THE EXODUS REVEALED
Searching for the Red Sea Crossing
Josephus and the Exodus Route
Josephus 110 AD
by Steve Rudd
- Josephus was only 56 years old when he wrote his Jewish Antiquities in 110 AD. Since the date of Josephus' death is unknown, we can safely say that he lived past 106 AD, since he, like Eusebius referred to Petra as the capital of Roman Arabia. Josephus' references to Petra being the capital of Roman Arabia, dates his death after 106 AD. If Josephus died before 106, it means that others changed the document to reflect new names for old places. We take the view, however, that Josephus lived long past 106 AD. To illustrate. If someone told you that a book was written in 1975 AD and in the book it describes how a band of Muslim Terrorists drove two airplanes into the twin trade towers of New York City, you would know that the book must have been written after 2001 AD. If not, then someone else amended the book to include the event. Since the Romans annexed Petra and the Sinai Peninsula in 106 AD, when Josephus refers to Petra as Arabia, it proves he was writing after 106 AD or that someone else updated the names of the places in his writings to reflect and new names.
- Josephus is probably the most recognized of historians among Christians. He was a Jew, not a Christian. Josephus was of a high priestly and royal ancestry and recorded the destruction of the temple by Titus in 70 AD as prophesied by Jesus in Luke 21:20-21.
- Josephus lived one generation after Philo and would surely be familiar with his writings. Both Philo and Josephus say that Mt. Sinai was "the highest of the mountains". But there are a number of other outstanding things we can learn from Josephus that strongly supports a location of Mt. Sinai in the Midian area and Kadesh Barnea at Petra.
- Josephus believed Mt. Hor was at Petra.
- Josephus' account of the exodus has been stripped of all geographic markers. He describes in great detail the exodus and the crossing of the red sea. However it seems unusual that these accounts have no geographic data attached to them from his day.
- Josephus in refuting Apion, actually hurts those who attempt to make Paul's statement of Mt. Sinai being in Arabia. (Gal 4:25) Notice that Apion did not believe that the modern Sinai Peninsula was part of Arabia: "Moses went up to a mountain that lay between Egypt and Arabia, which was called Sinai" (Josephus, Against Apion 2-3) See our page on Apion for more.
A. Josephus believed Mt. Hor was at Petra:
- The Bible says that Miriam died at Kadesh: " Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there." Numbers 20:1
- "Then it was that Miriam, the sister of Moses, came to her end, having completed her fortieth year since she left Egypt, on the first day of the lunar month Xanthicus. They then made a public funeral for her, at a great expense. She was buried upon a certain mountain, which they call Sin; and when they had mourned for her thirty days ... Now when this purification, which their leader made upon the mourning for his sister, as it has been now described, was over, he caused the army to remove and to march through the wilderness and through Arabia; and when he came to a place which the Arabians esteem their metropolis, which was formerly called Arce, but has now the name of Petra, at this place, which was encompassed with high mountains, Aaron went up one of them in the sight of the whole army, Moses having before told him that he was to die, for this place was over against them." (Josephus, Antiquities 4.82-83)
B. Josephus seemed to indicate that Mt Sinai was in Midian:
- Notice that the natural reading leads the reader to view Mt. Sinai as within the normal pasturing range of Midian. The natural reading antecedent of "highest of all the mountains thereabout" is where Jethro lived. "he [Pharaoh] was ready to undertake to kill Moses: but when he had learned beforehand what plots there were against him, he went away privately; and because the public roads were watched, he took his flight through the deserts, and where his enemies could not suspect he would travel; and, though he was destitute of food, he went on, and despised that difficulty courageously; and when he came to the city Midian, which lay upon the Red Sea, and was so denominated from one of Abraham's sons by Keturah, he sat upon a certain well, and rested himself there after his laborious journey, and the affliction he had been in. It was not far from the city, and the time of the day was noon, where he had an occasion offered him by the custom of the country of doing what recommended his virtue, and afforded him an opportunity of bettering his circumstances. Now Moses, when he had obtained the favor of Jethro, for that was one of the names of Raguel, stayed there and fed his flock; but some time afterward, taking his station at the mountain called Sinai, he drove his flocks thither to feed them. Now this is the highest of all the mountains thereabout, and the best for pasturage, the herbage being there good; and it had not been before fed upon, because of the opinion men had that God dwelt there, the shepherds not daring to ascend up to it; and here it was that a wonderful prodigy happened to Moses; for a fire fed upon a thorn bush" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 2, ch 11.2-12.1)
- Josephus says that Mount Sinai was "the highest of all the mountains thereabout," yet Helena chose Mt. Musa at 7,497 feet when the highest mountain is nearby mountain Mt. Catherine at 8,625 feet. Mt. Al-Lawz in north Saudi Arabia is 8,464 feet. That is 100 feet higher than Mt. Musa. So much for tradition.
