Norman Geisler on Biblical Archaeology

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Dear Sir

There is a new route, Red Sea/Yam Suf crossing location and it is totally new! It is basically as follows,
The five main sea crossing locations are; the three at the isthmus (northern, central and southern route at the head of the Gulf of Suez), then there are the two at the Gulf of Aqaba, one in the middle and the other in the south. And today 99% of Christians believe in one of these five routes. These routes each have the four place names (Baal-zephon, Migdol, the sea, and Pi-hahiroth) in totally different locations, some hundreds of miles apart from the other routes, and they also have the encampments before and after the sea crossing in total different locations! They really only have one thing in common, they all start from the East Nile Delta, and I am saying that if one starts in the wrong place he will end up in the wrong place!
Israel left from Rameses, and it is often assumed that this was the city and not the land of Rameses. (I will not refute the other arguments that are given for a departure from the East Delta but if given the opportunity I would be happy to do so.) When Israel leaves Egypt, they leave from “Rameses”, but it could have been the “land of Rameses” (“land of Goshen” and the “land of Rameses” are one and the same, Genesis 47:4-6, 11). In Exodus 12:37, the children of Israel leave Egypt from “Rameses,” which is the spelling for the land of Rameses, not the city, but it is assumed that it was the city of “Raamses”. (It may be argued that the vowels are conjecture but the Jewish scribes who wrote it down believed it was a different spelling.) As others have brought out, it would have been hard for the multitude that was with Moses to have gone to a city, they would have overwhelmed any city, even Memphis.
“So the Hebrews went out of Egypt...Now they took their journey by Letopolis...” (Josephus, Antiq. II, 15, 1). Letopolis is the second nome on the west side of the Delta. But more precisely, Josephus said the children of Israel were in the southern end of Letopolis, in the area of a fortress that would later be built and known as Babylon, which was on the other side of the Nile. In short they are right in front of the Sphinx and Great pyramid (this may have been the staging area or assembling point). Eusebius of Caesarea (263–339 A.D. Praeparatio Evangelica Book IX, Chapter 27:12-17) has the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh at Memphis, again on the west side of the Nile, as Philo (Jewish biblical philosopher, 20 B.C. – 50 A.D., The Life of Moses, I, XX, 118) and John, Bishop of Nikiu (seventh century A.D., Chronicle, Ch. 30:2).
Israel first goes to Succoth, which was a cemetery, and Israel left Egypt the first days march before they came to Succoth. “And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies.” (Exodus 12:17, 41, 51) As you probably know the Classical writers have anything out of the Nile Valley as being Libya on the west side and Arabia on the east side.
And the Bible says Israel left Egypt “In the sight of all the Egyptians” (Numbers 33:3b). They would of necessity have had to have been somewhere close by a large population of Egyptians to use such an expression. If one lived in a small town out on the east desert, it would not have been said, “In the sight of all the Egyptians”. And the Bible gives the reason all the Egyptians saw Israel leave “For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn...” (Numbers 33:4), it is a cemetery. Now the largest cemetery in Egypt was Saqqara, which was up on a ridge overlooking Memphis, and several kings were buried there. In Exodus 12, which deals with Israel leaving Egypt, it is clear that they had a motive to go to Succoth; they had to get Joseph’s body (again at a cemetery)! In Exodus 12:37 Israel has arrived at Succoth, and in Exodus 13:19, Moses takes the bones of Joseph, and in the next verse Israel leaves Succoth.
The Testament of Joseph (first century B.C.) describes the struggle that Joseph had with Potiphar’s wife, and she lived at Memphis. Joseph was the great patriarch who had saved both Israel and the Egyptians from starvation. It is reasonable to believe that a man of Joseph’s stature in Egypt would have been given a burial in a place of honor, “He [Joseph] was buried in the sepulcher of the kings” (Babylonian Talmud, 400 A.D.?). “Moses knew that he [Joseph] had been interred in the mausoleum of the Egyptian kings” (The Legends of the Jews). But the other routes have Succoth a day’s journey east from the Delta, out on the desert, not a place for a major burial ground, as was Saqqara.
