Moses did a lot of excellent things. He was a positive miracle-making machine and could part seas, glean water from a stone and get chocolate stains out of white shirts, with a little help from the Lord, of course. Science, however, is convinced that God wasn’t wholly responsible for these events. In fact, science has a hard time believing in anything it can’t prove with silly things like facts and research. So, here are some of the most plausible scientific explanations for the many miraculous miracles of Moses.
#5. The Parting Of The Red Sea
The Miracle of Moses
As miracles go this is right up there with Lazarus coming back from the dead. The Israelites had just been freed by the Egyptian Pharaoh after God had unleashed a plague of plagues on the Egyptians and were revelling in their new-found freedom. Everything was going great until they got trapped between a rock and a hard place, or in this case the Egyptian army and the Red Sea.
Luckily for the former slaves, Moses had a handy trick up his sleeve, one that makes David Blaine sitting in a box for a few days look positively ridiculous. He stretched out his hand and parted the sea, or at least God did, and the Israelites wandered across the dry land hotly pursued by the slaveless Egyptians. At this point their pursuer’s chariots became stuck, the water returned and they were all drowned (forgiveness, lest we forget, is a New Testament thing, which was hundreds of years away yet).
Parting a sea doesn’t happen too easily, not even in the movies. In Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments for instance he cut some jelly in two and used some nifty perspective tricks to make it look real. Pretty clever, but the Old Testament mentions nothing about megalomaniacal directors or fruit flavoured gelatin. For this miracle we have to turn to the text itself. Here’s the key quote:
“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and Jehovah caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”
Basically a big wind did it.
And here’s the thing, science and the Bible are in complete agreement on this one. Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research claims that a wind of about 63mph would have been strong enough to push back the waters to leave a clear channel in the middle, as long as it was happening at a crossing in the sea so the water was pushed back on either side of the land.
All sounds a bit ridiculous though, right? Another fanciful scientific “theory” like the earth being round. Well, that is until you visit Lake Erie in the US. When a strong wind hits the long and narrow lake, an odd thing happens: the waters rise on one side some 16 feet higher than on the other, making it possible, if risky, to cross on the shallow side. Fancy trying it for yourself? Our US travel experts have got some great deals on New York holidays at the moment, just saying.
#4. The Burning Bush
The Miracle of Moses
Moses spent 120 years on Earth and in that time he apparently didn’t have a single boring day. When he wasn’t laughing at the laws of hydrodynamics in the Red Sea he was engineering plagues of almost “Biblical” proportions in Cairo. The story with the flaming tree seems a little more mundane. Still it’s quite a trick, getting a bush to burn without it ever actually being consumed by the flames. Oh, and also talking to God, that’s a pretty important part too.
Basically, as a young man of seventy or so years, long before the plagues and water parting, Moses came upon a burning bush which spoke with the voice of God who anointed young Moe the chosen one to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery and on to Canaan.
This in many ways seems like a cheap parlour trick compared to the plague and sea parting miracles and there are plants that can, sort of, be set on fire without doing any lasting damage. However, for a fuller explanation about this miracle we need to go all the way to Norway and scientist Dag Kristian Dysthe who was asked to investigate spontaneously igniting bushes in the Sahara in 2003. She offered a theory which she felt might go someway to explaining what happened to Moses.
The research team discovered that a burning layer of turf under the soil caused the smoke and the heat that set the bushes on fire. In fact, the heat in some of the holes measured a pretty remarkable 1292 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scientist Colin Humphrey argues in his book The Miracles of Exodus that the bush continued to burn because of natural gas or volcanic vent underneath it, almost exactly like in Lanzarote, where geothermal anomalies have transformed the ground into an endless barbecue grill.
The second part of this miracle is the whole voice of God thing. This is an easy one. Professor of cognitive psychology Benny Shanon proposes that Moses was basically high on a substance similar to the hallucinogenic ayahuasca. He bases this on the fact that in the arid lands of the Sinai peninsula grows a plant with the same psychoactive molecules found in the Amazonian herb, the acacia tree.
Sounds like the ramblings of a man who had one to many acid trips, huh? Well, maybe for those of you who haven’t actually read the Bible, turns out that concoctions made from the bark of the acacia tree were about as common in Biblical times as coveting your neighbour’s wife.
#3. Water From A Stone
The Miracle of Moses
The Israelites, being mammals, were partial to a bit of water. Not constantly or anything, just every now and then. It kept them from getting parched. So, after rambling around a place called Rephidim (located in the wonderful location of modern-day Sharm el Sheikh) for a while they began to get an awful case of dry mouth and started asking Moses for some water. Being the kind of man that he was and — more importantly — having a magic stick, he struck a rock with his cane and water came pouring out.
In the Bible this sounds pretty impressive. Thirsty people wander around an arid desert desperate for a bit of juice and their chosen leader, as if my magic, knocks some water out of a rock. In reality though, science has this one covered. Moses was obviously something of a geologist and understood that soft porous limestone can retain loads of water within its craggy frame. A sharp crack to its outer crust might just release all the beautiful liquid beneath.
