An Appraisal of the 2010 Drews and Han Wind Setdown Models of the Exodus 14 Sea Crossing

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Excerpt Carl Drews and Weiqing Han of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, conducted 19 computer simulation tests of wind setdown at three suggested locations for the sea crossing described in Exodus 14 (2010). Wind setdown is the drop in water level caused by wind stress acting on the surface of a body of water for an extended period of time. The three test locations for the sea crossing were the north end of the Gulf of Suez, the mouth of a coastal lagoon in the eastern Nile delta at Tell Kedua and the north end of Ballah Lakes in the Isthmus of Suez at Tell Abu Sefeh... Continue reading

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Carl Drews and Weiqing Han of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, conducted 19 computer simulation tests of wind setdown at three suggested locations for the sea crossing described in Exodus 14 (2010). Wind setdown is the drop in water level caused by wind stress acting on the surface of a body of water for an extended period of time. The three test locations for the sea crossing were the north end of the Gulf of Suez, the mouth of a coastal lagoon in the eastern Nile delta at Tell Kedua and the north end of Ballah Lakes in the Isthmus of Suez at Tell Abu Sefeh.

Gulf of Suez (Tests R1–R5)

It has been proposed that a high velocity wind could expose an underwater reef at the north end of the Gulf of Suez, thus providing a land bridge for crossing. A crossing in this area, however, does not fit recent data which would place the sea crossing at the north end of the Ballah Lakes (Byers 2006; Hoffmeier 2008: 54–57). Assuming that the north end of the Gulf of Suez is a feasible location, the test results do not indicate that the reef could be exposed by natural causes. To begin with, it would be necessary to assume the wind came from the northwest, in order to align with the axis of the Gulf of Suez. This is contrary to an east wind as recorded in Exodus 14:21. With a wind speed of 75 miles per hour (a Category 1 hurricane!), there would still be a low spot on the reef over a half mile long with minimum water depth of 20 inches flowing at a velocity of 3 feet per second. Moreover, this model does not produce a wall of water on either side of the crossing place as required by the biblical description (Ex 14:22), but rather a reef protruding from the water in some places and under water in other places.

Strait of Kedua (Tests T1–T5 and T8–T14)

In this case, the postulated crossing point is a 3 mile-wide east-west strait in the eastern delta between a small lagoon on the south and a large lake, which the investigators call the Lake of Tanis, a name given in Herodotus (fifth century BC historian), on the north. The strait is approximately 10 miles northeast of the more likely crossing location at the north end of the Ballah Lakes. Whether a large lake existed here at the time of the Exodus is highly questionable as geological investigations indicate that the area to the north of the small lagoon was open sea at that time (Hoffmeier 2005: 41–43). The investigators theorize that a narrow sandbar separated the Lake of Tanis from the Mediterranean Sea. With this model, a 62 miles per hour wind blowing from the east for 12 hours would produce a traversable dry gap in the strait for a period of about 4 hours (test T1). An east-west stream of water about 8 inches deep would form some 3 miles to the north of the crossing place and the lagoon to the south would be completely dry. This hardly constitutes “a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Ex 14:22). In test T9 it was assumed that the wind was from the southeast and in this case no dry passage formed. Several other tests were run with different variables, with no appreciable difference from the test T1 results (tests T2–T5, T8, T10, T11, T14).

In tests T12 and T13 it was assumed that the area north of the strait was open sea, which, based on the geological evidence, seems to be a more realistic reconstruction. With an east wind of 62 miles per hour blowing for 12 hours, no dry crossing formed. For a wind speed of 75 miles per hour, a passage would open for 4.6 hours. In this case there would be shallow water on the north of the passage and the lagoon to the south would be completely dry.

North end of Ballah Lakes (Test T6 and T7)

Based on currently available data, the north end of the Ballah Lakes appears to be the most likely location for the sea crossing. In this model an east wind did not produce a land bridge since the orientation of the Ballah Lakes is northeast-southwest. With a northeast wind of 62 miles per hour a dry crossing place appears for 2.8 hours. If the wind speed is increased to 75 miles per hour, the crossing time is increased to 8.4 hours. In both cases there would be no water on the north side of the crossing place and only shallow water on the south side.

While these computer simulations are interesting, none of them produce a result consistent with the biblical description of “a wall of water on their right and on their left.” In the end we must conclude that what took place when the Israelites left Egypt was a miraculous act of God which cannot be duplicated by a natural phenomenon.



Byers, Gary A.

2006  New Evidence from Egypt on the Location of the Exodus Sea Crossing. Bible and Spade 19: 14–22.

Drews, Carl, and Han, Weiqing


2010  Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. PloS ONE 5(8), (accessed September 21).

