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. Faithful

    All this debate. All this back and forth. I guess the only question is what happens when we all pass on and our bodies are placed in the ground. No matter how smart or self reliant a person may think they are, they still have to face death. And for those who have not confessed with their mouths and repented of their sins death should and probably is a scary thing. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins as their savior, we know that when we die and stand before the Lord that we have nothing to fear. I know in my heart and my soul that it is God who strenghthens me and shines grace upon me every second I breath. The most terrible event that has ever taken place in this world is when the only sinless man to ever live was killed by those he was sent to save. But it shows that from acts of extreme hate that God can use them to show how much He truley loves us. From total darkness God will always shine bright and true. I have had the pleasure to to serve in the worlds finest military and I serve our country proudly. But I also know I do this because I know who I serve first and foremst. God does not owe me anything. I owe God more than I could ever repay. So I serve God's people. Those who know Him and those who spite Him. Every American needs to look at our US currency the next time you are buying you overpriced coffee and read what it says "In God We Trust" I PRAY THAT GOD BLESSES YOU ALL AND I PRAY FOR THOSE THAT DONT KNOW HIM AS GOD. IN JESUS NAME I PRAY. AMEN

    September 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Master_Kush

    Hilarious, people think humans can part oceans... No wonder this world is so messed up...

    September 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Letty

    And "Who" made the wind blow that hard?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. heddies

    There is one minor detail you are leaving out. THEY WALKED ON DRY LAND

    September 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mike

    Any one who takes the old testament seriously, give me a call!! I have several thinings that are invisable that I would like to sell to people that buy into things that are ridicules!! Religions are all about one 3 things... mind control, power, and MONEY!! Did I say money!!! Get a life, you are mortal will die, then nothingness. Your not special, and do not live on for ever!! I have proof of this! If you would like this proof, then write me at the address below, and send $10.99!
    Address: Santa P.O box 666 Down under 666666

    September 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      You didn't leave a number. I am interested in buying some of these invisible things. What sort of products are they? Also, you must have made a typo with the address. It is not real. I am trying to send the money now. I want the proof too.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. namegame

    frank – you don't make me giggle and i bet God isn't laughing either. If he made the suit of undefeatable armor – it would be undefeatable to everyone EXCEPT God. Naturally God could defeat it – HE'S GOD, he created it and he can do anything he wants. He doesn't operate by our standards, beliefs or expectations and HE answers to no one. That must be why he's GOD and we're just humans.

    And i hope God really does BLESS you!!!!!!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      Oh good, finally someone who is in direct contact with God... please ask him to make that rock so big that not even He could move it...

      No, really I kid you... you are a perfect example of circular reasoning... God says the bible is true; the bible says God is real... makes all the sense in the world, who needs anything more.

      You must be the sheep that the bible talks so much about...

      September 23, 2010 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. numbnut

    Religion is just a figment of one's imagination.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. k-man

    63 mph winds and a whole lot of mud? and all of these people just got through just fine? what a crock of poop! you religious will distort and ignore your way through every scientific fact??

    wake up idiots...

    September 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave

    Where was the "wind" during the holocaust?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    This doesn't sound like a convenient scientific explanation but probably more likely a convenient story written in the bible that explained an unexplainable event at the time.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cartwrighteous

    it's always been science v christianity. so, let me get this straight; science helped proved that an outrageous and unbelievable biblical event could've been possible and non-Christians are still calling b.s.? hasn't your whole stance been that stories from a 2000 year old book hold no scientific proof and faith isn't reliable?

    on a related CNN story, brain matter has been found in the living room of tom cruise's cabin. despite the gross facial disfiguration of the deceased, authorities were still able to identify the body of that to tom cruise from the the vanilla sky poster above his mantle.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. James

    You know, I had a hard time believing in the Big Guy in the Sky but now I is saved!!! Thanks for fueling America's most ridiculous fantasy. A waste of time for sure.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. A person

    @Monty: The bible being real is completely different than the stories it tells being real. Think a little before posting; being that you probably believe this article I can understand how hard using your brain for once must sound.

    I would just like to know how we got these wind readings and other forms of data for one moment that happened thousands of years ago in a place that is probably geographically completely different than what it is now. If CNN could make a 'dumb theory' section and add this to it so we can read the news, that would be great.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. AshannaK

    Moses didn't part the Nile. He parted the Red Sea, you nits!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carole Clarke

    Either God parted the water for the Israelites to pass through or it was a coincidence of nature. But what are the odds that Moses would have them all assembled in the right place at the right time to take advantage of this "coincidence"? How would he have known that this phenomena would take place? If it had happened before, the Pharoah's agents would've known about it (they kept very careful records of the Nile's levels), but they didn't – they got into the chase and rushed down into the breach hard on the heels of the last man crossing. In the time span the phenomena lasted would it have allowed only enough time for the Israelites to pass or would some of the Pharoah's men have made it to high ground on the other side and been disarmed by Joshua? Too much luck for it to be luck.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
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