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ETHAM (ē'thăm, Heb. ’ēthām). An uncertain site on Israel’s journey out of Egypt, reached after leaving Succoth and before turning back to Pi Hahiroth. After crossing the Red Sea they traveled three days in the wilderness of Etham to reach Marah (Exod.13.20; Num.33.6-Num.33.8). Thus Etham seems to have been a wilderness district on both sides of the north end of the Red Sea.

ETHAM ē’ thəm (אֵתָ֔ם, meaning possibly, fort). The first encampment of the Israelites after leaving Succoth (Exod 13:20). Its precise location is unknown, but it was on the edge of the wilderness of Shur (15:22), a portion of which was known as the wilderness of Etham (Num 33:6-8). Probably it was N of Lake Timsah and formed part of the Egyp. fortifications guarding their eastern frontier (cf. the reference to Migdol, “watch-tower,” Num 33:7). The strength of these defenses caused the Israelites to detour S, which led Pharaoh to imagine that they were trapped between the wilderness and the sea (Exod 14:1-3).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’etham; Othom, Ex 13:20; Bouthan, Nu 33:6,7; in 33:8 the Septuagint has a different reading, "in their wilderness" showing another pointing for the word):

The name used to be explained as the Coptic Atium, "border of the Sea" (Gesenius, Lexicon, under the word) which would agree with the Hebrew (Nu 33:8) where the "wilderness of Etham" is noticed instead of that of Shur (Ex 15:22) East of the Red Sea (see Shur). At Etham (Ex 13:20), the Hebrews camped in the "edge," or at "the end," of the desert West of the sea that they were to cross (see Exodus). This camp was probably near the North end of the Bitter Lakes, a march from Succoth. Brugsch (Hist. Egypt, II, 359) would compare Etham with the Egyptian Khetam ("fort"), but the Hebrew word has no guttural. The word Khetam is not the name of a place (see Pierret, Vocab. hieroglyph., 453), and more than one such "fort" seems to be noticed (see Pithom). In the reign of Seti II a scribe’s report mentions the pursuit of two servants, apparently from Zoan, to the fortress of I-k-u southward, reaching Khetam on the 3rd day; but if this was the "Khetam of Rameses II," or even that "of Minepthah," it would not apparently suit the position of Etham.

See Migdol.

C. R. Conder.