In fact, water is pretty predatory when it comes to limestone. The sedimentary rock is extremely soluble and because of this fun fact we get things like caves and potholes. The area near Mount Sinai where Rephidim is supposed to have been based is also a haven for porous limestone rock.
#2. Manna From Heaven
The Miracle of Moses
We already know that Moses gave his people some water from a stone, but after the whole passover thing the Israelites were feeling peckish too. With no take-aways or Deliveroo around during Old Testamant times, Moses had no other option but to ask God for food, and it was then that manna came from heaven. The Book of Exodus describes it as “a fine, flake-like thing like the frost on the ground.” Not very appealing, perhaps, but when you’re trundling around a sparsely vegetated area with little or no culinary options besides your best mate Bartholomew, anything is going to prove something of a delicacy.
The manna had to be collected purely for daily consumption and the Israelites were given strict instructions never to gather more than they needed or the leftovers would breed worms and stink. This daily ritual lasted for forty years.
Have you ever heard the saying “manna from heaven” and felt like a bit of an idiot, pondering to yourself, just what is this fabled food that seems to constantly be dropping from above? Well, you’re not the only one, it seems nobody has ever conclusively figured out just what manna actually is — in fact, the name comes from the Biblical question man hu, literally meaning “What is it?” However, in recent years ethnomycologists have generally agreed that the properties of manna as described in the Bible are closer to that of psilocybe cubensis mushrooms than to that of actual food.
Those of you with a PhD in ethnomycology or who really love their psychedelics will have already figured out that this kind of mushroom is not the sort you’d necessarily stick in a stir-fry. Basically, they’re magic mushrooms, which breed insects that decompose rapidly and produce chemicals resembling human neurochemicals. When God had the option to feed his chosen people a nutritious form of supplement he didn’t go for apples, a smoothie or anything derived from broccoli, he chose instead to get them high. And then he kept them that way for forty years.
#1. The Ten Plagues
The Miracle of Moses
As miracles go this is a touch different than healing the sick or giving eyesight to the blind, this was pure Old Testament vengeance. According to the Book of Exodus, Moses and his brother Aaron helped deliver ten plagues on the people of Egypt. The reason? Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrew people leave Egypt.
So, for starters, they turned the Nile into blood, resulting in a lot of dead fish. In a second wave of terror, millions of blood thirsty frogs came from the river to invade the houses. Not happy with the vampire amphibians, Moses and Aaron unleashed a positive tidal wave of gnats, lice and flies, before rounding off their two-man show with the always unpleasant locusts, darkness, thunder, hail, boils and other minor things like the death of firstborn sons, before Pharaoh finally realised this God guy was serious.
This has got to be just about the hardest miracle to explain, using what science likes to call words. OK, locust plagues could happen and maybe the lice and flies too, but come on science, how do you explain it all happening at once, and localized in one poor God-spiting Pharaoh’s back yard? As apocalyptic as it sounds, the scenario is apparently perfectly possible.
Scientists believe it all happened in the city of Pi-Rameses on the Nile Delta, the capital city of ancient Egypt, which was mysteriously abandoned some 3,000 years ago. At this point there was a dramatic shift in the area’s climate and it appears the flourishing capital became something of a barren wasteland. Rising temperatures would have caused the Nile to dry and ensure the once flourishing river became a muddy wetland. This just so happens to be the perfect conditions for the first plague, turning the river into blood.
Biologist Dr Stephan Pflugmacher says the bacterium, known as Burgundy Blood algae which is known to have existed 3,000 years ago causes these kinds of effects. It multiplies massively in slow-moving warm waters with high levels of nutrition and as it does so it turns the river a macabre shade of red.
This would have set in motion a chain of events which could have led to the rest of the plagues. So, frogs develop from tadpoles faster in times of stress thus the arrival of the toxic algae would have triggered such a transformation and forced the multitude of prematurely mature frogs to leave the water where they lived. Too many frogs and too little food equals a lot of dead frogs. As they died it would have meant that mosquitoes, flies and other nasty insects would have flourished without the predators needed to keep their numbers under control. Excess flies and insects is bound to end in plagues number five and six – diseased livestock and, as a result, boils.
So far so good but what about the darkness, thunder and dense locust piles – science can’t have the answers for that too, can it?
Well, another major natural disaster some 400 miles away is thought to be responsible for triggering the seventh, eighth and ninth plagues that brought thunder, locusts and darkness to Egypt.
One of the biggest volcanic eruptions in human history occurred on the island of Santorini, just north of Crete around 1,500 – 1650 BC, spewing billions of tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere. This also happens to be within the 120 or so years Moses was around making the world a more miraculous place.
The ash would have caused weather anomalies which would have led to higher precipitation and higher humidity: exactly the sort of conditions which fosters locusts. The volcanic ash could also have blocked out the sunlight causing the stories of a plague of darkness. Cooled volcanic lava has even been found during excavations of Egyptian ruins despite there not being any volcanoes in Egypt. Analysis of the rock has shown that it came from the Santorini volcano, providing physical evidence that the ash fallout from the eruption at Santorini reached Egyptian shores.
*If you want to test your own theory on the miracles of Moses why not take a trip to Arabia? Our ‘art of escape’ holiday experts have selected a range of holidays to the Middle East that will add a bit of luxury to your historical quest.
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