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. Tricia

    I have no problem questioning faith. I believe it's necessary in order to really grasp how HUGE God really is. But here's where I'm at a loss: These scientists are trying to prove that a Biblical story is possible. However, they leave out vital parts. The Bible (and again, I'm using it because they are using it) states that the people walked across on DRY LAND. How does 64mph move water and dry land in enough time for an entire mass of people to cross. And I seriously have a hard time believing that Pharoh, his army, his chariots, and his horsemen ALL drowned in 6 FEET OF WATER. The chariots and horsemen would only be wet up to their thighs!
    I'm just say'n.... if science is going to try and prove a miracle, you must use ALL the facts of the story; don't just pick out what you want to read/hear!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    What proof? Which science?
    What type of science do you refer? Evolutionary science(s)? Do you understand there are over 12 of those? They are devided in "beliefs" according to differences of each that have no supporting facts. Some have cropped up due to DNA, others due to other scientific findings. You cannot be talking about DNA and genetics, because being close to the largest human genome project in the world at this time, I can tell you that the facts point to creation. Many scientest will not post anything that supports what they do not believe. Here is the simple thing about all science.. The more we believe we know, the more we have to figure out.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Healing Enzo

    While the god-fearign & physics-loving sides draw breath – does this study say a whole slave population walked over the slimy uneven river/lake bed, while the wind was blowing 63 (or could that be more?) ?

    I'm a healthy (?) adult and when the wind is blowing 60+ mph, I MIGHT walk down the sidewalk to the 7-11 if I'm out of salsa. But to take a malnourished population including children & the elderly over that sort of terrain in those conditions (COW!) iand not lose many of them, would be the true miracle.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Maggie

    The bible account in Exodus says that Jehovah parted the Red See not the Nile River. If it was a coinsidence that account happened what about the divider between the two camps. That was a coinsidence too.

    19 Then the angel of the [true] God who was going ahead of the camp of Israel departed and went to their rear, and the pillar of cloud departed from their van and stood in the rear of them. 20 So it came in between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. On the one hand it proved to be a cloud together with darkness. On the other hand it kept lighting up the night. And this group did not come near that group all night long. Gen 14:19-20

    September 22, 2010 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. stevie68a

    "Whatever looked like it never happened, NEVER HAPPENED". This is a quote whose author I can't remember.
    Anyway, religion is a scam to keep people from thinking for themselves. Whatever good there is in religion, can be had
    without it. Teach ethics instead.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  6. TheGuyNobodyLikes

    CNN, please stop your unwarranted censorship. I'm not treading on your propaganda. Besides, I'm white, straight, and religious so I can't possibly hold credibility on your network.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. SteveM

    The waters parted when Moses farted
    Christians think they'll be rewarded
    But they're really retarded
    Anyone with a brain
    Can see how lame they are
    All religions are lies
    But science is wise

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

    It's interesting how much resistance and venom the unbelieving world holds towards the Creator. It'll do whatever it can to deny Him. Even in writing this article, there is not one single mention of Him by name. the author seems to be trying as hard as he can to explain away God's existence using science, using physics, using the law of the universe to explain an event. This is God's creation, his Red Sea (or Nile river if you believe this article). He has a mastery of chemistry, physics, math, etc. that we'll probably never attain. He used his creation to save His people. How is this not obvious to anybody? A car doesn't work without its driver. The world doesn't work without its Creator. And He loves you regardless of what you think. Always did, and always will.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • GuerillaGorilla

      What a one sided view. Your post summed up would state "The world without a Creator wouldn't exist." What happens if that worlds creator was science? Now youe divine creator become mundane and your articles of faith because the ramblings of men. This would invalidate your faith and thus make you think for yourself instead of someone telling you what to think. I can now see why you cling to your religion so hard that you shut your eyes to anything scientific that may disprove your faith. Or twist those irrefutable proofs into something that fits your religion.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • SteveM

      That's because he's an IMAGINARY being. An invisible, supernatural, all-knowing man in the sky? Yeah, right. Get a brain.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. Sandy

    It was something God did, does it really need an explanation? NO!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. clc

    u all need to ask Moses when u all see him

    September 22, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  11. TheGuyNobodyLikes

    CNN, please stop your unwarranted censorship. I'm not treading on your propaganda. Besides, I'm straight, white, and religious which means I can't possibly hold any weight on your network.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. The Truth

    The Red Sea did not part, it made a tunnel! The East Winds blew the ground dry, so that the hebrews could walk on dry ground.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  13. ASSASSINews

    I grow incredibly tired of religion masking itself as news and science. CNN and other media outlets will often run religious stories with religious questions, which assumes that readers retain the core belief behind the question. CNN asks, "Where did waters part for Moses?" Most reasonable people's answer to that question would be, "Irrelevant, there was no Moses." This is not unbiased news. It's religion.

    This is a study of wind stress on hydrodynamics. In a word: physics. But the religious can't leave it at that because this somehow gives real world credit to Moses parting the Red Sea, right? You couldn't be more wrong. Allow me to explain by giving you a little history lesson.

    Most people are really fuzzy when defining fact. Dictionaries define fact as "a thing or event known by experience or observation." The Bible is not fact. The Quran is not fact. Nor will they ever be facts. They are religious scriptures that require personal belief, regardless of their baseless nature. Anything coming out of those pages can never be regarded as fact. To illustrate this point, let us define fact by a series of examples.

    1) Moses was a real person. Fact? No. There is no mention of Moses outside of the Bible. None, zero, nada. There are absolutely no references to Moses anywhere in any record of the time. And you'd think some guy parting a sea with divine power would garner enough interest to get mentioned somewhere else. You can use the same logic on Creationist nutjobs that actually think humans and dinosaurs lived together.

    2) Jesus was a real person. Fact? No, but almost. There are plenty of accounts of Jesus in non-religious records outside of the Bible (along with plenty other "messiahs" of the time that failed to spawn a religion). The probability that Jesus existed is high enough to assume he did. But there's still no concrete evidence of his existence. The religious will often counter this with "duh, because he was resurrected," and how convenient for the religion, almost as if they anticipated skepticism. I reiterate, belief is required. And anyone who cites things like the Shroud of Turin should be mercilessly slapped for being easily swayed by wish thinking pseudo-science.

    3) King Tut was a real person. Fact? Yes. We have his bones.

    This exercise in critical thinking should go a long way in highlighting why this story should never be at the top of a major media outlet. It is a question for only the religious to squabble about. To the rest of us reasonable people, it's irrelevant fluff.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. singer

    to geauxLStigers-FYI I love Jesus, he was a terrific motivator and speaker, a wonderful humanitarian, the best listener that ever lived. I love what he stood for. Everything that the Bible claims he said is right on. If followed, i bet you'd be just like him. The End. My life is here and now. I don't ponder where I'm going when I die, I try to tnk about what I'm leaving behind. The welfare of my children and grandchildren, the plantet, my footprint. These are, I believe, what Jesus was talking about. As far as the rest of the stuff written, well I think it's just fiction, period. And by the looks of what I'm witnessing (thoughout the WORLD) with regard to religion, it makes me sick and plays no part in my life. You folks scare me to death!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  15. Russ

    OK, listen up. One of the biggest oxymorons out there is the Truth in the Bible. There is no God, there was no Jesus, there was no Moses at least in the context of the wonderful novel called the Bible. Religion and Gods are what people believe in when they can't figure out why their life sucks. If you don't help yourself you may try turning to your freinds or even your government. Turn to "God" and you will just continue down the path you were on for better or worse. The choice is yours.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
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