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. What

    @ Patient Observer take your Dark ages dreams with you we do not need more ignorance enough is enough

    September 22, 2010 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. Robear in Ojai

    Bottom line is... the bottom line!

    Such articles are designed and written to provoke heated comments and reactions. I poked my nose in because I'm an armchair Egyptologist and anything about ancient Egypt interests me, I read the story and thought the whole thing is fluff. What is not fluff, however, is the very real passion all sides are pouring into this insolvable debate, while CNN and Turner Corp are laughing all the way to the bank with the monies collected from the advertisers you see on this very page.

    Christians, Atheists, Scientists, Non-Believers and others, I tell you this: This article is bait, pure and simple bait to get you all worked up defending your creed or lack thereof. And the more hits the page gets – CATCHING! – You get the idea...

    September 22, 2010 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rat

    reck0ner said
    "..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... "

    You sir (I use that term loosely) must not be a christain either as there is not a person on this earth who has not sinned and to think yourself to not be a sinner is a sin in itself. A murderer can be christain, a criminal can be a christain, a sinner can be a christain......anyone can be a christain. Who are you to pass judgement on these people and deem them not worthy of being a christain. Only the God you worship has that power and you surely are not him.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. JohnWorsham

    If you actually believe that a human being existed that could magically make water part...Lol...

    September 22, 2010 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. JohnWorsham

    Charlton Heston used movie tricks to make the water part

    September 22, 2010 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    The worst thing one can do is throw facts at morons. Leave magic and illusion to David Copperfield

    September 22, 2010 at 2:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. frank

    *high five*

    You brought up the generalization that Atheists are bad people, I just showed you that your claim is clearly not true, and please don't try to state that Hitler, Stalin and others were Atheists, we all know this to be a lie, and we've heard it all before, and we've debunked it all before.

    May God B-less

    September 22, 2010 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. reck0ner

    @Frank is written, a fool hath no delight in understanding but that their heart may discover itself. Via rudimentary deductive reasoning you should been able to discern the Truth in the statement: a dog chasing his own tail; as it applies to you. I do infact submit my reasoning to a circular thought pattern but not that which you pucked up... GOD'S Word is The Law! impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man; of morals, evils and of good: than all the sages can. Sweet is the lure GOD'S nature brings... our meddling intellect: misshapes the beauteous forms of things; we murder to dissect. Enough of science and of art, close up those barren leaves... come forth and bring with you a heart: that watches and receives -William Wordsworth

    September 22, 2010 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. peter

    To hell with those thomases.Who do not believe in God.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. darren

    it just an old folk story and dont tell me u people believe every single things happen at that just a way for them to come out this story from boredom of painful and difficult life at that violent period.....

    September 22, 2010 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. reck0ner

    @rat ...All have sinned steph but not all continue in those sins... whosoever committeth sin is of the devil... whosoever is born of GOD doth not commit sin, for their seed remaineth in GOD and they cannot sin. In this the children of GOD are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of GOD... Though some only turn their back to GOD, not their face, so that when their judgement comes they can shout, "save me!" ...not everyone that saith Lord, Lord shall enter into The Kingdom of Heaven ...if your righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of mere sinners, you will not enter into The Kingdom of Heaven ye therefore perfect even as The GOD is perfect... Thus saith The Word of GOD JESUS CHRIST, "...if you love ME, keep MY Commandments... whosoever loveth ME not, keepeth not MY Commandments..." (St John 14:23-24) can you love someone you don't know? How can you know someone you don't love? who will save your soul, if you won't save your own?

    ...and unbeliever trying to explain the scripture to believer! what is the world coming to?

    September 22, 2010 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. Guessagain


    In south Florida at least 2,500 were killed when a storm surge from Lake Okeechobee breached the dike surrounding the lake, flooding an area covering hundreds of square miles.[1] In total, the hurricane killed at least 4,078 people and caused around US$100 million ($1.27 billion 2010 USD) in damages over the course of its path.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jeff

    You are all idiots.....there has been more proof of the bible than anything....

    September 22, 2010 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
  14. James

    I agree with a lot people here. Religion is the biggest scam that creates death and corruption around the world. There are too many unnecessary deaths because of the peoples so called “Gods”.
    f you do believe in god then he must not love his people to cause all this suffering and pain without even giving an understanding of WHY. All people can say is have faith he has a plan. That plan is your going to die. And that is the TRUTH!

    September 22, 2010 at 3:24 am | Report abuse |
  15. free2comment

    tax payer money funded this research?

    September 22, 2010 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
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