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. JHeron

    Considering the Moses story is based on a Mesopotamian Cult story, and never actually happened...its sad that someone spent so much time out of their lives to try justify something there is no historical evidence for. I remember reading article theorizing how it was possible that the crossing happened at the RED SEA. I guess I am no better..I am wasting my time now pointing out things that most believers will chose to ignore by posting on here.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. Robert in Texas

    Moses did not part any water anywhere. This is an old fairy tale from the book of fables. Also, there is no Santa Claus either. Sorry.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  3. Crystal

    Thats ok u keep trying to disprove God! You get to heaven by faith....for those who really want to know what the Bible means exactly check out Perry Stone Ministries. He reads from the Bible while explaining its translation in Hebrew which is where it came from to start with. Then he also uses science and history to explain all questions you may have. I was raised in church my whole life and never understood Gods word the way I have in the last 6 months. If God wanted to prove his existence he would, but then how would you prove your faith? He does'nt owe us an explanation ...we owe him obedience. If you want to take the chance of not believing then you have EVERYTHING TO LOSE. Maybe you should take the chance in faith because if all scientist are right in the end you lost NOTHING...If they are wrong YOU LOST YOUR SOUL!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. SC

    So a bunch of people with children and animals some with carts with skinny wheels were able to cross a MUD flat in 63 mph winds? They may have proven that it's possible to part the waters in what would seem to be a perfect situation. But there is no way that the 3 miles of mud at the bottom was just walked over and with high winds. Good luck proving that. I would like to call B.S. at this point. The story did make for a good movie, a little long but good.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. The Truth

    As far as an afterlife, the life in which you live now will determine your outcome, Heaven is a state of mind not a place, just like Hell is a state of mind, not a hot place where Satan dwells, there can only be one who sits on your throne, righteous or unrighteous, your Soul is what you know for a FACT of your creator! like the saying goes you know nothing you get nothing, if you don't put nothing in the Bank then you can't take anything out! People please wake up and know and see that the Creator will destroy this so called Earth as we know it to be, and he will do it by a consuming Fire, take a look around you, Fire is all around, look at the News and see what is on fire today! He will manifest sooner than you think! the signs are here, just open up your eyes and see.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. michelle

    i love it when believers try to tell nonbelievers that "don't forget, GOD did this...or GOD said that..." i am a non-believer, or rather, a person who believes in what i can feel and see and can be proven. do you really think you are getting anywhere when you repeatedly claim that GOD did something? I DON'T CARE.

    if this gets you upset though, you believers are really gonna be upset when you find out that GOD didn't rain fire on Sodom and Gamorrah, but it was really a meteorite. look it up. it is supported by astrological accounts from Sumerians. seriously. y'all are really gonna get your panties in a wad over that one.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. michelle

    you realize that if religion did not exist today and you had someone like jesus or mohammed walking around telling you all the things they could do for you, and that they would die for you so you could be spared.... sounds kinda cult-like doesn't it?

    September 22, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  8. matt

    Who cares? People who like bed time stories but don't like to deal with their daily lives or fixing their own issues...that's who.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  9. Sean

    The bible is a book on management.

    Moses didn't part the sea... it was the flooding of a canal lock.

    People need to stop thinking that there weren't canals, trade routes, taxes, management, stock markets, and currencies five thousand years ago.

    The parting – is nothing more than a metaphor for canal technology.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. IRAhitman

    SCIENCE defined: Man figuring out how God did some of the things He did.

    que the song "How you like me now?" by the Heavy as God smiles at the non-believers as they run out of excuses.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. IRAhitman

    SCIENCE defined: Man figuring out how God did some of the things He did.

    que the song "How you like me now?" by the Heavy as God smiles at the non-believers as they run out of excuses.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Randall

    An absurd fairy tale

    September 22, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  13. Scrapster

    So, these scientists were essentially studying whether a water body in the Middle East could have parted in a way explained by natural phenomena. What the article neglects to say is that historical and archaeological research has found absolutely NO evidence of ancient Egyptians holding Israelites captive–at least at any large scale. Nor is there any evidence of Moses. It is much more likely that a small, unrelated group departed Egypt, picked up the idea of monotheism (and the name Yaweh) from tribes living in the area that is modern day Yemen, and brought those ideas to the Jews. There are a good deal of factually supportable events in the Bible, including King David's reign, etc– this story simply isn't one of them. That doesn't make the truth any less fascinating.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. alreadybored

    i decided to go all day without wearing underwear. i gotta say, it's quite liberating. you guys should try it some time!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Caleb

    Okay, look. I'm Christian (just like many of you in this silly blog). If the non-believers choose not to believe, we know what awaits them. Arguing with the non-believers just empowers them, and makes everyone in here appear foolish. Speaking of which, I'm not sure why I took the time to post my comment. I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
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