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. Monique

    God parted the Red Sea. The Bible doesn't say anything about God dividing a river.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. tp1776

    I would bet that this weather scenario was not the first time it happened. I would bet that people in the area had seen it before and maybe it was well known at the time that the waters parted during certain storms. Timeline? who's to say how long it took for Moses to arrive there, for the army to arrive there? I'm sure it wasn't the timeline of a two hour movie. Maybe the exodus arrived there (during a season noted for such storms?) and waited, then crossed during a storm. The army? were they right on the heels, a day away, a month away? Maybe when the army got to this point the waters had parted for another storm but the timing was wrong and they were caught in the flood. Just some possibilities to think about.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tim

    God parted the Red Sea through Moses.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. paul ward

    It was a miracle, you are not suppose to explain it. How much did our tax dollars pay for this one?

    September 22, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. amigay

    The greater mystery is how Moses happened to be just at the right place at the right time.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. Shorn

    Possibly the dumbest crap I've ever read in these pages.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. michael

    if you believe in god you don't need science to prove how prophet Moses(pbuh) escaped from the pharaohs' is very clear that god did it without any doubt,not jesus(pbuh),because he hasn't been born yet during that time.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Donna Cates

    God IS the creator of everything and everone! EVERY knee shall bow, EVERY tounge confess, that Jesus Christ is LORD!!!! There is no such thing as luck or chance in this world.... only God's plan...........

    September 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. jb

    i think man makes life more difficult. Because we make our laws... our own laws.... if we will think clearly... if something happens we always make something to make our self satisfy using explanation that we human can explain... but are we sure that our explanation is right? It will all end up as theories.. if someone can tell me how many stars in the universe and how human on earth exist, then i will believe that the wind split the water.... 🙂 God bless us all.....

    September 22, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. jj

    And would the bottom of the sea be solid enough to walk on? And this was a sea, not some narrow river.
    (and why am I even pondering this fairy tale?)

    September 22, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  11. Johhny

    To the fellow chritians do not argue but love, the seed is planted, the more you argue the more the non christians will not believe because you are not acting in a Christ like manner,
    Non christians are not all bad people, they just either chose not to believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, I have many friends that I share with that are non christian people that do great things for mankind,
    But I continue to love them, as long as I did my Christian duty to make it know of Gods love and Grace.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. johncc

    This has nothing to do with the existence of a god. Some attribute all things to a deity. Some do not. Yet we can all agree...things happen. The study referenced here describes a thing that could have happened. I saw one post that disputes even that, based on the pressure of water. Wind, I think, peels back water, rather than moving it as one mass. I imagine wind could have done exactly what the study describes IF the water was where it would have had to be and was of the proper depth and such a strong wind did blow long enough and steadily. If the location could be determined it would be interesting to explore for artifacts. This report does not make me think there is a god.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  13. edmundburkeson

    The mighty Egyptian army drowned in 6 feet of water? That makes about as much sense as modern physicists knowing more about history than the author who was much closer to the source. It is a historical question not a question of physics. The same is true of what Hawking said about origins of the universe. It's not a question of possibility. It is a question of what did happen. This is outside the scope of scientific evidence because it is not repeatable unless you have powerful enough instruments to recover the information that is flying out into the universe at the speed of light. Good luck with that one professor.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. MizzB

    In my humble opinion, strength is to realize that we as humans have no real power, and it is not unreasonable to believe something greater than us exists. Science has its place but is not all knowing. There are countless things man can not explain or control. We are limited in the scheme of the universe. We do not have the power to make the sun and moon rise, cause the earth to orbit, or suspend the planets in outer space. We can accept that every house has a maker, but not that the 'main house', the universe, has a maker and caretaker, God. Taking advantage of all life has to offer while not giving credit to God, can be equated to a child not being thankful to his parents. The God of the bible, will act in His own time to vindicate the fact that He does exist and does control things, as He has done before. He promises to right all wrongs and to set all matters straight for those that love Him at
    1 Cor. 2:6-10.

    Understanding this is not based on blind faith but a search for understanding through God's word. Is it unthinkable that God cannot convey His thoughts?

    (John 17:3) 3 This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ. . .

    I have no doubt that God, the greatest scientist of all time, has the powers, and that the parting of the Red Sea is possible and did happen. Where He rescued the Israelites from persecution and destroyed Pharoah and his army.
    2 Peter 2:9 (New International Version) 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

    God does not force anyone to recognize or serve Him. Deut. 30: 19,20.

    Romans 1:19-23 (New King James Version)
    19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

    As verse 23 above shows that some have distorted the image of God that claim to be Christian or some other religions of the world.

    Romans 11:33 (New American Standard Bible) 33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!

    God speaks when questioned by man:
    Job 38:4 (New King James Version) 4 “ Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell Me, if you have understanding. (Read Job Chapter 38-41 entirely)

    (1 Corinthians 1:19-21) 19 For it is written: “I will make the wisdom of the wise [men] perish, and the intelligence of the intellectual [men] I will shove aside.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing.

    (Job 14:1-2) 14 “Man, born of woman, Is short-lived and glutted with agitation.  2 Like a blossom he has come forth and is cut off, And he runs away like the shadow and does not keep existing. . .

    (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11) 10 I have seen the occupation that God has given to the sons of mankind in which to be occupied. 11 Everything he has made pretty in its time. Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the [true] God has made from the start to the finish. . .

    (Ecclesiastes 3:14) 14 I have come to know that everything that the [true] God makes, it will prove to be to time indefinite. . .

    (Matthew 11:25-29) 25 At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes. 26 Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you................

    September 22, 2010 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. thechetearly

    I actually took a "Bible as History" class this past summer at Bowling Green State in Ohio, and Moses parting any sort of actual SEA is a huuuge misinterpretation of the original Hebrew text. The original text says "reed sea"/"a sea of reeds". NOT the "Red Sea".

    September 22, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
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