Herodotus 484 - 424 BC (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)

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  1. Herodotus was a Greek wrote his geographic histories around 484-424 BC.
    1. Herodotus is called the "Father of History", who was also an ancient geographer who made a lot of major mistakes.
    2. However, he is one of the oldest known geographers.
  2. Herodotus clearly refers to cities and mountains in the Nile Delta west of the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez.
    1. Some use this a proof that Mount Sinai and be in the Modern Sinai Peninsula but this is a fiction.
    2. For these people fight against Mt. Sinai being where the Bible says it is, Saudi Arabia, they are content to put it ANYWHERE, including Egypt proper.
  1. We have supplied three maps based directly upon the writings of a Greek geographer and historian named Herodotus who lived in 450 BC.
    1. Like Hesiod and Hecataeus his predecessors, he possessed a shallow concept of Israel and has a vague understanding of the Red sea and wrongly viewed it at as a single finger of water.
    2. Apart from the Bible's clear references to Arabia as a geographic place in 1000 BC (2 Chronicles 9:14) Herodotus is the oldest secular historian who records the region of Arabia, some 550 years after the Bible. 
  1. Herodotus calls the Red Sea by the colour RED not the sea of Reeds:
    1. "there is a gulf extending inland from the sea called Red" (Herodotus, Hist. 2.11.1)
    2. No ancient author ever called any freshwater lake a "Sea of Reeds". Those who say so are perpetuating a fiction to prop up wrong and failing exodus routes at or near the Bitter lakes.
  1. Although we do not have any actual maps of Herodotus, people have gone to great lengths to create maps based directly on his writings. Below are a few examples. Looking at these modern reconstructions, we immediately notice two glaring problems with his geography that modern cartographers accurately drew.
    1. First the Red sea is a single finger of water that does not split into the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.
    2. Second, there is no reference to Israel except perhaps "Philistina" (Philistines), Judah or the Jewish nation anywhere in Herodotus' writings. The map reflects this and only notes Phoenicia. Herodotus being a pagan Roman living in modern Italy, must have deliberately ignored Israel for some unknown reason.
  1. Herodotus tells us that his geography is based upon a second hand report from another and not first hand experience:
    1. "Thus I give credit to those from whom I received this account of Egypt" (2:12)
    2. "Concerning the nature of the river [Nile], I was not able to gain any information either from the priests or from others." (2:19)
  1. Herodotus also discusses how God destroyed Sennacherib's army confirming the text of 2 Kings 19:35-36.
  2. Although he wrote his six books in 450 BC, the earliest actual manuscripts of Herodotus are dated 900 AD.
    1. That means there is a span of 1350 years between when the book was written and the earliest actual hard copies that are extant.
    2. There are 8 different manuscripts of Herodotus, the oldest being dated from 900 AD.
    3. We need to remember that the manuscripts of Herodotus' history likely contain changes as do other ancient works.
    4. For example, Agatharchides of Cnidus wrote, "On the Erythraean Sea" in 169 BC, has been reconstructed from three other ancient authors: Diodorus (49 BC), Strabo (15 AD), Photius (897 AD).
    5. The original script of Agatharchides, often has three widely varying readings or "fragments".
    6. This is instructive because Photius, who lived in 900 AD (the same time as the oldest manuscript of Herodotus) greatly changed and embellished with his own comments of Agatharchides words when compared to the older versions of Diodorus and Strabo.
    7. Of course none of the three agree and contain many differences.
    8. This contrasts with the Bible, where we have a complete copy from 325AD and over 50,000 manuscripts. The variation between all the manuscripts is very slight.
    9. What this means, is that later copyists may have inserted the post 135 AD name of "Palaistinę" into Herodotus' work. In any case, it is clear that Herodotus used "Palaistinę" to refer to everything from Syria to Egypt, including Israel.
    10. Other ancient geographers said that Arabia was directly next to Goshen in Egypt because after 106 AD Caesar annexed the modern Sinai Peninsula and renamed it "Arabia.
    11. Probably both the words "Arabia" and "Palaistinę" were glosses added to reflect post third century AD geography and terminology.
  1. Summary of errors made by Herodotus:
    1. He has zero concept of the Gulf of Aqaba.
    2. Herodotus' prehistoric "GHOST GULF"


