To drive away the waters and part the Red Sea, Moses needed a different location than previously thought, according to a new study on the miraculous biblical event.
Previous studies of wind, waves and bathymetry have called on hurricane strength winds blowing from the northwest to push away the water. This exposed a long reef which allowed Moses and the Israelites to escape the advancing cavalry of Pharaoh.
The problem is: It would be nearly impossible for Israelites to stand in such a wind, much less walk to safety.
What's more, the Book of Exodus includes some nice meteorological details: "(T)he Lord drove the sea away all night with a strong east wind and turned the sea-bed into dry land."
"If you are going to match the biblical account, you need the wind from the east," said researcher Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Drews has been studying the Red Sea story for years as a student and now has published a paper on the matter, which was his master's thesis, in the journal PloS One.
Drews took that east wind and tried to perform a computer simulation of the event in a couple of different places.
He found that a steady 63-mile-per-hour (100-kilometer-per-hour) wind over a digitally reconstructed east-west running lake at the Mediterranean end of the Nile, near today's Port Said, would push the water west to the far end of the lake, as well as south, up the river.
The model showed that this would expose wide mud flats where the river entered the lake and leave a land bridge high and dry for four hours.
The hardest part of the study, said Drews, was reconstructing the geography of the area. He chose the area known today as Lake Manzala because it seems to fit with the Exodus story. It is oriented so that an east wind can actually blow across it lengthwise and push water to one side -- something that is not the case for the north-south running Red Sea.
Drews used research done by others regarding the past geography of that area, which was once known as Lake of Tanis, along with the earliest maps he could find to try to recreate what the site looked like in 1250 B.C. The exact date is, however, not crucial, he said.
Of course, this location raises another problem: The Nile Delta is not the Red Sea -- or is it?
"There is some controversy over the body of water they crossed," said Drews. "The Exodus text says in Hebrew 'yam suf,' (which) literally means 'Sea of Reeds.'"
That description fits the area he studied: a broad lake filled with papyrus reeds stretching to the horizon.
"Many Bible translations render 'yam suf' as 'Red Sea,'" Drews told Discovery News. "Red Sea" has become the common terminology.
However, biblical scholars Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier have explored the issue at length and have concluded that the marshy area along the Suez Canal is also an acceptable location for "yam suf."
Hoffmeier, for his part, is cautious and not sure the location fits.
"Attempts to understand biblical events in the light of geographical and climatological considerations are welcomed," said Hoffmeier, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at Trinity International University. "But the investigator must also incorporate a careful and contextual reading of the biblical text."
"The value of studying the event described in the Old Testament certainly lends support to the thesis that physics is a natural phenomenon, a normal part of our universe," said Stephen Baig, a researcher who has studied storm surges for the National Hurricane Center. "If there is a miracle, it is that we are able to describe such events with numbers."