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. SirReal

    Then we should be able to go to the area where Moses walked and where the Egyptian soldiers drowned and find lots of artifacts underwater. There should be lots of metal objects there in the mud that could be scanned from above in boats. This should be easy to prove.

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

    People have you traveled in a car when there is 45 mph wind. Lets assume there was a wind that held back water against gravity, then how can the humans defy the winds and cross the water. The wind would have thrown them like flies.. Ever heard of tornadoes?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ted

    I think it could be another version of the mythology of the 12 Labours of Hercules where he split the mountains and flooded the the Basin creating the Lost City of Atlantis and the Mediterranean Ocean.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      also retold as Noah and the flood

      September 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mejazzbo

    Sure it can be done. I saw it done on a Universal Studios tour a few years ago.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. k8

    Ms. Cleo knows that shiz!

    September 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. steve marriott

    The only thing that 63mp winds would do is to produce a little wind swell. "surfs up moses!"

    September 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. b Rad

    Unfortunately for these guys, their research is based on the predicate that the isrealites were slaves of the egyptians, but according to the historical record which is interpreted from heiroglyphs, the isrealites where never the slaves of the egyptians, in fact there is no mention at all of anything from the old testament, and the egyptians where meticulous record keepers.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MikinAZ

    Why are we debating the "true" location of a fictional event? No one parts seas...except in the movies.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mikef

    i have a question and a statement..why is it called christianity when jesus himself apparently said dont worship me worship my father? and how can so many people believe in a religion that is stained with the blood of the non believer that goes to majority of religions not just one..religion has been a major cause for alot of war and bloodshed throughout time and taken into the wrong context and sometimes to the extreme...us humans have shed too much blood for a belief which was taken too far and completley misunderstood...if you want my opinion i believe the god or gods if there are any envy us because we live life knowing every second that ticks by could be our last...this is just an opinion and a question im not judgeing anyone for their beliefs.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zarbon

    This article is saying a land mass 2 miles long 3 miles wide would be exposed for four hours if a 63 mph wind blew for 12 hours in the medditaranean. Has this occured recently why should I assumed it happened if there haven't been any winds reported blowing that fast and for nearly that long, Second some inconsistencies with the bottom of the story about Moses Parting the red sea or the reed sea. If the egyptians had cornered them against the sea would a wind that need to blow 63 mph for half a day really be that helpful against an enemy chasing you with chariots. This is simply a stretch of the imagination, like an action movie you'll find one thing in it in where a scene is plausible. I enjoy scientific speculation as much as the next guy but assuming it happened is just to much for my skeptical mind.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    Here is archaeological proof: http://www.messianic-literary.com/chariots.htm

    September 21, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ted

    Labor 5 of Hercules To clean the Augean stables...

    The stables of King Augeus had not been cleaned for years and were piled high with dung. Heracles was told to clean them thoroughly in one day. not even Heracles could have done that by himself. He succeeded, though, by diverting the course of a nearby river so that it swept through the stables and washed all the muck away.

    It's my opinion this is a mythological account of flooding the basin and creating the Mediterranean Sea by making a canal where the Strait of Gibraltar is located. The story of the event occurs in several forms, the Labor of Hercules, Noah and the Flood, and Moses and parting the Sea, and the Lost City of Atlantis.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robear in Ojai

      Ted, your explanation is just as fanciful as all of those myths. The geological evidence is that the Mediterranean Sea filled with water WAY before the arrival of humans around the basin. A number of more recent volcanic eruptions in the Greek isles certainly caused massive Tsunamis, flooding and destruction in historic times. These cataclysmic events are more likely candidates as basis for the Atlantis, Noah and Exodus myths.

      Have you seen the Straits of Gibraltar? I mean, have you been there yourself? NO human endeavor could have ever created such an opening.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. S Olson

    So many strong feelings being expressed about this article! Whether you believe the exodus story or not, the Bible shows one thing: how one people carved out of all others lived in relationship with God. Whereas every other culture made up their own local gods and felt they had to appease them, the Israelites alone believed in one God who loved them and wanted to live in community with them. The relationship came to fruition when God entered the world as one of us–as a male baby born into this people who followed God–and experienced what it was like to be born, live, endure pain and suffering, and ultimately die. Jesus (Jeshua, as one of you pointed out) of Nazareth died on the cross but did not stop there. He overcame death and sin by leaving the grave behind and rising from the dead. We are now able to have a close, ongoing relationship with God because he drew near to us in the form of Christ. The one thing I would wish for you non-believers is that you would come to have a relationship with the Lord. The Christian message might not make sense to all of you, but it is the most loving thing that has ever been done for humans. What's so bad about that?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jesus Christ

    Hello Brothers and Sisters,

    Sorry, but I got to go with the Athiest on this one. Dad was telling me all the stories written in the Old Testement are fake, he said he encouraged the writers of the Old Testement to write these stories because it helped bronze age men understand what was going on in the world and to get them to believe in him, because ancient man was making up all sorts of crap to try and understand the world around him.
    By the way, most of the stuff in the New Testement is fake as well, I mean, sorry to blow the whistel on this, but Mom wasn't a virgin. Her and my Stepdad were fooling around and she got pregnant, but my Dad in the sky didn't think people would follow me if they knew the truth so we did the whole virgin birth thing. Also, I did marry, real hot chick from Bethesda, we had tons of kids, 12 or 13, I could never keep track.
    I didn't die on the cross, nor did I rise from the dead, actually I got killed by accident in the shop, those ealry bronze power tools were dangerous. Anyway, just be cool to each other. Peace

    September 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Loverofmysoul

      HMMMMM

      September 21, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  15. robby

    Any reglious other than christan is all false! It just twisted mixed up. False reglious! I feel sorry for all of you who worship idol.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Smith

      Robby...you should probably learn to spell the name you chosen religion.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
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