Parting the Red Sea

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: Parts of the biblical story of the Exodus have long puzzled historians and scholars. Just how did Moses manage to part the waters? And more importantly, as we asked in our Geo Quiz, where did the event take place? Carl Drews is a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado. Why didn't you like the simple folkloric explanation of a miracle? I mean did you feel that some phenomenon like this could actually happen?

CARL DREWS: I was in graduate school, my first semester, and I heard the professor talking about how wind would move water and create differences in the water level. And I said to myself that sounds like something I read in the book of Exodus. So as I proceeded through graduate school, I learned more tools about ocean modeling and data set and decided to investigate this in further detail.

WERMAN: What is your theory?

DREWS: I theorize that at the Eastern Nile Delta, 3,000 years ago, there was a place where there were shallow lagoons and a long peninsula that almost bisected a body of water. When strong winds blew from the east that body of water would shift to the west and the water would split around the point of that peninsula and you would see water on both sides of a dry crossing.

WERMAN: So would this have been an intense hurricane force wind?

DREWS: The wind strength is 52 miles per hour. That is a medium strength tropical storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. The Exodus account records that it blew all night long, so I've used 12 hours as previous researchers have used.

WERMAN: How many times do you think in history has something like this happened where waters actually parted because of so much wind?

DREWS: We do have a report from a British general named [PH] Tolluck in 1882 that he witnessed something like this happening on [SOUNDS LIKE] Lake Manzala. We also have a report of somebody whose automobile got trashed by the return waters in 1946. So there are reports, but not really reliable statistics on how often this happens.

WERMAN: So the wind is a critical factor here, not a miracle per se in your opinion. Where do you pinpoint this event? What's the most likely setting for this phenomenon?

DREWS: It's in the Northeastern Nile Delta near a Roman ruins called [INDISCERNIBLE] and there is a gap there where the waters would part and that is the place I have chosen. Would you like the coordinates?

WERMAN: Please.

DREWS: 30.98 decimal degrees north, 32.45 decimal degrees east.

WERMAN: And does this place have a name?

DREWS: I call it the Kedua gap because it is right near a place called Tell Kedua which is an archaeological site.

WERMAN: And the Tell Kedua gap is just north of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast. Where else have you seen this kind of phenomenon where wind affects water in such a profound way?

DREWS: It happens every five years or so on Lake Erie in the United States. Wind blows from the west, Lake Erie just will slosh toward the eastern side. And I have heard from somebody this morning who saw this happen on Lake Erie when she was 4 years old in 1948. And she said in the morning the lake was gone, completely gone. And she was �Where'd the lake go?� And it came back later that day. And she immediately associated in her mind with Moses crossing the Red Sea.

WERMAN: Well, you know what Charlton Heston said about playing Moses in The Ten Commandments?

DREWS: What did he say?

WERMAN: He said that just standing there is a microdot on the screen with a staff parting the waters. There was really no acting required. That's how dramatic it is.

DREWS: Oh, and that movie is very dramatic. I love that movie.

WERMAN: Carl Drews with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Thank you very much.

DREWS: You're welcome.

WERMAN: So, the Kedua gap in the Nile River Delta is the best answer to out Geo Quiz today. If you want to see a computer simulation of the parting of the waters, it's at