Hoffmeier, James K.

2008  The Archaeology of the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion.

Comments Comment RSS

2/18/2013 10:06 AM #

Some have said that because a “strong east wind” was used to part the Red Sea that it was not miraculous but was just some natural phenomena that forced “knee deep” water back to the side, or that it was a “tsunami” wave that just happened to sweep across Lower Egypt at just the right moment, somehow missing Israel but hitting the Egyptians, or it was only a few soldiers who got “bucked” off their horses and trampled in the muddy water, etc. And we are told these things by a whole chorus of experts who want us to know they have proven all this by “scientific” means. Some even inform us that we should not interpret the miracles of the Bible literally. But Christ and the Apostles interpreted the miracles of the Old Testament literally.

Where the Bible said, “the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea” (Exodus 15:8), this obviously could not have been formed by just a wind. Where it says the waters were a “wall” on Israel’s right and left hand 14:22-23), this is the same word as for the “wall” of Jerusalem or the “walls” of Jericho. This word is found in the Hebrew Scriptures over 130 times and it is always translated wall, walls or walled, but never is it translated to mean water that has been moved to one side at an angle of a few degrees, etc. A wind strong enough to have blown the waters into a “wall” or “stood upright as an heap”, could not have been on the Israelites, or it would have literally blown them off the face of the earth! This wind that came from the east would have had to divide to keep the waters to the north and those in the south both pushed back from Israel, thus blowing in opposite directions at the same time; obviously this was not *“some natural phenomena”. Couple this with what the Bible says that it was started and stopped by Moses “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back….And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians....” (Exodus 14:21, 27) But are we to believe that “shallow” water somehow drowned all the Egyptians, and that the “storm” that saved Israel was only lucky timing, at just the right place, and that the Bible lies when it says that it all started and stopped by the hand of Moses? Is it really “scientific” evidence that has reframed the miracles of the Exodus or doubts?

Garry Matheny - 2/18/2013 10:06:29 AM

8/14/2013 11:17 AM #

Hi there

As a christian of some years I have always been aware of the whole Moses story however in recent times have been examining it very closely including the sea crossing.

One of the assumptions made is that there are only 2 pharaohs in Exodus when in reality there are at least four and possibly more.  The "new king" was clearly the Hyksos who built Avaris (Pithom) as their capital.  The city known as Raamses was basically the same city and the name, as far as we know, was amended later on by an editor so that the readers of the day would understand exactly where was being talked about as we have seen in other scriptural examples.  This does not mean however that we have to reject the scriptures as accurate or formulate ridiculous hypotheses that most of the bible is fable invented at a later date.  We have numerous examples of those who have considered the bible fantasy only to be proved wrong the most famous being the Hittite one.  

The Israelites were more numerous than the Hyksos and they "dealt wisely" with them.  After the Theban dynasty expelled the Hyksos and regained full control of both Upper and Lower Egypt they clearly retained this policy towards Israel.  The pharaoh who gave orders to the midwives could be the same as the one who ordered the boys to be thrown out or it may be another.  Regardless like many others I am convinced that Moses was probably born in the first year of Thutmose 1 ca 1526BC and that it was he who ordered the throwing out of the boys, backed up by the fact that Aaron was only 3 years older than Moses.

As we know Pharaoh's Daughter was an official title and Moses declined to continue his position of her son choosing instead to join his own people assuming they would understand that God would save them by his hand.
Moses of course would have been brought up in the royal school and quite possibly initiated into their secret temple religion.  We do not know at what exact point he turned his back on this other than when he was 40 he ended up in Midian.  His adoptive mother may have been Hatshepsut but my personal inclination is towards one of several other known candidates and we of course do not have full family trees of the Pharaonic clan so their could be candidates we have never heard of.

Moses returned after God told him those seeking his life were dead ie: after the death of Thutmose 3 around 1450BC.  I of course take the high chronology for Egypt based on Sirius's rising taken in Memphis as it would have been under a united Egypt.  It is clear that Thutmose's long reign was the absolute high point of ancient Egypt's grandeur and influence and that Amenhotep 2 was set to expand on this backed up by magical power - it is clear both from history and the biblical narrative that the priests and magicians of Egypt wielded very real supernatural power.

From a close examination of the story I believe that the entire plague episode, judgement of Egypt's gods and exodus happened over the space of about 2 weeks beginning at the appearance in which the rods became snakes.  This would tie with God's instructions for the new calendar building up to the passover and it may possibly have coincided with the annual Festival of Min - I have more investigating to do on this!

