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. Rafael

    Matching science to Bible's words wold isnt that much of a big deal. If I say something is true, it is, as far as my beliefs go. Why does it have to apply to someone's else faith?
    Everybody wants to own the truth. But no one really has it at all.
    A little piece of advice: Believe you God, Believe your science, or whatever... as long as you do all the best for you and your loved ones...
    Be good people!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jango Davis

    What a load of crapola! What's next, are the scientists going to figure out where Zeus banged Herculus mother? It's all myth and not worth anyone's time or money. I hope it wasn't some taxpayer-funded grant who paid that crapola "study."

    September 22, 2010 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. Brett

    After seeing how retarded people in America are currently I can only imagine how gullible people were back when the bible was written. This experiment was a waste of money.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. fluffpuppy

    @ Erik: I could understand if you said that people were "deluded", but I'm having difficulty figuring out how they can be
    diluted". Too much added water?

    September 22, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. Scott H

    Ah, refuting Christianity and Judaism, soft soaping Islam, and touting every left wing action item. All in a month's work, eh CNN? (Er, I mean MSNBCNN)

    September 22, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. Guest

    While some archaeologists leave open the possibility of a Semitic tribe coming from Egyptian servitude among the early hilltop settlers and that Moses or a Moses-like figure may have existed in Transjordan ca 1250-1200, they dismiss the possibility that the Exodus could have happened as described in the Bible.[24] A century of research by archaeologists and Egyptologists has found no evidence which can be directly related to the Exodus narrative of an Egyptian captivity and the escape and travels through the wilderness,[21] and it has become increasingly clear that Iron Age Israel – the kingdoms of Judah and Israel – has its origins in Canaan, not Egypt:[25] the culture of the earliest Israelite settlements is Canaanite, their cult-objects are those of the Canaanite god El, the pottery remains in the local Canaanite tradition, and the alphabet used is early Canaanite. Almost the sole marker distinguishing the "Israelite" villages from Canaanite sites is an absence of pig bones, although whether this can be taken as an ethnic marker or is due to other factors remains a matter of dispute.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Ec1warc1

    The explanation for the parting of the Red Sea is simple. The story was invented by those who were trying to convince others of Moses' divinity. If you believe that it actually happened then you are as foolish as those whom the story was created for in the first place.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  8. Rob

    hapless, helpless, hopeless

    It's interesting that this idea of faith has a protective component that you can never question it.

    You don't know what you are talking about. Christians question their faith all the time. If they didn't it would lose its meaning.
    Try to stick with what you know, which isn't faith.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  9. Barrie

    I find it interesting that man with his tiny mind continually thinks he can somehow explain who almighty God works! First of all, we already know where: "by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea...Baal-zephon" (Exodus 14:2). Secondly, we already know how: "the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land" (Exodus 14:21). Finally, and most importantly, WHO CARES how God works!? He is GOD and we are not! "Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8, NIV). Does the clay pot ask the potter how he spins the wheel. For crying out loud, quit wasting time trying to find evidence of God and simply believe by faith.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Barrie

      Oops...typo. I meant to say "how God works". 🙂

      September 22, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rome

    If you take all the miracle stories in the Bible literally, I've got some underwater beach-front property to sell you (the wind is creating a bubble under the water, allowing oxygen to reach the beach-front property despite the fact that water surrounds it on all sides).

    September 22, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  11. josey

    Einstein was asked about his thoughts on religion later in life and said that it was for children although he didn't claim what his current views were.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • cavemanstyle

      Quote: "I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." (Albert Einstein, 1954)

      "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." (Albert Einstein)

      Do animals believe in God or an afterlife? .. I think not. It is this feature of us that's only built into humans that perceive the universe the way we do. Emotion is to the belief in god, as knowledge is not a belief in anything. ~

      September 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Femfem

    Truth is science does not validate God

    September 22, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  13. MR.JMP

    Listen who keep thinking of these crazy test to test the WILL OF GOD! Stop it before he thinks of another way to destroy us once again....

    September 22, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. Agricola

    Look, people. This was just a speculative computer model. No actual parting of waters occurred to support this news story. One writer noted that the floor of any body of water would be an impassable muck. Another pointed out that a 63 mph wind would blow people right off their feet. Both are correct. That's reasoning based on empirical knowledge and experience. The Bible is a nice read, and includes some verifiable historical information, but it also includes a lot of allegory and myth. Are there more advanced intelligent beings elsewhere in the galaxy, as another writer asked? It's likely that there are, but certainly none are the omnipotent, omniscient "God" of the Judeo-Christian faiths. Religion and science are completely separate realms. There is no evidence that anything is the handiwork of God, nor is there any evidence whatsoever that God even exists. And no, the BIble isn't evidence, since it presupposes the existence of God. Using the Bible as proof of God's existence is like using the Iliad to prove the existence of Zeus.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • GuerillaGorilla

      In response to your post I'll slowly and delightfully tear your post apart...

      You posted: "One writer noted that the floor of any body of water would be an impassable muck." While in certain parts of the world this may be true, the areas surrounding the middle east are prdominantly fine sand and rock. The bottom of any shallow water would also be consistent with the surrounding land. Therefore if the waters covering the sea bed were removed they seabed would be consistent with the landform and be sand and rock, albiet probably a bit wet.

      You posted: "Another pointed out that a 63 mph wind would blow people right off their feet." Having lived in an area where windspeeds exceed this threshold I can tell you that anyone prepared and braced for this type of wind would be able to stand and move in it, though not without some degree of difficulty. You also failed to take into acount the number of people described in the bible. The larger number of people would act as a "wind-break" and allow those within the group to move about quite a bit easier, without fear of being swept off their feet. We see this in nature with the penguins of Antartica where the winds of winter blow constantly at rates exceeding 63 mph and gusts exceeding 80 mph.

      I won't argue with the rest of the post as it is sound and quite well worded.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      According to the Univ. of Maryland, " could stand without restraints for wind speeds up to 40 mph. Higher than 40 mph requires being anchored."

      September 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CK

    It never cease to amaze me when man tries to scientifically explain the work of the Lord. "A wind blowing... could produce...mud flats". If you read your Bible – the people walked on dry land. Trying to take God out of the miracle is foolish. He could split the sea right down the middle, at the deepest part and the people walked on dry land to safety.

    September 22, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
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