The Exodus: Israel's Ox-carts, herds of Cattle, and survival probabilties in crossing the Sinai.

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

26 Dec. 2005

Please click here for what I regard is my _most important_ article  Why a "naked" Adam in Eden?

For Christians visiting this website my most important article is: The Reception of God's Holy Spirit: How the Hebrew Prophets _contradict_ Christianity's TeachingsPlease click here.

Some scholars have expressed reservations about Israel's ability to cross the Sinai with herds of cattle (Ex 12:38) and ox-carts (Nu 7:1-7) as both appear in the Exodus narratives. This brief article attempts to cast a light on these motifs and show that it was indeed possible.

Exodus 12:38 RSV

"And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses...A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very many CATTLE, both flocks and herds."

Numbers 7:1-7 RSV

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle...the leaders of Israel...offered...the Lord, SIX COVERED WAGONS AND TWELVE OXEN, A WAGON for every two of the leaders, and for each one AN OX...So Moses took the WAGONS AND THE OXEN, and gave them to the Levites. TWO WAGONS AND FOUR OXEN he gave to the sons of Gershon, according to their service; and FOUR WAGONS AND EIGHT OXEN he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service..."

One complaint is that the Sinai is a rough terrain not conducive for ox-cart travel, it having no roads capable of ox-cart navigation, another objection is that there simply is not enough water or forage for cattle and oxen in this harsh wilderness. Please click here for pictures of Ox-carts from the 8th century BCE appearing in Neo-Assyrian bas-reliefs, showing defeated, deported people.

An inscription from the time of Pharaoh Ahmoses I, founder of the 18th Dynasty mentions oxen from Syria which he brought back from his Syrian wars to haul stone from Egypt's quarries. We are not told how he got oxen from Syria to Egypt. He could have had them shipped on boats from Syrian ports under his control or they could have been driven to Egypt via Canaan and the northern Sinai track called the "Way of Horus." 


"...Ahmose his 22d year opening new workings in the famous quarries of Ayan or Troja, opposite Gizeh, from which the blocks of the Gizeh pyramids were taken, in order to secure stone for the temples in Memphis, Thebes (Luxor) and probably elsewhere. For theses works he still employed the oxen which he had taken from the Syrians in his Asiatic wars." (p. 252. John Henry Breasted. A History of Egypt From the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest. New York. Charles Scribner's and Sons. 1912)

Below, the tent encampment of Rameses II at Kadesh on the Orontes river in Syria. Note the ox standing by itself just to the left of a row of unbridled chariot horses. Below the ox is a squatting man with what appears to be two bags of fodder for the animals. To the left of the ox is a chariot with horses and further left are apparently three two-wheeled ox-carts with empty yokes. The seated lion was a pet of Rameses II (p. 55. "Scene of the battle of Kadesh." Kenneth A. Kitchen. Pharaoh Triumphant, the Life and Times of Ramesses II. Warminster, England. Aris & Phillips Ltd. 1982. ISBN 0-85668-215-2)

This picture suggests that Ramesside armies did possess two-wheeled ox-carts as part of their baggage train. Rameses II is understood to have left Egypt after the Spring rains in Syria with a force of some 20,000 men. He would have crossed the northern Sinai along the "Way of Horus" (the biblical "Way of the Philistines") a track paralleling the Northern Sinai shoreline whose end was near Gaza.

If Ramesside armies approaching 20,000 souls can traverse the Sinai with horses and ox-drawn two-wheeled carts why couldn't Israel cross this same peninnsula with ox-drawn carts or "wagons" too ?

Breasted describes the ox-carts, apparently making reference to the below scene (emphasis mine):

"...Rameses halted on the northwest of the city [Kadesh]...Here he camped...A barricade of shields was erected around the camp, and THE OXEN were UNYOKED and the TWO-WHEELED CARTS were parked at one end of the enclosure." (p. 428. "The Wars of Rameses II." James Henry Breasted. 
A History of Egypt From the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest. New York. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1912)
In the Spring of 1816 the Swiss explorer Burkhardt traversed the Sinai and noted that some Arabs in the vicinity of the Feiran Oasis and the lower slopes of Jebel Serbal were raising cattle. He did not mention how many cattle were being raised, but apparently there was enough natural forage for these beasts in small numbers.


"From hence an ascent of half an hour brought us to the Djebalye Arab [the mountain Arab], who was of the Sattala tribe: he had pitched here two tents, in one of which lived his own, and in the other his son's family; he spent the whole day in hunting, while the women and younger children TOOK CARE OF THE CATTLE, which FOUND GOOD PASTURAGE among the rocks." (p. 457. "Mount Serbal." Johann Ludwig Burkhardt [Anglicized: John Lewis Burkhardt]. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. London. John Murray. 1822)

Lernau on the REMAINS OF OXEN  found at the Egyptain Hathor shrine near Serabit el Khadim, which was abandoned about the time of Pharaoh Rameses VI of the 20th Dynasty who's cartouche is the last found at that site, he having reigned circa 1141-1133 BCE (emphasis mine):

"Similar offerings have been reported from Serabit el Khadim, the Hathor sanctuary in southern Sinai, WHERE HEADS AND OTHER BODY PARTS OF GEESE AND _OXEN_ WERE SACRIFICED (Schafik Allam, 1963)." (p. 252. Hanan Lernau. "The Finds, Mammalian Remains." Beno Rothenberg, editor. 
The Egyptian Mining Temple at Timna. Volume 1. London. Thames & Hudson, Distributors. Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies Institute of Archaeology, University College London. 1988. ISBN 0-906183-02-2. [issued in 2 Volumes] citing A. Schafik. 1963. "Beitrage zum Hathor-Kult." 
Munchner, Aegyptologische Studien 4. Berlin)

Burkhardt also commented on finding wagon tracks near the western shore of the Sinai and speculated that they were left by a caravan headed from the port of Tor in the southern Sinai to Cairo via Suez. The importance of his observation is that apparently some wheeled vehicles (wagons or carts ?) were capable of traversing some parts of the Sinai. Burkhardt speaks of the "great road from Tor to Suez." I am not sure if this was truly a highway built for wheeled vehicles are just a track hardened by the passage of countless caravans over many centuries. That is to say, while it might be quite improbable that a cart could "blaze its own trail" over open country, it might well have utilized a dirt track whose surface had been "hardened" by several centuries of passage by Egyptian miners and their donkey caravans or Bedouins and their herds of goats.


