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. chris m

    God could have done done it as stated above or a billion other ways.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dr Know

    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 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marc

    Got's to wonder how this is news since I heard the exact same thing about 25 years ago. The fluid dynamics of water affected by wind has been well known for a LONG time. So what's the "news" of this story compared to back then?

    September 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mel

    Science does not attempt to disprove god. It disproves the bibles god.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Naqib

    I was once devoutly atheist... Then I became a micro-biologist... Now I pray everyday... The workings of a cell are no accident

    September 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 11:11

    I have seen in my life time is the accuracy of the prophecies of the New Testament. So many postings from those that so easily deny the divine and claim their superiority to us small minded people of faith. The world is upside down and falling more with each passing year. I pity you for your blindness and hatred of those who CAN see the truth of the divine creator.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cody

    What a tremendous waste of resources... when people are going to rely on "faith" and believe what they believe no matter what science or 'pseudoscience' says. Meanwhile there's still people suffering and being forced to live in bondage on this planet. Seriously. I hope someday humanity will focus, be present, and get its priorities straight.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ffb

      good idea cody! let's just forget about faith and religion.... heck, it's worked out so great for russia, cuba, china, and north korea

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

    scince does not disprove god. it disproves the bibles god

    September 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mickmeister

    So let me get this straight: A questionable study concludes that the water crossing could not have occured where the bible says it did, but theoretically could have occured someplace else. If, as has already been pointed out, you're willing to believe that an incredibly large group of men, woman, and children crossed a muddy seabed in a 60 mph wind. Is anyone really lacking the critical thinkinbg skills to see that this doesn't lift a finger to support the biblical story? No wonder we in the USA have lost our scientific leadership: We've become a nation of dimwits!

    September 21, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Some1

    So silly is to seek for the literal meaning of symbolic teachings...

    September 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ryan

    next researchers will be testing whether a tiny flying grandmother actually collects childrens teeth at night. Science is so important!

    September 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tia

    Proven? I dont think a damn thing was proven. Anything to oppose the Miracles of God, next, create Man, lol

    September 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wil

    Well, let us see what is said in the scripture about the crossing. I believe it said that Moses and the children of Israel went across on dry land. Mud two inches or two feet or marsh lands do not meet those words.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rosemary

    It almost certainly didn't happen as described anyway, so who cares if it is theoretically possible?

    September 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Moses Suposes

    I think Moses and his buddies took the subway that wen through the tunnel under the Nile... This is interesting research if you think from a pure entertainament perspective, but its somewhat scaring to see that there are people that actually believe that some super-natural force did part the waters, can't see the difference betwen believing on this or believing that Santa Claus bring us presents every Christmas...

    September 21, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
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