EXODUS ROUTE (Torah, Talmud, Geology, Biology & Codes)

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If not by the Way of the Philistines, then which way from Egypt to Canaan?  Exodus 13:17 states... 

    It happened when Pharaoh sent out the people that God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, because it was near, For God said, “Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.”  So God turned the people toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds

     The Hebrew for Sea of Reeds is Yam Suf.  It has often been mistranslated as Red Sea (something more in line with a southerly route). It is at this critical juncture that arguments begin as to exactly where the Hebrews went next, and where the Sea split.

     The Way of the Land of the Philistines, known to the Egyptians as the Way of Horus, was the shortest route to Canaan (it seems to be confused with the Via Maris, but as will be discussed below, that route was probably north of it and along a coast).   Seen below on Map 1, the Way of the Philistines roughly corresponds today to the mostly East-West road connecting El Arish, Bir El Abd, and (at the Suez Canal) Qantara El Sharqiya today (Highway 30 on Map 2):

Above: MAP 1 from the MACMILLAN BIBLE ATLAS. Below: MAP 2, a hyrbid satellite photo and map taken from GOOGLE EARTH

     Places named along the way are then as follows: Succoth and Etham (Exodus 13:20), then they turn back (Exodus 14:2) and encamp before Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea, before Baal Zephon,  There God commands Israel to “encamp opposite it, by the sea.”  We don’t know where Succoth or Etham were, but we do know that they were somewhere in the wilderness toward the Sea of Reeds.   We also know that it is not stated that the children of Israel had to cross the Sea of Reeds yet to get there.  Anyone who has ever looked at the area north of Highway 30 today knows, as is apparent from the Google satellite images, that the area is a true wilderness.  As for Migdol, while it is shown on Map 1 above, the actual position is uncertain.  The name means “tower.”  The vintage 1935 map below as Map 3 has a tower on it (see the red arrow).  It’s along a camel route about 5 miles southeast of Rumani, but towers are fairly common.

Below: MAP 3

    Now, if we assume that it was indeed a northern route out of Egypt that was taken, when Exodus 14:2 speaks about encamping before the sea, is this the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf) or the Mediterranean?  The Mediterranean is mentioned twice in Torah.  In Exodus 23:31 it is referred to as the Sea of the Philistines, while in Numbers 34:6 it is called The Great Sea.  Neither term is used in Exodus 14:2, so this must still be the Sea of Reeds (consistent with Lake Bardawil for reasons we will explore further later). 

    Why did they turn back?  The standard answers are because God wanted to provoke Pharaoh to come out to a point where the Almighty could demonstrate His power over all.  Beyond this, Moses had only requested a journey of three-days length in order to conduct a sacrifice.  He might have wanted Egyptian spies to head back to Pharaoh with a report that they were indeed returning (an example of military deception). 

     Exodus 13:18-19 informs us that (a) the children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt; and (b) Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.   Perhaps there was something with the bones of Joseph that indicated where the Israelites could find treasure.

     The Talmud (Pesachim 119a2) informs us:

Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said: Joseph concealed three treasures in Egypt.  One treasure was revealed to Korach, one was revealed to Antonius son of Severus, and one is hidden away for the righteous, to be claimed in the future.

         The Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a4) offers an explanation by Ben Yehoyda that the treasure was amassed during the famine when the Egyptian grain stores (built up due to Joseph’s predictions) were sold.  There were three large groups of buyers: idolaters, thieves, and righteous gentiles.  The money from the idolaters was placed in a treasury that Korach took.  It was eventually swallowed by the Earth along with the rebellious Korach and his 250 allies (16:32-35).  The money from the thieves found its way into the hands of Antonius (a Roman emperor who befriended Rabbi Yehudah NaNasi).  The money from the righteous gentiles who observed seven laws of Noah remained hidden.  While far from conclusive, among other things, Baal Zephon means “Lord of the Hidden.”   Likewise, when Pharaoh  renamed Joseph, the name given was Zephenath-paneah, meaning he who explains what is hidden.      

