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. Randall

    Them scientists think there so smart. Sure, they went to college for years, but even I know that God parted the waters for Moses, and I didn't even go to college. Whose smarter now?

    September 25, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Are you trolling? Or are you serious?

      June 27, 2013 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rambo

    Some of these comments reflect the sad state and moral decay of our country, no wonder we are heading downhill very fast. So many people readily ridicule anything Christian or related to the bible without even considering any facts. Many studies including unbiased ones confirm that an event similar to what is described in the Bible did occur, althought attempts have been made to attach a scientific reason for it. The bible still provides the most credible explanation of man's being and nothing any fool says can change that.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jcgator1

    I will say this. First of all, I hear a considerable amount of shouting concerning this study. First, for someone to believe that this gentleman has no bias is foolish. He OBVIOUSLY has a bias...but then again, who doesnt. That he has a bias or not does not disprove his findings. EVERY one who does any kind of study has a bias. Its not wrong or right, it just is what it is. Furthermore, those of you who are against his study and call yourself "scientists". Scientists dont argue with words...they argue with facts. If you want to disprove his experiment, find another experiment that soundly disproves it. Truth be told, Christians are not the only ones who live by faith. Scientist have faith also on that which cannot be seen for who has seen the creation of the world, or the evolution of living beings. Faith is not dumb, or foolish, it is something we all have subscribed to. Therefore, the question on the table is not whether you live by sight and I by faith but rather what faith you live by.

    September 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    Here is what I don't understand: why all the mocking? If one chooses to believe or not, that is their choice, and not one to be mocked or ridiculed or belittled. No one person has all the answers, no one person can call the standard by which the presence (or lack of ) can be determined. God doesn't exist because Hitler didn't die of a heart attack before millions died? Please. God exists because the Giants won the World Series? Please.

    For every example of a harm caused by religion there is undoubtedly an example of a good wrought by religion, and the same holds for the more secular point of view.

    Hate is hate, whether it is for or against religion, for or against a believer, or for or against a non-believer. If you all are so concerned about how the world is and how it will turn out, then believers and atheists and agnostics alike should spend a little more time worrying about themselves than in pointing fingers at others.

    November 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rasta

    Moses did not exist.

    November 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. King Soloman

    You know even though you can try to explain exodus the odds of the wind blowing like that on that very day at that very time when the soliders where bearing down on the isrealites seems like a miracle in the least. Has this ever happened in our current time? Will it ever happen again. I doubt it. God works in mysterious ways plain and simple. Sure u can try to prove it but when all is said and done there is still some mystery behind it.

    November 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Norm Walker

    I am constantly amazed how many people believe in aliens, bigfoot, and the lochness monster but they can't believe in God.

    What about the possibility that Gos used his power and pushed back the waters. The bible does say they crossed on "dry land".

    November 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pianki

    There is a scene carved in the stone wall at the Temple of Warit in now Luxor that shows what has become to be known as the Exodus flooding. This was not carried out by some guy named Moses but Ahmoses. On the El Kab inscriptions the expulsionof the invaders called Hyksos is seen clearly.

    November 9, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. warwick

    Oh Sky Cake, why are you so delicious!!

    December 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cure for hemorrhoids

    Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

    April 15, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. unbound

    I read this book where aliens landed in the US. Will there be a serious study on that? I mean, it was written in a book probably influenced by the aliens, so it must be true.

    April 22, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. LovestoSpooge

    Only in America would this be done and called science.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rebecca

    What about the ball of fire that held the Egyptians back until Moses crossed? I suppose science can explain that too at that exact moment in time.

    August 19, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kass Iris Harmon (facebook)

    Moses didn't part the red seaa as in the king james verison, but the reed sea witch would literally be a sea of cat tales. The name reed was changed to red when the last bible had to be changed due to copy right laws.

    August 31, 2012 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
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