On the plain we fell in with the GREAT ROAD from Tor to Suez, but soon quitted it to the right, and turned north in search of a natural reservoir of rain, in which the Bedouins knew that some water was still remaining..."(p. 469. "Morkha." Johann Ludwig Burkhardt [Anglicized: John Lewis Burkhardt]. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. London. John Murray. 1822)

"June 7th [1816], In the morning we reached Ayoun Mousa. We found here, as we had previously done, in many places near the shore, THE TRACKS OF WHEEL-CARRIAGES, a very uncommon appearance in the east, and more particularly in deserts. It was by this road that Mohammed Ali's women passed last year from Tor to Suez in their elegant vehicles. Towards evening we entered Suez." (p. 469 & p. 472. "Desert of Suez."John Lewis Burkhardt. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. London. John Murray. 1822)

A Ramesside era document mentions Edomites seeking permission to enter Egypt's borders so that their CATTLE can drink at the pools of Per-Atum, a location perhaps in the western half of Wadi Tumilat. This suggests that in Ramesside times it was possible to drive small herds of cattle across the length and breadth of the Sinai from Edom to Egypt. If Edomites could accomplish this feat why is this denied Israel in her Exodus from Egypt to Canaan ?

Pritchard (emphasis mine):

"[I] have carried out every commission laid upon me...Another communication to my [lord], to [wit: We] have finished letting the Bedouin tribes of Edom pass the Fortress [of] Mer-ne-Ptah Hotep-hir-Maat... which is (in) Tjeku, to the pools of Per-Atum...which are (in) Tjeku, to keep them alive and TO KEEP THEIR CATTLE ALIVE..." (p. 183. "The Report of a Frontier Official." James B. Pritchard. Editor. The Ancient Near East, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton University Press. 1958)

The bas-relifs of Rameses II's camps show what appear to be fodder sacks near the oxen, horses, and donkeys- the Edomites as well as the Israelites might also have provided fodder in a similar manner for their beasts as a supplement ?

Israel is portrayed as leaving Egypt in the Spring. The Sinai's rainy season, such as it is, is the Winter. According to biologists the Sinai does possess some scattered "grassland eco-systems or environments" and the Spring with its water reservoirs causes the region to be at its best for forage. So Israel would be entering the Sinai in its peak season for forage for their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. What about Israel's stay at Mount Sinai for one year ? Rainfall maps of the Sinai show that the region possessing the highest year-round rainfall is the mountainous area about Saint Catherine's monastery. The winter rains create intermittent streams and snow melt is another source of water. The bottoms of Wadies can act as traps for an occasional pool of water or springs or by digging down below the surface wells can be created.

Greenwood (Professor Emeritus of Geography at San Diego State University) on the area about Gebel Musa and Saint Catherine's possessing good water sources:

"Throughout this region are numerous permanent springs and small streams. The water supply here is among the most reliable of any area in Sinai. Little wonder that the Host of Israel might have camped here, to say nothing of the host of pilgrims and hermits who followed." (p. 45. "Geomorphology and Drainage." Ned H. Greenwood. The Sinai, A Physical Geography. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1997. ISBN 0-292-72798-4)

Greenwood on the Bedouin's "climatology folklore" in relation to finding water and forage for their herds in the Sinai:

"Among the pastoralists of the Near East, there is a vast lore of weather and climate. This folk knowledge, accumulated by nomadic peoples who depended upon their flocks for sustenance, is not only logical but pertinent to their survival.

The Bedouin year is traditionally divided into five seasons. The year begins with Assferi, an extended autumn. This is the expected rainy season, a period of about ninety days extending from early October to early January. Assferi begins when Canopis becomes visible in the southern sky. Canopis reigns (is visible) for about forty nights in the latitudes of Sinai. It is then that the autumnal rains, "Alwasm," are expected. Of this time it is said, "trust not the wadi and gather the dates even at night" (Musil 1928). The following fifty days, still a part of Assferi, are divided equally between the time of Pleiades and that of Gemini. It is the rains of Gemini that primarily determine the quality of grazing in the coming months. This is the season when the Bedouins should leave their settlements, taking the herds into the desert in anticipation of new grass.

Assferi is usually the cloudiest season of the year, with "mizen" (small clouds) sometimes grading into "sehed," the heavy rain clouds. Only infrequently do the "san'at," the thunderheads, develop. When they come, however, they produce the heaviest and most destructive rains of all.

Assta, the second season, is a shorter, forty-day period that would be considered winter. Sirius now dominates the sky. In good years the rains of Gemini have already soaked the soils and triggered the growth of grasses, so that the rains of Assta are able to fill the ponds and put the finishing touches on a good season for the herds and herders alike.

From mid-February to mid-April is the fifty-day season called "Assmak." Arcturus is now prominent in the evening sky of early spring. The Rains of Assmak are beneficial only if the soil has been thoroughly soaked by the rains of autumn.

Asseif comes quickly on the heels of Assmak, running from mid-April to early June. Westerners would probably think of this as spring, but for the Bedouin it is summer, perhaps better thought of as the "good summer." If rains have fallen, it is a season of abundance and the best time of the year- the time before Al-kez.

