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. Charles

    There is a hell, and Mr. Hawkings and you are still going. God is not a respecter of persons, and He is not mocked. Keep laughing and mocking, Mr. atheist; the day draws near.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ItsYourFault

    This never happened. There was never a Moses, Jesus, etc. You are all f&cking sheep.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tim

    If the wind was so strong as to part a sea of water, how were humans and horses pulling carts able to not get blown away?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rick

    It's quite incredible how much effort can be spent arguing about an unprovable premise. That being said, it does not logically follow that simply because something is unprovable, it does not exist. In any event, the existence or non-existence of God misses the point. What is important is how we treat each other. This is the lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan. What a shame it is still lost on most people.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. God

    i'm not here

    September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JP

    Why does science have to explain a miracle of God ?

    All things are possible with God !

    September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fredrick Nicholson

    Believe what you want. I believe the Bible. I believe the word of God. In the end we'll all see who's right, won't we? It's not to late to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rich

    Um. Why are people mad about this study? I think its neat. Did you know that pure translation of genesis says it took 15.8 billion years for the earth to come about, and create animals since the big bang? And did you know that with current science, we estimate the universe is between 15 and 20 billion years old. Did you know that the Adam and Eve story is a parable about evolution, yes, i said that. You heard right. Did you know that the bible constantly says the earth is a round ball, in pure translation. Back in the day when people thought the world was flat.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Observer

      Fascinating! There are 20 English Bibles that don't say anything like what you claim and suddenly you have found the ONE correct one.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Observer

    Why do Christians spend so much time trashing gays, who are FAR FEWER in number than the Christian hypocrites who get divorced after swearing to God at his altar to stay married until "death do us part"?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. God

    i have magic underwear

    September 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe Commonsense

    Where did waters part for Moses?

    Seriously? This story is on a legitimate news site? The bible is a fairy tale. You might as well be asking which Solar system Superman's planet of Krypton is in.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jack


    September 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    Einstein said it best:
    “I am not trying to deny the existence of G-D, I just want to understand how he did it.”

    September 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RealityCheck

    I can't believe that in 2010 people still believe in this load of horse *&$@. Whether you believe in a guy with a white beard on a cloud or multi-armed blue deity. RELIGION IS MIND CONTROL. Let's evolve.

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

    People actually still believe in this stuff? These are fairy tales people! Grow up already

    September 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
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