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EXODUS

MOSES BRINGS THE JEWS OUT OF EGYPT


- Excerpts from the book “La Bibbia senza Segreti”
(Bible with no Secrets) by Flavio Barbiero -

THE TEN PLAGUES

The most difficult and complex part of Moses' plan was convincing the Jews to
leave Egypt and embark on an uncertain and risky adventure (Ex.4,1-17). "Moses and
Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything
the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they
believed, and when they heard that the Lord had visited the sons of Israel and had seen
their misery, they bowed down and worshipped." (Ex. 4,29-31).
The moment was favorable. The building corvées were oppressive and
provoked considerable discontent among the population. Nevertheless, the enterprise
Moses and Aaron proposed must have seemed little short of suicide in the eyes of the
elders. It is not credible that they could be fooled by a few conjured tricks. Moses and
Aaron must have employed much more convincing arguments, but about these the
Bible is silent (this subject will be discussed again later on). The final result, in any
case, was that the tribal chiefs became convinced. Together, they all studied the
details and organized the plan to leave Egypt. Obviously, they swore to keep it secret.
In the meantime, certain of Moses' agitators worked among the population to
create an atmosphere of expectation . They fueled the peoples’ imagination and
planted rumors of prodigious happenings. They aroused their enthusiasm for the flight.
Excitement increased as preparations for the departure progressed; incredible rumors
circulated, miracles were happening everywhere.
The biblical narrative seeks to give credence to the version that indicates the
Egyptians were forced to let the Jews go because of terrible calamities wrought by God
through Moses. This attempt is executed with great ingenuity and absolute
transparency.
During those days of ferment, in which great things were in store for the Jewish
people, popular imagination became over-excited; people sought to see prodigious
happenings wherever something a little out of the ordinary occurred. It is a well-known
fact that in popular accounts, a block of wood can become a wolf and a wolf a whole
pack! Especially if there is someone interested in spreading news of miraculous
events, ready to magnify the facts, as Moses' friends must have done in that situation.
The "plagues" were for the most part quite banal happenings that, in any case,
recurred often in Egypt. To call some of these happenings "plagues" is ridiculous. In
any case all were exaggerated beyond measure. One example can serve for all: the
hail. At first, it is described as a scourge never before seen, that cut down men, animals
and every kind of tree (Ex. 9,24-25). Then later the truth surfaces: the wheat was not
damaged at all, because...it had not yet come into ear! (Ex. 9,32). A normal springtime
hailstorm!
Most historians view these accounts of the ten "plagues" with skepticism since
they are not reported in the Egyptian chronicles. It would indeed be surprising if such a
correlation were to be found. As we have seen in Joseph’s case, when the Bible
speaks of the "land of Egypt,” it normally refers to that part of Egypt where the Jews
lived. Therefore, the "plagues" were certainly local happenings that involved villages
and the countryside around Goshen, and could not have been referred to the Court for
insertion in official chronicles.

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The Egyptians certainly were not even aware they were being subjected at that
time to so many extraordinary "calamities;” they were so only in the minds of the Jews.
The latter were not able, on the other hand, to ascertain the true extent of these
"plagues,” for they were, of course, regularly exempt from them: this was all part of the
marvel.
The final "plague,” the most terrible of all--the death of all the Egyptian firstborn
children--was probably no more than the chance death of a single firstborn: that of the
Egyptian Governor under whose control the Jews lived, and who was, therefore, given
the title of Pharaoh (Ex. 4,23). The child died the same night that the Jews prepared for
the departure. The following morning, while they were setting out, the entire city echoed
with cries and mourning lamentations. No one turned back to check who had died.
It appears fairly evident from reading the biblical text, that the ten "plagues" did
not have the slightest influence upon the Egyptians' decision to authorize the Jews to go
out into the desert to make sacrifices to their God (but never did they authorized the
Jews to leave the country). The supposed plagues did, however, convince the Jews to
depart--to leave a situation which was, after all, fairly comfortable and safe and to
embark on a risky adventure (Ex.16,3). Little did they realize what they would
encounter and how long they would regret that decision!
The departure preparations took several months. They had to relinquish all
property that could not be transported, bartering everything for precious objects, if
possible, without losing too much on each deal; they had to equip themselves for a long
journey, purchase carts, provisions, cereals, weapons and so forth. All without making it
too obvious. Yet these preparations could not pass unobserved by the Egyptians. The
news that the Jews were preparing to abandon the country must have been public
knowledge. Moses could not have overlooked this fact in his plans and must have
made provision for it.
Since they were semi-nomadic shepherds, the Jews had almost certainly
complete liberty of movement; they could come and go and arrange meetings without
having to seek anyone’s permission (and in fact Aaron went to and from the Sinai
whenever he pleased). As long as they did not go beyond the bounds of the territory
assigned them, invading pastures intended for others, no one troubled them. So if they
wanted to go into the desert...let them! Almost certainly they went out there to graze
their livestock after the rains. No one imagined they would have wanted to abandon, of
their own free will, those pastures assigned them, leaving behind the "best land in all of
Egypt."
However, in the face of all those preparations and in view of the rumors
circulating, the Governor ruling over Israel began to worry. He certainly could not let
them go en masse, and thereby deprive the local economy of one of its pillars; the
Pharaoh would surely have dismissed him from office.
Therefore, he summoned the tribal chiefs and demanded an explanation. They
denied, of course, having any desire to leave Egypt; the carts, the food, the gold and
jewelry all served for a great gathering in the desert: "Let us take a three-day journey
into the desert, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God, or He may strike us with plagues
or with the sword" (Ex.5,3). The Vizier hesitated: "Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the
land" (Ex.8,25). Impossible: "It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the
abomination of the Egyptians to the Lord our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the
abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go
three days' journey into the wilderness, as he shall command us." (Ex. 8,26-27). The
Vizier asked for guarantees, asking that the Jews leave their women and children
behind (Ex.10,11). Out of the question: "We shall go with our youngsters and our aged,
with our sons and daughters, with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a