I. Herodotus had no idea "GULF OF AQABA" even existed:

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  1. Herodotus had zero concept of the Gulf of Aqaba.
  2. Herodotus tells us that he relied on second hand information
    1. "Thus I give credit to those from whom I received this account of Egypt" (2:12)
    2. "Concerning the nature of the river [Nile], I was not able to gain any information either from the priests or from others." (2:19)
  3. This is one reason why he seems to place Arabia so near Egypt.
    1. He draws the entire Red Sea as a single finger without knowledge of the Sinai Peninsula or the Gulf of Aqaba.
    2. Had he known about the Gulf of Aqaba, he would have placed Arabia further away.
    3. Even so, Herodotus clearly places Arabia in the area of the Arabian Peninsula both south and to the east towards Assyria.


II. Herodotus' prehistoric "GHOST GULF":

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  1. Herodotus had no idea the Gulf of Aqaba existed but describes his prehistoric "phantom gulf":
    1. "For of the rivers that brought down the stuff to make these lands, there is none worthy to be compared for greatness with even one of the mouths of the Nile, and the Nile has five mouths. [3] There are also other rivers, not so great as the Nile, that have had great effects; I could rehearse their names, but principal among them is the Achelous, which, flowing through Acarnania and emptying into the sea, has already made half of the Echinades Islands mainland. [11] [1] Now in Arabia, not far from Egypt, there is a gulf extending inland from the sea called Red, whose length and width are such as I shall show: [2] in length, from its inner end out to the wide sea, it is a forty days’ voyage for a ship rowed by oars; and in breadth, it is half a day’s voyage at the widest. Every day the tides ebb and flow in it. [3] [Herodotus describes his 20,000 years earlier PREHISTORIC PHANTOM GULF]: I believe that where Egypt is now, there was once another such gulf; this extended from the northern sea towards Aethiopia [Mediterranean south to Ethiopia], and the other, the Arabian gulf [Gulf of Suez] of which I shall speak, extended from the south towards Syria [after extending south to Ethiopia it curled around and headed north west]; the ends of these gulfs penetrated into the country near each other, and but a little space of land separated them [the phantom and Suez gulfs almost touched]. [4] Now, if the Nile inclined to direct its current into this Arabian gulf, why should the latter not be silted up by it inside of twenty thousand years? In fact, I expect that it would be silted up inside of ten thousand years. Is it to be doubted, then, that in the ages before my birth a gulf even much greater than this should have been silted up by a river so great and so busy? [12] [1] As for Egypt, then, I credit those who say it, and myself very much believe it to be the case; for I have seen that Egypt projects into the sea beyond the neighboring land, and shells are exposed to view on the mountains, and things are coated with salt, so that even the pyramids show it, and the only sandy mountain in Egypt is that which is above Memphis; [2] besides, Egypt is like neither the neighboring land of Arabia nor Libya, not even like Syria (for Syrians inhabit the seaboard of Arabia); it is a land of black and crumbling earth, as if it were alluvial deposit carried down the river from Aethiopia; [3] but we know that the soil of Libya is redder and somewhat sandy, and Arabia and Syria are lands of clay and stones." (Herodotus, Hist. 2.10.2-12.3)
  2. Herodotus speculates that geologically, in some ancient time (20,000 years ago), there was a second Gulf that started on the Mediterranean and extended south towards Ethopia, then circled through the Nile Delta travelling northwest to almost touch the Gulf of Suez.
    1. This "ghost gulf" as we call it is known to be geologically false and he was totally wrong.
  1. Some people wrongly think the ghost gulf that almost touches the Gulf of Suez describes the Gulf of Suez touching the Gulf of Aqaba.
    1. "the two gulfs ran into the land so as almost to meet each other, and left between them only a very narrow tract of country" (2:11).
    2. One of these two Gulfs was the Gulf of Suez and the other was the Ghost gulf to the west and they came together and almost touched.
    3. Some people fail to notice this is ghost gulf (which if it did exist in some distant time in the past was west of the Gulf of Suez)
  1. Herodotus had no idea the Gulf of Aqaba even existed and this is why he seems to say in some places that Arabia is east of the Gulf of Suez.
    1. He clearly places Arabia far to the south.


