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. Dirk Diggler

    Religion poisons everything.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. jersey born

    tom cruise did it

    September 22, 2010 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ray Joseph Cormier Ottawa-Hull CanaDa

    According to Genesis, God created the Man in the image and likeness of God and placed him in the Garden naked and unashamed. Observing the Man, God saw room for improvement, saying it is not good that Man should be alone so I will make a help meet for Man. Causing a deep sleep to come upon the Man, God took a rib and closed up a different arrangement of flesh. It was left to the Man to call a spade a spade or name everything as it pleased him. On waking and seeing this new creature for the 1st time, the Man says, Whoa Man! and Woman was named. Medical Science confirms this Bible story by the facts of X & Y chromosomes.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  4. hmmm

    isnt that why its called a MIRACLE?! its not supposed to be scientifically possible.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Kurt

    The "fable" Alison talks about does not say a Man did it. God did it through a man. Big difference. What controls the wind? God....

    September 22, 2010 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. Codepwned

    Hey, the bible is one of the most action packed fiction novels ever. Millions (2.2 million using numbers provided) of people slaughtered by an omnipotent being, betrayal, incest, and over 5000 active versions of it in print today each one slightly different from the next with it's own interpretation of a book written 2000 years ago, by monks, who heard second and third hand from drunks, rapists, sodomites and murders the word of god!

    Get real people. Religion was a method of control, but more importantly a guide to live your life during a period where there were NO laws, NO moral code, NO police...

    If you can't say "I believe"... without the words "because god/bible said so"... then you need to stop and rethink your life.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. Matthew

    True miracle then. Or Moses had a pretty good weather forecasting team with him. BTW, can people walk in such a strong windy situation?

    September 22, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. MikeE

    @Tom Paine – not sure why it is so hard to believe – read up on the Battle of Yorktown – a freak storm hit in the middle of the night to swamp them trying to escape the area at the exact moment the British tried to cross the James River. Strange things happen at opportune moments all the time.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. AK

    Psalm 53:1-4
    1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.
    2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.
    3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
    4 Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      @AK If you believe that, please refrain from occupying my hemisphere.

      September 22, 2010 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Josh

    I love science. It disproves the "biblical truths" about Christianity one step at a time. How could you even think that a man could part a body of water? Are you serious? Go read your fictional stories and leave the people who have the capacity to think alone.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. Anonymous

    Check out Ron Wyatt's archeological research at the Gulf of Aqaba on the Beach at Nuweiba. This leads Mount Sinai to be in Saudi Arabia.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Djozar

    This is old news; Whitson in his translation of Josephus Flavius already suspected this in the 19th century. Using reports from other authors, he knew there were crossings where winds cleared the way for travel. It's recorded that even Alexander the Great knew of this passage.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. Pow

    What happened to miracles?! There are some events that take place and that cannot be explained through science. So now human will try to apply science to every single thing in this world? This article and discussion is simply ridiculous.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Chaz

    Moses was the guy that stole the rims off my honda

    September 22, 2010 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. AK

    Those are not contradictions you list – they are your misinterpretation and lack of understanding. God opens the path of salvation to all. If you accept it, He will show you the wonders of His word. If you decline it, you will experience His wrath in the end of time. It takes faith and sometimes a very difficult situation in life for one to acknowledge His presence. I pray you humble yourself and open your mind and heart to listen to his quiet knock @ the door of your heart – before you take your last breath. God bless you!

    September 22, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • frank

      @ AKh
      No, an effective leader does NOT leave things open for interpretation. Show me in His perfectly written book of tales where these contradictions are fully explained.

      There is no God, no Heaven, and no Hell. These are all tools to control the masses and they have been using these same tools since the dawn of time. Every civilization has had it's myths and legends that were designed to try to explain the unknown. Every civilization has seen it's deities die off and replaced by the new powerful beliefs of the new ruler. History has repeated itself over and over again.

      God B-less

      September 23, 2010 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
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