I recently saw some arguments on the internet where some have said that the Red sea which is believed to be the sea which Israelites crossed is actually “Yam Suph” in the Hebrew bible. They say that this phrase means sea of reeds. They therefore say that we have had a faulty translation going on for a very long time as we know the sea to be actually “Red Sea”.  Can you throw some light on this?  Are there any books that you would like to suggest which explain how the Bible was translated from Hebrew to English ? (Just like we see inthe NIV which explains in detail how the committee undertook the entire project of translation) Thanks !


Although the Red Sea is the traditional site of the crossing out of Egypt by Israel under Moses, the fact is that scholars are not certain where this crossing happened. The Hebrew for the place of the crossing is translated as “The Sea of Reeds.” The original Hebrew definitely is not the Red Sea. The reason it is “translated” as the Red Sea is that this is the modern name of the most commonly held view about where the crossing happened. The Hebrew does not translate literally as the Red Sea. However, the debate is over what body of water corresponds to the Sea of Reeds. It may be the Red Sea. It may also be a large, very shallow lake to the northwest of the Red Sea (which, by the way, has a lot of reeds in it). Others have proposed that the crossing was at the Gulf of Aquaba, on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula. A case can be made for all three.

Here is the bottom line: we do not know exactly where the “Red Sea” crossing occurred. Anyone who tells you he or she is sure where the crossing happened should be taken with a Red Sea-sized grain of salt. Either way, it is not a translation question, but a geographic question as to where the crossing occurred. Perhaps one can argue that it would have been better to translate the Hebrew as Sea of Reeds and not prejudice the answer by inserting the traditional Red Sea.

In the end, it really does not matter to the Christian message where the crossing happened. No point of theology, doctrine or historical reliability is dependent on knowing the exact location of the “Red Sea” crossing.

As for the method of translation, I do not understand your question. You ask how the Hebrew Bible was translated, yet you mention that the NIV explains in detail how the committee undertook the project of translation: This IS an explanation of how they translated from the Hebrew to English, as almost three quarters of the NIV is translated from Hebrew. I would need a more specific question in order to provide a useful answer. The method of approaching the translation from Hebrew to English is virtually the same as the method of translating from Greek to English. The translators gather a team of experts in the original language who also have expertise in languages in general and in Christian theology to do the work of translation.

John Oakes

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