- "Abraham after this married Keturah, by whom six sons were born to him. ... Now, for all these sons and grandsons, Abraham contrived to settle them in colonies; and they took possession of Troglodytis, and the country of Arabia the Happy, as far as it reaches [north] to the Red Sea [Gulf of Aqaba]". (Josephus, Antiquities 1.238)
- he came to the city Midian, which lay upon the Red Sea (Josephus, Antiquities 2.257)
C. Josephus understood that Petra was the capital city of Arabia:
- Josephus was only 56 years old when he wrote his Jewish Antiquities in 94 AD. Since the date of Josephus' death is unknown, we can safely say that he lived past 106 AD, since he, like Eusebius referred to Petra as the capital of Roman Arabia. Josephus' references to Petra being the capital of Roman Arabia, dates his death after 106 AD.
- and went directly for Petra, in Arabia. (Josephus, Antiquities 14.362)
- he escaped to the place called Petra, which is the royal seat of the king of Arabia (Josephus, Wars 1.125)
- but he made haste himself to Petra of Arabia. (Josephus, Wars 1.267)
- which is the bounds of Petra, in Arabia (Josephus, Wars 4.454)
- The people mourned for Aaron thirty days, and when this mourning was over, Moses removed the army from that place, and came to the river Arnon, which, issuing out of the mountains of Arabia, and running through all that wilderness, falls into the lake Asphaltitis, and becomes the limit between the land of the Moabites and the land of the Amorites. (Josephus, Antiquities 4.85)
- Scaurus made now an expedition against Petrea, in Arabia (Josephus, Antiquities 14.80)
E. Ishmael lived in Arabia:
- That he left to Ishmael and to his posterity the country of Arabia (Josephus, Antiquities 2.213)
F. Josephus believed Judah bordered with Egypt (at the wadi Al-Arish) and Arabia (Arabah Valley). Egypt was distinct from Arabia. Judah was distinct from Arabia:
- Moreover, the king built many ships in the Egyptian Bay of the Red Sea, in a certain place called Ezion-geber: it is now called Berenice, and is not far from the city Eloth. (Josephus, Antiquities 8.163)
- When Moses had said thus, the multitude requited him with marks of respect; and chose twelve spies, of the most eminent men, one out of each tribe, who, passing over all the land of Canaan from the borders of Egypt, came to the city of Hamath, and to Mount Lebanon; and having learned the nature of the land and of its inhabitants, they came home, having spent forty days in the whole work. (Josephus, Antiquities 3.303)
- The lot of Simeon (inside Judah), which was the second, included that part of Idumea [Edom] which bordered upon Egypt and Arabia. (Josephus, Antiquities 5.82)
- This place is between Arabia and Judea, beyond Jordan, not far from the country of Heshbon. (Josephus, Antiquities 12.233)
- So when Jonathan was returned thence, he went into Arabia, and fought against the Nabateans (Josephus, Antiquities 13.179)
- Now Arabia is a country that borders upon Judea. (Josephus, Antiquities 14.15)
- She also petitioned Antony to give her Judea and Arabia: and in order thereto desired him to take these countries away from their present governors. (Josephus, Antiquities 15.92)
- But in the meantime the affairs of Judea and Arabia (Josephus, Antiquities 16.297)
- its [Galilee] northern parts are bounded by Pella, as we have already said, as well as its western with Jordan; the land of Moab is it southern border, and its eastern limits reach to Arabia, and Silbonitis, and besides to Philadelphene and Gerasa. (Josephus, Wars 3.47)
G. Josephus believed the Amalekites inhabited what is traditionally called the "Sinai Peninsula" and did not live in Midian:
