Herodotus 484 - 424 BC (Flat Earth Greek Geographer & Historian)
"And I laugh to see how many have before now drawn maps of the world, not one of them reasonably; for they draw the world as round as if fashioned by compasses, encircled by the Ocean river, and Asia and Europe of a like extent. For myself, I will in a few words indicate the extent of the two, and how each should be drawn." (Herodotus, Hist. 4.36.2)
I. Herodotus had no idea "GULF OF AQABA" even existed:
II. Herodotus' prehistoric "GHOST GULF":
III. The Suez Canal:
a. The first canal was dug under the reign of Senausret III, Pharao of Egypt (1887-1849 BC) linking the Mediterranean Sea in the north with the Red sea in the south via the river Nile and its branches.
b. The Canal often abandoned to silting and was successfully reopened to navigation by Sity I (1310 BC), Necho II (610 BC), Persian King Darius (522 BC), Polemy II (285 BC), Emperor Trajan (117 AD) and Amro Ibn Elass (640 AD), following the Islamic conquest.
c. Although there are conflicting reports of whether Darius I completed the canal from Bubastis to the Gulf of Suez, Herodotus’ report, coupled with direct archaeological evidence proves he indeed completed it and it was in full operation in his lifetime.
d. The Persian cuneiform text of the stela found at Kabret reads: “Saith Darius the King: I am a Persian; from Persia I seized Egypt; I gave order to dig this canal from a river by the name Nile which flows in Egypt, to the sea which goes from Persia. Afterward this canal was dug thus as I had ordered, and ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia.”
e. Herodotus 2:158 says it took 4 days to travel the full length of the 150 km canal built by Darius I around 500 BC. This produces a daily travel rate of 38 km per day. The journey is by foot not by ship, because a trireme, with three sets of rowers could travel the entire 150 km in less than a day at speeds of 22 km per hour.
f. "This canal ran from near Tel Basta (Bubastis) apparently to Suez. Inscriptions recording Darius’ construction of it have been found in the neighborhood." (Herodotus, translators footnote, History 2.158.1–159.2)
2. The canal by Darius I was 4 Days journey by foot not by ship:
a. Since it was a canal, the four days that Herodotus said it took to making the 150 km trip from Bubastis to the Gulf of Suez could be by ship as opposed to on foot.
b. Herodotus specifically says that two triremes could make the trip side by side, indicating the width of the canal. These ships were 120 feet long, had a crew of over 200 and was powered by three sets of rowers, one above the other.
c. A trireme commonly travelled 213 to 270 km in a single day with speeds up to 22 km per hour.
d. We can conclude that Herodotus was referring to 4 days by foot not by ship, because a trireme could easily navigate the entire 150 km canal in less than one day.
e. Paul applied the metaphor of being an “under-rower” to full time ministers of Christ in 1 Corinthians 4:1. Gospel preachers therefore are not only servants of God, they are the ones who are the lowest rank, rowing at the bottom of the ship, below the two higher sets of rowers, in the hot, humid, smelly and dark conditions in the hull of the ship.
f. “By the sixth century b.c. the Greeks had developed the trireme for its naval force. The trireme required an intricate system of three banks of oars: the thranites, oarsmen at the top level, worked their oars through an outrigger; the zygites pulled their oars either over a gunwale or through oarports; and the thalamites worked at the lowest level no more than eighteen inches above the waterline. The captains were known as trierarchs. The kubernētēs (or pilot) steered the ship from the stern. At the bow was the prorates who served as the eyes of the ship. The keleustēs called out the beat of the oarsmen accompanied by the aulētēs, playing on his flute. The remains of ship sheds in the Zea harbor of Athens averaged 37 meters (121 feet, 5 inches), with a further extension underwater, indicating that the ships were at least this long, perhaps up to 140 feet. They measured about 18 to 20 feet wide, with a draught of 4 to 6 feet. The oars would have extended an additional 14 feet on each side. Each trireme carried a crew of about 200 with 10 to 30 epibatai or marines, and a few archers who were recruited from Crete. The main tactic would be to attempt to ram the enemy ship with the embolos or bronze ram at the prow of the ship. Triremes could make 115 to 146 nautical miles a day [213 to 270 km per day], and could reach a maximum speed of 11 to 12 knots (about 14 miles) per hour [22 km per hour]. Recently a modern replica of an ancient trireme was made by the Greeks under the direction of British scholars John S. Morrison and John F. Coates. After some practice, a volunteer crew of 140 men and 40 women from England was able to reach top speeds of 9 to 10 knots for short bursts. At Salamis Aeschylus reported that the Greek fleet numbered 300 (or possibly 310). The largest number (200) was provided by Athens. Corinth provided the next largest number (40). Aegina, Megara, and Sparta provided the remainder.” (Persia and the Bible, Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Greek Army and Navy, p199, 1996 AD)