Al-kez, "the terrible summer," comes in June and lasts until October. It is the longest and most difficult season of the year, certainly the most dreaded. If the range is good and the ponds full to begin with, it is readily endured, but in years of winter drought it will take an extreme toll on livestock and the well-being of the people." (pp. 68-69. "Bedouin Climatology." Ned H. Greenwood. The Sinai, A Physical Geography. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1997. ISBN 0-292-72798-4)

From the foregoing it is the Spring or mid-April to early June that the Bedouin regards as the MOST ABUNDANT season possessing copious amounts of water and grasses for their herds, and it is at this very time of the year that Israel passed through the Sinai from Egypt enroute to Mount Horeb with her herds and flocks. Israel arrived before the holy mount on the third new moon after the departure from Egypt (Ex 19:1), the elapse of three new moons suggests that by the onset of Summer she had arrived at a location -Gebel Musa and area-  well-supplied with water as earlier noted by Greenwood (cf. above).

Professor Hoffmeier on the third new moon after leaving Egypt equating to a journey of 6 weeks:

"Exodus 19:1-2 offers the final datum related to the itinerary to Mt. Sinai: "On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai...Since Israel departed Egypt on the fifteenth of Abib (Exod. 12:18; 13:4), the first day of the third new moon would be six weeks later. Abib falls in the months of March and April, meaning that six weeks should take one into May and June. As we have seen in chapter 3 section 4, southern Sinai is more temperate during the summer months than north and central Sinai, and water is more available. These ecological considerations made south Sinai more attractive to the seminomadic population of the peninsula during the summer months." (p. 171. "From Egypt to Mt. Sinai." James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel In Sinai, the Evidence For the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-515546-7)

Greenwood on the Sinai's "grasses":

"Wadi communities. (contracted patterns) in exterme deserts. These tend to change along valley courses. In the upper reaches it takes a good rainfall year to bring out the annual grasses and forbs, which tend to remain dormant as seeds until soil moisture conditions are adequate...Finally near the wadis' base level, with optimal water catchment, trees...twisted-awn feather grass, Bedouin "safsuf," Irano-Turanian and Sharo-Arabian chorotypes extending into Mediterranean, is the most important annual grass in Sinai. In rocky habitats of the Tih Plateau, the Insula Massifs, Gebel Igma, and the higher parts of the Suez Foreshore..." (pp. 98-99. "Biogeography." Greenwood)

"Desert grasses with shrubs. These are important communities in Sinai, but great variety and a real distribution exist in mostly diffused patterns. The most important grass through this entire region is the perennial grass Stipagrostis scoparia (Gramineae), triple-awned grass, Bedouin "sabat," Saharo-Arabian chorotype. It is a dune dominant and often the exclusive species in the fine grained sand of mobile dunes east of the Suez Canal and extending through the Insular Massifs to the area between El Arish and Gebel Halal. It can also exist on saline soils to the very edges of salt marshes. Dominance also extends southward in the Suez Foreshore and Plain of Qa. It is a true survivor in a variety of Sinai's toughest habitats. Its best survival technique is to grow near shifting dunes, where competition is slight and water availability is heightened by the insulative properties of the sand. Another perennial grass, Panicum turgidum, traps blowing sand in wadi bottoms, where it increases water infiltration and improves the edaphic environment and moisture retention. Within the same general climatic zone, but on more stable surfaces, species dominance shifts to annual grasses mixed with Anabsis articulata, Artemisia herb-alba, Zygophyllum album, or Thymelaea hirsuta (Thymelaeaceae), shaggy sparrow-wort, Bedouin "mitnan," Mediterranean and Sharo-Arabian chorotypes..." (p. 99. "Biogeography." Greenwood)

"Short-grass deserts. An estimated 48 genera with over 134 species of Poaceae (grass family) are found in the Sinai. Most of these are annuals. In spite of this wide speciation, it is doubtful if annual grasses dominate any community...Short-grass associations probably show the effects of millennia of sustained overgrazing more than any other habitats." (pp. 100-101. "Biogeography." Greenwood)

Greenwood on the Sinai's "Spring" grasses as an important staple of gazelles (emphasis mine):

"Gazelles, like most antelopes, are denizens of the open plain...They are able to survive on extremely poor fare and without regular intake of water. Even in the stress of summer heat and intake of nothing but acacia leaves often provides both food and water requirements for several days. They really thrive on the SPRING SHOOTS of Calligonum comosum and Rumex vesicarius (both in the buckwheat family), WHICH COVERS THE SANDY PLAINS AND LOW PLATEAUS for a few weeks each year." (p. 106. "Biogeography." Greenwood)

Below are some exchanges with other scholars on the issue of calculating Israel's daily rate of march using OXCARTS at the Ancient Near Eastern Discussion List hosted by the University of Chicago:

11 Oct 2005

Thom Stark wrote:

"According to Donald W. Engels' "Alexander the Great and the Logistics of 
the Macedonian Army" (whose calculations depend heavily on data from the British
Army Veterinary Department's 1908 publication "Animal Management"), the
marching speed of an army on foot (which, of course, is dictated by the
slowest elements of the company) averages 15 miles a day. It drops to 15
miles a day, if ox-carts are employed."

Dear Thom,

Thankyou. This _is _helpful_ as the Exodus narratives portray Israel 
dedicating several ox-carts (drawn by two oxen each ?) at the dedication 
ceremonies for the Tabernacle at Mt. Sinai:

Exodus 7:3-7 RSV

"...brought their offerings before the Lord, six covered wagons and twelve 
oxen, a wagon for every two of the eladers, and for each one an ox; they 
offered them before the tabernacle...So Moses took the two wagons and the 
oxen, and gave them to the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave to the 
sons of Gershom, according to their service; and four wagons and eight oxen 
he gave to the sons of Merar'i..."

However, Israel is portrayed taking cattle with her from Egypt (Ex 10:25-26; 
12:38) and the rate of travel for them in the American West on cattle drives 
was 8 to 10 miles a day "max," any faster and they would lose weight enroute 
to the Kansas City stock yards from Texas.

Cattle (Bulls) and Oxen were sacrificed at the dedication ceremonies of the 
Tabernacle at Mt. Sinai on several successive days (Nu 7: 12-88).

