Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scientific evidence for crossing of the Red Sea?

Can modern science show that natural underwater formations and wind patterns could have opened a pathway for the ancient Hebrews, led by Moses, to cross the sea on dry land? The Bible states:
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22)

ABC News
Earlier this year, ABC News reported that Naum Volzinger, a senior researcher at St. Petersburg's Institute of Oceanography, and Alexei Androsov, Hamburg, Germany had examined the conditions in the Red Sea near the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Their research seems to indicate a reef existed that would have been about seven kilometers in length from one shore to the other side. Around 3,500 years ago, the reef would have been shallower, allowing it to be exposed by a strong wind of about 67 mph blowing overnight. [1]

National Center for Atmospheric Research
A computer modeling study was conducted by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows how wind could have parted the Red Sea as described in the book of Exodus. The study showed that an easterly wind blowing at a rate of 28 m/s (about 63 mph) could reveal an existing land bridge. In attempting to determine the location, researchers used data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to examine the eastern Nile delta configured for the Late Bronze Age. The geography shows shallow lagoons in the area of modern day Lake Manzala toward the Pelusiac branch of the Nile.

The researchers examined an area near the Kedua Gap (30.9812° N, 32.4553° E) from West to East, about 3–4 km long and 5 km wide. In the first set of experiments, their model results showed that, after about 12 hours, the reef became fully exposed and passable with realistic bathymetry. The second experimental set studied a wind setdown in the area of eastern end of the Lake of Tanis, from Damietta to Pelusium during the Egyptian New Kingdom Period (approximately 1250 BC). In the location where the Pelusiac branch of the Nile flowed into the Lake of Tanis, a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) hydrodynamic model was utilized and showed that a gap opened in the waters, resulting in a land bridge extending about 3-4 kilometers eastward. A passage five kilometers wide remained open for four hours leading toward an archaeological site later known as Tell Kedua. [2] One could reasonable conclude that stronger winds could have opened up a passage in a shorter time period. And, when the winds receded, the deluge of waves rushing back to fill the space would have been significant.

Scientific literature contains a written record from British Army Major-General Alexander Tulloch one day in early 1882 of a wind setdown that occurred in the eastern Nile delta between Port Said and Kantarah:
“… a gale of wind from the eastward set in and became so strong that I had to cease work. Next morning on going out I found that Lake Menzaleh, which is situated on the west side of the [Suez] Canal, had totally disappeared, the effect of the high wind on the shallow water having actually driven it away beyond the horizon, and the natives were walking about on the mud where the day before the fishing-boat...” [3]

Does this prove the Biblical account?
Simple answer – no. What this shows is that it is reasonable to believe the event was possible, given the depth of the bodies of water in this area in eastern Egypt and given the physics of the power of wind to move water. Does God need a perfect confluence of factors – high land shelf under low depth of water with the proper wind speed and direction – to accomplish His purposes? Of course not. If there really is a God who created the universe, He could have caused the Israelites to walk across the Pacific Ocean on dry land if He chose. What these studies demonstrate is that God could have directed Moses to an area where He knew there was a land bridge ready to be used for the salvation of His people.

Maybe the timing was coincidental?
Perhaps this event actually occurred and the Israelites were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, making for a terrific story that actually had nothing to do with a deity. If that is true, the coincidences are fantastical. Here are a few:
• The timing was perfect for the Israelites who were trapped with Pharoah’s army quickly approaching (Exodus 14:10)
• The wind began to blow at the exact time Moses raised his staff (v. 21)
• The waters returned at the time Moses, from the other side, stretched out his hand toward the sea (v. 27)
• The entire Egyptian army was caught in the sea as the waters collapsed back on them (v. 28)
Anyone who believes these events happened by chance has more faith in coincidence than Jews and Christians have in God.

[1] Amanda Onion, “Scientists explain Red Sea parting and other miracles”, ABC News, published 12 Feb 2013, accessed 22 Nov 2013.
[2] Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, “Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route” National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Sept. 21, 2010.
[3] Tulloch AB (1896) Passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute (now Faith and Thought) 28: 267–280.

No comments: