September 21st, 2010
02:10 PM ET

Where did waters part for Moses? Not where you think

An illustration based on new research shows how wind could have moved and split waters from two ancient basins.

The parting of the waters described in the book of Exodus that enabled Moses and the Israelites to escape the pharaoh's army is possible, computer simulations run by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder show.

To test the theory that the biblical account may have depicted actual events, the researchers studied maps of the region, archaeological records and satellite measurements to find a topographical feature where such an event might have been possible. They settled on an area south of the Mediterranean Sea where some oceanographers say a branch of the Nile River drained into what was called the Lake of Tanis, a coastal lagoon 3,000 years ago.

The computer model shows a 63 mph east wind blowing across the area and its 6-feet-deep waters for 12 hours. In the scenario, the wind pushed back the waters into both the lake and the channel of the river, exposing a mud flat 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide for four hours. As the winds died down, the waters quickly flowed back in and in theory would have drowned anyone on the mud flat.

“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” said Carl Drews of NCAR, the lead author of the study published in the online journal PLoS ONE. (Read the full study)

“The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

YouTube: Parting the waters, Part 1: The physics of a land bridge

Parting the waters, Part 2: Carl Drews on wind setdown research
The biblical account of Exodus has Moses and his followers trapped by the pharaoh forces against a body of water, which has been translated to both the Red Sea and the Sea of Reeds. In the account, a strong wind comes up after night falls and parts the waters behind the Israelites. Moses leads them into the breach but when the pharaoh army pursues them at daybreak, the gap disappears and the army is lost.

Previous research has focused on areas of the Red Sea near the modern-day Suez Canal where the biblical miracle may have been possible. The NCAR/CU team said their research shows those scenarios unlikely. They ran a series of 14 computer simulations to pinpoint the area where the parting of the waters was most likely.

“People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts,” Drews says. “What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

Drews conducted the Exodus research as part of a larger project on how winds can affect water depths.

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  1. JAS

    Actually, knowledge of waters "parting" has been around a fairly long time; this is interesting as science. HOWEVER, there is no archeological evidence that the Jews were ever in Egypt as slaves or otherwise at the time. They have been in Egypt as victors of the 6-Day war and, more recently, as tourists.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr Know

      Exactly! Here is what I posted on same:

      You folks should read Shlomo Sands', "The Invention of the Jewish People". The supposed exile of the Israelites never happened and there is no archaeological evidence of it. No matter how fancy the science is, so far as it is trying to explain a myth which was copied from even earlier myths, makes it a waste of time.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      BIngo. Exodus never happened. No, the Egyptians wouldn't record someting so embarrassing, but the supposed thousands of people trekking through the desert for 40 years would have left massive amounts of evidence. But if you fundies want to persiste in non-thinking I suppose youre still happy with the sun revolving around the Earth. If scientific evidence were ever established that god was really there, you'd be the first people to get on the bandwagon. But without it you're happy to quip how evidence doesn't matter.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. Where?

    If they could isolate the possible locations to two or areas, they could use a waterproof version of ground penetrating radar and search for idications of metal swords, shields, and other ornamental items which would have been used by the pharoahs army. Any area of high concentrations/indications of metals would then most likely be where they crossed the mud flats.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CalgarySandy

    Joshua, Paul, and Peter did not create Christianity, though the form that remains today is Pauline. Petrine is much more humane. Constantine and the Council of Nicea created Christianity. He and some self serving "bishops" threw some writings out and tried to get rid of them altogether. The paltry number of "books" in the NT are all they kept, for political reasons. The Gnostic Gospels are contemporary with some of Jesus followers and are very different. I know fundamentalists say that the rest of it is fake or false. Constantine cherry picked what would make for a passive people. About that time the idea of living like Jesus died. People do not follow him. They worship him. I do not see that he said any such thing. Take, eat, in memory of me. It does not say to bow down to the bread and wine and whine.