Professor Menashe Har-El ,who was once a shepherd, suggests a daily rate of 
travel of not more than 6 miles for Israel to prevent exhaustion of the 
flocks (p. 167. Menashe Har-El. " Criticism of Shafei's View." The Sinai 
Journeys, The Route of the Exodus. San Diego, Calfornia. Ridgefield 
Publishing Company. 1983. ISBN 0-86628-016-2 [first published in Hebrew 
1968, by Am-Oved Publishing Ltd. Tel Aviv]).

 Professor Hoffmeier opts for 15 to 20 miles a day according to ancient 
sources (p. 144. James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel in Sinai, the Evidence 
for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. Oxford University Press. 

Archaeologists have found cattle bones in the southern Sinai at Serabit el 
Khadim. They noted that the Egyptian inscriptions there mentioned the 
sacrifice of bovines to Hathor at her shrine and have speculated these bones 
are a possible testament to the inscriptions (2d millennium BCE, the same 
millennium as Israel's Exodus).

Lernau on the REMAINS OF OXEN  found at the Egyptain Hathor shrine near Serabit el Khadim, which was abandoned about the time of Pharaoh Rameses VI of the 20th Dynasty who's cartouche is the last found at that site, he having reigned circa 1141-1133 BCE (emphasis mine):

"Similar offerings have been reported from Serabit el Khadim, the Hathor sanctuary in southern Sinai, WHERE HEADS AND OTHER BODY PARTS OF GEESE AND _OXEN_ WERE SACRIFICED (Schafik Allam, 1963)." (p. 252. Hanan Lernau. "The Finds, Mammalian Remains." Beno Rothenberg, editor. The Egyptian Mining Temple at Timna. Volume 1. London. Thames & Hudson, Distributors. Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies Institute of Archaeology, University College London. 1988. ISBN 0-906183-02-2. [issued in 2 Volumes] citing A. Schafik. 1963. "Beitrage zum Hathor-Kult." 
Munchner, Aegyptologische Studien 4. Berlin)

Of interest is that the Exodus narrative suggests that it was the third new 
moon after she had left Egypt that she came into the wilderness of Sinai (Ex 
19:1). She left Egypt the 14th of Abib, the 15th being a new moon; Abib was 
reckoned as Israel's first month to commemorate her Exodus from Egypt (Ex 
13:4). If it took Israel 60 days to travel from Rameses (identified by some 
with Qantir near Faqus) to get to Mount Sinai (identified by some with Ras 
Safsafeh by St. Catherine's monastery) the distance is roughly 240 miles as 
the crow flies, suggesting a daily rate of travel of about 4 miles per day. 
That is to say, the cattle and oxen driven in herds, shouldn't have died of 
exhaustion a this speed. The Spring is when the Exodus occurred and this is 
the rainy season, so perhaps water was available as well as forage ? We are 
not told how many bovines accompanied Israel in the Exodus, but Nu 7:1-88 
can be abstracted for how many oxen and bullocks were dedicated at the 
Tabernacle ceremonies. Certainly Kadesh Barnea if Ain Qadeis or Ain el 
Qudeirat in the Negev, could not have been reached in 11 days times 
traveling between 4 to 10 miles a day with cattle (unless weight loss was 
not a concern), the distance as the crow flies is 160 miles or a rate of 
travel of 14 miles a day, which might be possible via ox-carts ?

Of interest is that some scholars have suggested Rephidim is wadi Refayid 
(wadi Rufaiyil)  8 miles NW of Gebel Musa (Mt. Sinai ?), that's a day's 
march for the bovines at 10 miles a day, and obtainable by ox-carts at 15 
miles a day.

Regards, Walter

11 Oct 2005

Professor Menashe Har-El advocated a rate of travel for Israel of 6 miles a 
day on the basis of his former experience as a shepherd, so as to not 
exhaust the flocks accompanying Israel (p. 167. Menashe Har-El. " Criticism 
of Shafei's View." The Sinai Journeys, The Route of the Exodus. San Diego, 
Calfornia. Ridgefield Publishing Company. 1983. ISBN 0-86628-016-2 
[first published in Hebrew 1968, by Am-Oved Publishing Ltd. Tel Aviv]).

He posits that Mt. Sinai is Gebel Sinn Bishr, just east of Ayun Musa (East 
of the port of Suez).

De 1:2 states it is 11 days from Mt. Horeb by the way of Mt. Seir to Kadesh 

Eleven days times 6 miles a day places Kadesh 66 miles east of Gebel Sinn 
Bishr, however the distance to Ain Qadeis (Har-El's choice for Kadesh) from 
Sinn Bishr is about 100 miles. Gebel Sinn Bishr would seem to fall short of 
the mathematics advocated by Har-El. However, Ox-carts could cover this 
distance traveling at 15 miles a day.

Hoffmeier locates Mt. Sinai at Ras Safsafeh by St. Catherine's Monastery, 
and allows a rate of travel of 15 to 20 miles a day for Israel (p. 144. 
James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel in Sinai, the Evidence
for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. Oxford University Press.
2005). As Ain Qadeis is about 160 miles from Ras Safsafeh, it could be 
reached within the alotted 11 days of De 1:2.

Neither Professor Har-El or Professor Hoffmeier take any notice of 
"Ox-carts' daily rate of travel." In fact neither did I until Thom Stark's 
recent contribution to the discussion. Like them, I found myself "scrambling 
about" locating conflicting data on rates of travel of Bedouin shepherds 
with their flocks to transpose onto the "stations" of the Exodus.

