Crossing the Red Sea? Not at Aqaba, Nuweiba, or Tiran

My latest scientific paper is an ocean modeling study that examines the influence of wind direction on storm surge. This particular question grew out of an embarrassing mistake I made during my first semester of graduate school at the University of Colorado. The full citation is:

Drews, Carl (2015) Directional Storm Surge in Enclosed Seas: The Red Sea, the Adriatic, and Venice. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering 3(2), 356-367. doi:10.3390/jmse3020356

The Adriatic case study looked at winds blowing toward the city of Venice, Italy. I calculated a maximum surge of 2.02 meters when winds are blowing from 320° Cartesian; this result agrees with the historical maximum surge of 1.94 meters recorded on November 4, 1966.

Why not the Gulf of Aqaba?

The Red Sea case study examined the wind-driven storm surge and wind setdown in the northern reaches of the Red Sea. The COAWST/ROMS ocean model shows that although sea levels at Suez can drop to 1.72 meters below sea level (without tides), the Gulf of Aqaba is too deep to generate significant storm surge or wind setdown. The sea level at Aqaba changes by only ±5 centimeters, with even smaller variation at Nuweiba and the Straits of Tiran (JMSE Figure 8).

5 centimeters is not enough provide a dry passage for Moses and the Israelites through the Red Sea, nor is it enough water to drown Pharaoh’s chariot army when the wind ceases and the waters return. For more detailed information on why the Aqaba crossings won’t work, please see my longer article at Crossing the Red Sea at Aqaba? No.

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Saving Lives With Ocean Models

The orphans were tied together for their safety. Their teacher had attached all the children with lengths of rope, tied securely around their waists, as the storm approached Galveston and the waters began to rise. And that is how the rescuers uncovered their lifeless bodies, by following the rope from one drowned child to another.

Erik Larson relates the tragedy of the Galveston orphans in his 2000 book Isaac’s Storm. A total of ~9,000 souls perished in that 1900 disaster. In 2005 a similar tragedy befell New Orleans, as Hurricane Katrina swept into the Louisiana delta and drove Lake Pontchartrain over the levees into downtown New Orleans. 1,833 people lost their lives, and at $108 billion Hurricane Katrina represented the largest monetary loss in U.S. history due to natural causes.

These human tragedies don’t have to be repeated.

I’m an ocean modeler at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. This is my personal blog at with my own views. I use computer simulation to study hurricane-driven storm surge. I can send a Category 5 hurricane into New York, or Miami, or even Buffalo, New York. I can watch an advancing wall of water obliterate downtown Tokyo from the comfort of my office, all without anyone else getting wet. To do this, I construct a digital model of the coast and I blast it with 150-km/hr winds. A supercomputer calculates the hourly rise in sea level as the storm waters inundate populated areas. I can verify my calculations with past events, and evaluate the risk posed by future hurricanes.

Figure 11. Directional analysis at New York Harbor (experiment NY7).

Figure 11 of Drews C, Galarneau TJ Jr (2015) Directional Analysis of the Storm Surge from Hurricane Sandy 2012, with Applications to Charleston, New Orleans, and the Philippines. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0122113. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122113

Grid cells in the ocean model are wet or dry. Grid cells containing water are colored blue for the sea; grid cells on land are colored green for vegetation. When the ocean rises and floods formerly dry cells (storm surge), I color them red. I use yellow when a normally wet cell becomes dry (wind setdown).

Just four colors: blue, green, red, and yellow. The ocean model runs and the grid cells change color. That’s all. It’s just a numerical model. But I also realize: People live in those grid cells. Every cell is home to businesswomen, teenagers, hourly laborers, little babies, and retired couples. The grids on my computer screen are filled with living, breathing, working, laughing people. Every grid cell matters. When I see a set of green cells along the coast turn red, I know the human cost. I have joined flood cleanup efforts and seen the destruction. I think about how to prevent the next disaster, how to warn these communities, and how to get them out of harm’s way.

If you live in a coastal area, you should know that supercomputers are even now running and calculating to protect your life and property. Researchers are developing coastal models to evaluate your risk and your evacuation plans. At NCAR, NOAA, and the National Hurricane Center, projects are underway to forecast hurricane-driven storm surge. Today you can view your city’s risk at Hopefully someday you will be able to click on a Google Earth plot of your own house and show the hourly surge forecast as the storm approaches.

Other hurricanes will surely come. Typhoons will pound the coasts of the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan. We are determined that there will never be another Galveston 1900, that the human tragedy of New Orleans 2005 will never happen again. With accurate and timely forecasts, we are working to ensure that next time people won’t be in the way when the big waves come ashore.

Carl Drews, author of Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science.

