Discovering the Trail of the Exodus
Across the Red Sea
George Potter has lived in Arabia for the last twelve years and has made finding Lehi’s trail and Moses’s exodus journey a matter of intense exploration and study, as only those who are right on location can do. He and his companions are in the wilderness of Arabia as this story begins.
We followed a nomad trail to the south and found the object of our quest.the mountain of Moses. Finding that treasure was described in the previous article. Climbing the mountain and exploring the artifacts was an exhilarating experience, and once located, the mountain became our catalyst for further adventure. We asked ourselves, “Where was the trail of the Exodus to mount Sinai?
After climbing the mountain, Craig Thorsted and I drove our friend and fellow explorer Tom Culler back to Tabuk and put him on a plane back to the Eastern Province. The next morning, Craig and I broke early camp and started looking for clues to the Exodus trail. It was Thursday and we had to be back at work Saturday morning. Between the area we were exploring and work was a 20 hour drive, and as we headed out toward the little town of Al-Bid (al-Bada, Al Bad’a) we knew we were heading in the opposite direction from home.
Looking for Moses’ Well
Al-Bid was a very big clue. The remains of the old town of Al-Bid were called “Jethro”. The people in the area claimed that Moses’s father-in-law lived in that village. Old Arabic maps show the name of this small town as ‘Midian’, and we know Jethro was a priest from Midian (Exodus 3:1). The object we sought in Midian was an ancient well, now dry. Oral tradition claims it is the well of Jethro where Moses drew water for the flocks of Jethro.
Not knowing where to find the well, we stopped at a building flying a Saudi Arabian flag. We soon learned it was the mayor’s office. The mayor of this small town was no more that 25 years old, and spoke no English. He called for an assistant who could communicate with us. Through the translator we were told that the ancient well was that of Jethro, but the government had put a fence around the entire area surrounding the well, and that the mayor had to get permission from the region’s Emir before he could let us in. After several phone calls to the Emir’s office, the young mayor gave up. As a consolation, he ordered his English-speaking assistant to take us to the well, but not to let us through the gates of the fence.
The mayor’s assistant, Mr. Moin Uddim, did just that, and at a later date a young Saudi man showed me a hole in the fence and took me to the ancient well of Moses. Moin explained to us that the well was 30 meters deep (roughly 100 feet), and had provided sweet pure drinking water for the town until modern wells with pumps were dug for agricultural projects and the water table dropped below the level of Jethro’s. To him, it was nearly a miracle that the original diggers of the well had to cut through ten feet of solid rock to reach water.
Next Moin showed us the caves of Musa (Moses) at Al-Bid from outside yet another government fence. It was here that I got into an interesting conversation with him. We talked about the Exodus of the children of Israel. Mr Uddim was surprised that I knew the story of Moses in the Qur’an, and asked me if I was a Muslim. “No, a Mormon, but I enjoy reading the Qur’an.”
Apparently, this pleased Mr. Uddim greatly, and he leaned close to me as if about to disclose an important secret. “If you’re interested in Moses”, he said, “You should visit the waters of Moses”.
“What are to waters of Moses?” I asked.
The Waters of Moses
He said that the waters of Moses were a sacred place where there were twelve springs, one for each of the tribes of Israel. From the springs, he explained water flows uphill for 21 meters (roughly 70 feet). We needed to head home, but that hooked us. We just had to check it out. Mr. Uddim told us the waters of Moses were found at the village of Maqna due west on the shoreline of the Gulf of Aqaha. Moin gave us the name of a colleague who could show us the waters of Moses His name was Abdul Mohammad, and he worked for the mayor of Maqna.
We drove off in pursuit of the waters of Moses. However, we missed the road to Maqna as we headed south from Al-Bid. After traveling a good ways south, we realized that we must have missed the road, so we decided to continue on south to the straits of Tiran at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. Tiran was another clue, for some writers, including Larry Williams and Bob Corneke believed that it was at the straits of Tiran where the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. Besides, from Tiran we would double-back on a shoreline trail to Maqna.
