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. publius enigma

    Sounds like pseudo science with an attempt not to prove that it might have happened, but rather to try to prove that it could have happened but that God had nothing to do with it.

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

    This theory misses the point where Moses's people stepped on to DRY land after the sea parted. This story cleary states a mud flat was left. Scientists 0 God still wins.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Exactly. And all of Israel being able to cross in such a short time period would also be difficult. Not to mention it wasn't like they knew of this phenomenon and when it would occur. Definitely God involvement in this one, even if science can prove it possible for the waters to part.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TONI

    I am a Christian and I hope that all of you who have not come to know Jesus Christ in your heart find Him.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • adrifter

      Keep hoping.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric G

      Hello TONI: I will look for him in my heart. Please do me the courtesy of trying to gain knowledge and reason while I am on my search. I will not give you as random and intuitive directions as you have provided. In the interest of time, I will attempt to be more direct. You can find all about reason and knowledge by using the latest in wireless technology. These wireless devices are maintained in a great collection that is available and waiting for your review! All for free!! The devices are called science books, and you can find them at the public library.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • mary

      aadrifter will keep hoping when s/he is in hell they will be calling jesus name hopin for a way out but wont get it

      September 21, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • adrifter

      Mary, Mary, Mary... It's one thing to believe in god, which is silly enough. It's another thing to believe in the ludicrous concept of hell. You have a brain, start thinking.

      September 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric G

      @Mary: Thank you for so vividly demonstrating one of my least favorite things about believers. When they cannot form a reasonable argument, they resort to threats. They will start with threats of hell. Eventually, many resort to threats of personal violence. Reminds me of children who found their fathers gun.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. whatisthematrix

    I think we are all computer generated characters. Our world is nothing just a computer generated world. The law of physics does not exists because it's just computer program algorithm.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neo

      Trinity....

      September 22, 2010 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      I can believe you are made of cream cheese, but that just don't make it so.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Albert

    They have found old ancient egyptian chariot wheels and their axis, in the middle, and the bottom of the Red Sea. How did they get there, if it wasn´t the conditions during the crossing that made this possible? The testimony, btw, tells about the seawater standing straight up as huge walls on both sides which further indicates that was a intervention and miracle by God.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Please include a reference to your source of information. I would be very interested is reading it. Also did they find a few wheels and axils or a whole army’s worth?

      September 21, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Holy Crap! They found chariot wheels in the middle, and the bottom of the Red Sea? I would think the air in the tires would have made the wheels float on the top too, but that is just an opinion not based on fact. Maybe the wheels came from the Pharoah's amphibious assault boats? That sunk? Or maybe the Pharoah had some of his guys dump wheels overboard to make it look like it really happened? (after letting the air out of the tires first, of course). Who knows what really happened? (I know they didn't have air in the tires by the way).

      September 22, 2010 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Susanne

    How funny.Just at the right time and moment the wind just blew. Duuh. Off course it was a miracle from God to save the people and thats that. Praise God!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jon

    I love how science uses the model of a body of water only 6 feet deep to demonstrate their findings. Somehow I don't think the Pharaoh and his Egyptian soldiers could have drowned in a body of water the depth of your average manmade lake.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Satan Himself

    For christs sake, if the high and mighty magician has the power to part seas, then he should also have the power to quickly levitate and move the Jews somewhere out of harms way right ? Or just instantly build a 200 ft high wall in front of the pursuers.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Because He Lives!

      Wow! Nice attempt to remove the real issue, which is about Faith. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." After reading several posts, including the article, the subject of the article is dealing with "Inspiration".

      Okay to help some out with this, what inspiration implies here, is "From what and from whom was this act of the moving water?." The scientist in this case cannot not deny the fact that it (parting of sea occurred), therefore, they must attempt to disproof, by entering the thought of "how it happened"? Now most people's expectation of a scientist' work is to proove emphatically how something occurs. They can prove in their summation how birth takes place, how the earth rotates, but an explanation of 2 + 2 = 4, is downplayed to basically, well it is what is accepted by the known world or general population, and therefore needs no validation, clarification or proof.

      Now imagine that logical rationale of excepting something at face value?

