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The Routes of the Exodus

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Bible and History.

Towards the end of the Book of Genesis, Abraham’s grandson Jacob travelled to Egypt with all his tribe in order to escape the famine that was devastating Canaan.

In the Book of Exodus, it is said that, after several generations, Jacob’s descendants were still living in Egypt and had been reduced to slavery.

God then ordered Moses and his brother Aaron to take the Hebrews out of Egypt and lead them into the Land of Canaan. Because the Pharaoh [identified by some Biblical scholars as Ramesses II] refused to release them, God inflicted several disasters on the Egyptians, known as the ‘ten plagues of Egypt’.

The Hebrews managed to leave but were chased by the Egyptian Army. This led to the famous episode when the sea opened up before the People of Israel and let them cross over. It then closed again on the Egyptians. This sea is usually believed to be the Red Sea.

The most direct route from Northern Egypt to Canaan lies along the Mediterranean coast, a long way from the Red Sea. But Canaan was at that time ruled by Egypt and this route would have been protected by garrisons established in fortresses.

Drawing on information in the Book of Exodus and the Book of Numbers, Biblical scholars have established two possible routes for the Hebrews.

The first would have taken them from the south of the Sinai Peninsula to the mountain known in Arabic as Jabal Musa (‘Mount Moses’), where the Divine Law is said to have been revealed to Moses.

After the revelation of God’s Law, the Hebrews continued their journey and reached the gates of the Promised Land, south of the Negev Desert.

According to the second itinerary, they would have taken a more northernly route which ran parallel to the coast as far as the mountain called Jabal Halal.

The Book of Numbers [chaps. 13–14] tells us that, despite the miracles performed by God, the Hebrews later revolted against him and Moses and that, being very afraid, they refused to go further into Canaan. For this reason, they were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years.

Subsequently they travelled to the Gulf of Aqaba and then marched north, either via the so-called Valley of Arabah, linking the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea, or by a more mountainous route to the east close to Arabia.

They finally reached the shores of the Dead Sea and the eastern banks of the River Jordan which they had to cross in order to enter the Promised Land.

The story of the Exodus is the origin of the Jewish Feast of Passover and consequently of the Christian Easter. However, according to most archaeologists and Biblical scholars, the historical reality of this event is open to question.

Some Egyptian documents mention several occasional escapes by Levantine slaves. It is possible that the Exodus story emanates from the memory of a small group that might have experienced these kinds of events. This might have been transformed over time into a foundation story for the Hebrew people.