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. God

    Man wrote it and man atempts to prove it

    September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      These people you speak of are only trying to prove and disprove these things to themselves. What is, is and what isn't, isn't. What happened did so or not regardless of our consensus or belief. God does not need you to believe as much as I do not need you to believe in me to exist. Mankind is just the blind leading the blind, no matter religion or science or govt. I will grasp what little truth I have discovered and try to shed and repel the lies. I do not get to chose what truth is, till I figured that out I was even more messed up than I am now. Truth does not emanate from us, we are merely vessels of it, if we choose to be.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • espray

      I thought like you, but when i read it, i realized it is indeed supernatural . . . man could have not have written it

      September 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Eddy

    this crap is stupid im suprised this is on cnn and not on fox.
    we dont even know most of the bible considering the catholic church burned a lot of the stuff they did not want people to know. ( I wonder why? hmmmmmmmmmmm)

    September 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Why, on God's green Earth, would THIS be on a conservative venue like Fox? Fox would NEVER publish science that even partially refutes something in Christian mythology! That's borderline liberalizm for them!! However I DO agree with you about the Catholic Church eliminating parts of the original text in the bible. I have faith! 😉

      September 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris

    Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I choose to love the Lord. With that comes faith. Faith doesn't need science. It is interesting but, "seeing isn't believing.. believing is seeing". Faith is the belief He is there...period. It is my right to live this way. I don't make fun of those who choose not to believe. It is their choice. I will pray for them!

    September 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Goood

    Funny how everyone wants to think Science disproves religon, but Science can't even prove Evolution using the scientific method. All it can do is reference rocks and dirt to prove it's THEORIES. No one has ever witnessed macro-evolution. And no one has claimed to. And so the religion of atheism evolves. Even natural selection doesn't work. Why don't eskimos have thicker skin to keep warm? And why havn't those people who live near coastal areas evolved gills yet?

    September 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • DJ Cooper

      Why didn't god give eskimos thicker skin, or coastal dwellers gills? And what's up with bad knees, breathing and eating sharing the same tube, only 1/3 of the planet being habitable for humans, and a cold, airless and radiation filled universe? How come certain animals got better eyes, can run faster and are stronger? Why didn't god design us so we wouldn't need clothes or shelter?

      September 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eddy

      because evolution takes more then ten thousand yrs
      and they actually have smaller eyes so the reflection of the sun from the snow does not go into their eyes as much.
      and if you want to play that game
      why does god not just show himself. i mean all there is are religious books that have been edited to see everything as if that religion is right. and

      September 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sybaris

      You don't need science to disprove religion.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomeTruth

      This "God" has never, *ever* restored an amputated human limb - no matter how fervently it was 'prayed' for.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Interesting how those "rocks and dirt" shows increasing complexity of life through the layers of strata as well as 5 mass extinctions of species...i guess God's acts of creation include mistakes where he makes things and then destroys comforting..and does that make sense? I thought the world was perfect before sin? Also take note that people who live at higher elevations have larger lungs than the rest of us. Evolution at work? How bout flaws in our design? 1 in 8 people have a defective Appendix that has to be removed or the person dies..and it has no known function..oh that tricky deity of yours..Oh and you would never actually see macro-evolution occuring right in front of your eyes as all species are transitional in nature. One could claim discovering new species (which occurs all the time) could be evidence of it. Additionally I see many craters on the moon but never seen an impact on it on my lifetime..i guess that means those craters could not have possibly arrived via impact then according to your logic? God just dug those holes for fun?

      September 22, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThinkRationally

      Wow, Goood, those are your refutations for evolution? Guess what–evolution doesn't make claims about perfection; good enough to survive is good enough for evolution. Clearly, "Eskimos" don't need thicker skin to survive. As for gills, why does simply living NEAR water require gills? The real question is if God created man, why did he include these apparent design flaws you’re pointing out? Why did God “design” childbirth to be so painful and dangerous? Why not a trap door or something quick and easy like that? Evolution allows childbirth in this way because it was “good enough” for survival. Have you really thought this through, or did your arguments just sound like good reinforcement of your entrenched beliefs?

      Oh, and calling atheism a religion is nothing more than an attempt to be able to debate on equal footing, to make atheism and science subject to same arguments used against religion. This is false, and it is kind of an admission that the religious argument is weak.

      I see you capitalized “theory” as if that was an important point. Once again, please learn what a scientific theory is, and stop falling for the talking points. The scientific community uses this term itself, and the scientific community was NOT intending to instill doubt by its use—it simply has a meaning in science that many people refuse to educate themselves about. Evolution is considered fact, and the current best explanation for this fact is evolutionary theory. The evidence, if you care to investigate, is monumentally overwhelming.

