They traveled from Etham, and turned back to Pihahiroth, which is before Baal Zephon: and they encamped before Migdol (Numbers 33:7 WEB).
Before I move on to more about the books I have been reading by James Hoffmeier and Robert Gnuse, I want to stop and deal with something that interests me: the geography and date of the sea crossing episode of the exodus.
Hoffmeier is doing archeological work on the series of forts just east of the Nile Delta that ancient Egypt maintained to guard against invasion from the north. He has excavated one at Tell-el Borg. Just a few miles on from there is one that he is probably correct to identify as Migdol. There is also an old canal trace in the area. So he is pretty certain that Pi-hahiroth is right there too. (Pi-hahiroth seems to mean “the mouth of the canal”.) The other place name in Numbers 33:7/Exodus 14:2 is Baal-Zephon. This is a little less certain. But one can read a papyrus fragment from the time as referring to the Ballah Lakes as “the waters of Baal”. This makes it likely that Baal-Zephon was a feature in the same area.
Hoffmeier proposes that the sea crossing took place across the shallow end of the Ballah lakes where the lake merged into wetlands.
The map is from here and available on Bing images.
I have to admit that I do not find this compelling. The poem in Exodus 15–probably our oldest account–describes not only that the chariots and horses became mired in mud, but that water swept them away. I guess this could have happened if there was some kind of tidal wave or tidal surge that brought the Mediterranean waters inland.
But there is a scenario that (to me) makes better sense of the language that says the horse and the driver or rider were thrown into the sea. On the map above, you will notice an inlet between the open sea and the paleo-lagoon. There is a point of land east of Hebua 1 and across the water from that is a place called Kedua.
Carl Drews, whose specialty is atmospheric and oceanic studies, has proposed a crossing to Kedua. His proposal is online here. He includes the following map, which shows his reconstruction of the geography of the area in -1250.
He has also written a fun-to-read book, Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science. The first chapters are historical fiction. The rest of the book combines science, auto-biography and biblical studies. In spite of the popular nature of the work, I think Drews has a serious proposal. His computer models show that a very strong east wind could have made a passage with water on both sides that would have catastrophically closed in on the Egyptians when the wind dropped.
Both fundamentalists and skeptics have criticized him. So that gives him some credibility in my eyes.
What does not make sense to me is what good it would have done Moses to get across there, since there were just more Egyptian military posts up the coast. In -1250 at the peak of Ramses II’s power, this would surely have been a suicidal move.
However, I have proposed that Moses led the people out in the early 12th century, around -1188 when there was civil war in the transition between 19th and 20th dynasties. This relates to Pharaoh Setnakht’s Elephantine Stele and the reflections on the rise of his father by Ramses III. Some of what we thought he knew about this era was upended in 2000 by the discovery that Chancellor Bay was already dead before the civil war. Also Breasted’s old translation of the Harris Papyrus may be misleading. See here.
If the exodus happened during the confusion of a civil war, (and maybe the threat of some kind of foreign intervention) the scenario would have been that Moses had the support or neutrality of one Egyptian faction. So he just had to get away from the other faction. In that case an escape to Kedua might have made sense.
By the way, according to this article Israel Knohl, in a book still untranslated from Hebrew, has also put the exodus events in the transition of the 19th to the 20th dynasty.