Map of Dophkah of the Exodus Numbers 33:12-13 (Wadi Dafari & Qattar Dafari?)
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12 August 2006 (Revisions through 22 April 2010)
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Numbers 33:12-13 RSV
"And they set out from the wilderness of Sin, and encamped at Dophkah. And they set out from Dophkah, and encamped at Alush."
Scholars are divided as to the location of Dophkah which appears in the Exodus account. A number of Bible Atlases and Commentaries have suggested it is to be identified with some location near Serabit el Khadim and the Egyptian mining camps found in the area.
"Dophkah (Nu 33:12). The first stopping place of the Israelites after they left the wilderness of Sin. It is usually identified with the Egyptian mining center at Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai."
Milhelic cites the following sources:
"G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1957), p. 64. For Serabit el-Khadim, see W. M. F. Petrie, Researches in Sinai (1906); R. F. Starr and R. F. Butin, Excavations and Protosinaitic Inscriptions at Serabit el-Khadim (1936)."
(p. 864. Vol. 1. J. L. Mihelic. "Dophkah." George Arthur Buttrick. Editor. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Nashville & New York. Abingdon Press. 1962)
"Dophkah...The meaning of the name is unknown, but many...have associated it with mfkt, the Egyptian word for turquoise, and connected it with the Egyptian mining center at Serabit el-Khadim...though it is not universally accepted (Robinson 1856:73)...Identifications depend on whether a northern or southern route for the Exodus is assumed, and are based on the similarity between the sound and/or meaning of the Hebrew name and Arabic names found in the area by explorers...all suggested locations must be treated as extremely tentative."
Zorn cites for a bibliography: Beit-Arieh, I. 1988. "The Route Through Sinai- Why the Israelites Fleeing Egypt Went South." Biblical Archaeological Review 15/3:28-37 and Robinson, E. 1956. Biblical Researches in Palestine. Boston.
(pp. 222-223. Vol. 2. Jeffrey R. Zorn. "Dophkah." David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)
The Israeli Egyptologist Raphael Giveon (1978), who conducted excavations at Serabit el Khadim, has objected to this identification:
"Another station, Dophkah is marked in some Biblical atlases at the exact site of the Egyptian temple of Serabit el Khadim. The identification is based on the one letter "f" which both words have in common, Biblical dfq and Egyptian mfkt (see p. 57): the q and k are different sounds. Both words have feminine endings like so many names of localities. This identification, which we think is wrong, has given rise to two speculations concerning the whereabouts of Mount Sinai itself. Several scholars think that the Children of Israel would have been afraid to pass so near an Egyptian mining center. On the other hand, we know that at times Canaanites worked the mines (see p. 131) and in the opinion of some scholars, they would have helped the Children of Israel to find their way and would have shown them sources of water and perhaps shared their provisions with them."
(p. 148. Raphael Giveon. The Stones of Sinai Speak. Tokyo. Gakuseisha. 1978)
The Bible suggests after leaving the wilderness of Sin Israel camps at Dophkah. Seely noted two proposals for the wilderness of Sin: (1) Debbet er-Ramleh, a broad sandy plain east of Serabit el-Khadim, or (2) the seaside plain of el-Markha near the Gulf of Suez, west of Serabit el-Khadim (cf. David R. Seely. "Sin, Wilderness of," Vol. 6. p. 47. David Noel Freedman. Editor. New York. Doubleday. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1992)
Palmer (1872) suggested that Israel followed the western shore of the Sinai Penninsula (along the eastside of the Gulf of Suez) until the mouth of Wadi Feiran was reached, whereupon this wadi was followed to the Watiya Pass and thence down Wadi es Sheikh to the plain of er Raha and the Monastery of Saint Catherine, he identifying Mount Sinai as being possibly either Ras Safsafeh or Gebel Musa. Why this route? He noted that Israel had oxcarts (cf. below, Numbers 7:1-7) and that these would require a level plain to navigate. Hence the western shoreline of the Sinai Peninsula was for him the most likely route for the Exodus. Wadi Feiran also had a spacious plain to the Watiyah Pass. Beyond Watiyah was the broad plain of Wadi esh Sheikh which opened onto the plain of er Raha. If Palmer is correct Israel would have passed through the aforementioned seaside plain of el-Markha, identified by some scholars with the wilderness of Sin which preceeded Dophkah.
Numbers 7:1-7 mentions oxcarts, which could have navigated the seaside plain of the western Sinai:
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..."
