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. frank

    @huxley
    I respectfully ask you to check your facts. The pressure at 6 feet is NOT 1.3 atmospheres, it's not even 1.1 atmospheres... ask a SCUBA diver... we live and play in the 1.3 – 1.4 range. 🙂

    Cheers, and God B-less

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

    Google "sweet and salt water sea" and see the miracle of Quran

    September 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Paul

    Just science once again catching up to, and validating, the Biblical account. We Bible-Believers have always believed and we don't need "proof." But it's nice when it happens (as it always has).

    September 21, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      "Paul

      Just science once again catching up to, and validating, the Biblical account. We Bible-Believers have always believed and we don't need "proof." But it's nice when it happens (as it always has)."

      First...this silly study validates nothing. Far too many other problems once you get past the water being moved. And, actually, it's the other way around. Century after century it's notions from religion that are disproven. Are you good with the sun stopping in the sky? Transubstantiation? A genetically viable species starting with a single male and female? The occasional, verifiable historical reference here and there doesn't qualify as "validating" biblical accounts.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. X

    If it was God who parted the sea, then he could do it anyway he wanted, with or without wind. No scientific explanation is needed. Tweaking computer simulations to come up with an explanation seems specious.

    Can't wait till they come up with a "scientific" explanation for manna from heaven, how Jesus waked on water, how he fed thousands with just a bit of bread and fish, etc. etc.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joshua

    Do you people really have such a hard time believing that an odd event happened, and a group of people decided to attach their own mythology to it? I mean, that's how religions all over the world have worked for as long as we have recorded history! Thor causes thunder. No wait, it was Zeus. No wait, God made the storms. Same thing here. If we assume that the ancient Israelites did in fact happen to be at this small delta channel of the Red Sea at the same time as this supposedly possible event occurred, of course they'd attribute it to their god! And if they didn't, then it's definitely logical to assume that as the story of the event was passed down from generation to generation, that someone somewhere would attribute it to their god. So by the time the old testament was actually written down (no, it wasn't written by Moses as the events happened, get over it), god had become part of the story. And seriously, like the ancients would understand the physics behind the wind blowing water and creating dry land? To an uneducated people, that would certainly seem like a miraculous event.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Run4DaHills

    So, when the waters parted, how did all the gooey bottom mud dry out and form a hard-pack surface so the Moses peeps didn't sink up to their necks? That wind must have been the temperature of a pottery kiln, eh?

    September 21, 2010 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jackson

    Morons. All of you. Morons.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ossama

    Miracles has nothing to do with physics laws. A miracle is an exception of the law. And if you read the description of this event in Quraan, it says every part of water on the sides was like a huge mountain.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tinsoldier

    Christians you are wasting time. Did not Jesus tell you that these arrogant and proud people would not believe even if he raised the dead? And you can bet they would be tripping over themselves to find a scientific explanation for a reanimated corpse if he did. God will not contend with man forever, the days of blasphemy and disrespected are numbered. You should be about your Father’s business, declaring the good news of the gospel, announcing the Kingdom is at hand.
    Atheist, why do you waste words arguing against your shadow? Why do you concern yourselves with what others choose to believe? Why would you care about the direction of religious fools when you are the master of your life? Are not your intellect and reasoning above the manipulations of religious dogma? Does a Godless life leave you with so little ambition that you can find nothing better to do than ridicule others for their faith?
    To all. Life is short. You would do well to live as best you can without needless strife. For this we can all agree, our days are numbered and tomorrow you will have one less.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. c.i.a.

    religion is a mental illness.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • ffb

      you could not have said it better. look how good the north koreans, chinese, cubans and chinese are doing without religion. in fact, why don't you move there, since all those governments have applied "truth" in to their politics. i'm sure it must be "heaven"

      September 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tinsoldier

    Christians are you are wasting time? Did not Jesus tell you that these arrogant and proud people would not believe even if he raised the dead? And you can bet they would be tripping over themselves to find a scientific explanation for a reanimated corpse if he did. God will not contend with man forever, the days of blasphemy and disrespected are numbered. You should be about your Father’s business, declaring the good news of the gospel, announcing the Kingdom is at hand.

    Atheist, why do you waste words arguing against your shadow? Why do you concern yourselves with what others choose to believe? Why would you care about the direction of religious fools when you are the master of your life? Are not your intellect and reasoning above the manipulations of religious dogma? Does a Godless life leave you with so little ambition that you can find nothing better to do than ridicule others for their faith?

    To all. Life is short. You would do well to live as best you can without needless strife. For this we can all agree, our days are numbered and tomorrow you will have one less.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisnup

      Christianity is blasphemy to the human spirit and your ignorance is a crime that was felled upon you. Your true god is Narcissus. You are are nothing but an arrogant and pitiful mind that has no right to reveal it's inner struggle with reason to anyone. Your every word is blasphemy as they merit no worth to any listener and belie only hatred and ignorance.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
    • MeIAm

      @ lisnup

      Hey, you ever heard of the term, "projection"? In not, go look it up, try to understand it, then check yourself. Then go invest in a large mirror. It's people like you who really don't know themselves at all that are the REAL cause of hatred and war!