Most believe that Saqqara (the cemetery of Memphis) was originally called after “Sokar”, the Egyptian god of the dead (Saqqara is Arabic). But one problem with this belief is that in the Arabic name Saqqara, the “r” is not silent, but in the Egyptian god named Sokar the “r” is silent. However, for the Hebrews, the Egyptian god named Sokar (Sk, “r” silent and again no vowels when written) could have sounded to them as Succoth (Sccth = Sk). I am no scholar in the original languages, but it at least looks more likely than the Egyptian place name of “Tjeku,” which some scholars say was what the Hebrews heard when they wrote “Succoth.” The “Tj” in “Tjeku” would, as I understand it, sound like “s” to the Hebrews, and out of all the other routes for the Exodus “Tjeku” is the best they have. (I have a bachelor's degree in theology and have published three books on biblical place names found in Egypt.)
The Bible says, “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near” (Exodus 13:17-18, Gesenius’s Lexicon has for “near” = “something short”, or quickest route, see same word in Job 17:12) Most have “Etham” as being a city, but when the children of Israel cross the Red Sea they go to another “Etham,” and here it is the “wilderness of Etham,” so it would not have to be a town. If they are going north from Saqqara (Succoth) as I believe, then where was Etham? Etham was said to be on the “edge” of the wilderness. The Libyan mountain range that follows the Nile Valley would naturally be how this whole ledge of the plateau would have been thought of. Gesenius Lexicon, said, “Jablonsky (Opuscc. ii. 157) regards it [Etham] as the Egyptian “boundary of the sea.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia also said the same “boundry of the sea”, and said that it came from the Coptic, “Atium.” The “sea” here would be the yearly flood of the Nile that bordered this ridge. (The yearly flood of the Nile lasted five months and its average height was twenty four feet above the Nile. One can still find pictures of this annual flood online that were made before the Aswan Dam, and the flood came right up to the cliffs of the Giza plateau on the north side of the Great Pyramid. On the east side of the Great Pyramid there is a sloping area of about a half mile to the sea where villages and towns were not inundated. But this flood was six miles across to Cairo. Modern Egyptians commonly call the Nile El-Bahr “The Sea”). And this could be why the name Etham is given on both sides of the Nile Valley “boundry of the sea”. It was only after Israel crossed the sea and then went out into the desert that it was said she went into “the wilderness of Etham”, or the wilderness that was the boundary of the flood zone.
In which direction did Israel “turn” (Ex 14:2; Nm 33:7), some say it was north, or south or basically what ever fits their route. But I believe it means they went back to where they had been! After Israel arrived at Etham we find they “turned again” (Numbers 33:7), and also in Exodus 14:2, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn….” And, both “turn” and “turned again” are the same word in the Hebrew. Strong’s Concordance #7725 gives for its first definition “to return, turn back.” This same word is translated “return” 391 times in the Old Testament, which is the most of all the different ways it has been translated. In Numbers 33, which lists all the encampments of Israel, only at Etham do we find that they “turned again”; nowhere else in this chapter do we find the word “turn,” “return,” “turn again” or “turn back,” except at this place. It is, of course, obvious that they made many turns from the time they left Egypt till they crossed the Jordan; no one would deny this. At Etham they are doing more than just making a simple turn, but a turn that brings them back to where they started from! “And they removed from Etham, and turned again unto Pi-hahiroth...” Not only in the Bible does it say this but also in all three of the Targums and the Torah. When Israel turned back to Pi-Hahiroth, it could not be to Etham or Succoth as their names are given, so it must be from where they started from. And because Israel left from “Rameses”, this “Rameses” would then have to be the “Land of Rameses”.
