IN the biblical version, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all night”.
In reality, wind, hydrodynamics and the unique topography of the Nile Delta may have had the same effect – with the same miraculous results for the Israelites.
A study based on 14 computer models suggests that Moses may indeed have been able to lead his followers out of Egypt between walls of water, a story told in both the Bible and the Koran. The study by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado replaces the hand of God with a 63mph east wind blowing for at least 12 hours.
It also suggests that the epic crossing of the Red Sea happened 75 miles north of Suez, where an ancient branch of the Nile approached a shallow coastal lagoon, and near the modern Port Said. Otherwise, one of the study’s authors claims: “The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus.”
In that account Moses and the Israelites are driven from Egypt by the Pharoah’s army, which pursues them across the Red Sea only to be drowned when the waters return to their natural state.
If the pursuit took place across the lagoon known as the Lake of Tanis, “the parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics”, according to Carl Drews, the lead author of Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta.
Mr Drews said yesterday: “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.”
Using the computer models and modern understanding of the phenomenon of “wind setdown” – by which strong, steady winds have been shown to push back large volumes of water temporarily – Mr Drews concluded that a gale of the kind described in the Bible could have created a land bridge two miles wide and three miles long and open for perhaps four hours.
The new study quotes Major-General Alexander Tulloch, of the British Army, at the Lake of Tanis in the 19th century who saw “a gale of wind from the eastward set in and became so strong that I had to cease work”. The next morning the lake “had totally disappeared … and the natives were walking about on the mud”.
Mr Drews is a devout Christian who maintains a website about his efforts to reconcile his faith and scientific work.