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. Todd

    Moses didn't cross the Red Sea. He crossed the Sea of Reeds, which more closely resembled marsh lands, rather than a river or large body of water. If you've ever tried to cross a marsh on a horse, you'd learn very quickly it doesn't take a giant wave to wipe out an army on horses. All it takes is soggy earth.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. kris4john

    I don't know why people spend time worrying about this debate when there are diseases to avoid and cure, homeless to clothe, shelter, and feed, oppressed people to educate, and an environment to save. This is petty and ridiculous...get a life!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cavemanstyle

    Most of the mysteries of the universe can be explained, by exploring yourselves. Why do we live, and why do we die? .. We are but tiny scale models of the universe itself. Everything has a beginning, and an ending. That is not to say, the physical matter that encompasses your body will not be used again, because it will, just not in the same form. It's the conscience that will fade away and never return. This is what I call, your singularity, or spirit for you God faring folks. It's yours, you posess it, and it's up to you to do whatever you choose with it and it controls your body. Once it's gone, you're never getting it back in the same physical form, and you won't remember anything since it's not the same "container" it used to be in. It will perhaps float around the universe until it finds a new host to encompass, or not. This is the part where nobody has come back to tell us what happened. Even Houdini couldn't do it, like he said he would try. My "guess" is, you are only here once, and gone.. or reincarnated without any knowledge of your previous life. Either way, the questions are unanswereable. So let's just enjoy the world, life, and try to figure out how to live forever : )

    September 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tom Paine

    @ Jack...I am in total and complete agreement with you. But you have to understand that for many of the people posting on this board, they not only don't believe in God, they don't believe in Moses, or Exodus, or any of it. So they read this and say, "so what if wind can part the sea, it means nothing." In the end, believers and nod and agree. But it isn't going to sway the non-believers.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jack

    MIRACLE or PROVIDENCE, BOTH WOULD HAVE REQUIRED DIVINE INTERVENTION

    It seems that what the researchers are trying to do is to show that the parting of the Red Sea was merely a serendipitous natural event that just happened to help the young nation of 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 all 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 cannot get around it, unless you are one who, in the words of Jesus Christ, “suppress the truth in unbelief.” (John 3)

    September 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Shalla

    Hahaha. No one who believes in "God" will finish this article, they do not understand a myth like the Bible. They watch "Homeward bound" and think animals can speak! Tools. Guess what, God didn't part a sea, and he didn't make earth.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mark

    It's clear that this is a debate on the existence of God, not necessarily whether or not He parted the Red Sea. It's a question of is God GOD? If God is GOD, which I believe He is, then He is the one who created the universe and everything in it. He created the laws of physics. Therefore, what is miraculous to us is easy (to put it mildly) for Him. So, from my perspective, the miracle is not that the sea parted, rather that the God of the universe rescued his people from Pharoh...perhaps through a weather phenomenon...in such a way as to encourage their faith in Him and to ensure that this display of His power and glory would be passed down, even hotly debated, for millenia to come....thus encouraging our faith today!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John B

    So moses led his people from Egypt during a hurricane...yet was able to see with all that sand blowing in his face...and the mud didn't slow them down at all. What a stupid article. Sounds like a bunch of stoners sitting around trying to decipher the universe.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ed

    Yeah and I have a deal on some land. Nothing but a fairy tale. It was made up so a guy could control a bunch of people. If you don't believe it than look at the political system today.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jack

    MIRACLE or PROVIDENCE, BOTH WOULD HAVE REQUIRED DIVINE INTERVENTION

    It seems that what the researchers are trying to do is to show that the parting of the Red Sea was merely a serendipitous natural event that just happened to help the young nation of 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 all 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 cannot get around it, unless you are one who, in the words of Jesus Christ, “suppress the truth in unbelief because their deeds were evil.” (John 3)

    September 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael Schulze

    There is not archeological evidence of Jews being enslaved in Egypt around that time. All that is found actually speaks to the contrary. Thus, the story is completely made up. Even if it wasn't, it tells of a plight of racisms and genocide in favor of gods chosen people. So in conclusion, not only is the story made up, it is completely offensive, and (to ad my personal effects to it) extremely STUPID.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jim

    Another attempt to explain Biblical accounts from a non-Biblical perspective. I don't suppose it occurred to the author(s) that God designed the laws of physics along with everything else. So, even if they can successfully postulate that a rogue wind "parted" the waters, it was still ... God (in this case waiting patiently for Moses to whack a rock with his staff).

    Why do we insist on over-analyzing everything? Stuff happens ... always to the natural laws around us. If you stare at your cell phone while driving at 70 MPH, bad things are likely to happen. If you drink yourself into oblivion every night, bad things will happen. If you live like Mother Teresa ... bad things can still happen. Get over it.

    Believe. Don't believe. In the grand scheme of things, what you think or don't think (which is usually more the case) matters no more than a grain of sand swept up in a hurricane. You want to be happy in life? Trust in a higher power (whomever you conceive that to be) and love your neighbor as yourself. Use the golden rule (the real one, not the wall street banker version). Be honest. Be polite. Be hardworking. Stop trying to 'fix' your friends and enemies. Maybe they're not really broken. Protect your loved ones and your freedom. Be alert to danger. If you still have free time on your hands, I'll bet the boss has a todo list for you. LoL

    Not every wild-eyed fanatic is Christian or Muslim. The Muslims are just handicapped in that their political and economic systems are embedded into their 'faith' system; whereas the Christian 'faith' merely co-exists with their political and economic systems. One is inflexible, the other infinitely flexible. One requires belief whether one likes it or not, the other considers belief to be optional. In the USA, we have a unique political and economic system in that it was established with freedom OF religion (NOT freedom FROM religion as the ACLU seems to think). It is this uniqueness from which our basic freedoms are derived. And this, not some religious exercise, is why we - as a country - do battle against those who would deny those basic freedoms to human beings in this galaxy.

    All I can say to you is, "Thank God you live in a country where you can still make comments like these and not have someone knocking down your front door with an AK-47 to stop you!" Not everyone on this planet has that freedom!

    Anon. Be alert.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jerrykings

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

    September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Good point! I'm amazed no one has brought that up yet!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. momo

    do you know what the meaning of miracle it something out of nature law so you can't describe the way it become i recommend don't waste your time to study something out of human minds these things bigger than scientist minds and computers cuz god almighty greater than any thing cuz he create every thing

    September 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      You need to look into that thing he created called grammar. It comes in handy when trying to communicate effectively

      September 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. it's hidden from you

    Romans 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
    I Corinthians 1:27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak thingsof the world to confound the things which are mighty.
    1:29 THAT NO FLESH SHOULD GLORY IN HIS PRESENCE

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