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Did Wind Part The Red Sea For Moses?

September 22, 2010

U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday that a strong east wind that blew through the night might have helped pushed the Red Sea’s water back for Moses as described in biblical writings and the Koran.

The team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder said that computer simulations show how wind could push water back at a point where a river bent to merge with a coastal lagoon. 

“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” Carl Drews of NCAR, who led the study, said in a statement.

“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.”

According to religious texts, Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt ahead of a pharaoh’s armies around 3,000 years ago.  The Red Sea parted allowing Moses and his followers to pass safely through the waters, and then crashed back onto the pursuers, drowning them.

Drews and colleagues have studied how Pacific Ocean typhoons drive storm surges and other effects of strong and sustained winds on deep water.

The team found a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the legendary crossing, and modeled different land formations that could have existed then and perhaps led to the accounts of the sea parting.

The simulation requires a U-shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline.  It shows that a wind of 63 miles per hour, blowing steadily for 12 hours, could have pushed back waters 6 feet deep.

“This land bridge is 3-4 km (2 to 2.5 miles) long and 5 km (3 miles) wide, and it remains open for 4 hours,” they wrote in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

“People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts,” Drews said. “What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws.”

Image Caption: This illustration shows how a strong wind from the east could push back waters from two ancient basins–a lagoon (left) and a river (right)–to create a temporary land bridge. New research that such a physical process could have led to a parting of waters similar to the description in the biblical account of the Red Sea. (Illustration by Nicolle Rager Fuller.)

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