SPECIAL TOPIC: THE RED SEA (BDB 410 construct BDB 693 I)

I. Name

A. Literally the name is Yam Suph.

 1. "Sea of Weeds" or "Sea of Reeds" (Egyptian root)

 2. "Sea at the end (of the earth)" (Semitic root)

B. This can refer to

 1. salt water, 1 Kgs. 9:26 (Gulf of Aqaba); Jonah 2:5 (Mediterranean Ocean)

 2. fresh water, Exod. 2:3; Isa. 19:6

C. The Septuagint is the first translation to call it "the Red Sea."  Possibly these translators were relating it to the sea of Edom (red). This designation was perpetuated by the Latin Vulgate and later the King James English translation. 

II. Location

A. There are several bodies of water referred to by this name.

 1. the narrow body of water between Egypt and the Sinai peninsula about 190 miles long (Gulf of Suez)

 2. the body of water between the Sinai peninsula and Arabia about 112 miles long (Gulf of Aqaba)

B. It could relate to the shallow marsh area in the northeastern part of the Nile delta close to Tanis, Zoan, Avaris, Rameses, which is on the southern shore of Lake Menzaleh (the marshy region).

C. It could be used metaphorically of the mysterious waters to the south, often used of the sea at the end (of the earth).  This means it could refer to:

 1. modern Red Sea (Gulf of Suez or the Gulf of Aqaba, cf. 1 Kgs. 9:26)

 2. Indian Ocean (cf. Herodotus 1.180)

 3. Persian Gulf (cf. Josephus) 

III. Suph in Numbers 33

A. In Num. 33:8 the body of water that was miraculously divided is called suph (BDB 693 I, "reeds" or "weeds").

B. In Num. 33:10,11 the Israelites are said to camp by yam suph (sea of reeds/weeds).

C. There are two different bodies of water.

 1. the first is not the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez)

 2. the second probably is the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez)

D. The term suph is being used in the OT in three ways.

 1. body of water parted by YHWH to allow the Israelites to pass, but the Egyptian soldiers to drown

 2. the northwestern extension of the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez)

 3. the northeastern extension of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba)

E. Yam suph possibly does not mean "reed sea" because

 1. there were/are no reeds (papyrus) in the Red Sea (salt water)

 2. the supposed Egyptian etymology refers to a land, not a lake

F. Suph could come from the Semitic root "end" (BDB 692) and refer to the mysterious unknown waters to the south (see Bernard F. Batts, "Red Sea or Reed Sea? What Yam Suph Really Means" in Approaches to the Bible, vol. 1, pp. 291-304).


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