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. Believer

    All these years believing in God and all I had to do was come tho this message board to find the truth. For people who don't believe, no proof is possible. For people who believe, there is no proof necessary.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike D

    Kenny, Thats the beautiful thing about the God of the bible. If we repent and turn from our sin, He will forgive usNo matter what we have done. Unbelief is the only unpardonable sin.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Loverofmysoul

    I am saddened to see so much disbelief...

    September 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. April

    I don't know how a human being could even stand much less walk on muddy ground in winds over 60 mph. It doesn't make sense. The whole thing was a miracle, and miracles can't be proven. That's why it's called faith. You can't make it a science experiment, either you believe it or not Ripley.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nick

    So an Egyptian army, riding tall horses and tall chariots all drowned at the same time in 6 feet of water? Yeah...not thinking so. Good try though.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThatTexasGuy

      A few things to keep in mind:
      1. Chariots don't float. Horses attached to chariots can't swim.
      2. Bronze-age soldiers probably couldn't swim either. If they had any gear to weigh them down, that would hurt too. When the allies stormed the beaches at Normandy, many men drowned in a few feet of water, dragged down by their gear and crushed by the men coming behind them.
      3. The lake bed would have been extremely muddy, soft and sticky.
      4. The panic would have been near-total.
      5. Most of the warriors were NOT on horses, only the nobles. Most were foot soldiers who couldn't swim.
      6. Many might still have survived. Having them all be killed makes a better, simpler story.

      November 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      @thattexasguy

      I'll concede that chariots make poor boats, and that horses attached to such a thing would struggle. That's the only point on which I really agree. Ancient soldiers didn't have the same kind of kit that armies make them carry today. Having 60 lbs of food and ammo impossibly strapped to your back while your boat is being shelled and your landing attempt raked with machine guns is a totally different thing than carrying a waterskin and rations for your march in a bag on a pole that could double as a digging tool when the tide shifts.

      The lakebed would have been muddy, but I see no reason for total panic. Their infantry was made up of a mix of mostly conscripts and a few career soldiers. None of them were made of salt, and the conscripts came from many trades, including jobs (like fishing) that took them near or into the water. The career soldiers had their own games (like trying to knock each other out of ceremonial rafts on the Nile) which also brought them into water. And naval battles at the time were simply waged by land troops in boats. There was no special service for the Navy.

      All of these counter-points leave me with only one main point on which I can agree. Having a pursuing army killed by a shifting tide, rather than simply waking up in the morning and looking at the risen waters, makes a better story and that's why it's in the storybook in the first place.

      November 4, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. Believer

    All these years believing in God. What a waste of time. I should have just come to this message board. You people have all the answers. For those who don't believe, there is no proof possible,. for those who believe, no proof is necessary.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Must be nice to have this 'blind-faith' . We (humans) have a natural disbelief for things that seem overly ridiculous .
      You want me to believe there is a god..... that created the devil and does not help those in need (BEFORE THEY DIE) . A god that basically watches all the evil in the world and does nothing ??? your 'god' could have given Hitler a heart attack , Sadaam an aneurism and Bin Laden a raging case of AIDS and no one would have thought it was an 'act of god' so he could have stayed anonymous . But no , millions dies to to lack of 'biblical intervention' . I could go on but your 'blind faith' will just negate anything I say .

      November 2, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Keyia

      When it's all said and done, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess!

      November 3, 2010 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      @Fred – Do you believe in evolution? Then you must acknowledge the power of selective breeding. What would happen to humanity's population if you allowed the selective pressure to be profession of a belief in god? If you allowed a few thousand years where everyone with a differing opinion was tortured and murdered, and thus removed from the gene pool?

      You say we have an innate need to disbelieve outrageous claims. I say the exact opposite is true. A human needs to conform to the beliefs of his peers, regardless of how ridiculous they are. Experiments like the Asch conformity test, have scientifically proven this.

      November 4, 2010 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. guest

    Ask Santa Claus, he was there too!

    September 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. diana

    in the days of ancient greece many natural things happened ie volcanoes erupting floods earthquakes plauges

    September 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      We still have "plauges" but they usually get you an F in spelling.l

      September 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ted

    Again, a mythological retelling of an actual occurrence , the flooding of the basin which created the Mediterranean Sea.

    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. All of these myths in my opinion are versions of the same event, of cutting through the mountain and flooding the basin. Most likely performed by the Europeans as a way to create a natural barrier for their land.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Believer

    All these years believing in God. What a waste of time. I should have come to this message board. You people have all the answers. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible, for those who believe, no proof is necessary.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      And for $20 I'll help you with your homework

      September 21, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill T

      I thought with god, all things were possible. I guess you found his limits...

      September 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. EndThyme

    The parting of the seas is really the least of the problems in the account of Exodus.

    The number of Joesph's descendants who left Egypt with the citizen's gold is described in the Book of Exodus as described as over 600,000 fighting men, which would have meant a total population of approx 2.5 million. That would represent significantly more than the population of all of Egypt. The amount of time required to make the passage would be measured in days, as if the population of greater Pittsburgh decided to cross into West Virginia. If you were to string out that amount of people, the front of the line would pass Canaan and be in Turkey before the stragglers left Egypt. If it took forty years to accomplish this, then we can assume the chosen people were not chosen for their sense of direction.

    Also, there is no mention of the 10 plagues outside of the "Bible". The parting of the seas is really the least of the problems in the account of Exodus.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      why would anyone want to go to West Virginia?

      September 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moses

      Beer run.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chris

    So Moses and his crew just strolled through a mud flat with 63mph sustained winds holding the river aside for them?

    September 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chukster

    The majority of you need to take a reading test. At no point do they authours of the study say the set out to prove the Exodus story. Please read
    "What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws." It wasn't done to support Biblical teaching, "Drews conducted the Exodus research as part of a larger project on how winds can affect water depths."

    September 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JoeD

    The Jesus stories are fun, too. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, it's the Brothers Grim who wrote the best stories.

    Parting seas, bring em back from the dead, and that poison apple

    I'n off to see Das Rheingold. – that strange story of a God's family, and all that greed for the gold.

    September 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SelfMade

    What are the origins of science? Of mankind, for that matter? Smh @ those of you poor souls who think the Word of God is a fairy tale! It is written, "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess" that Jesus Christ is Lord! BELIEVE IT, OR NOT! Your lack of faith does NOT mitigate God's Word!

    September 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      If you're "smh," which I believe means "shaking my head," then I don't understand your Christian principals. Are you shaking your head in condemnation, or in mockery? Either way doesn't seem very Christian to me.

      November 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • shinden58

      I will never bow down to a fairy tale.

      November 5, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
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