As noted in a previous post, Numbers 7:1-7 describes several ox-carts drawn 
by two head of oxen being dedicated for the service of the Tabernacle. After 
the Tabernacle's creation at Mt. Sinai, Israel went "no-where without it." 
If Thom Stark's source about _ox-carts limiting an army to a rate of travel 
of 15 miles a day is on the mark_, then Israel would have traveled no 
further than the distance the ox-carts would have gone as they were the 
means of transport for the sacred Tabernacle. Thus a "maximium" 15 miles a 
day for an ox-cart means that if Ras Safsafeh is Mt. Horeb as posited by 
Hoffmeier, and if he is also right about Kadesh being the vicinity of Ain 
Qudeirat/Ain Qadeis, the ox-cart has 11 days to get the Tabernacle there. At 
15 miles a day, times 11 days, the ox-cart's maximum distance it can cover 
would be about 165 miles, and the distance from Ras Safsafeh to Ain 
Qudeirat/Qadeisis about 160 miles. In other words the Tabernacle ox-cart 
"could pull-off the feat" from Ras Safsafeh to Ain Qadeis/Qudeirat in 11 
days. It can also get pull-off the same feat from Gebel Sin Bishr as the 
distance to Ain Qadeis is about 100 miles. The ox-cart however could not get 
the Tabernacle from Gebel el Lawz in Midian ( Madyan of NW Saudi Arabia) 
some 200 miles from Ain Qadeis, as identified by Robert Cornuke et al, or 
from a volcanic Gebel Bedr in Saudi Arabia some 300 miles from Ain Qadeis as 
posited by Professor Colin Humphreys (p. 329. Colin J. Humphreys. 
The Miracles of the Exodus. HarperSanFrancisco. 2003).

Many thanks Thom for the "ox-cart in-put," I have found it _very helpful_ in 
my Exodus research, for it sets "a brake" on how fast Israel would travel on 
a daily basis.

Regards, Walter

12 Oct. 2005

Thom Stark wrote:

"I should have said, "It drops to _10_ miles a day, if ox-carts are 
employed." Sorry for the confusion."

Dear Thom,

Thankyou for the correction. Cf. below my response to this latest data:

Professor Breasted (an Egyptologist):

" is not probable that any Pharaoh ever invaded Asia with more than 
25,000 or 30,000 men, while less than 20,000 is probably nearer the usual 
figure. Late in his twenty second year we find Thutmose with his army ready 
to take the field. He marched from Tharu, the last Egyptian city on the 
northeastern frontier, about the 19th of April, 1479 BC. Nine days later, 
that is, on April 28th, he reached Gaza, 160 miles from Tharu." (p. 285. 
"Thutmose III." James Henry Breasted. A History of Egypt. Chicago. Charles 
Scribner's Sons. 1912)

160 miles divided by 9 days is roughly 17 to 18 miles a day. Most probably 
some kind of a baggage train would need to accompany an army of 20,000 and 
the vehicle to carry baggage would most likely have been an ox-cart. I 
recall that the invading Sea Peoples are shown in some scenes of Rameses III 
(ca. 1175 BCE) as employing carts drawn by oxen -this aligns somewhat with 
an invading Israelite army also employing ox-carts (Nu 7:1-3). Thus, the 
statistics from Thutmose's march suggest to me that it WAS POSSIBLE for a 
large host _with a baggage train of ox-carts_ to attain a rate of travel 
across the Sinai of _up to 17 or 18 miles a day_, despite the statement of 
Engels that the daily mileage is 10 miles for an ox-cart (Donald W. Engels. 
Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army whose 
calculations depend heavily on data from the British Army Veterinary 
Department's 1908 publication Animal Management).

A daily rate of 17-18 miles a day for a host of 20,000 Egyptians with a 
baggage train including ox-carts across the N Sinai suggests that an 11 days 
journey from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh Barnea (cf. De 1:2) is feasible from Gebel 
Musa and St. Catherine's Monastery to Ain Qadeis/Qudeirat (roughly 160 
miles) 17 miles X 11 days = 187 miles. Gebel Sin Bishr at 100 miles from Ain 
Qadeis/Qudeirat could qualify too (via Ox-cart).

As regards Banyai's query of why not use 3 days journey to Mt. Sinai from 
Egypt (Ex 8:27), the issue is that other verses clearly indicate that the 
journey to the Wilderness of Sinai and Mt. Sinai took 2 months (Ex 19:1). 
This suggests _to me_ that the 3 days journey was merely a "ruse" for a 
3-day "headstart" to avoid being overtaken in the escape from Egypt.

Dave Hall noted an Israeli army of 600,000+ in the Exodus account (Nu 1:46). 
Professors Hoffmeier and Kitchen who both believe an Exodus from Egypt did 
occur in Ramesside times, reject this figure ( Me too). They understand that 
the term 'elph originally had some other meaning, instead of thousand, 
perhaps "clan," in any event, they prefer a figure of about 20,000 
Israelites, which is pretty close to Breasted's estimate of the size of 
Thuthmose III's army when it crossed the N Sinai. Finkelstein has suggested 
that the Iron I settlements in Canaan associated with Israel constituted a 
population of roughly 50,000. Iron I is from about 1230-1100 BCE, allowing 
for a growth rate over a period of 100 years (5 generations ?), its possible 
the initial invasion force might have been 20,000 or less.

As far as a "lack of archaeological evidence" for Israel in the Sinai, it is 
true not one encampment has been found, yet not a single encampment has been 
found of Thutmose III's 20,000 troops in their trek _back and forth_ across 
the Sinai either. Napoleon still later, about 1798, marched thousands of 
French soldiers across the same area from Egypt into Palestine, yet none of 
his encampments have been found as well. It would appear that encampments 
involving thousands of people are "invisible" in the archaeological record 
(no encampments have ever been found of Sennacherib's Assyrian army in Judah 
or of Nebuchadrezzar's army). If scholars "can swallow" no archaeological 
evidence of encampments for Thuthmose III, Sennacherib, Nebuchadrezzar, and 
Napoleon, why "insist" on archaeological evidence of Israelite encampments 
before the Exodus can be believed ? No Israelite campment has been found at 
either Ain Qadeis or Ain Qudeirat, candidates for Kadesh Barnea. Yet no 
encampments have been found of Thuthmose III at Megiddo and he claimed to 
have surrounded the city with an earthwork to prevent escape from the city. 
No camps have been found of Sennacherib or Nebuchadrezzar at Jerusalem yet 
both claim to have beseiged the city. If it is accepted that military camps 
of thousands of soldiers are "invisible" at Megiddo and Jerusalem, why not 
Qadeis and Qudeirat as well -is some "double standard" being employed here?

