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. G.Sandoval

    OK Great,..... so where is the miracle?

    September 21, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JJinCVCA

    ....where did waters part for Moses?... That would be nowhere in reality. Bible stories are not based in any semblence of reality. You might as well ask as where exactly did Goldilocks encounter the wolf, or where exactly in the north pole does Santa's workshop stand? None of these things exist.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      Goldilocks was in Germany (hence the blonde hair) and encountered the THREE BEARS, while Little Red Riding Hood (who apparently worked for the Red Cross) encountered the WOLF. Next thing you will be saying is that Santa Claus leaves you money under your pillow for your teeth that fall out and the Easter Bunny won't give you any candy unless you yell, "trick or treat". Or maybe, "Obama is going to fix the economy".

      September 22, 2010 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. Patti

    Given the bible is a work of fiction, that would mean Moses didn't part a sea anywhere.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dcmoses

    Like the earth created in 7 days that is in fact the 7 endoctrine glands or centers where the spirit ties to the body, people are refered to as water in the bible as well.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. GL

    This type of debate is nothing new. It boils down to whether or not God exists. The fact of the matter is that God exists no matter we believe it or not, or how many people believe. It is in vain for human to try to prove it using any means – scientific or non-scientific. Keep in mind as creator of everything, God is above all creation, so He is beyond any physical law. Yes, believing God requires faith, but not-believing in God requires greater faith.

    It is no surprising that many people are discredit the God's existence. God's word the bible prophesy that as the current system of thing draws to the end, a great number of humans won't have such faith in God. One main reason is that the god of this world – Satan the devil- is misleading many, and has blinded the eyes of many people, so glorious truth – the spiritual light can not shine through. However, those who are rightly disposed will have the insight and truth, disregard how people surrounding them view and act.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. D Johnson

    I know the whole thing is true I saw the movie about it on TV. They are not allowed to put anythiing on tv that is not true.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tyrannasaurus


    September 21, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James

    That's pretty cool. Having reviewed the source article as well, it looks like a decently reputable group as well. It's entirely possible that this isn't a bunch of hooey. The detractors are correct on a point – this is still pseudoscience right now... just a model. It'll be real science when the models predict real phenomenon that have yet to be observed.

    The biblical implications depend on your perspective. One might conclude that, way back in the day, a crafty old Jew used local knowledge of an interesting phenomenon (at grave risk to all involved) to not only escape an army, but to elevate himself to Prophet and King. Reminds me of crafty wall-streeters using insider knowledge to appear prescient and skilled, thereby climbing the corporate ladder. Classic example of what Hawking was going on about – science reveals the natural world and makes the deity previously responsible, obsolete.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. b0bc4t

    So there is no possibility ths took place, just like there was never a land bridge between the Aleutian Islands and Russian Penninsula, only because it is not there now...... By that reasoning, there shouldn't be water in the NorthWest Passage, because it was all ice covered when I was a child. And you can't prove a tornado exists, until one tears your house apart....It was just a little windy!
    The Earth is a very diverse place, and features change over time. Other myths in India were only revived and evidence discovered after the tsunami..... In Biblical times, what would the tsunami explanation be? God cast his hand out over the water, it swept back in fear, then rose up to smite the unbelievers!
    Better call Bush and Clinton, their fundraiser should have been placed in the collection basket and whisked off to the Vatican coffers!
    Believers will continue to believe and find comfort and reinforcement in the everyday miracles that we take for granted; a sunrise, a flower bloom, conception and birth of a child. Nay sayers will ask for proof, and where none is offered, they claim their proof in the absence of evidence.

    I would agree with you .... but then we'd Both be Wrong!
    (take your pick on which side of the fence to stand and fight for Your beliefs)

    September 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |

    Scients pls explain right momnet,right place @ right time!?


    G-d is all..

    September 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. King Soloman

    News Flash GOD Did it. News flash if the wind was 63 mph that one day God was responsible. New flash If it took absoulte perfect timing for this occurance to take place Then God was at the wheel. New flash God was the one responsible for you to come to this conclusion. New flash God does exisit.

    Thank you i will be here all week.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. STLBroker

    Oh ye of little faith. Scoff if you must and our God is so great he will probably forgive you anyway.

    There doesn't need to be a scientific explanation, that we can understand anyway. There is such a thing as the supernatural. It is arrogant to think that just because our feeble minds can't understand certain things that they aren't possible for a being that created the entire universe.

    Arthur C Clarke said that "any technology sufficiently advanced would appear to us as magic". There may well be a "scientific" explanation for the events of the Bible but that doesn't necessarily mean that we have the capacity to understand God's technology.

    In other words, a child can't understand complex things like rocket science and yet we have sent men to the moon.

    Humble yourselves and come to grips with the fact that you don't know as much as you think you do. We are not freak accidents of nature and the universe itself did not just explode into existence for no reason.

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

      “universe itself did not just explode into existence for no reason” Cool by me, now prove your god did it.

      September 21, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracy

      I have often thought that god was a kid with an ant farm. That he wasn't a good keeper of that ant farm either. Why did others get the chance to see that he really existed but we have to take his existence on faith? I don't get it! If he cared so much for us and cared about how we treated his creations, wouldn't you, as keeper of said ant farm, make sure that it was running smoothly? Would you allow death and destruction in your name? Or would you allow others to kill in the name of false prophets or idols? Here's another theory...God set everything into motion and then turned his back on us! The "science project" is out of control and the only way to set it right is to clean the slate and start again...Armageddon! But Bruce Willis doesn't save the day! Even though I have these thoughts, I still believe there is a "creator"...just not in the sense as most of you. It may seem egotistical...but in my opinion, God has some answering to do for all that he has let happen out of his lack of responsibility for his charges! Thou Shalt not take a many lives have been taken in his name? He had/has the power to join humanity together just by showing himself! Stop the strife! If he can part the waters...he can put an end to religious wars and senseless deaths! Just my opinion!

      September 22, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. dcmoses

    Just as the 7 days of creation refers to the endroctrine glands or points where the spirit ties into the body, the divison of water is people that is good and bad.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      But that day is not today. In fact every day for the last 2000 years has not been that day

      September 22, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
  14. True Believer

    Do you people not understand that the Jewish Nation is God's choosen. God can do anything even dry up the mud while moving the water at the same time. One day we all will understand his power.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cory

    I dont get you "atheist" people – in general terms, most people either believe in God, or believe in science. It appears that a lot of you are so stupid that you believe in nothing at all. The really smart and educated people understand that religion and science support each other in many, many ways.

    To my point – some of you idiots on this comment board not only mock the idea of God, but you also mock (real) science that leads support to God. You idiots need to get a life – its no wonder this country is so messed up. If you think science has credibility, then you can't discount it when it supports religion. To do so makes you a hippocrite and and idiot at the same time. I'm sure if the science discredited religion, you would be talking about "once again science shows us that....". Pick a side – if you support science, they pull your heads out and acknolwedge – at a minimum – that this particular bible story has roots in real work physics and science. To do otherwise puts your brain pan in question.

    September 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luke

      Science that supports God, Prey tell with all your wisdom, what is this science? If you have some I will begin agreeing with you, that's what always bothered me about religion, the absolute lack of plausibility.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • IC

      Science doesn't need "belief". There is this thing called PROOF, which means that you can do the same thing multiple times and end up with the same result. Try dropping an apple. The only thing that needs "belief" or "faith" is religion. The next time a sea is parted because someone asks that supposed God to do it, you can talk.

      September 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
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