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. Erik

    God parts a vast body of water so people can cross it safely. If this sounds illogical to you, it’s because it is. Why is there no tangible evidence, and why hasn't God done this lately for anyone else. If you believe in an imaginary being, then you are diluted and this doesn't make sense. If you realize that God is imaginary, then this makes perfect sense. Its 2010, why do we still try to prove the existence of mythological people? Are these same people trying to explain how Santa's sleigh flies?

    September 22, 2010 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. Erik

    God parts a vast body of water so people can cross it safely. If this sounds illogical to you, it’s because it is. Why is there no tangible evidence, and why hasn't God done this lately for anyone else. If you believe in an imaginary being, then you are diluted and this doesn't make sense. If you realize that God is imaginary, then this makes perfect sense. Its 2010, why do we still try to prove the existence of mythological people? Are these same people trying to explain how Santa's sleigh flies?

    September 22, 2010 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Chris Fillers

    It is so sad to see that people think they can prove God away with science. Don't forget one detail, God told Moses to, "lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land." I think "On Demand" water parting is a pretty good sign that God had something to do with it.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. mike

    I guess that those posting negetive replays don't beleive in fire insurance. The fires of hell are kindled again you of little faith.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Catie

      'like'

      September 22, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Reality

      You are insane. I do have to take in account that you are only mimicking your sadistic imaginary “god”. Its call logic and reason. Would you like to work for a guy that constantly held your job over your head if you didn’t give him enough attention? And would a benevolent omnipotent being act in such a manner? You are delusional.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    So when someone comes along with an example of how something in the bible could ACTUALLY HAPPEN all you atheists just want to pounce on the person. You sure do love to push your beliefs on others don't you, and you sure hate it when something happens that actually goes against that belief. You'd almost think you sound like what you say Christians sound like to you. wow.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. RobRoy

    Yep and and I believe in Magic Apples and talking snakes. Moses was an opportunists who saw a way to make a buck by preaching things he learned from the Egyptians. If there was a Moses. And the tradition goes on. What a load of BS(LOL) I wish these companies were no controlled by the Jews. Then we would not have to hear this load of BS. We really need un-biased Media in America, BADLY.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. woody

    Maybe they should explain that there isn't any historical evidence of Hebrew slaves in Egypt.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Catie

      hmm, someone isnt' watching mummy chasers

      September 22, 2010 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tucker

    From one of those "foolish" agnostics. Just because Moses was a brilliant man who figured out when an event like that might have occurred, does not mean that he was sent by god.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Catie

    Okay, faith is faith is faith. Either you believe or you dont believe. I dont need proof that the waters parted, I just know they did. The arrogance in this country astounds me. There are actually people on this planet who believe that they are so smart there cannot possibly be anything or anyone smarter than they. Hopeless

    September 22, 2010 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. beau

    If that is the case, how did they walk through the mud in scientific terms?

    September 22, 2010 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  11. hapless, helpless, hopeless

    Dear Irrational,
    There seem to be an enormous amount of fragile people on here that need to hold onto the promise of an afterlife. Is life really that bad? To throw away all the concrete proof that science has produced for this imaginary covenant called faith seems awful foolish. It's interesting that this idea of faith has a protective component that you can never question it. Questioning things just happens to be the backbone of science. It is no wonder there is such a huge divide between us. That of course is all by design. You cant sustain a religous farce without the other key component which is divisiveness. congratulations on your production of nothing for humanity. If its validation that you seek, it can only be found amongst your equally unoriginal, uninteresting, and widely unintelligent peers. You can waste your lives away wishing for that golden ticket, but please stop wasting everyone elses time and efforts with these childish stories and often hateful oppression.
    Sincerely, Reason

    September 22, 2010 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  12. JustMe

    Can they explain how they walked across on DRY land?

    September 22, 2010 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. hapless, helpless, hopeless

    Dear Irrational,
    There seem to be an enormous amount of fragile people on here that need to hold onto the promise of an afterlife. Is life really that bad? To throw away all the concrete proof that science has produced for this imaginary covenant called faith seems awful foolish. It's interesting that this idea of faith has a protective component that you can never question it. Questioning things just happens to be the backbone of science. It is no wonder there is such a huge divide between us. That of course is all by design. You cant sustain a religous farce without the other key component which is divisiveness. congratulations on your production of nothing for humanity. If its validation that you seek, it can only be found amongst your equally unoriginal, uninteresting, and widely unintelligent peers. You can waste your lives away wishing for that golden ticket, but please stop wasting everyone elses time and efforts with these childish stories and hateful oppression.
    Sincerely, Reason

    September 22, 2010 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jazzy

    I know I'm giving the proponents of biblical truth ammunition, but honestly, if you want people without Christianity to actually believe in your hooplah, don't quote the bible to us. Quoting the bible, or koran, or torah to us lends absolutely no credibility to your argument. I will equate it to saying, "Of course I'm handsome, just ask me."
    You're trying to prove something by quoting from the 'supporting theoretical evidence.' Saying that there is proof of God/Allah/Yahweh because there is printed text on the subject (printed last year by Penguin Books), isn't proof, it's only supporting theoretic evidence.
    And, those of us who are more akin to believing in science understand that evidence changes. It doesn’t hurt our faith in science any way. We accept that there is a dynamic to life. So when “proof” changes, we’re not shaken. One of the many benefits to not investing spiritual dependence in something! 😀

    September 22, 2010 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. blenheim palace

    Well, if the "theory" is correct, than 63 mph winds would make it virtually impossible for people to walk! The average human body would experience upwards of 90 pounds of wind force against it. I can't imagine that horses, cattle, children, men and women could withstand that trek. Sorry, I would rather believe that the God who spoke all things into existinance, could simply defy the laws of physics, hold ack the waters and allow His people to cross, then utterly destroy the Egyptians by allowing the water to resettle. It simply makes more sense than the LARGER leap of faith to believe in the wind "theory".

    September 22, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
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