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festival to the Lord" (Ex. 10,9). They should leave their livestock behind (Ex.10,24).
No: "Our livestock too must go with us: not a hoof is to be left behind; we have to use
some of them in worshipping our Lord and until we get there we will not know what we
are to use to worship the Lord." (Ex.10,25-26).
Finally, after long arduous negotiations they came to an agreement: the Jews
could go where they pleased with whatever they wanted to take with them; only they
had to accept the presence of a large contingent of Egyptian troops, ordered to keep an
eye on them. At their own expense, of course. These were the conditions Moses
foresaw and for which he advocated.
The Egyptians felt secure and at ease. The Vizier of Pi-Rameses controlled the
road to Palestine and had at his disposal the finest and fastest Egyptian troops--the
best in the world! Six hundred war chariots (Ex.14,7) were set on the heels of the Jews:
if they tried any tricks, they would be annihilated. All this was foreseen in Moses' plan.

THE CROSSING OF THE RED SEA

The Jewish people numbered many thousands (see following chapter 14); they
owned two-wheeled wagons pulled by pairs of oxen (Numbers 7,3-9), herds of cattle,
sheep, and goats. On the move the wagons formed an endless column and the herds
were scattered around it for miles since they had to be grazed along the way. To guide
and coordinate the movements of such a mass posed a serious problem. Moses solved
it in a simple manner, which presumably was common in those times: at the head of
the column on the move, a large brazier of burning bitumen was placed on a wagon. A
column of dense smoke arose from it which could be seen from a great distance, thus
serving as a beacon during the march. At night the glow of the fire in the brazier served
the same purpose (Ex. 13,21).
The Egyptian troops followed the Jews from a distance, so naturally they also
followed the movements of the brazier. This was an important part of Moses' plan; from
Exodus 14,19-20, it becomes evident that the brazier must have played a very
important part during the night of the Red Sea crossing.
After a fifteen-day journey (the Jewish people could not cover more than 14-16
kilometers a day, and in any case they had to stop in order to water their herds), on the
day of the new moon, Moses set up camp on the shore of the Red Sea facing the sand
banks, the existence of which he alone knew and which were hidden at the moment
since high tide was then at its maximum.
The Egyptian troops camped on a high point, well in sight of the Jewish
encampment, but too far away to notice what was going on there during the night. This
was obviously an essential condition for the success of his plan, so Moses must have
worked out something that compelled the Egyptians not to set up camp too close by.
From the account this is easy to grasp: at one of the previous stops the Egyptians had
evidently camped in the immediate vicinity of the brazier (Ex. 14,24).
Moses must have organized an incursion into their encampment to block the
wheels of their war chariots (Ex.14,25), perhaps by filling the hubs with sand. Following
this incident, the commanding officer of the Egyptian detachment must have instituted a
series of elementary security measures, preventing being taken again by surprise. The
most logical step would have been to set up camp at a greater distance from the Jews
and to post sentries (Ex.14,25). He probably adopted these measures that evening.
Moses had seen to it that the brazier was placed well in sight, behind the Jewish
camp on the desert side facing the Egyptians, but screening the Jewish camp with it in
such a way that the Egyptians could not see what was going on (Ex. 14,19-20). Night

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fell (Ex. 14,21; Dt. 16,1), a dark moonless night (Ex. 14,20). As soon as it was dark, the
Jews broke camp. They assembled all their household goods and chattel, their flocks
and herds; they readied everything for the march, then awaited orders.
A breeze sprang up (Ex. 14,21), the usual night breeze, quite steady in that
season, enough to ripple the surface of the sea. The tide began to turn. On the shore,
Moses, surrounded by the tribal elders, was waiting tensely. The tide was dropping. At
last the miracle occurred: slowly a slender tongue of sand emerged from the waters.
The waves raised by the night breeze broke along the edges of the sand bank on
both sides. In the whitish foam myriads of microscopic organisms flitted and darted,
giving off a weak light, sufficient to mark the way ahead in the utter darkness. It was
certainly forbidden to light torches or fires of any sort during the crossing, in order not to
arouse the suspicions of the Egyptians before necessary.
It must have been about one a.m. when the order to start was given; the Jews
moved swiftly into the Red Sea in ordered and silent columns, urging their livestock
ahead of them.
In the Egyptian camp, in the meantime, most were sleeping. The sentries could
faintly hear the lowing of cattle and the frenzied barking of dogs, borne on the breeze--
unusual. The Egyptians grew slightly nervous. But the great brazier was still there,
flaming, immobile--no cause for alarm.
At about two-thirty a.m. the great brazier suddenly began to move. The
commanding officer, who had been awakened, hurried to see: yes, it was really
moving--towards the sea and quickly, too. Very strange! He ordered the troops awake
and followed this with an order to be ready to move as soon as possible. In the
meantime he watched the movements of the brazier; sooner or later it would be at the
shore and would have to turn left or right; that would be the moment when he would
move to intercept the column.
It was past three a.m.; the troops were ready to move. The brazier continued its
movement in the same direction, it seemed to be...in the sea! The Commanding officer
was jittery: he ordered the advance. It was pitch dark and he needed almost an hour to
reach the seashore. The brazier was still moving away, seemingly in the middle of the
sea. Of the Jews, their tents, their wagons, and of the thousands of head of livestock,
not a single trace. The Egyptian Commander was stupefied, confused, agitated. What
was happening? He continued to follow the light of the brazier; when he reached the
seashore, an unexpected and incredible scene appeared in the weak first light of the
dawn: a long stretch of sand connected the two shores, little more than five kilometers
apart. At the center, the Jews' brazier was hurrying towards the far bank. He gave a
cry of anger and without thinking twice, rushed into the chase, followed by his troops,
along the narrow sand bank, which at that time began to shrink. The tide was coming in
rapidly. The Egyptians spurred their horses on, riding desperately. They had already
reached the center of the gulf, when the last vestige of the sand bank disappeared
beneath the rising tide. Then disaster struck!
On the other shore, upright upon a rock, Moses surveyed the scene. The sun
was rising at his back (Ex. 14,27). He watched, grinning, at the horses as they
struggled in the waters, and he saw the soldiers drowning, dragged down by their
armor. The plan he had worked upon so meticulously for years had at last borne fruit.
He had foreseen every detail. His heart swelled with pride, and with good reason! The
brilliance and audacity of the concept, the complexity of the operation, the meticulous
planning required and the brilliant and decisive execution of it, all this has no equal in
History.
The son of unknown parents, a stutterer, wanted for murder, having nothing but
his genius and audacity, had dared to challenge the most powerful sovereign of those

