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Egypt

 

The Exodus Part I: Goshen to Aqaba.  Someday we'll be able to say we have traveled the 40 year exodus. So far, however, we can only say we covered the first couple of years - in a four day drive in the Sinai, retracing the exodus from Goshen to the sea of Aqaba.  The drive was a prelude to a Passover Seder with our cousin Efrat Lifshitz and her family in Haifa in 2000.

 

     Keep in mind that there is no solid historical or archeological evidence that the Exodus ever took place.  No one really knows the Exodus route (if there ever was one).  But tracing the exodus path is a fun excuse for touring a wonderfully scenic and less-traveled region of Egypt.  We followed the so called Southern route version, which is one of many interpretations of the Biblical text (in The Fourth Book of Moses: Called Numbers, chapter 33, which starts with "These are the journeys of the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron").   Here is the itinerary, and pictures of how things look now along the route that the Israelites supposedly took ~1000 B.C.

 

     On arriving in Egypt we spent two days in Cairo, staying at the Cairo Hilton Rameses [$$], (appropriate enough since the exodus story begins in ancient Rameses).  The hotel offered a nice view of the Nile and Pyramids (seen through much haze) in the distance.  We visited the famous Khan-al-Khalili Suk (market) and the Groppi cafe, and on one afternoon we hired a horse buggy for a four hour ride to the Giza pyramids and back.  The buggy is a delightful alternative to the regular city cabs. 

 

     Drive day 1: with a car rented in Cairo we headed North East to the official starting point for the Exodus.  Since all the road signs were in Arabic (which we can't read) it didn't take long to get lost.  Instead of heading NE, we somehow circumvent Cairo to the south-west.  Eventually we got back on track and arrived at the  site of the City of Rameses (now Tanis) in the Land of Goshen (now Delta Nile), the starting point of the Exodus.   We failed to find the archeological dig at the Rameses site that we read about somewhere.    From Tanis we proceeded on unpaved backloads, passing  scenic villages on branches of the Nile, to the general area of Succoth (present day Toll el Maskhutah) where the Exodus supposedly camped on the first night out.  But then we got lost for the second time this day.  We were rescued by a bosterous wedding party riding on the back of a truck.   They somehow undestood our predictment and our desire to find the way to Lake Timsah.  They indicated to follow them and led us to back to the main road.

 

 

Nile Delta, in the area of City of Rameses (now called Tanis).  Above: Marlene with Tanis family.

 

Near 1st night Exodus camp (now Bedouins camp)

 

Great Bitter Lake at Fayed, possible Sea of Reeds crossing.  This photo is featured in the Panoramic Bible published 2005 by the Japan Bible Society.   (Sample page below)

 

Modern view of Sinai desert soon after Sea of Reeds crossing.

 

Moses Spring.

 

  Hammam Far'un where the Pharaoh's chariots were stuck in the mud.  The mud is still there.

 

Tourist re-enacting sea crossing at Hammam Far'un.

 

 The Biblical site of Elim.

 

Looking inland towards Sarabit el Khadim (which is far beyond the nearby hills we see here).

 

The village children give us a nice reception at Feiran.

 

     Drive day 4: The road from Mt. Sinai to Nuweiba (on the Gulf of Aqaba) cuts through one of the most beautiful and colorful deserts we have ever seen.  This desert is Bedouins country.  There are many camels, small villages, and opportunities to ride camels and buy Bedouin crafts along the road.  Nuweiba, on the Gulf of Aqaba, is over run with young Israeli tourists, but still very nice place to hang out for a couple of days.  The beaches are stupendous.

 

     The Exodus supposedly turned North at this point, heading to Kadesh barnea where the troops camped for a year while scouts were sent into the land of Israel.   For us there were several logistical problems with getting to Kadesh Barnea such as a need for an off-road vehicle (not available that week) and getting special permits from the authorities (not enough time). 

 

     We'll pick up the trail at Kadesh barnea in a future trip.  That'll be Part II of the story.

 

View of Gulf of Aqaba from top of Mt. Sinai

 

A closer view of the Gulf of Aqaba.  Marlene at a beach bar, Nuweiba.

About 50 km on the main road and we arrived at to Lake Timsah, which is one of the possible crossings of the "sea of reeds."  In biblical times this lake may have been a marshy lagoon with large tides which could explain the parting of the sea.   The "sea of reeds" is frequently mistranslated as "Red Sea."   (Whether this is true or not, a publisher found our "crossing" photo through this page in early 2005 and asked permission to use it in the Panoramic Bible.)

 

     South of Timsah is the Great Bitter Lake, and  another possible Exodus crossing point.  Today it is surrounded by condos and resorts.   In Fayed we found an excellent hotel for our first night out of Cairo: Helnan Morgan [$$,*] (part of the Helnan Intenational Hotels) with a large room and windows overlooking Great Bitter Lake. 

 

     Drive day 2:  We did our version of the "crossing"  on the following morning in a ferry crossing the Suez Canal [**] just south of the Great Bitter Lake.   There is also a road tunnel under the canal a bit further south but crossing by ferry is much more interesting.  

 

     After the crossing we got our first glimpse of a real desert - just as the Exodus may have seen it (except for the power lines).  Not much further is the Oasis of Marah (Moses Springs), which is one of the very few biblical points of interest that is actually marked by official road signs (in English too).  It was then and still now a brackish salt pond.  Moses is said to have turned this bitter water into sweet with his magic wand.

 

     Continuing the Biblical tour:  out next stop was Hammam Far'un (hot springs) where the Pharaoh's chariots were supposedly stuck in the mud and drowned.  Of course this doesn't make sense since the crossing  took place much further North.  Anyway, it is a muddy beach and the mud makes a good story.

 

     Next stop: Elim (today known as Wadi Gharanai).  It is a very very small oasis.  The Exodus rested here.  After Elim the Exodus turned inland to the mines at Sarabit el Khadim.  When we visited it was not advisable to go inland here without a guide and permission from the military.  We had neither so we decided to continue on the coastal road, turning inland only when we reached the main road to Mt. Sinai.

 

     We reconnected with the Exodus route at the oasis of Feiran (the largest oasis in the Sinai).  In Biblical times it was called Rephidim and was the site of the first battle of the Israeli tribe.  We had a nicer reception:  a group of children came out to greet us.

 

     Next stop: Mt. Sinai.  The accommodations and food at the Mt. Sinai base were a low point of the trip. 

 

     Drive day 3:   However, the strenuous but very scenic hike up Mt. Sinai [*] on the following morning was very rewarding.  (Always start the hike very early to avoid climbing in the mid day heat.) At the top you can see the Gulf of Aqaba, which is the direction the Exodus headed after the party was over at Mt. Sinai. 

 

Trail up Mt Sinai

 

Oasis near top (nice location for chiseling tablets).

 

Mt. Sinai camp site