This return was to give the impression they had failed in their exodus from Egypt and had to go back to where they started from. God is setting a trap for Pharaoh (Numbers 13:31 - 14:4), He wanted to entice Pharaoh into following Israel, and Pharaoh fell for it. This will not work for those who have the Exodus route at the northern, central, or southern route of the Isthmus, for Israel could have just gone around the lakes that were there. But, with the Children of Israel returning to a starting point on the west side of the Nile, they will be “entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in,” they have no place to go.
As to the four names Baal-zephon, Migdol, the sea and Pi-Hahiroth, they will be where Josephus had Israel. At southern end of Letopolis, in the area of fort Babylon, and one does not have to force it as I believe the other routes have. One could wonder why the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid are not found in the scriptures. Both the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid existed long before Moses and the children of Israel left Egypt. And these two are easily the most recognizable landmarks in Egypt, the Great Pyramid is the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the World to have survived. But, we are told they are not found in the Bible. The Bible names many places in Egypt and many people from the Bible were in Egypt. One of the places Jeremiah went to was Noph, which was in this area (and by the way Jeremiah mentions it (the Great Pyramid), except that the area around it had grown into a city by his time).
Normally an encampment is only given one name, but we have four for the sea crossing, it would seem God wanted to mark this site well. Obviously, I am saying that “the sea” is a flooded delta, “Baal-zephon” is the Sphinx and “Migdol” is the Great Pyramid, and “Pi-hahiroth” is Khereha by the Nile. Surprising? Better than a bunch of question marks out on the sand of the desert!
Strong’s #4024 Migdol = “tower”. This name is found seven times in the Bible and it is translated “tower” three times in the Old Testament; the other four times it is left untranslated and simply given as “Migdol”, as it is found in the Exodus account (Exodus 14:2 and Numbers 33:7). The Romans also called the pyramids towers. Pliny the elder (first century A.D.), when talking about the pyramids of Egypt, said, on the “Libyan side, are the towers [Latin = Turres] known as the Pyramids” (The geography of Egypt, book V, chapter 11)
Strong’s #1168 gives for “Baal” = Lord, and #6828 “zephon” = north, or “Lord of the north”. Baal-zephon was the god of the Assyrians and Phoenicians, and was worshiped in Canaan. Baal-zephon was associated with the sea and believed to be a protector of mariners. The Sphinx, being situated at the flood (the apex of the Delta may have been in front of the Sphinx at one time, but the Delta flood certainly reached there) where all shipping of the branches of the Nile would have to pass, would be in the expected setting for such an idol “protector of mariners”. The Egyptians, by at least 1500 B.C., called the Sphinx “Horus in the Horizon”, but the children of Israel were using a name they were familiar with from their time in Canaan, and one of those gods was Baal-zephon. Just as the Egyptian god Amun was called by the Greeks, Zeus and by the Romans, Jupiter.
Remember the name Baal-zephon has the meaning of “lord of the north.” The Uraeus, or cobra, was the symbol of northern Egypt. One of the ways Pharaohs had to show they were the rulers of the two lands was to wear both the vulture and the cobra on their headdress as seen on King Tutankhamun’s grave mask. On the upper forehead of the Sphinx is clearly seen the Uraeus or cobra. The head of the cobra, though defaced, is still seen on the front of the Sphinx. (A two-foot limestone piece of the Sphinx’s cobra is now in the British Museum #1204.) The Sphinx’s cobra was a visible sign that it was “Lord of the north”, and to the Hebrews, this was Baal-zephon!