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Crossing the Red Sea is indeed a miracle

I have come across yet another blogger who has gotten the idea that the purpose of my scientific research on Moses crossing the Red Sea was to refute the miracle. This time it’s blogger Nick Foust and “Science Explains How Moses Could Have Actually Parted The Red Sea”. If you decide to look up the original post, you are hereby warned of foul language.

Crossing the Red Sea

Cover of “Between Migdol and the Sea” by Carl Drews (2014)

Ancient Hebrew writers and we modern Christians have always viewed Exodus 14 as a miracle. Unlike us, the writers of the Old Testament did not quibble over which laws of physics were temporarily suspended and which held fast. They focused on the Israelites’ deliverance from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and his army of pursuing chariots. They praised God when they ended up alive on the other side of the sea, and we should also praise God for His salvation.

According to Exodus 14, God sent the east wind at just the right time to part the Red Sea and reveal a path of escape for Moses. The miracle is in the timing, and in the advance notice given to Moses. The Bible states that God used the natural agent of wind to deliver His chosen people. Nick Foust apparently comes around to this view (theistic meteorology) in his final paragraph, but you’ll have to wade through some disparaging comments about me and science before you get there.

It is entirely appropriate for science to study this mighty work of God (Psalm 111:2). To the ancient Hebrews, God is in charge of the natural world and all its forces. To modern Christians, science is the study of God’s creation. My research reveals the mechanics of this great miracle, and locates the site where it happened in the eastern Nile delta. Commenter Sam has it right – God is amazing!

Carl Drews, author of “Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science

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Book Review: The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix, by James Watson, Alexander Gann, and Jan Witkowski (2012)

Watson-Crick double-helix

“Traditional” Watson-Crick double-helix, by user Notahelix at Wikimedia Commons:

I really enjoyed reading this book! The Annotated and Illustrated version of The Double Helix includes photos, letters, sketches, and biographical information about the other actors in this human drama over the structure of DNA. Author James Watson narrates the intrepid scientific journey of discovery on which he and Francis Crick traveled, eventually leading to the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Maurice Wilkins.

By my reckoning Watson’s two greatest blunders were his move from Copenhagen to Cambridge in September 1951 before getting permission from the NRC Merck Fellowship Board (p. 38-39 and Appendix 3), and the embarrassing presentation to the King’s College group in December 1951 (where he mis-remembered the water content of DNA, p. 91-93). Despite these setbacks, Watson’s exuberance, keen curiosity, resilience after failure, and sense of humor carried him forward to the published solution on 25 April 1953. The Double Helix should inspire graduate students everywhere when research gets tough.

Page 182 should at last refute the longstanding claim that Photo 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin, was used by Watson and Crick without her knowledge or permission.


 X-ray diffraction image of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule

X-ray diffraction image of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, taken 1952 by Raymond Gosling, commonly referred to as “Photo 51″, during work by Rosalind Franklin on the structure of DNA. Wikimedia Commons:

Page 182 contains dual statements by Ray Gosling and Maurice Wilkins about the fateful handover. They both agree that as Rosalind Franklin was hurriedly preparing to leave King’s College for Birkbeck College (also in London) in January 1953, she directed Gosling to turn over Photo 51 to Wilkins as a “present” to use as he wished.

Accordingly, on January 30, Gosling met Wilkins in the corridor, handed him the crucial X-ray diffraction image, and assured the surprised recipient that he could do whatever he wanted with it. Shortly thereafter (early February 1953) came the angry encounter between Rosy and Jim Watson, leading to Maurice showing Watson Photo 51 (Chapter 23). Yes, the transfer was irregular, and Franklin’s lack of formality here has cast suspicion that lingers to this day. But Rosalind Franklin did indeed turn over her DNA research results to Maurice Wilkins with explicit permission to use as he judged best. That usage properly included sharing the photo with research collaborators Francis Crick and James Watson.


Well, you just read this book review without my knowledge, didn’t you?

Carl Drews is author of Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science. This review was also published at

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Moses, Tides, and Miracles of Timing

Bruce Parker published an essay in the Wall Street Journal in December 2014 explaining the hypothesis of Moses and tides near Suez: How Did Moses Part the Red Sea? The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians. Parker acknowledges that a fortuitous wind would have assisted Moses’ cause, but that Moses would be unable to forecast the wind. Samuel Bartlett had published a similar hypothesis in 1879; it’s common in this field to update older proposals with new science and technology. See my book Between Migdol and the Sea Chapter 3 Analyzing a Miracle for coverage of prior research into the Red Sea crossing.

Bay of Suez, 1856.

