The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians
By BRUCE PARKER
Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which opens in movie theaters across the country Dec. 12, will include, of course, the most famous of all biblical miracles: the parting of the Red Sea. But its depiction will look quite different from the one in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic “The Ten Commandments.” In the earlier movie, Charlton Heston as Moses parted the sea into two huge walls of water, between which the children of Israel crossed on a temporarily dry seabed to the opposite shore. Pharaoh’s army of chariots chased after them only to be drowned when Moses signaled for the waters to return.
Mr. Scott has said that his new version of the story will have a more realistic and natural explanation of what happened and won’t rely on Moses to bring forth God’s miraculous intervention. He has decided to have the waters “part” as the result of a tsunami caused by an earthquake. Before a tsunami strikes, coastal waters often recede, leaving the seabed dry before the giant wave arrives.
But there are problems with this version of the story, too. The period during which coastal waters draw back before a tsunami usually lasts only 10 or 20 minutes, too little time to get all the children of Israel across the temporarily dry seabed. Also, there would have been no way for Moses to know that the earthquake and tsunami were going to happen, unless God told him. That’s fine, but then the story would retain some element of the miraculous.
There is a much better natural explanation for how a temporary path across the Red Sea could have been revealed. It involves the tide, a natural phenomenon that would have fit nicely into a well-thought-out plan by Moses, because Moses would have been able to predict when it would happen.
In certain places in the world, the tide can leave the sea bottom dry for hours and then come roaring back. In fact, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte and a small group of soldiers on horseback were crossing the Gulf of Suez, the northern end of the Red Sea, roughly where Moses and the Israelites are said to have crossed. On a mile-long expanse of dry sea bottom exposed at low water, the tide suddenly rushed in, almost drowning them.
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