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. richunix

    The idea of God is as old as mankind it's self. Granted it is only a belief and does not hold up to any plausible evidence. The bible was written by men to meet the unknown (life) with some sense of uniformity. Remember this was written in a time when science and mysticism ran hand in hand. I’m not saying that religion is wrong, it serves a very meaningful purpose in our society. But outside of that, it’s only a myth, no greater or lesser that the Greek/Roman/Sumerian Gods it came from.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Holden

    Why are "biased" scholars and scientists still talking about the parting of the Red Sea near Egypt or some shallow marsh? The evidence for the crossing is NOT in the Nile, but the Gulf of Aqaba (for example, see http://www.squidoo.com/redseacrossing). Wake up people. And the parting of the sea had nothing to do with the "lame explanation" of a wind parting the waters. It takes tremendous amount of force to create "a wall" made of water "to the right and to the left". If natural causes caused these walls, it would be impossible for thousands of people to cross on foot. I don't know of too many people that can walk upright on 100 mph wind. And 100 mph wind cannot cause a "wall to the right and to the left". Isn't that funny how many scientists AND doctors reject miracles and the supernatural, requiring everything to occur naturally and by evolution. Yet, in a major hospital, doctors can find no explanation for someone being healed after others have prayed over.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Holden

    Why are "biased" scholars and scientists still talking about the parting of the Red Sea near Egypt or some shallow marsh? The evidence for the crossing is NOT in the Nile, but the Gulf of Aqaba (for example, see http://www.squidoo.com/redseacrossing). Wake up people. And the parting of the sea had nothing to do with the "lame explanation" of a wind parting the waters. It takes tremendous amount of force to create "a wall" made of water "to the right and to the left". If natural causes caused these walls, it would be impossible for thousands of people to cross on foot. I don't know of too many people that can walk upright on 100 mph wind. And 100 mph wind cannot cause a "wall to the right and to the left". Isn't that funny how many scientists AND doctors reject miracles and the supernatural, requiring everything to occur naturally and by evolution. Yet, in a major hospital, doctors can find no explanation for someone being healed after others have prayed over...yah-dah, yah-dah, yah-dah.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  4. Holden2

    Holden

    Why are "biased" scholars and scientists still talking about the parting of the Red Sea near Egypt or some shallow marsh? The evidence for the crossing is NOT in the Nile, but the Gulf of Aqaba (for example, see http://www.squidoo.com/redseacrossing ). Wake up people. And the parting of the sea had nothing to do with the "lame explanation" of a wind parting the waters. It takes tremendous amount of force to create "a wall" made of water "to the right and to the left". If natural causes caused these walls, it would be impossible for thousands of people to cross on foot. I don't know of too many people that can walk upright on 100 mph wind. And 100 mph wind cannot cause a "wall to the right and to the left". Isn't that funny how many scientists AND doctors reject miracles and the supernatural, requiring everything to occur naturally and by evolution. Yet, in a major hospital, doctors can find no explanation for someone being healed after others have prayed over.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ron

    How ridiculous.... Why? Why can't you just accept that what was recorded was? Sure maybe you can explain it happening here. But you can't explain how it happened at the Red Sea. That's because the work of God is unexplainable. Why must we believe that we can find an explanation to everything. How sad. How truly sad.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. Common Sense

    God was created by man to help him explain that which he could not understand. The educated then used the Bible stories to control the uneductaed. Today people are still using God as a crutch to make it through the day.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  7. Aaron

    So the next question to ask is if the wind is going at 63 mph constantly and we have technology from 4000 years ago, how easy would it be to walk/ride a horse in 63 mph wind over muddy/wet sand type land? What did kids do? If this was what happened, you would expect some magical "breath of god" parted the sea to help us but no where is wind mentioned in the text.

    If it's true, you gotta take it literally. That's what we do with everything else we depict as a truth.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. cartman

    Isnt this the same "news"site that defends islam on a daily basis?

    September 22, 2010 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. DJ

    To those who believe the Scriptural story is true, and don't see the point of this research: The means used by God in parting the waters is clearly stated to be a strong east wind. He didn't need to use a strong east wind, but he did. That gives a clue as to where this happened, according to the researchers. No need to criticize the research.

    Ex 14:21-22 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ryan

    You all DO realize that there is absolutely no evidence at all of a massive Jewish exodus through the Egyptian desert, right? No archaeological evidence, no remnants, no mention of anything in Egyptian writings from the era... Yeah. So, it is completely made up. Is it possible that a river can be parted? Sure. But the Moses story... didn't happen. Sorry True Believers! Excelsior!

    September 22, 2010 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Ray Joseph Cormier Ottawa-Hull CanaDa

      Moses gave the world the code of the Law. Are you saying the Legal system under which the Nations operate is a mirage?

      September 22, 2010 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • BR

      Ray-What nations? I'll give you "don't kill" and "don't steal". Not a big leap for those concepts to be SOP. Maybe there was a Moses...maybe there wasn't. There is no evidence for the exodus within or without Egypt and no evidence of any tablets, much less magically created tablets.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ray Joseph Cormier

    In Genesis, it reports God created the man in the image and likeness of God and put him in the Garden all alone. God then says, it is not good that man should be alone so I will make a help meet for man. God caused a deep sleep to come upon the man and then took a rib from the man and closed up a different arrangement of skin. God told the man he could name everything ans upon waking, and seeing this new creature for the 1st time cries, Whoa Man! and Woman was named.

    Medical Science confirms the Genesis story that woman was taken from the man by fact of X & Y chromosomes.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. Hopeless

    There seems to be an enormous amount of people on here that need to hold on to the promise of an afterlife. Is life that bad really? To throw away all the concrete proof that science has for this imaginary covenant called faith seems awful foolish. It's interesting that this idea of faith has a protective component that you cannot ever question it. How silly so many people fall for this. Congratulations on hampering humanity with a social net gain of minus one to each of you.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. henryJay

    To me the real question is-–why would a loving God part the sea for these people and let the earth swallow 250 thousand Haitians including babies and small children–some of which died horrible slow deaths?????
    Me thinks that perhaps people need belief systems to Justify existence.
    If fact-if Jesus is so almighty and powerful, why does he need money all the time?

    September 22, 2010 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kreczk

    Yeah right. So why hasn't it happened again ? Oh because it never happened. Anything to justify Israel...

    September 22, 2010 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hmmm

    Science hasn't been able to produce any hard eveidence of evolution as well but bless their hearts for trying.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
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