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Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle provides compelling evidence for the Bible


Published: 10 February 2020 (GMT+10)

Atheists often attack the truth of the Bible by claiming there is no evidence of biblical events that should have left evidence, such as the Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus. Tim Mahoney’s excellent Patterns of Evidence series (see the reviews of the first two films entitled Exodus and The Moses Controversy) have laid out an argument that some scholars do not see the evidences of biblical history because they are not looking for evidence of any Hebrew occupation or are interpreting evidence incorrectly by assigning it to the wrong times. The latest installment, Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle continues this trend.

God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt including the plagues on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea was foundational to Israel’s identity as a nation in covenant with Yahweh and their understanding of who God was. These miracles were also of such great magnitude that even the Canaanites remembered it a generation later (Joshua 2:10). But nearly every geographical location surrounding the event is contested—particularly the site of the crossing itself, and the route Israel took to get there.

Using the personal, engaging format of the previous documentaries, Mahoney speaks with experts representing all the major views. In this film, they are divided into the ‘Egyptian view’, that tends to view the population of Israel, the distance traveled, and the scale of the Red Sea miracle as smaller, and sometimes a naturalistic event, rather than the supernatural intervention of God. Then he explains what he terms as the ‘Hebrew view’, which views the population, distance, and scale of the miracle as larger. While this characterization might seem simplistic, it is accurate enough for the purposes of the documentary, and makes the debate much more understandable for the ‘uninitiated’ viewer.

Size of the Israelite population

A ‘literal’ translation of the Hebrew text is that the Exodus consisted of 650,000 men plus women and children, meaning around 2 million people. But the Egyptian view argues that the word translated ‘thousand’ (elef) may also have the non-literal meaning ‘family group’, bringing the numbers down to several thousand, not millions. Mahoney does a particularly good job giving the Egyptian view scholars a fair representation, including OT scholar Barry Beitzel who had a good amount of screen time to argue for his understanding. But Mahoney also does a good job of presenting a compelling case for understanding “thousand” literally, using the principle of Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Red Sea or Reed Sea?

The Hebrew term for the body of water that the Israelites crossed on dry land is Yam Suph. We translate that term as “Red Sea” based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But Mahoney argues persuasively that the actual meaning is “Reed Sea”. Martin Luther also reflected this understanding when he used the German Schilfmeer, which means “sea of reeds”.

It is necessary to pre-empt a possible skeptical attack here, because Acts 7:36 and Hebrews 11:29 use the Septuagintal Greek term for Red Sea. If the Hebrew was “Reed Sea”, and the Septuagint translators got it wrong, then the New Testament would be in error for using that term. How do we defend the NT usage if Yam Suph means “Reed Sea”?

The simple answer is that place names change over time, and updates to reflect later designations are common in Scripture. Yam Suph was the correct name at the time of Moses, and Red Sea reflected the Greek name in usage at the time of the Septuagint translation and the New Testament. We see this elsewhere in Egypt where Avaris, the Hyksos capital, was later built over and renamed Ramses and even Pi-Ramses, which is what we read in our Bibles today.

The crossing site?

There are three major candidates for the general area of the Red Sea Crossing

  1. Some people argue that north of the Red Sea, there are some relatively shallow bodies of water that qualify.
  2. The Gulf of Suez is the major traditional crossing site, with most traditional Christian commentators supporting it.
  3. The Gulf of Aqaba is a site that is gaining popularity, especially among some researchers outside the mainstream archaeological community. There are three places in the Gulf of Aqaba where the crossing could have possibly happened.

Closely linked to this is the route Israel took to get there. The discussion of how fast people and herds could possibly travel and the implications for the crossing site is particularly enlightening.

A high-quality visual masterpiece

Often, biblical debates can be confusing and difficult to understand for those new to the subject. And there are those who feel that they have settled these matters in their own minds and are perhaps resistant to other views. But Mahoney walks the viewer through the various options in a way that is very understandable and leaves one feeling like they have the information necessary to form their own well-informed opinion. The production value is also very high, with stunning video and graphics.

Why does it matter?

