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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soundoff (1,525 Responses)
  1. Christians Don't Spell so Good

    I will believe in the godster the day my feet stop stinking. They ALWAYS smell bad. So frustrating.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. God

    I do not exist.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dan

    Where did Frodo destroy the ring? Think you know. I doubt it, because it didn't really happen.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. freeddoom

    there were no slave jews in egypt to flee and cross any river or sea.zero evidence that is.and if there were no such a thing then,all the analysis is just pure nonsense.b t w,those religious nut caswere fleeing but one egyptian who has a cousin who had talked to a jew.es try to change thing as they go.red sea becomes nile.nile becomes a branch of nile.as who knows maybe they just jumped over a small creek that may or maynot have had any water at the time.maybe not thousands of jews

    September 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • MeIAm

      They weren't Jews, they were Hebrews, and any Egyptian record that could have existed more than likely considered the Hebrews as part of a larger group of people who were considered part of that larger group. Maybe they didn't think their enslavement of the Hebrews not significant enough to write down, maybe any written evidence as yet to be discovered or has been destroyed/lost. Remember the Jews were only one of the 12 tribes of the Hebrews.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. jason

    This negates the point. The parting of the sea was a miracle. Miracles are that which cannot be explained by scientific empiricle data. Believing in God and miracles is an act faith. Faith in things unseen. Faith that humans should not be so arrogant to assume that.they are the end all.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick A

      Ever wonder how come Miracles no longer happen.
      Can i see a plane Lands on water and floating,lol.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tewrobert

    It was parted between Long John Silvers and The Shrimp basket 🙂

    September 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. curious

    An interesting follow-up to the theory would be to dig at the proposed site and see if there are remains of an army.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nate

    Science is crap. The people that wrote the bible were there and knew what happened. Thats why they wrote it so we could know what happened. So science cant tell us what happened because they weren't there to witness it. And i don't think that everyone that wrote the bible wasted their time "making up stories" that "aren't true". All the stories that are written in the bible are true and we should stick to them.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick A

      THOSE same idiots religious type,used to kill people who used to go against their beliefs.
      like burning scientists who said that the Earth was not the center of the Universe.
      I guess The bible is even more Crap,garbage fairy tales.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ishmael

    No matter what you guys say I 'd say it was a FART, not a simple one though, one of cosmic proportion and magnitude, who it was though is in dispute.... every one looked dumb to the next one and everyone acted like a saint (saying: it wasn't me)...now go figure it out 😀

    September 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Rizwan Mohammed

    And how does the wind blow?....Everything is by the will of Allah, and we submit to His will.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    So even if the sea parted, how did the Israelis slog through all that mud?

    September 21, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. patra

    Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

    Buddha

    September 21, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. frank

    @reck0ner That is what is called an appeal to authority... in the real world, it tells people that you have nothing other than the belief that someone who is "far more authorative than you or I" believes this, therefore it must be true. In all probability, Sir Isaac Newton would have probably been excommunicated, exhiled or executed had he not added that little disclaimer at the time that he wrote it. As for Einstein? Big deal... he also failed to regognize the work of Hubble until many years later, acknowledging that "he (Einstein) was wrong, and Hubble was right". Your appeals to authority are meaningless and can only convince the naive. God B-less.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Skip Hutton

    The Jews were never in Egypt to begin with. The Egyptians who were meticulous, not to say anal, record keepers, never mentioned these supposed slaves.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. paulymath

    Who would this study be relevant to? If you believe in an omnipotent god, does it matter if wind could get the same results? If you don't believe a man or a god could part the water, does it matter if the wind could? Maybe this article is for people who believe the Red Sea was parted but not by Moses or God? Or people who believe Moses could control the wind but not the water? Seriously, what a waste of everyone's time.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
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