WASHINGTON — US researchers think they have narrowed down where Moses parted the Red Sea 3,000 years ago, and also how he did it -- with a little help from the wind.
"People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts," Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the lead author of the study, said.
"What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws," he said.
The Bible speaks of the Israelites going "into the midst of the sea on dry ground" with a wall of water on either side of them as a strong wind from the east blew through the night after Moses stretched his hand out over the sea.
The researchers couldn't simply refer to the Bible to pin down the geographical location of the crossing because "although the author of Exodus tried very hard to pinpoint where Moses crossed, unfortunately the three place names used are no longer recognized," Drews told AFP.
Drews and his co-author Weiqing Han, an oceanographer from the University of Colorado, focused their search for where the crossing might have happened on a place where there was a bend in the water, ruling out sites used in earlier studies -- in the Gulf of Suez or near Aqaba in modern-day Jordan.
The two researchers focused on a place with a bend in the water, reasoning that when the wind blows, the water would shift and split at the point of the bend, leaving water on both sides, Drews explained.
"A bunch of refugees can come running across, and when the wind stops, the water suddenly goes back together again, trapping anyone who's pursuing," he said.
The two researchers narrowed down their hunt to a place in the eastern Nile Delta at an archaeological site later called Tell Kedua, situated north of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast.
At this site, an ancient branch of the Nile and a coastal lagoon are believed to have come together in a U-shape.
The two researchers used satellite data to make a model of the area, and modified the terrain to look the way they hypothesized it would have been 3,000 years ago. They then filled it with water and caused an east wind to blow over it.
According to their model, a wind blowing for 12 hours at 63 miles an hour (101 kilometers per hour) would have pushed back waters estimated to be six feet (two meters) deep, creating a dry passage about two miles long by three miles wide that remained exposed for about four hours -- sufficient time for Moses and the Israelites to cross, even if they were walking into the wind.
As soon as the wind stopped, the waters would have come rushing back, drowning anyone still on the relatively narrow passage, says the study published online on the Public Library of Science site.
"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," said Drews.
"So now there's a scientific basis for a 3,000-year-old story that we've seen movies of and read books, and that's really exciting," Drews said.
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