Did the Israelites Cross a Reed Sea or Red Sea?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Many Hebrew scholars have noted the words for “Red Sea” (yam suph) can also be translated as “sea of reed” or “reed sea.” This leads to the question of whether the Israelites merely crossed a marsh rather than a deep body of water. A marsh of reeds, after all, would cause the Egyptian chariot wheels to get stuck, and maybe this is how the Israelites escaped.

By looking at the rest of the Old Testament, we can see what other biblical authors thought. Robert Bergen, in the Apologetics Study Bible, notes that the

biblical text states that the waters were deep (Is 63: 13), but that God split them and made them stand “like a wall” (Ps 78: 13) on either side of the fleeing Israelites (Ex 14: 22, 29). When the waters returned to their original position they covered the Egyptians’ chariots, horses, and soldiers (v. 27; 15: 1; Dt 11: 4; Jos 24: 7; Ne 9: 11; Ps 78: 53), thereby killing all the enemy (Ex 14: 27-28, 30; Ps 106: 11).

Bergen also notes that in the NT, “three times the body of water is referred to as a sea (Ac 7: 36; 1 Co 10: 1; Heb 11: 29).”

The bottom line is that regardless of whether it is translated “Red Sea” or “Reed Sea,” all of the biblical authors understand it to be a deep body of water east of Egypt and adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula.