Posts Tagged Exodus

Examining Exodus 14 with the Geosciences

I have published another peer-reviewed article on the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and Moses crossing the Red Sea. The citation is:

Drews, Carl, Examining Exodus 14 with the Geosciences (2015). Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin (NEASB) Volume 60, pages: 1-15.

Here is the Abstract:

There are similarities between the physical details described in the Exodus 14 narrative of the parting of the Red Sea, and a wind setdown event in the eastern Nile delta. This publication takes the ocean model results reported by Drews and Han in 2010 and places them in a biblical, archaeological, and historical context. Certain biblical and archaeological research also supports a crossing at the Kedua Gap or possibly at Tell Abu Sefeh. The proposed locations are within 10 km of a place identified as Migdol by several biblical scholars. Four possible crossing sites are evaluated with respect to the biblical text, and what they might imply for the route of a Hebrew exodus from Egypt during the New Kingdom period. The scientific plausibility of the ancient account suggests that Exodus 14 preserves the memory of an actual historical event.

Examining Exodus 14 with the Geosciences, detail of Figure 3.

Detail of Figure 3, showing the approaches to the four crossing sites. Drews, Carl, Examining Exodus 14 with the Geosciences (2015). Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin (NEASB) Volume 60, pages: 1-15.

A few important conclusions:

  1. Exodus 14 holds up well under modern scientific examination.
  2. The meteorological details given in the text are supported by ocean models and observations of similar events that have occurred in modern times.
  3. Analysis of the current flow and grain size within the Kedua Gap reveals that Moses and the Israelites would have been walking across coarse sand instead of wallowing in deep mud.
  4. The biblical narrative requires knowledge of Egyptian topography and meteorology that would be difficult to acquire without spending decades in that country.
  5. The historical interplay between the narrative in Exodus 14 and the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15 may be resolved by distinguishing between the ancient content present in both chapters, and the archaic language of Exodus 15.

To obtain a copy of the paper, please contact the Near East Archaeological Society.

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Don’t Believe “The Bible Unearthed”

Yet another atheist blogger has come upon the book “The Bible Unearthed” (Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, 2001) and swallowed it (almost!) wholesale. Chris Hallquist posted Pulling some devastating punches: a review of The Bible Unearthed at on October 22, 2012. He admits that he has not verified the book’s thesis, “But if they are right, it’s just devastating to all the Abrahamic religions.”

Hallquist summarizes the hypothesis of Finkelstein and Silberman, that the majority of Genesis through 2 Kings is the product of seventh century authors working for King Josiah during the final 13 years of his reign (ending in 609 BC). That is an accurate summary of the Josiah Hypothesis, but then Hallquist makes this outlandish claim:

Ahistoricity is the verdict for every Biblical story up until David and Solomon.

Nope! Finkelstein and Silberman don’t say that. What F&S do say, with a lot of hedging and weasel words, is that the Josiah corpus was based on earlier material, and was skilfully woven together from earlier sources (pages 23, 33, 69-70, 284). The Bible Unearthed does not claim that the Exodus never happened, for example. (Between Migdol and the Sea, page 220)

Tel Dan Stele, referring to the House of David. Wikimedia Commons, by yoav dothan.

Tel Dan Stele, referring to the House of David. Wikimedia Commons, by yoav dothan.

Chris Hallquist repeats the common error of concluding that if current archaeology cannot find direct evidence for the “supposed activities” of David and Solomon, then those activities of the United Monarchy never happened. This same error is prevalent in Wikipedia articles about the Exodus. Hallquist also thinks that most people have never heard of King Josiah, the famous reformer who found the long-lost Book of the Law in the Temple and tore his clothes.

The punches are really not so devastating

“The Bible Unearthed” is about as devastating to Abrahamic religions as the creationist claims of Answers in Genesis are devastating to Darwin’s theory of evolution: not at all. And here’s why: Many of us who adhere to one of the Abrahamic religions have learned the skills of critical thinking. More specifically, when we hear a series of claims we investigate what the other side has to say. (Acts 15:1-35) Here are two detailed rebuttals to The Bible Unearthed:

  • On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by Kenneth Kitchen (2003), pages 464-468. The alleged anachronisms are no such thing, and the date markers for the Exodus point to the reign of Rameses II (1279 – 1213 BC).
  • Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science, by Carl Drews (that’s me) (2014), Chapter 9 Confronting the Minimalists. The Josiah Hypothesis of Finkelstein and Silberman simply makes too many wrong predictions, doesn’t explain the evidence, and would be discarded under the Scientific Method.

The most interesting part of Chris Hallquist’s post comes at the end, where he discusses the Epilogue of The Bible Unearthed. Hallquist is struck by the dissonance between using the biblical saga of liberation (alleged by F&S) as an excuse to “invade your neighbors up north” and de-liberate them. He says:

As I read this stuff, I’m thinking, “did they forget what they just spent most of this book arguing? You know, the stuff about a lot of the Bible being royal propaganda? For a king who wanted to expand his empire through conquest? I dunno, maybe they think the desire to invade your neighbors up north and make them be part of your kingdom is a deep human need which makes perfect sense to include alongside the desire to be free from oppression, but otherwise I have no idea. I don’t know what else to say about this; it’s just really, really weird on the face of it.

Testing the Josiah Hypothesis

Scientists test hypotheses by experimentation, by pushing the implications of their hypothesis to its logical conclusions and seeing if any contradictions arise. If the earth is flat, then it must have an edge all around; nobody has ever found such a thing, so the earth must not be flat. If the Old Testament expresses “timeless themes of a people’s liberation,” then King Josiah would be an idiot to order its creation as propaganda for his planned wars of conquest. If the purpose behind the Deuteronomistic history is to glorify the United Monarchy, then why do Kings David and Solomon have so many obvious flaws? Why is David an adulterer and a murderer, and why does Solomon marry so many foreign wives? (1 Kings 11:1-8) Why does the genealogy of Judahite Kings pass through the messy episode of Judah and Tamar? (Genesis 38) Yes, it is really weird.

The logical conclusion does not seem to have occurred to Chris Hallquist: The Josiah Hypothesis is wrong. The hypothesis is testable, and it fails those tests. Finkelstein and Silberman’s book The Bible Unearthed is fatally flawed. The Old Testament is not a fabricated history dreamed up by creative scribes to justify some national war of liberation. Instead, the Old Testament is an authentic record of the Hebrew people who described events from their own point of view, valued their history, refused to worship their ancestors, and saw the hand of their God in bringing them through many struggles. Archaeology cannot verify all the details of that narrative, but archaeology’s limitations do not mean that those events never happened.

That’s why I say that Chris Hallquist almost swallowed the book wholesale. He was on the right track, realizing that The Bible Unearthed has some major logical flaws in its thesis. Yes, Chris, you were not the only one who recognized that dissonance. You may not like the answer, but those are the results. The Josiah Hypothesis fails the scientific method.

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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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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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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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Lake Erie Is My Laboratory

I recently published another scientific paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. Since PLoS ONE is Open Access, anyone can read the paper without a journal subscription:

Using Wind Setdown and Storm Surge on Lake Erie to Calibrate the Air-Sea Drag Coefficient

The publication date was August 19, 2013. Here is the full citation:
Drews C (2013) Using Wind Setdown and Storm Surge on Lake Erie to Calibrate the Air-Sea Drag Coefficient. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072510

The purpose of the research was to validate the results of the COAWST ocean model (Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave- Sediment Transport Modeling System) with actual observations of storm surge. The paper has a lot of figures that we call “spaghetti plots;” these are charts that show multiple time series on a single plot. We call them spaghetti plots because they look like a bunch of noodles stretched from left to right across the page:

Figure 11. December 2006: Wind setdown and storm surge, with experiments E4, E18, E21, and E23. From Drews (2013).

Figure 11. December 2006: Wind setdown and storm surge, with experiments E4, E18, E21, and E23. From Drews (2013).

In Figure 11, the black line represents the observations of water level taken at the Fermi power plant at the western end of the lake, and at Buffalo at the eastern end of the lake. The colored lines represent various model runs. The goal here is to get the colored lines to match the black line as closely as possible. This is done by adjusting the COAWST model parameters in a sensible manner. Adjustments include: the numerical formula for the air-sea drag coefficient, the bottom drag coefficient, the influence of waves, and the algorithm used to simulate wave action, and the presence of ice on the lake.

Why Lake ErieLake Erie happens to be a near-perfect natural laboratory for conducting this kind of experiment. The lake is long, shallow, and subject to strong winds from the west that cause the lake water to slosh back and forth like a big bathtub. Since the lake is surrounded by populated areas in the United States and Canada, there are many weather stations along the coastline that provide archived meteorological data. Lake Erie is also an important seaway for international commerce, and NOAA provides accurate measurements of tides and currents at major ports on the lake. I can run simulation experiments with confidence in the observations that I am trying to match.

The paper describes two windstorms on Lake Erie: December 1–2, 2006 and January 30–31, 2008. Lake Erie is 400 km long and 90 km wide. Since I don’t have a gigantic fan big enough to blow the lake water around and measure what happens, I have to wait for nature to do the blowing instead. Fortunately for me, these windstorms occur often enough to provide several usable data sets. Better yet, there were no human fatalities in either of these storms.

The potential result of the research is a more accurate model for storm surge. When building coastal defenses such as floodwalls, it is crucial to know how high the ocean will rise when the next hurricane comes ashore. The difference between building a seawall one foot higher than the maximum surge, and one foot lower than the maximum surge, can be disastrous.

Moses Crossing the Red Sea

In 2010 I published another paper on wind setdown and storm surge:
Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta

That earlier paper reported the emergence of a land bridge in the eastern Nile delta under certain conditions of wind speed and direction. For readers of funmurphys who are interested in Moses crossing the Red Sea, the ocean model indicated that Moses would have 4 hours to lead the Israelites across the yam suf.

At the time, I suspected that the estimate of 4.0 hours was somewhat conservative; that is, the dry passage probably would have stayed open for a longer period of time. There were several factors that we did not include in the 2010 research, such as waves and a drag coefficient more suited to coastal conditions. I had a hunch that these additional factors would increase the duration of the passage. However, the rigorous nature of scientific publishing requires that scientists cannot publish more than a few paragraphs of speculation; peer-reviewed journals require concrete results supported by evidence from observations and computer models.

The Lake Erie research provided a chance for me to test my earlier hunch. I was pleased to find that my hunch was correct; but better yet, that I could provide a revised number for the crossing time. Here it is: Moses had over 8 hours to evacuate all the Israelites from Pi-Hahiroth to safety at Tell Kedua on the other side of the yam suf. Or, for scholars who are more interested in the wind speed, an east wind blowing at 24 meters per second is sufficient to hold open the dry passage for 4 hours (the 2010 paper reported 28 m/s).

Figure 13. Corrections applied to the Lake of Tanis and the Kedua Gap. From Drews (2013).

Figure 13. Corrections applied to the Lake of Tanis and the Kedua Gap. From Drews (2013).

I like this result, because it shows that there is some engineering tolerance to the solution. Although God can of course do anything He wants to do, as an engineer I am happier with a answer in which the parameters can vary a bit and still work. The 2013 paper demonstrates that the Kedua Gap is a more robust reconstruction of Exodus 14 than originally thought.

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