3. Ancient literary sources:
a. “Psammetichus [Psamtik I: 664-610 BC] had a son, Necos [Neco II: 610-595 BC: 2 Chron 35:20-25; Jer 46:2], who became king of Egypt. It was he who began building the canal into the Red Sea (around 600 BC), which was finished by Darius the Persian [Darius I: 422-486 BC]. This is four days voyage in length, and it was dug wide enough for two triremes to move in it rowed abreast.  It is fed by the Nile and is carried from a little above Bubastis by the Arabian town of Patumus [Pithom, Tell el-Maskhuta]; it issues into the Red Sea. Digging began in the part of the Egyptian plain nearest to Arabia; the mountains that extend to Memphis (the mountains where the stone quarries are) come close to this plain;  the canal is led along the foothills of these mountains in a long reach from west to east; passing then into a ravine, it bears southward out of the hill country towards the Arabian Gulf.  Now the shortest and most direct passage from the northern to the southern or Red Sea is from the Casian promontory, the boundary between Egypt and Syria, to the Arabian Gulf, and this is a distance of one hundred and twenty five miles, neither more nor less;  this is the most direct route, but the canal is far longer, inasmuch as it is more crooked. In Necos’ reign, a hundred and twenty thousand Egyptians died digging it. Necos stopped work, stayed by a prophetic utterance that he was toiling beforehand for the barbarian. The Egyptians call all men of other languages barbarians.   Necos, then, stopped work on the canal and engaged in preparations for war; some of his ships of war were built on the northern sea, and some in the Arabian Gulf, by the Red Sea coast: the winches for landing these can still be seen.  He used these ships when needed, and with his land army met and defeated the Syrians at Magdolus, taking the great Syrian city of Cadytis after the battle. (Herodotus, History 2.158.1–159.2)
b. “There are also other mouths, built by the hand of man, about which there is no special need to write. At each mouth is a walled city, which is divided into two parts by the river and provided on each side of the mouth with pontoon bridges and guard-houses at suitable points. From the Pelusiac mouth there is an artificial canal to the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. 9 The first to undertake the construction of this was Necho the son of Psammetichus, and after him Darius the Persian made progress with the work for a time but finally left it unfinished; 10 for he was informed by certain persons that if he dug through the neck of land he would be responsible for the submergence of Egypt, for they pointed out to him that the Red Sea was higher than Egypt. 11 At a later time the second Ptolemy completed it and in the most suitable spot constructed an ingenious kind of a lock. This he opened, whenever he wished to pass through, and quickly closed again, a contrivance which usage proved to be highly successful. 12 The river which flows through this canal is named Ptolemy, after the builder of it, and has at its mouth the city called Arsinoë.” (Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library I.33.8-12, 30 BC)
c. “This is clear to anyone who looks at the country itself, and further proof is afforded by the facts about the Red Sea. One of the kings tried to dig a canal to it. (For it would be of no little advantage to them if this whole region was accessible to navigation: Sesostris is said to be the first of the ancient kings to have attempted the work.) It was, however, found that the sea was higher than the land: and so Sesostris first and Dareius after him gave up digging the canal for fear the water of the river should be ruined by an admixture of sea-water.” (Aristotle, Meteorology 1.14.25)
d. “There is another canal also, which empties itself into the Red Sea, or Arabian Gulf, near the city Arsinoë (Suez), which some call Cleopatris. It flows through the Bitter Lakes, as they are called, which were bitter formerly, but when the above-mentioned canal was cut, the bitter quality was altered by their junction with the river, and at present they contain excellent fish, and abound with aquatic birds. The canal was first cut by Sesostris before the Trojan times, but according to other writers, by the son of Psammitichus, who only began the work, and afterwards died; lastly, Darius the First succeeded to the completion of the undertaking, but he desisted from continuing the work, when it was nearly finished, influenced by an erroneous opinion that the level of the Red Sea was higher than Egypt, and that if the whole of the intervening isthmus were cut through, the country would be overflowed by the sea. The Ptolemaic kings however did cut through it, and placed locks upon the canal, so that they sailed, when they pleased, without obstruction into the outer sea, and back again [into the canal].” (Strabo, Geography 17.1.25)