Wikimedia Commons: File:Suez Bay, Egypt (Justus Perthes’ Geographische Anstalt, 1856).jpg

There are reports that the French Emperor Napoleon I was almost drowned at Suez when he tried to make a nighttime return from Ayun Musa (“The Springs of Moses”) across the ford back to Suez. The Gutenberg Project has an on-line version of the Memoirs of Napoleon by De Bourienne. Search for “Suez” there to find the French Emperor’s misadventure with the tidal flats in the northern reaches of the Red Sea. There is some uncertainty over exactly what happened, and just how close Napoleon Bonaparte came to drowning.

Here is a real-time tide table for Suez, Egypt:
The cycle at Suez is semi-diurnal (two cycles per 24 hours). The amplitude is about 1.5 meters (5 feet). This range matches the French account.

Here is some information from NOAA about tides:

Dr. Parker says that Moses “lived in the nearby wilderness in his early years” and thereby was familiar with the tidal patterns at Suez. Pharaoh’s chariot commanders lived along the Nile river and therefore did not know about the peculiar caravan crossing at Suez. I disagree. According to the book of Exodus, Moses lived in the land of Midian, which is east of the Gulf of Aqaba and a long way from Suez. I should think that at least one of the Egyptian commander or his officers would be familiar with the tidal ford at Suez (Clysma). If Moses had relied on the tides alone to make his escape and bring destruction on the chariot force, his careful plan would have been disrupted by just one Egyptian officer with knowledge of the tides at Suez.

Parker states (emphasis added):

Timing would have been crucial. The last of the Israelites had to cross the dry sea bottom just before the tide returned, enticing Pharaoh’s army of chariots onto the exposed sea bottom, where they would drown as the returning tidal waters overwhelmed them. If the chariots were expected to arrive before the tide came back in, Moses might have planned some type of delaying tactic. If the chariots were expected to arrive after the tide came back in, he could have gotten the Israelites across and then, at the next low tide, sent a few of his best people back onto the temporarily dry sea bed to entice Pharaoh’s chariots to chase them.

The ford at Suez.

Wikimedia Commons: File:Bartlett1879-NorthernGulfSuez.png

Although the Suez Tidal Hypothesis needs no miracle of timing for the tides (since the cycle is predictable), it does require precisely fatal timing on the part of the chariot commander. It is difficult to entice an enemy to fall into a military trap, but it would require a miracle of ignorance and stupidity for that enemy to fall into the trap at just the right time as well. Without God, this is a very risky plan. If the chariots arrived at the crossing an hour too soon or too late, Moses would lose the ensuing battle and the Israelites would be slaughtered. If my family and I lived through the tidal escape scenario at Suez, I would surely fall on my knees and thank God for His deliverance.

What kind of miracle?

There is some talk on various Internet discussion groups about how the “tidal option” might eliminate the need for a miracle of timing, since the tides at Suez are predictable after a period of careful observation. “No miracles required,” they say. This suggestion shows a modern meaning of “miracle” that is not the Old Testament’s view. I take the biblical view – that a miracle is a marvelous and unusual event that turns out in the Israelite’s favor. Nevertheless, here are the problems with a “tides only” scenario at Suez:

1. The Suez Tidal Hypothesis does not match the narrative. Exodus 14 says that God sent the east wind, and the wind parted the sea. The wind did it! Although the ancient Israelites were not oceanographers, they could see that the wind somehow moved away the water and created a temporary land bridge for them to cross the yam suf to freedom.

2. Moses was not at Suez. Moses spent his exile in Midian, which is on the far side of Aqaba east of the Wadi Arabah. Cairo is 125 km in a straight-line distance from Suez, and Aqaba is 240 km as the crow flies. Moses may have passed along a caravan route through Suez, but so would have many Egyptian soldiers on their way to the turquoise mine at Serabit el-Khadim (Between Migdol and the Sea, Chapter 9, page 218).

3. Moses has to get the Israelites across in about 4 hours. The semi-diurnal cycle means that the tides ebb and flow every 12 hours. Moses would have perhaps 4 hours to get the tribes across the ford during low tide. My Tanis Hypothesis also uses a crossing time of 4 hours, but I don’t pretend that it would be easy to complete the nighttime evacuation without something going wrong.

4. The Egyptians have to be completely unaware of the tides at Suez. All it would take is one Egyptian officer, or the chariot commander himself, to have passed through Suez and learned of the tidal nature of the crossing. In Napoleon’s time the locals knew the pattern very well. Just one person among the pursuing force could spoil Moses’s plan.

5. The chariot force has to advance at just the right time. This is probably the biggest problem, and Bruce Parker recognizes this aspect of the Tides at Suez Hypothesis. He suggests that Moses could have used delaying or taunting tactics to draw the chariots across the ford before the tide returned. It would be worth a try! In military history, commanders sometime succeed in luring their enemy into a trap, like Hannibal did at the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 BC. Sometimes the trap horribly fails, like the attempt at a surprise night attack by the Jacobites before the Battle of Culloden in 1746. But to get your enemy not only to fall into your trap, but to blunder fatally at just the right time – that would be a military miracle.

