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. DDay

    Please stop promoting these old fairy tales so we can concentrate on todays real issues!

    September 22, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. patrick

    entertaining, they however completely fail to mention and recognize the the story explicitly states that the water is 'divided' and that when the Isrealites crossed the dry ground that the water was on BOTH the left and right side (Exodus 14:21,22)

    September 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeet

    The same had happened in the life of Krishna. when he was carried by his father after his birth. The water parted and gave way.. so that also we can explain with this Theory !!!!

    September 22, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. thedevilisalie

    @reck0ner
    science and religion is 2 different things> ok? you need to wake up because apparently when 2012 comes i wonder whos going to hell? and plkus if u dont believe that waters parted then who cares? we all have different religions and u need to respect that. and whatever science says isnt always true. just like how they saiid lemmings commit suicide because of no food, they were actually throwing them off a cliff on a turn table dont believe me? look it up dummy!

    September 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jay

    60MPH winds don't even blow my coffee off the table, come on!

    September 22, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Isaac

    God is all powerful and if he wants to part waters it would be easy for Him.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. T

    The truth of the story is that Moses ate a can of beans and then he could either "blow" his wind or light a match and boil away the sea.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. xarmcus (fake name)

    i think moses parted the red sea with god's help because im a christian but all this stuff is quite interesting

    September 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Deepwater805

    This is all total BS! It was actually parted between Oxnard, and Ventura....

    September 22, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. freeddoom

    all fiction.these are just biased research to legitimize bs that never happened.i challenge all of you to just show and only one one evidence that proves jews were ever kept as slaves in egypt,moses existed,jesus existed,jews wandered the sinai for 40 years.!!!! b t w,allah,yehuveh and jesus are as real as batman and superman.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Catholic

    I am a Catholic, I am not a Christian for in my personal faith I believe there is one Christian and he died on the cross. I am just a mirror of his impression trying to copy his teachings or ideals.

    I would like to see faith as a target of you own psychological makeup.
    Its nice to have a target (i.e. how I treat other people, parents and self) rather than aimlessly wandering what you want to be. A target is not a necessity but a logical choice in my personal behavior.

    For those who do not believe in any religion I understand them.
    Faith has no impression for them so they do not see to believe it (jesus christ's dead bodies , registered accounts and etc.) or exsist. Yet they understand the term faith based upon their experience.
    So the more experience with faith the more belief there is.

    Lastly I believe in faith but I dont believe in religion.
    Faith is personal like on how I have faith in my friends and other people. Religion for me is man made belief organized. And I believe there is a GOD as a faith.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      When I read what you said about being a mirror of Christ, I thought your statement was fascinating. Do you think when, we go to church and participating in 'faith,' that we are participating in the ultimate form–this ultimate form being Christ? I used the word faith apprehensively, because I don't want to misconstrue the word as you used it. I hope that perhaps you could elaborate more on what you mean by faith. It is a subject I think about often. Do you think it active or passive? I can't say I really know the difference, but I have an inkling. Should we accept without question or should we try to find another story that sounds more appealing, and may very well be closer to 'reality,' such as this article?

      March 16, 2011 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. chessbuff

    The problem with all this theorizing is that Moses parted the sea on command. How is that possible?

    September 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    or maybe moses somehow knew that abnormally fast winds could in fact displace so much water, so he knew that during a windstorm there was a good chance that he and the israelites could cross through that section of the sea. or the queen could have balls and is really king. it's all speculation. believe what you want to believe, i'm going to side with science on this one.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. joe

    Joshua, can't you just accept that there MIGHT be a God, and that you may not be right about what you think happened? After all, most people in the world believe it!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pirate65

    This is what happens when someone uses modern science to try and prove a convoluted fairy tale.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
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