your response. I'm afraid I must insist that this study be considered on its own merits rather than be judged on the inconsistencies or half-hearted views of others. On that point, it is still unclear to me precisely what it is about the particular interpretation advanced in this study which you find fatally flawed:
1) Diodorus was a "library historian" who wrote in the late first century B.C. some 1400 years after the fact. Any information he provides is problematic at best even for secularists, and certainly anyone who believes scripture would have to prefer the Bible in case of any contradiction.
2) As far as I can tell, the date of 15 Nissan, which of course I accept as the Bible states it clearly, does not have any particular bearing on or application to the argument as far as this study is concerned.
3) The verb in Exodus 14:2 is shubh. It means "return" or "turn back", indicating unmistakably a reversal of direction. Any other interpretation runs contrary to grammar and the context (cf. also Num.33:7), and must be considered a wrong-headed attempt to harmonize the text with a preconceived theory.
4) Your various geographical, historical, and demographic observations: As I mentioned in my previous e-mail, all of these things are problematic because our understanding of the history, contemporary geography, chronology, and archaeology of early bronze age Egypt is, to the say the least, incomplete. There have been innumerable occasions where this or that archaeological discovery has "disproved" some biblical passage or other, only to be itself modified by closer scrutiny or additional finds. In any case, none of the information you report as fact seems to me to make the interpretation advanced at Ichthys ipso facto impossible.
5) What "makes sense": Logic is important, but human logic is oft times shown to be wanting especially where God is concerned. Why Pharaoh did what he did indeed "makes no sense" at any point – but that is precisely one of the main points of this section of Exodus. As the Lord says:
"Indeed, for this very reason I have raised you [Pharaoh] up,
namely, to demonstrate My power to you and to proclaim My Name
in all the earth."
In short, all of this is not to say that you might not have some point to make regarding theories and interpretations of the Exodus generally, but they do seem not to be tailored to this study of mine in particular, and that would be my main interest. To that end, it might be helpful for you to clarify your own position which I am unable to discern precisely from your comments. Where and when and how and under what circumstances do you believe the Israelites crossed the Red Sea?
In our Lord for whom nothing is impossible.
Dear Mr. Luginbill;
The primary reason I wrote to begin with was that I read in to explanation of Exodus 14 that you theorize that when God ordered Moses to "turn back", that the Israelites were just a short distance from Egypt and returned to Egypt. I disagreed. Primarily based on the very very clear fact the Hebrews were not in Egypt when Pharaoh approached. You assume knowledge of the borders of ancient Egypt is so unreliable that is possible the Hebrews could have been at the western shore of the Gulf of Suez and that this was not Egypt at the time. My point here is that the belief that the Red Sea crossing had to be at the Gulf of Suez if the "popular" theory and the one scripture does not support. I have noticed that almost ALL Christians who support this theory always claim no one knows enough about ancient history....
This isn't true. We know from the Egyptians own writings they visited the Land of Punt...some where south of Egypt, by ships built at the Gulf of Suez. We know from Byblos this was a major trade route...we know...from the discovery of ruins there were Egyptian towns and fortresses along the Gulf...this was NOT a wilderness, and it certainly was Egypt. This fact is literally written in the stone..in their history. Therefore, the very fact the shore of the Gulf of Suez was Egypt, means we cannot defy scripture in favor of a theory we wish to believe. If we look at the evidence: Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to trave 3 days outside Egypt, that he was notified they had fled AND the most important fact, I think...the Hebrews travelled day AND NIGHT....puts them more than just a little distance outside Egypt by the time Pharaoh is notified.
