How Moses parted the Red Sea (one theory, anyway)

Research team's computer models identify a potential place and cause for biblical account

The biblical account of Moses parting the Red Sea could have a natural explanation, according to researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Computer models developed as part of a study on wind’s effect on water depths show that a strong east wind could have pushed back water where a river is believed to have bent to merge with a coastal lagoon near the Mediterranean Sea, the researchers reported. The simulations were based on the likely locations of waterways around the Nile Delta, which have changed over time.

“With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety,” the research team reported. “As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.”

This isn’t the first time simulations have suggested physical explanations for biblical accounts. In 2002, computer imagery developed for a BBC documentary posited that the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea could have all resulted from a volcanic eruption. The documentary also draws on an earlier theory that the Red Sea is a mistranslation, from the Hebrew yam suph, or the Sea of Reeds, which was shallower.

Wind also has been proposed before as a cause. Doron Nof, an oceanographer at Florida State University, had earlier suggested that a phenomenon known as wind set-down effect — resulting from an extremely rare storm — could cause a drop in sea level of about seven or eight feet, which could have revealed an underwater ridge.

The research offers food for debate, if not conclusions. Computer simulations give researchers a powerful tool in efforts to describe the world and its history, but they can only present possibilities, at least where the past is concerned. The actual events from Exodus will remain a source of belief for some, speculation for others.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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