The View from the Beach

The Exodus travelers enter the Sinai Peninsula at its northwestern corner, make their way along the wide flat road to its southern tip, then turn to go north, along the eastern edge of the peninsula. About a quarter of the way up, they find their way blocked by mountains, so they turn around.

Nabq Protected Area by Hatem Moushir

Now they’re trapped. They can’t go north, because of a huge mountain range all the way to the sea. They can’t go back the way they came because Pharaoh’s army is on its way to catch them and bring them back to slavery. Their only option is to cross the sea.

They stand on the beach, looking across the water, wondering how on earth that’s going to happen. That answer is for another time, but here I’ll explore where they are and what it looks like.

The Straits of Tiran

There are multiple sites that could be where the Israelites crossed the Sea. Not only do we not know where the story has placed the crossing but we can’t even be sure which sea or which branch. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all speculated about this endlessly. Each proposed site has its pros and cons.

I’ve chosen the Straits of Tiran. It makes good geographic sense as in there are paths along the sea bed that are walkable (assuming no water), it’s not super wide, and it leads the Hebrews out of Egypt (while most commentators refer to the Sinai Peninsula as out of Egypt, it was in fact owned by the Egyptian empire at the time, as it is now). If the Exodus was to cross the western branch of the Red Sea (or another sea in that area) and go camp in the mountains in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, they’d be constantly fending off the Egyptian military, as this is their territory.

As tempting as it would be to cross to Tiran Island, it doesn’t take them anywhere, so they’d need to cross north of it. Where the seabed is still not too deep but away from the coral reefs just northwest of the island. The arrow takes them to Saudi Arabia, where they will find the land of Midian and Mt. Sinai (again, not the traditional placement, but it works). imagine the beach to be in what is now Mousa Bay, north of the modern Egyptian town Sharm El Sheikh. Many of the beaches along that coast would work just fine for my story’s purposes. Steven Rudd puts the start point a bit more south, to account for the depth of the seabed, and because he places Baal Zephon on Tiran Island.

I chose Mousa Bay because it is the northern most one, so closest to the Nabq Nature Reserve where they had to turn around. And because it gives a path through the sea far enough from the island that they wouldn’t become confused and go there instead.

Mousa Beach (#7 at this link) is in the southern portion of Mousa Bay and is used as a swimming beach now, with several resorts. The beach is large enough there to hold 50,000 people (and very much cattle), and flat enough so they can see what they’re up against. It is 4-5 miles south of where the mountains blocked their path. Just south of it is plenty of room for Pharaoh’s army to come up from the main road. It’s 6-7 miles across the sea at that point.

The Hebrews are frightened as they wait on the beach. There is no place to go. The only way to move forward is to cross the water. These pictures are of a beaches a few miles south of where I’m putting the crossing, though they’re also plausible sites.

Sharm El Sheihk
Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt): White Knight Bay

As they wait to cross, they might turn around and see this view (minus the modern conveniences) (Moussa Beach, Qesm Sharm Ash Sheikh, South Sinai Governorate).

Perhaps it’s best that they cross at night, so they can’t see how far they have to go. The column of fire lights their path but doesn’t show them the land they are walking to. This they will see before the sea parts, when it’s still day and Pharaoh’s army is approaching.


  1. Cyndi

    June 7, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Mazel tov! You have the distinction of being my first commenter (at this point I’m building the site to be ready for when the novel is published so I haven’t advertised it, but I welcome readers anytime). Thanks for the link. I’ve seen most of those arguments but not laid out so neatly. I agree that natural forces could not have caused the sea to “split” or to surge enough to drown an army. But I’m choosing the Straits of Tiran for many reasons and my story involves magic (not just the wind) so I can handwave that problem away.

    My larger concern is that the traditional sites and alternate sites the article posits are too close to the the Delta. In some cases too, the army could split up and half of them could go around to the other side of the crossing to pursue the Hebrews. So the Hebrews must cross someplace that forms an geographic barrier to that, as the Gulf of Aqaba does. Also, the Sinai Peninsula (using the modern designation) is and was part of Egypt. Pharaoh’s soldiers controlled the area (we have archeology sites which are Egyptian-owned copper/turquoise mines from that time period) and the Hebrews would never be safe, even in the middle of the mountains.

    The author (is that you?) is absolutely right about a lot of the limitations of choosing various locations for both the crossing and for Mt. Sinai. But every location has pros and cons and my job as an author is to pick the places that work best for my story, while staying within the bounds of the constraints offered by the source material (which is mainly Torah but also some of the Rabbinic literature). And while I am aiming for a story that is realistic and makes scientific sense, it is a fantasy novel and sometimes the only solution is magic.

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