e. “This was contemplated first of all by Sesostris, king of Egypt, afterwards by Darius, king of the Persians, and still later by Ptolemy II., who also made a canal, one hundred feet in width and forty deep, extending a distance of thirty-seven miles and a half, as far as the Bitter Springs [from Bubastis to the eastern shore of Lake Timsah]. He was deterred from proceeding any further with this work by apprehensions of an inundation, upon finding that the Red Sea was three cubits higher than the land in the interior of Egypt. Some writers, however, do not allege this as the cause, but say that his reason was, a fear lest, in consequence of introducing the sea, the water of the Nile might be spoilt, that being the only source from which the Egyptians obtain water for drinking.” (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 6.33.165)
4. Modern sources:
a. “When Darius's workmen set out to dig his canal, they did not have to start from scratch. According to Herodotus, they completed the project started by Necho II, who was unable to finish it because he lost so many workmen in the course of his excavations. This information reinforces the importance of the description given by Herodotus for the direction of the Necho-Darius canal. It left the Nile a little south of Bubastis, which would put the commencement of this canal at the western entrance to the Wadi Tumilat. It ran eastward and eventually turned south to run into the Arabian Gulf, the modern Gulf of Suez. Since this canal entered the Wadi Tumilat in the west, it should have left it in the east, which would connect it with Lake Timsah, the body of water lying most directly opposite that exit. From Lake Timsah, this canal must have run south.” (A Date for the Recently Discovered Eastern Canal of Egypt, William H. Shea Source BASOR, No. 226, p32, 1977 AD)
b. “Greek and Roman authors after Herodotus claim that the Achaemenid ruler Darius I (522-486 BC) also attempted a canal, but abandoned the scheme when he too was persuaded that Egypt would be inundated by seawater as a result. In fact, the existence of a completed Persian canal is indicated by the eyewitness account of Herodotus, who visited Egypt some time after 454 BC, and by the discovery in the 19th century AD of four Persian stelae positioned along its route – by Tall al-Maskhūtah, and at Serapeum, Kabrat [Kabret], and Kūbrī – and commemorating its completion8 (Figure 20:2). The relatively well-preserved Persian cuneiform text of the stela found at Kabret reads: “Saith Darius the King: I am a Persian; from Persia I seized Egypt; I gave order to dig this canal from a river by the name Nile which flows in Egypt, to the sea which goes from Persia. Afterward this canal was dug thus as I had ordered, and ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia.” (Egypt’s Nile-Red Sea canals: chronology, location, seasonality and function, John Philip Cooper, Connected Hinterlands, p197, 2009 AD)
c. “At first we misunderstood the evidence for the Saite period occupation, probably to be dated to the reign of Pharaoh Necho II and to be connected with his early efforts at cutting the canal through to the Red Sea. Greek forms, Phoenician forms, and native Egyptian materials jumble together in the mix one has learned to expect of the “Persian Period.” And so we called it until postseason research revealed similar mixtures in Egyptian mercenary encampments farther north. Present indications are that, despite the canal’s incomplete status, Tell el-Maskhuta (Heroonopolis) served as a functioning port channelling goods to the Red Sea and back again. Phoenicians and Greek soldiers rubbed shoulders with Egyptian merchants and officers, and it is not at all impossible that the merchant forerunners of the looming Persian Empire were already on the scene. Beneath the founding phases of Necho’s city we found no certain traces of occupation. Only the (pre-) Hyksos graves and the much earlier flints give evidence for some yet undefined earlier use of the site.” (Excavations at Tell El Maskhuta = Heroonopolis, Burton MacDonald, Biblical Archaeologist, Vol 43, 1980 AD)
d. “The Canal Inscriptions: Darius had a canal completed between the Nile and the Red Sea. Middle Kingdom inscriptions already referred to a canal dug by the Egyptians between the Pelusiac branch of the Nile and the Red Sea. Recent satellite photos have revealed the location of this early canal. In the Saite period Necho II (610–595) attempted unsuccessfully to dig another canal, no doubt because the earlier canal had become unusable. According to Herodotus (2.158): It was he [Necho] who began the making of the canal into the Red Sea, which was finished by Darius the Persian. This is four days’ voyage in length, and it was dug wide enough for two triremes to move in it rowed abreast. The canal extended some 50 miles, and was perhaps 45 meters (148 feet) wide and 3 meters (10 feet) deep. The project took about a dozen years to complete. Herodotus’s report has been directly confirmed by the discovery of four fragmentary stelae of red granite inscribed in cuneiform and hieroglyphs, which commemorated the