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times, managing to take from him an entire population with all its wealth and, what is
more, to destroy a large part of what was then the most powerful army in the world. All
this by making use of nothing more than the elements of Nature.
No man ever dared to conceive and accomplish a risky venture such as this one.
The slightest miscalculation, one false move, and the great adventure could have
become a great tragedy. I like to think that not a single goat was lost!

This reconstruction, deliberately presented as a news item, is by no means


hypothetical, and still less fanciful. The main reason why modern Scriptural Scholarship
rejects an effective historical content of the Exodus narrative is that the Israelite
crossing of the Red Sea, in the manner described, is presumed to be impossible.
In fact, at first sight the crossing appears to be so completely outside the bounds
of possibility, that all the scholars have rejected it out of hand, preferring to dedicate
their research to other alternatives. However, a more detailed examination of the
question reveals this dogma to be hurried and unjustified. Surprisingly, in fact, the only
method we can adopt to provide a rational explanation of this episode is that we not
reject one single piece of evidence given in the Bible. Of course the Bible relates the
facts as they were experienced and understood by the people involved; they were
unable to provide a rational explanation of what happened and, therefore, could only
attribute it to divine intervention. But they must have reported the facts in a true and
precise manner. The essential facts of their story are these: The Jews crossed over in
the midst of a real sea, having water both on their left and on their right (Ex.14,22). The
sea in question was the Red Sea, that is, that branch now known as the Gulf of Suez,
not the Mediterranean or any other stretch of water, as is often to be read; they crossed
the sea by night, a moonless night, and, therefore, it was the time of the new moon (Ex.
14.20; Dt. 16,1); before and during the crossing, a stiff breeze sprang up (Ex. 14,21);
the Egyptian troops rushed to the chase at first light, following the same route as the
Jews, but they were engulfed by the waters before they could pass over (Ex. 14,23;
14,27); the bodies of the drowned soldiers were carried by the current onto the strand
(Ex. 14,30).
These are the main points of the biblical narrative, which are repeated and
confirmed time and time again in a wide range of contexts. They must, therefore, be the
facts exactly as they happened. On the basis of this narrative, there are no alternatives
to the scene just previously described.
Moses' escape plan had to be based upon elements about which he was
absolutely certain; it is unreasonable to suppose that he could or would count on
accidental happenings beyond the norm. Not one of the Jewish tribal chiefs would have
been prepared to risk the lives of his people and his own by following Moses just in the
hope that one day or another a wind would arise strong enough to dry up the Red Sea
or any other stretch of water... and that such a wind would last just long enough to
allow his people to cross, graciously dying down as soon as the inevitable pursuers
reached the middle of the crossing. This is a widely spread theory, but it is quite
absurd.
In order to solve the problem it is necessary to begin with a question: why did
Moses lead the Jewish people across that particular sea? It was certainly not the
normal route to Palestine, neither was it the shortest or the easiest (Ex. 13,17-18).
There must have been a precise and very important reason for it. What was it? The
final effect of the Red Sea crossing was the annihilation of the pursuing Egyptians.
Therefore, it follows that the reason Moses led his people across the Red Sea must
have been to liberate them from the Egyptian forces.

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The fact that the Egyptian troops were tailing the Jews from the beginning of their
journey is obvious from the narrative. Exodus 14,8 states explicitly that "the Pharaoh
began the pursuit of the Israelites while these went out [from Pi-Rameses] with hands
raised,” that is, from the first day of the Exodus. Exodus verses 14,20 and 14, 24-26
demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that during the journey the Egyptians
regularly set up camp in the vicinity of the Jewish encampment. The Jews took the
women, children, and elderly with them, plus their herds and household goods. Their
movements were slow and awkward; they were unarmed and had no experience
whatsoever with war, while the Egyptian troops with their chariots were infinitely more
powerful and swift.
Thus, there was not the slightest possible hope of escape, unless these troops
were in some way removed. In fact, when the Jews realized they were being followed
they were filled with dismay; in order to induce them to proceed, Moses had to assure
them that the Lord himself would intervene to destroy the Egyptian soldiers (Ex. 14,10-
14). There could have been only one reason for the decision to cross the Red Sea and
that was to eliminate the Egyptian surveillance.
Moses alone was responsible for creating and executing this plan, but it is simply
unthinkable that he could really have had the power to divide the waters of the sea.
Therefore, he must have had knowledge of some Red Sea phenomenon that existed at
that time but does not happen now. The epoch in which these events occurred is very
important to this analysis: it was said to be in the third or fourth year of the reign of
Merenptah, towards the end of the 13th century BC, more than three thousand years
ago.
So, what was different then, compared to modern times? A seemingly
insignificant fact: the sea levels all over the Earth (and therefore also in the Red Sea)
were 4 or 5 meters lower than they are today, due to remaining Pleistocene ice that
persisted here and there. A glance at a nautical chart (see following fig) permits us to
understand the significance of this fact.