The "bone-in-the-throat" is that the pottery in the Iron I settlements looks 
Canaanite, not Egyptian. Manetho understood that the Hyksos' descendants 
_re-invaded_ Egypt in Ramesside times and resettled Avaris. After 13 years 
they were expelled and fled back to the Jerualem area. Is it possible that 
13 years was too short a period to assimilate to Egyptian potting 
conventions, and that upon their "return" to Canaan, they still cast their 
pots in the Canaanite manner ? They couldn't "take Canaan" yet as it was 
still under Egyptian control as late as Pharaoh Ramesses VI (ca. 1130 BCE). 
Perhaps the Bible is "deliberately silent" about no Egyptians being in 
control of Canaan at the time of the Exodus as this fact wouldn't jibe well 
with the notion of Yahweh defeating Egypt and delivering Canaan to his 
people ? That is to say, it "wouldn't do" to have the Egyptians 
_defeating_Israel _in Canaan_ as per Pharaoh Merneptah's claims. Perhaps 
this defeat was "re-worked" into Canaanites initially defeating Israel 
instead of Egyptians ?

Lest anyone think I am arguing the Bible is true, I understand its not. But 
I do understand that there was an Exodus, and the itinerary for a South 
Sinai destination is plausible.

Regards, Walter
12 Oct. 2005

Thom Stark wrote:

"the facts are that:

1. Oxen move at approximately 2 mph,
2. They can be worked for no more than 5 hours per day without risking
exhaustion and foundering,
3. They can be worked no more than 5 consecutive days without risking
exhaustion and foundering.

These strictures can not be wished away. They are founded on data collected
by the British Army Veterinary Service, based on more than a century of its
careful observation of animals under field conditions."

Dear Thom,

As in the real world, so too in "Academia", for every view or opinion one 
can find a "dissenting" view.

With all due respects to the Bristish Veterinary service (whom I have the 
highest regard for), I have discovered that oxen were used to pull two 
wheeled carts in Manitoba Province, Canada in the 19th century, and achieved 
maximum mileage rates of 25 miles a day. I guess we ought to alert the 
Manitoba Historical Society that this daily mileage rate is impossible as 
the animals would "allegedly" collapse from exhaustion after only 5 hours of 
work pulling a cart ? The Manitoba Historical Society which has been in 
existence for 125 years as of 1972, when this article was written about the 
"western frontier" of Canada, does however, AGREE with the British 
Veterinary Service that 2 miles an hour is the average speed for an ox-drawn 
cart ! They however, disagree that working the animals more than five hours 
leads to their "inevitable collapse from exhaustion". If the ox-drawn carts 
in Manitoba could only work five hours, the maximum daily mileage rate would 
be 10 miles, but they aver it was 20 to 25 miles in the 19th century (a 10 
to 12 hr work day).

I guess in the end it all boils down to who you gonna believe, the British 
Veterinary Service or the Manitoba Pioneers who utilized ox-drawn carts to 
open up the Canadian West at up to 25 miles a day ?

Cf. below:

"The Red River Cart (The Manitoba Historical Society 1971-1972)

We know the Red River Cart had two shafts, consequently we conclude it was 
pulled under normal conditions of trail transportation by one animal.

The heavy cumbersome yoke [14] which is popularly associated with the cart 
is a practice which should not be used. The fact is the heavy yoke was 
designed for a team of oxen and was rarely if ever used with a single ox. 
[15] Wooden collars are known to have been used for single animals. These 
were elliptical in shape and fitted around the neck of the animal like a 
hames and collar, but there was no resemblance to the heavy impracticable 
yoke. At all events it was part of the harness and not the cart.

The formation of the carts on the trail, aside from local freighting, was in 
'brigades' or 'trains'. A brigade consisted of ten carts, while a train was 
a procession of carts up to two miles or more in length. There were three 
drivers to every group of ten carts and an overseer, who attended to 
everything necessary to keep the outfit moving, including the supply of 
animals and the repair of the carts. In hostile country it was the practice 
for several carts to travel abreast, to prevent an attack being made on the 
rear. At the head of the procession the guide walked beside the leading ox 
and each ox was tied at its head to the rear of the cart in front. The rate 
of travel was about two miles per hour or APPROXIMATELY TWENTY TO 
TWENTY-FIVE MILES IN A DAY MAXIMUM. If faster travel was required horses 
were substituted for oxen and a large supply of these animals was maintained 
at the principal posts. They were also available to replace animals which 
had suffered injury or otherwise rendered incapable of travelling.

According to early accounts the cart was a most unimposing looking vehicle 
and wonder was often expressed, by those unfamiliar with it, that such a 
rickety looking contraption could stand up under the rigorous conditions 
encountered on the trail. When loaded it gave forth a blood-curdling squeal 
which could be heard for miles and which came to be associated with it. This 
squeal was caused by the friction of the dry wood of the hub of the wheel 
turning on the axle and could not be eliminated."

By clicking on the below url you see what the Red River two wheeled cart 
looked like, it was pulled by one ox.

Now, if the Manitoba Historical Society "folk" have got "their facts 
straight" and an ox-cart could and did achieve up to 25 miles a day, what's 
to Stop Israel from achieving similar daily distances with her ox-carts ? 
That is to say, like the Manitoba pioneers, perhaps Israel _did not impose a 
five hour time limit_ on ox-cart travel. If Mt. Sinai is Ras Safsafeh/Gebel 
Musa near St. Catherines monastery and if Kadesh in Ain el Qadeis in the 
Negev, the distance of approximately 160 miles could be covered by ox-carts 
traveling at max, 20 to 25 miles a day for 10-12 hours for 11 days for a 
grand total of 275 miles.

