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. Jerry

    If there was such a wind, and that it did infact part the waters so there was dry land for thepeople to walk on I sure would like to know how in the world did a few inches of wind held water drown the entire Egyptian army and all of their horses as well. Tell the top scientest to go back to school as they are all fools.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AtlantaBoy

    lets assume the science and data behind this simulation are accurate and a mud-flat can be produced by a 63 mph wind from the east in that location. That is almost a catagory one hurricane. Are hurricane force winds common in this area? Wouldn't the Hebrews then have to walk eastward against this wind for a distance of 2-2.5 miles? Would elderly men and women as well as children be physically endure this trek as Old Testament says they did? The logistics here based on the physics we understand don't pan out. Lets just say God did it.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Time_events

    Old Testament written 400 years after first recordable events.
    New Testament written 40 years after first recordable events.
    Wind and Water science written billions of years after first recordable events.
    Certainly the first two are closer to the truth and not just repeating facts.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • DA

      Oh please – there's no residual proof that someone said something, but there IS residual proof of rocks, water, fossils, etc. etc. that scientists can examine. You may have convinced yourself that somehow the Bible is proof of your strange mythology (and apparently the New Testament is better than the Old) but you're not convincing anyone else.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JB

    God have mercy on those unbelievers, and those that are trying to confuse people with their non-sense scientific lies. God exist and everyone who blaspheme against God will see his powerful hand move one day. I used to be an ateos (unbeliever), but thank God he brought me to light because I was in darkness. ONLY those who have God knows that he is real. Blessings to everyone!!!!!!

    September 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jake

    why do they care how it happened.... lets say they find a way to prove the bible is all a bunch of nothing than what do people have to believe in? people would lose faith and people would think there lives all worthless and nothing to keep going from

    September 21, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jake

    o and athiests are not hate filled... there good people who have a right to what they want to believe and your not a good christian if you think they are bad people

    September 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dasega

    Where did the waters part for Moses? Nowhere is in someone's head that one that wrote the bible. Is a Metaphor.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FelipeBR

    It never did, he was just tripping out on some wild herbs.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. William

    And......Harry Potter is a real person.....and Quidditch is a real game.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nursehope

    Harvey: please quote your sources that provide irrefutable evidence that a "god" did anything. Don't give us Bible quotes because they are opinion and anecdotal legends.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Truth hurts

    the truth about religion is from the cavemen. The strongest always ruled. then one day when it was raining, a wimp told the bully not to be mean or his god would strike him down and a lightning bolt killed the bully. and from that moment on everyone believed in something that noone could prove or disprove, religion. every 'religion' from that moment on has been more elegant or demanding than the previous to rule more subjects, and have more power.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sigh

    ugh... you people are all idiots. Arguing over nothing. Sad...

    September 21, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Visions of Joanna

    I just want to say that if the story of Moses or the Book of Genesis or even Jews themselves never existed, scientists would have never come up with the idea or discovered, not invented, that 63mph winds could split a body of water. Yeah maybe it is physics, I'm glad it is, because it only proves that the split of the sea really did happen and that God is real.

    Oh of course and one more thing. If Egyptians obviously existed, because there's enough evidence that they did, then Jews must have existed, which means that their God must have also; the same God who opened the sea so that they could still exist to this very day. In plain and simple terms, if that sea didn't open, there would be no such thing as Jews today.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John

    I realize without faith these matters are hard to believe, but I believe that God spoke and this world was created, He needs not a topigraphical area to split the waters what a small matter for him to make a DRY way through the Red Sea.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. laugh

    this little science thing is wrong why would moses go through the mud if there are two land areas there in the simulation why wouldnt ge tjust take his people on the land instead of the mud another thing proves science wrong and shows gods power

    September 21, 2010 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
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