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. Tizzy

    Wow, read all these posts. Everyone thinks THEY have the answers and are adamant about their views. God truly IS powerful enough to invoke a response from everyone; good or bad! Now that's what I call stage presence. I'll be waiting for his return.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  2. Wisdom

    The only thing that I know is that I know nothing...

    September 22, 2010 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. aaaaaaaa

    dsadsdasd

    September 22, 2010 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. vinny

    everybody believes in something people just really need to search their hearts to find the truth ,and not on what there told to believe, but what they feel inside themselves and you will find it whan you seek with an open heart and mind .its that easy

    September 22, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. Observer

    The Bible is a great source of morals, but it was written by fallible men and is full of errors, contradictions, hypocrisy and nonsense.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. albie

    Nothing parted - the bible is nonsense.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. rakling

    I read this story because I found it interesting and then proceeded to read the blogs that followed. I have to say that it is quite sad that we as human beings have to put others down for believing in the way that they do. I have studied religions all over the world and although I myself have not chosen to follow any particular one, it is still ones right to do so if one chooses. I do know from personal experience that there is some higher power around us. I'm not one to say if moses parted the sea or not, however I do know that science and religion togther make the pieces from the past come together. To me although I'm not religious per say, I would think that a higher power would use science to create this beautiful planet and beyond.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. RoderDodger

    I think these scientists should concentrate on more relevant questions, like how did Snooki become a national celebrity?

    September 22, 2010 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. grace

    It doesn't matter what they come up with in science. You either believe or you don't, it's that simple. And why does science think they have to try and figure it out....non-believers won't change their mind.....yet!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Castiell

      @And why does science think they have to try and figure it out....

      The fact you ask this shows how little you know of science. Typical religious nut

      September 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. kris

    let them believe ! and let them not believe ! there is a devine being, presence, substance, form of creation or creator! its ok if you dont believe he will wait for you!!!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. alvin

    OK, if the Jews were being chased by chariots Why would they have headed miles to the south to reach the Red Sea? Makes no sense. Head for the marshes cross the sea of reeds where the chariots can't go.

    When a person died, they said they "passed through the reeds."

    September 22, 2010 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. latenite

    "...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." Hello? Is this bias not blatantly obvious? Let's find a spot where this would work without the necessity for divine intervention! If even just the first verse of the Bible is true, God could have caused this to happen anywhere on earth. If you don't believe the first verse of the Bible, you've got much bigger problems.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. lvnby100

    It's funny how they use the bible in the court systems as a scare tactic to tell the truth but then only accept a factual basis when presenting evidence. Yet all the religious people can use "faith" as a scapegoat when their facts hit a dead end as a another scientist comes along to further pursue the truth in the evolution of man. Whether or not God is fact or fiction the church, especially the Catholic Church, acts in the mindset of a business. Hmmm maybe that's why the catholic church is the richest business on the planet, because all their faith in God has prayed on the suffering to fill their pockets for thousands of years. If you have no where else to look, look to God as a last resort, and by the way make sure you drop something in the collection plate.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. Addison1984

    They crossed on dry ground... not on mud. Just another case of science trying to disprove the awesome miracles of the Bible.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. Coach Lew

    It doesn't matter where the waters were parted. All that matters is the it really happened either with God using Moses as an instrument or whether he used the wind. God can do anything and everything. So watch out for the sky's above because who knows what he may send down to us.

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