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. Ningirsu

    Not all that surprising. The Bible is filled with allegory, and the exodus narrative (the story of Moses and Pharaoh) is nearly identical to the story of Jeroboam and the king of Judah (Solomon or Rehoboam). Exodus 1, in fact, has at least 6 or 7 references to Jeroboam and Solomon enclosed within that short chapter. Given that the geographical sites identified as exodus locations are all located in the eastern Sinai, one would be led to the conclusion that the exodus story is an allegorical rendering of the Israelite independence from Judah following Solomon's death. Isn't the Bible fun?

    September 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AA

    The only place the Nile Parted for Moses was on the Paramount Studios on Melrose Ave, Hollywood Ca.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Byrd

    The only thing Moses really parted was truth from actuality. The bible, as such, should basically be considered as Moses saying, "This is our story and we're sticking with it." Amazing that they've been able to continue this myth for well over two thousand years – probably actually closer to 6000 years – effectively concealing what actually occurred on that cataclysmic day when practically everyone on Earth died.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tim

    Can't we use our talents to further science rather than continuously propping up a ludicrous fairy tale? So maybe it could be possible, try explaining the sheer ignorance of Leviticus.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dan

    We brought the tribe of Israel across the sea and Pharaoh and his troops pursued them out of tyranny and enmity. Then, when he was on the point of drowning, he (Pharaoh) said, "I believe that there is no god but Him in whom the tribe of Israel believe. I am one of the Muslims." What, now! When previously you rebelled and were one of the corrupters? Today we will preserve your body so you can be a Sign for people who come after you. Surely many people are heedless of Our Signs. (Qur'an, 10: 90-92)2

    September 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. publius enigma

    This is not someone trying to prove that it could have happened. Its someone trying to take God out of the bible.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mikef

    i have another question regarding christianity...judge ye yest ye be come its right to force a culture into your beliefs and destroy it because they didnt share the same views? come allah says its ok to be a martyr and kill the innocent? does anyone look at the violence and bloodshed our religions have caused over time and even today? how come we all cant live in peace because of what is believed? im just pointing something out here and hopefully someone understands this..i myself have chosen to not have faith in any religion due to the fact that it is me what you will..i will not be any part of any religion that decides it is ok to build a structure with solid gold and copper when there are more needy people who cant even support their family in 3rd world countries that it could help and make the world 1 percent better than it is.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Maria

    Why can't people just accept that God exists and that His power IS manifested on earth! So you are telling me that at just the right moment when the Jews were escaping Pharoh the wind came and swept the land clear...JUST BECAUSE... No...sorry people it was God. Stop denying Him and embrace Him!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. B. Koch

    Why are scientists wasting their time to prove a fairy tale?!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mari

    Believe people...God exists whether you like it or not

    September 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hosea

    The problem with those of you that say you are not religious is, that is your religion. No one can be without a belief system. No one can be without a god. What matters is which god is yours. A true follower of Christ doesn't need any validation from "science". Have you noticed that in the old days scientist use to say theory (their best guess) but now they treat theory as fact until proven otherwise? What most don't seem to understand is God doesn't need to prove anything. Faith!

    September 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chris m

    God could have easily used the method described above to create the parting of the sea. Just think.. Eons earlier in a distant Galaxy when the Earth's Creator was contemplating creating earth and its inhabitants, He knew the exact day and hour that the Children of Israel would need to get across. Or he could have done the same act an INFINITE number of ways to accomplish the same feat. He is not limited as our limited understanding of science goes. After all, God is a God of order and Created the laws of science.
    He is the Alpha and Omega...

    September 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • ratkartz

      It's a myth, OK? Just get over it.

      September 21, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      This "all powerful God" of yours... Do you think he could make a rock so BIG, that even HE can't move it? Not so powerful now, is he?

      September 22, 2010 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. me

    i see all the atheist are at it again, why cant you just not believe and let us believe what we want?

    September 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      Why? Because you guys (religeous zealots) try to impose YOUR beliefs on us. Because you guys (religeous zealots) try to discredit scientific advancement with your fairytale idiology (texas vs evolution). Because you guys (religeous zealots) start wars over who's God is the right God when neither side has any proof that any God exists. Because organised religion is the SINGLE MOST DESTRUCTIVE FORCE in the HISTORY of mankind.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. Terry from West Texas

    I doubt that Moses ever existed. I don't think the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt. I don't think there was a migration of slaves from Egypt to Israel. I'm pretty sure the Red Sea never parted. It just doesn't get past the BS test.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TommyDeluge

    Hahaha really?? How convenient that this happened right when Moses needed it to! And thank "GOD" for these idiots that, are probably funded with tax payer dollars, create these simulations so that you can feel better about all the time and money that you waste going to church. The bible is just a story and nothing else. Pure fiction. Deal with it.

    September 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
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