Palmer was unable to pinpoint the exact location of Dophkah and the site following it, Alush, but he suggested they were somewhere between the shore-plain of Ras Abu Zenimeh (south of his Wady Taiyebeh) and the Feiran Oasis. He suggested that the wilderness of Sin which preceeded Dophkah was the seashore plain south of Wady Taiyebeh. I note that this wady opens onto the seahore plain of Ras abu Zenimeh and another plain is that of el-Markha into which Wady Dafary debouches. If Zenimeh is the wilderness of Sin then it was encountered _before_ entering the plain of el-Markha (identified by some with the wilderness of Sin) and its Wadi Dafari.
After leaving Wady Gharandal which some identified with biblical Elim Palmer noted two stone piles called by the Arabs Mangaz Hisan Abu Zena, "Abu Zena's Horse's Leap," could perhaps Zena preserve Sin or does Hisan preserve Sin? Does Zena preserve the Greek Septuaginta Bible's rendering of Sin as Sina? (cf. p. 47. E. H. Palmer. The Desert of the Exodus, Journeys on Foot in the Wilderness of the Forty Years' Wanderings, Undertaken in Connection with the Ordnance Survey of Sinai and the Palestine Exploration Fund. New York. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1872)
Palmer on the wilderness of Sin:
"...the wilderness of Sin will be the narrow strip of desert which fringes the coast south of Wady Taiyebeh; and although it is impossible to define with exactness the next two stations, Dophkah and Alush, we may fairly presume that they lay within the next two days' journey, which would bring the Israelites well into Wady Feiran."
(p. 227. E. H. Palmer. The Desert of the Exodus, Journeys on Foot in the Wilderness of the Forty Years' Wanderings, Undertaken in Connection with the Ordnance Survey of Sinai and the Palestine Exploration Fund. New York. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1872)
I note that just south of shore-plain of Ras abu Zenimeh on to which Wadi Taiybeh debouches, is a Wadi el Dafari draining westwards from the mountains into the plain of El Markha. Could Dafari be Dophkah? A Qattar Dafari exists in the mountains on Wadi Dafari. According to another explorer, Burckhardt (June 1816) his Arab guides briefly left this shore-plain and ascended Wadi Dafary to find catchment pools of fresh rainwater to drink. Burckhardt noted this was the best tasting freshwater between the the port city of Tor and Suez, all other water sources on the shoreline being brackish. Burkhardt was returning from Saint Catherine's Monastery to Suez (which he had visited in the Spring of 1816 to escape the annual Spring plague that affected the Egyptian Delta, perhaps this is the Spring plague that afflicted Egypt in Moses' Spring Exodus, bubonic plague? Please click here for my article on the Spring Plague of the Delta) and his Arab guides took him back to Egypt from Saint Catherine's Monastery via Wadi Feiran and then they followed the shoreline to Suez. He noted the presence of wheel tracks at various places in the shore-plain and spoke of this as being "the great road" from Tor to Suez (Tor is a seaport on the west shore of the Sinai Penninsula). The wheel tracks were from a caravan that had left Tor for Suez a year earlier. So, Israel's oxcarts (Numbers 7:1-7) could have gotten from Suez to Tor (and Wadi Feiran) too via the shore-plain.
Palmer (my explanatory notes appear in bracketts [ ] within the below quotations):
"There are two roads to Sinai, the upper one by Sarabit el Khadim, and the lower one by the coast; and the modern traveler who chooses the latter still turns off by Wady Taiyebeh, and reaches the sea-shore in a fair day's journey from Gharandel [Palmer's Elim of the Exodus preceeding the wilderness of Sin]. There are several reasons which would have led to the selection of this route by the Israelite hosts; the rugged passes and narrow valleys of the upper road would have presented insuperable difficulties to a large caravan encumbered by heavy baggage...Between Wady Gharandel and Wady Taiyebeh, two valleys, Wady Useit and Wady Ethal, descend to the sea; but the first of these is precluded as a route to Sinai, for the same reason that leads us to reject Wady Gharandel, viz., that the cliffs of Jebel Hammam Far'un, a short way south of its mouth, cut off progress along the shore; and the second becomes impassable, even for pedestrians, towards its mouth; so that we are forced to the conclusion that Wady Taiyebeh was the only road down which the children of Israel could have marched.
