The River of Egypt (Nu 34:5; Josh 15:4; 1 Kings 8:65; Isa. 27:12) Not Nahal Bezor, but Wadi el Arish ?

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

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03 September 2001 Update at end of this Article

15 Jan. 2004 Update on a Map of Judah's South Border at end of article and Isaiah 27:12 and the Septuaginta's identity of the river of Egypt with Wadi El Arish.

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Mihelic noted the term appears in Assyrian descriptions of their conquests (it being called nahal mat Musri, "brook of Egypt").

Gorg (emphasis mine) :

"Another more detailed geographical notice found in the anaalistic comments regarding his second campaign places Arza "a distance of 30 miles" from the town of Aphek [situated] on the border-region of Samaria as far as the town of Raphia, beyond the border of the Brook of Egypta place without [flowing] river" (after Na`aman 1979). The town Arza, probably identical with later Yarda and Orda, should be identified with the toponym Yurza known from Egyptian topographical lists; this leads to an identification of the Brook of Egypt with Nahal BezorThe commonly suggested equation with the Wadi el-Arish should be ruled out, at least as far as the earlier lists are concerned (Na'aman 1979).

Another argument for this location may be the absence of pre-Hellenistic ruins in the vicinity of Wadi el`Arish. The boundary between Palestine and Egypt stabilized at the latter location only in the Persian period or later (Na`aman 1979; cf. Rainey 1982)." (Vol. 2. p. 321. M. Gorg, "Egypt, Brook of," 1992. Anchor Bible Dictionary. David Noel Freedman, Editor. Doubleday. New York. 1992). 

I note that Nahal Bezor is a part of the great drainage basin south of Beersheba. The southwesternmost tributary of this basin is Wadi el Mzere, draining from the slopes of Gebel el Mzere (Israeli : Mosera), northward to el-Khalasa and emptying into the sea south of Gaza (Alois Musil. Map of Arabia Petraea. 1:300,000  Vienna. 1907). The headwaters of Wadi el Mzere begin near the slopes of Gebel Halaq (alternately, Helaqim), frequently identified with Mt. Halak, a prominent site in Judah's southern border (Joshua 11:17, 12:7).

Could Wadi el Mzere be the "River of Egypt"?

"So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland from Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the vallkey of Lebanon below Mount Hermon." (Jos 11:16-17)

"And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak that rises toward Seir..." (Jos 12:7)

I understand that the Primary History, Genesis-Kings, was written ca. 562 BCE in the Exile, and that "Seir" is the Hill Country about Hebron, which has been "Edomite" for over 20 years, since Judah's Exile in 587 BCE.

In favor of Wadi el Arish being the River of Egypt is that Iron Age remains have been attested in the area of Ain el Qusaima and El Muweilah, near the headwaters of Wadi el-Arish (cf. p.34, "Archaeological Survey Map of Kadesh-barnea," Beno Rothenberg. God's Wilderness, Discoveries in Sinai. New York. Thomas Nelson & Sons. 1962).

The Targum renders Azmon as Qesam which seems to be preserved in Ain el Qusaima (alternately Quesima). I further note that this area's headwaters drain into Wadi el-Arish. A prominent mountain called Gebel el Mushraq lies just west of Qusaima, and the headwaters pass below its slopes, turning northward to become Wadi el-Arish. A track from Gaza heading for the Qusaima area is called the Khat el Mushraq or Darb el Zol. The Qusaima area is a crossroads before entering the Sinai wilderness. I suspect that the Assyrian name for the River of Egypt, Nahal mat Musri, is preserved in Gebel Musraq. In other words, "Egypt" proper has nothing to do with the name. The river took its name from the mountain, whose name resembled in form, "Mizr/Musri". I thus understand that the river took its name from the "headwaters region," whereas today, the river takes its name from "its mouth" where it empties into the Mediterranean Sea, near the town of El Arish.