Those who contend that Moses could easily have used the tides at Suez to pull off his escape and the destruction of the Egyptian chariot force are much too casual about the difficulties and uncertainties involved in carrying out such a plan. Of course God could make the tidal plan work, as Exodus 14 insists. I would not try it without Him.

Movie Review: Exodus Gods and Kings

Yesterday morning I caught the early bird showing of the new movie “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” directed by Ridley Scott. Regular readers of Funmurphys: the Blog already know that I have written and published a new book about the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, focusing specifically on crossing the Red Sea. The book is titled: Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science (2014), by Carl Drews. This review is written from a book author’s perspective.

Spectacle and Grandeur

A good biblical epic should provide jaw-dropping spectacle and majestic grandeur. Exodus: Gods and Kings provides these in abundance! Some of the earlier scenes show the great sweep of the Nile delta, with pyramids rising along the banks of the great river, while Bronze Age citizens bustle about under the stern watch of the Pharaoh’s foremen. Ancient Egypt was a marvelous place! This movie really brings out the grandeur of the New Kingdom in all its glory.

Ten Plagues

The Ten Plagues are depicted graphically in the film, and the result is disturbing. A week ago I would have not imagined an infestation of frogs to be all that bad, but I just about jumped out of my theater seat to see all those slimy amphibians crawling over everything! Yuck! Then there came all manner of flies, more flies than I have ever seen even in Alaska. We saw the movie in 3-D, and we were recoiling and trying to get out of the swarm. The plagues are very well done by the cinematographer.

Exodus: Gods and Kings brings out a theological point: During the Ten Plagues, a lot of people suffered greatly. According to the narrative in Exodus, Pharaoh suffered because he refused to let the Israelites go. Ridley Scott makes the point that many common Egyptians suffered as well, through no fault of their own. What kind of god would strike dead all the first-born sons? Modern Christians continue to feel uncomfortable about these episodes, and we debate various resolutions. Generally we conclude that Jesus doesn’t do things that way any more, and we follow Jesus.

God as a Petulant British Boy

God Almighty is portrayed in Exodus: Gods and Kings as a boy about 8 years old with a British accent. I can accept God speaking to Elijah as a “still, small voice” in 1 Kings 19. I believe that God became incarnate in the baby Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. But the surly attitude of the God-boy in this movie was jarring, and I was left wondering why Moses would accept the commands from such a manifestation of the Almighty. At least the boy should have had more gravitas, and should have spoken to Moses with graceful majesty. Was Morgan Freeman not available?

Goblins and Chariots

There is a scene in The Hobbitt: An Unexpected Journey where Gandalf and the dwarves kill the Great Goblin and escape from the underground goblin kingdom. When my family watches this sequence at home, we usually keep a body count of goblins, yelling out the numbers as they fall. Our total usually comes out to about 140.

During the pursuit of Moses by the Egyptian army, Rameses II charges with all his chariots down a narrow mountain road after the fleeing Israelites. Naturally some careless chariot driver careens off the edge and tumbles down the mountain. Then another chariot hits a rock, and within a few moments there is a huge landslide about 30 chariots behind Pharaoh, and all the remaining vehicles in the column either tumble to their tragic and untimely deaths, or are blocked by the now-impassable road. So – Rameses is left with about 30 chariots out of the 1,000 that departed the Egyptian capital. 400,000 Israelites ought to be able to make quick work of them.

But when Pharaoh reaches the beach somehow all his 1,000 chariots have miraculously re-appeared. Someone was not counting properly! Yeah, I know it’s just a movie. But I was chuckling over the movie’s continuity error while still enjoying the action. And the action in Exodus: Gods and Kings is superb!

Crossing the Red Sea at Nuweiba, not the Straits of Tiran

At one point Moses brings out a hand-written map showing his planned route from Egypt back to his wife Zipporah in Midian. Maybe nobody else in the audience cared, but I instantly recognized the route after studying that geography for five years. Moses, generations of biblical scholars would gladly trade several chapters of Leviticus for just one glance at your map! The traditional route of the Exodus is generally agreed, but there are other proposals.

Between Migdol and the Sea (Drews 2014) Figure 11-1 with lines added in cyan showing routes from the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). Copyright 2014 by Carl Drews.

