Mother Earth could have parted the Red Sea, hatching the great escape described in the biblical book of Exodus, a new study finds.
A strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have swept water off a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea, said study team member Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. While archaeologists and Egyptologists have found little evidence that any events described in Exodus actually happened, the study outlines a perfect storm that could have led to the 3,000-year-old escape.
"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."
Drew and his colleagues used models that showed that a wind of 63 mph, lasting for 12 hours, would have pushed back waters estimated to be 6 feet deep. This would have exposed mud flats for four hours, creating a dry passage about 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide.
To match the account in the Bible, the water would have to be pushed back into both the lake and the channel of the river, creating barriers of water on both sides of newly exposed mud flats, which is exactly what the models show could have happened.
As soon as the winds stopped, the waters would come rushing back. Anyone still on the mud flats would be at risk of drowning.
As the Bible story goes, Moses and the fleeing Israelites were trapped between the Pharaoh's advancing chariots and a body of water that has been variously translated as the Red Sea or the Sea of Reeds.
In a divine miracle, a mighty east wind blew all night, splitting the waters and leaving a passage of dry land with walls of water on both sides.
The Israelites were able to flee to the other shore. But when the Pharaoh's army attempted to pursue them in the morning, the waters rushed back and drowned the soldiers.