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. Vince

    The waters probably parted in the same place the first spaceship landed and where dinosaurs still walk the earth.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Larry Curcio

    You're all wrong. There was no part – just bangs (IIRC, Moses was heavily involved with the gun lobby)

    September 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. johnny orlando

    Wrong location, but good science. It has been historically proven to be the salt marshes to the south. El Ballah is the modern name, but its dried up because of the suez canal.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Hawkzilla

    If it were simply a matter of "science" it wouldn't have been a miracle or act of God. First off, if they had to cross anything in 60+ mph winds, they wouldn't have gotten far. Secondly, it would have been knee-deep mud they had to cross with 60+ mph winds. The miracle would have been a number of factors that science will never be able to explain... nor should they try. I think it's safe to say that the "wind" theory is not only nonsense, but a complete lack of time and resources that could have been used to research something that can actually help humanity.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Johnna

    C'mon people, think about it. It was all done by extra terrestrials in order to unite the tribes of the world and bring some sort of order to it. Duuuuhhh!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. hahaha

    I mean, the Egyptians were midgets since they were drowned by a 6 feet wave in a salty lagoon. Scholastic evidence suggests their evil Pharaoh Ramses was called "the Geat" because he actually stood up all of 4 feet tall. :-)

    September 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      I have a friend we call "Geat" because he stands at 4 feet tall too. Sometimes "Geater" or "Geatmeister". When he's not around we call him "Little Geat" which is kinda silly because he's the only "Geat" in the gang.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • hahaha

      dude it is a typo and you can't edit this POS site's messages.

      September 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bvaudt

    @ASSASSINews
    It would appear that you spent a good deal of time reading the story and the comments. Why devote that much time to irrelevant fluff? Just asking.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kevin

    This man is NOT, I repeat, NOT a scientist, He is a religious theorist at best. I wish the media would tell the whole story when reporting what they claim is news. Simply googling the man's name and you can see what his background is and what he has been discussing for the past few years.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Bible101

    God Forbid we all just believe what the Bible says....it's not complicated....God can do anything...

    September 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jack

    Article: "To test the theory that the biblical account may have depicted actual events..."
    ++++

    So you mean that if you can't explain a miracle by natural means than it couldn't possibly have happened? But isn't a miracle something that can't be explained by natural means? Of course it is.

    It seems that the researchers are trying to do is to show that the parting of the Red Sea was merely a serendipitous event that happened to help the ancient Israel. However, even if you COULD explain the parting of the Red Sea by such natural events such as high winds, you have to face the fact that it has only happened ONCE in recorded history, and that ONCE happened at just the exact time as was necessary, in the course of world history, to preserve the infant nation of Israel and destroy the army of Pharaoh. What are the odds of that happening, even by natural means? Here's a clue. It would have been a statistical impossibility. In other words, there was NOT a chance!

    So, even if the sea was split by natural means, the fact that it happened at just the perfect time to rescue and preserve ancient Israel and destroy their enemies, implies of necessity, Divine intervention. You simply can't get around it.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Wow

    Now show me a computer model that explains how Moses' followers walked 2.5 miles through mud and 63mph winds. According to the Unviersity of Maryland, "...one could stand without restraints for wind speeds up to 40 mph. Higher than 40 mph requires being anchored ."

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang/2009/08/feeling_the_awesome_power_of_h.html

    September 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      @Wow – my thoughts exactly!!!

      September 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Gene Brady

    They would have sunk in the mud and died there IF this silliness is true and no one would have fled anywhere. People all over the world die for religions and there is zero proof to back any of them.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jerrykings

    Would it even be possible to cross when the wind was blowing as hard as to part the waters? And try to walk through the mud? mmmmm

    September 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Arlene

    Well,to all that don't believe, I would hate to live in this world thinking there is no God and die, only to find out that there is! Shame on all of you for doubting the Bible. And more shame for all of you that are alwasy trying to find scietific explanations for the "WORD"! And you wonder why our world is in the shape it is in. When they decided to take "God" out of everything, look what has happened.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Michael

    This is just another example of a science group needing funding and caving in to religion to make it look like the Bible isn't a total collection of myths. The God Delusion talks about this, and how much the real scientists hate having to do this stuff, but they need to for funding.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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