For Mahoney, this isn’t just a dry academic discussion. He stated in previous Patterns of Evidence installments that he needed answers to these questions for his own faith, and in this film he says that he wants to have answers for his grandchildren. This drives it home that the Bible’s history matters, and we should want to be able to defend it with all the tools at our disposal. Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle adds several arguments that we can use to defend the Bible’s history and does much to build our faith in the accuracy of the Bible’s account. For those who’ve had some doubts about God’s parting of the Red/Reed sea, this film should be a faith-building encounter at the greatness of our God. After all, if He is the one that created this massive universe, why should parting a body of water on the earth, regardless of its size, be so difficult? We heartily recommend Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle.

Readers’ comments

Danny J.
I would lean towards a crossing near or through the Gulf of Suez as I don't see how such a large group of people with children, livestock, the elderly, etc. could have made it to the Gulf of Aqaba in such a short span of time. Also, the place names at the crossing fit that region.
Gerry T.
I am always amazed that some people believe a natural explanation for an event somehow removes the participation of God in an event like the parting of the sea to allow the Israelites to cross safely. After all, who is it that created nature and who is it that controls nature and can do with it as he pleases?
Matthew B.
The Bible’s mentions of Etham suggest that the Israelites crossed the Gulf of Suez. Firstly, Exodus 13:20 tells us the fleeing Israelites camped at Etham, then Moses led them south to where they would cross the Red Sea (across one of the gulfs). Ex. 13:20 also says that Etham was “in the edge of the wilderness”. This implies that thy had not yet entered the wilderness, though they expected to cross it. However, Glen Fritz and Lennart Moller (who influenced Tim Mahoney’s conclusions) have the Israelites travel across 180 miles of wilderness in the Sinai plateau before they reach Etham! Fritz (to make his Aqaba crossing work) tries to interpret this verse to mean that, even though they had come through a wilderness, this camp of Etham was just at the edge of the next wilderness. But the Bible does not at all suggest this. On the other hand, if they crossed the Gulf of Suez, the camp of Etham would have been north of the head of the gulf. Now, Etham would indeed be “in the edge of the wilderness” and they would have reached it before entering the wilderness, as the Bible implies, after which they turned south to Suez. Secondly, Numbers 33:8 tells us that the Israelites went 3 days into the Wilderness of Etham after they crossed the Red Sea. The wilderness is likely named after the location of Etham, where the Israelites camped just before turning south. This fits together well if they crossed the Gulf of Suez. Etham would be in the area of the Bitter Lakes. Directly to the east, there is desert. It is this desert, the “Wilderness of Etham”, that they entered (far south of Etham) when they crossed the Gulf of Suez. But if they crossed the Gulf of Aqaba, the camp of Etham has no connection with the Wilderness of Etham (which Fritz and Mahoney put east of Aqaba).
Stuart H.
1 Kings 9:26 confirms for me what "Yam Suph" means, Eloth (or Elath, according to translation) being in the region of the present day resort of Eilat if not the actual spot. As for the numbers, we are told in Exodus 38 the total weight of silver collected from the men in the census at the rate of 1 beka per man. Simple calculation confirms the number at 603,550 men, since 1 talent = 3,000 shekels and 1 shekel = 2 bekas. I leave the reader to complete the calculation (!)
Rene M.
I'm looking forward to getting this on DVD at some point. I was very impressed by the first film/book. I do hope that Mahoney is a born-again believer in Christ and that his faith will not come and go just by what he finds on his journeys. He did speak of a "crisis of faith", which sounds serious enough to me. I can very much understand his position though: you want to be a believer, but you also want to be honest and deal with the tough questions. Shortly after my own conversion I wanted to be totally committed to the Word. I started reading Genesis and for the first time in my life (I grew up in church, but wasn't born again until much later) I actually had a problem with the talking snake and Cain's wife and the flood! That quickly lead me to creation and apologetic ministries and I was glad to discover that there are good answers to serious and even silly questions! If we're all honest: evidence does matter, even if we want to consider ourselves people of faith. At some point, when you have too many of those nagging questions left unanswered, a "crisis of faith" can suddenly emerge. Regarding the population argument: I just finished studying the book of Numbers. One book I read introduced the problems associated with the high number of Israelites and mentioned the alternative explanation for the word 'thousands' and 'hundreds'. Mahoney already dealt with that nicely in the first book. When you compare the numbers to the number of animal sacrifices or gold taxes it all lines up nicely. F.e. if "1000" means more like 30 people, and there is a $1 tax per person, you would expect a total tax of $30, but the figure given is actually $1000. It is remarkable though that 12.000 Israelites managed to carry home large spoils of war in Numbers 31:25-47.
Kenneth C.
Of possible interest to some might be the book "The Exodus Case" written by Dr. Lennart Moller, professor of environmental medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Kenneth C.
Of possible interest to some might be the book "The Lost Sea of the Exodus" written by Glen Fritz, based on his PhD (Environmental Geography) dissertation by the same name.
Terence I.
I have seen both of Tim Mahoney's previous documentaries and found them to be even-handed. He gives a fair amount of time to the views of liberal and biblically skeptical scholars without censorship. He appears very sincere about his quests for the truth and the viewer gets the sense that he is as interested in being honest about his search for his own personal confirmation of the Bible itself.