      September 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sam

    The fact is, in Christianity there is no need for scientifc explanations. God is supernatural, all powerful, and can do ALL things. Perform as many engineering, medical, and scientific tests as you wish. God's awesome power is beyond our understanding or explanation. In this case, there is absolutely no scientific justification for God parting the water. Is there scientific justification for The Plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, or darkness? (Exodus 7, 8, & 9)

    September 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      No. There is no scientific explanation for the Easter bunny either and for the same reason.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. flippen

    this just in... Scientist have discovered it is possible for little bitty people, along with an overweight jolly man to survive in the north pole living entirely on lolly pops, hot coco, and hugs.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • redcat

      flippin hehehehehehe

      September 21, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Hey! Santa's a pagan insertion into Christian beliefs! This article is a scientific insertion into a Christian fable. Great call, Flippin!

      September 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jerry

    I'm convinced, where do I convert?

    September 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Devin

      Well Jerry, what is it you want to convert to? If it's Christianity, I can help you. Just need to figure out how to get in touch.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. catherine

    The bible is just a story book folks with a lot of fairy tales in it and in reality there is no being up high behaving like a celestial North Korea above us looking down and watching our every move and reading our every thought. I mean what person in their right mind would want that anyway. The bible was created before science was brought to this earth to make people feel safe and sane.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Omnipotence

      A pupil of Hitchens I see 🙂

      September 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Omnipotence, that’s just the sort of nasty vacuous retort I’ve come to expect from christians

      September 21, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      I have yet to find anything mentioned in a fairy tail mentioned in scripture. I have yet to find most things in scripture that those who have not read it claim are there.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    Woe to you unbelievers! God is a mighty God. He will not be mocked! And Moses raised his staff and the almighty power of God parted the waters and raised a fireball before the Pharoah's army. God is omnipotent and all powerful. Do not use science to explain away His miracles. Who is the power behind the wind and the waves? He who created the earth and the universe and man. No man can come unto God but through Christ our Lord. Amen

    September 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sybaris

      Right Bob. Move the goalposts enough and you'll eventually get one through.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomeTruth

      But "he" can't even regenerate an amputated human limb - omnipotent... in your dreams.

      September 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      Bob ........ God may not be mocked ......... but you certainly will be. Get off your soapbox and set down your mighty thunderbolt. God will smite us down (or not) in His own good time – not yours.

      September 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      read judges 1:19
      And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

      The 'lord' got his holy butt kicked.

      September 21, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      SomeTruth – Laughable name.......Anyways, won't and can't are a far stretch.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      Scott – read closer. It says "they drove out the mountaineers" and "they could not drive out the charioteers" If you had any understanding of scripture as a whole you might realize that "they" reached the limits of what was expected of "them". They were not meant to displace those mentioned. Your argument is as weak as your mind.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. whatever

    science schmience isnt it coincidental that they were there at just the right time and they made it through and then the egyptians tried and it closed up? I guess thats called a friendly wind LOL

    September 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alison

      so is a fart in a garbage dump

      September 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Juliette

    Regrettably, God is in a no-win situation when it comes to non believers. If he does miracles using natural events, they are not miracles and God is fake. If he does a miracle which cannot be explained or proven, then it never happened, there is nothing to support it. Only when a person departs this earth will a persontruly know for sure whether their faith was baseless or not.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rebel

      It is extremely arrogant to assume God needs us for anything. Also, how does the creator of all things "lose"? Especially if all things are possible for said God. Couldn't it be possible that our perception of things might be so limited that we might be truly ignorant of actual reality?

      September 22, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. roger watson

    i like gooods comment typical of people that are stricken with god disease, doesnt even have a clue in the vast gulf between a well read /educated/ scientific mind and his own. quoting muhammed ali or mr t ? pity the fool

    September 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nambo

    The fact that it might be possible physically, does not mean it could have happened as stated. It's physically possible for 2 wild lions to line up and march onto a ramp to an ark without any training, but the real chance of that happening is 0.

    The idea that some divine intervention magically controlled and manipulated our physics should be considered ludicris in today's standards. If you're going to believe that, you might as well believe in Santa Claus coming down your chimney once a year to give you gifts.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Amy

    How awesome is our God! Science is now showing a way for us to understand a miracle! I very much enjoyed this article!

    September 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Richard

    It's a story in the Bible people. It was never meant to be taken literally.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
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