Yam Suph

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Yam Suph (Hebrew: יַם-סוּף) is a phrase which occurs about 23 times in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) and has traditionally been understood to refer to the salt water inlet located between Africa and the Arabian peninsula, known in English as the Red Sea. More recently, alternative western scholarly understandings of the term have been proposed for those passages where it refers to the Israelite Crossing of the Sea as told in Exodus 13-15. These proposals would mean that Yam Suph is better translated in these passages as Sea of Reeds or Sea of Seaweed; see Egyptian reed fields, also described as the ka of the Nile Delta. In Jewish sources I Kings 9:26 "yam suph" is translated as Sea of Reeds at Eilat on the Gulf of Eilat.

The Gulf of Aqaba, to the east/right. Also visible are the Gulf of Suez to the west/left, the Sinai Peninsula separating the two gulfs, and part of the Red Sea in the lower left corner.

In the Biblical narrative of The Exodus the phrase Yam Suph refers to the body of water that the Israelites crossed following their exodus from Egypt. The appropriate translation of the phrase remains a matter of dispute, as does the exact location referred to. One possible translation of Yam Suph is "Sea of Reeds", (suph by itself means 'reed', e.g. in Exodus 2:3). This was pointed out as early as the 11th century, by Rashi.[1]

This may refer to a large lake close to the Red Sea, which has since dried up due to the Suez Canal. It was in Egypt, specifically in the Suez valley next to the Sinai Peninsula, and north of the Gulf of Suez. It could also be the Gulf of Eilat, to which is referred in the Books of Kings (I Kings). The Lake of Tanis, a former coastal lagoon fed by the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, has also been proposed as the place Moses parted the waters.[2] Heinrich Brugsch suggested that the Reed Sea is Sabḫat al Bardawīl, a large lagoon on the north coast of the Sinai Peninsula.[3]

Ancient Nile delta.
The Nile delta at the time of Herodotus, according to James Rennell (1800).

More conjecturally, it has also been suggested that suph may be related to the Hebrew suphah ("storm") or soph ("end"), referring to the events of the Reed/Red Sea escape itself:

The crossing of the sea signaled the end of the sojourn in Egypt and it certainly was the end of the Egyptian army that pursued the fleeing Hebrews (Ex 14:23-29; 15:4-5). After this event at Yam Suph, perhaps the verb Soph, meaning "destroy" and "come to an end," originated (cf. Amos 3:15; Jer 8:13; Isa 66:17; Psa 73:19). Another possible development of this root is the word suphah, meaning "storm-wind"...The meanings "end" and "storm-wind" would have constituted nice puns on the event that took place at the Yam Suph.[4]


The occurrences of the term are as follows.[5] The translations given are the KJV, that is the Authorized King James Version of the Christian Bible, the NJPS, that is the New Jewish Publication Society of America Version of the Tanakh and the SET, that is the 'The Stone Edition Tanach' from Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York.[6] The Greek Septuagint translation is ἐρυθρά θάλασσα, "red sea", except where indicated below.

Exodus 10:19[edit]

End of the eighth Plague of Egypt:

Exodus 13:18[edit]

Prologue to The Exodus:

Exodus 15:4[edit]

The Passage of the Red Sea. After the pursuing Egyptians have been drowned in "the waters" of "the sea":

Exodus 15:22[edit]

The Exodus continuing:

Exodus 23:31[edit]

During God’s further instruction to Moses after the Ten Commandments:

Numbers 14:25[edit]

In the wilderness, before the conquest of Canaan:

Numbers 21:4[edit]

Just after the death of Aaron:

Numbers 33:10-11[edit]

Continuing the wanderings in the Wilderness:

Deuteronomy 1:1[edit]

The opening verse of the book of Deuteronomy has an occurrence of Suph on its own. Some translations, including the Septuagint, have taken this as an abbreviation for the full form, others not:

Deuteronomy 1:40[edit]

Moses reviews the strategy after the initial failure to invade Canaan.

Deuteronomy 2:1[edit]

As above:

Deuteronomy 11:4[edit]

Looking back on the events of the Exodus:

Joshua 2:10[edit]

Testimony of Rahab to Joshua’s spies before the conquest of Jericho:

Joshua 4:23[edit]

Joshua’s speech to the troops shortly before the conquest of Jericho:

Joshua 24:6[edit]

in Joshua’s final speech to the Israelites:

1 Kings 9:26[edit]

King Solomon’s fleet:

Jeremiah 49:21[edit]

Jeremiah bemoaned his own fate. Why had he been the one chosen to not only foretell the horrors of destruction but to witness them, and even to be at the mercy of the brethren he had tried to save? But there is no doubt that the exiled Jews in Babylon found strength in his prophecy that there would be redemption and glory seventy years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah did not live to see his prophecy fulfilled, but many of those who had heard his prophecies were among the ones who returned with Ezra and Nehemiah to inaugurate the Second Temple.