      September 22, 2010 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. DA

    Geez CNN – WHO SAID HE DID? This is what rationale people call a fairy tale, not something to be proven by science.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tafugate

    seriously, guys. quit raining on religious peoples' psychological opiate. me? i play racquetball a couple of times a week, and softball. we all need our distractions. if peeps wanna believe in supernatural beings looking over them, how does that hurt anything? ok, sometimes they go a little overly wacko. but i'm talking about the joe averages posting here.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • DA

      That's because they've used it for thousands of years to oppress others. They've also used it to attempt to counter scientific facts, unsuccessfully, but now legislate to require that their unproven and scientifically refuted beliefs make it into textbooks for children. If it stayed in their heads, then that would be fine – that's their choice. But now they force their beliefs on others. I swear – it feels like we're back in the days of Galileo.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mac

    Well I guess that CNN is for entertainment in addition to news. This was published in a news letter in the Research Triangle area of NC in the mid 1970s. It is a natural phenomenon and it happens briefly every few hundred years. The miracle is that it happed that time just when Moses needed it. The odds of that happening just as he needed it were a bit low.
    I might remind the hostile atheists who are writing the abuse I see here that atheism is just another religion. As to the reason they are hostile, churches are great places for nasty people to go to prey on the relative good folks. The nastiest people often become ministers, but that is the members negligence, not Gods. Incidentally such ministers must either be greater fools then the members, or they must be atheists.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      Mac

      ...The miracle is that it happed that time just when Moses needed it. The odds of that happening just as he needed it were a bit low.
      I might remind the hostile atheists who are writing the abuse I see here that atheism is just another religion."

      The miracle is that people accept that anything like the exodus ever happened without leaving tons of non-Egyptian evidence. Even if the phenomenon is real, there was no exodus...no thousands of people romaming the desert for 40 years. Didn't happen, like the majority of what is written in the bible. Except all of the killing, misogeny, genocide, slavery...that was real.

      And please explain how a lack of belief in god equals a religion?

      September 22, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sean Colvin

    Let me clear the air for all the hate filled athiests who for some reason mock the faith and good will of others. First, the God of the Bible is the one true GOD of creation. Second, even if it is not true it is full of good morals and values. A central concept of the Bible is to love your neighbor as yourself. What is wrong with that? Third, science simply helps us understand the complexities of God's design. Fourth, it would be impossible for a creation to fully understand their creator without being equal to the creator in understanding. Fifth, what you choose to believe is the most important thing in life because it determines the rest of your behavior. It is central to your character and who you are. Sixth, the entire human race, let alone one person, knows enough about science or the universe to determine whether or not GOD exists. When you brake it down it all goes back to what you WANT to believe. Do you choose to put your faith in a hopeless universe that ends in death for everything and every one? Or do you choose to believe in a universe that has meaning, hope, and justice? If God does not exist then we live in a horrible existence where justice will never come, death is the final outcome for everything, and there is no true meaning in life or anything special about individual people. We would be as random as a virus mutation. Faith in God tells an opposite story where the universe is full of meaning, truth, hope, and a loving grand purpose. What do you CHOOSE to believe in? Big bang theories do not work alone. God could have created the universe using the big bang. Since God is omnipresent he could very well be the universe and Christ was the very spirit of God manifested. Also, who made the gases and space stuff that caused the big bang? Your science does not answer many questions. However, combine faith and science and you get some incredible understanding. Especially of Biblical events that were once looked at as fairy tales or impossible. As we can clearly see in the article, it is not one or the other. Both Science and Faith together can give us a more holistic understanding of the origins we are discussing. P.S. You guys are arguing and attacking each other like middle school kids. Look at the facts and have a respectful debate. Much love, PEACE BE WITH YOU!!!!!!!!

    September 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • DA

      Most of the world disagrees with you. The one true God? PULEEZE. Will you listen to yourself? Talk about cultural chauvanism. Also, the Bible is a violent book – and has been used to rationalize a whole series of cruel and deplorable behaviors. I would never let a child read it, and in the hands of an impressionable adult, it can be a very dangerous tool.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • BR

      Sean...you, as an individual may be a peaceful and moral person, but the history of religion is ripe with violence and hatred. If you have turned out a decent person, it is in spite of religion...not because of it.
      First-there have been thousands of religions throughout history who would oppose your assertion that the god of the bible is the one true god. To most of them, their god was the one true god. Your statement is no more valid than theirs and you, yourself, are an atheist with respect to those gods.
      Second-The morals and values found in the bible are spotty at best. Is Abraham and Isaac a moral story? That is, arguably, the foundational story of the big three religions. The Moses in the article ordered thousands of people to be slaughtered, merely because they already inhabited the land Moses claimed was "promised" to the Israelites. You as a person choose what to believe and what to treat as allegory or parable in the bible. And "love your neighbor..." was originally meant as "love your fellow Israelites" Heathens (non-Israelites) were not part of the bargain. Humans have chosen over the centuries to give it the meaning with which you're familiar. God didn't issue a correction to the bible. We figured it out on our own.
      Third-Order and design are not the same thing. You can see a face in the fibers of your carpet, but that does not mean it was designed.

      Fourth-It would be impossible to have a creator, who/which is more complex than the universe it is believed to have created, without asking the question, "Who created the creator?"

      Fifth-Then it is perfectly acceptable to choose to believe that you are a decent person for no other reason than that is what you strive to be...god is not necessary. You are capable of realizing that striving to be a good person is self rewarding. It makes your existence better without any supernatural afterlife as a reward.

      Sixth-One can "want to believe" literally anything. That does nothing to show that there is any truth in the belief. If God does not exist then it changes nothing. You live the life you choose to live. The meanings in life, such as children, spouses, helping others, are only what we make them to be.

      September 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moenique

      u r rite, sean. all them jesus h8ers can fuk off. ppl of other religion make me mad to see them. they eat there babys n fuk there bros. god hates them and so do ii.

      god bless ❤

      September 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
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