The Road to Succoth

The Exodus begins on Nissan 15. They make it to Mount Sinai on Sivan 1, 44 days later. After the crossing of the Red Sea and before Mount Sinai we have two more stated dates. Iyyar 15, when God first provides manna and quail for the group to eat and Iyyar 22, the first required marking of Shabbat. Nissan has 30 days and Iyyar 29. Sivan comes after.

What we don’t know from Torah is how long each stage of the journey to Sinai took. A few of the legs give a number of days, but most do not. Nor do we know distances. Any assertion of distance or timing comes from Midrash or other commentaries (with some details coming from parts of the Bible other than Torah).

The first leg of the Exodus journey is from Rameses (the Nile Delta area where they lived for hundreds of years) to Succoth (a location that shares its name with a holiday (Sukkot) and the booths used for it). We have no idea where Succoth is, how far away it is, or how long it took to get there.


Many sources put Succoth in the Sinai peninsula, quite far north, near the Mediterranean. Even though the Torah clearly states:

It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt. (Exodus 13:17)

The “way of the land of the Philistines” refers to the Bronze era trade route of Via Maris which runs from Egypt to Syria, along the Mediterranean coast. It makes sense that the Hebrews avoided it, because it would be filled with Egyptian military troops and others in service to Pharaoh. Egypt at the time controlled not only the Sinai peninsula but also much of the Middle East. It was also probably quite crowded and not suitable for as many people and animals as the Exodus entailed.

A Christian source (Steven Rudd) I’ve been using puts Succoth instead about halfway down the Western edge of the Sinai peninsula, near the Egyptian controlled copper and turquoise mines at Serabit el-Khadim. The claim here is that the stop at Succoth was to complete Pharaoh’s decree of taking every Hebrew with them by collecting the Hebrew slaves in the mines. While I do not agree with most of the assertions on this site, including dates, I find the author’s scholarship regarding locations to be compelling. He uses archeology, history, and geography to make his points, and he draws on many other commentators. The locations are not traditional ones but they’re not inconsistent with Jewish thought.

An approximation of the Hebrew city of Rameses and the first stop of the journey, Succoth. They estimate 58 hours to walk these 204 kilometers (127 miles). Note that the picture is modern and shows the Suez canal, which of course didn’t exist yet. (Google Maps)

The road down the eastern side of the Gulf of Suez is flat and wide. The mine at Serabit el-Khadim is in the mountains but only a small group would need to make a side trip there to collect the Hebrew miners.


According to Rashi, the distance between Rameses and Succoth is 120 mil (110 miles) (commentary on Exodus 12:37). His source is Mechilta, specifically Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 12:35, which says the distance is forty parasangs (149 miles). Now neither distance is codified, so these conversions are approximations.

Rudd puts Succoth about 120 km (75 miles) south of the Port of Suez. Add perhaps another 40 miles to get to Rameses (as we don’t know exactly where that is either).

All of these sources are in the same ballpark. 110-150 miles. My estimated locations are 127 miles apart.

I put Succoth a couple miles off the main road, in a large flat area near Wādī al Jarf (an ancient harbor—so old it was ancient to the Hebrews—on the west side of the Gulf of Suez, but this is a location slightly inland on the east side).

Serabit el-Khadim is a known archeological site with copper and turquoise mines. It would be just shy of a 4 hour walk over 19 kilometers (12 miles). Easily done as a day trip.

Succoth to Serabit el-Khadim, 4 hours each way. (Google Maps)


Here’s the hard part. There isn’t any hint of timing in the Torah, aside from the fact that they need to go to several other places and cross the Red Sea within the first month of travel. So Rameses to Succoth is not going to be more than a few days.

Rashi uses the same Mechilta source to say that this leg happened in one day:

From Ramses to Succoth was a distance of forty parasangs…In an instant, Israel traveled from Ramses to Succoth… “And I bore you on eagles’ wings, etc.” “to succoth”: “succoth,” (“booths”) literally, as in (Genesis 33:17) “And Jacob traveled to Succoth, and for his cattle he made succoth (booths), for which reason the place was named Succoth.” These are the words of R. Eliezer. R. Akiva says: “succoth” refers to the clouds of glory…And the sages say: Succoth is a place, as in (Exodus 13:20) (ref)

With all due respect to these commentators, sometimes spiritual teachings don’t mesh well with practicality. My view is that the Hebrews had every reason to hurry. Pharaoh had a long history of telling them to go then changing his mind and they needed to be as far away as possible before that happened again. They also needed to be in a location that was not as populated and full of soldiers. Also, they wanted to be far enough away to make it less likely that some of the Hebrews would choose to turn back.

Nor do I have a problem with throwing some magic in there (God performing miracles). But instant transportation of over 100 miles (or even doing so on foot in one day) is a bit much. And unnecessary. It’s based entirely on the idea of God carrying the Hebrews on “eagles’ wings” even though that doesn’t tell us much.

Even the commentators use measurements that are based on timing that doesn’t match. A parasang [aka parasa] is based on a day’s travel. “Distance covered by an average man in a day’s walk is 10 parsa’ot. Time to walk a parasa is 72–96 minutes.” (ref) So 40 parasangs should be four days travel. A mil is also based on timing. 18–24 minutes each. Wikipedia talks about the parasang being “a historical Iranian unit of itinerant distance, the length of which varied according to terrain and speed of travel. The European equivalent is the league.”


So, my location for Out of Egypt is the western Sinai peninsula, 110-150 miles from where the Hebrews lived in the Delta. Originally I allowed 3 full days of walking to get there, which represents a brisk but realistic pace. But I’ve changed it to 2 full days in order to allow them to cross the Red Sea on the 7th day (as counted from the day they leave Rameses.


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