- But when Saul had conquered all these Amalekites that reached from Pelusium of Egypt to the Red Sea, he laid waste all the rest of the enemy's country; but for the nation of the Shechemites, he did not touch them, although they dwelt in the very middle of the country of Midian; for before the battle, Saul had sent to them, and charged them to depart thence, lest they should be partakers of the miseries of the Amalekites; for he had a just occasion for saving them, since they were of the kindred of Raguel, Moses' father-in-law. (Josephus, Antiquities 6.140)
H. Josephus never included the modern Sinai Peninsula in Arabia:
- "The people mourned for Aaron thirty days, and when this mourning was over, Moses removed the army from that place, and came to the river Arnon, which, issuing out of the mountains of Arabia, and running through all that wilderness, falls into the lake Asphaltitis, and becomes the limit between the land of the Moabites and the land of the Amorites. (Josephus, Antiquities 4.85)
- "when he [Amaziah] had beaten them in battle, he slew of them ten thousand, and took as many prisoners alive, whom he brought to the great rock in Arabia [east Dead Sea valley], and threw them down from it headlong. (Josephus, Antiquities 9.191, see also 2 Chronicles 25:12)
- And when he had brought the place to this state, he named it Tyre. This place is between Arabia and Judea, beyond Jordan, not far from the country of Heshbon [Moab]. (Josephus, Antiquities 12.233)
- that he was forced to deliver back to the king of Arabia the land of Moab and Gilead, which he had subdued (Josephus, Antiquities 13.382)
- As for Herod, the great miseries he was in did not discourage him, but made him sharp in discovering surprising undertakings; for he went to Malchus [East of Dead Sea], king of Arabia, whom he had formerly been very kind to" (Josephus, Antiquities 14.370)
- "Now the length of Perea [literally: beyond Jordan] is from Macherus to Pella, and its breadth from Philadelphia to Jordan; (47) its northern parts are bounded by Pella, as we have already said, as well as its western with Jordan; the land of Moab is it southern border, and its eastern limits reach to Arabia, and Silbonitis, and besides to Philadelphene and Gerasa. (Josephus, Wars 3.47)
- when Herod came to be king, he thought the place [Macherus in Edom/Moab area] to be worthy of the utmost regard, and of being built upon in the firmest manner, and this especially because it lay so near to Arabia; for it is seated in a convenient place on that account, and hath a prospect towards that country" (Josephus, Wars 7.172)
Josephus: The Complete Works
CHAPTER 15. HOW THE HEBREWS UNDER THE CONDUCT OF MOSES LEFT EGYPT.
1. So the Hebrews went out of Egypt, while the Egyptians wept, and repented that they had treated them so hardly. - Now they took their journey by Letopolis, a place at that time deserted, but where Babylon was built afterwards, when Cambyses laid Egypt waste: but as they went away hastily, on the third day they came to a place called Beelzephon, on the Red Sea; and when they had no food out of the land, because it was a desert, they eat of loaves kneaded of flour, only warmed by a gentle heat; and this food they made use of for thirty days; for what they brought with them out of Egypt would not suffice them any longer time; and this only while they dispensed it to each person, to use so much only as would serve for necessity, but not for satiety. Whence it is that, in memory of the want we were then in, we keep a feast for eight days, which is called the feast of unleavened bread. Now the entire multitude of those that went out, including the women and children, was not easy to be numbered, but those that were of an age fit for war, were six hundred thousand.
2. They left Egypt in the month Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.98 It was the eightieth year of the age of Moses, and of that of Aaron three more. They also carried out the bones of Joesph with them, as he had charged his sons to do.
