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. dan

    If its just a book full of fairytales then why do the smartest people in the world try so hard to prove it wrong but cant?

    September 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Science does every day... piece by piece.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ayrifeek

    "They settled on an area south of the Mediterranean Sea" does not sound like conclusive evidence; more like a theory. I'm not surprised by the numbers who are quick to jump on this and pass it off as fact so that they can continue to connect imaginary dots regarding the relationship between religion and science.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nwi

    Everyone knows that Kind Neptune arose from the waters, pounded his trident three times, and then drove Moses across the red sea in magic chariot pulled by invisible unicorns.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Emi.. Montreal,Canada

    ok, now that we solved this.... how does this change my life ?? now we need to concentrate on how to turn a loaf of bread into enough to feed the hunger !!! call me when that happens.....

    September 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Carl

    The point of the study is that the mythology contained in old writings may have some basis in fact, even if embellished, which most of these tales probably are. The simulations use good models of physical behaviors and show that it could be possible that a channel was opened enough to pass through. Where the simulation parts from the real world, is that it is unlikely thatthe number of Hebrews escaping from Egypt, including various herds of animals and slower moving families, could have effectively crossed in a single night.

    Current day modeling and simulation can be quite accurate, providing some basis for the generation of myths from exaggerated reality.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nick Marshall

    Can't believe these so called scientists wasting their time trying to figure out that "there was a possibility it happened". There is a possibility that I went around the world in a supersonic jet, but guess what... I didn't!!
    People stop believing in mythology, doesn't matter how comforting it is and start believing in reality!!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ayrifeek

      Thanks, mom.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Eliseo

    Help me Jesus! Help me Jewish God! Help me Allah! AAAAAHHH! Help me Tom Cruise! Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Thanks for a good laugh. That had to be one of the funniest scenes from Talladega Nights. What about,"Help me Oprah Winfrey"?

      September 22, 2010 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. missadr

    A couple years back there was another experiment that showed how seismic activity would easily cause the event. And there was some rather extreme seismic activity in the region during that era. But I really must wonder what difference does it make? God led the people out of Egypt. How it was done is entirely irrelevant.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RedisDead

    You are all forgetting something. In the Bible, Moses parts the Red Sea, not the Nile River. Whoops, sorry scientists, you've really wasted your time on that one. BTW, I was never brought up to believe the Bible was G-d's truth, but as an orgins story, mixing a grain of truth with legend.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ibelieve

    The children of Israel walked through on DRY land. This article does nothing to "explain" that by science. Science is amazing, and forces me to stand in awe and love of the God who created it.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Indy

    Well, sounds like a miracle to me still.... the entire Egyptian army drowned in 6 feet of water!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • mary

      even if it was the nile that was parted God is still Maraculous becase they said the nile was only 2 or3 feet of water so that means God drowned the whole army in 2 ft of water praise the lord he is good jesus will return and we all will see and all you atheist will fall on your faces

      September 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. redcat

    northern indianas belivev in "stories of their own told over and over though story tellers who can say for sure about any of it, bible is written by man some stories we can use because they are learning stories and some are tall tales we won't knoe till we die. but if the bible helps people though faith good for them

    September 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Me in florida

    Every eye shall see and everytongue confess............

    September 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    Um, exactly how would a bunch of people be able to cross a two mile long mud flat with 63 mph winds blowing in their face in only 4 hours? This also assumes it's a dry, clean wind and not blowing rain or sand at them.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Norm

    So let me get this straight, a sustained wind of 63 mph lasted just long enough for Moses' group to cross and then the 63 mph sustained wind abated and drowned the Egyptians? This is called creating a "scientific" model to fit a story, eg, pseudoscience. Come on guys! The Red Sea did not part; the story is a metaphor. Geez.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
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