Click to Enlarge  Topographical map of crossing

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Exodus Route of Moses

Click to Enlarge  Alternative Israelite Ethan camp and crossing scenario. 

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Scouting Route of Moses

I'm going to look at this story as if it were a military operation.   Moses either was a prince or a general so the operation was likely a result of planning.  I'm not going to cover the original source of the story just it's possible planning and operation.

It starts out with Moses living in Midian for a number of years.   The number of years he was living there I'll discuss in the section on inconsistencies.

If Moses had a plan on freeing the Israelites he would want to free them to a place.  Going directly to Canaan would not be a good idea if a high number of them were women and children.   Those would have to brought to a safer location not into a potential war zone.   The only place he had was Midian.   He may have made several scouting trips to the Sinai to locate watering holes and gauge walking times.  (To place these my map marks the location of springs in the modern era.  3500 years later the campsites still match many spring locations.)   

Midian lies in the northwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula along the Gulf of Aqaba.  A caravan trail would of run through it.  The caravan would of carried things like frankincense  (olibamum) and myrrh for pagan religious ceremonies.  A major religious site was located at Kadesh (Petra) where pilgrims travel from all over the Middle East.  Other goods from Arabia and Ethiopia may have been unloaded in Midian and in ports to the south and trans-shipped to the Levant region in order to avoid taxation at the Egyptian port of Ezion Geber at the north end of the Sea of Aqaba. 

Thus Moses made his way to Egypt. The Israelites were allowed to go.  They set out from Rameses (Avaris) in divisions.  That may mean they were organized in groups or echelons.  Maybe fighting age males took up the rear and front positions as to guard the women and children in the center. 

The first stop was Succoth.  Succoth refers to tent stakes.   The whereabouts is unknown but one old map marks a Jewish town location.  Maybe we can assume the Israelites are going there first to gather (in tents) in large numbers outside of Aravis.  The next camp site is called Ethan.  That is on the edge of the desert.   There are two good possible places for this. 

1.  Along the sink or serbonian* bog which will be someday be known as the Great Bitter Lake.   

2.  On the Way of Shur road over the bog near Lake Timsah in the desert known as El-Tih.  Actually, the central plateau and mountain range were named El-Tih.  The camp site called 'Ethan' and the camp site 'Elim' were probably both of the El-Tih name but the local inhabitants spoke it differently,

*An serbonian bog is a bog covered by blown sand such that it looks like dry land but is actually a bog or swamp. As an early theory was that the Israelites were on the other side of a serbonic bog and the Egyptians mistook it for land and drove their chariots into it drowning themselves.

The next camp is described as being closer to Rameses.   Thus they have back-tracked to a degree.   This in order to confuse or entice the Egyptians into attacking them.  I don't know why they wanted to encourage that but maybe the Israelites intended to ambush the Egyptian chariots from the reed bog.  This camp could be only a rear guard which was to delay the Egyptians allowing the other Israelites to escape.  The strong wind at the time may have laid down the reeds and exposed the Israelite ambush positions.   1600 years later Vargo's three Roman Legions were destroyed in an ambush at the Teutoburg Forest by Germans hiding in the woods waiting for them.  But, the Germans had prepared positions and were trained warriors unlike the Israelites.

Where is this camp by the sea or bog?  (Note that lakes seem to have been called seas at this time.)  It is said to be between Mignol and Pi Hahiroth.  Mignol means tower or strong so that might be a border fort.  Maybe guarding the Way of Shur road.  Pi-Hahiroth means the house or place of a hollow or gorge.  Though one translation says it means mouth of a gorge.   The only terrain that resembles that in the area near the border is the Wadi Tumilat.  This is a gully that extends from the Nile river to Lake Timsah.  So Pi Hahiroth would be at the wadi's end or mouth.   

           Exodus 1560 BC 

                 After Action Report

Long before Moses' time when the Nile River flooded water would flow down this wadi into Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lake bog and sink, both are below sea level.  These regions would eventually dry out when the Nile flooding ended.  (Lake Timsah was also called crocodile lake because when it flooded crocodiles would make their way into the lake and then be unable to return to the Nile so it would act like a Roach Motel but for crocodiles.)