Psalms 106:7-9[edit]

God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:

Psalms 106:22[edit]

God's presence and lovingkindness are always near; one need but have open eyes and an open heart to see them:

Psalms 136:13-15[edit]

A song of God's creation and rulership of the world in general and Israel in particular:

Nehemiah 9:9[edit]

After the Second Temple was rebuilt (349 BCE), Nehemiah was one of the 120 members of the Men of the Great Assembly, a council which functioned over several generations and rejuvenated the Jewish Nation. They prayed successfully against Idolatry, composed the standard Jewish prayers and brought about the dramatic flowering of the Oral law, the primary repository of divine wisdom (see: Tanakh).


  1. ^ http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/9874/showrashi/true/jewish/Chapter-13.htm
  2. ^ Larry O'Hanlon (21 September 2010). "Moses' Red Sea parting explained by computer model". Discovery News. Discovery Communications, LLC. Retrieved 21 September 2010. 
  3. ^ John McClintock and James Strong (1883) Cyclopaedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 8, Red Sea, p. 966.
  4. ^ Hoffmeier, James Karl (1999). Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-19-513088-1. OCLC 47007891. 
  5. ^ Wigram, George V. (1996) [1874]. The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 1-56563-208-7. 
  6. ^ The Twenty-Four Books of the Bible, newly translated and annotated; edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman; The ArtScroll Series; Mesorah Publications Ltd. Brooklyn, New York; 1998
  7. ^ Annot.:"10:19-20. God changed the east wind, which brought the locusts, to a west wind that blew them away. Not a single locust remained, not even those that the Egyptians had preserved for food (Midrash)."
  8. ^ Annot.:"13:18. Sea of Reeds. This may have been the Gulf of Suez, which branches northward from the Red Sea and separates Egypt from the Sinai Desert; but what is known today as Red Sea is south of the Sinai Peninsula and so far south of the populated area of Egypt that it is unlikely that the Exodus and the later Splitting of the Sea could have taken place there. It may be that the Sea of Reeds was the Great Bitter Lake, which is between the Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea; or the north of Egypt; or it may have been the southern Mediterranean."
  9. ^ Annot.:"15:22-27. After the momentous miracles at the sea, how could they have doubted God's readiness to give them a necessity of life -- water? Rabbi Hirsch explains that the purpose of Israel's journey through the Wilderness was to show that God is involved in daily, "petty" human affairs, as well as in cosmic occurrences. It is easy to think, as many still do, that God creates worlds and splits seas, but is unconcerned with the water or food supply of communities and individuals. This is what frightened the Jews in the Wilderness. When there was no water, the nation feared that it was being left to its own devices. The people were not wronk in asking for water - thirsty people surely have that right - but in protesting so vociferously."
  10. ^ Annot.:"The Sea of the Philistines is the Mediterranean, and the River is the Euphrates. ibn Ezra comments that this verse, which describes the great extent of the land, explains why it would have to be conquered gradually." and from the Wilderness until the River, for I shall deliver the inhabitants of the Land into your hands and you shall drive them away from before you.
  11. ^ Annot.:"In this book, Moses was the speaker ... In Deuteronomy, Moses chose the words and conveyed the commandments as he understood them. 1:1. The combination of words with he spoke, instead of the more common he said, implies strong words of rebuke. Lest the people become overconfident that they would not succumb to the influences of Canaan, Moses reminded them of their many sins and rebellions since the Exodus; if the people could sin when they were surrounded by miracles, surely they would be in greater danger without constant reminders of God's Presence. But in order not to embarrass and offend his listeners, he alluded to the sins by using place names or other veiled references. Moreover, as the Midrash cites: Rabbi Yochanan said, “We have reviewed the entirety of Scripture, but we have not found any place with the name Tophel or Laban!” And, as Ramban explaines, it is unlikely that these are all descriptions of where Mosesspoke, for if so, the Torah would be giving “more signs and boundaries than one who sells a field.” Thus, for example, Onkelos and Sifre interpret the term the Wilderness as an allusion to the Wilderness of Sin, where the people complained that they had been led into a desert to starve (Exodus 16:1-3); and Di-yahab, literally, “abundance of gold,” recalls that when God blessed the people with an abundance of gold when they left Egypt, they used His gift to make the Golden Calf."
  12. ^ Annot.:"2:1. This verse telescopes thirty-eight years, from the sin of the spies until the new generation was ready to enter the Land."
  13. ^ Annot.:"11:1-7. Moses continued to exhort his people, telling them that they had a special responsibility to be loyal to God, because they had experienced His greatness and mercy firsthand."
  14. ^ Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. (1986) [1851]. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 0-913573-44-2. 
  15. ^ Annot.:"9:26. Also called Elath (Deut. 2:8) or Eilat."
  16. ^ Annot.:"The enemy, who was earlier compared to a ferocious lion (v.. 19), is here likened to the youngest sheep, because Edom will be conquered by Israel, which is regarded lightly by all its enemies (Kara)."
  17. ^ Annot.:"106:7. Exodus 14:10-12."
  18. ^ Annot.:"106:9-11. Exodus 14:15-31."
  19. ^ Annot.:"9:9-11. See Exodus 14:9-35."

See also[edit]