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. 1jimmyhoffa

    back in that day didn't everyone drink a lot of wine????????????

    September 22, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. curtegg

    Read Hawkings latest book about M-theory. Interesting concepts to think about.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jd

    Explain, scientifically, how there happened to be a 64 mph wind at exactly the right moment for Moses? Seems pretty miraculous... Why not just leave it as such? A miraculous event that drives the Exodus narrative in an inspiring way for future listeners. The fact a people escaped slavery, and built one of the strongest narrative and language-based traditions is pretty miraculous in itself. Or is it? Language is very powerful when you consider it, scientifically or otherwise.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joseph Smith

    Dum, dum, dum, dum, dumb...

    September 22, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    The more you know ..(place star here). I still believe the crossing spot to be somewhere before what is called MT Jabel El Laws. The 12 wells have been dated, and the giant split rock on a 300 foot tall hill with water erosion going in all directions from that point. Then an alter site where you could actually clime to the top of a mountain and look down at where you came from, and at the alter. Plus, if you map how far people can walk without water using Google Earth to estimate from the point of the wells (and palms) a large amount of people could actually walk that far without water. Plus, you understand that the people that have controlled this area would not want this at all. Plus, both sides having a pillar/marker that says Solomons pillar (or) Moses crossing on really old maps. Plus the opening of the mountains before the first one. Plus between those markers being the lowest part of water in the entire area. No one really knows how much water was in that area at that thime, some say less. I don't know how much evidence it would take for some people, but that seems like a TON to me.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Marie

    God parted the Red Sea. Moses didn't part the Nile River. Science will forever be trying to figure out what they cannot understand. That's what makes God just that – God.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. GuerillaGorilla

    I love that so many people try to use intangible rewards based on their ideas of evil (Greed, gluttony, and lust) to validate and coerce people into their "good" religion. They then try to use a book that is self-contradictory (not to mention improbable) and has been rewritten so many times throughout history that I doubt what they are reading is anything like the original texts. Then you have the individuals like reck0ner who try to use fear tactics to spread their "peacful" religion. All because an of an article that actually supports their fable! Science says that it IS possible to "part the waters of a sea" via winds that are actually fairly common in the area studied! For those that say it isn't possible try this small home experiment: Get a leaf blower and a small plastic wading pool. Leaf blowers generate a windspeed of roughly 30 mph. Fill the wading pool to about 8 inches deep. Now turn on the leaf blower and point it at any part of the water. From a single direction wind you suddenly have a spot of "dry land." Now, lets use logic and physics and look at this again...

    63 mph winds blowing from one direction for 12 hours... Not all that rare.
    A body of standing water that reaches a depth of 6 feet, again, not too uncommon.
    Combine the two, then have a group of people with a man who lived in the area for an extended period of time, come upon it. The man may have seen something like this in his time in the area and through basic observation determined when it happens. He then brings the people to the area when the conditions are right, times his impressive speech with the conditions, and... Viola! Instant miracle!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • toxictown

      You might be right. I still have trouble believing a mob of people could make it across the mud under that heavenly leaf-blower though.

      September 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe

    There was a guy, waaaaaaaaaaay back up toward the top of the page that said this:
    " the book of genesis it strangely matches the way science says the word was created... with just one or two things switched"

    I just wanted to point this out so we can all laugh at his foolish ignorance. Either he has never read genesis or he doesn't know anything about science. Either way, you sir are a moron.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. mimi lavell

    ....voo-doo.....hare kare.......Moses parted the Red Sea exactly where God said he did...that's the final authority on the subject! wind, currents, magical, mystical ....of course man can't explain it, just call a scientist.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  10. Peter

    How can anyone believe in forces that are unseen. If you can't see it, it can't be true .. right?

    There are no unseen worlds, dimensions or forces!

    That's why all cell phones, tvs, and radios have miles and miles of wires attached to them.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  11. Anthony

    Wow! A story contravening religious dogma on an American media outlet? Heresy! LOL! The U.S. is a lost cause. Way too many brainwashed, religious robots. Religious people say they are devoted to their faith. I say they are scared little cowards who can't function without horse-blinders and a security blanket. And crutches.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
  12. DON MORAN WW II DIS VET

    MAY HAVE HAPPENED IN AN AREA WHERE'S ITS POSSIBLE??? ARE YOU KIDDING? ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE , WHEN OUR BLESSED LORD WANTS IT TO HAPPENED! DIDN'T YOU HEAR WHAT HE TOLD THOMAS? "AND BLESSED IS HE WHO WILL NEVER SEE ME, YET BELIEVES IN ME!" WHAT DO YOU NEED?, A WACK ON THE KEPPIE? ( A JEWISH KID FROM THE BRONX, SHARED A FOXHOLE WITH ME!)

    September 22, 2010 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. hapless, helpless, hopeless

    I shouldnt have to point out that my name is a glaring reference to static nothingness that you champion. Please dont confuse religion for morality or for that matter humanity. What you are asking me to do is what you admittedly describe as hedging your bet. There is certainly no glory in that. If its confidence you are looking for there are easier ways to acquire it than to conjure up an imaginary friend that lives in your heart. Go out and produce something of value to this world and its very real inhabitants. I do understand this will be very difficult because your dear friend that lives in your heart has promised great and everlasting pain while being consumed by fire if you dont believe in him. I would caution you to chose better friends in the future.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert Guyer, BSCE

    When a civil engineering student in the 1970s studying hydrodynamics at the University of Florida our professor explained the physics of just how this could happen, so this isn't new knowledge. Seems the modeling reinforces what the theoreticians have long known.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. 1jimmyhoffa

    back in that day didn't everyone drink a lot of wine????????????/

    September 22, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
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