     An Internet search was conducted to see if Baal Zephon was connected with the location of the hidden treasure. Here the best that could be found was a link (provided by Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation) to a book initially published by Rabbi Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953). The title was THE LEGENDS OF THE JEWS, VOLUME III, BIBLE TIMES AND CHARACTERS FROM THE EXODUS TO THE DEATH OF MOSES. Ginzberg was rabbinical literature editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia (1900), and from 1903 until his death he was professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. But he was not an Orthodox rabbi (rather, he was a leader in the Conservative movement). The section of interest did not include the Talmudic sources. Having said this, here is what the section claims:


      Moses, who did not desire the departure of his people to have the appearance of flight before the Egyptians, gave the signal to turn back to Pi-hahiroth….] Accordingly, they retraced their steps to Pi-hahiroth, where two rectangular rocks form an opening, within which the great sanctuary of Baal-zephon was situated. The rocks are shaped like human figures, the one a man and the other a woman, and they were not chiseled by human hands, but by the Creator Himself. The place had been called Pithom in earlier times, but later, on account of the idols set up there, it received the name Hahiroth. Of set purpose God had left Baal-zephon uninjured, alone of all the Egyptian idols. He wanted the Egyptian people to think that this idol was possessed of exceeding might, which it exercised to prevent the Israelites from journeying on. To confirm them in their illusory belief, God caused wild beasts to obstruct the road to the wilderness, and they took it for granted that their idol Baal-zephon had ordained their appearance. [13]

     Pi-hahiroth was famous, besides, on account of the treasures heaped up there. The wealth of the world which Joseph had acquired through the sale of corn he had stored up during the seven years of plenty, he had divided into three parts. The first part he surrendered to Pharaoh. The second part he concealed in the wilderness, where it was found by Korah, though it disappeared again, not to come to view until the Messianic time, and then it will be for the benefit of the pious. The third part Joseph hid in the sanctuary of Baal-zephon, whence the Hebrews carried it off as booty. [14]


    The first thing we notice is that the disposition of the treasure as outlined by Ginzberg differs from the Talmudic claim previously seen above time. The table below sums this up.



Korach, then swallowed by Earth
Roman Emperor Antonious
(will appear again with the Messianic Age)
Hidden for Righteous Gentiles
Baal Zephon 
(then carried off by Hebrews as booty).

      In the Babylonian Talmud, we note that of the three parts of treasure, only one part winds up in the hands of the Israelites – the part that went to Korach (which was then swallowed by the Earth). In Ginzburg’s version, the Israelites get two of the three parts initially – one part to Korach, and a second part carried off from Baal Zephon as booty. If we assume that the Talmud is correct (always the proper starting point in Orthodox Judaism), then there may be another treasure waiting, perhaps still in the Baal Zephon area. The trick here is to locate Baal Zephon.

     Now, we know that the Israelites turned back and that they had not yet crossed the sea. Let us say that in turning back, they reached a point just west of Lake Bardawil. If they were to encamp by the sea, they would have to have been somewhere north of the present day town of Romani (also spelled Rumani), or perhaps a bit north, close to the ruins at Maharridiya seen below on Map 4.


     The advantages of this particular area are as follows:

     1. Fish available as a food source from either Lake Bardawil, or from the Mediterranean (manna had not yet been provided).

     2. Ease of convincing Pharaoh that the Hebrews really weren’t going away for ever (just in case they ran short of miracles).

     3. Options to turn east again remained and were then (a) along the coastal the sand-spit separating Lake Bardawil from the Mediterranean if it existed then as it does today; or (b) along the southern shore of Lake Bardawil (known as the Via Maris). An article by David Neev and G.M. Friedman in Science (27 October 1978) indicates “remarkable folding and uplifting active along the western margin of the Sinai subplate (the Bardawil Lagoon and its periphery) during the Upper Holocene.” There seems to be a question about how much of the sand-spit was present at the time of the Exodus, although sea level was lower then and much of the coast was probably a lot further north than it is today. Some people make a great issue out of the lack of evidence that a large population (at least two to three million people) were supposed to be on the move, and no remains are found today to confirm it. But the coast was not then where it is today, and sand storms are abundant to cover any tracks. In fact, Exodus 14:21 refers to a strong east wind all the night before God split the sea.


    There are three advantages to taking the people north, even if the sand-spit was not as complete as it is today:  

(1) At a small peninsula (El Qals) jutting back into Lake Bardawil, there is a famous spring – Bir El Qals (meaning well of sweet water). 

