Historians suggest that the biblical crossing of the Red Sea as found in the Book of Exodus (13:17 – 14:29) would have taken place on 3 April 1312 BC. The account describes Moses and the Israelites fleeing the Egyptian army and their safe journey across the Red Sea during their passage to the land of Canaan, promised to Abraham by Yaweh (or God). A version of the story is also told in the Quran.
The narrative tells of how the Israelites, led by the prophet Moses, fled Egypt pursued by the Pharaoh’s army. Having reached the Red Sea and seen the oncoming chariots of the Egyptians approaching, the people of Israel cry out to the Lord and implore Moses to let them surrender. Moses advises them, “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.”
The Lord then tells Moses to stretch out his hand and divide the sea, providing safe passage for the Israelites and their escape from capture. When the Pharaoh’s army pursues the Israelites between the parted waters, the Lord advises Moses to stretch out his hand once more, thus “throwing the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.”
The narrative describes one of the many obstacles faced by the Israelites in the Book of Exodus and is an immediate precursor to their journey through the wilderness to reach Mount Sinai, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.
The parting of the sea is one of the most dramatic episodes in the Old Testament and, as with all biblical narratives, has a number of proposed allegorical meanings other than the literal reading that is often assumed.
Some Christian scholars have long decreed the parting of the sea a supernatural event in aid of the Hebrew people. However, other theologians consistently put forward more naturalistic arguments, such as strong winds and the mistranslation of the Red Sea (or yam sup in Hebrew) as the “Sea of Reeds,” and not the vast body of water that is commonly depicted.
In recent years scientists have speculated as to whether a “miracle” such as this could have occurred naturally due to high winds or other such meteorological events. Using archaeological records of the proposed site of the event, now thought to be a location in the region of the Nile Delta, and computer generated enactments, some scientists suggest that such an event was indeed plausible.
Regardless of the conjecture surrounding The Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, it is commemorated annually at Passover on the 15th day of the Jewish Nisan calendar, one of the most largely observed Jewish festivals or holidays.
Image: Painting of the ‘Crossing of the red sea’, circa 1634, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.