III. The Suez Canal:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Herodotus mentions Pharaoh Nico II building the Suez Canal:  "Psammetichus had a son, Necos, who became king of Egypt. It was he who began building 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 [war ships] to move in it rowed abreast. [2] 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; [3] 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. [4] 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; [5] 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. [159] [1] 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." (Herodotus, History 2.158.1–159.2)
  4. "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)


IV. Herodotus ignores Israel: "Syrians of Palestine"

  1. Herodius' references to Palestine:
    1. "From there they marched against Egypt: and when they were in the part of Syria called Palestine, Psammetichus king of Egypt met them and persuaded them with gifts and prayers to come no further." (Herodotus, Hist. 1.105.1)
    2. "The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine acknowledge that they learned the custom from the Egyptians" (Herodotus, Hist. 2.104.3)
    3. "As to the pillars that Sesostris, king of Egypt, set up in the countries, most of them are no longer to be seen. But I myself saw them in the Palestine district of Syria, with the aforesaid writing and the women’s private parts on them." (Herodotus, Hist. 2.106.1)
    4. "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 [Gaza], which belongs to the so-called Syrians of Palestine. (Herodotus, Hist. 3.5.1–2)
  2. Herodotus called the land of Israel "Palestine" (ie. Philistines) in 450 BC.
    1. Herodotus did write of "palaistine" in Greek, however, he was not referring to "palestine". 
    2. The Philistines have an occupational presence in Canaan that dates back to the time of Abraham.
    3. "Palaistine" referred to the land of the Philistines.
    4. He wrote of "palaistine syrine"--the Philistines of Syria--which was a limited area near the southwestern coast of Israel. 
    5. History shows that it was Hadrian who renamed the land of Israel "Palestine" [ie. the land of the Philistines] in 135 AD.  Hadrian's intent was to wipe out all traces of the Jews. The fact he gave Jerusalem a new name, "Colonia Aelia Capitolina" and the land a new name "Palestine".
    6. This proves above all that the land of the Jews was not called Palestine in the first century in a formal sense, for if it was, Hadrian would never have used a name already associated with the Jews.
    7. The apostolic fathers reflect this change in their writings. Herodotus used the term Palaistinę to describe not just the geographical area where the Philistines lived, but the entire area between Phoenicia and Egypt, including the promised land of Israel.
    8. Herodotus actually tells us that he did not travel personally to either Egypt or Israel and relied upon second hand accounts of others.
  1. He was aware of the Jews, though, since he says that the inhabitants of "Palaistinę" were circumcised but he also says that there were other nations as well:
    1. "The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine acknowledge that they learned the custom from the Egyptians, and the Syrians of the valleys of the Thermodon and the Parthenius, as well as their neighbors the Macrones, say that they learned it lately from the Colchians. These are the only nations that circumcise, and it is seen that they do just as the Egyptians. [4] But as to the Egyptians and Ethiopians themselves, I cannot say which nation learned it from the other; for it is evidently a very ancient custom." (Hdt., Hist. 2.104.3–4)
  1. On the other hand, later copyists may have inserted the post 135 AD name of "Palaistinę" into Herodotus' work. In any case, it is clear that Herodotus used "Palaistinę" to refer to everything from Syria to Egypt, including Israel.


