Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Theories of Exodus

It is a well known Biblical story.  Moses leading his people out of Egypt with the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the Egyptian Army in pursuit.  There have been two recent articles that describe possible explanations of how the Red Sea was parted.

The first is this story from the New York Times.  This theory states that a major volcanic eruption that wiped out the Minoan civilization basically created a tsunami effect.  The Minoans were residents of what is now known as Crete.  Typical tsunami action after an earthquake (which surely would have resulted from what is considered one of the largest volcanic explosive events of the last 5,000 years) is for water to recede before it rushes back at even higher levels.  This was seen to a very small scale when the big earthquake happened in Chile earlier this year and we all watched what happened in Hawaii.  As a side note, one big pet peeve of mine is the incorrect use of the term "tidal wave."  Tidal waves are the result of the gravitational effects of the Moon on the Earth and are not the result of earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, etc.  Tsunami is the correct term for those types of events.  Anyway, I digress.

The second story is from USA Today.  It describes a scenario where a sustained wind of 63 mph along with the topography of the Red Sea, could result in the water being pushed back sufficiently to create a parting effect. Once this wind died down (and our hero safely across), then the water would collapse on to the chasing armies.

So, why are these theories interesting?  As with any miraculous story in any creation myth involving nature or acts of nature, there is probably an element of truth to it.  It certainly increases our historic knowledge by being able to align events in these creation myths with true written and oral histories of the civilizations involved.  Certainly, Homer's stories have intrigued historians and scientists for years in trying to determine the where, what, when, and why.  Troy, the Trojan Horse, and Helen.  Atlantis.  Noah's Flood.  Even the Christmas Star.  Scientists, historians, and Biblical scholars have searched for real evidence of these events.

All of these stories have something in common, and takes advantage of a device often used today in movies and novels.  That is, major events, often cataclysmic, make a great background for a human interest story.  These stories need not be real, but the viewer/reader is sucked in because they are familiar with the event that is driving the story and as long as the story is plausible, it is enjoyed.

What is intriguing about these two possible explanations given for the parting of the Red Sea is that they explain real, natural phenomena, that are understood within science and can account for this event.  No God hypothesis required.  I'm sure that there were more than a few witnesses who observed the receding of the waters in the Red Sea, and given the level of knowledge about earth sciences, this would surely have been seen as a major supernatural event.  Certainly an observation to be told.  I'm sure there were some who may have even ventured out onto the exposed land.  Some may have even survived.  Others surely didn't, and that too may have been observed.  Certainly all the elements for a good story to go back to village and explain why little Johnny drowned.

What is glaringly missing from any real account of this event is the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that the Pharaoh of the time, or even his army, was in any way decimated by some unknown event.

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