The Suez Bay, at the extreme northern end of the Red Sea is, so to speak,
obstructed by a line of sand banks running from point Ras el-Adabiya on the western

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side and East-North-East towards the opposite shore. It is a more or less continuous
cordon (now broken by a canal which has been dredged to allow navigation), with a
depth of no more than 6 or 7 meters. In Moses' time that same line of sand banks,
“anchored” to a series of barely emerging rocks, was probably only a couple meters
below the surface, perhaps even less. It is quite likely that at maximum low tide they
emerged, making it possible to cross the bay from one shore to the other--even by
heavy transport, since the Red Sea's sand is very compact.
It was a desert area, frequented only by an occasional passing Bedouin. This
phenomenon could only occur at maximum high and low tide, when the moon and the
sun are in conjunction--during the new moons. Since this phenomenon had scant
practical value, probably no one prior to Moses bothered to establish its cause,
duration, or recurrence.
Moses must have come to know this phenomenon during his flight into the Sinai
(Ex. 2,15); it must have impressed him so much as to induce his return year after year
in order to study it more thoroughly. It should not have been difficult for him to
understand the mechanics of it, closely bound as it was to the lunar phases and solar
movements. In order to complete his plan Moses had to know the day and hour in
which the sand banks would emerge, and the hour in which they would again disappear.
Some collateral factors that he had certainly taken into account assumed very
important significance. The moonless night, for example, allowed the Jews to move
without being seen, but could also present a serious obstacle to their march across the
sand banks--except, the warm waters of the Red Sea teemed with luminescent
organisms, excited by the strong nocturnal breeze and breaking waves, which traced
out the route without need of artificial light. The wind, therefore, without having any
influence whatsoever on the tide, assumed a fundamental importance.
Once we accept that the sand banks in the Suez Bay emerged during the lowest
tides, it becomes relatively easy to grasp the essentials of Moses' plan. If we follow
faithfully the indications in the Bible, aware that every single minute detail of the
narrative has been handed down strictly in accordance with its importance, and must,
therefore, have a precise rational explanation, it becomes clear.
To conclude: the Jews crossed the Red Sea along the sand banks of the Suez
Bay, a distance of little more than 5 kilometers. Since they were unaware of the
mechanics that made this possible, it must have seemed to them a most extraordinary
miracle. In the darkness of the night they could just glimpse the waters, thanks to the
weak micro-organic luminescence and the whiteness of the breaking waves; the optical
illusion of two walls of water on either side must have been perfect. One wonders how
terrified they must have been as they made that crossing!
The Egyptians rushed in along the same route. Moses must have calculated the
exact moment. He had estimated their reaction time and the period they required to
prepare for action. He had also calculated the time required to go from the high ground
to the seashore. He had ordered the brazier moved at precisely the correct moment; it
was essential that the Egyptians be in the middle of the gulf when the high tide would
resubmerge the sand banks.
By dawn the Egyptians would have covered the 5 kilometers that separated the
two shores in no more than half an hour. The success of Moses' entire plan and the
destiny of the Jewish people depended upon that crucial half hour.
If the Egyptians had arrived at the bay too early, they would have been in time to
reach the far shore; if too late, they would have found the sand banks already
submerged, in which case they would have rounded the gulf and reached the Jews after
several hours. In either case the reprisals would have been terrible. Israel would have

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paid a high price for the attempt, and for Moses and his companions it would have been
the end.
It was a very great risk, well calculated but with a safety margin of only ten or
fifteen minutes, albeit probably lengthened by precautionary measures such as various
obstacles spread along the second half of the route to slow down the Egyptian chariots.
However it is viewed, this was an enterprise of breath-taking audacity. Moses
pulled it off; the Egyptian army was annihilated. The bodies of the drowned troops were
spread along the shores of the Red Sea for many kilometers (Ex. 14,30), tangible
evidence of the power of Jahweh and of his earthly spokesman Moses.
The Jews were free to go on their way undisturbed through the desert, towards a
new life and a new destiny.

