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. Keith1952

    My god and profit was somewhere else doing something else while the Moses guy and his god were doing the red sea thing so it really doesn't matter to me if it is true or not. Just like the Jews I can not prove that my myth is any truer than their myth.

    September 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Keith1952

      Prophet, LOL Sorry it must be a Freudian slip. The Christians worry about the profit a lot.

      September 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Misti

    Science had nothing to do with it! I mean really guys. Whats next trying to figure out how Christ was resurrected?? Good luck with that one! lol

    September 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. TINA

    SO HOW DID MOSES KNOW EXACTLY WHEN TO PART THE SEA?

    September 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Craig

    :evil:

    September 21, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bill

    :roll:

    September 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. no proof needed

    If God doesn't exist then how do things that are statistically impossible happen? What precipitated the Big Bang? Why is Earth the only planet with intelligent life forms we know of after searching the far regions of space? Why have we evolved to be the dominant species of this planet? Where did the Hydrogen and Helium come from in which the universe is originated? Why have we been able to create and fall in love and choose our own purpose? There are so many things that prove there is a god. You may not see him, but he's there allowing us to employ our free wills and find a balance between human nature and holiness. It's our choice. We must have faith and we must be tolerant of others we don't agree with because in the end it only matters what you do.

    He's alway watching like a panopticon guard of sorts – transcendant and all knowing. He created us and allowed us to make it this far. Whether or not a book of scriptures originally based on oral tradition is 100% correct is always contested, but whether or not God is awesome never is.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Patrick A

      Lol,what a Joke.
      I guess you also believe in the flood Garbage story as well.
      Ask your self How in hell did NOAH find every Species of Animals on Earth,Most he couldn,t even catch to begin with,others were originated in certain parts of the continents only,so I guess he must have traveled all over the world,capturing 2 of each species,male and female then go back to the middle east on that Boat.
      Wonder how all these animals would fit in that boat to begin with.lol,lol

      September 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • DA

      There's no such thing as statistically impossible, only improbable. Learn the difference. Also, you cannot have something happen which is impossible, since it has happened.

      So you're saying God loves Earth more than anywhere else in the universe because s/he created "life" here? What a blow to your worldview when we find life elsewhere – which will happen probably in our lifetime.

      If God created the Big Bang, according to you, then who created God? Same logic, right?

      And then, God created bedbugs. Nice job, God.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • MeIAm

      Um, yeah, it's been demonstrated to be statistically impossible to divide by zero, try again

      September 22, 2010 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Edward Nashville, TN

    Athiests and Christians are always looking for an article that they can post comments on about their belief on the existence of God vs Science. I find it quite funny. Let everyone believe what he or she wants and go about your own business.

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

      What if that is their business?

      September 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. makgroom

    Why don't scientists try to explain how Rumpelstiltskin wove gold thread from hay?

    September 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Evandro

    Shure... let me guess Jew funded research???

    September 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. huxley

    I agree. There's no way that a 63mph wind is going to displace a 6 foot deep river / lake. The pressure at a 6 foot depth is 1.3 atmospheres or roughly 10 pounds per square inch higher than normal atmospheric pressure. That much pressure spread across a wide river represents many tons of force. Wind even travelling at 63 mph is not capable of exterting enough force to oppose that much pressure.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Benjamin

    Well that was a giant waste of resources. Get back to working on reality now, eh?

    September 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Giggly Pete

    I can't believe that there are still people that believe in god. Time to grow up and live adult lives. I stopped believing in Fairy Tales when i was 5, and yet there are those that believe in jeebus their whole lives. Amazing.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. James

    On the matter of belief, all I can say is that in the absence of any sort of objective evidence I simply cannot claim to know that God exists. Maybe He (She, It) exists. Maybe not. While it is certainly a possibility, so is Bigfoot. For that reason I am not a believer. In the future that may change. All knowledge is (or should be) open to constant reevaluation. But it would take some compelling (and pretty objective) evidence. Otherwise, if I were to suddenly embrace belief, it would have to be based on something far more subjective; i.e., emotion, wishful thinking, etc. These things are not reliable gauges of the truth, so I remain open to the possibility, but at present unconvinced. I'm simply being honest with myself and others. I'm surprised at the outright hatred this view has elicited in others when I share it. I don't look down on believers. Many (if not most) of the people I love and respect are believers. That said; what do we really know about the presumed parting of the Red Sea? First, we know (to the best of our ability) that causing a large body of water to literally part on command is impossible. In over six thousand years no one (except, presumably, Moses) has been able to demonstrate or reproduce this ability. In the absence of evidence we must conclude that while it may be true, it is most likely just a myth. I find it interesting that people feel so compelled to explain and justify these things in "scientific" terms. The event most likely never happened in the first place, so what is there to explain?

    September 21, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Patrick A

    Only Idiots and the people making money off of it believe in this Garbage story

    September 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ishmael

    Myth-busters: just try to fart in the bathtub...take the measurement carefully, multiply that by the numbers of followers and Voilà... the rest I will leave it to you fantasy and great imaginations :)

    September 21, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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