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Israel Crossed the Reed Sea (Yam Suph)

The voice of the Tanach, the Hebrew OT, is simple and clear-- the Israelites crossed the yam suph. Yam is "sea," suphis "reeds"; together, they mean "Sea of Reeds." In the OT, the yam suph was a definite location, and a large one. There God deposited the locusts that devoured Egypt (Ex 10:13 19). After crossing the miraculously parted yam suph, the Israelites traveled some distance over an unspecified period lasting several days, then encountered the yam suph again (Nm 33: 10-11 ). The yam suph had a shoreline in the land of Edom, where were situated the cities of Ezion-Geber and Eloth. And the yam suph was to be a border of lsrael (Ex 23:21).

The yam suph is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures-- a dozen times in the Law,2 and as many in the Prophets and Holy Writings. The majority of instances are found in passages that chronicle God's miraculous deliverance of the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.

Can Yam Suph be Expressed in Greek?

Certainly, any Mediterranean writer could express "Sea of Reeds," and the term's rendering into a language other than Hebrew would have been a simple matter of translation. The Greeks, for instance, had seas and reeds, and wrote of them. Their kálamos reed was used in jubilant celebration of the gods as a reed-pipe (Pindar 1937 and 1990: Nemean poem 5, lines 38-39; Olympian poem 10, line 83). The kálamos was used in the construction of Indian fishing boats, of Egyptian boat apparatus, of houses in Sardis, and of the brick walls of Babylon (Herodotus 1890 and 1920: bk. l, chap. 179; bk. 2, chap. 97; bk. 3, chap. 98; bk. 5, chap. 101). Many soldiers under Xerxes had bows and arrows of kálamos (Herodotus 1890 and 1920: bk. 7, chaps. 61, 64, 65, 67, 69, 92). Xenophon, under Persia's Cyrus the Younger, despaired of finding anything but fragrant shrubbery and kálamos as they marched among the nomad Arabs just east of the Euphrates at the end of the fifth century BC (1894: bk. l , chap. 5, par. 1).

According to the writers of the Septuagint (LXX), kálamos was used in an anointing oil (Ex 30:23), was part of behemoth's habitat (Jb 40:2 l ), and part of the garden representing the bride (Sg 4: 14 ). Along with papyrus, it lined the waterways of Egypt (Is 19:6), and would spring up for Zion when the desert blossomed "as the rose" (Is 35:1-7, KJV). Egypt was a bruised kaláminos (little reed), unreliable and not to be leaned upon (2 Kgs 18:21 [4 Kgs 18:21 in LXX]; Is 36:6; Ez 29:6 [29:7 in LXX]), but a bruised kálamos would not be broken by the Messiah (Is 42:3). It was the kálamos that served as a measuring rod for Ezekiel's Temple (Ez 40-42).

The Gospel writers also used kálamos for various reeds, including that given Christ as a scepter, then employed as a rod against Him (Mt 27:29-30; Mk 15:19), and that used as a pole to lift vinegar to Him on the cross (Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36). John used a kálamos for writing (3 Jn 13), and saw such a kálamos as Ezekiel likewise saw in the glorious Temple (Rv 11: 1).

So the Greeks could certainly write about reeds, and the vocabulary doesn't stop at kálamos. Other Greek "reed" words include the puthmçn (Gn 41 :5, 22, LXX) on which grew the grain in Pharaoh's prophetic dream, and hélos, a swamp or marsh featuring good vegetation. There could be a "flowering stretch" of hélos (Aristophanes 1907 and 1994: line 352), and one of Homer's similes describes thousands of cows grazing in a hélos (Homer 1931: bk. 15, line 631).

The Persians were often running into this hélos or that. Xerxes was campaigning in Macedonia near a hélos when lions attacked his camels (Herodotus 1890 and 1920: bk. 7, chap. 124). In his assault on Babylon, Cyrus the Great diverted the River Euphrates to feed a swampy area-a hélos (Herodotus 1890 and 1920: bk. 1, chap. 191). Cyrus's son Cambyses, in his advance on Egypt, ran into a great hélos where he lost many of his men; his next stop was Pelusium (Diodorus 1989: bk. 16, ch. 46, secs. 4-6), so he wasn't far from the reedy area, the yam suph, where the Egyptians had met their catastrophe almost a millennium earlier.

Hélos can refer to a reedy area, as it does in the LXX Exodus 2:3, 5 and Isaiah 19:6. Hélos is the perfect Greek word to translate the Hebrew suph if suph is recognized as meaning "reeds" or "area of reeds." Suph is indeed what hélos is translating in Exodus 2:3, 5. But the LXX translators used a very different term for the suph of yam suph.

Israel Crossed the Red Sea (Erythrá Thálassa)

The Septuagint Writers

Yam Suph = "Red Sea"?

The LXX writers, in translating yam suph throughout the Pentateuch, Joshua, Nehemiah and the Psalms, used a term that has no apparent literal connection to suph. Erythrá thálassa3 is their rendering-"Red Sea," not "Reed Sea." After yam suph, this was a second and different word concerning the Israelites' crossing and God's great work. Was it a false word, or was the word true?

In the LXX, a comparison of those "Red Sea" texts with those few that do not translate yam suph as "Red Sea" helps to answer that question. All 21 verses in which the LXX translates yam suph as "Red Sea" (Ex 10: 19; 13:18; 15:4,22; 23:31; Nm 14:25; 21:4; 33:10, 11; Dt 1 :40; 2:2; 11 :4; Jos 2: 10; 4:23; 24:6; Neh 9:9; Ps 106:7, 9, 22; 136:13, 15 [Ps 135:13, 15 in LXX])refer to the miraculous crossing, either directly or as a general theme. An example of a direct use is, "The chariots of Pharaoh and his host He cast into the sea; and his choice officers are sunk into the yam suph" (Ex 15:4, authors' translation, as are all Scripture quotations henceforth). At the beginning of the wilderness-wandering judgment, a more general thematic instance is found: "Tomorrow turn and take your journey [into] the wilderness, the way of the yam suph" (Nm 14:25), where thematically the mention of the yam suph / Red Sea indicates that the Israelites were obliged to return to Square One of their salvation.

Egyptian Chariot

Click the following link to read the entire article in PDF format:  The-Red-Sea-in-the-NT.pdf



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