Based on his previous films, I am very much looking forward to this one and will expect more of the same kind of even-handed and honest expression. At the very least, he provides you with plenty of food for thought and good apologetic information as well.
Antonio F.
What's interesting is that some archaeologists seem to think the sea level back then was nowhere near where it is at today. I recall watching a documentary providing evidence from the time of Alexander the Great that the sea level was some 60-80ft higher than today. I recall reading somewhere that even Philo also made mention of a lake that existed apart from the Persian Gulf in the 1st century AD. Also, not sure where I heard about this but the sea level as close as within the last 500 yrs was nearly 20ft higher than today (vague recollection). Since this water hasn't gone anywhere if these records are true than this would suggest the Gulf of Suez, which most people refer to as the crossing point wouldn't have been so low and that the edge where the Israelite's crossed would be slightly further inland and higher up. Also as a side note that CPT slowed right down after the global flood but didn't reach the rates we observe today till only recently since the Bible states the land rose and the sea level basins sank. Not sure if the archaeological claims have been proven though. If true then the only way the sea level could be lower just after the flood would be during the 500-700 yr ice age and the people after the tower of Babel would have traveled through the ice age to the furthest reaches since this would have been the only time that land bridges had existed.

One thing I'd like to see archaeologists discover is another historical cylinder but in the region of the Chaldean's since that was where Abraham came from. The ancients seemed to mimic each other and it would make sense that Babylonians, etc mimicked those that held the true history of the world through that ancestral line.
Lita Cosner
Sea levels have been fairly stable through the modern era (at least 1000 BC through today, and probably earlier than that). I think some of your vague recollections are mutations of what we wrote in . However, the changes that we noted were due to siltation over time, not a change in the water levels.
Ludwig L.
It would be nice if the article can provide a mathematical model / formula that can show how 650,000 people can come from around a hundred people within 430 years. I won't be surprised if people have doubts about the number. I would like to try out the formula myself. Yes, I'm aware that G-d has providentially take of the Israelites while they were in Egypt and there was no doubt in my mind that G-d blessed them during that time. I certainly believe that the Bible is true (including the miracles) but I can't suppress the nagging curiosity of how it happens (I.e. how many children does a hundred or so people need to have to reach 650,000 within 430 years).
Stephen T.
One detail that is often missed is that according to Ex. 14:20,21 and 24 the crossing took place at night. The Egyptians were literally kept in the dark until morning at which time their impending judgment became clear to them. It was a puzzle to me as a child why the Egyptians would rush into danger as they did even given their rage and obsessive determination. The Bible itself cleared up that problem for me.
Victor B.
Looking forward to seeing this latest film from Patterns of evidence here in Perth Australia.
Alex Y.
Yam is sea. Suph means neither "reed" nor "red". Suph means "edge" or "border", "come to an end". Thus yam suph means the literal edge of the sea. In Ex 13:18 when they followed the "wilderness of yam suph" this means that they followed a wilderness along the edge of the sea which given the context of having left Rameses prior is the Red Sea. The Greek OT aka the Septuagint as translated in 280 BC and approved by Jewish sages for yam suph translated as "erythra thalassa" is no more wrong than the later KJV from the Masoretic for translating yam suph as "Red Sea". The matter does not bring the NT 2 incidences of the same term erythra thalassa into disrepute. LIkewise in Exodus 2:3,5 where suph is translated as "reed" or KJV "flags" in relation to the Nile River where no yam(sea) is present but yeor(river) is - the instance of suph here is describing the edge of the river where sedges/bulrudhes/flags/reeds are found.
Tommy S.
I would argue that evidence like this cannot build faith or be a faith building encounter simply because faith is defined as: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 If your faith is built by things "seen" then where was your faith to begin with? I think it is more correct to say that evidence like this if faith affirming or faith confirming. I need absolutely zero evidence of this nature to have faith that they happened. However, I certainly expect there to be such evidence and when we see it, I rejoice in it for I can use it to show others that my faith in God was well placed.