Mihelic (emphais mine):

"The Assyrian records of Sargon I and Sennacherib refer several times to the Brook of Egypt (nahal [mat] Musri  ), once with the added remark "and there is no river" evidently to distinguish it from the Nile (James B. Pritchard. Editor. Ancient Near Eastern Texts pp. 286, 290, 292) (p. 67. Vol. 2.  J. L. Mihelic. "Egypt, Brook of." George A. Buttrick. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962)


The absence of Iron Age remains at El Arish noted by Na`aman as an argument against its being the River of Egypt is contradicted by the Iron Age II remains found at the headwaters region of Wadi el Arish in the vicinity of Ain el Qusaima and Muweilah. I have proposed that the river's name was taken from Gebel el Mushraq, where its headwaters begin. The biblical texts note that Azmon precedes the River of Egypt in the description of Judah's southern border (Joshua 15:4), and the Targum rendered Azmon as Qesam, apparently preserved in Qusaima. The ridge of mountains beginning in a southwesterly course from the Dead Sea terminate at the area of Qusaima, beyond is the wilderness wastes of the great El-Arish drainage basin. Qusaima is an ideal place to end Judah's border at.

Update of 03 September 2001:

Ze`ev Meshel points out that an Iron II  Israelite fortress dating from the late 11th-10th century BCE was found in 1975 near Quseima and excavated in 1981. This fortress was apparently abandoned, no evidence of a destruction found. This fortress is the biggest of its kind in the NegevSituated atop a spur, it commands a view of the whole drainage basin of Quseima. it also controls the various tracks coming from the Red Sea, Egypt, and Gaza which intersect at Quseima. The Targum calls Azmon (the last site mentioned in Judah's southern border, before the "river of Egypt" ) in Aramaic, Qesam, which seems to be preserved in the Arabic Quseima. Below this fortress another contemporary, smaller Israelite fort was found (Number 1 on the map). From either side of this spur drains the headwaters of Wadi Muweilih, which passes westward below the southern slopes of Gebel Mushraq, which I have posited preserves the Assyrian "Nahal mat Musri ", or Hebrew Mizraim, the "river of Egypt", which becomes Wadi el-Arish as it turns to the West-Northwest of Mushraq (cf. pp.48-73, "The 'Aharoni Fortress' Near Quseima and the Problem of the Israelite Fortresses," Ze`ev Meshel. Sinai, Excavations and Studies. Oxford. Archaeopress. 2000. ISBN  1-84171-077-6   pp.161, pbk)

Update 15 Jan. 2004

Cf. also my map of Late Iron II Judah's southern border from the Dead Sea to the river of Egypt  click on the following urls: 

 Judah's Iron II Southern Border (Numbers 34:1-5)

map of Hazar Addar, Karka, Azmon and the River of Egypt

The 3rd century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, called the Septuaginta, (written by Jews at Alexandria, Egypt) locates the "river of Egypt" at Rhinocorura, the Greek name for El Arish (Isaiah 27:12). 

Isaiah 27:12 (RSV)

"In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel." (Herbert G. May & Bruce M. Metzger, editors. The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Version. New York. Oxford University Press. 1977)

Esaias XXVII:12 (Septuaginta)

"And it shall come to pass in that day that God shall fence men off from the channel of the river as far as Rhinocorura; but do ye gather one by one the children of Israel." (Lancelot C. L. Brenton [Translator]. The Septuagint With Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody, Massachusetts. [London. 1851] reprint 1986)

According to E.A.Wallis Budge in his Egyptian Dictionaryresh in Egyptian means a "disease of the nose." According to Smith the Greeks claimed that El-Arish was so named because the Ethiopian Pharaohs cut off the noses of rebels and exiled them to El-Arish, on the borders of their kingdom (cf. William Smith. p. 644. "Rhinocolura or Rhinocorura." A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology, and Geography. London. John Murray. 1875). In Arabic el-Arish means "booths" and some Medieval Jewish pilgrims consequently thought that el-Arish must be biblical Succoth (which means "booths" in Hebrew) of the Exodus narratives.

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