3. But the Egyptians soon repented that the Hebrews were gone; and the king also was mightily concerned that this had been procured by the magic arts of Moses; so they resolved to go after them. Accordingly they took their weapons, and other warlike furniture, and pursued after them, in order to bring them back, if once they overtook them, because they would now have no pretense to pray to God against them, since they had already been permitted to go out; and they thought they should easily overcome them, as they had no armor, and would be weary with their journey; so they made haste in their pursuit, and asked of every one they met which way they were gone. And indeed that land was difficult to be traveled over, not only by armies, but by single persons. Now Moses led the Hebrews this way, that in case the Egyptians should repent and be desirous to pursue after them, they might undergo the punishment of their wickedness, and of the breach of those promises they had made to them. As also he led them this way on account of the Philistines, who had quarreled with them, and hated them of old, that by all means they might not know of their departure, for their country is near to that of Egypt; and thence it was that Moses led them not along the road that tended to the land of the Philistines, but he was desirous that they should go through the desert, that so after a long journey, and after many afflictions, they might enter upon the land of Canaan. Another reason of this was, that God commanded him to bring the people to Mount Sinai, that there they might offer him sacrifices. Now when the Egyptians had overtaken the Hebrews, they prepared to fight them, and by their multitude they drove them into a narrow place; for the number that pursued after them was six hundred chariots, with fifty thousand horsemen, and two hundred thousand foot-men, all armed. They also seized on the passages by which they imagined the Hebrews might fly, shutting them up99 between inaccessible precipices and the sea; for there was [on each side] a [ridge of] mountains that terminated at the sea, which were impassable by reason of their roughness, and obstructed their flight; wherefore they there pressed upon the Hebrews with their army, where [the ridges of] the mountains were closed with the sea; which army they placed at the chops of the mountains, that so they might deprive them of any passage into the plain.
4. When the Hebrews, therefore, were neither able to bear up, being thus, as it were, besieged, because they wanted provisions, nor saw any possible way of escaping; and if they should have thought of fighting, they had no weapons; they expected a universal destruction, unless they delivered themselves up to the Egyptians. So they laid the blame on Moses, and forgot all the signs that had been wrought by God for the recovery of their freedom; and this so far, that their incredulity prompted them to throw stones at the prophet, while he encouraged them and promised them deliverance; and they resolved that they would deliver themselves up to the Egyptians. So there was sorrow and lamentation among the women and children, who had nothing but destruction before their eyes, while they were encompassed with mountains, the sea, and their enemies, and discerned no way of flying from them.
5. But Moses, though the multitude looked fiercely at him, did not, however, give over the care of them, but despised all dangers, out of his trust in God, who, as he had afforded them the several steps already taken for the recovery of their liberty, which he had foretold them, would not now suffer them to be subdued by their enemies, to be either made slaves or be slain by them; and, standing in midst of them, he said, "It is not just of us to distrust even men, when they have hitherto well managed our affairs, as if they would not be the same hereafter; but it is no better than madness, at this time to despair of the providence of God, by whose power all those things have been performed he promised, when you expected no such things: I mean all that I have been concerned in for deliverance and escape from slavery. Nay, when we are in the utmost distress, as you see we ought rather to hope that God will succor us, by whose operation it is that we are now this narrow place, that he may out of such difficulties as are otherwise insurmountable and out of which neither you nor your enemies expect you can be delivered, and may at once demonstrate his own power and his providence over us. Nor does God use to give his help in small difficulties to those whom he favors, but in such cases where no one can see how any hope in man can better their condition. Depend, therefore, upon such a Protector as is able to make small things great, and to show that this mighty force against you is nothing but weakness, and be not affrighted at the Egyptian army, nor do you despair of being preserved, because the sea before, and the mountains behind, afford you no opportunity for flying, for even these mountains, if God so please, may be made plain ground for you, and the sea become dry land."
CHAPTER 16. HOW THE SEA WAS DIVIDED ASUNDER FOR THE HEBREWS, WHEN THEY WERE PURSUED BY THE EGYPTIANS, AND SO GAVE THEM AN OPPORTUNITY OF ESCAPING FROM THEM.
