The scene is one of the most memorable in the Old Testament: Moses, chased by the Egyptians, leads the Israelites out of slavery, but his people are caught between the advancing army and a massive body of water. That is, until Moses raises his staff and the waters part, allowing the Israelites to scurry across the seabed to safety, while the pursuing Egyptians are swallowed by the water.
But is there scientific evidence for Moses crossing the Red Sea? A number of scholars argue that there is clear proof that it is possible to part a body of water. Other scholars say that Moses didn't cross the Red Sea at all - because just like the Bible changes over time, mistranslations can change the meaning of entire passages. According to the original Hebrew text, Moses crossed the Sea of Reeds, not the Red Sea.
Of course, a lot can change in a few millennia; that's how Jesus became white, after all. So did Moses actually cross a shallow lake rather than the massive Red Sea? Just like scholars look for scientific proof that the crucifixion was real, they also try to find Red Sea crossing proof. But is it misguided to look for scientific evidence for Biblical miracles? Let's examine the facts.
In The Old Testament, Moses Parted The Red Sea, But Can Science Explain It?
In Exodus, Moses leads the Israelites away from Egypt and slavery, but their escape isn’t easy. The Egyptians follow Moses and his people with chariots and horses, hoping to hunt them down. How does Moses save his people? With a miraculous parting of the Red Sea. According to Exodus 14:21, Moses stretched his hand out over the sea, “and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided.”
The miraculous tale has been told for thousands of years, and it is a central component of the Old Testament story of Moses and the Israelites. But could there be a scientific explanation behind the parting of the Red Sea? Recently, scholars have advanced a number of theories to explain the miracle with science.
Was The Water Parted By Wind, As Exodus Claims?
Testing the science behind Biblical miracles is a difficult proposition, particularly since the Bible isn't always great with providing specific details. But in this case, one clue is contained in Exodus itself. As Moses raises his hand, it reads, “the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night.”
Scholars wondered if it was possible for wind to part a sea - and according to software engineer Carl Drews, it is possible. Drews has a master’s in atmospheric and ocean sciences from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and works for the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In a peer-reviewed journal article in PLOS One, Drews lays out the case for a wind-driven miracle.
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Moses Might Not Have Crossed The Red Sea At All
In order for Drews's theory to be correct, however, Moses and the Israelites did not actually cross the massive Red Sea. At its deepest, the Red Sea is over 8,000 feet deep, with an average depth of 1,640 feet. It's also 190 miles wide at its widest point, meaning it would have taken the Israelites a long time to cross by foot. Biblical scholars have claimed that perhaps Moses crossed the narrower, shallower Gulf of Suez, or perhaps a marshy lake on the Suez Isthmus.
Or perhaps "Red Sea" was a mistranslation from the original Hebrew in the Bible. If that's the case, we need to let go of visions of Moses creating a wall of water hundreds of feet tall, as in movies like The Ten Commandments.
Did Moses Actually Part The Sea Of Reeds Instead Of The Red Sea?
The most convincing theory argues that mistranslations caused Exodus to say "the Red Sea" when the original actually said "the sea of reeds." In the original Hebrew text, the Israelites crossed a body of water called yam suph - or "Sea of Reeds." And in fact, it didn't read "Red Sea" until the third century BCE, when the Old Testament was first translated into Greek. That translation, called the Septuagint, turned yam suph into eruthrá thálassē, or Red Sea. The Latin Vulgate followed, using mari Rubro, and English versions, like the King James Bible, that were based on the Septuagint or the Vulgate, continued the mistranslation.
If the scholars are correct, and Moses actually parted the "sea of reeds," where, exactly, is that sea located?