Moses' mighty wind

Have you heard the old joke about the Sunday School teacher trying to convince her students that it was not the Red Sea but the Sea of Reeds that the Israelites crossed? She explains that Moses hadn't miraculously parted the water to enable the crossing. Rather, the sea was actually very shallow -- only a couple of inches or feet deep, in fact. So while God did rescue his people, he didn't use supernatural means. "That's amazing!" says Billy, one of her young charges.

The teacher explains that God is amazing but that this crossing wasn't such an amazing feat. In fact, Red Sea was a mistranslation. It was a sea of reeds. A Reed Sea. And so the Israelites only had to cross a very shallow sea.

"Wow! That's super-amazing!" says Billy.

Exasperated, the teacher asks him what, exactly, was so amazing about the Israelites traversing the Reed Sea.

"That the entire Egyptian army drowned in a few inches of water!"

Okay, so I thought of that again when one of our favorite readers sent in some stores about how scientists in Boulder have figured out how this miraculous event might have happened. Over at First Things, Joe Carter says that every few years, attention-seeking scientific researchers try to sucker journalists and bloggers into writing about how their computer model explains how the parting of the Red Sea might have happened. And he says he falls for it every time. (Here was the entry from a couple of years ago.) In this case, I actually thought some stories were good and others weren't.

Let's begin with the bad. Reuters couldn't help themselves with this lede:

Moses might not have parted the Red Sea, but a strong east wind that blew through the night could have pushed the waters back in the way described in biblical writings and the Koran, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

I don't quite get what the reporter is trying to say but there's no need to speculate on Moses' role. The media can just report what the scientists say without going completely beyond what the scientists allege (as we'll see below) to suggest that Moses was a fraud. Doing so doesn't just give readers the impression that the media is out to debunk the Bible, it also shows a particular illiteracy about the Bible.

Here's Exodus 14:21:

Then Moses stretched out his hand 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.

So if Scripture says that the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong wind that lasted for hours and scientists say such a situation is physically possible, it doesn't disprove anything about Moses.

And the researchers didn't attack Moses so much as show off some pretty fancy computer modeling work. This Telegraph story handles their science -- and the religious claim in question -- a bit more seriously:

Analysis of archaeological records, satellite measurements and maps allowed the researchers to estimate the water flow and depth at the site 3,000 years ago.

An ocean computer model was then used to simulate the impact of a strong overnight wind on the six-foot-deep waters.

The scientists found that an east wind of 63 mph blowing for 12 hours would have driven the shallow waters back, both into the lake and the river channel.

For a period of four hours, this would have created a land bridge about two miles long and three miles wide.

The waters really would have been parted, with barriers of water raised on both sides of the newly exposed mud flats.

As soon as the winds dropped, the waters would have rushed back, much like a tidal bore. Anyone stranded on the mud flats would have been at risk of drowning, said the scientists, whose findings are reported today in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

Well, attention-seeking scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, or not -- I think it's worth a news story or two.

Anyway, the reader who submitted the story also thought it interesting that ABC News filed the story under "Technology." It is a technology story, of course, but just interesting that it's filed that way. More examples -- some better than others -- here.

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