digging of the canal by Darius. These include: the Maskhuta stele found in 1864; the so-called Serapeum stele found by Napoleon’s soldiers between Lake Timsa and the Bitter Lakes in 1799; the Shallūfa stele discovered twenty miles north of Suez by Charles de Lesseps, brother of the engineer who built the modern Suez Canal (this is the best-preserved text); and the Kubri or Suez stele, found about twenty miles north of Suez and first published in 1908. Because these inscriptions proclaim Darius as the son of Neith, one may consider Udjahorresnet, the priest of Neith who had helped Cambyses, as the Egyptian advisor who helped compose these texts. According to the OP text on these stelae Darius proclaimed: I am Persian; from Persia I seized Egypt; I gave order to dig this canal from a river by name Nile which flows in Egypt, to the sea which goes from Persia. Afterward this canal was dug thus as I had ordered and ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia thus as was my desire. It was not true, of course, that Darius was the first to conquer Egypt; here he is claiming credit for that which was accomplished by his predecessor. The corresponding Egyptian text speaks of “twenty-four ships with tribute for Persia.” Darius’s purpose in completing the canal was to facilitate traffic between Egypt through the Red Sea, around the Arabian peninsula, and into the Persian Gulf.” (Persia and the Bible, Edwin M. Yamauchi, Darius, p152, 1996 AD)
e. “At Tell el-Maskhuta, along the Wadi Thumilat canal connecting Memphis in the eastern Delta to the Suez canal and Red Sea, a sanctuary was found with silver bowls inscribed in Aramaic, three of which were votive offerings to Han-ʾIlat (the Arabian goddess Allat) by Arabs including “Qainu son of Geshem, King of Qedar,” whose father is known from the OT and other sources. A hoard of thousands of Attic tetradrachma was also discovered at the shrine, reflecting the prosperity of trade flowing through this vital artery to the Nile from the Red Sea.” (New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, David F. Graf, Arab, Arabian, Arabia, Persian period, Vol 1, p217, 2009 AD)
f. “Darius united the latter river with the Red Sea by a canal, the partly obliterated inscription commemorating which may perhaps be thus restored and rendered: “I am a Persian; with Persia I seized Egypt. I commanded to dig this canal from the river named the Nile [Pirāva], which flows through Egypt, to this sea which comes from Persia. Then this canal was dug, according as I commanded. And I said, ‛Come ye from the Nile through this canal to Persia.’”” (ISBE, Darius, Vol 4, p2336)
g. “Darius [Darius I: 422-486 BC] undertook an extensive campaign of public works in Egypt, including completion of the precursor of the Suez Canal.” (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, Darius I)
IV. Herodotus ignores Israel because they were in Babylon: "Syrians of Palestine"
V. Herodotus calls the port city of Arish/Tharu/Rhinocolura, Arabia:
1. Herodotus records how during the Babylonian captivity (605-536 BC) when Israel was vacant from Canaan, both Syrian and the Arabians moved into the coastal areas between Gaza and the Serbonian marsh. In 568 BC, Nebuchadnezzar conquers Egypt. The Jews completed the temple in 515 BC but did not finish the walls of Jerusalem until 445 BC. It was at exactly this time that Herodotus wrote his account and the Arab occupation of these seaports in 450 BC do not reflect the geographic territory of Arabia in the first century. Herodotus believed in a flat earth and did not know the Gulf of Aqaba existed. At the time Herodotus wrote his history, the Jews remained a tiny occupied vassal-state under Persian control down to the time of Alexander the Great in 333 BC. Herodotus understood Arabia proper to be Saudi Arabia but noted that the Arabs controlled a few key Sea ports on the Mediterranean. Herodotus says that this small 50 km coastal strip of Arab controlled seaports was flanked on the western side by 100 km of Syrian controlled land to Pelusium and on the eastern side all the way up the coast to the north. This refutes the fiction that the Sinai Peninsula was considered Arabia by Herodotus because the Arabian controlled seaports were flanked on either side by much large Syrian controlled territories from the Nile to Tyre. This small, isolated 50 km strip of Arab controlled land was not Arabia but the end of their trading routes on the Mediterranean coast. Herodotus notes that the Arabs inhabited the area of ancient Goshen which lay at the end of the ancient coastal trading route that went north to Philistia through Gaza, Tyre and Byblos etc. Herodotus describes how Syrian Gentiles controlled Gaza, but the Arabs controlled the seaports of Raphia and Arish/Tharu/Rhinocolura. These Arab controlled seaports were not considered “Arabia” but end points of the Arab trade routes. They came under the control of Alexander the Great and as Judea reestablished themselves the Arabs lost control of these seaports. Under the Maccabees (100 BC), Arab control had been extinguished in the Sinai Peninsula.
