#1
The interested reader is by now probably eager to know what those two Hebrew words are. It is no secret; here they are: Iam suph. Iam, sure enough, means water, sea; but suphnever meant "red." On the contrary it means something decidedly green. Any Hebrew dictionary carries the information that suphmeans sedge, marsh grass, swamp grass, in short, reeds! Iam suph then means the Reedy Sea, Sea of Reeds, the Reed Sea! And ancient Egyptian literature did call it the "Great Green Sea." We shall see how it became red.
Suddenly, then, we are faced with the realization, quite staggering to all in the aura of what we were told in Sabbath Schools or read in Bible treatises, that no Bible ever said that the children of Israel once crossed -- two and a quarter million in one night -- the geographical and
-9-
very wet Red Sea lying between Egypt and Arabia on the map of our physical globe. If that Red Sea is not even so much as mentioned in the Bible narrative, how can it be asserted that these people crossed it, wet or dry? And what then, we dazedly begin to speculate, becomes of the whole epic of the Israelites in Egypt and their miraculous midnight flight out of it?
It is to be interjected here -- since the suspense may be irritating -- that, true enough, the hosts of the true Israelites (when one knows who they really were) did cross the Red Sea (when one knows what that truly is), and the story comes alive with tenfold more luminous significance than the alleged physical miracle of passing across between two walls of water ever meant or could mean. For, as now we are staggered by the wiping away of the meaning we had attributed to the thing as presumed history, we can be even more happily staggered by the revelation of a veritable radiance of sublime significance which, as spiritual allegory, it was certainly designed to convey to minds attuned to logical reasoning and mystical apperceptions.
But now that we have washed the "Red Sea" completely out of the story, and put in its place the "Reed Sea," we are -- momentarily -- more "at sea" than ever as to what this green sea can mean. Where is it located? What is the hidden significance of the Israelites crossing it to escape from Egypt's reluctant Pharaoh?
Pff! -- the orthodox, the Fundamentalist scholars will exclaim -- why make all this exaggerated fuss about a mere change of name? We should not let a little quirk of literary usage like that disturb us or shake our faith in the Scripture. The narrow section of the real geographical Red Sea, where the Israelites picked their passage, was a place of low water and reedy character, and the Bible says that
-10-
the Lord raised up an "east wind" that pushed the shallow water off the bottom, so that the people crossed while the wind held the water back. To a Fundamentalist nature's laws and elements present no obstacle to belief when God is working a "miracle." Therefore it means nothing to him to reflect that if an east wind blew the shallow water off the bottom, it would pile it all upon the west shore of the channel, exactly where the Israelites would have to start their crossing! Nor does he pause to take into account the inches of mud on the bottom. Even with a modern highway across the strait, and equipped with all modern vehicles, an army of trained men of that number could not cross the Red Sea in a week. Imagine over a million women, children, camp followers, flocks and herds, making the crossing in one night! In too many circles in religion it is still considered a sacrilege to let natural law stand in the way of a divine miracle. If God has staged a wonder and prodigy of his arbitrary power, it is for humanity to stand agape.
The next startling disclosure in the context must wait until sufficient preliminary elucidation had been made to render it intelligible. An allegory -- at any rate ancient Scriptural allegory -- was a literary device designed to pictorialize a spiritual or anagogical reality in man's subjective experience in the form of an earthly physical narrative of fictitious events. So we are quite warranted, without further demonstration, in assuming that the story of this crossing is designed to carry its meaning into the area of our subjective life to work there a proper "miracle" of understanding at the two higher levels of Philo's scale. As to this is can be said at once that virtually all Scriptural allegories and other semantic modes of representing exalted truth and noumenal realities have but one basic theme to dilate upon -- the incarnation of souls in mortal bodies here on earth. That is the ubiquitous omnipresent theme at the heart of nearly all Biblical writing. This basic event, the essence of human life itself, is treated, enlivened,


THE RED SEA

-11-