My book Between Migdol and the Sea (Drews, 2014) provides a map of the Sinai peninsula in Chapter 11 (right). The traditional route is marked here in red and green. In Ridley Scott’s Exodus, Moses plans to take the cyan (light blue) route down the west coast of Sinai and cross the Straits of Tiran (dotted cyan). But he takes a detour through the Sinai mountains and gets stuck at Nuweiba instead (solid cyan). In the movie the Israelites cross the Red Sea from Nuweiba over to modern Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this scenario. An earlier scene shows Moses splashing across the “Straits of Tiran” on his way to meet Zipporah. But this strait in real life is not like Adam’s Bridge across the Palk Strait from India to Sri Lanka, oh no! The Enterprise Passage in the Straits of Tiran today is 250 meters (820 feet) deep.[Between Migdol and the Sea, page 179] Nobody will be splashing across there.

The underwater ridge at Nuweiba is 765 meters (2,510 feet) deep.[Migdol, page 179] That would be quite a hike.

How Not to Communicate Science

This little vignette was actually pretty funny, especially for me. Rameses is getting understandably tired of the Plagues, and he calls in various advisors to learn how to stop the plagues, or at least to predict when they will end. Bad advice results in immediate execution. One of these advisors is a Scientist who has not taken the seminar on How to Communicate Science. He gleefully launches into a technical discussion of how the crocodiles churned up the water and made it turn red, how all that extra sediment caused the fish to die and the frogs to multiply. Rameses knows this already and scowls at Scientist, wondering when he’s going to come to the point. “And what comes next?” asks the Scientist happily. “Flies!” retorts Rameses in disgust, swatting at the hundreds of flies swarming around him. “Yes!” answers the Scientist, obviously pleased that his students are following the lecture.

The next shot shows the Scientist on the scaffold about to be executed.

In science communication we talk about Framing the Message. Framing means to go beyond the facts; your audience wants to know why these facts matter and how they are relevant to their own concerns. In climate science, a government audience wants to know how society will be affected, not just how many degrees the temperature will increase.

Meteorite and Tsunami

In Exodus: Gods and Kings, the parting of the Red Sea is accomplished by a flaming meteorite that falls into the sea beyond the horizon. This impact causes a tsunami in which the sea draws back for the Israelites to cross, then returns in a giant wave while the Egyptian chariots pursue. In the movie God sends the meteorite at the right place and time for Moses to lead his people across, so of course this is full-on theistic astronomy. Ridley Scott does not fall into the “God of the Gaps” fallacy that seems to plague certain atheist bloggers! Good for him.

The Bible says the east wind drove back the water all night long (Exodus 14:20-21). But would a meteorite impact also work? The answer is: not likely. For the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia, there were three huge waves over 1.5 hours. The wave period from drawback through the return surge was about 30 minutes. There have been some tsunamis with a longer wave period, but the basic wave cycle is measured in tens of minutes, not hours. At the Nuweiba crossing Moses and the Israelites would have to descend 2,500 vertical feet and then crank up the other side back to sea level, all in 30 minutes. The Colorado Mountain Club uses 1,000 feet per hour as a rule of thumb when climbing fourteeners (Between Migdol and the Sea, page 166). A tsunami simply does not provide enough time to make the crossing.

But the wave action is spectacular! Exodus: Gods and Kings does action very well.

Go see it!

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God’s role in crossing the Red Sea

Certain bloggers have begun to misrepresent my religious views on how God works through science and the natural forces. It’s time to post a clear statement (again).

Exodus 14:20-21 states:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
(Exodus 14:21 ESV)

We may summarize the Exodus passage as follows:
1. God sent the east wind.
2. The wind moved the water.

Part 1 is the realm of Theology since it involves Divine action. I would love to know if God used a low-pressure system here, but without further description I cannot tell.

Part 2 is the realm of Science. Wind moving water is what the COAWST ocean model calculates, and this is what I published in PLoS ONE in 2010.

If anyone wishes to replace Part 1 with a scientific statement and hypothesize how Moses knew where to stand at just the right time, they are free to submit a manuscript to their favorite scientific journal. Since the Bible says God sent the wind, I’ll stick with Part 1 as stated.

For readers of Funmurphys: the Blog who wish to know how God works through science, I recommend the following books:

“Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth Miller.
“The Language of God” by Francis Collins.
Anything by Karl Giberson.

These three Christians (and others) receive harsh criticism from Young-Earth Creationists and New Atheists alike. I am proud to be in their august company in one small way.

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Historicity of the Exodus

My new book Between Migdol and the Sea (2014) argues strongly in favor of the historicity of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. A large group of Semitic Shasu really did depart from New Kingdom Egypt, make their way across the Sinai wilderness, and invade Canaan. Their recollections of that experience are contained in the biblical book of Exodus.