Alf F.
Please be informed that the Egyptian museum and archeological authorities have confessed to finding a drowned army of chariots under the ocean in the Gulf of Suez, not Aqaba, and have been researching it for the past four years at least. It places the Red Sea Crossing right where the Bible does. Neither the Sea of Reeds or Bitter Lakes of today, nor the Gulf of Aqaba line up with the Bible's account. That alone should have stopped this diversion of the truth in its tracks. Only the Gulf of Suez lines up with a proper reading of the infallible Word. And now the strongest evidence of all exists to prove it. It also shows that there was no shipwreck involved, a very strong corroboration of the Biblical account . I can supply the video of the details. I do not believe the video to be a fake, but one can check with the Egyptians, who of course would not have been overly hasty in announcing such a find.
Lita Cosner
No archaeological authorities have 'confessed' any such thing. If someone can prove otherwise they can submit the evidence.
Michael S.
The most compelling case for Sinai is Jabel El Lawz, the mountain has a blackened top, what is peculiar is how abruptly the blackened tip ends. The bible says God descended upon the mountain with fire. One possibility is such evidence. Google the mountain and you will see how distinguishable it is by it's strikingly black tip. But that isn't the only thing interesting about that site, it has pillars at the bottom of the mountain that seem to be the same number the bible says were put there. It also has evidence of an altar made by stones. There is also a stone altar some way from the camp, with depictions of Egyptian style calves upon it, petroglyphs. There is also the space to accomodate Israel as a camp. Guess what? ST Catherines has none of this evidence! ST Catherines in the Sinai peninsula, is the traditional candidate, but the reason it is a candidate for the secular world is because it fits with the watered down, evolutionary version of the Exodus. I call it "evolutionary" because the scholars typically don't believe in the historical version of the bible. CONCLUSION: Forget the name, "Ron Wyatt". Never dismiss a case depending upon who claims it. It is called the Ad Hitlerum fallacy, and it is committed if, for example, someone like Hitler claims a cake tastes good. The fallacy would then be committed like this; "What Hitler said it? He was evil, therefore it can't possibly taste good!"
Lita Cosner
Since there has been no thorough archaeological investigation of the area, we can't determine this one way or another.
Charles S.
Considering that Moses led about one million people out of Egypt, we should always look for a wide easy to travel path of their journey. An amazing account of the journey was done by Bob Cornuke and Larry Williams. This route included the crossing of the Red Sea at Aqaba, the bitter springs , the split rock, the alter of the golden calf and the Holy Mountain.
Thinking about that land bridge just under the surface a Aqaba where they potentially crossed, what would have happened to it when the waters rushed back in? I suggest it would have heavily eroded the path that exists under the surface today.
Thomas M.
It seems to me that this debate is no different from the fundamental question of origins, namely, between those who accept supernaturalism and those who require a naturalistic explanation. Once one accepts the necessity for an Uncaused Cause and that everything was made from nothing, what's the problem with parting the Red Sea.
Chris M.
Does CMI not give any credence to Ron Wyatt and the discoveries he claims to have made regarding the Red Sea crossing and Mt. Sinai being in Saudi Arabia? He, and others, have claimed to have scuba dived in the area generally believed to be where God parted the Red Sea and have found compelling evidence. The mountain in Saudi Arabia that they believe to be Mt. Sinai is black at the top from some burning. They've also found tons of archaeological evidence that matches the Bible exactly.
Lita Cosner
Ron Wyatt's discoveries would certainly be spectacular if true. Unfortunately, no one has been able to authenticate them. See Has the Ark of the Covenant been found?. You can also search for "Ron Wyatt" to see what else we've written. One of our own scientists has made the point that chariot wheels made out of wood could not survive that long in sea water. I've heard claims that they were gold chariot wheels, but gold is a relatively soft metal and it wouldn't make sense to make wheels out of gold or even gild the wheels in gold.

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