Crossing the Red Sea
After twenty minutes we came to the end of the paved road, so we continued on over sandy jeep tracks toward the beach. Within five minutes we reached the Saudi side of the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba. Here the Gulf narrowed before opening into the main body of the Red Sea. Visible across the strait were the mountains on the Egyptian side of the Gulf. The shoreline at Tiran was completely barren, but beautiful in its own way. Sand dunes and sandstone bluffs reach into shallow aqua colored lagoons. A coral reef could be seen forming a colorful fringe in the shallow waters that stretch from the beach to a hundred yards out to sea. Beyond the reef the water turned a dark blue signaling an abrupt drop-off into deep waters. Scuba diving associations rank these shoreline waters the best in the world. However, for the causal swimmer the waters are dangerous, for once past the shoreline reef, the Gulf suddenly drops to a depth of 6000 feet!
Indeed, the great depth of the Red Sea and its Gulf Aqaba is what makes The Strait of Tiran so interesting as the crossing place of the Exodus. It is only there that an underwater mountain ranges runs between the Sinai Peninsula (Egyptian side) and Midian on the Arabian side. The entire party of Israel crossed the Red Sea in one night! Which means that this underwater mountain range is the only feasible place for such a crossing of the Red Sea proper. Any other place would mean that the body of Israel, upwards of a million people climbed down shear cliffs some 6,000 feet, and then climbed up cliff faces on the opposite side all within twelve hours.
Without drop-offs common to the rest of the Red Sea, and at a maximum depth of 600 feet, the straits of Tiran would allow for the 10 mile crossing in one night. There is even an island, which helps bridge the gap at Tiran.
Leaving the beach, we spotted an old seaplane that crash-landed there during World War II. A few miles later, we located the dirt road that ran north along the shoreline and proceeded on our bumpy ride toward Maqna not realizing that we were following the trail of the Exodus.
Still Looking for Waters of Moses
The road to Maqna was one long washboard track. The only break our ribs got was an occasional patch of soft sand where we down shifted and sped the engine to get through to the next stretch of washboard. Finally we reached the small outpost called Maqna. Again we stopped at the first government building we came to in hopes of finding Abdul Mohammad. Within seconds the children of the village discovered us and our truck was swarmed by the curious kids, who had probably never seen an American. It was apparent that outsiders seldom visit Maqna. “Ameriki, Ameriki they screamed bringing ever more colleagues to the truck.
The government office was closed so we gave the kids some candy, said so long and stopped next at a local hubbly-bubbly restaurant (men’s outdoor restaurant that serves grilled dishes, tea and most important, Hubble Bubble water pipes stocked with tobacco and dried fruit).
Everyone there knew Abdul but hadn’t seen him since the holidays started. They presumed he had left the village for the nearest big city or had gone to Mecca for a pilgrimage. It was already early afternoon and we still hadn’t found the waters of Moses. We had to keep going, and thus disappointed everyone in the restaurant – every customer, the owner, and even the cook came out to invite us to have lunch with them.another example of Arab hospitality.
We decided to look for another building displaying a Saudi flag. On the north side of village we spotted a large government complex. We soon found out it was a Saudi Coast Guard installation and we were not to proceed further north without their permission. We were on the border of a prohibited zone.
We asked the guard at the gate of the complex where the waters of Moses were. His reply, in very basic English was easy to understand, “Where are your residency documents and your travel papers”? He took both of them and left us waiting at the gate while he disappeared into the complex. All we wanted to do was see the waters of Moses, and now it looked like we were about to get arrested.
After ten minutes the guard returned and summoned us to follow him into the compound. We passed several buildings and finally came to an office complex next to the beach. This was the Captain’s office. The guard had us sit on rugs in a large room lined with pillows. Another soldier brought us water. The guardsman then called someone on the phone. All we could understand was “Amerikiyin”, but within a few minutes a junior officer joined us.
His English was somewhat better, but far from fluent. He asked some simple question – like “Why are you here? What are you looking for?” He didn’t seem convinced by our request to see the waters of Moses.
A few more calls were made and we were told to wait for the Captain. After what must have been 45 minutes the Captain arrived, and from the looks of how everyone else came to attention, the guy was the one in charge. He interrogated us for a half hour, and finally became convinced that we were harmless. Finally he made a phone call to ask a secretary to type up a written form that we could see the waters of Moses. While we waited the Captain confessed that he was from the city where Craig and I work, and warmed up, as much as a Saudi military officer could.
Finally, with only three hours of daylight still available, the Captain handed us a piece of paper authorizing us to pass-by two military check points, and at a third, to be provided a military escort to the waters. I still didn’t realize what the paper said, so as the Captain laid us back to our truck, I asked him to point out where waters of Moses were. Instead of pointing south toward the village he pointed toward the prohibited zone to the north. I couldn’t see anything but barren desert in that direction. “How far is it?” I asked. He said it was 17 1/2 miles further north. “How will we know when we get there”? He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll know when you get there”.
