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. Luke

    In the Bible it says........Wait, no one with a firm grip on reality cares.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lundy

    How is this the top world news story on CNN?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Because CNN gambled (with their advertizers $$$) that there would be over 1300 comments about a story like this – and they're still counting.....

      September 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nice Guy

    Do ppl actually get paid and/or make a career/living from studying crap like this? Why don't we try to scientifically recreate a few of Aesop's Fables and then pay the people who create the experiments crazy amounts of money? What does this do exactly? Give some sort of validity to the story of Moses parting the sea? What does that story do to even empower the bible? Who cares about which method was used to flee? This section of the bible is over analyzed way too often for what shallow meaning it holds to any believers of that legend.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. choe_mu_seon

    Saddens me to think all this time could've been spent investigating something worthwhile...

    September 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Eugene Fuentes

    It's great, just one thing, Moses opened the Red Sea, not The Nile

    September 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Read your own book.
      The proper translation is Sea of Reeds, not Red Sea.
      And there is no proof Moses ever existed or that Jews lived in Egypt.
      If they did, there would be artifacts, you know ... EVIDENCE.

      The whole bible is a book of hear say and fables. Gross exaggerations by people who lacked the scientific knowledge to understand the world around them.
      3,000 years ago a person parachuting from the sky would be seen as a god or that god's invisible hand placed him on the earth safely.
      Pure exaggerated BS.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Help Here

    Hey guys, will you visit SaveStan.ORG a friend of mine with 4 young babies is fighting for his life....... Thanks

    September 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peter

    Something a lot of people don't understand about the Bible is that the people that wrote didn't have vocabulary to understand what they saw. They were in contacted with high technological people that knew technologies that even today we don't have. The problem is that the translators called the spaceships clouds, trones and other names but if you read abou the movement they made was like a spaceship. We need to understand that even today we are still far from the technology that the Bible describes and the writters couldn't understan or express.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RichG

    I'm sceptical about alot of storys in the bible. If all of those crazy stories really happened like Moses parting the sea, the talking snake, taking a rib from Adam to make Eve, then why don't those things happen today?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JC

    lmao! So what's next? Are they going to figure out where Isis found the body parts of Osiris or maybe where Zeus seduced Europa while in the form of a bull?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Geoff

    This just in...the tooth fairy is actually a pixie. That is all.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JC

    So when are they going to figure out where Medusa was slain?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sam

    It is possible because this is through God who has created all things in the world so he can definitely easily help Moses by parting the Red Sea so this article i can conclude is false

    September 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JoeNJ

    Just start digging till you find a chariot, then all these discussions are over.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sa

    So sad that there are actually people on here that dont believe in God! Repent or perish!

    September 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      We are beyond your childish threats of a boogey man. Grow up.

      September 22, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Alan

    But this never took place in the first place. It's like trying to figure out the science behind Santa claus and how he deliver gifts to every home on the planet. Let's not waste outtimewith this stuff because NO religion is right....

    September 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
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