I believe we should look more to the Hebrew records themselves than the christianized traditions. Some targums put Succoth from 3 days journey to almost 100 miles from Egypt. Josephus places it a considerable distance. Pi Hiharoth to the Hebrews was "Mouth of the Rocks"...a caravansary near the gulf of Aqaba. In fact, all the ancient writings evidence place the crossing at Aqaba, not Suez. Josephus has the desert wanderings east of Jordan, as do others ...Kadesh is rendered as "Rekem" a site near Jordan, not south of Israel. In short, for the bible not to lie, for the Israelites not to have even SEEN Canaan after the rebellion, they could not have come up from the Sinai to Kadesh, which would have them in the Negev ,but had to come from Saudi Arabia...which means a crossing of Aqaba, not Suez. I know most of us are mental slaves to tradition. But a Suez crossing would mean God lied. The southern border of Canaan extended from the Mediterranean to the Aqaba...We all know Isaac NEVER left Canaan and we know he spent a lot of time in the Negev.
That was my point...a Suez crossing would make a liar out of God and the Bible. It puts them back into Egypt in order to cross and then forces the Israelites to cross into Canaan from the south to reach Jericho. Geographically there is no other way and you may argue again that we do not know the borders of Canaan but in this case God tells us very specifically.
Thanks again for your time
If my interpretation of events seems to you improbable (though you still seem to be conflating it with other interpretations), I would respectfully submit that it was impossible for anyone traveling on foot (not to mention a massive column including women and children) to cross the entirety of the Sinai peninsula in three days and reach all the way to the gulf of Aqaba (a distance of some two hundred miles at least as the crow flies, quite apart from the extremely difficult terrain of the Sinai) .
On the other hand, an initial entry into Sinai (thus briefly leaving Egyptian territory) and a return to Egyptian territory leading down to the northwestern shore of the gulf Suez would have been possible. It also possesses the virtue of squaring completely with the biblical narrative.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond. I did not find it very clear, however. My points again were that: The Israelites left Egypt...the bible does not state they then returned to Egypt as you say. The Date of the Exodus is given but once...15 Nisan...if this were but a temporary Exodus, the final date for freedom would have been give.
I stated the if we follow the bible any exit from Suez was impossible as this region belonged to Egypt. Note. The famed "King's Highway"..starts from Heliopolis, Egypt, across to the head of the Suez across to Aqaba and on to Jordan...it was very famous and VERY well travelled. The head of the Suez, in ancient times, one could find there, sea ports for travel to the copper mines and beyond, CLysma, etc. It was a very busy place from the time of Sesostris onward....even a casual study of ancient trade routes woul reveal the Suez bay as a world trade nexus much like
New York or San Francisco. Statues of Rameses have been found there, Egyptian fortresses, etc. The point of all this...This being a key in the King's highway,etc, isthis busy scene does not fit the bible's description.
The Wall, again, would have prevented any reentry by the Israelites without permission.
I do not see why this is so hard to encompass. It was a series of fortresses, three miles east of the Suez canal of today...the Hebrews had to have permission to leave Egypt to begin with...reentry would have required the same. Sir, knowledge of ancient Egypt has exploded in just the past 15 years. A University gives special classes on the Wall of the Ruler and Egypt's defenses. Your theory still has the Hebrews defying the biblical narrative...that is all I have said. I know being human we are slaves to the traditions we were taught and we will bend the bible to fit what we want to believe.
Case in point...as I have said, there was simply no way possible for the Hebrews to come from the traditional Sinai, north, and get to Jericho without crossing into the Promised Land...which..for those of us who believe the bible does mean what it says...God forbade them to enter or see for forty years. This is a simple geographical fact many Christians ignore because they are wedded to the traditions of men....and chose to bend the bible rather than accept this fact. Show me, how they could have done this with God Himself declaring the southern border of the Promised Land to be from the Red Sea (Aqaba) to the Great Sea (Mediterranean).
That was all. They could not cross the Suez because they would have been in Egypt and they could not then go north to Jericho because they would enter the Negev of Israel...and we all know they were forbidden to enter Edom..so this left absolutely no choice..IF we stay with the bible and not the traditions born out of the vision's of an emperor's mother. That about does it. IF you have an answer to how the Hebrews got to Jericho from your Sinai without entering or even seeing the Promised Land let me know.
We seem to be talking past each other. I'm happy to try again.