(2) With the fresh water spring and the abundance of fish that Lake Bardawil is known for even today, it would be easier to maintain a good sized population.  In fact, with sea level lower then by 20 feet or so, and with the marine (salt) water table deeper than it generally is now, water would not have been as great a concern as it would be in the middle of the desert.   In 1999, on my first expedition, I discussed the water situation at Bir El Qals with an Egyptian geologist in El Arish (Gammal Mohammed).  Gammal stated his belief that something supernatural was afoot at Bir El Qals.   His reasoning was that the sand-spit island was surrounded on both sides by salt water but that, as the name implied, it was a Well of Sweet Water.  He knew that saltwater intrusion should have ruined the taste, but this had not happened.  “As a geologist, I’m unable to explain it,” he marveled.

(3) Climate.  It’s cooler during the day along the Mediterranean coast than it is in the desert.  It’s also warmer at night. 

      If the northern route was elected, and Pharaoh’s army picked up their trail, then the Israelites might have been caught at El Qals. Since sea level was lower then, this peninsula might have extended further south into Lake Bardawil than it does today. Obviously, if this extreme northern route was used, after the sea split, the Israelites probably headed south onto the El Zuqba peninsula. 

      But what about the Egyptian fortress of Baal Zephon?  If it was in the area, then note Exodus 13:17.  The children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt.  Given the elements of surprise, and superior numbers, the Israelites might well have been able to overrun the fortress.  Indeed, this is what Ginzberg implies when he asserts that the Hebrews got one third of Pharaoh’s treasure from Baal Zephon.

     As this is a Code web site, It’s fair to ask if there is an Codes link between Bir El Qals and Baal Zephon.  The Answer?  Apparently.  The minimum ELS for Bir El Qals spelled bet resh alef lamed kud lamed samech is at skip -1,775.  In a very small 36-letter matrix, we find that the first letter of Bir El Qals is the first letter of Baal (Exodus 22:10, letters 45 to 47).  Two rows below it is Zephon (Exodus 25:11 letters 26 to 28).


     Option B involves movement of the Israelites in a direction at first northeast along the southern shore of Lake Bardawil, with the Israelites trapped against the Sea of Reeds at the northern limits of the El Zuqba peninsula before this sea opens and they flee to El Qals about three kilometers north (see Map 5 below to understand how the El Zuqba nd El Qals peninsulas face each other).  This option has a number of advantages.  They are as follows:  

1. The splitting of the sea is recorded in Exodus 14:16 to 30.  But we do not read about the sweet water mentioned earlier until 15:25.  And that sweet water ( at Bir El Qals) is associated with the northern side of the lake.

2.  It is easier to fit a large population on the El Zuqba peninsula that on the El Qals.

3.  There is fresh water on the El Zuqba peninsula today.  But a Bedouin woman  that I saw there using a well (see the photo below) was also picking plants out of the desert floor in an effort to keep the plants from absorbing the water.  Three thousand three hundred years ago it might have been wetter.

4.  Due to lower sea level then, water inlet barriers that exist today along the southern coast of Lake Bardawil were probably not there at the time.     




       As this is a Code web site, It’s fair to ask if there is an Codes link between Bir El Qals and Baal Zephon.  The Answer?  Apparently.  In Matrix 1 below, the minimum ELS for Bir El Qals with a transliteration spelled bet resh alef lamed kud lamed samech is at skip -1,775.  In this very small 36-letter matrix, we find that the first letter of Bir El Qals is the first letter of Baal (Exodus 22:10, letters 45 to 47).  Two rows below it is Zephon (Exodus 25:11 letters 26 to 28).

       More interesting is Matrix 2 just to the right of Matrix 1 below.  In it the axis term in red is one possible transliteration for Katib El Qals (see Map 5 above), the Egyptian fortress sitting on the El Qals peninsula (at the point where the MacMillan, Harper, and Collins Bible atlases believe was possibly the site of Baal Zephon).  Katib El Qals means Citadel of Sweet Water.  Crossing this name (at minimal ELS for this transliteration) in the Torah open text, in blue, is the only reference to sweet water in the Torah (Exodus 15:25)!  Further, five rows south of (below) Katib El Qals, in the open text, is Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31:25).  All the research on this site points to a location for the Ark that is almost exactly due south of Katib El Qals.  So Matrix 2 combines an accurate description of physical properties at El Qals with an appropriate reference to the relative position of the Ark.




