YAM SUF: sea of mangroves?

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Sun Mar 17 16:01:14 EST 2002

I have just had an interesting thought inspired by my recent holiday in
Egypt, including a visit to the Red Sea and to Sinai as well as the more
usual historical sites.

The term YAM SUF, generally understood as "Sea of Reeds", is used for
the sea across which Moses led the Israelites, Exodus 14. It is also
clearly used for the Gulf of Aqaba in 1 Kings 9:26, suggesting the
traditional interpretation that this sea is the Red Sea in a general
sense, including the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. But one objection to this
identification is that reeds do not grow in the Red Sea, for the obvious
reason that it is very salty.

In Exodus 2:3,5 SUF clearly does refer to river plants, probably some
kind of reeds or rushes.

But there is a plant which grows in the Red Sea but probably nowhere
else known to the ancients: the mangrove. This thrives in the salt water
because it is able to convert salt water to fresh internally (or so I am
told). I saw a small mangrove swamp in the Red Sea, at Ras Mohammed
which is the headland between the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba. There is a
photo of this swamp among my photos of Egypt which can be viewed at
http://web.onetel.net.uk/~peterkirk/. At present there are only a few
patches of mangroves in the Red Sea, but maybe in ancient times there
were many more mangroves along the shores of these gulfs. They would
have formed dense patches of vegetation along the shore similar to the
patches of reeds beside the Nile, although botanically quite different.
So maybe SUF is a name shared by these slightly similar plants.

So could YAM SUF have meant "sea of mangroves"? Does anyone know the
Arabic for "mangrove"? - I wonder if it might be related to SUF.

Peter Kirk

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