Josephus did not say that Baal-zephon was a city, but only called it a “place.” “[O]n the third day they came to a place called Beelzephon...”, and as will be seen it was more than just a place. Jewish sources say that Baalzephon was an idol, “before the idol Zephon,” (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Exodus 14:), “idol of Zephon,” (Targum Onkelos, Exodus 14:). The Legends of the Jews explains how Baal-zephon can be both an idol and a place. This passage is interesting because of some light it shines on this and other things dealing with this location. “Moses…gave the signal to turn back to Pi-hahiroth. Those of little faith among the Israelites tore their hair and their garments in desperation, though Moses assured them that by the Word of God they were free men, and no longer slaves to Pharaoh. Accordingly, they retraced their steps to Pi-hahiroth, where....the great sanctuary of Baal-zephon was situated” (The Legends of the Jews, III). First, we see that Israel was to “turn back” to Pi-hahiroth, even saying they “retraced their steps to Pi-hahiroth,” ending up where they started. Notice the children of Israel were not happy with this news, “tore their hair and their garments in desperation,” they thought they were going to become slaves again, this could only be because they were headed back to where they had been (Egypt!), but “Moses assured them that by the Word of God they were free men, and no longer slaves to Pharaoh.” We also find here a “sanctuary of Baal-zephon”, so it is a place, but a place where there was a temple for Baal-zephon. And today, the remains of the Temple of the Sphinx are directly in front of the Great Sphinx.
But was this site a “wilderness” (Exodus 14:11)? Nothing these complainers said could be trusted, they accused Moses of wanting to kill them and these same people also complained in the Wilderness of Sin (where they received manna) “for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” But they were not in danger of dying of hungry for food they had, they had their “flocks, and herds, even very much cattle” (Exodus 12:38), they just wanted a free lunch. Gesenius’s Lexicon gives for its first definition of “wilderness” = “an uninhabited plain country, fit for feeding flocks, not a desert, a pasture....” The Bible said they were to “encamp” there, and would therefore need pasture for their herds and flocks (Exodus 12:38). Again what they said (the complainers in the camp) cannot be trusted.
Jewish sources make an interesting comment about this idol. “Of set purpose God had left Baalzephon uninjured, alone of all the Egyptian idols. He wanted the Egyptian people to think that this idol was possessed of exceeding might, which it exercised to prevent the Israelites from journeying on.” (The Legends of the Jews, III, also Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Exodus XIV). The Bible declares that God “executes judgment” on all the gods of Egypt. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12, Numbers 33:4). The Jews believe that this was when God destroyed the idols of Egypt. But as quoted above, the reason Baal-zephon was still standing was to give Pharaoh a false hope in this idol. The Sphinx would be the only possibility for Baal-zephon, for all believe it was standing when the children of Israel left Egypt! What other idol could it have been? These Jewish sources just quoted said Baal-zephon was the only one left. The Sphinx was then, and is still is there. And of necessity it would have to have been very large, for it was used as a landmark for a nation.
Exodus 14:2 “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.” Numbers 33:8 “And they departed from before Pi-hahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea....” As you no doubt are aware these verses have been interpreted many different ways, but I will give what I understand. Israel goes into the sea “before” or in front of Pi-hahiroth, so the sea is between Israel and Pi-hahiroth. In order for Israel to enter the sea from before Pi-hahiroth, Pi-hahiroth must be on the other side of the sea from Israel. Also Israel is said to be “between” Migdol (Pyramid) and the sea. The Legends of the Jews, said, “Pharaoh is behind my flock Israel, in the south is Baal-zephon, in the north Midgol, and before us the sea lies spread out.” Only Pi-hahiroth is not given a location here because she is on the other side of the sea. The sea being between Israel and Pi-hahiroth. Baal-zephon (Sphinx) is said to be in the “south,” and Migdol (Great Pyramid) was said to be in the “north.” The Legends of the Jews did not say that Migdol was north of Baal-zephon but only that it was north in relation to the camp of Israel. Israel was said to be “before” both Baal-zephon (Sphinx) and Migdol (Great Pyramid). At such a position it could be said, “Pharaoh is behind my flock Israel, in the south is Baal-zephon, in the north Midgol, and before us the sea…” The point here is that even the positions of these sites are matching up to the points on the compass as given in these Jewish legends.