    Any one could be a bishop as the Roman church was not yet formed into a bureacracy. The Celtic Church at that time was much more thoughtful and just. They did not try to run people off who did not believe. Alas, the Roman Church destroyed them around 1100 AD and, basically, screwed Ireland over for the duration.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. agnostic

    now can scientists start to figure out why so many clergy molest young boys? i wonder how old that practice is..i think we know the answer,its hard to believe in any "savior" thats repents pedophiles every day

    September 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Drew Morgan

    Man always has a scientific explanation for biblical events that are too incredible for humans to except,,,,,,Great Jehova the Creator of the universe is the only true explanation. EITHER you are a believer or your not

    September 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. brad

    The atheists that show up here insist that all beliefs should be based on reason. Then they resort to emotion: sarcasm, inuendo, ridicule, etc. Mr. Atheist, if you want us to take you seriously, stick with your own code, i.e. "reason". If you'd be consistent, we could take you seriously, and maybe even atheism itself.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      brad

      "The atheists that show up here insist that all beliefs should be based on reason. Then they resort to emotion: sarcasm, inuendo, ridicule, etc. Mr. Atheist, if you want us to take you seriously, stick with your own code, i.e. "reason". If you'd be consistent, we could take you seriously, and maybe even atheism itself."

      What does sarcasm, inuendo, and ridicule have to do with reason? You seem to think that atheism is about pure reason and logic. All that atheism (note that is isn't capitalized) is about is lack of belief in a god. That's it. There can be civil atheists...jerk atheists...inteligent atheists...dullard atheists just like those qualities can be applied to the faithful. The problem in these debates is that theists have to resort to non-explainations like "god can do anything" and "the rules don't apply to god" or even more nonsensical statements like "god is outside of space and time" as if that has any meaning. Asanine statements like those deserve sarcasm, inuendo and riducule because they are the equivelant of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling "la la la la la la la la la"

      September 22, 2010 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  7. prognosis

    This story is ludicrous. Trying to explain a fairy tale like the parting of the Red Sea scientifically is as silly as NORAD tracking Santa on Xmas night. Here's the real explanation of the "miracle" – it did not happen.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MashaSobaka

    I'm so glad we're using our science moneys to test Biblical myths. The next time folks in Colorado whine about budget cuts to education I’m just going to laugh.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. stejo

    sounds like he's a real a**hole, then. More like tricking people into failing. Nice God you have there.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mm

    Just because you don't believe there is no God does not make it so. That is just your opinion and it does not or cannot change what is! God is Amazing isn't He!

    September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      But your god is just your opinion too.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Emeralds

    They call them "Abraham Chasers". They must pound a square puzzle piece into a circle and make up evidence where evidence is lacking. Next will they explain how staffs turn into snakes? Christians have doubts.. as they should as these storyies are indeed myths. Yet faith is what is demanded of them.. These are gasping attempts to hang onto their reason as the priests, ministers, & rabbis demand they throw reason to the wind and just have pure "Faith" Blind faith to believe the most ridiculous fairy tales from the bronze age. How sad.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. df

    pointless article to keep the masses brainwashed under this thing called religion.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ashley

    This headline cracked me up when I saw it – I only get to see such comedic headlines in movies, or The Onion News. Did you really need this kind of proof that it really happened? And if you didn't believe until now, does this make you believe?? Scientists have been doing the same thing for years – doing research and "discovering" things that are clearly said in the Jews' Torah or Talmud. For example, there was a study that came out proving that a man's peak physical strength is at the age of 30. Well, duh, I'm no scholar, but if anyone was learning or hearing what the Jewish books have to say, you'd see it says that from hundreds of years ago.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Chuck

    What I find funny about people trying to prove this could happen and using science to explain the events that could have occurred to make a body of water split to allow safe passage for a group of people is you are trying to prove the existence of God, what makes you think God the creator of all things needs science to make these things happen. God could have said let me lift the water up or make the water disappear all together, why try to find a way to prove something was done by a being who made the Universe?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Moli

    People are stating that the Koran states that the flood of Noah occurred. Why would ANYONE trust a book that was written several thousand years after the fact. To say the Koran proves it as true is less valid than someone stating its in the Bible/Torah.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
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