Sunday, December 7, 2014

Science Says the Sea Split For Moses

I'm always surprised and, admittedly, somewhat pleased to read articles such as the one I saw in today's WSJ which is entitled "How Did Moses Part the Red Sea?"  Given the general hostility of the scientific community to religious matters and the derision with which they are often met, it's almost a tad jarring to see one of them taking the time to provide an explanation (albeit one wholly rooted in materialism) to one of the events which the theological world considers to be (almost) fully miraculous.

The author, Bruce Parker, is the former chief scientist of NOAA's National Ocean Service and is a visiting professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology.  In other words, he is apparently an expert on the way that the ocean behaves.  He explains that the phenomenon of the Red Sea waters greatly receding for long enough for pedestrians to traverse it and then to collapse back to their normal state with enough force to destroy whoever is unfortunate enough to find themselves caught there, is all quite normal.  In fact, he points out that a similar event was observed by no less a figure than Napoleon whereby he and his men were "almost drowned in 1798 at the northern end of the Suez... ."

Professor Parker surmises that since Moses lived "in the nearby wilderness" he would have been familiar with the phenomenon and have seen various caravans traveling across the expanse when it was feasible.  Yes, he admits that the timing would have to have been impeccable but gives Moses credit enough to be fully capable in this regard.  Fine, but even assuming Moses's highly keen sense of observation and timing consider just how many fortuitous events and timings would have to have preceded the arrival of the Children of Israel (and of Egypt) at just that moment.

Remember that the Egyptians were beaten and had actually encouraged the Jews to leave only to have a sudden change of heart later.  Would Moses really have been able to bank on that reaction? And how did the Egyptians arrive at their defeat to begin with?  Recall the year long series of natural (and supernatural) events that befell them.  Could Moses have known how long they would take and plan the great sea trick around that?  Doesn't seem too likely.  It's true that the Torah seems to go out of its way to minimize the supernatural aspect of this event by ascribing it to a strong eastern wind that blew the whole night before, but in the final analysis, the timing is just too great a coincidence to overcome.

Finally, I always wonder at (but enjoy) when secular-minded people take the time to explain away various miraculous occurrences that our tradition records - the flood, the plagues, the Ark of the Covenant, et al.  Inasmuch as they could be inclined to just chalk them up to the standard mythology of some Bronze Age nomads, as some do, the fact that they meticulously search for natural explanations obviously means that they give them a lot more credence than a lot of other myths.  I've yet to see the scientific analysis of the speed at which Thor's hammer traveled or the horse-power of the species of peacock that pulled Hera's chariot.  As such, I take Professor Parker's exploration as a complement - even if it only tells part of the story.  In any event, he's correct in asserting that "it has to qualify as the most dramatic an consequential tide prediction in history."


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