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. sprecks

    Anyone who reads the scripture should already know that the sea was parted by God using a strong east wind. This so called scientific discovery about a wind is nothing new Read Exodus 14:21-22.
    21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. reck0ner

    Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton's best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the Universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." He saw evidence of the design in the systems of the world: "Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice". But Newton insisted that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the system, due to the slow growth of instabilities.

    (KJV) Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now ...and not only they but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of The Spirit of GOD (a soul) even we ourselves groan (we christians) within ourselves...

    September 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Will

    @Jared

    Actually, evolution is completely observable. The whole idea of it is how we pick up the favorable traits of our predecessors over time. There are people who have been found to have the sight of an eagle, the ability to hear sound rebound off of objects around them (Sonar), and some people even have webbed feet. Evolution is completely observable today, you can see it through fossil records, but you CAN'T see God somehow create animals and humans out of nowhere. The chance of a full grown giraffe appearing out of thin air is absolutely zero.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. reck0ner

    0' f00Lish agnostics, atheists and pagans ...we speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness ...if i have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if i tell you of Heavenly things?

    Albert Einstein wrote: "Even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other" there are "strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies [...] science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind [...] a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist." He argued that conflicts between science and religion "have all sprung from fatal errors". In an interview published by Time magazine, Einstein spoke of his feelings about Christianity. Einstein was then asked to what extent he was influenced by Christianity, to which Einstein replied as follows, "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene." Einstein was then asked if he accepted the "historical existence of Jesus," to which he replied, "Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life."

    I always dig up some facts (in fact) i love facts: GOD'S Word is The Law! ...i wonder how Newton & Einstein would have turned out growing up in a world without biblical Truth?

    September 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mr Mark

    Many Biblical scholars concede that Moses is a fictional character who never existed. Archaeologists and geologists have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the exodus never happened, and that Jews were never slaves in Egypt, even though the Biblical account of the fictional exodus avers that there were more Jews involved in the exodus than there were Egyptians living in Egypt at the time.

    Yet here we are yet again, with the Biblical science deniers grasping at any pseudo-scientific straw that may waft their way to claim a scientific foundation for the fictional events of the Bible. And in the process, they reduce what was supposed to be a miraculous event to an event entirely explained without invoking the help of a deity. What's the point?

    It's embarrassing, and I wish they'd just stop.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Randy

    How do they explain that they crossed on dry land and not a mud flat?

    September 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. reck0ner

    Day-Age creationism, a type of Old Earth creationism, is an interpretation of the creation accounts found in Genesis. It holds that the six days referred to in the Genesis account of creation are not ordinary 24-hour days, but rather are much longer periods (of thousands or millions of years, etc. etc.). The Genesis account is then interpreted as an account of the process of cosmic evolution, providing a broad base on which any number of theories and interpretations are built.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. why afraid of faith

    I find the arrogance of so many of those who have replied to this story, to be comical. They actually believe, through their short tenure on this earth, that they are in a position, through science, to disprove the existence of God.

    I encourage them to expand their horizons, their minds, and research and consider that that it is possible that things that they cannot explain, can and did happen.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Real Earth

    Pappa Smurf just told me its all true,
    Coming from him, ya gotta believe !

    September 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mark

    These stories get put on here for one reason! To spur people into commenting over and over, which translates to more page views which translates to more ad revenue (notice the AD right at the area where you enter your comment so it cant be missed?) DUH... Its not journalism anymore, its muck racking for ad revenue and if they can get some one sided computer simulation to increase the vigor of your responses all the better.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ZOOMER165

    MAYBE I SHOULD GO PART THE RED SEA AND THEY CAN CALL ME A GOD, OH THEY ALREADY DO...
    RELIGION IS ALL MYTH . JUST A WAY TO CONTROL PEOPLE AND THERE MONEY...

    September 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Real Earth

    I just went to the library.
    I ripped pages out of different books.
    I put all the pages together and declared them
    the word of God.
    Obey, or die.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. You wish

    this article is really dumb, there is no way that there can be a 63 mile wind, that parts the waters. That was all God. Science does not explain everything. A 63 mile per hour wind will practically rip your skin off. For this to be true, the waters would have to part at the exact time Moses wanted it to. John, you are a very stupid man. A 63 mile per hour wind would probably not be consistent, and wouldn't split a sea in half. The Bible is Truth. God does not speak false testimony. This is not true.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ray Porter

    I don't believe most of the stories in the Bible because most of them we plagerized from other religions.Most of the stories are a large myth based on a little piece of fact.stories told though generation by word of mouth for centuries befor written word

    September 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Real Earth

    Please tell me how i am born with sin ?
    As soon as i left my mothers womb, the first thing i did
    was take a breath.
    Telling me i am born with sin is somebodys sick way
    of making me believe i am guilty of something that i have not yet done.
    Religious nuts.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
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