V. Herodotus did not put Arabia in the Nile Delta and West of the Red Sea (Arabian Gulf)

  1. Herodotus understood that Arabia proper, "the nation" was nowhere near Egypt:
    1. "Again, Arabia is the most distant to the south of all inhabited countries: and this is the only country which produces frankincense and myrrh and casia and cinnamon and gum-mastich. All these except myrrh are difficult for the Arabians to get." (Herodotus, Hist. 3.107.1)
    2. "On this peninsula live thirty nations. This is the first peninsula. But the second, 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." (Hdt., Hist. 4.38.2–39.1)
  2. Some type in the word "Arabia" on the internet to find places where Herodotus seems to locate Arabia immediately east of the Suez Canal/Gulf of Suez in the Sinai Peninsula to save their pet Mount Sinai location in the Sinai Peninsula.
    1. This kind of sloppy "word text-proofing" usually misses the context.
    2. For example Herodotus calls Pithon in the Eastern Nile Delta beside Goshen, AN ARABIAN TOWN! "Arabian town of Patumus [Pithom, Tell el-Maskhuta, near Goshen]" (Herodotus, History 2.158.2)
    3. Is Arabia now inside the Nile Delta? Of course not. So context is everything. But wait! Herodotus actually does view the area west of the Red Sea (Arabian Gulf) as being Arabia in some sense! So yes, context is everything.
    4. What proves too much proves nothing at all!!!
    5. Not a single reference below refers to any part of the Sinai Peninsula.
    6. Herodotus says Arabia (or Arabians, Arabian city) is in the Nile Delta and the mountain range 15 miles south and east of the Pyramids running down the WESTERN shore of the Gulf of Aqaba.
    7. For those twisting and contorting the words of Herodotus to make him say the Sinai Peninsula was in his mind ARABIA, they are in for a "truth shock".  
  1. Herodotus' Mountains of Arabia are west of the Red Sea (Arabian Gulf). These mountains are not in Arabia they are in Egypt. They are call Arabian mountain because they flank the border with Arabia on the other side of the Red Sea. We all understand that Donald Trump's "Mexican Wall" is on US soil. Even if the Mexicans paid for it after all just like Trump promised!
    1. "To some, he assigned the task of dragging stones from the quarries in the Arabian mountains to the Nile; and after the stones were ferried across the river in boats, he organized others to receive and drag them to the mountains called Libyan. [3] They worked in gangs of a hundred thousand men, each gang for three months. For ten years the people wore themselves out building the road over which the stones were dragged, work which was in my opinion not much lighter at all than the building of the pyramid" (Hdt., Hist. 2.124.2-3)
    2. "Beyond [to the south] and above Heliopolis (5 km east of the great Pyramids of Giza), Egypt is a narrow land. For it is bounded on the one side by the mountains of Arabia, which run north to south, always running south towards the sea called the Red Sea. In these mountains are the quarries that were hewn out for making the pyramids at Memphis. This way, then, the mountains run, and end in the places of which I have spoken; their greatest width from east to west, as I learned by inquiry, is a two months’ journey, and their easternmost boundaries yield frankincense. [2] Such are these mountains. On the side of Libya, Egypt is bounded by another range of rocky mountains among which are the pyramids; these are all covered with sand, and run in the same direction as those Arabian hills that run southward. [3] Beyond Heliopolis, there is no great distance—in Egypt, that is: the narrow land has a length of only fourteen days’ journey up the river. Between the aforesaid mountain ranges, the land is level, and where the plain is narrowest it seemed to me that there were no more than thirty miles between the Arabian mountains and those that are called Libyan. Beyond this Egypt is a wide land again. (Herodotus, Hist. 2.8.1-3)
  1. Herodotus calls Pithon in the Eastern Nile Delta beside Goshen, AN ARABIAN TOWN!
    1. "Arabian town of Patumus [Pithom, Tell el-Retaba, near Goshen]" (Herodotus, History 2.158.2)
    2. When those bent on keeping Mt. Sinai out of Saudi Arabia quote ancient historians who say Hebrew Goshen in Egypt was in fact Arabia, you wonder why the Israelites ever left?
    3. It simply trashes the Bible story like putting Kadesh Barnea inside the promised land  at Qudeirat.
  1. Herodotus mistakenly said the Nile flooded Arabia?
    1. "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)
    2. It is impossible for the Nile to flood across the Arabian Sea (Red Sea).
    3. Notice he makes this ridiculous statement about the Nile flooding Arabia because he had no first hand knowledge.
    4. But wait! Herodotus viewed the land west of the Red Sea (Arabian Gulf) as Arabia!
    5. The waters that flood Arabia are not flowing across the Suez Canal, but the east side of the Nile Delta near both Goshen and Pithom.
  1. Herodotus viewed the town of Buto in the middle of the Nile Delta in Egypt as being in "Arabia":
    1. Now Buto is the archeological site of Tell al-Fara'in near Rosetta in the north western Nile delta.
    2. Buto is in the north-western Nile Delta near Rosetta: "Arabia not far from the town of Buto" (Herodotus, Histories 2.75.1)
    3. Herodotus describes how ibis birds eat winged water snakes near Buto.
    4. It is interesting that the snakes fly from Buto in Arabia to Egypt.
    5. "There is a place in Arabia not far from the town of Buto where I went to learn about the winged serpents. When I arrived there, I saw innumerable bones and backbones of serpents: many heaps of backbones, great and small and even smaller. [2] This place, where the backbones lay scattered, is where a narrow mountain pass opens into a great plain, which adjoins the plain of Egypt. [3] Winged serpents are said to fly from Arabia at the beginning of spring, making for Egypt; but the ibis birds encounter the invaders in this pass and kill them. [4] The Arabians say that the ibis is greatly honored by the Egyptians for this service, and the Egyptians give the same reason for honoring these birds. [76] [1] Now this is the appearance of the ibis. It is all quite black, with the legs of a crane, and a beak sharply hooked, and is as big as a landrail. Such is the appearance of the ibis which fights with the serpents. Those that most associate with men (for there are two kinds of ibis) [2] have the whole head and neck bare of feathers; their plumage is white, except the head and neck and wingtips and tail (these being quite black); the legs and beak of the bird are like those of the other ibis. The serpents are like water-snakes. [3] Their wings are not feathered but very like the wings of a bat.I have now said enough concerning creatures that are sacred. (Hdt., Hist. 2.75.1–76.3)
    6. Strangely, either the site is wrong, or Herodotus simply got it wrong because he says that Buto was " where a narrow mountain pass opens into a great plain, which adjoins the plain of Egypt". For those wanting to make this Goshen, it doesn't fit any better than Tell al-Fara'in because neither have mountain passes.
    7. The Buto Herodotus is speaking of may be a different location altogether. Some place it near Tel El-Dab'a, which is easily explained as being near "Arabia-Town/China-Town".
  1. Reginald W. Macan who wrote a commentary on Herodotus locates "Arabians" on the west side of the Arabian Sea (Red Sea):
    1. "The Arabians wore mantles girded up, and carried at their right side long bows curving backwards." (Ethnologically, we have here the purest Semitic stock of the empire, unless, indeed, these ‘Arabians’ are to be sought (with Rawlinson) in Africa, between the Nile valley and the Red Sea (2. 8). The Arabs of Asia were not vassals of Persia, Herodotus commentary, Herodotus, Hist. 7.69.1, Reginald W. Macan, 1907 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 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.