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THE EXODUS EPOCH

The scenario just described, incredible though it may seem, corresponds in every
detail to the description in the Bible, and brings together all the Exodus passages in a
coherent and rational manner. The existence of the Suez sand banks, the tides, and
every other detail of natural phenomena all agree perfectly with the narrative. Even the
name of the area found immediately beyond the sand banks, "Ayun Musa" (the Moses'
wells), corroborates it. And as we will see later, starting from this point all the rest of the
itinerary parallels the Bible text exactly. Nearly everything coalesces to confirm exactly
what is described in the Bible. There is, however, one particular detail that at first does
not seem to fit with this reconstruction, and that is the time of year in which the crossing
is believed to have occurred.
According to our reconstruction, the Red Sea crossing took place during a new
moon. The departure from Pi-Rameses, fifteen days previously, therefore coincided
with a full moon. The Jews traditionally celebrate Easter in memory of that event,
coinciding with the first full moon of Spring.
However, by examining the Bible, we can establish with certainty that this
tradition is incorrectly based. First of all, we note that the Jewish custom of celebrating
Easter, after a long period of suspension, was revived only after they returned from exile
in Babylon. During this exile they not only adopted the Aramaic language, but also the
Babylonian calendar, which began with the new moon closest to the Spring equinox.
Since the Bible stated that Easter was to be celebrated on the fifteenth day of the year
(Lev. 23,5; Nm. 9,3-5; 28,16; 33,2; etc.), from that time on Easter was fixed to coincide
with the first full moon of Spring.
The Exodus Jews, however, came from Egypt and at the time of the narrated
events they almost certainly used the Egyptian calendar, the beginning of which
coincides with the flooding of the Nile in June. So the fifteenth day of the year, when
they departed from Pi-Rameses, must have been in June (Nm. 33.3).
Various factors support this statement. Some of the events that preceded the
Exodus are in fact dated; for example, the seventh plague--the hailstorm--is dated with
a maximum margin of error of a week. It occurred when "the flax was blooming and the
barley already twilled,”12 but not yet the wheat (Ex. 9.31-32); clearly this was between
the 5th and the 15th April. After this, three more plagues occurred. The Exodus,
therefore, took place some time later; it could hardly have happened during the first full
moon of Spring. Other biblical indications conflict with a departure at the beginning of
Spring, but there is one that puts it definitively in June. It is reliable evidence because it
dates from a period very near the events in question, and the Bible states it clearly in
the Book of Joshua.
Joshua began the invasion of Palestine during the harvest period (Josh. 3,15;
5,11). In the Jordan Valley today, the grain harvest occurs during the second half of
May. Taking into account that nowadays the tendency is to cultivate early varieties and
to thresh as early as possible, we are reasonably certain that the harvest in those times
did not take place before the end of May. Joshua crossed the Jordan on the tenth day
after the beginning of the year (Js. 4,19); five days later he celebrated Easter (Js.
5,10). There can be no doubt--it was in June. Exactly fifteen days later came the
recrossing of the Red Sea--at the end of June or at the latest, the beginning of July.
Having established the time of the year in which the Exodus took place, the next
step is to discover the precise date. Incredible though it may seem, the Bible itself
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provides evidence which makes it possible to determine not only the year, but the exact
day on which that event--the crossing of the Red Sea so fundamental to the history of
the Jewish people and perhaps the most important in all human history--occurred. It all
hinges on whether a certain interpretation of the ninth "plague" is exact or not, that is,
the three days of "darkness" that fell upon Egypt.
All the so-called plagues refer more or less to extraordinary events that really
occurred, but which in some cases are highly exaggerated. Such was the case with the
hailstorm (Ex. 9,24-32). The question is how can we interpret these "days of darkness.”
The most plausible explanation, the one that seems to be the most sensible, is an
eclipse of the sun. This is an event which is quite extraordinary, but not sufficiently so to
be defined as a "plague;” to become so, the duration would have to be prolonged to an
extreme. In fact it became three days, but here "three" is clearly a period of
indeterminate length.
The eclipse plainly occurred when the sun and moon were in conjunction, that is,
during a new moon. Since this was after the seventh plague, which occured in April, it
must have been the new moon immediately preceding the one at the time the Jews
crossed the Red Sea. This puts the time frame at or very close to the end of May.
The interesting thing about eclipses is that the dates can be calculated, even
those in remote history. Therefore, we need only ascertain if in Egypt, in what was most
probably the time of the Exodus, there was actually a total eclipse of the sun, and then
calculate the exact day. The Jews crossed the Red Sea twenty-nine days later.

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THE ROUTE OF THE EXODUS

The Jews had asked and obtained permission from the Pharaoh to go into the
desert for "three walking days" in order to make sacrifices to their God (Ex.8,27). But
the first leg of their journey, from Pi-Rameses to Succoth, was a seven-day’s march.
The questions that arise here are many; one wonders whether they had lied or not kept
their word. Then there is the question of the Egyptian troops, who followed them closely
from the first day (Ex.14,8), but strangely did not stop them. We must ask whether this
whole story is credible or not. The truth is that a "day's march,” then as now, is a unit of
distance quite apart from the maximum or minimum speed of any given traveler. The
distances along mountain tracks even today are always indicated by "walking hours;”
the times are clearly dependent upon the difficulty of the terrain as well as the distance
to be covered, but gauged on the constant pace of the average mountaineer. Traveling
with the entire family, children and grandparents, perhaps stopping now and then to
gather berries etc., one must calculate a period for the whole route at least three times
the norm.
The "day's march,” apart from the difficulties along the route, must take into
consideration the availability of water, an essential factor in the desert; it should end,
then, at a spot where there is at least a well. Then as now, however, a day's march was
gauged on a problemless journey of a typical commercial or military caravan--between
35 and 45 kilometers. Therefore, the Jews' destination, the sacred place where they
would honor their God, was situated in the desert more than one hundred kilometers
from Pi-Rameses.
This, however, was no commercial caravan; it was an entire population, with
women, children, the elderly and the sick, with herds and flocks, with all their
possessions, their tents and household goods, their tools and their supplies and
provisions of every sort. A part of these goods was loaded onto pack animals, but the
major part had to be carried in "covered wagons", drawn by oxen (Nm.7,3-9). Each
tribe possessed a certain number of these and, therefore, the total must have been
rather high. It was a seemingly endless column that stretched out for several
kilometers.
The old and sick, together with the women and smaller children, traveled on the
wagons (Gn. 46,5). The older boys gave the adults a hand, driving the cattle along the
flanks of the column, leading by hand the pack animals and those yoked to the wagons.
The rate of march was governed by the slow pace of the oxen, about two kilometers per
hour. They could not have traveled more than an average of 15 kilometers per day.
Therefore, they needed three days to cover the distance of a "day's march."
Since the "day's march" normally took them from one watering hole to the next,
the Jews could not count on replenishing their stocks along the way; they had to ensure
their water and food supplies were sufficient for the duration of the march. They also
had to provide reserves of water and forage for the pack animals and the oxen drawing
the wagons. The untethered animals could graze whatever grass they could find, but
they were not watered. This could only be provided at the end of that leg of the journey.
Anyone who has watched livestock being watered in the desert has an
appreciation for the time required to water dozens of flocks and herds. The women took
advantage of this time to knead loaves of unleavened bread which would be baked
during bivouacs in the following days; simultaneously, additional supplies of water and,
where possible, forage and firewood, were also gathered. All this required an entire
day's halt. So in order to cover the distance of a "day's march", the Jews required