I present information from scholarly sources in support of the historical Exodus, and include some of my own research as well. Migdol makes five major points:

1. General archaeological support for Exodus

The general background of the narrative in Genesis 37 through Exodus is well-supported by archaeology. Chapter 9 of Between Migdol and the Sea cites Finkelstein and Silberman’s book The Bible Unearthed:

One thing is certain. The basic situation described in the Exodus saga – the phenomenon of immigrants coming down to Egypt from Canaan and settling in the eastern border regions of the delta – is abundantly verified in the archaeological finds and historical texts. From earliest recorded times throughout antiquity, Egypt beckoned as a place of shelter and security for the people of Canaan at times when drought, famine, or warfare made life unbearable or even difficult. (F&S Unearthed 2001, pages 52-53)

2. Realistic number of Israelites

The population estimate of “millions of Israelites” is wildly incorrect. This number throws off everything else. Because bloggers and Wikipedia editors think they have to find traces of millions of people, naturally the Exodus tale seems far-fetched. Chapter 8 calculates a total population of 36,000 using four proxy measures of the Hebrew population found in the biblical text. The revised number is much more in accord with historical realities of Egypt and Canaan during the Late Bronze Age. If you read of someone discussing “millions of Israelites” who allegedly took part in the Exodus from Egypt, that person is not a serious scholar.

3. Archaeology cannot tell us everything

Archaeology has limitations. Archaeology is not the only window into the past. One puzzle of the Sinai wandering is the apparent lack of remains from the Hebrew passage through the wilderness. However, as Professor Kenneth Kitchen points out, “tented wanderers like the Hebrews (and others) have commonly left no surviving traces.” (Reliability Old Testament 2003, p. 191) Migdol Chapter 9, p. 218-219, provides an additional example drawn from my own travel in the Colorado wilderness.

Archaeology is neither the only nor the final word on ancient history. Literature, geography, demographics, genetics, physics, chemistry, and even coastal oceanography all have much to say about history. A combination of disciplines provides the most reliable approach to evaluate the historicity of the Exodus. I make this recommendation throughout Between Migdol and the Sea.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman are fine sources as archaeologists, but their handling of the Old Testament as literature is poor. Kitchen agrees with me (Reliability 2003, p. 464). For example, F&S claim that “the Genesis stories revolve (mainly) around Judah” (Unearthed p. 44, 46), and this idea forms a substantial part of their Josiah Hypothesis. But their claim is not correct. The Genesis stories revolve around Jacob/Israel, Abraham, and then Joseph in that order. Judah the Patriarch comes in at a distant tenth (Migdol 2014, p. 225-227).

4. Accurate picture of Egypt during the New Kingdom

Exodus 1:11 reports that the Hebrew workers built the store-cities of Pithom and Raamses. Pithom and Pi-Rameses (modern Tell el-Retabeh and Qantir) were indeed occupied during the New Kingdom reign of Pharaoh Rameses II (Hoffmeier Sinai 2005, p. 57, 64)(Kitchen Reliability 2003, p. 257, 256). The city of Pi-Rameses flourished from about 1270-1120 BC, after which Tanis replaced it in prominence. These and other examples (Migdol, p. 245-249) show an accurate knowledge of Egypt during the Ramesside period that would be very difficult to obtain in Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah (~620 BC).

5. Narrative of the crossing is scientifically accurate

Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea, 1891 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky.

Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea, 1891 painting by Ivan Aivazovsky.
Wikimedia Commons:

Between Migdol and the Sea Chapter 3 presents a history of researchers and non-scientists who realized (with some surprise) that the crossing narrative in Exodus 14 matches a weather event known as wind setdown. Chapters 4 and 5 describe how my own research revealed more details of the Israelites’ escape through the Red Sea (Hebrew yam suf), including a likely site at Tell Kedua in the eastern Nile delta.

Exodus 14 is an accurate description of a wind setdown event. Migdol Chapter 10 notes that the Kedua Gap is about the only spot where the waters could divide. What is an accurate account of a rare weather event doing in a Bronze Age text? The simplest explanation is that someone was near the Migdol cluster of forts and observed it happen. For this tale to make it to Canaan, someone had to depart from Egypt and take the story with them. That is an Exodus.


Obviously there is much more detail in Between Migdol and the Sea than the summary provided here. The book includes a list of 167 References, many of them to scientific and scholarly publications. For readers of Funmurphys: the Blog who are interested in the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, this book will give you plenty of solid information to consider. It makes a great Christmas present!

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Kindle e-book: Between Migdol and the Sea

The Kindle version of Between Migdol and the Sea is complete! Book readers who prefer electronic viewing to print can now learn all about Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science on their Kindle readers.

