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. Craig

    The stupidity and desperation of this is laughable.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. OhhhK

    The bible has been debated for years and it has never been debunked. Try reading the book "The case for christ" Someone asking the hard questions about Christ and if he was real. He talked to leaders on both sides, it is a good read.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomeTruth

      OhhhK

      "The bible has been debated for years and it has never been debunked. Try reading the book "The case for christ" Someone asking the hard questions about Christ and if he was real. He talked to leaders on both sides, it is a good read."

      You can also read: Debunking Strobel's Case for Christ... interesting too.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Faithful

    I'm so sad that in this country where we tout a mantra of tolerance, we still pick each other apart and call down hell on anyone who believes differently from us.

    Christians make/have made heronius mistakes.
    Muslims make/have made heronius mistakes.
    Atheists make/have made heronius mistakes.

    No one should deny these acts, but we should all move on and change unacceptable behaviors.

    I'm tired of the childish name calling! Why must you attempt to destroy my faith simply because you do not share it? Grow up and accept the article as an article and stop turning into a word war! It is an interesting read, regardless of your faith or lack thereof.

    Atheists, if you don't believe then it simply shouldn't matter to you what I believe. Leave us alone in our freedom to call on a Savior. Your aggitation appears as guilt, your anger as hate. You are not converting anyone when you treat people with such arrogance!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      Made heronius spelling, too.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. hayden

    wait one second ..... after reading this article then reading comments i must say ignorance is a disease thats contagious. ima b honest ive served in iraq and afghanistan, im a devout christian but i live with an open mind for those of you that bash the koran dont (its a confirmation of the bible) ive read it many times. For those who force their beliefs on each other dont (in the bible it says that in time those will come to the lord. for the idiot who said we believe in god not allah (it means god/yaweh is the same person. and for the person who said the koran is basically evil stop bein stupid just like there are muslim extremist there are christian extremist as for the article, lol i wasnt there none of us were i just know im here......... love everyone regardless of differences if jesus/joshua/yeshua ben yosef/jesus christos was hating different folks, would he have saved the 2 criminals he was crucified with?

    September 21, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Zach

    so how'd all the egyptians die?

    September 21, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robear in Ojai

      Excellent point. Ancient Egyptians wrote EVERYTHING down, either on papyrus or carved in stone. There are NO mention in the Egyptian record of an entire army being swallowed by a 6 foot deep "sea"...

      September 22, 2010 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Mel

      WRONG, robear in ojai! It was common practice (then as it is now)
      for countries to ignore that which was unfavorable to them (do you
      really believe they were going to register a defeat?) and even to
      delete anything pertaining to a pharaoh fallen in disgrace (in fact,
      it was discovered that this was done many times by pharaohs who
      strongly disliked or hated the previous one). Now, I must admit that the story
      of the Exodus is not in Egyptian records does NOT prove that it did
      happen, but its absence doesn't prove it didn't happen. Your argument is very
      flawed.

      September 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anna

    I find it amusing that people who don't believe in God are "open-minded" and are "free-thinkers" while those who do believe are "brainwashed". How so? Because YOU say you're open-minded? You're not open minded. You believe everything scientists tell you. How do you know they're not lying to you? You don't know. So you blindly except that they're telling the truth because they can "show you". How do you know you're seeing what you think you're seeing?

    I claim open-mindedness because I accept science and religion. I don't think science has all the answers (which they don't) and I don't think religion has all the answers. I follow what makes more sense to me. Also, one religion isn't the only "correct" religion either.

    As for scientists and non-believers: You look but can not see. You listen but can not hear.

    God is right in front of us and yet we can't see what's underneath our noses. Also the bible isn't suppose to be literal. When reading the bible, read it with a "past-tense" mind rather than the "here and now" mind.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Anything you say, Anna. I would love to genuinely debate this with you sometime, but again, there is no debate. No facts can convert the faithful. That's why it is faith. But faith never built a building or saved a life. That is where the sciences come in. Scientists certainly don't claim to have all the answers, nor have they ever. It's the pseudo-certainly that is used to inject faith into areas of science that I frankly find insulting. Praying can not cure cancer. Faith, needs to stay in the realm of faith. Feel free to think what you like about atheists, but eventually, even the most reverent are forced to accept what they have feared all along: There is no God, and it is up to us to make or break our own lives. It's all about personal responsibility, which is something that atheists are more than willing to take...yet the faithful seem to want to put off until the next life. Sad.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Micky

    I find it very hard to believe that people could walk through a wind strong enough to part a large body of water. Regardless of what book it is in. Fantasy!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • MizzB

      Hard to believe? And we live on a planet that is rotating at 1040 mph and yet we don't fall off or get thrown into outer space?

      September 22, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  8. MP

    In other news, the house in which Hansel and Gretel were imprisoned was not actually made of gingerbread, but was most likely closer in recipe to our modern sugar cookies!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ningirsu

    Having just been clued into this entertainingly very long dialogue, I thought I would add some information that may be fun to deal with. I noticed that one person, I think, is aware that the name of the sea that is crossed in not the Red Sea, but rather the Sea of Reeds, or Yam Suf. In fact, the name 'Red Sea' is not to be found mentioned anywhere in the OT, except perhaps a reference in Isaiah to the 'Tongue of the Sea of Egypt.'
    The sea that is crossed is Yam Suf. Whenever the OT authors describe where that sea is located, it is consistently identified as near the ancient country of Edom and the ancient (and modern) city of Eilat. Yam Suf, the sea of the crossing, is the Gulf of Eilat. That is what the biblical text says. Go figure.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Chuck

    It's amazing what some people will do to give validity to myths. I only hope that these same so-called scientists do an in-depth study of the mechanism with which Medusa turned men to stone. I can't wait for that.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Buck

    Sounds like Paris Hilton opened her legs!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MysticalBS

    How did Moses part the seas? The same way Santa Claus can shoot down the chimney to bring you gifts or the tooth fairy who eaves money under your pillow

    September 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DA

    Uh – how about they parted nowhere? The story is what we call a fairy tale.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. lostthoughts

    Really scientists....really? I mean c'mon, like really...really....you seriously took the time to do this? Seems reasonable in the year 2010.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ryan

    This article is stupid. There was no Moses, no parting of water and no Egyptian army drowned. It was a story, a parable even. We might as wqell be looking for Indiana Jone's Hat in the Tunisian Desert

    September 21, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
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