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. KJ

    It's beyond amazing to me that one big explosion set into motion everything into distinct patterns, rhythms, temperatures, life, our bodies, our brains, genetic codes, animals, everything that is alive, unlimited variations of foods, flowers, seeds, plants, etc.. How does one explain why we experience beauty in nature and in living life? How can one not look at the enormity of the majestic mountains or the roaring seas, the power of a thunderstorm, or experience the birth of a child and not be moved spiritually? We are not drones and robots that exist by happenstance or natural selection. We are all physically created alike but set apart by an inner soul. Above all, the complexities that have brought us to this point can come only through design and not by just a roll of the cosmic dice. If this had been so; we'd have won the lottery every day since the universe began.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill T

      How can one not experience the wonders of cancer and think and think, god did this just for me?
      How can one not praise god when a their child is molested and see his majesty?
      How can one not doubt the existence of a loving god with all the suffering in the world...

      September 26, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. frank

    Now I am offended by your ridiculous comment to the user "rat". Atheists, Agnostics and Pagans plan to lie, murder, cheat and steal their horrible way through life...

    Google if you will prison population based on religious affiliation. Keep in mind that Atheists, Agnostics and Pagans represent less than 10% of the population (north America), per capita representation SHOULD indicate that 10% of the prison population also be Atheist, Agnostic and Pagans... OR if we are all liars, theives and murderers, close to 100% of the prison population (with the exception of fallen evangelical ministers, and catholic pedofile priests)... Funny how this is no where NEAR the reality of the FACTUAL prison populations (less than 5%)

    Epic Fail. God B-less

    September 22, 2010 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Guest

    Where did the Easter Bunny lay his eggs???

    September 22, 2010 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. reck0ner

    ...the fool has said in their heart, there is no GOD because they are corrupt and have done abominable things [] I.E. se*ual sin wrap up in a perverse, extremly excessive life style at a sick job probably selling material lust.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:30 am | Report abuse |
  5. In a bed with Moses

    Instead of asking whether it is possible, how about asking whether the event actually did happen? After all, there is absoutely NO EVIDENCE–historical, literary, archaeological , etc.–that it did happen at all. so why bother asking about its scientific possibility?

    Secondly, the "faithful" discredit science every chance they get, so why are scientists so concerned about arguing in their favor? Who are they trying to convince?

    September 22, 2010 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. hahaha

    Moses let rip a divine fart that parted the Nile. It was so powerful Minos heard it in Knossos.

    Sheesh, why not, everything is possible for Yahveh. :-))

    September 22, 2010 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
    • numbnut

      Oh, that was great!!

      September 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Graham Cooke

    Perhaps an examination of the sea bed to see if there are any traces of Pharaoh's army would be in order. It's quite possible that some remains would survive in the mud.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
  8. What!

    Is this some kind of a Joke! mixing mythology with science...Moses never existed neither this ever happened.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. Patient Observer

    To those who simply hate religion,
    Every organized religion is imperfect. No religion can state that they have never made mistakes throughout history. But does that really mean that you should condemn an entire belief system because of the history of its human representation? Or should you instead actually learn the beliefs of differing religions and reflect on them? If you honestly still completely HATE that belief system, then by all means, explain to me why. I would love to hear how helping the world's poor, trying to give people a sense of belonging, or trying to attain understanding are actions worth hating.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. What

    Moses never existed neither this ever happened, enough nonsense and manipulation!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Patient Observer

    To believers,
    I pose the same logic to you. Can't you see that an honestly atheist person cannot see any way a god could exist? In the end, is it not more likely that they will never believe? I can understand wanting to "save" them, if that is what you believe, but if that were the case, is this really the best forum for their salvation? Any internet forum on a major website like this will be filled with so many idiots and bigots that any message you may have will be lost. And to those who simply feel that this article supports your beliefs in one, true God, please try to be satisfied with that. You do not need to degrade yourself to respond to useless comments.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. Patient Observer

    To too many posters, many of which will never read this,
    If you have a view, please, for humanity's sake, express it with SOME class or decency or grammar or respect for others' opinions. If you don't want to take the time to do that, then please don't senselessly try to anger others.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. constructiv1

    This is a pure illusion!! Now use computer simulation to explain how Jesus walked on the water (sea ).
    Please! Stop diminishing the work which displays the glory of God

    September 22, 2010 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. reck0ner

    the prison population where 40+ percent is made up of a minority of the overall population? ...that prison population? GET REAL! ..a person who is murdering is a murderer not a christian... a person who is committing a crime is a criminal not a law abiding citizen....a person who is sinning is a sinner not a christian who is being an behaving like a christian; even though that sinner thinks they are a good person and convinces their little ethnic monoculture of the same thing... that was and is the real problem with the prison system: fair skin ethnic mono-cultures the real reason the world sucks and christianity is mis-percieved.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Rat

    reck0ner you are unreal. You use Einstein and Newton to attempt to backup your argument that there are links between science and religion. Since their times, those arguments have been laid to rest and proved incorrect using the very scienctific theories they helped to define. Your religous views have blinded you to this fact and in so doing you tell others to wake up as if they are the ones without a clue. Many of us here know which of us needs to wake up and it surely isn't me.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
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