In the ancient Near Eastern world two wheeled ox-carts came in a variety of 
shapes and sizes. If Israel utilized  "lighter" farmer's carts for working 
the nearby fields of Goshen, which would be at hand (instead of robust, 
heavier carts designed specifically for Army bagagge), extended lengths of 
time for the oxen would not have been a problem. Overload the beast, and you 
will exhaust it. Lighten the load and he can go farther and longer. The 
Manitoba Red River Cart pulled by one ox could be drawn for evidently up to 
10 or 12 hours because it was LIGHT in weight.

Regards, Walter


13 Oct. 2005

Eliot Braun wrote:

In the southern Levant there is iconographic information that oxen were first used for plowing in Early Bronze I. One example is from a small ceramic bowl showing yolked oxen; another is from a stamp seal showing a human with oxen attached to a plow. As for ox-carts? From my knowledged of Sinai, they do not appear to have been a viable method of transportation until regular roads were established, Cecil de Mille's depiction of the Exodus nothwithstanding.

Walter replies:

Dear Eliot,
Regarding iconographic representations of ox-carts in the Sinai, such do not exist to my knowledge, in the time period of the Exodus (the 2d millennium BCE). Representations of donkeys do exist on Egytian stelae found at the Hathor shrine in Serabit El Khadim (located in the southern Sinai) and Egyptian inscriptions found at that shrine mention groups of up to 400 donkeys being used to transport the mined Turqouise and Copper. As regards ox-carts being a "viable" means of transport "without a road", I can say from several hours spent yesterday on the Google Internet Search Engine researching oxen and ox-carts that these vehicles are portrayed as capable of "navigating rough terrain" in which a modern car would experience serious difficulties (modern 3rd world countries being noted in several such examples). How many "quality roads" do you know of in the 2d millennium BCE in the Sinai ? The "way of Horus" (biblical "way of the Philistines") unless I am mistaken was nothing more than a dirt track in the desert, another wilderness track "the way to Moab" is another similar example. As regards "viable" transportation. Stone bas-relifs from Assyrian palaces show captured people being deported, some of whom are riding in ox-carts. Yet I know of no "prepared and surfaced" highways for these carts to the destinations they were being exiled to. The earliest "quality prepared road surfaces" of any distance were constructed by the Romans. Egyptian bas-reliefs show the Sea Peoples marching on Egypt's borders, by sea in boats, as well as by land in ox-carts with women and children in them. Some liberal scholars have suggested the Exodus is a Ramesside event. The Sea Peoples invasion was depicted iconographically by Rameses III, ca. 1175 BCE. I know of no "prepared and surfaced highways" for these ox-carts to traverse on their way down the coast from Anatolia to Philista. So, if the Sea Peoples can use ox-carts filled with women and children over apparently "open-country" from Anatolia to Philista, why can't Israel use ox-carts with women and children to get from Egypt to Canaan :over open country" - both groups are "in transit,"  apparently in the "thousands," about the same time, the Ramesside era ?


Donkeys, on the other hand, seem to have been the preferred beast of burden from late prehistoric times. Their bones are found in many EB I faunal assemblages and there are even a few instances of what appear to be donkey burials. I don't think the faunal assemblages, nor much of anything of E. Oren's Sinai survey has been published, but it mostly covered the northern route between Egypt and the southern Levant. It would be interesting to know whether donkey bones were found at the sites there. These animals are much more fitted to travel through arid zones as well as in well watered regions. Camels, of course, were domesticated much later.

Walter replies:

Camel bones were found at several copper ore processing sites in the Timna valley (Arabic Gebel Mene'iyeh), in the Arabah south of the Dead Sea by Professor Beno Rothenberg in the 1970's. The pottery associated with these bones was al-Qurrayah ware which Beno suggested was Midianite and dated to the Ramesside era on the basis of similar sherds he found at the Timna Hathor shrine, which had cartouches of Pharaohs Rameses III through Ramesses V (ca. 1140 BCE). Thus he understood Midianites were using camels in the late 13th and mid-12th century BCE, the same time frame of a "Ramesside Exodus" advocated by some scholars.

Magnus Widel wrote:

This is all quite interesting! I don't know that much about the 
Exodus (and I'm sorry if I'm moving away from the topic here), but 
I'm curious about the discussion about group movements through the 

First of all, why are we focusing on ox-carts? ... Donkeys would seem to be more suitable for trips 
through the desert (donkeys eat almost anything and they are very 
tough and sturdy). Do we have any compelling evidence for oxen being 
used here? Also, IF the people were bringing oxen, did they also 
bring cows and bulls (for obvious reasons, it would seem rather 
shortsighted to bring ONLY oxen in an exodus, especially if you plan 
to hang around in the desert for 40 years...)? Bringing docile oxen 
through the desert is one thing, angry bulls something completely 

Walter replies:

