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. Steve

    The whole Exodus story is a lie. There is no archeological evidence for any of it. The best evidence so far shows the Jews moved in on the people already in the area known today as Palestine/Israel and never left. Egyptian history and archeology has no record of the Jews ever being there. No 40 years in the desert, no parting of the Red Sea, no plaques from "the god of Moses"...it's all a bunch of hooey.

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

      No it's true! It's in THE BIBLE! Duh!

      September 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      1. They weren't known as Jews.

      2. The Egyptians conquered and or assimilated large and small groups of people. Their hieroglyphs are fragmented and incomplete. Name all the small and large groups of people absorbed by the kingdom by looking at drawings of birds, feet, and eyeballs AND THAT WOULD BE A MIRACLE IN ITSELF.

      Show me an accurate recording of every tribe that existed in the Americas at the time of colonization and maybe I'll humor you joke of a theory.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Harvey

    God created the wind for Moses. Science had nothing to do with it.

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

    funny how people say oh the bible can't be right there is no way that could happen- there is no God only science, THEN through science it is shown that it is possible and the same people say oh well that is junk science (even though it is the same science used to predict weather that they all use and believe). Fact is science is NOTHING! All science does is explain how something happened NOT WHY something happened. science offers only a description of what happened not a meaning as to why- Basicly it is like a gaint domino effect- science would explain how each previous domino effected the next one all the way back to the first domino falling, but they could never explain or reason why the dominos were set up in such a pattern or spaced perfectly to allow the domino effect- instead science would just say that is the way the domino's were created. Science is nothing but a description of how an event took place, God is the reason/meaning why that event took place. It is just some are more comfortable with a description of things rather than a meaning of things.

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

      science is the answer when you dont want to except the truth you are right it is nothing at all

      September 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lee Oates

    Now if we can just figure out how the Easter Bunny crossed the road, science could take another leap further.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ftaco2004

    I remember watching a special on the history channel about Moses and it offered the most realistic explanation.

    Moses lived in the area most of his life, so he knew when the sea would be highest/lowest and at what times of the day and of the year.

    The Jews arrive at the sea. The sea is too high to cross. Moses tells them that he can part the sea. The sea parts because he knows this. People believe in Moses.

    I'm not discrediting the story, but why can't it be like "It's as if Moses parted the sea." and then, 3 generations of story telling later made it to be "Moses parted the sea."

    We have to remember the context in which Moses really was: a general. He led the Jews to conquer much of modern day Israel and wiped out several tribes, murdering 10s of thousands of men, women, and children in armed conflict.

    Case in point: Moses bred an army for 40 years before advancing on Palestine. That's why they weren't allowed back for 40 years; they didn't have the strength in numbers to occupy the land.

    Let's not forget how he murdered 5-10% of the population that left Egypt with him as punishment for the false idol worship.

    I'm curious if anyone will write to discredit/call me a liar. Just have an open an honest mind; I consider myself a spiritual person, but I am also aware that stories passed down a few dozen generations before being written can be a little distorted. Take it for what it is.... a good story, that may be true or may be fictional using some true events... like a modern day movie!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MandoZink

    About a decade ago I watched a report on some researchers who went to the Mideast to investigate some of the reported biblical events and their possible logical origins. Coincidentally, there happened to be an El Nino event occurring in the northern hemisphere at the same time. The El Nino weather was creating toxic red-algae blooms in several areas of the world, including the Red Sea, at the time (water turned to blood and fouled). The western U.S. was experiencing excessive moisture from the events, which resulted in "plagues" of mice and other vermin there, including the Hanta virus. Grasshoppers (locusts) then multiplied like crazy in the west.

    The researchers then realized that the excessive rains that the El Nino might have encouraged would have caused the rye crops in Egypt to develop ergot fungi, which would continue festering in the graineries. Customs of the time dictated that the firstborn son always got fed bread first, and if there was any leftover, the firstborn was given the excess. You can guess who ended up with ergotamine poisoning.