11
exactly four days--three marching and one resting. This was the fastest speed they
could manage.
The Jews covered the first two "days' march"--more than 70 kilometers--in one
seven-day segment; this journey would be commemorated every Easter. It was the
longest stage of the whole journey and was possible only because the first leg took
them through a "green belt,” where there was an abundance of water, allowing the
herds and flocks to be watered along the route. On the seventh day they arrived at
Succoth, where they camped for a couple of days.
As soon as the Jews set out of Pi-Rameses, the Egyptian surveillance troops
began to tail them (Ex.14,8); they probably maintained a rearguard position a fair
distance behind. If necessary, in an hour they could cover a distance that would take
the Jews a whole day. Perhaps it was at Succoth where they stayed for the first time so
near to the Jews' encampment; they too needed to water their horses and secure their
own drinking water. In all probability the incursion into the Egyptian encampment
mentioned in Ex. 14,24-25, when the Jews blocked the wheels of the war chariots, took
place right there. Obviously no permanent damage was done, nevertheless the troop
commander decided it was more prudent to distance his camp from that of the Jews
and to post sentries.
On the morning of the tenth day following their departure, the Jews left Succoth
for Etham on the outer limits of the desert of the same name (Ex.13,20; Nm.33,7). Five
days later they broke camp at Pi-Hahirot and crossed the Red Sea (Nm. 33,8). The
name Pi-Hahirot must have indicated an extended territory; in fact an additional two
references were considered necessary in order to pinpoint the spot where the Jews
camped: "Opposite Migdol, in sight of Baal-Zefon" (Ex. 14,2; Nm. 33,7). The name
Baal-Zefon means "Lord of the North" and refers to a religious site dedicated to that
divinity. It was the Jews’ declared destination: a holy place in the desert, three days'
march from Pi-Ramses, where they intended to make sacrifices to their God.
Moses had to time the arrival at Pi-Hahirot to occur only at the very last moment,
in the afternoon, a few hours before the crossing. The phenomenon of emerging sand
banks happened several nights in succession during that new moon and if the Jews had
to pass even one night at Pi-Hahirot, the Egyptians could have discovered it and upset
their plans. Moses dared not take such a risk.
Etham must have been situated a few kilometers from Pi-Hahirot, 8 or 10 at
most, probably near to the modern day Suez. It was the other extreme of the third
"day's march", which began at Succoth. It took the Jews three days to cover the
distance; they arrived at Etham in the evening of the twelfth day. Moses spent the
following two days going over his plan, meticulously checking times and route. There is
no doubt that he went over to the sand banks of the Suez Bay at low tide and, with a
few of his faithful followers, verified the phenomenon and assessed the difficulties, the
time required for the crossing, etc.
The Jews left Etham on the morning of the fifteenth day, the last of the lunar
month. In the afternoon they camped at Pi-Hahirot; they had a meal and rested for a
few hours. As soon as it was dark, they loaded up their baggage, yoked the oxen to the
wagons, reassembled the flocks and arranged themselves in the order of march. About
one a.m. the crossing began; it took them a little less than three hours to traverse the
Red Sea. They stopped for the whole morning on the far shore, near the Ayun Musa
wells, to water the animals and allow them to rest from the fatigue of the crossing; but
the Jews themselves were too elated by the events of the night to think about rest!
There was great rejoicing with singing and dancing the entire morning. They departed
again in the early afternoon, free at last, on their way to the Promised Land.

12
In Numbers 33 the Bible relates the whole route, stage by stage and even gives
the date for certain stages. It was the moon that marked the rhythm of their days; its
face, now dark, now luminous, linked the memory of events. They had left Pi-Ramses
on the fifteenth day of the first month (Nm. 33,3) at full moon. They crossed the Red
Sea at new moon, fifteen days later. At the subsequent new moon, the fifteenth day of
the second month, they reached the Sin desert (Ex. 16,1). They finally set up camp in
the Sinai on the first day of the third month (Ex. 19,1), again coincident with the new
moon.
From the biblical data, therefore, we know precisely and with no possibility of
error, the duration of the entire journey from Pi-Rameses to the sacred Mount Horeb:
one and a half lunar months, exactly forty-four days. Of these, fourteen took them to
the Red Sea, while the remaining thirty days were needed to go from the eastern shore
of the Bay of Suez to Har Karkom. Following faithfully the descriptions given in the
Bible, it should not be difficult to ascertain which path the Jews took on their journey
between these two places; if the narrative has any historical value at all, it must agree
completely with the journey’s reconstruction.
The Jews in their thousands, with all their wagons, supplies, household goods
and livestock, could not possibly have taken any secondary routes, along difficult tracks
without a plentiful supply of water; Moses, therefore, was forced to lead them along one
of the major passable wagon tracks, which joined Egypt with Palestine across the Sinai
Peninsula (see fig at the end). There was another reason for this decision; although
most of the pursuing Egyptian troops had been exterminated, there were undoubtedly
survivors; thus it was logical to assume that within a few days the Egyptians could
organize a further contingent of troops to again take up the chase. So the Jews had to
get away as fast as possible. The quickest route was obviously the great track, along
which their wagons could move at their most rapid speed, which, as we have seen, was
four days for each "day's march"--three on the move and one of rest.
At this point we know a large number of facts regarding the itinerary and it is
clear that a faithful reconstruction of it must correspond exactly to all of them. These
facts are as follows:
- The date and place of departure (Pi-Ramses, the fifteenth day of the first
month)
- the date and place of arrival (Har Karkom, the first day of the third month)
- the date and the exact point of the Red Sea crossing (Suez Bay last day of the
first month)
- three intermediate dates (arrival at Succoth the 21st day of the first month;
arrival at Mara on the third day of the second month; arrival at Sin desert the fifteenth
day of the second month)
- the various legs of the journey listed in Numbers 33,7-15 (Pi-Rameses,
Succoth, Etham, Pi-Hahirot, Marah, Elim, Sea of Reeds, Desert of Sin, Dophkah, Alush,
Rephidim, Sinai)
- the speed and method of travel (three days' march at a daily average between
13 and 15 kilometers, plus a fourth day of rest)
- the ancient tracks of the Sinai Peninsula (mainly corresponding to today's
roads).