As late as 1850 BC a canal was dug down the wadi which diverted Nile water into Lake Timsah and the Bitter Lake sink.  This acted to alleviate excess flooding that would destroy the crops.   One other reference point is the location of Baal Zephron.  The Israelite camp was suppose to be across from this.  This may be a city or temple dedicated to Baal or it may just be Lake Ballah. 

Instead of ambushing the Egyptian chariots the seas parted and the Israelites ran across the open sea bottom.  When the Israelites got to the other side instead of going around to the far side by road the Egyptians decided to follow across the sea floor.  This proved fatal as the wind that was holding back the water ceased and the waters rushed back like a tsunami drowning most.

It is believed a real phenomenon could explain this.  It is called wind setdown.  A strong steady wind can push the mass of water of a confined body to one end draining the other end.   In 1882 Major General Tulloch of the British Army observed that Lake Menzaleh (Lake Tanis) (the possible Reed Sea) had it's bottom revealed as the waters were driven back by a strong wind.  It was noted that other lakes in the area experienced the same.   There are a few things wrong with that theory.  It is in the wrong place.   No mouth of any wadi for Pi Hahiroth.  Not across from Baal Zephon.  It is on the wrong road.  God said not to go by the Road of the Philistines.  It would be on the end of the defensive wall or 'shur' of Egypt.    However, if it was the location then the situation might look like this:  scenario 3 link

It is unusual that the wind is from the east, though from the south-east is more common.   Hot winds, in Egypt known as Khamsin that blows across the country from the south or southeast in late winter or early spring.  These hot winds usually arrive in April, but occasionally occur in March and May.   Unobstructed by geographical features, these winds reach high velocities and carry great quantities of sand and dust from the desert.  They are also known as 'Winds of fifty days'  because they most commonly prevail during the fifty days preceding and following the vernal equinox. Link

Going back to the scenarios:

#1 Lake Timsah would have it's eastern or south-eastern side open as the water would be blown west.  If the camp were to the southwest of the lake is illustrated in the main map.   The Israelites have no way of escape but cross the

lake or bog if attacked from the west.  If the Israelites were to get across the lake the Egyptians would have a long way to go to get back on the Way of Shur to catch them.   

#2 The Israelites would camp to the southwest of Lake Ballah and the wind would blow the waters west or north-west.    This has the problem that the Egyptians have two roads they can swing around on and catch the Israelites emerging from the lake.   It should be noted the borders of Egypt do not extend to some line on a map like modern national borders.   An Egyptian priest when asked where does Egypt extend said that it is where the waters of

the Nile cover.    In addition Egypt was the 'black' land referring to the rich black soil.   Our word "desert" is derived from the Egyptian word "dshrt",  the red place, but that is not Egypt.  So places like the port of Ezion Geber while very valuable and important to Egypt and it's economy but it is not within Egyptian borders. 

The map link is located to the right.   Click on it to open up the image.

I originally used an old timey map but that proved inaccurate so had to switch to a Google Earth style map.  This allowed the accurate placing of springs.  At first this was just a bit of bling for the map but it proved crucial in locating camp sites.  It at least improved the whereabouts probable location. The Bible says that Moses was told not to go along the coast road directly to Canaan so he would of gone by Way of the Shur or The Way of the Red Sea.  It's too far to get to the Way of the Red Sea by just going south across the desert from the Lake Timsah area.   Seen on the map are some secondary trails leading south to The Way of the Red Sea from where the Marah camp is placed.  They may be military roads build in modern times but they could be taken by travelers going toward Rameses.

