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. Joe

    Please.....just stop calling me late at night. Once I change into pajamas i don't want to be disturbed by the phone anymore. I'm drinking my tea and trying to relax. Traffic was bad coming home and my car is overheating. I tried taking it to the mechanic, but he is very busy and doesn't have time to see me this week. So I'll just keep filling the radiator with coolant, I guess, and turning the heater on full blast when the temp gauge gets close to the red, even though it's still warm out and the hot air in the car makes me very tired. Last week when it was pouring rain, I couldn't even have the windows rolled down and even though i had the heat coming out of the floor vents only, it quickly built up inside the car and I was sweating so bad. The deodorant I use doesn't work as well as the old stuff, but I can't find that in the stores anymore. That's always the way–you find something that works great and then they discontinue it. I think those companies don't like people using the the same product for too long. They want to keep you at the point where you're tolerating the stuff, but not completely satisfied. This way, when they cut costs and offer a new product as "new and improved", you'll rush out and buy it thinking that it might be a little better. And because it's different, it seems a little better. Until you get used to that one for a while, and then they'll discontinue it. Just like those beans I used to buy. I loved them. LOVED them. But they decided on a "new and improved" flavor and discontinued the old one. So I bought the new one and everyone said they liked it better, even the news. But I fooled them and kept a can of the old stuff, and a few years later, after everyone got used to the new and improved beans, I threw a party and served the old ones. (They hadn't expired yet.) Everyone raved about how great the beans tasted, and when they went back home they realized their new & improved beans were really just dull and not nearly as good as the old style. But I still don't think it's good to take pain medicine every day, even if doctors do say it's not bad for your health. If you take something like Tylenol or Advil, even just once a day for a headache, your body gets used to having that in its system, and then you'll get a headache just because you're NOT taking it. I had a similar problem when taking Imodium a few years back, but not with headaches if you catch my drift. Maybe that's why dogs can be trained as obedient animals and cats cannot. Gandhi mentioned something along those lines in his last theory on social dysfunction in the modern Canadian family. You can see his series of lectures on this and other sports-related subjects on youtube.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tim Allen how come hurricanes ride on top of the water instead of pushing the water out of the way? I mean, their winds are a lot higher than 63 mph and they are blowing those speeds for more than 4 hours straight. Another sorry attempt by the liberal media to defunct religion.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Damn that liberal media

      September 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. totallytrue

    You know there are people who say the Holocust never happened – that it is all made up. Of course, we should all know that it did because we have physical evidence to support it did. Look at how many actually survived and spoke of the truths that took place – there are countless writings on those experiences. Now let me ask you this, in several hundred years how much of the physical evidence will be left? Man-made materials deteriorate over time – another truth. Will it mean that since there is no physical evidence left that it didn't occur? Will it be just a bunch of made up stories by then?

    @Peter – with a few exceptions (ie a tornado) can you see the wind? I am not talking about viewing its movement on radar, with the blowing leaves on a tree or feeling it on your skin, but actually seeing the gentle breezes we all know exist – can you see it with your eyes?

    @geauxLSUtigers – spoken like a TRUE believer. Very nice job and AMEN!

    September 22, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. jon

    Surprised that they didn't use the Bible translation issue to better make their point, which is fairly important in this case

    Correct translation to English from the bible is actually the "reed sea" not the "Red Sea" as commonly printed and is thought to be the reedy part on the delta facing the Mediterranean, would have made the location they selected have more merit

    September 22, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bill D.

    Why does it have to be one way or the other? It seems like the majority of people here feel that to believe in science is contrary to believing in god. Both can exist together.

    I believe in the concept of a god but I'm not about to live my life by the rules and reasons set down by other men in their interpretations over time of supposed historical events. I've seen firsthand how HIStory is moved and manipulated by those seeking power and influence.

    Go out in nature....spend some time....listen......after a really long time you will start to have some idea of what god might be. Can't one still believe that being moral and just is a good thing without having to be labeled as religious or atheist? Maybe the sea parted, maybe it didn't. Either way it doesn't really matter.

    It seems to me that if there is a god similar to that which it seems most of you would like to conjure, he would like it if we all stopped arguing about his existence or prior deeds. He might even want us all to start working together, even with those whom we disagree, to fix the problems in this world that so desperately need fixing. If there's not a god then it seems pretty logical anyway.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    After reading some of the replies here, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      If you live in the US, what you should do is run. Run quickly. These are your fellow citizens. These are the people who vote. These are the people who you deal with on a daily basis. Get out while you can. I will be right behind you

      September 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sarah M.

    How does this explain "the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left"? Exodus 14:29 KJV
    I wanted to leave a comment on the YouTube video, but unfortunately the comments section was disabled.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tod L.

    Please tell me this didn't involve my tax dollars.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  9. stan turecki

    huxley – the wind doesnt have to HOLD UP the water – all it has to do is push it out of the way. it's the exact same principle as a storm surge associated with a hurricane. a 6ft storm surge from a cat 1 hurricane isnt unreasonable.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Drew

    Even if this were true would all of the Israelites (men women and children) be able to walk in 63 mph winds for 2.5 miles. This wind theory doesn't make since just because of that fact alone.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  11. Myke

    Or maybe God just did it.

    September 22, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. E

    You know God is an illegal alien right? He doesn't have residency, no SS#, no green card. He DEFINITELY doesn't pay taxes, and... He seems to be a bit of a bigot.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EZRA

    Now, if only we can figure out the exact location of Santa's village in the North Pole. Recent scientific analysis indicates it may actally not be in the Noth pole, but somewhere in Lapland. Experiments on the areodynamics of reigndeer show how they might accomplish flying and pulling a sleigh.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Aaron

    Of course the atheists will rail against this like they do everything else, after all it is a cult of contrariety. Although one should find it very interesting that when biblical events are proven scientifically they just attack the belief and not the findings. Religous people don't have a problem with science, the two can go hand in hand, atheists are the bigots.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. harley

    this cant be true. how would anyone know? If the wind parted the red sea then if the wind stopped blowing then the children of isreal would have drownded because it would have came back together!
    How about we just stick with the bible facts, the things that are actually true and not the stupid scientist opinions!
    Stop trying to take god outta everything

    September 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe


      September 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
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