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What is the…
Red Sea

Greek: Ερυθρὰ Θάλασσα —transliteration: Erythra Thalassa

Latin: Mare Rubrum

also known as: Yam-mitstraim (“the Egyptian sea”), Ha-yam (“the sea”), Erythraean Sea, Sinus Arabicus, Southern Sea, Arabian Gulf, Mare Mecca (“Sea of Mecca”), and possibly Yam Suph

An early Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint version of the Book of Exdous first introduced the name “Red Sea” into a Bible translation. However, this is not a literal translation, but an assumed identification by the translators for the body of water referred to in Exodus. The Hebrew name in question is יָםסוּף —transliteration: Yam Suph (literally: “Sea of Reeds” or “Reed Sea”).

Red Sea—satellite view • Note its 2 northern arms: the Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba

The Red Sea extends along the west coast of Arabia for about 1,400 miles, and separates Asia from Africa. It is connected with the Indian Ocean, of which it is an arm, by the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb (or Bab el Mandeb—“Gate of Tears”).

The 2 northern gulfs of the Red Sea—satellite view

At Ras Mohammed, a point about 200 miles from its nothern extremity, it is divided into two arms. Between these two arms lies the Sinai Peninsula (Sinaitic Peninsula).

  • The western arm is the Gulf of Suez, about 150 miles long by about 20 wide. This branch is now connected with the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal.

  • The eastern arm is called the Gulf of Aqaba (Akabah) (once called AElanitic Gulf and the Bahr el-'Akabah), about 100 miles long by 15 wide.

Ras Mohammed, the point where the Red Sea splits into 2 gulfs—satellite view

The Hebrew name generally given to the sea that the Israelite exodus crossed is Yam Suph. In the following passages, Exo. 10:19; Exo. 13:18; Exo: 15:4,22; 23:31; Num. 14:25, etc., the Hebrew name is always translated “Red” Sea, which was the name given by the Greeks to the the sea separating Africa from Asia.

In the New Testament (Acts 7:36; Hebrews 11:29) this name is used for the Gulf of Suez.

The origin of the name “Red” Sea is uncertain. Some think it is derived from the red color of the mountains on the western shore, or from the land of Edom (meaning “red”); others from the red coral found in the sea, or the red appearance sometimes given to the water by certain cyanobacteria (Trichodesmium erythraeum) floating in it.

This sea was also called by the Hebrews Yam-mitstraim, i.e., “the Egyptian sea” (Isaiah 11:15), and simply Ha-yam, “the sea” (Exodus 14:2, 9, 16, 21, 28; Joshua 24:6-7; Isaiah 10:26, etc.).

Israelite crossing through the Red Sea

The great historical event connected with the Red Sea is the passage of the children of Israel, and the overthrow of the Egyptians, to which there is frequent reference in Scripture (Exodus 14-15; Numbers 33:8; Deuteronomy 11:4; Joshua 2:10; Judges 11:16; 2 Samuel 22:16; Neh. 9:9-11; Psalms 66:6; Isaiah 10:26; Acts 7:36, etc.). (See: Passage of the Red Sea)

Article Version: March 5, 2019

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