First, please keep in mind that your approach and mine are different. You have a very specific idea of what the "lay of the land" was in the 15th cent. B.C. based upon your archaeological studies, and this informs your exegesis. But in my reading, the Bible is very un-specific about such matters, and therefore leaves much room for this narrative to fit into a wide variety of archaeological constructs.
I start with scripture, and am happy to add extra-biblical details when they inform my exegesis. The main point of friction in our two somewhat disparate approaches seems to me to lie mostly in your contention that this or that archaeological detail makes certain interpretations "impossible". But the Bible obviously leaves out many details. The absence of scriptural commentary upon the features you find significant neither confirms nor contradicts their existence, merely their lack of importance in the narrative. Therefore while you may indeed have a case in your disputations with those who have gone on record with geographical specifics, in the case of this present study of mine posted at Ichthys the only thing that is relevant is whether or not this broad theory of mine is, as you contend, "impossible". Let's look at the facts.
Simply put, my view is that the Israelites left Egypt, then briefly returned at God's command. What route they took, though I characterize it as "round about", is not specifically described by the Bible and not speculated on by me in this study. Were I to speculate, I would repeat what I have already said, namely, that, even assuming everything you say is 100% bona fide as to the precise situation in the mid-15th cent. B.C., nothing I can find in your construct would prevent a >-shaped route wherein they entered Sinai roughly southeasterly (i.e., into the desert), then turned southwest at God's command to end up on the shore of the Red Sea (i.e., far from any continuous wall). Such a route lines up precisely with what Pharaoh says about the situation in Exodus 14:3:
"The desert has shut them off (i.e., they had trouble in Sinai), and so they are still in the land (i.e., came back in out of the desert) - demoralized."
Note that Pharaoh has them still "in the land". This is also how Moses explains the situation in Exodus 13:18:
"Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea." (i.e., consistent with the >-shaped route)
I do state that this return was "into Egyptian territory", but as I have said I understand this in a very loose sense and add the detail for the benefit of modern readers who understand territorial divisions in the modern post 18th century nationalistic sense. Perhaps it would have been better to say "in the direction of Egypt". However, since you apparently would likewise place the northwest coast of the gulf of Suez "in Egypt", this ought not to be a bone of contention between you and me.
As to the wall, no wall "stretching from Peluisum to Heliopolis", as you put it, would have had any effect on this route of march once they had entered Sinai with permission. As to "leaving Egypt on 15 Nisan" being an interpretative impediment, this is a very slender reed with which to launch an impossibility-argument, because nothing in this statement or elsewhere in scripture rules out a brief "technical" re-entry into the fringe of what the Egyptians would consider their territory (after all, the Israelites never resettled nor even returned to their previous dwellings – from their point of view they were miles away from a home they had left irreversibly behind). So all this is especially the case when one considers that this description of departure is given from the Israelite point of view, and, as already pointed out, in the understanding of the Israelites this location on the banks of the Red Sea was not Egypt as they knew it and expressed it (Ex.14:11: "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the desert? What in the world have you done to us in taking us out of Egypt?").
As to the later route into Canaan, since that is not covered in the study under consideration posted at Ichthys, namely, "Exodus 14: Hardening Pharaoh's Heart", it is largely moot for purposes of this discussion. However, scripture is clear about the outline of the route if not its specifics: the Israelites "went around" Edom (Num.21:4). You do not say so directly in your e-mail, but you seem to imply that the route of march bypassed Edom on the east – a point with which I would certainly agree. And they could certainly have done so by by-passing Edom on the south by moving east. That is precisely what Numbers 21:4-5 implies: "the people grew impatient on the way" (i.e., coming from the east, this would be very much an "out of the way" march leading to impatience), and "why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert".
As I say, this study differs in many important respects from others which you may find similar at first glance, but I would ask you respectfully not to conflate problems you may legitimately find in such other studies with the actual interpretation advanced here.
I continue to be nothing less than...surprised at some of your answers...if, for example, chubh meant what you said some time again, turn back, then it would follow that Pi Hiharoth was someplace they had already passed, not a brand new place, but since they could not possibly swung down to the sea first, then out, then back...well....but the way you explain it...well, I cannot follow it to be honest...Egypt's geography and your explanation do not mesh.