On the supposition that they did so, the wilderness of Sin will be the narrow strip of desert which fringes the coast south of Wady Taiyebeh [the small present-day coastal plain of Abu Zenima]; and although it is impossible to define with exactness the next two stations, Dophkah and Alush, we may fairly presume that they lay within the next two days' journey, which would bring the Israelites well into Wady Feiran. Travelers by this route in the presnt day do not follow Wady Feiran, but turn off by Wady Shellal, and make for Wady Mukatteb by the Nagb Buderah; but the road over that pass was unquestionably constructed at a date posterior to the Exodus, and, had it even existed at that time, would have been less practicable than Wady Feiran, and not only have led the Israelite into collision with the Egyptians at Magharah, but have presented a further difficulty in the pass of Jebel Mukatteb. Beyond Wady Feiran there is no practicable valley -Wady Hebran, the most open of them all, being far too difficult and rugged to have admitted of their passing through it. I have already discussed the reasons, both legendary and geographical, for placing Rephidim at Hesy el Khattatin, in Wady Feiran..."
(pp. 227-228. E. H. Palmer. The Desert of the Exodus, Journeys on Foot in the Wilderness of the Forty Years' Wanderings, Undertaken in Connection with the Ordnance Survey of Sinai and the Palestine Exploration Fund. New York. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1872)
Burkhardt (June of 1816) on the freshwater (pools of rainwater) in the mountains Wady Dhafary (Wadi Dafari) drains from (emphasis mine):
"On the plain we fell in with the great road from Tor to Suez, but soon quitted it to the right, and turned to the north in search of a natural reservoir of rain, in which the Bedouins knew that some water was still remaining. At the end of five hours and a half, we reached a narrow cleft in the mountain, where we halted, and my guides went a mile up in it to fill the skins. This is called Wady el Dhafary [Dafari]; it is sometimes frequented by the Arabs, because it furnishes THE ONLY SWEET WATER between Tor and Suez, though it is out of the direct road, and the well of Morkha [Bir el Merkha] is at no great distance. Some rain had fallen here in the winter, and water was therefore met with in several ponds among the rocks...Travelers will do well to enquire for the Dhafary, in their way to Feiran [from Suez] as the water of Morkha [Merkha] is of the VERY WORST KIND...We reached Morkha, which bears from Dhafary NW by N in half an hour, the road leading over level but very rocky ground. Morkha is a small pond in the sandstone rock, close to the mountains. Two date-trees grow near its margin. THE BAD TASTE OF THE WATER seems to be owing partly to the weeds, moss and dirt which the pond is filled, but chiefly, no doubt, to the saline nature of the soil around it. Next to Ayoun Mousa [the wells of Moses], in the vicinity of Suez, and Gharandel, it is the principal station on this road. After watering our camels, which was our only motive for coming to the Morkha, we returned to the sea-shore...Before us extended the large bay of Birket Faraoun, so called, from being according to Arab and Egyptian tradition, the place where the Israelites crossed the sea and where the returning waves overwhelmed Pharaoh and his host."
(pp. 469-470. Johann Ludwig Burkhardt [John Lewis Burkhardt]. Travels in Syria and the Holy Land. 1822. Available in paperback as a reprint, but without accompanying maps, at www.kessinger.net)
Burkhardt (emphasis mine):
"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 , 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)
The presence of oxcarts at Mount Sinai (Nu 7:1-7), "if true," suggests that whatever route Israel was taking, it had to be one that was navigable by these burdened vehicles. Palmer, who explored the Sinai in 1860's to determine -in part- the route of the Exodus, concluded that the Sinai Penninsula's western shoreline plain was probably what Israel used, leaving the shore-plain at the mouth of Wadi Feiran and following it eastwards to Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine's Monastery. Burkhardt testified to wheeled vehicles (1816) traversing the Sinai from Tor to the port of Suez via the shoreline plain.
Palmer had also noted a second way to get to Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine's Monastery by taking the route east of Serabit el Khadim. He had traveled this route himself and he thought it unlikely for a host of 600,000 warriors accompanied by women, children, grandparents, herds of sheep, goats and cattle, and oxcarts as the passes and defiles in the wadies were not conducive to such travel by a large host.
If Palmer is correct, that Israel followed the western shoreline of the Sinai to get to Mount Horeb, then Wadi Dafari and its freshwater catchments at Qattar Dafari in the mountains is a possible contender for the location of Dophkah of the Exodus.
Below, a map showing the small coastal plain of Abu Zenima (Zenimeh) which Wadi Tayiba (Palmer's Wady Taiyebeh debouches onto, said wadi being followed by the below modern highway rendered in magenta. I supect that this small coastal plain might be the Wilderness of Sin (Sin being preserved in Zen[imeh]) ?
(Qal'et El-Nakhl, Egypt. Sheet NH 36-11. Scale: 1:250,000. Washington, D.C. 1972)