Lead author Carl Drews, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., used computer simulations to recreate what might have happened that day some 3,000 years ago.
"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," says Drews.
As recorded in Exodus 14, "Moses
stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land."
This allowed the Israelites to escape pursuit by the Egyptians, who were killed once the water closed up again.
Drews' simulations found that a strong east wind, blowing at a constant speed of about 63 mph for 12 hours, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is thought to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean
. Such an event occurred in 1882, when a British Army general reported a strong easterly wind that pushed the water away on Lake Menzaleh, on the west side of the Suez Canal.
With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, Drews says, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.
Drews says it is possible for people to walk in winds as strong as 63 mph winds, which is partly why he chose that speed for the simulation.
The research was based on a reconstruction of the likely locations and depths of Nile delta waterways, which have shifted considerably over time.