    On my brief (one day) expedition to El Zuqba in 2005, I first stopped at a nature preserve on the eastern side of Lake Bardawil in the Zaranick area.  There I was told by my guide that to  this day quail migrating from the north sometimes just about fall out of the sky along the sand-spit after crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  He claimed that these current fact corresponds well with the story of quail doing likewise to feed the Israelites after complained to Moses about a lack of meat (despite having livestock with them).  In fact, after the story of the sweet water in Exodus 15:25, the Israelites visited only one more named place (Elim) before arriving at the wilderness of Sin (between Elim and the Sinai).  Elim itself was still “by the water” (Lake Bardawil or the Mediterranean if not just the twelves springs of water cited in Exodus 15:27).  But between the Mediterranean, Lake Bardawil, and the interior of Sinai today we find at Zaranick a bird sanctuary – and it is located in an area with salt evaporation ponds.  The area is a wildnerness, as is described in Exodus 16:1.  The description of birds raining down from heaven is given in Exodus 16:4-13.  It is in perfect sequence with what happens there today, although the quail usually migrate south in the fall, and the event described was in the spring just after the fifteenth day of the second month from their departure from Egypt (probably around May).   However, for those not satisfied with the simple explanation that God drove the quail south out of season, know that there have, from time to time, been a number of events known as mini-ice ages cause by volcanic eruptions or even asteroid impacts that have chilled Europe and other areas in the summers.  Such an event could have cause a colder than usual spring, driving the quail south at that time.  It is true that some quail fall in the southern part of the Sinai, but not in numbers sufficient to feed a large population.     


      My guide at the Zaranick Nature Preserve also informed me that the area of the nearby desert experiences something like manna to this day.  Apparently, according to Friedrich Bodenheimer, a Hebrew University botanical expert, it is a sweet resinous secretion that the Bedouins of North Sinai still refer to this excretion as man (Hebrew word used in Exodus). Bedouins still used it as a sweetener. It is on the list of exports from the Sinai peninsula. Further, its supplier is registered in every botanical index of the Middle East (Tamarix Mannifera, Ehr).  This product is derived from the tamarisk tress which grows best in salt-deserts or by the seashore (the very nature of the north Sinai coast). 


     Finally, while I was in Bir El Suleman waiting for a truck to navigate the sands of the El Zuqba peninsula, my Sinai guide invited me to dine on a fish caught in Lake Bardawil.  The name of the fish?  It was the samak Musa.  It is a flounder, a fish that seems to be only half a fish.  The Bedouins named it in honor of Moses, who they claim split Lake Bardawil and with it, some of the fish it contained. 


1. While Exodus 13:17 states that (before the Israelites turned back) God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines, there were one or two ways east along the northern Sinai NORTH of the Way of the Philistines.

2. There is some evidence that Baal Zephon was somewhere along the coast on what was then the most northerly route. There is some support in the literature that this fortress held treasure amassed by Joseph. And there is plenty of support in the Torah for the idea that the Israelites were out to get as much treasure as possible. As Israel went out from Egypt "armed," Baal Zephon and its treasure was a reasonable target.

3. There is evidence in the form of sweet water, named fish, a current product called man (manna), and in terms of quail that drop along the northern coast to support the idea that the northern coast (the sand-spit), or, alternately, the southern shore of Lake Bardawil, was the route chosen. Further, the progression of events between Exodus Chapter 13 and 16 fit perfectly with the physical evidence in the area today.

4. If the fortress of Baal Zephon has not yet been found, it is due to the submerging of the area that occurred as sea level rose over the past 3,300+ years. Baal Zephon is probably at the obstruction at 31o16’ North, 33o3.75’ East. Thus, only a very slight modification (about 2.9 miles further north to the old coastline) is needed to match the MacMillan Bible Atlas route map shown as Map 1 above. Further, ELS Map 15 matches perfectly the course from Temple Mount in Jerusalem to this obstruction.

Barry S. Roffman

October, 2007