Mediterranean Tsunami Could Have Been the Inspiration for the Biblical Story of Moses Parting the Waters
Two scientists from the University of Seville, Spain, are studying the miraculous biblical parting of the Red Sea as well as the route taken by Moses and the Jewish people during their exodus through the desert. According to their research, natural disasters associated with the volcanic explosion on the Mediterranean island of Santorini may have triggered tsunamis and inspired this biblical account.
The Minoan eruption of Santorini , which occurred between the years 1639 -1616 BC, was one of the largest volcanic eruptions on the planet in the last 10,000 years. Undoubtedly it was one of the most significant natural phenomena occurring in the Aegean region during the Bronze Age, to the point that it caused climate change in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly ended up affecting the entire world.
Lava flowing into the sea and the subsequent collapse of the caldera generated huge tsunamis that swept the Aegean Sea with waves of between 7 and 15 meters (23-49.2 feet) high, leaving sedimentary deposits in many parts of the coast. Even the far away coast of Sicily and that of Israel have found similar marks of the remnants of a tsunami, which have been dated approximately to the same period.
Volcanic craters on the Greek island of Santorini ( Wikimedia Commons )
Tsunamis in the Nile Delta and a Biblical Story Unite?
However, fluid dynamics simulations conducted by researchers Periáñez and Abril show that tsunamis originating from the island of Thera-Santorini in the Aegean area did not produce enough energy to explain the marks found in Sicily and Israel: “We must frame the Santorini episode within a sequence of intense tectonic stresses that were released in the eastern Mediterranean,” the experts told SINC.
Nonetheless, the authors show in their study that there was slippage of the seabed in the Libyan Gulf of Sirte , which displaced more than 11 cubic kilometers (8 cubic miles) of sediments that span the plain of the Ionian Sea , and has been dated to the same date as the explosion of Santorini. They believe that the two incidences combined could have generated enough force to affect the coast of Sicily, which would explain and tsunami deposits discovered there.
Similarly, deposits present along the coast of Israel could be the result of a tsunami generated by an undersea slide east of the Nile Delta , according to the calculations made by Abril and Periáñez. Could this tsunami correspond with the mythical biblical exodus?
Map showing the directions of some of the waves caused by the Minoan eruption that took place on the Mediterranean island of Santorini and may have reached Egypt, possibly creating tsunamis in the Nile Delta. ( Wikimedia Commons )
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The Parting of the Sea in the Bible
The path of the Israelites, guided by Moses, is described in the biblical story of Exodus in the Old Testament. As written: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea.” (Exodus 14: 1-2)
Following this text, the separation of the waters should have happened in the vicinity of Migdol, a location that has been identified, thanks to various archaeological studies developed in the area, with a military fortress of the Way of Horus . This is on the banks of the Shi-Hor lagoon, which opened into the Mediterranean, to the northwest of Sinai, and could be the 'Sea of Reeds' in the Bible . It is for these reasons that researchers at the School of Agricultural Engineering of the University of Seville believe that the reference to the Red Sea appears to have just been a recurring translation error. Their simulations that recreate the old waterfront of the area around Migdol support this theory.
However, all of the above is not enough to ensure that in fact it was a tsunami that was responsible for the famous parting of the waters. Actually, there are chronological aspects between the two events that do not even match. So much so that some experts believe that in the book of Exodus two episodes that occurred at different times are mixed together. Moreover, as fully explained in the SINC article , geological surveys in the Nile Delta have identified several underwater landslides, but with a much earlier chronology, so the location of the focus of the tsunami and the magnitude of the slip may not be arbitrary. The impact from these tsunamis on the coast of Shi-Hor, according to estimates from the current study, seems limited.
The "parting of the waters" from the Bible, could have taken place in the lagoon of Shi-Hor, which opened onto the Mediterranean Sea northwest of Sinai, and not in the Red Sea. ( Flickr)
The Parting of the Waters
Periáñez and Abril have been studying a group of 17 potential sources based on the criterion of “causing the greatest impact” - which includes earthquakes caused by tectonic faults. But physical oceanography in the Nile Delta always tends to radiate the energy of a tsunami offshore, producing limited impacts on the ancient shores of Shi-Hor:
"The times of advance and retreat of the waters, and wave height of just over one meter, do not fit well to the biblical account, and have nothing to do with the images of the film. " Professor Abril stated.
However, tsunamis created by underwater landslides are characterized by causing a depression in the surface of the sea along the break line, while a wave crest grows in the advancing front of the sediments. Thus, for seafarers navigating northern Sinai, a tsunami in the area would have been seen as a "parting of the waters."
Thus, the authors of the study concluded that natural disasters associated with the eruption of Santorini, including the sequence of tsunamis triggered, may have inspired the biblical story of the Exodus, but do not fit, as is logical, a literal interpretation.
Featured image: Pharaoh and his army drown trying to cross the Red Sea, as reflected in the Old Testament. Bartolo di Fredi. ( Wikimedia Commons )
By: Mariló TA
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.