Boulder scientist's research affirms parting of the Red Sea
Carl Drews finds different sea-parting site in Egypt
By Anna Maria-Basquez
From his office in Boulder, scientist Carl Drews, having never been there, can—with Google Earth Pro imaging on his computer—pinpoint the location his research points to as the new theorized location of the Biblical miracle of the Crossing of the Red Sea.
The technology can zoom in on the place in Egypt where Moses and the Israelites escaped death when waters parted, according to the Book of Exodus. His virtual “pushpin” comes back with images of what is now predominately agricultural land, with orchards, irrigation canals and grape fields indicating vineyards.
It is in the Eastern Nile Delta, between Pelusium and Qantara, and 75 miles north of the most popular theorized place in Egypt, which has been the Suez Canal. And it’s travelable by foot.
“One of the places right in the middle of the crossing shows what looks like a hotel and some type of building,” said Drews, a member of Epiphany Anglican Fellowship in Boulder, a congregation under the umbrella of the Anglican Mission of the Americas out of Rwanda. “It would be fun to knock on their door and to say in Arabic, ‘Do you know that Moses walked right by here.’ It would probably elicit a form of disbelief. But perhaps people would say, ‘Well, maybe...’”
His own research elicited all but disbelief. In fact, it made the miracle ever more real, said the researcher who claimed to have always been enchanted by the miracle in the Book of Exodus.
“For anyone who always believed this happened, somehow it’s still a thrill to see it supported by scientific finding,” Drews said.
Drews, of Gunbarrel, took up the Crossing of the Red Sea for his master’s thesis for his degree in oceanic and atmospheric sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, receiving national attention this year that included a segment by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.
However, much of the attention reported that Drews’ research into the biblical miracle “explained” the phenomena of the parting of the Red Sea. That’s a statement the Boulder software engineer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research said he isn’t comfortable with.
“The science can only look at the physical aspects of it,” said Drews. “’Explanation’ means somehow God didn’t do it and I don’t like those connotations. I think my research further affirms it happened. I think it supports the account.”
The study was part of a project into the impact of winds on water depths, including the extent to which Pacific Ocean typhoons can drive storm surges, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).
“By pinpointing a possible site south of the Mediterranean Sea for the crossing, the study also could be of benefit to experts seeking to research whether such an event ever took place,” UCAR said in a statement. “Archaeologists and Egyptologists have found little direct evidence to substantiate many of the events described in Exodus.”
Drews and CU oceanographer Weiqing Han analyzed archaeological records, satellite measurements and current-day maps to estimate the water-flow and depth that could have existed 3,000 years ago. They then used an ocean computer model to simulate the impact of an overnight wind at that site.
The results were that a wind of 63 miles an hour, lasting for 12 hours, would have pushed back waters estimated to be 6 feet deep. That would have exposed mud flats for four hours, creating a dry passage about 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide. As soon as the wind stopped, the waters would come rushing back, UCAR said in a statement.
“There are a number of details (in Exodus) like the duration of the wind and the direction of the wind that support the computer model,” Drews said. “The fact that bodies washed up on the Eastern shore where the Israelites were able to see them—details like that were confirmed by the ocean model.”
From a theological standpoint, the timing of the Red Sea parting when Moses and his people needed to cross shows the miracle, Drews said.
“From a faith perspective, it has always made sense to me that God uses natural action to carry out his plan if he so chooses,” said Drews who originally grew up Lutheran. “In this case, he sent the wind and the wind moved the water. God is using natural means to bring out what he wants to have happen, which is to save his people. In this case, God is directing all things.”
His research showed also that there would likely have been a high velocity wind-jet running along the left side of the Israelites as they crossed, but that it would not keep them from crossing.
“’Great are the deeds of the Lord ... they are studied by all that delight in them,’” Drews said, referring to the Book of Psalms. “There’s an uneasy feeling that if you study (a miracle) that it might not be a miracle, but I don’t think that’s the biblical view. The biblical view encourages study of these events and, of course, the biblical writer orchestrates these for the benefit of his people.”
Not all biblical miracles are open forum to study, however, he said. The miracle of Jesus turning all water to wine at the wedding feast at Cana broke all physical laws, he said. The detailed Red Sea descriptions by eye witnesses, however, helped open up the doors for science to explore. There are more areas of that particular miracle for scientists interested to study further, he said. The miracle of the Jordan River crossing, he said, may be another in the Bible that leaves the door open for inquiry.
Drews said his membership with the smaller congregation of Epiphany Anglican Fellowship is due in part to its friendliness to scientists. Some of the fellow researchers with Epiphany helped him with various aspects of the research, he said. One member is a cloud expert and could help him on the atmospheric weather conditions surrounding the scenario. Another is a former marine who he said helped explain to him more about the likely military maneuvers of the troops that were advancing on Moses and the Israelites when the miracle occurred.
Dick Miller, site pastor for Epiphany, said he learned from his friend’s research that science cannot establish whether an event was a miracle or not.
“It can only describe what (may have) happened. It’s a good example of science staying within the proper bounds of inquiry and possible explanations of events,” he said. “Theology can provide answers as to why the event occurred and who was responsible.
“Carl Drews is a very good example of a serious scientist and a serious Christian believer,” Miller said. “He has a good sense of the enormous possibilities and limits of both science and faith. He brings together skeptics at either end of the spectrum: those religious people who say matters of faith cannot have scientific reasoning behind them, and those secular skeptics who declare that faith is not scientifically informed.”
Ben Akers, director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Catechetical School, said Drews’ use of his gifts to explore the events would likely help people in their faith walk.
“Faith and science never contradict one another,” Akers said. “They always complement one another. I am encouraged this scientist is using his skills and education to actually help affirm the actual historical event that took place in the Scriptures.”
“I think, as Catholics looking at the Red Sea event, clearly it’s God working through natural forces,” Akers said. “When Moses raises his hand, the waters separate. When he raises his hand again, the waters recede.”
Drews said he was in wonder at the type of force that would happen once the wind stopped.
“The recession of water took hours to take place, but it took minutes to come back,” Drews said. “In a wind set-down event, it generally takes hours for the water to recede, but if the wind suddenly stops, it’s a gravity wave that travels back. ... You get this surging that travels at a running speed. It would definitely be hard to escape if you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The new location being a travelable place may or may not impact pilgrims, according to some theologians.
Drews himself wants to visit. Father Humberto Marquez of St. Augustine Parish in Brighton said visits to where Moses and his people came to the crossing of the Red Sea would be most attractive to Scripture scholars. Most Christians tend to travel to the Holy Land, he said, but others might consider it.
“How the event plays into salvation history is more important than in finding out the exact place where it happened,” Father Marquez said.
Akers said the site’s attractiveness to pilgrims who go overseas might depend on the accessibility of the location.
“If his theory becomes widely accepted or the location becomes widely accepted, people will most likely want to visit if they are able to,” Akers said. “I’ve been blessed to go to the Holy Land. Going to the locations in the Old and New Testaments is really a good opportunity for people to grow in faith. They are places of grace—the places where the heroes and heroines of the Bible walked. They are always edifying to visit.”
Akers said Catholics who study the event of the Red Sea can see the same sentiment expressed found in other key biblical writings.
“The way (the Red Sea parting) is described is using language evocative of the first creation story,” Akers said. “We have waters, wind, dry land, darkness and light. ... They are all images used in Genesis. Now you have the creation of Israel as a nation, as God’s first-born son. You have darkness covering the Egyptians; you have the light, which is leading Israel."