2.       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)

a.      This is sloppy and inaccurate.

b.      In fact, Herodotus’ description of Arabia, if taken equally shallow and superficially, would also include all of the Nile Delta, the mountain range 15 miles to the east off the Great pyramids that flanks the west side of the Arabian Gulf (Red Sea including Gulf of Suez) AND the Sinai Peninsula in Arabia of his day."

c.       With all this keep in mind that Herodotus relied upon second hand reports and clearly had no idea of the Gulf of Aqaba.

d.      What proves too much proves nothing and citing Herodotus as proof Mt. Sinai CANNOT be located in Saudi Arabia is delusional and misleading. (After all, doesn't everyone agree that Saudi Arabia is in Arabia?)

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.

c.       This underscores that his understanding of the Red Sea, Gulf of Suez and Gulf of Aqaba were flawed.
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8.      If Herodotus had understood the Gulf of Aqaba, he would have known that the Sinai Peninsula was not part of Arabia.

    1. If your take a modern map and remove the Gulf of Aqaba (and therefore the modern Sinai Peninsula disappears), you too would think Arabia was beside the Suez canal like Herodotus. Herodotus was only partially correct on two different elements of his geography. He correctly understood that the Red sea was near the Nile, and that Arabia was east of the Red Sea. He was simply unaware of the missing the 250 km!

9.      Those who use Herodotus to prove the Sinai Peninsula is Arabia in the mind of Herodotus are perpetuating an historical fiction.


By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.


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