With the help of these facts, the Exodus route can be easily retraced day by day,
exactly and with certainty. After the Red Sea crossing the Jews had to stop for the
whole morning at the Ayun Musa wells in order to water and refresh the livestock and to
replenish their own supply; then they moved off northwards into the Etham desert until
they reached the track that took them towards Palestine. It can be ascertained from the

13
Bible itself that they started off in a northerly direction: while they hugged the sea coast
they saw the corpses of the drowned Egyptian soldiers (Exodus 14,30). These troops
were overwhelmed by the incoming tide as they crossed over the sand banks of the Bay
of Suez; their bodies were carried to the north. The Jews' initial route was therefore
northwards.
The quickest and most direct route to Palestine from the Bay of Suez passes by
Bir et-Temada and Bir Assane. Initially the Jews had two alternatives to reach Bir et-
Temada: either through the Mitla Pass or through the Jiddi pass. The first of these
options would have taken them about twenty kilometers along secondary tracks as far
as Bir el-Mura, then a further 45 or so to the Bir el-Tawal oasis and, lastly, a little more
than 40 kilometers to Bir-et-Temada. But with the second option they would have had
to travel about 40 kilometers, as far as Little Bitter Lake, then another 50 or so to the
Bir-el Jiddi oasis, and as many again up to Bir et-Temada.
Both of these routes are more or less in accord with the indications in the Bible;
there are, however, certain factors--apart from the fact that it is the most direct and the
shortest one--that point us towards the Mitla Pass option. It took them three days to
arrive at Mara (Ex. 15,22; Nm.33,8). We have to take into consideration that they must
have started off in the afternoon of the first day, and that the verses of Exodus 15,22
and Numbers 33,8 both specify (the only occasion in the whole itinerary ) that to reach
Mara they passed "across the desert.” This gives the impression that they traveled
along minor tracks, or perhaps no track at all, and so probably covered no more than
about twenty kilometers during those three days. Furthermore, in order to reach the
Bitter Lakes, the Jews would have had to pass in front of Etham again. This name
means "fortress", so it was certainly an Egyptian roadblock with a permanent garrison.
These troops most probably did not have war chariots and were in any case too few in
number to go chasing after the Jews. They were certainly able to block the way,
however, should the Jews dare to pass close.
The biblical Mara, therefore, should be identified with the similar sounding Bir el-
Mura, situated about ten kilometres as the crow flies to the north-east of Ayun Musa (a
little more then twenty kilometers along the track). As with other areas in the Sinai
bearing the same name, Bir el-Mura has wells containing very bitter water, and
something approaching a revolt almost broke out as a result (Ex.15,24). From there,
the Jews pressed on toward Palestine at a forced rate of march. It took them three
days to get from one oasis to the next and at each one they rested for a whole day.
These are the stages of the journey referred to in Numbers 33.
They left Bir el-Mura on the morning of the fifth day, crossing the Mitla Pass on
the sixth and reaching Bir el-Tawal during the afternoon of the seventh. Bir el-Tawal is
identifiable with the biblical Elim, an oasis with twelve wells and seventy palms, where
they rested for the whole of the eighth day. They left again on the morning of the ninth
and reached the following oasis, Bir et-Temada after the usual three days' march, on the
eleventh day of the month. The daily average for this first stretch was 13-14 kilometers.
Bir et-Temada is situated at the confluence of a vast system of wadis, which occupies
the entire central area of the Sinai peninsula; it presented a vast expanse of marshy
ground invaded by reeds, from which the biblically attributed name "Sea of Reeds," is
derived.
Following the usual one day’s rest, the Jews set off again on the morning of the
thirteenth day, arriving with the full moon at Bir Assane, an oasis which today still
maintains its biblical name: the Sin Desert. Exodus 16,1 reports that this was on the
fifteenth day of the second month. There are exactly 47 kilometers between the two
oases, and therefore the daily average was 15,6 kilometers, fairly high but not