However, I wish to address the following:
1) After the Israelites "turn back", Pharaoh makes his remark at Exodus 14:3 that the desert has "shut them off" so that they are wandering "in the land". This can only mean "in the land of Egypt". So it is indeed from the Bible that I am placing them "in Egypt" at this point.
I prefer to let the bible interpret the bible myself, so I look elsewhere to see if the meaning is clarified: In Exodus 8:24-25 Moses asks Pharaoh to let his people go three days journey out into the wilderness to worship...Pharaoh insists they worship "within the land". It is clear here the wilderness is NOT in Egypt as you say, because later Pharaoh tells Moses he can go into the wilderness but not to go far.
There are many different translations of the verse you depend so much upon, in the Peshita it says "they are confused because they are strangers in the land.."... others say "they are trapped between the wilderness and the sea"....
Mr. Luginbill..your version of Exodus greatly reduces the immensity of this miracle to something almost pedestrian. If they crossed at the "northwest tip" of the Suez as you say...then you picked a bay of the Suez scarcely 2 miles across at that point...5 miles across at most, and they would have emerged at the mouth of the Canal of the Pharaohs to boot. This part of the Suez narrow considerably from a few miles further south. A crossing here is simply no great miracle.
But even more troubling...you minimize the immense meaning of the use of "wilderness"...the entire Exodus is symbolic of God's plan to redeem man at the coming of Christ. Why, in Revelations, does the lady with the child flee into the wilderness? In Hebrew there are several words to denote wilderness, horba, midbar, tohu and others...Hebrew is an immensely complex language with great precision in its meanings. A bit of dry land barely 30 miles away from Pithom as you theorize destroys the meaning God has here.
I am very disappointed....there is soo much much more to what all the Exodus means in God's plan and you minimize and weaken it to suit a tradition. I am sorry for that. thanks
I'm sorry you and I cannot agree on the interpretation of this text. However, I do feel that it is an exaggeration (to say the least) that my failure to agree with you constitutes a minimalization of the Word of God. Far from it - the Word of God is my life, and I stand ready to change any point of view when convinced that it does not, in fact, line up with the Bible. Let me respond briefly to your latest missile:
1) Pi Hiharoth is only mentioned at Exodus 14:2, 14:9 and Numbers 33:7, all in the same context of events. The Lord tells Moses at Exodus 14:2 to "turn back", but not "turn back to Pi Hiharoth" which would imply, as you suggest, that they had been there before. However what the Lord actually says in the Bible is "turn back and encamp at Pi Hiharoth". Thus they are ordered to turn back, to reverse their journeying, to head back in the direction of Egypt. But nothing in any of these verses suggests that they had ever been anywhere near Pi Hiharoth before this time.
2) "in the land": The Hebrew here in Exodus 14:3 is ba'arets – not only is "in the land" a straightforward and honest translation of this phrase, but I don't know of any other way to translate it (I note that even the Peshita has "in the land"). And since this phrase unquestionably means "in the land" it is fair to ask what in the world we are to make of Pharaoh's statement except that the Israelites had, in his view as reported in the Bible, returned to territory which he understood as "in Egypt".
3) "the wilderness" and "the Red Sea": Scripture is clear: the Israelites left Egypt, entered the wilderness, and later returned to Egyptian territory along the Red Sea at the Lord's command. These are simply facts of the biblical narrative as I have explained many times now. I am merely attempting to present an explanation which agrees with that narrative. So far, nothing I have heard is sufficient to convince me that the hypothesis originally put forward in this study and defended in this discussion is not the best way to understand what the text describes: departure from Egypt, into the wilderness, return to Egyptian territory along the Red Sea, crossing of the Red Sea proper (as opposed to the gulf of Aqaba).