“The sea”, Israel crossed was by a miracle, not wading through shallow water. “And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.” (Exodus 2:5) The “flags” (reeds) in this verse is the word “suf” and is the same word translated “Red” from Red Sea. The name that the Egyptians gave the Nile Delta was the “Land of the Papyrus”, but it flooded ever year. What would you call a land of reeds that was flooded? The Dead Sea Scroll Genesis Apocryphon, and Targum Jonathan (Ex. 14) both have the Nile connected to the Red Sea/Yam Sup. The Legends of the Jews when speaking of the ark of baby Moses that Miriam put in the Nile, said , “And then she abandoned the ark on the shores of the Red Sea.” (Volume II, Moses Rescued from the Water.) The Babylonian Talmud (Sotah 12a) also believed the placement of Moses’ ark was in the Yam Suf!
The seventh plague was the hail that fell on the Egyptians. “[T]he hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.” (Exodus 9:24) Not only was this “very grievous” but the worst that had ever hit Egypt and it was in “all” the land. All the land of Egypt included unto the city of Syene (Ezekiel 29:10), some 600 miles south of Memphis. But this seventh plague was more than hail; it also rained. “And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto the LORD: and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth. And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased...” (Exodus 9:33-34). Israel only crossed one body of water and no other till they reached the Jordan River. Please see 8 min. video on this, (Ussher’s chronology has the seventh plague happening on the fifth day of Abib, which would have been at least two months before the annual flood.)
Most are familiar with the papyrus called the Admonitions of Ipuwer which many believe records the plagues of the Exodus (date is not agreed upon but some have it for the time of the Exodus). It mentions the Nile being flooded three times, and all three times it appears not to be the annual flood but unexpected to the Egyptians. “[T]he Nile overflows, yet none plough for it” (Ch. I).“[C]hildren who are witnesses of the surging of the flood” (Ch. XI). “When men send a servant for humble folk, he goes on the road until he sees the flood; the road is washed out and he stands worried.” (Ch. XIII) The fact that the Nile is mentioned here at all should be a red flag, the whole purpose of the papyrus was to tell of Egypt’s calamities. The first one said the Nile overflows but they would not plough. Why, was this flood not the right time? The second mention of the flood has their children that are “witnesses of the surging of the flood.” But what is the need of witnesses for an event that happens every year, unless this flood was not at the normal time. And why was it “surging”? The rise of the Nile was gradual. The last time it mentions the flood, Ipuwer speaks of it in a way that is hard to explain by the normal inundation. A man is sent on an errand and as he goes he finds that the “flood” has “washed out” the road. But of course the Egyptians knew when the Nile’s annual flood time was. And they would not have taken roads that they knew were under water at the same time every year, unless, of course, it was unexpected. It takes several days for the annual flooding of the Nile to reach its height of twenty four feet above its normal level, which would be observed by all. This every day rise of the Nile, coupled with the fact that it was a yearly event, would be hard to explain as something that had caught the Egyptians unaware.
“Pi-hahiroth” The “Pi” may be Hebrew, the –“ha” is Hebrew, and the last part is believed to be Egyptian, by the majority of those I read. Strong’s tells us that the Hebrew letters for this name “hiroth” is pronounced as khe-roth. And this appears to be the ancient name of the area where the fort of Babylon was later constructed! Before there was a fort called Babylon, the Egyptians called this site Kheraha (vowels are conjecture in the hieroglyphics). Sphinx Stela (Dream Stela), Papyrus of Sanehat, Papyrus of Ani, and Victory Stela of King Piye, all have Kheraha in the area of ancient Fort Babylon (this is not disputed). It is of interest that the Dream Stele talks of Khereha which was six miles away, not even mentioning the Nile River which was between them, as Josephus did when talking about Israel leaving from Lithopolis in the area of Fort Babylon.
Any questions on this would be best answered by the new book EXODUS, by G. M. Matheny.
Please contact me with any problems you see with this route!
Garry Matheny

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