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. Villy

    Hey Kenny, people go to hell because they don't accept the pardoning blood of Jesus Christ

    September 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fuyuko

    too much time is spent trying to 'prove' things mentioned in the bible as being historically accurate, when so much is clearly myth and has been embellished.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Mendonca

      Things prophecied hundreds of years before hand and then they come to pass. If anyone really desires truth, one would seriously understand the times and seasons in which are unfolding. Israel was prophecied that they would cease to be a nation and then they would be born again in one day. That was prophecied before the birth of Jesus and in May 1948 it happened. One example, hundreds more if one cares to prepare ones self for the soon return of Jesus.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Fuyuko, it's like politics! I get it now!

      September 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Debra

    Yes, God parted the waters....thank you for acknowledging that fact.....but they did not cross over mud.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ronnie

    OMG! The best selling fiction book of all time and these morons actually think any body of water was parted? Give me a break!

    September 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JoePhilly

    God is a make believe crutch.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cer512

    I am not tired of the scientist that needs to keep going around debunking miracles. In this case they still haven't disproved the miracle. Scientist can only look at so many factors they can't go back in time and talk to Moses or the men that were saved by the miracle. I am pretty sure Moses had no idea that a 63mph wind would be blowing that day and it planned that all of the perfect conditions would create a natural occurrence that would save them. He had faith that is all. That is all God has ever asked from us is to acknowledge his love with faith and worship. Is it an example a metaphor or real? Christians should not be getting into this debate. Just have some faith in a loving God and see what story he writes for you.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Aubrie

    An upcoming hurricane will suck all the water out of bay system. It did that here in Corpus Christi years ago. So it's not a stretch to imagine a storm doing the same south of the Mediterranean.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ben

    the moon is made of cheese. Brie, in fact.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. There are no gods

    I can not believe that people would take these silly fables so seriously that they will create the perfect situation on a computer that backs up their silly stories. Well, I guess it is not that unbelievable sense we are talking about the most neurotic humans on Earth the religies.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      " There are no gods" ... And you know this ?

      September 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Villy

    If Moses & Abraham never existed, how do i know you exist????

    September 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Aradan

    There is no archeological evidence that Moses existed, much less archeological evidence of the Biblical Exodus. Nor is there any evidence of the Biblical extended day associated to Joshua or the Noachian flood. Troy was found, and you don't see people don’t wasting time contriving computer models to explain the supernatural elements of the Iliad and the Odyssey. It is likewise absurd to do so for the fictional story of the Red Sea parting for Moses.

    People should just accept these Bronze Age stories as the cultural moral metaphors they were meant to be, and leave it at that.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Floria sigmundi

    Has anybody ever thought that maybe this was a fairy tale like Adam and eve or noahs ark? In no way did we start from one man and one woman and people still remember. And it's impossible to fit all the animals onto an ark an it's so convenient their in pairs. What If one died or ate each other and how do you feed animals that feed off each other. You can't manipulate nature

    Check out this video on YouTube

    September 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Anu

    What Hocus Pocus. They can even make humas fly in these animations. If you manipulate all the forces right, even that is possible. Why are these people wasting time to give legitimacy to some myth is beyong me, when they can spend time on other stuff like finding alternate fuel.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. mm

    This is stupid. A 60 mph wind would render people and animals from walking. It would have blown away the children and the light weight animals and all their light weight possessions. This one does not fly with me.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      At first glance, your comment seems to have merit. However, with just a brief read of Exodus 14:21, the Bible states clearly that there was a wall of water both on the left and right as the Israelites past through. Since it would take a wind of extraordinary force to do such a thing ( thereby inhibiting them from walking ), it stands to reason that some other force must have been holding the waters at bay. That "force" would be God.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thorrsman

      No, a 60 mile an hour wind would not keep people or animals from walking. Out here in the West, the prairie wind often gusts up to more than 80 miles an hour and you can walk just fine. You got to lean into it a bit, of course, but people and cattle have no trouble getting about.

      September 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mind

    The Bible
    Written by man
    edited by man
    proclaimed to be the word of man

    September 21, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
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