The Israelites gathered on the day after passover ie the 15th at Succoth which can mean "tents" or "shelters" in Hebrew but which also has a derivative from the Egyptian name for the eastern defensive wall running from the Mediterranean coast down along the edge of the delta and along the canal at Wadi Tumilat.  I am convinced that this is where they then gathered, not too far from the city (which was beside Goshen) but actually outside this defensive wall on the other side of the canal and technically out of Egypt proper.  Their second stop was at Etham which signifies the edge of the wilderness ie along the canal towards what are now known as the bitter lakes at the junction of the various roads out of Egypt.  Instead of going northwards straight towards Israel they are led in the opposite direction towards Suez.  This is the point at which it gets complicated.

There have been many conjectures about where they actually crossed the sea and whether it was actually one of the lakes or the Red Sea itself.  On the one hand the intention was to go 3 days journey into the wilderness and another day would have taken them to the large bitter lake associated with reeds.  If they were on the eastward side then an east wind would make sense and as Pharaoh caught up they crossed over and made their way on towards Marah ie bitter water 3 days later which would make sense arriving at Elim not long after.

Elim is identified as the modern Ain Musa which lies on the plain beside the Red Sea just south of modern Suez on the east side of the gulf.  While there are only 7 wells visible at the present time as far as I know, there were definitely 12 100 years ago and before that.  It is surrounded by a small copse of palm trees and can be viewed on Google Earth for example.  So even if the crossing was at the bitter lake they journeyed on down past the Suez area anyway.

Some have suggested that the crossing was on down past Suez from the West bank of the gulf to the right hand side and have made much of the supposed landbridge underwater.  I am not convinced.  There is a very good map made by the French around the turn of the 19th century ie the 1790s which shows that even only 200 years ago the head of the gulf of Suez was very different to what it is now with there being a fairly long inlet which went several miles northward past the town.  If it hadn't changed since 1446BC then we could suggest that a more fitting crossing point would be here rather than further on round the bay.  There is a large sandbank underwater which has since been reclaimed and built on beside the current mouth of the Suez canal.

A couple of points to note here

i. Pi Hararoth signifies the mouth of a body of water - it could be the mouth of the canal at the bitter lakes, or the mouth of the Gulf of Suez or it could be the mouth of the canal at the Gulf of Suez.  We just don't know.

ii. Baal Zephon was the god of mariners and it would make sense for a temple, statue or shrine to be beside the sea as opposed to a lake.

iii. Migdol the fortress could signify one either up near the bitter lakes or one at Suez.  We just don't know.

If the Israelites only journeyed for 3 days then it would seem to place them at the bitter lakes.  However if they journeyed for 7 days as coinciding with the days of unleavened bread then it would place them down towards Suez.

If the Gulf of Suez in ancient times stretched far further inland than it does either now or 200 years ago then the actual crossing point could be further inland again at a point nobody has considered.  I do not know if there is any evidence that it did in fact go inland further or if an east wind made sense considering the topography of the time however it could be possible and requires investigation.

I have read the account from a British military officer who witnessed the waters of Timsah being swept back by a strong desert wind exposing the lake bed for a period of time.  So we know it is possible experimental models notwithstanding.  My own preference of events is that Israel travelled down towards Suez, the gulf extended further inland then than it does now, the waters of the Red Sea itself were what was swept back and that most people have been looking in the wrong place assuming that the current geographical layout means that the bitter lakes was the site of the miracle.  The people then carried on down the coast from Ain Musa (Elim) as it describes in Numbers until they reached Zin  (near modern Zuneima) where they had to go inland due to the terrain and ended up at Horeb 2 months after passover.

What I've discussed probably isn't very clear, especially unless you already have a good background in the details, but I would be keen to hear anybody's thoughts.

l gould - 8/14/2013 11:17:05 AM

8/15/2013 7:36 AM #

Should have mentioned this - Herodotus gives a very accurate scheme of measurements of the land of Egypt.  He says that a direct line from Mt Casius to the Red Sea is "1000 furlongs" but much longer by the canal route.  Comparing his distances from Heliopolis to the sea and Heliopolis to Thebes demonstrates that he was accurate.  In which case the Gulf of Suez ie the Red Sea was much further inland in his time.  Which was hundreds of years after the exodus.  Frankly I think both those advocating "Sea of Reeds" and those assuming an unchanged geography are all barking up the wrong tree.

On the point of the "Yam Suph" - this name is used to describe the Red Sea in other verses in the Torah and other Bible books.  Avoiding the later books being edited under wrong historical thought pattern issue - why does Moses himself use Yam Suph to describe what is definitely the Red Sea if it actually signified the Bitter Lakes?

This theory of Red and Reed clearly was invented to fit with pre-supposed thoughts of those who did not count on the fact that the Red Sea was further inland in ancient times.

l gould - 8/15/2013 7:36:22 AM

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