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. Le Chugg

    Moses never even existed so nothing was ever parted.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      @Le Chugg, show me proof Moses never existed. Your leap of faith in that statement is no less grand than a persons faith in an eternal God.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Chuck, there's no way to prove a negative. How would you go about proving something never existed? It would be easier for you to go out and prove that Moses DID exist. Go ahead! I'll wait here. 😉

      September 22, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Moli

      @Chuck show me proof that Moses existed outside of the Bible

      September 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Judy

    Nothing was ever said about Moses parting the Nile. The river was the Jordan, and Moses didn't part it either. Scripture says that God let an east wind blow all night that parted the waters. Also, according to Biblical Archaeology, chariot wheels, etc. have been found there.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      ”according to Biblical Archaeology, chariot wheels, etc. have been found there.” If you don’t list the source of your “facts” I must assume you just made it up.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. canadianguy

    The distance between the earth and sun is millions of miles away, and yet If I am taking a tan on the beach and if the sun is one increment less or more in distance, I am fried. We cannot be so lame to say that we are not part of a higher realm of being who created this world. Whether Moses parted the sea or not, the Jews are in Israel, and that's the whole point of the crossing and struggle.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      WRONG!!! From one day to the next the earth is never the same distance to the sun. The earth travels in an elliptical orbit (not spherical) and it’s distance to the sun is always changing.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. avos

    who cares – let me get on to my daily life

    September 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • rakling

      Then why did you read this? I don't understand your logic?

      September 22, 2010 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. brad

    Athiests and even some believers have looked for God in the wrong places. "The fool says IN HIS HEART, “There is no God.” God is found in the heart, not the brain. The brain is useful for the material plain only.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. tezzo

    In a world where there is so much doubt and skepticism about God and so many unbelievers, why wouldn't God reveal himself through the science that so many use as their guide. You still don't believe? Prepare for for judgemebt. for he said he will show you signs and wonders. Evidencce.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. joe

    Can a man safely cross a muddy seabed in the presence of a 60 mph wind? Or is this is mere quackery!

    September 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pete

    Anyone who reads Biblical events and takes them to be historical facts is making a genre mistake. Also as is mentioned in other comments, the correct translation in Exodus is the Sea of Reeds. There is also no evidence of Moses ever existing. The story of his birth is a clear example of an endangered child myth, which is prevalent throughout Mesopotamian culture. Lastly, I advise anyone who takes the Bible as fact, to read Genesis 1 and 2, and explain why there are two different creation stories and two different representations of God

    September 21, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kevelation

    Find the pharaohs army remains and you will have the exact location of the crossing.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Probability

    Is it more likely this is just some flimsy attempt to justify judeo-Christian mythology or that some ethniocentric invisible sky buddy pulls strings for one set of monkeys to overcome another set of monkeys?

    Like the story of Noah that likely has it's roots in the story of Zusundra this story probably has historical elements but is largely exaggerated to give it a fantastic feel.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robert W.

    I'm not saying this really proves anything but if science proves something possible that is in the bible, there are those who say it still cannot be true because it is in the bible. No surprise there.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rich

    The problem with this is that it's taking what's theoretically possible and confusing it with fact. Anything is theoretically possible, but whether it actually happened is a completely different issue. I find it interesting that computer models can predict with the best accuracy we have available what climatologists think WILL happen to our planet from climate change and many religious persons think it's hooey science, yet many of those same scientists will take a computer model using best case scenario parameters and believe it actually happened since it supports a biblical story.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dg

    The research suggests that, according to a computer simulation, a 63 mph wind blowing for 12 hours could push a known volume of water for a known distance. There's nothing really miraculous about that. It's really just straighforward math. Considering the coming changes in our climate, this type of research is relevant to our lives.

    Having said that, why would the National Center for Atmospheric Research (a federal agency) and the University of Colorado (a state school) be in the business of using science to prove or disprove a passage from the bible?

    If there is important research to be done related to climate and weather, then do the research, and let the research stand on its own merits. If not, let's find a better use of public resouces.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Byrd

    Excellent analysis. The part that is left out is that this so-called parting was part of a much larger cataclysm that did indeed produce floods covering the entire Earth. Many excellent articles have been written on the subject, most notably by Bruce Masse at JPL who has done extensive research on asteroid and comet impacts around the globe. He also compares flood "myths" found in practically every culture on Earth. The problem with the Bible is that the timeline is completely out of whack and can't be depended upon where dates are concerned. The biblical flood and the so-called parting of the waters were concurrent rather than separate events and should have been together in Genesis, which wasn't the dawn of Man, but the survivors story. People have been on this planet a whole lot longer than believed by most.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lars

    It was not Moses. Chuck Norris parted the sea.

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