Alert followers of Funmurphys: the Blog will note that almost two months have passed since the print version of Migdol was published. You may correctly infer that preparing the Kindle version of Migdol was challenging. There are several reasons for this. A technical book is not a romance novel. It was not a problem to include my numbered citations in the text, and place a list of published references at the end of the e-book. But three scientific aspects of Between Migdol and the Sea gave me some trouble:

  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Formulas


Exodus route from Egypt to Canaan

Between Migdol and the Sea: Chapter 11 Figure 1. Traditional route of the Exodus from Egypt into Canaan. Copyright 2014 by Carl Drews.

I included a number of illustrations in my book, some in color and some in black and white. These figures help the reader to understand the science and geography of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. The problem is that the various Kindle readers have different displays. Some are high resolution (lots of pixels per inch), and some are in black-and-white. The reader can also select a huge font or a tiny font.

I want readers of Between Migdol and the Sea to have a good reader experience, no matter what device they are using. Amazon provides a preview application that simulates what the book draft will look like on various Kindle models. After a lot of fiddling, I decided to set the width of images to 800 pixels and let the Kindle determine how to lay out the page based on its internal algorithms.


There are various online forums discussing e-book formats, and some of the comments state that certain formats don’t even support tables. Ugh! Scientific writing sometimes requires the presentation of a group of numbers. Do you really want to read a long series of declarative sentences? No, and I don’t want to write repetitive prose either. Fortunately the Kindle models really do support tables. There is a five-column table in Chapter 7 (Following the Trail) that looks best if you rotate your device into landscape orientation.


In Chapter 8 (Counting the Israelites) I present a revised estimate for the number of men, women, and children who crossed the Red Sea with Moses: 35,750. I really wanted to nail down the number of escaping Hebrews and refute the long-standing canard that there were “millions of Israelites” departing from Egypt during the reign of Rameses II. That huge number was simply messing up everything else, especially archaeology. I included a set of calculations to explain and support my estimate. Here is an example:

Formula 8-4

Between Migdol and the Sea: Chapter 8, formula 4.

If you don’t like to read all these numbers, you can get the idea just from the plots. Formulas don’t flow and re-size as well as plain text does in an electronic book. I converted my formulas to images, and the result is satisfactory.

Flames of Desire

Flames of Desire represents the archetypal romance novel. I just made up that title, but there is an actual romance novel by that name if you care to search for it. As a scientific writer I have this idea that the most difficult part of formatting and printing a romance novel is to get a good photo of Fabio and Megan Fox for the front cover. Famous models are expensive, and so are long wispy evening gowns; plus you have to put some Medieval castle into the background. Maybe they just green-screen those looming thunderclouds. But the text of the book interior is just text; it flows from page to page when the reader changes the font size or uses a larger device. There are no figures, no tables, and no formulas in Flames of Desire. The Kindle version should be easier to produce than the print version.

But I could be wrong. For all you romance novelists out there, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below what challenges you encounter in preparing Flames of Desire for print and electronic readers. Tell us about your craft! Here at funmurphys we are happy to hear and learn from your different perspective.

Boulder Book Store

For book buyers who prefer to shop locally, Between Migdol and the Sea is now available at the Boulder Book Store on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The new movie by director Ridley Scott will be released to U.S. audiences on December 12, 2014. I am posting a humorous series of blogs that evaluate the movie with respect to science and history. To read more about Exodus, please visit Carl Drews at Google Plus.

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New book about the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt

I have published my first book! The title is:

Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science

The book describes in greater detail the research about wind setdown that I published at PLoS ONE four years ago. The biblical context for Between Migdol and the Sea is Exodus 14: the narrative of Moses parting the waters of the yam suf at God’s command. The first two chapters tell what it might have been like to be present on that fateful night, with the east wind howling and the Egyptian chariot force in hot pursuit.

The Kedua Gap

Figure 7-3. Flying over the Kedua Gap with Google Earth.

The book presents the Tanis hypothesis, which is my designation for the crossing site at the Kedua Gap in the eastern Nile delta. The Exodus occurred in the time period 1251 – 1245 BC. There were not millions of Hebrews who crossed the Red Sea, but approximately 35,750 men, women, and children in the departing company. Between Migdol and the Sea provides evidence for the historicity of the Exodus; although mythical elements have been added to the original account in later retelling, the departure from Egypt and the Red Sea crossing really happened. I provide latitude-longitude coordinates and maps so that readers can examine these places for themselves.

These scientific details are woven through a story of scientific discovery; from making an embarrassing mistake during my first semester of graduate school, to finding an old map in the University of Colorado Library, to discovering Open Access publishing. The world reacted to the PLoS ONE paper with every emotion from enthusiasm to hostility. The book concludes with a chapter explaining how faith and science are compatible and should be in harmony.

I hired a free-lance editor to review the text. Other friends read portions of the book and give me their comments. Technical details about the ocean model were published at the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLoS ONE in two papers.