a. “Now the only apparent way of entry into Egypt is this. The road runs from Phoenicia as far as the borders of the city of Cadytis [or Kadytis = Gaza], which belongs to the so-called Syrians of Palestine [Gentiles]. From Cadytis (which, as I judge, is a city not much smaller than Sardis) to the city of Ienysus [Arish= Tharu = Rhinocolura] the seaports belong to the Arabians; then they are Syrian again from Ienysus as far as the Serbonian marsh, beside which the Casian promontory stretches seawards; from this Serbonian marsh, where Typho is supposed to have been hidden, the country is Egypt.” (Herodotus, Hist. 3.5.1–3)
b. “This is the first peninsula. But the second [i.e. land between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea], beginning with Persia, stretches to the Red Sea, and is Persian land; and next, the neighboring land of Assyria; and after Assyria, Arabia; this peninsula ends (not truly but only by common consent) at the Arabian Gulf, to which Darius brought a canal from the Nile.” (Herodotus 4.39)
c. “The ancient geographers did not usually extend ‘Arabia’ to the Mediterranean, nor does Herodotus himself in iv. 39. He means here that the ends of the trade routes from Arabia to the Mediterranean were under Arabian control (cf. iii. 107 seq. for this spice trade); he writes τοῦ Ἀραβίου, ‘in possession of the Arabian,’ not τῆς Ἁραβίης, For the Arabs of South Palestine as dependent allies (not subjects) of the Persians cf. 88. 1 n.” (A Commentary on Herodotus, W. How, Herodotus 3.5.2, 2000 AD)
VI. Herodotus calls ancient Goshen, Arabia:
i. "So said the oracle. Now the Nile, when it overflows, floods not only the Delta, but also the tracts of country on both sides the stream which are thought to belong to Libya and Arabia, in some places reaching to the extent of two days' journey from its banks, in some even exceeding that distance, but in others falling short of it. Concerning the nature of the river, I was not able to gain any information either from the priests or from others." (Herodotus 2:19)
ii. “The Troglodytica extended along the western side of the Arabian Gulf, from about the 19th degree of latitude to beyond the strait. According to Pliny, vi. c. 34, Sesostris conducted his army as far as the promontory Mossylicus, which I think is Cape Mete of the modern kingdom of Adel. Gossellin.” (Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, H. C. Hamilton, Strabo, Geography 16.4.4 p191, fn 5005, 1903 AD)
1. Herodotus knew full well that Arabia proper was nowhere near Egypt. His comments that lead some to put "Arabia in Egypt" are rather simple to explain:
a. "Arabian cities" in the Nile Delta are merely Arab immigrants who formed a majority population in a city inside Egypt. There is a "China Town" in ever major city, but we all know where China is not.
b. The references to the "Arabian Sea" and the "Arabian Mountains" does not mean Arabia is inside Egypt, west of the Red Sea or even close by. These references simply mean the Egyptian mountain range flanged entire length the Arabian Sea which separated Egypt from the territory of Arabia proper. The Arabian Troglodytes did however, inhabit the seacoast beside this mountain range and may have been why they were called “Arabian mountains.
2. While Herodotus said that Goshen (Pithom) and the seaport of Arish/Tharu/Rhinocolura was Arabia, he never describes the Sinai Peninsula as Arabia. Strabo calls Arab controlled Rhinocolura a Syrian town.
a. Gordon Franz said, "Herodotus’ description would therefore include all of the Sinai Peninsula in Arabia of his day." (Where is Mount Sinai in Arabia: Galatians 4:25?, Bible and Spade, 2013 AD)
b. Those who use Herodotus to prove the Sinai Peninsula is Arabia in the mind of Herodotus are perpetuating an historical fiction.
3. Herodotus ignored the REAL Gulf of Aqaba, while invented a PHANTOM Gulf of the Nile!
a. Herodotus had no idea the Gulf of Aqaba existed and this explains why he seems to place Arabia so close to the Gulf of Suez.
b. He admits he relied upon second hand reports of the geography of Egypt.
By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.