Into the Prohibited Zone
Our questions for ourselves were.do we have enough time, and do we have enough oil? The road up the shoreline was too rough; we had a constant dripping of oil coming from our engine. We had stopped for gas in the village and asked for oil… “Gas yes, oil, got to go to bigger town.” Also, we could see the sun was going down and we wondered if we could get there and back. Besides, we were still on the wrong side of Arabia, a peninsula the size of Europe. We needed to get back to work in less than 40 hours. “Why not?” we decided, “We have come this far; let’s go for it.”
Bouncing another 12 miles north, we finally came to the third military checkpoint since we had left the coast guard station. From here we were joined by a military escort, to ensure that we didn’t overstay our visit. From the last check point the terrain became spectacular. Like giants, granite cliffs rose out of the coral sea and sprang up over 2000 feet. There was barely enough room for dirt road between the beach and the cliffs.
After presenting our authorization letter at the third post, two Coast Guardsmen joined us for the last part of the trip. We followed them in their 4X4 Toyota pickup. We traveled only a quarter mile around the cliffs when we came upon what appeared to me as a Shangri-la paradise cove. Here was a magnificent canyon opening upon a palm-lined cove. Filling the cove itself were the crystal clean waters of a coral filled bay! It was like a movie set, but it wasn’t Shangri-la.it was the Valley of Lemuel!
We parked our trucks a short way up the canyon and walked the rest of the way up the valley. As we did, we stopped from time to time to drink from a pure stream, the river of Laman. After four miles we came to small valley, perhaps two miles long and a quarter of a mile wide at its broadest point. I could see three palm coves in the valley. We walked through the first grove near where the canyon opened into the valley. There were water wells in the grove.
By now it was getting dark and our escorts told us we had to leave. What a fantastic place. I knew as we walked back down the canyon that I had to return. I did so in December of 1995 with two other members of the Church. We visited the canyon again, and counted the wells in each grove. It confirmed what I had already come to believe. The upper section of the Valley of Lemuel was “Elim”, the campsite of the children of Israel that Moses described as: “And they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees; and they encamped by the waters” (Exodus 15:27). The symbolism was pertained to the holy priesthood, the Seventy and the Twelve. But there were twelve tribes that needed water, and here were twelve wells. As the crow flies we were only thirty miles from where we found the artifacts on Mount Sinai. Certainly this had to be Elim, the second campsite of the children of Israel after the crossed the Red Sea.
A Haunting Question
The question haunted me for two years. Where was the first campsite of Moses after they crossed the Red Sea. It was called Marah and was the campsite where Moses cured the bitter waters by placing a branch in the waters. Somehow a piece of the puzzle was missing. Hadn’t we driven all the way along the entire trail from the straits of Tiran to Elim? Hadn’t we discovered the waters of Moses? Besides, I was so preoccupied in the next couple of year by documenting and writing about the Valley of Lemuel that I was not able to solve the puzzle. I read again the account of Moses in the Qur’an that mentioned 12 springs not wells (Qur’an 7:160)
Finally it dawned on me. Our discovery of the Valley of Lemuel was by pure providence. It was only because Mr. Uddim in Al-Bid was nice enough to tell us about the waters of Moses that we went to Maqna. However, once there, we could not find his friend who was suppose to show us the waters of Moses. Thus, we went to the Coast Guard Station, and it was only by the Captains good graces that he permitted us to go see the waters of Moses – THE WRONG waters of Moses!!! That was it! I realized that it was because we went to the Coast Guard Station that the Captain assumed we wanted to see the SECOND waters of Moses, the ones in the prohibited area. Otherwise, why did we go to the coast guard station? I could see know, it was all by the Lord province that we discovered the Valley of Lemuel. It also meant that the first waters of Moses were actually at Maqna. We had missed them.
On my next opportunity, we headed back to northwest Arabia to visit the village of Maqna. Again several members of the Church accompanied me. When we reached Maqna we started looking for evidence of 12 springs. Just to the west of village we saw a large grove of date palms growing on a hillside. Palms need water. We parked our trucks at the base of the hill and started hiking up the hill. After 100 yards or so we came upon small irrigation ditch flowing with water. Did the water come from a gas driven pump or from the mystical springs of Moses? We continued up the hill, seeking the source of this pure water.
