This page was last updated on 23 June, 2017.
1. Go not this way
Exod 2:15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.
Exod 3:12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.
Moses lived in Midian for 40 years. When he was grazing his flocks he was on mt. Sinai (this mountain) when God spoke to him from the burning bush.
Moses was instructed to take the people to mt. Sinai. The Bible doesn’t state mt. Sinai was in Midian but it must have been close.
Exod 13:17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
Exod 13:18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
Verse 17 tells us which road Moses wanted to take and with that what his destination was. The road of the Philistines leads to the most northern tip of the Gulf of Aqba. To Midian. That rules out mt. Sinai being anywhere in Sinai Peninsula. The only reason they didn’t take that road is to avoid war (v17).
So they took another route; but still the same destination.
After Succoth the the first stop is Etham. Still heading for for mt. Sinai over land. But there God instructed them to turn.
Exod 14:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.
That verse gives an accurate camping location if we can figure out where Pihahiroth, Migdol and Baalzephon are. It’s important to know where that location was because the only thing we know about that rout is that it started at Succoth and it ‘ends’ at the location described in verse 2.
2. Way of the Wadi
Wadi = river, creek, stream
The Exodus started just at the end of the rain season so water supplies and vegetation for the animals was at the peak.
I exclude a traverse of the central waterless plain of Northern Sinai as impassable by the great herds of sheep, goats and asses which must have accompanied a people in the state of culture. True, the Hagg caravans of Islamic times crossed it regularly for centuries. But they were organized expeditions. They carried their provisions with them and, for water, were often dependent upon cisterns which had been filled for them beforehand by weeks of patient toil. Moreover, they were camel caravans, and it is very doubtful whether the Israelites, when they lived in the Land of Goshen, possessed camels. Certainly the Egyptians of that age did not.
Murray 1953, 150
Large parts are impassible without proper preparation, which the Israelites didn’t have.
If the Israelites migrated from Egypt in the month of March and if there had been an abundance of rain on the peninsula of Sinai that year, they would have found rain pools of various sizes in all of the cavities and in all of the hollows of the various river beds, and they could have comfortably replenished their water bags and watered their flocks.
Alois Musil 1923, p268
Plenty of water in all river beds.
In the larger wadies, draining as they do so extensive an area, a very considerable amount of moisture infiltrates through the soil, producing much more vegetation than in the plains. Sufficient pasturage for the camels is always to be had in these spots, and here and there a few patches of ground are even available for cultivation.
Palmer 1872, 235
Lots of grazing vegetation near the streams.
Traversing the plateau of the Tih are to be found, at intervals, broad shallow water courses called seils. These are, in many cases, a hundred yards wide, and shrubs are to be found in them year round; after heavy rains the grass springs up in them, and there is good pasture for several weeks for camels, sheep, and goats. These seils are slightly depressed below the general surface of the ground, and when the rain falls, they present the appearance of broad rivers, a hundred yards across, and are from one to four feet deep. The beds of the larger seils are very uneven, and the water lies in pot holes for some weeks after heavy rains. Generally in January and February there is plenty of rain over the Tih— so much so that water for drinking, both for man and for herds, can be found every few miles in the plains and all over the hills.
Haynes (1896, 177
Plenty of water and grass.
The conclusion from all the above is that following riverbeds is a great way to be sure of both water and grazing opportunities. Obviously the bigger rivers are the best strategy.
When traveling over trading routes, stops are dictated by watering places; which are very limited. That means high speed traveling because the watering place must be reached by the end of the day. Knowing the watering places means knowing the number of days they traveled.
But when taking a route trough riverbeds there are hundred of watering places and they could stop as often as they want. Unfortunately that means we have no idea how long that trip took. For more thoughts on that see this page.
Etham is very large area, so at best it very roughly pinpoints Moses’ camp.
But we have a few clues to narrow down were Moses went.
4. To the sea
We know Moses camped near the sea. While the sea shore is huge, there aren’t many options because:
So from Etham to the Sea (beach) is again a route that goes partly trough a riverbed.
5. Plotting a route trough the wadi maze
Let me start with stating this route is a rough guideline. Moses could have taken a different, but similar route.
6. Sandy desert route
The first third of Moses’s route was trough the sandy desert because the first streams are are found where the mountains start.
6a. Tell el-
Located in Goshen, this was the starting point of the Exodus.
6b. Succoth / Tell el-
Scholars believe Succoth is Tell el-
It’s thought Succoth isn’t a town but an provisioning area around Wadi Tumilat (a river). That river was the last reliable source of water for at least 37 miles into the desert. So at this place man and animal could have had their last drink before the long walk to the first wadi/river. Likely they carried some water with them.
It comes almost as a shock for a traveler, crossing high-
Greenwood (1997, 29
The above description is about an oasis like area near the what’s now near a highway crossing. During Moses’ time the climate was cooler, so likely the oasis was bigger back then. Generally speaking large parts of the route likely was more green as it’s today.
6d. Khatmia pass
The route is ‘forced’ trough this place because not taking this pass means climbing the Gebel Umm Marzam mountain.
6e. Bir el-
Khatmia pass → Bir el-
This ends the desert route.
And as the name suggests, ‘Well of Gifgafa’, a good watering place.
This area is a valley that receives water from several uphill directions. So in wetter periods the water supply is more that just a well
7. Wadi route
From this point onward Moses traveled trough the much wetter, greener and cooler mountain area.
The reasoning behind plotting this part of the journey as I did:
The total distance is 440 km / 275 mi. And that’s theoretical. It’s quite likely they:
All those things add distance. And with that they add traveling days.
It’s known how far ancients on average traveled in a day. Often they had no choice and had to walk to the next place with water.
But Moses took a smart route with hundreds of drinking locations. And for that reason there was less pressure to walk some extra miles to reach water.
The terrain might have slowed them down. Again adding time.
But they likely they were very motivated to outrun Pharaoh because they knew he would come after them when they didn’t return on time.
I add 25 km to compensate for unknown detours.
465 km or 290 miles.
Red: Pharaoh → Etham camp
Green: Etham → Head of the Gulf of Aquba (planned route)
Yellow: Etham → Nuweiba Beach (new route -
Around the spot marked ‘Etham’ and especially the most northern quarter of the route going south; lots of bronze age artifacts were found. That’s an strong indication it was a good place to live which obviously means it had good access.