Parting of the Red (Reed) Sea

 Did God part the Red Sea for the people of Israel, is it just a morality tale, or is it just a lot of non-sense? The parting of the sea is a key point in the Exodus story. This element not only clearly shows the power of God, but it allowed the people of Israel to escape while simultaneously destroying the Egyptian army. There are several points to the Parting of the Red Sea which often come into question. One of the most interesting aspects, is that the parting of the sea has happened again, and there were witnesses.

The first, and very pivotal element, of the story is the sea itself. The Red Sea is a very large and very deep body of water. This has caused many to doubt the story. Suppose God did part the waters of the Red Sea as the Bible says. At some of the narrowest points the Red Sea remains nearly thirty miles across. While in many aspects this is not a long distance, we must remember the Israeli people had to cross this span in a single day. Traveling thirty miles, with elderly people, children and livestock would have been an all but impossible task. While it could be argued that God miraculously shortened the distance, or allowed the people to move faster, these are not mentioned or even hinted at in the Bible. So, if the Red Sea is too wide, and deep, to allow for such an event, does this mean the parting of the sea never happened? 

There is much debate over the name used in the Bible for the Sea where God parted the waters. In its original language the term used is Yam Sup. In the Hebrew language Yam means Sea and Sup means either reeds, rushes or in some cases seaweed. There so happens to be a place in Egypt which was known as the Sea or Reeds. The name is an almost exact match for the Bible and is very hard to dismiss, and perhaps it shouldn't be. This area was later known as Lake Manzala and it was a large shallow lake which would have intersected a direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land. In fairness it must be pointed out that some scholars disagree with this name. They point out that at various places in the Bible the writers refer to the Red Sea as Yam Sup. They insist we cannot just look at the name, but also the context of how and when it is used. 

The Reed Sea would have been a little over six feet deep, or just a little over two meters. At the point in question the lake is approximately 3 to 5 kilometers wide, or 2.5 miles. This distance would have certainly been much more manageable within the time frame given in the Bible which said the people crossed over after God sent an easterly wind all night to push the waters back. This is known as Wind Set Down. Researchers have concluded that an easterly wind, just as described in the Bible, could have caused this type of event on the Reed Sea. They estimate it would take a wind of between 100 and 120 kph for twelve hours to cause the Wind Set Down. According to their research, the location closely matches the Bible narrative and the events told of in the Bible were certainly a scientific possibility.


In 2010 researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado used computer models to reconstruct the area in question. They studied maps of the area, archeological records and satellite measurements to pinpoint a location where such an event was possible. They found an area in the south Mediterranean where some believe the Nile River drained into an ancient lake called Tanis or Manzala. The computer model showed a 63 mile per hour wind blowing across the region for a period of 12 hours would push back the water and create an effect very similar to the one recorded in Exodus. The area created by the model was three miles wide and up to two and a half miles long. Once the wind died down the waters would quickly and violently return to their original levels.

Carl Drews headed the research and is quoted as saying; "People have always been fascinated by this Exodus story, wondering if it comes from historical facts," Drews says. "What this study shows is that the description of the waters parting indeed has a basis in physical laws."

Drews went on to say, "The Simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus. The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. 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."

Examining Exodus 14 With The Geosciences 


Thus far we have found a location, the Reed Sea, which seems to match the location named in the Bible. We have also seen the parting of the sea was possible given the scientific facts. While researchers used a computer simulation, is this proof the waters could, did do as the researchers suggest? In fact, it is not, but this does not mean we simply have to take their word for it. If the waters of the Reed Sea were pushed back by strong easterly winds during the time of Moses in approximately 1250 BC, it may have indeed been the first time, but it was not the last.

In 1882 a British military expedition was camped on the shore of Lake Manzala (Reed Sea). One of the commanders of the expedition was Major General Bruce Tulloch. In his journals, Tulloch records the events of a night spent on the shore of the lake. He reports a severe storm swept over the area and had extremely strong easterly winds. The storm ragged through the night and Tulloch repeatedly stresses it's severity. The next morning when Tulloch emerged from his tent, he found the lake was gone, having been replaced by a dry field. He noted that the local villagers were walking about on the dry lakebed where on the previous day the fishing boats had been hard at work. 

It was found the water had been pushed back a distance of approximately eleven kilometer, or six miles. Once the winds diminished, the waters returned to their previous location. How rapidly the waters returned would have depended on how quickly the winds diminished. If the winds shifted suddenly, it could not only have allowed the water to rush back with considerable force, but it could actually have pushed the water at an accelerated rate.  The events described by Major General Tulloch very closely match those found in the Bible. While we have no way of knowing how many times these events have played out throughout history, we have two records of them taking place approximately 3100 years apart. 

Thus far we have found a likely location for the Biblical story and have even found non-biblical records of an almost identical event taking place. While very convincing, there remain serval very valid questions. Could the people of Israel have walked the 2.5 miles in a wind of up to 70 miles per hour? When the waters came rushing back, would six feet of water have been enough to decimate the Egyptian army? Finally, by finding a scientific explanation for the events have we removed the miraculous, removed God from the story entirely?

The wind speed required to move as well as hold back the lake water is estimated to have been 100 to 120 kph, which is equivalent to 62 to 74 mph. Is it possible for a person to walk or stand upright in a 70-mph wind? As with most things it depends on the person. The average person can stand and walk in a 70-mph wind. It is, however considered very dangerous. At those wind speeds a person can be blown down and sustain injuries. In the case of the Israelites, the people would have certainly helped one another. Where one person may be susceptible to being blown down, a group walking arm in arm would be far more stable. I believe the people would have had a very difficult time, but they could have travelled the 2.5 miles required. How well the livestock would have fared is an unknown as how a herd reacts to any given situation can vary widely.

 According to the National Weather Service a person can be knocked off their feet by just six inches of rapidly moving water. A water depth of two feet will float your vehicle and push it down stream. A six foot or higher wall of water would certainly knock any person down. Once knocked off their feet the Egyptian soldiers would have been in grave danger. They would have been pushed forward, tumbling in the violent waves, crashing into one another, chariots, horses, and any natural elements present on the lakebed. Most Egyptian soldiers did not wear heavy armor, but they did wear scale armor which still could have hampered their ability to recover. While impossible to say for certain, it would seem a six-foot wall of rushing water would have been more than enough to decimate the Egyptian Army as depicted in the Bible.

By finding a scientific explanation for the parting of the Reed Sea have we removed the need for God in this story? The simple answer is no. God often uses nature, scientific, events to achieve His goals. Events such as floods, earthquakes, droughts and winds are mentioned all through the Bible. It is not the nature of the event that is important, but its timing. In the story of the parting of the Sea it is not just that the sea was parted. The important issue is that the Sea parted exactly at the proper time to allow the people of Israel to escape. Furthermore, the natural event ended at exactly the right moment to destroy the pursuing Egyptians. If the winds had lasted just a little longer the Egyptians would have caught up with the Israelites on the far shore and destroyed them there. The miracle here is in the timing. God knew the exact needs of His people and He provided it for them at exactly the right time in the exact right way. The fact the events fit a scientific model in no ways removes the miraculous element from this story.

[Morality Tale - a narrative from which a person can derive an understanding of a moral issue involving right and wrong. These are often not considered historical in nature.]

When all of the facts are examined the Biblical story of the parting of the sea is far more than a morality tale. The Bible records the events as factual and given the scientific evidence, non-biblical records and the physical parameters, there is no reason to doubt the story could have taken place just as recorded in the Bible.

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