Thursday, January 22, 2004

A Russian scientist has announced that one of the Old Testament’s most monumental events — Moses’ parting of the Red Sea — was due to stormy weather and a shallow reef rather than divine intervention.

“I am convinced that God rules the Earth through the laws of physics,” Naum Volzinger told the Moscow Times on Wednesday.

The senior researcher at St. Petersburg’s Institute of Oceanology spent six months studying the tides, winds and reefs common to the Red Sea, then developed a series of differential equations to chart out the parting of the waters, as detailed in Exodus 14.

“And 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 dry land, and the waters were divided,” the King James Version of the Bible states.

Mr. Volzinger determined that if a strong wind blew at 30 meters per second over a shallow reef, then yes, it could have blown that reef dry. He also calculated it would have taken the fleeing Jews about four hours to make their crossing.

Of course, explaining away the miracles and mysteries of the Bible is a perennial favorite among scientific researchers, who find a ready audience for such things.

Among the biblical mysteries that have come under scientific scrutiny in recent years are the star of Bethlehem, the true location of Mount Sinai, the burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the strength of Samson, and the facial characteristics of Jesus Christ.

A Rutgers University astronomer, for example, explained that the Christmas star was actually a double eclipse of Jupiter 2,000 years ago, based on his calculations gleaned from symbols found on an old Roman coin.

And Jesus was really a stocky, swarthy, clean-shaven man, at least according to Britain’s University of Manchester, where researchers generated an image of Christ on a computer based on a first-century skull found in Israel.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University theorized that the burning bush was caused by flaming natural gas seeping from the earth.

Now it’s Moses’ turn.

Oceanographer Mr. Volzinger studied the conditions on a reef in the northern part of the Gulf of Suez, which some scholars believe is the site where Moses miraculously parted the Red Sea.

Some 3,500 years ago, the reef was much closer to the surface, Mr. Volzinger said.

He set about calculating how much wind speed would have been needed to blow the water from the formation at low tide, how long the area would stay dry and how quickly the seas would come crashing back.

“It would take the Jews — there were 600,000 of them — four hours to cross the 7-kilometer reef that runs from one coast to another. Then, in a half-hour, the waters would come back.”

But the scientist, who specializes in oceanic phenomena, admitted that his approach was “strictly from Isaac Newton’s point of view,” adding that he had yet to inform any religious organizations about his findings.

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