It is always risky to call upon science to verify a biblical story (and vice versa) but it can be interesting to see if a Biblical story and science can be reconciled. There is no real point though. A miracle is supposed to defy the laws of science, not be explained by them. Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, as a religious doctrine, is purely a matter of faith (i.e., unwarranted belief) but could the religious myth have some basis in fact? A recent article in Science News  reports on a scientific study that suggests the answer is yes.

Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado issued the following 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 two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

Drews and his co-workers studied various atmospheric events worldwide where this phenomenon has been observed, and then did a very close study of Egypt and its possible typology and geography around 1250BC  (a possible setting for the legendary Exodus). Using computers they recreated several possible scenarios attempting to recreate the conditions that would allow for a “parting of the waters.”

Drews said, “The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus.”

However, the only place where all the factors coincide to replicate the “parting of the waters” happen far from the Red Sea and require “a U-shaped formation of the Nile River and a shallow lagoon along the shoreline.” The location is in the north of the Sinai Peninsula along a now vanished branch of the Nile.

Biblical scholars tell us that the name “Red Sea” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew for the “Sea of Reeds;” so the Red Sea itself really didn’t have much to do with whatever historical basis, if any, there is to the legend of the Exodus. The location of the Sea of Reeds is unknown but may have been a smaller body of water in the Sinai and may be compatible with the explanation given by Drews.

The upshot of all this is, while the Biblical romance remains one of the great fictional accounts of our past, along with the Iliad and the Mahabharata, there is, nevertheless,  no scientific  reason that some real historical event could not have lain behind the legend of the “parting of the waters.”

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



Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.