Finally we came to the waters’ source, a pool of water in which water was bubbling up from several springs. On a second visit to these springs, the Police General for the region, Mr. Karim, actually counted the pools. He wanted to show us that there were indeed 12 springs, 11 in the pool and one further down the hill. He also explained to us that before Islam, pilgrimages use to come to this sacred site and pray toward Jerusalem. It was he explained a campsite of Moses. What we further found interesting is that it actually appeared that water ran uphill for a short distance. Of course, it didn’t, but irrigation stream flowing out of the pool sure gave the illusion that it did.
Now we had the first campsite of the Exodus after the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea at Tiran, and Bruce Santucci provide an explanation for what Moses did at Marah. The pool that is formed when the springs surface are set in a recess on the hill. The water settles in the pool. If the a path had not been dug in the sand to free the water from the pool, it would stay in the pool for a long time, and in the heat of the Arab summer would become stagnant and full of moss.
Bruce noticed how a ditch had been dug in the sand to free the water from the pool. Thus as Moses reached the pool and found that it was bitter, he could have taken his staff, made from a tree branch, placed it in the water and used it to make a trench through the sand to free the waters. Quick the bitterness would be gone, and pure spring water remained. I also learned an important lesson from Hebrew scholar Avraham Gileadi. When I told him about the12 springs he immediately asked me if they were still flowing. I said yes! Avraham indicated that symbolically this meant that the Twelve Tribes were still alive on the face of the earth. [i]
The picture was coming clear. It seems the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea at the straits of Tiran and then proceeded along the shoreline. We know that Moses avoided the city of Midian (al-Bid), where Jethro lived because there was conflict between the Midianites and the children of Israel. This conflict eventually ended in a battle. It seems the Midianites didn’t welcome the idea of Moses bringing a huge population into their land. By going up the shoreline to Maqna, Moses could avoid the Midianites, and at the same time find water at Maqna (Marah). It took the Israelites 3 days to reach Marah. The distance between the Straits of Tiran and Marah is 35 miles, easily traversed in three days. From Marah they continued to Elim. The Qur’an states that Moses herded his flocks for forty years. Certainly he knew of all the spots where water could be found for the flocks. Having seen the stream running through the canyon at Elim, he would have realized wells could be dug, one for each tribe.
From Elim, Moses took the children of Israel to camp in the wilderness of Sin and reached the place where Moses struck the rock and water came forth. That would have been the place that our Bedouin friends showed us. From there Moses led the Exodus camp to mountain Sinai. Thus the only campsite that still needs to be identified is the one in the wilderness of Sinai.
We can assume that it was near the town of al-Bid, but not so close that a battle pursued. We know that Jethro visited Moses at the campsite in the wilderness of Sin (Exodus 18:1-5), following which the old man returned to “his own land” (Exodus 18:17). Indeed, Jethro was a very old man and could not have travel very far. Moses was eighty years old when he returned from Egypt with the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 34:7 & Numbers 14:33). If Moses was eighty, Jethro his father-in-law must have been near, at, or over 100 years old! In my opinion his would limit his travel aboard a donkey, horse or camel to a few miles. It is still another reason to believe that mount Sinai is in Arabia near the ancient ruins of Midian (al-Bid). Timothy Sedor pointed out to me the wadi Musa (valley of Moses) on a recently produced road map of Midian [ii] . I have no evidence that supports the theory that wadi Musa is the camp at the wilderness of Sin, but it is near to ruins of Midian, easily accessible from Midian through the wadi I’fal, and is on route from what I believe is Elim to the place where water flows from the rocks, which itself is on the trail around Jabel al-Lawz to the backside of mount Sinai.
In October of 2000, Timothy Sedor, my wife Susan and I retraced the entire exodus from Tanis in Egypt to Midian. We also visited each of the five other places where the children of Israel allegedly crossed the Red Sea or Reed Sea. We also visited the alleged campsites and mount of Moses candidates in the Sinai Peninsula. From my research and visits to these alternative sites, I think the Bible is clear, and so are the artifacts, oral traditions, geographical features of Midian. Mount Sinai is in Arabia, and the trail of the Exodus leads straight to it. We have recently documented our research on our film “In Search of the Real Mount Sinai” available at www.nephiproject.com.
[i] Personal conversation between Avraham Gileadi and author, 1999, Spanish Fork, Utah.
[ii] Farsi, Eng. Zaki M.A., Map and Guide of Tabuk, (Jeddah: Farsi).