      Nonetheless, the sad thing regarding all of the posts denying the existence and power of God is that one day the person will regret it! And all those who believe that God doesn't exist or who believe in and worship satan, how contradictory you are because how can you worship a created being who denies the existence of his creator.

      Consider this: Satan says: God isn't real, but many believe that God did him wrong, and satan wanted and wants His power, but he couldn't defeat Him so, I will attempt to gain as much people (his creation (man) that I hate to help me in trying to attempt to dilute HIS GLORY! Again, you deny God's existence, but in the same behavior acknowledge and believe lies of another created being who, knows of the very existence, power, and most of all glory of God, our creator!!!!

      Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the son of God! As you have life today, God has given you another opportunity to seek Him, and turn from you wicked ways...

      September 22, 2010 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin

    Firstly I'd have to agree its a serious waste of time and money. Secondly, if you are an atheist, you don't believe in the divine, therefor nature=physics. So, simple physics did it. If you are religious, you believe nature=god. So.. if all we've proved is that Nature can do this, it doesn't fill in any blanks.

    The least they could do is give some numbers... how often could the wind and water behave in that exact way... once a week, a month, or maybe once every 500 years? Depending on which end of that scale it is, the more it would play into either the Biblical believers or nonbelievers camps.

    What next, water and wine? If science is destined to take each event from the bible and prove that they are all completely possible, then ok maybe it removes 'miracle' status from the events, but then at the same time it also makes the whole story a valid historical account.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Satan Himself

      How about jesus turning 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread into a giant food frenzy for an entire village ? How can the laws of physics allow that ? It can't. Everything is a fable.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      Nature worship=Pantheism

      Any Judeo-Christian knows better than to worship the creation over the creator.

      Nature = creation

      September 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • dindy Sri lanka

      well written kevin. Thanks..

      September 23, 2010 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  10. geofizz

    What a great story for the Jehovah's Witnesses to use in their next propaganda magazine. What a waste of time and money! Geeze!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. craig

    2 million people cross over in 4 hours ? in order to do that they must have had a very swift tail wind! and what about all the sheep,cows, goats, camels? and then just when the egyptian tryto cross the wind stops. that takes alot of just right living to pull that off.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Felix

    In all that is going wrong in the world today, I am struggling to find justification in spending money for researchers to study maps and run hypothetical computer tests for this area in an attempt to prove or disprove an event from the Bible. Couldn't we research some other part of the world that could actually benefit someone or something?

    September 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KWH

    They didn't part. It's a myth.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dan

    Science will never be able to disprove the existence of God. Those of faith believe that God is almighty and can do anything, including making his works explainable by science. I am an engineer, and I believe that Science and God can coexist, but God has powers that cannot be explained by science. The fact is, Exodus says Moses parted the Red Sea, not the Nile. To prove that science can explain how the Nile could be parted is irrelevant. And even if it weren't, what are the odds that the Nile would be parted at exactly the time the Israelites needed and then were un-parted just as they finished crossing? Whether it was the Nile or not, there needed to be some other power at work to snsure that the timing was right.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Yep, you can’t prove god does not exist. You just have to take it on faith.
      Also you can’t prove the easter bunny does not exist either.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Medardus

      The only thing this model does is recreate the result. This is what they do on Mythbusters when the myth gets busted.

      Perhaps next they'll explain how the sun stood still in the sky. Or maybe they'll explain how the angels couldn't tell who was who without a splash of lamb's blood on the door. Or maybe they'll explain where Cain's wife came from.

      The whole thing is a book of fairy tales written by slightly intelligent primitive peoples to exert control over other less intelligent primitive peoples.

      I'm with Marcus Aurelius, who said, Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

      Or Thomas Jefferson if you want something a little closer to home. "Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."

      September 22, 2010 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Medardus

      Also...

      @scott

      You can't prove the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist. Nor can you disprove the Invisible Pink Unicorn. By your logic they must exist.

      September 22, 2010 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Marie

    May God help all of the skeptics! No wonder our world is so messed up. I urge you to pray before it's too late.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Prayer is nonsense. It's a waste of time. If you want to do something about the state of the world, start with rejecting religion; the biggest impediments to peace and decency. Someone "praying for me" is someone who isn't willing to actually do anything concrete or actually helpful. Prayer is a con used by the lazy and the deceitful.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      God gave us pain, science gave us anesthetics.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
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