I see no need for physical laws to be suspended in order to make the waters part and leave a dry passage across the yam suf. The COAWST ocean model calculates a physical scenario that is consistent with the narrative in Exodus 14. A coastal lagoon (ancestral Lake Manzala) shifts to the west under wind stress and splits around a peninsula, leaving a temporarily dry land bridge with water on both sides of the Israelites.

The miracle is in the timing; a fortuitous weather event arrives at the right moment to deliver Moses and his company from destruction. In similar fashion, the Apostle Peter knew that Jesus had directed the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-14), even though the law of gravity remained constant throughout the Galilee event. Of course the crossing of the Red Sea is a miracle!

LibreOffice for Book Writing

Printed books are complicated. Do you know what is a book’s “trim size”? Do you know what image “bleed” means? Do you know the difference between the gutter margin and the edge margins? I didn’t know these things a couple of months ago; now I do.

I created the book entirely with LibreOffice, including the print layout. I wrote each chapter as a separate document, then combined them with a Master document that supplied the title pages and publisher’s page. Since Between Migdol and the Sea is a technical scientific book, I included figures, tables, citations in each chapter, and an overall Index at the back of the book. At times I wished I were writing some Flames of Desire romance novel, so I wouldn’t have all these extra elements to deal with. But LibreOffice was suitable for the task. From time to time I did Google for hints about how to accomplish certain publishing tasks that puzzled me.

A couple of lessons for anyone who wants to Indie Publish a technical book:

  1. It’s okay to compose the text in 8.5×11 size paper, but you should create your figures in the 6×9-inch trim size from the beginning. Line drawings scale pretty well; labels do not. Same thing for tables.
  2. Try to do things the standard way that book publishers do them. Get a comparable book and examine it closely. I thought it would be easier on the reader to group my citations for each individual chapter into a compact list of References at the end of the chapter. That way each chapter reads like a complete published paper. Maybe LibreOffice can do this, but I could not figure it out. So I ended up with a single multi-page Bibliography containing all my references at the end of the book before the Index, just like everybody else does it.

CreateSpace at

Although I value what literary agents and book publishers can contribute to the publication process, for reasons of timing I chose the Independent Publishing route. I selected Amazon’s CreateSpace as my self-publishing platform for Between Migdol and the Sea. CreateSpace worked out well for me.

The basic approach is to create one PDF to represent the entire book interior in black-and white, and a second PDF to represent the book cover in color. CreateSpace must handle a lot of indie authors, because they have a well-polished web site and an extensive user community. I answered a few of my questions by poking around in the user forum.

The CreateSpace web tools reminded me of PLoS ONE; there always seemed to be a check box or option or help message to get you what you need. This is unlike the traditional scientific journals, who leave it up to the author to figure out how to generate a tiff image file. CreateSpace has templates for the book size and cover, and an automated reviewing tool to look over your interior PDF before printing the first proof. After some fiddling and multiple uploads, my manuscript started to look like a real book!

I am still working to prepare the Kindle version.

Print On Demand

A traditional publisher makes a “print run” of several thousand books and then offers them for sale through various outlets (mail order, bookstores). I’ll make up some numbers here for illustration: let’s say that each book in the print run costs the publisher $5. The initial setup costs for a print run are high, but the marginal cost of each book is low, so they have to print thousands of books to keep the cost per unit down. If the book costs $20 list price, then everyone in the chain can make some money, including the author.

The problem with a print run is inventory. The publisher may have thousands of printed books in storage until they (hopefully) sell. Bookstores have to keep books in stock. If the author and publisher want to release a new edition, they have to wait until all the unsold inventory is cleared out of the pipeline. Inventory can pose a problem.

Print On Demand (POD) is an online printing technology whereby each individual book is printed when an order is received. When the online reader (that’s you) clicks the Purchase button, some electronic printer in some light manufacturing facility downloads the cover PDF and interior PDF, prints them out, automatically folds the cover around the pages, glues them together, and cuts them off to the trim size – Ka-Chunk! Then the completed book slides down a chute along with the mailing label. Some human being wraps the book and ships it, or maybe the packaging is automated, too.

Let’s say that each Printed On Demand book costs the publisher $10 to manufacture. (I don’t think POD can be as cheap as a multi-thousand-book print run, but maybe someday.) The book has to have a list price near $20 to compete with the traditional publishing method. There appears to be less money for everyone in the POD publishing chain, but there are no expensive warehouses full of expensive inventory any more. That’s how Print On Demand can compete with traditional print runs.

Furthermore, CreateSpace can afford to take a chance on unknown first-time independent authors like me, because they don’t have to risk getting stuck with thousands of unsold books. And that is why Indie Publishing has gained some traction in the book publishing industry.

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