14
excessive for that route. They departed Bir Assane on the morning of the seventeenth
day.
According to the biblical narrative, the journey required fifteen days between the
Sin Desert and Mount Horeb, including three intermediate stops: Dophcah, Alus and
Rephidim. The latter was situated no more than 15 kilometres from Mount Horeb, since
the distance between the two was covered in a single day (Ex.19,1). We, therefore,
have a total of ten days' march, during which the Jews could not have covered more
than 150 kilometres. On the basis of these limiting factors there could be no alternative:
they must have followed the track to Kuseima. After three days' march at the
approximate daily average of 12 kilometers they reached the oasis of Bir el-Hadira, the
biblical Dophcah, where they remained for the entire twentieth day.
On the morning of the twenty-first day of the second month, they set off from Bir
el-Hadira. Toward the end of the following day they reached a fork: the north-east track
goes on to Kuseima and Palestine; on the right, to the south-east, there is a ten-
kilometer secondary track to Darb-el-Aza, the high road that descends directly to Eilat
on the Gulf of Aqaba. The Jews turned right and that same evening set up camp along
the Darb-el-Aza, at Bir Sheida.
They were headed to Palestine, so this choice may seem inexplicable and
illogical. But some simple considerations make it clear that they had no alternative--
entering Palestine would have meant suicide. Palestine was by no means
uninhabitated. On the contrary, as reported by those explorers who accompanied
Joshua a year later, there were many prosperous and large populations with
professional armies, war chariots and cities surrounded by fortified walls (Nm.13,33; Dt.
1,28).
The Jews were shepherds, who had lived until then under the protection of the
Egyptian army. They had no experience in war, they had no army, and no weapons
other than knives used for butchering their animals. They had no unified state
organization, still being split into autonomous tribes. They did not even have a leader,
since Moses at that time was considered only a "guide,” without any definite authority.
Having with them all their women, children, cattle, gold and other precious goods, they
represented an irresistible attraction for looters, thieves, etc. (Nm.14,3; Dt.1,39). In
these circumstances they had not the slightest hope of occupying any territory in
Palestine, something of which the Jewish elders must have been perfectly aware.
Therefore, they were forced to take refuge in some isolated and safe area where they
could take the time necessary to remedy their serious organizational deficiencies.
Moses had lived for a long period in that very area of Mount Horeb and he knew it very
well. He knew, therefore, where they would find a well-hidden valley in the desert,
difficult to access and easily defended.
They proceeded down the Darb-el-Aza during the whole of the twenty-third day
of the month. It was an easy march with many wells along the way and they made
better going than usual. They had to travel a little less than 20 kilometers, reaching
Riyash, the biblical Alus, situated on the bed of a wadi that still keeps its ancient name:
Lussan. They departed Riyash on the morning of the twenty-fifth day and at once left
the Darb-el-Aza, moving into the Paran Desert in the direction of Har Karkom. They
traveled about forty kilometres at a daily average of 14, and in the afternoon of the
twenty-seventh day of the second month they arrived at Beer Karkom--a locality seven
kilometres from Har karkom, which Dr. Anati, on the basis of significant archaeological
evidence, has identified with the biblical Rephidim.
The following day the Jews sustained their "baptism of fire," clashing with a local
tribe of Amalekites. The battle lasted until the evening (Ex.17,8-13). It is symptomatic
that the Jews should be attacked for the first time at that very spot. The main track was

15
in a sense a free zone; any person had the right to use it. But the moment the Jews
moved off it and turned onto a local track, they provoked the immediate reaction of the
population owning that entire territory. This reaction was predictable and was in fact
foreseen by Moses, who upon arriving at Rephidim that same evening had made
arrangements for the following day’s battle, placing Joshua at the head of the Jewish
force (Ex.17,9).
The Amalekites who attacked the Jews owned an area indicated in the Bible as
the "Paran Desert," which presumably stretched from Beer Karkom as far as Ein-
Kudeirat in the Cadesh area. These people were certainly bedouins, semi-nomadic,
much less numerous than the Jews, and possessed only light weapons with no
professional army. The great difficulty Joshua had in overcoming them was a clear
indication of the Jews' lack at that time of a war fighting capability; they would need a
long period of preparation and organization before becoming capable of attacking those
peoples inhabiting Palestine who were by far more numerous and warlike than the
Jews.
The hard-won victory over the Amalekites, who were completely wiped out
(Ex.17,13), enabled Israel, on the twenty-eighth day of the second month, to take over a
territory which, although a desert area and small, constituted a secure base in which
they could become organized for the next conquest without being disturbed.
The two days following the battle were spent burying the dead, medicating the
wounded, and dividing the spoils of the vanquished. It was the one and only stop, after
the Red Sea crossing, at which the Jews stayed for more than one day. On the first day
of the third month, they left Rephidim and in the afternoon they set up camp on a vast
plain at the foot of the Holy Mountain. They stayed there for a whole year, during which
Moses went from being a simple guide, to become the undisputed head of the "Chosen
People" and changed the course of History.
Synthesized below is the entire itinerary of the Exodus, showing the various legs
of the journey, the duration of each march and the stops with the respective dates (the
dates emphasized are those reported in the Bible or confirmed as certain - see fig. 14):

List of legs of journey day of stop day of duration


arrival over departure of journey

1st Month 1. Pi-Ramsess 15th 7 d


2. Succoth 21st 2 24th 3 d
3. Etham (Suez?) 26th 2 29th 1/2 d
4. Pi-Hahirot (Suez Bay) 29th 1/2 29th 3 h
Red Sea Crossing 29th (Night) 3 d

2nd Month 5. Mara (Bir el-Mura) 3rd 1 5th 3 d


6. Elim (Bir et-Tawal) 7th 1 9th 3 d
7. Sea of Reeds (Bir et-Temada)11th 1 13th 3 d
8. Sin Desert (Bir Assane) 15(Ex.16.1) 1 17th 3 d
9. Dopcah (Bir el-Hadira) 19th 1 21st 3 d
10. Alus (Riyash) 23rd 1 25th 3d
3rd Month
11. Rephidim (Beer Karkom) 27th 3 1st 1 d
12 Horeb (Har Karkom) 1st (Ex.19.1)

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