    Talk about a revelation! Today, we would understand what was going on. Back then it must have seemed like a runaway disaster – of "biblical" proportions. The researchers didn't speculate on the possibility of the what else the unusual weather might do, but now these scientists have. Totally explainable, and was probably greatly embellished as the victims related the story down the generations.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Linda

    Truly these are the words of my testimony: only by the Blood of the Lamb we can be saved. Jesus loves all of you. His Love goes b eyond the deepest sin.May He lift the veil from those who still struggle to believe that Jesus is the Anointed One,the only Saviour. God, the Father of Jesus is longing to have a relationship with you.look He stands at the door knocking.whosoever opens,He will come in and feast with you. Father God Your Son said when I am lifted up I will draw all people to Myself. I pray for every contributor to these comments. That they will not only experience Your Lover but also Your Power. Thank you that You can love us beyond our follies,insecurities and iniquities.our philosophies and vain arguments.All glory belongs to You,even the parting of the sea.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomeTruth

      You are delusional, dear, sorry.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mary

      adressing some truth your the delusional one or maybe just ignorant who knows it could be both

      September 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      The light came into the darkness, and the darkness could not comprehend the light.

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

    what a waste of time. Thank you CNN for doing your part by incrementally making the masses that much more deluded.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CalgarySandy

    There were no Jews in Egypt. There were no Jews that early. The wandering tribes of people were not Jews. They worshipped a variety of gods and godesses. It was not until much later that they became Jews. Their god supposedly incited them to slaughter every man, woman, and child along with their animals in order to make that small chunk of land theirs. The Chosen People claim that they started their 'nation' with genocide. I doubt Moses had anything to do with it as there likely was no Moses, at least of the river or sea parting sort. The Egyptians made records of what was going on in that nation. They tell the good, the bad and the ugly and in none of them do Jews or Chosen People show up. Millions of dollars and research hours go into these myths, attempting to prove things that have no basis in the historical or archeological work. That money could go to education and health care for the millions in, say, Darfur. BTW, Israel tried to keep the Darfur refugees out of their precious country until Jewish people went up against their own government.

    I am not anti-semitic. I like all the Jews I have met and the Arabs; who are also semitic. I just have no use for Israel as it is a nation based on historical garbage about the Chosen People. I call the area Palestine and see no reason that people who lived there for nearly 2000 years were thrown into concentration camps. The whole thing is about guilt in the west for not helping German Jews persecuted by the Nazi. So we turn around and treat the Palestinians like the Nazi's dd the Jews. Israel picked up where the Nazi left off but the abuse is of Palestinians who have been born in concentration camps. Why are the Jews more important than the Palestinians and when will we see some accurate history of these Chosen People. I am irritated that God did not love all of us. 🙂

    September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr Know

      Well said!!

      September 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marcus Moore

    God did it. Didn't need no 63 MPH wind! He just did it! Just because you don't believe it, don't mean it didn't happen. Moses parted the Red Sea. Jonah was swallowed up by a great fish. Jesus died on the cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb and God raised him from the dead three days later. You have to understand that the Bible has been around for how many centuries?!? And to this day, nobody has been able to find any doctrinal discrepancies. NONE!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ms. Legal

    Paul D. – well said. Thank you for your comment, brother. God bless you.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Truth

    aliens.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KO

    what do you think a (Tornado) that occured 1000's of years ago would have looked like to the people who lived back then? ya know the one that in modern day takes down 4 houses and leaves 1 untouched! we have science understanding for this now. back then? it could easily be considered a mirical of sorts.
    they just didn't know any better. if any of these books/writings are closer to correct in my opinion...i side with the myans. LOL

    September 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. adrifter

    Don't these university researchers have anything better to do than waste their time trying to prove fables. What a ridiculous use to time and resources. Geez.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Drew

    Why do people still waste their time with this stuff?

    September 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
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