The "focus" on ox-carts is an attempt to verify whether or not said carts "could within a space of 11 days" reach Ain Qadeis asociated with Kadesh Barnea of the Exodus tradition, from Gebel Musa by St. Catherine's monastery which in some Christian traditions for over 1500 years is associated with Mt. Sinai. The Bible tells us ox-carts were presented at Mt. Sinai by various donors for the transport of the Tabernacle tent and its accoutrements (Nu 7:1-7). If this account is correct, then by establishing the daily mileage of an ox-cart we can "test" the claim of the Bible that Mt. Horeb/Sinai is 11 days journey from Kadesh (De 1:2). If this feat can be done by a cart carrying the sacred Tabernacle then it becomes "plausible" that Mt. Sinai "may be" Gebel Musa and Kadesh "may be" Ain el Qadeis. If it is "impossible" for the ox-cart carrying the Tabernacle tent to cover the distance, roughly 160 miles in 11 days, either the locations proposed by scholars are wrong, or the story is all myth, or that perhaps the narrator was envisoning _a person walking that distance_ in 11 days and was _not thinking about ox-carts_ accomplishing the feat. I have read that a person in relatively good health can walk up to about 20 miles a day. 20 X 11=220 miles which could get a person from Gebel Musa to Ain el Qadeis in 11 days. Thom Stark has cited research by the British Veterinary Service (whom I have the highest respect for) that ox-carts are very slow, achieving a pace of only 2 miles an hour, and that the maximum time that they can pull a cart without collapsing of exhaustion is 5 hours, so only 10 miles a day is achieveable. This being so, then in 11 days only 110 miles is accomplished, ergo Mt. Sinai is not Gebel Musa, which lies 160 miles from Ain el Qadeis (Kadesh ?). I have presented information from what I regard to be "a credible source", the Manitoba Historical Society of Canada (1972 article) that two wheeled ox-carts were in fact driven by settlers for periods of up to 10 or 12 hours without the beasts collapsing of exhaustion, which challenges the notion it can go only 10 miles a day (10 to 12 hours achieving 20-25 miles daily). Thus, I have argued that a two-wheeled ox-cart at Gebel Musa could indeed reach Ain Qadeis, 160 miles away within 11 days if it was driven for a minimum of 8 hours a day for 16 miles daily (2 miles an hour being the agreed pace of an ox-cart).


My second question concerns the way we're trying to estimate the 
speed of the entire group. Does it really matter if a British ox can 
make 20 miles/day if the group we're looking at also included newborn 
calves, children, elderly people, pregnant women, etc? Is it simply 
assumed that they were all sitting in the ox-drawn carts for 40 years?

Walter replies:

My primary focus here is "ox-carts" at Mt. Sinai, and "if" they could get to Kadesh in 11 days with the Tabernacle tent on-board.
The "other issues" you raise are _equally valid_. In the American West settlers moved from the Mississippi to California and Oregon via wagon trains. Oxen were frequently used. However they were not pulling "lighter" two-wheeled ox-carts, they were pulling very heavy conestoga wagons, and were hitched in teams of up to 10 or 12 beasts. The rate of travel for these wagon trains varied from 10 to 12 miles daily depending on weather and terrain. These wagon trains were accompanied by herds of cattle and spare oxen. Because these wagons are _extremely heavy_ and were "unknown" at the time of the biblical Exodus, their daily rate of travel of only 10-12 miles a day I found "wanting." When I found an article on lighter, 2-wheeled ox-carts, and their being driven up to 12 hours for a daily mileage of 25 miles I felt this data would explain "how" Israel could get from Gebel Musa to Ain Qadeis  at a daily march of 8 hours (or even 10 to 12 hours).


Finally, I'm concerned about the speed estimates of oxen from Canada 
or the UK in our discussion. These numbers are certainly very 
interesting, but I wonder if they are applicable to the specific 
conditions of the Sinai...I don't know much about cart-pulling, 
but as far as plowing capacities of oxen and donkeys are concerned, 
they seem to be completely dependent on the type of plow used and the 
specific soil that is being plowed. Are there any speed estimates 
that are more applicable to our specific conditions (as they are 

Walter replies:

I am unaware of such data, regarding speeds achieveable under various soil conditions. My research, however, does suggest, on the basis of the data provided by the Manitoba Historical Society, that it was posible for ox-carts to be driven up to 10-12 hours a day without the beasts collapsing of exhaustion.

Regards, Walter


The below extract suggests oxen could and did pull oxcarts up to 8 hours a day without collapsing or dying of exhuaustion:

"For over 200 years the spirit of the Riccar family has dominated Poland Spring. Although they have not owned Poland Spring for several decades, they are an integral part of our heritage. The Riccars were of ancient lineage, descending from the family of Riccar located in Saxony during the fourteenth century. Two brothers, George and Maturin Riccar, arrived separately in the middle of the seventeenth century and settled at Chocheco (Dover), New Hampshire. The two brothers were killed by Indians. Jabez, Maturin’s grandson moved to Alfred, Massachusetts (Maine) where he owned a home and a mill. In 1793, Jabez Riccar and Eliphas Ring, a member of the Shaker sect, who lived in Bakerstown, later known as Poland, exchanged properties. Jabez Riccar had traded his Alfred land and mill for the 200 acres with one small log home that is now the site of the Poland Spring hotels and, incidentally, a spring. Jabez, his wife Molly, and their ten children traveled by oxcart for forty eight miles, a three day journey through almost virgin territory." (The History of Poland Spring. The Poland Spring Historical Society. 2005)

If it took only three days to reach Poland Spring, a distance of 48 miles, then the Oxcart was traveling at a rate of approximately 16 miles a day. The rate of speed for oxcarts is generally calculated at 2 miles an hour, thus the Oxcart would have been pulled for 8 hours each day. The above history says nothing of the oxen collapsing of exhaustion because they exceeded the reccomended work limit of the British Veterinary service of not more than 5 hours hauling time per day. Perhaps the oxen pulled the cart 4 hours in the morning, took a rest-break at noon and resumed the other 4 hours in the afternoon ?

Of course, Poland Spring, Maine (famous today for its bottled spring water sold in stores all over New England) is not the arid wastes of the Sinai, and fodder and water should have been readily available depending on the season of the year. But, a feed bag or sacks of fodder could just have well nourished the animals along with a bucket of water.

Main Page    Arcaheology Menu     OT Menu     NT Menu     Geography Menu

Illustrations Menu     Bibliography Menu     Links Menu

Below, another view of Rameses II's tent encampment at Kadesh. An Egyptian raises a baton before a seated lion, behind the lion (a pet of Pharaoh's) are three oxen, below the oxen and lion are three two-wheeled oxcarts with yokes, part of the Egyptian baggage train. Behind the oxen are three chariots and horse feeding. Several sacks of fodder lie nearby (cf. fig. 29. "Ramese II's tent camp at Kadesh." James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel in Sinai, the Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN  0-19-515546-4)