There is a spring there, Bir al Jifjafah, and it can be found with Mapcarta at [30.4506 N,  33.1956 E].  Modern Nekhel is most likely the Exodus Elim.   It sits next to the El Tih mountains where there are springs.  The next point of reference comes from joining Nu 33:10 "They left Elim* and camped by the Red Sea"  with Ex 16 "The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Zin, which is between Elim and Sinai" with Nu 11:3 "So that place was called Taberah".  Numbers 33 list will combine one or more camps together.  Look closely where I placed this.  It is at a sea town called Taba.     Midian is not very far away.   Just get back on the Way of the Red Sea and head east,  Unfortunately Ezion Geber and Egyptian patrols bar the way.  Moses would have to detour around them. 

Further indications are Nu 11:34 "Kibroth Hattaavah means Graves of Craving" and Nu 11:35 "From Kibroth Hattaavah the people traveled to Hazeroth. "  More detail was added in Du 9:22 "You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah."  So between Taberah and Kibroth Hattaavah there was another camp.   What is helpful in locating this is that there are springs at these locations.   Later in Du:1 "Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road." Moses could of turned south at Kibroth Hattaavah yet continued north to Hazeroth.  Hazeroth is associated as being near Kadesh which is Petra.   

There is an Islamic tradition that Abraham built the Ka'ba at Mecca which has been shown that the original one was at Petra.  Sahih Bukhari, Book 55: Number 584: "So, both of them rose and Abraham started building (the Ka'ba) while Ishmael went on handing him the stones" The Ka'Ba was used by polytheists not Hebrews.   

In all three journeys of Moses and the Israelites they go via Kibroth Hattaavah to Hazeroth no matter if they are going east and south or going north.   Once Moses turns south from Hazeroth it is a clear trek to Midian.   Other camp spots are mostly guesses.  Alush might be Aqaba.  The last problem is the placing Rephidim. Ex. 19:1 "On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt--on that very day--they came to the Desert of Sinai." 19:2 "After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.".   So it is on the border between the Desert of Sinai and the Desert of Paran.  It may be closer to Mt. Horeb than I show but the Israelites did not have any water there.  You would think Moses would of known where the springs were located so close to home. Thus I placed it further away than the numerous local springs.   

Two years after leaving Egypt Moses is ready to move on Canaan.  Apparently the entire Israelite community is on the move. There doesn't seem to have been a shortage of weapons as they had a good number of warriors. The only camp sites once they left Mt. Horeb in the Sinai Desert are Kibroth Hattaavah first then to Hazeroth.

Nu 33:16 "They left the Desert of Sinai and camped at Kibroth Hattaavah".  Nu 33:17 "They left Kibroth Hattaavah and camped at Hazeroth".

Sites in order from Mt. Horeb Kibroth Hattaavah is first then Hazeroth.   Nu 12:16 "After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran."  Nu 13:21 "So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath." Nu 13;22 "They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron".   Nu 13:26 

"They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran".    It shows that Kadesh and Hazeroth must be very close to each other.   

The bad news was the people of Canaan were well armed and well fortified.  Moses then decided to return to Midian but the Israelites had other ideas.   They armed themselves and moved to attack various towns.  They were beaten badly and fought a retreat culminating in a battle at Hormah.  The survivors retreated back to Kadesh.   There isn't a list of towns that the Israelites attacked as Moses wasn't with them and he or Aaron were the ones writing it all down.  At this point it is assumed that Moses threat to return down the road to the Red Sea is enacted. It is unclear if Israelites went all the way back to Midian or only part way.  Du 2:1 "Then we turned back and set out toward the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir".    Du 2:14 "Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley."

It would mean the Israelites presumably wandered south or east of Kadesh for 38 years.   They left Kadesh and went elsewhere. They were condemned to be shepherds for a generation.  While most Israelites were only employed in making clay bricks or farm labor  or herding goats, some where more skilled.   Scratching out a living herding goats and sheep may not seem to be the life they were promised.  Some may have left to seek a better life.  Ezion Geber was a thriving port city and they spoke a language, Egyptian, that the Israelites knew.  A caravan trail ran through Midian to Kedesh and beyond.  There was plenty of trade where they stayed.  One real miracle would be if half the Israelite population didn't eventually evaporate out of the hill country of Seir.