Finally, I think I do understand the basis for your objections, but 1) none of them makes a straightforward understanding of the narrative as described impossible and 2) the alternatives you suggest continue to fail to mesh with the basic outline of events required by the narrative (departure, wilderness, return, crossing). It is important too to note that the precise distances you find impossible come from you, not me (I don't pretend to know the precise route and never have – though as I have pointed out the gulf of Aqaba scenario requires everyone to had wings, Egyptians included), and that the precise geographical locations and archaeological details are extra-biblical. Making use of human logic, secular history, and archaeology is certainly legitimate, but as a Bible-believing Christian I still put scripture first in all such matters – and I have seen this approach vindicated many times.
I am sorry for your disappointment, but I assure you that the source of it is not any weakening of the truth to suit a tradition on my part. I care little for tradition. My love is the Word of God and Him who is the Word of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I want you to know this has been a very interesting series of communications for myself and the small study group I am involved with. We've taken the approach of "proving all things" as Paul teaches and to be "no respecter or persons"... In short. no title or position will dissuade us from questioning anyone. The position here is, "the bible first...period". I think each of us has had some cherished belief shredded at some point by examining the scriptures an accepting the details as they are, neither adding nor subtracting....But hey, we could still be wrong ...hence, this communication:
Try as we might we simply cannot reconcile your view that the Hebrews were ordered to return to Egypt with the bible.
I believe the nail in the coffin...at least to me and the others...is Numbers 33:7. This is as you the itinerary chapter laying out the primary stations at which the Israelites camped on their 40 year journey.
However one may interpret "chubh"...turn back, turn to, turn again, ...the place that follow it is Pi hahiroth "...and they removed from Etham and (turned back, turned to, turned again) to Ph hahiroth.."
Egypt is not mentioned...and logically if they were two stations out of Egypt before turning we should two stations back to Egypt...correct? Instead wherever it was the turned they were still in or near Etham...for the next stop was across the sea still in the wilderness of Etham.
And if indeed the Hebrew were able to just walk back into Egypt as you believe without encountering the Egyptian army, then so could all the enemies of Egypt walk in as they did is that not so? Would so great a nation leave herself so defenseless? And would so great a nation NOT lay claim to THE most important port and trading route in all of ancient history (Suez?) This would make Egypt the only nation not to claim a sea port....I believe both Hitler and Saddam went to war in part to claim access to the sea....
Your idea was interesting and provoked study. But there is simply no way to make it coincide with the route Moses was instructed to record....simply put, no reference to a return to Egypt is mention in the stations list. We have to go with Moses.
Thank you for all your e-mails. I am glad to hear that you have found this discussion of some use. I agree with you 100% on one thing, anyway: The Bible is first, period. Of course it has to be correctly understood (and that requires bringing a combination of skills, experience, and spiritual gifts to the task). Obviously, not everyone, even in the case of well-meaning Christians, agrees on everything, and that seems to be where we are here. That said, I do have a few final words:
1) After the Israelites "turn back", Pharaoh makes his remark at Exodus 14:3 that the desert has "shut them off" so that they are wandering "in the land". This can only mean "in the land of Egypt". So it is indeed from the Bible that I am placing them "in Egypt" at this point.
2) As to the "nail in the coffin", this logic of stages could only be applicable if they returned by the same way they went out. My hypothesis is of a roughly >-shaped route, and it is certainly possibly that they journeyed two stations southeast into Sinai, then returned one station back towards Egypt on one southwest leg. Changing the "angle of reentry" could easily account for the fact that only one "leg" was necessary to bring about this brief "return".
3) As to the various archaeological details and so-called "re-writing history", I think there's still a bit of confusion on your part about my particular hypothesis. It is "From Egypt - leave Egypt - return towards Egypt - brief reentry to the NW coastal area of the Gulf of Suez.
Despite your skepticism and understanding of the secular historical and archaeological details, I remain convinced that a) nothing in these details renders this interpretation impossible (however improbable you may find it); b) it is in fact consistent with the biblical account; c) it is fact the most probable interpretation of the biblical account, given all the others.
I do commend your enthusiasm for biblical studies and your determination to get to the truth in spite of any and all so-called authoritative studies and pronouncements. Always put the Bible first. That is what I am trying to do too.
In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,