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. Hugh

    Men who wrote scriptures millennia ago have played the biggest prank on humanity. That we still believe these ridiculous stories and try to explain them with science — it's sad. What made them so special that they actually got to witness these prophets conducting their miracles? Answer: They didn't.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. harley

    how about we just stick with the true facts and not the ones that the scientist THINK! Read your bible and youll know(:
    GET SAVED

    September 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hunter Sutherland

    you all are full of crapppp!!!!!!!! Stick with the bible facts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dumdiessssssssssss!!!!!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott

    America has lost it. Enjoy your Theocracy in a few generations time. You lot are the stupidest generation to have been America.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    Ahhh, so he huffed and he puffed...

    September 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gary

    seeing the comments here just reaffirms my belief that mankind is doomed.Have we learned nothing from history?The bible was written over several hundred years with constant editing to make it relevant at that time period.The versions in existance today are mere shadows of what was originaly written,I don't see how any intelligent person can actually believe they are factual.Agreat read on this is " The Great Transformation:The beginning of our religious traditions by Karen Armstrong.If people would just realize this is the only life you have;they might just try to make the most of the time they have to live instead of betting on a wonderful afterlife that is pure fiction.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jason

    The story of the Israelites being held as slaves in Egypt is a myth, it never happened. Ancient Egyptians were very good record keepers and historians. Museums have plenty of records from that time period describing everything from criminal trials to crop reports. You would think that the leader of a slave population who defied the Pharaoh, created plagues including the death of every first born, and led a grand exodus across a parted sea would have been mentioned at least once by a historian of the time. If that happened today it would be big news and everyone would be writing about it. Thing is, it is only mentioned in the bible and nowhere else. There is no archeological evidence that Jews were ever slaves in Egypt. I find it to be a sad state of affairs that this is what passes for a news article these days.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robert Austin

    Yeah sure, and Pecos Bill could have lassoed a tornado.....or maybe in was just a very small dust devil....you know how people will exaggerate.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tom Paine

    @ Mike, I agree strange things happen at opportune times. But I don't think it is at random. My basic point is that stories like this are great for believers but for non-believers, as you can see from the plethora of posts, it does nothing. We live in the day of the evangelical atheists who swarm to faith based sites and stories to publicly and loudly state their lack of belief. I suppose it offers them some comfort as likely they had to listen for awhile to people of faith they didn't believe. Nevertheless, other than generating lots of hits for cnn.com's blog, I don't think this research will change anyone's mind. Just as we have true believers in our culture we have a core of absolute non-believers and there is nothing that can be written or said that will dissuade them in their disbelief. I can accept that. What I don't like is the condescending sneer that many of them post toward people of faith as if they are uneducated or mentally deficient in some way for being believers. Of course, they will come back and say there are lots of believers that are just as snotty. I guess I don't like folks, whatever their belief (or lack thereof), who try to degrade and denigrate others.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. perisky

    In Africa there are very strange unexplanable events that happen everyday.Things that people here just laugh at because they sound too ridiculous to believe. I really wish the so called scientists can go down there and expereince "spiritual powers" first hand hopefully they will be alive to try to explain them. The world is more complicated than just the physical. There are evil supernaturals and there is God.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. toxictown

    Um...if the wind was blowing that hard and with that much pressure...would people be able to walk underneath it? This is interesting and an amusing parlor game but I feel sorry for the folks that truly need some "evidence" to shore up their flimsy fairy-stories.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. i have the answer

    I had a Snickers candy bar for lunch yesterday. It was not the most healthy lunch, but it was ever so tasty.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. George Waugh

    It is an interesting concept, in any event I do not doubt that the miracle really happened. God is able to perform a miracle regarding the timing and/or the whole event. If you don't believe in God, sorry to be you.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. i have the answer

    I had a Snickers candy bar for lunch yesterday. It was not the most healthy lunch, but it was rather tasty.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. hahaha

    There is only one true god, capable to split the oceans and save Israel from the evil Pharaoh.
    Behold The Great Flying Spaghetti Monster!!

    :-))

    September 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
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