1. WHEN Moses had said this, he led them to the sea, while the Egyptians looked on; for they were within sight. Now these were so distressed by the toil of their pursuit, that they thought proper to put off fighting till the next day. But when Moses was come to the sea-shore, he took his rod, and made supplication to God, and called upon him to be their helper and assistant; and said "Thou art not ignorant, O Lord, that it is beyond human strength and human contrivance to avoid the difficulties we are now under; but it must be thy work altogether to procure deliverance to this army, which has left Egypt at thy appointment. We despair of any other assistance or contrivance, and have recourse only to that hope we have in thee; and if there be any method that can promise us an escape by thy providence, we look up to thee for it. And let it come quickly, and manifest thy power to us; and do thou raise up this people unto good courage and hope of deliverance, who are deeply sunk into a disconsolate state of mind. We are in a helpless place, but still it is a place that thou possessest; still the sea is thine, the mountains also that enclose us are thine; so that these mountains will open themselves if thou commandest them, and the sea also, if thou commandest it, will become dry land. Nay, we might escape by a flight through the air, if thou shouldst determine we should have that way of salvation."
2. When Moses had thus addressed himself to God, he smote the sea with his rod, which parted asunder at the stroke, and receiving those waters into itself, left the ground dry, as a road and a place of flight for the Hebrews. Now when Moses saw this appearance of God, and that the sea went out of its own place, and left dry land, he went first of all into it, and bid the Hebrews to follow him along that divine road, and to rejoice at the danger their enemies that followed them were in; and gave thanks to God for this so surprising a deliverance which appeared from him.
3. Now, while these Hebrews made no stay, but went on earnestly, as led by God's presence with them, the Egyptians supposed first that they were distracted, and were going rashly upon manifest destruction. But when they saw that they were going a great way without any harm, and that no obstacle or difficulty fell in their journey, they made haste to pursue them, hoping that the sea would be calm for them also. They put their horse foremost, and went down themselves into the sea. Now the Hebrews, while these were putting on their armor, and therein spending their time, were beforehand with them, and escaped them, and got first over to the land on the other side without any hurt. Whence the others were encouraged, and more courageously pursued them, as hoping no harm would come to them neither: but the Egyptians were not aware that they went into a road made for the Hebrews, and not for others; that this road was made for the deliverance of those in danger, but not for those that were earnest to make use of it for the others' destruction. As soon, therefore, as ever the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place, and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind,100 and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunderbolts also were darted upon them. Nor was there any thing which used to be sent by God upon men, as indications of his wrath, which did not happen at this time, for a dark and dismal night oppressed them. And thus did all these men perish, so that there was not one man left to be a messenger of this calamity to the rest of the Egyptians.
4. But the Hebrews were not able to contain themselves for joy at their wonderful deliverance, and destruction of their enemies; now indeed supposing themselves firmly delivered, when those that would have forced them into slavery were destroyed, and when they found they had God so evidently for their protector. And now these Hebrews having escaped the danger they were in, after this manner, and besides that, seeing their enemies punished in such a way as is never recorded of any other men whomsoever, were all the night employed in singing of hymns, and in mirth.101 Moses also composed a song unto God, containing his praises, and a thanksgiving for his kindness, in hexameter verse.102
5. As for myself, I have delivered every part of this history as I found it in the sacred books; nor let any one wonder at the strangeness of the narration if a way were discovered to those men of old time, who were free from the wickedness of the modern ages, whether it happened by the will of God or whether it happened of its own accord; - while, for the sake of those that accompanied Alexander, king of Macedonia, who yet lived, comparatively but a little while ago, the Pamphylian Sea retired and afforded them a passage103 through itself, had no other way to go; I mean, when it was the will of God to destroy the monarchy of the Persians: and this is confessed to be true by all that have written about the actions of Alexander. But as to these events, let every one determine as he pleases.
6. On the next day Moses gathered together the weapons of the Egyptians, which were brought to the camp of the Hebrews by the current of the sea, and the force of the winds resisting it; and he conjectured that this also happened by Divine Providence, that so they might not be destitute of weapons. So when he had ordered the Hebrews to arm themselves with them, he led them to Mount Sinai, in order to offer sacrifice to God, and to render oblations for the salvation of the multitude, as he was charged to do beforehand.