Moses Reconfirmed

Friday, April 20, 2007 9:40 | Filed in Books, Faith & Forteana, Oddities, Science

Some years ago, I bought a book by a man called Graham Phillips called The Moses Legacy, which purported to use historical evidence to try and determine how accurate (if at all) the stories of the historical figure of Moses would be.

I didn’t agree with all of his conclusions, but I felt he made a plausible and credible argument for at least the majority of his case. Despite not reading the book, this hasn’t stopped some people that I know from dismissing it as “nonsense” and “a waste of time”.

He suggested that there may have actually been a historical event which led to the Biblical event “the parting of the Red Sea”, which he suggested was a mistranslation of Yam Suph, meaning Sea of Reeds. Recent evidence would appear to back him up.

He then goes on to suggest his chronology suggests the events took place around 1400 BC, and suggests a possible mechanism by which the shallow, reed-covered Lake Manzala in the Nile delta may have temporarily had the water drained away, only to flood back shortly later. The two things required for this story to work are that the Eruption of Thera occurred at the same time, and that this was accompanied by a very significant tsunami event.

Well, the dates don’t quite match — the eruption is generally dated anywhere between 1500 and 1630 BC. For Graham’s theory to hold water, his dating of the Exodus event, based on his interpretation of Egyptian chronology, would have to be at least a hundred years out. That’s a significant difference, but Graham’s dates are based on his understanding of the lengths of time which different Pharaohs reigned, so it’s possible he’s gone wrong somewhere. Let’s stick with the story for now…

[referring to Lake Manzala] …in ancient times, when sea levels were lower, it was divided from the Mediterranean by a narrow ridge of dry land some fifty kilometres long, broken here and there by a few hundred metre stretches of water at high tide. At low tide, however, this ridge formed a causeway that could be crossed on footThe Moses Legacy

He then goes on to explain why he the presence of this causeway means that the Biblical flight of Exodus makes sense, because the route — assuming they went via Lake Manzala — would have led over boggy ground, making pursuit (particularly with horsemen or chariots) much more difficult.

He then notes that when a tsunami event occurs, the sea withdraws significantly, possibly for an extended period of time, prior to the tsunami striking, and goes on to say that:

If a section of the causeway, usually under water, had been exposed to the pre-tsunami conditions, then the Israelites could have crossed in much the same way that the Bible describes:

And the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night and made the sea into dry land, and that the waters were divided.Exodus 14:21

This is an excellent description of what would have happened at the Manzala causeway, with the waters of the Mediterranean being divided from the waters of Lake Manzala. The pressure drop over the lowering coastal waters of the Mediterranean might even have caused a strong wind to blow from the east. The Israelites could have made it safely across and, if the timing was fortuitous, the pursuing soldiers might have been attempting to cross when the tsunami hit, washing them all away.The Moses Legacy

What isn’t mentioned is that in 1991, it was estimated that the Thera eruption had ejected 39 cubic kilometres of rock and magma into the atosphere. That might have indicated that the eruption was of sufficient size to generate the tsunamis described having that degree of effect upon Egypt — it was more than 50% bigger than Krakatoa. But there may be some doubt. We’d need a very significant tsunami.

The Moses Legacy was published in 2002. In 2006, it was discovered that the Thera eruption was bigger than previously thought, ejecting 60 cubic kilometres of material, making it the second largest eruption in recorded history (after Mount Tambora in 1815 which led to the “Year Without A Summer”).

This information which wasn’t available to Graham in 2002 rather strengthens his case. If the eruption was of that size, then it is even more probable that there would have been a significant tsunami event, and if there was a significant tsunami event, it would very likely have unfolded the way he described.

It has been suggested in the past that the legend of Atlantis (a nation disappearing under the sea) related to the Minoan civilisation being wiped out by the Thera eruption, although direct evidence on Crete for tsunamis of that size may have been lacking.

Until now, that is. A team of geologists have confirmed that:

the island of Crete was hit by a massive tsunami at the same time that Minoan culture disappearedBBC News

And if you want to watch “The Wave That Destroyed Atlantis”, it’s on BBC2 at 9pm tonight…

So, where does this leave us? You are under no obligations to agree with Graham’s conclusions (generally I find I agree with some and disagree with others) but his work is plainly not “nonsense”, and we are in a position where the best scientific knowledge of today could describe a significant very tsunami event at approximately the same time as the Biblical Exodus which would temporarily have created dry land, followed by a tidal wave at least 15 metres high sweeping away anything in its path.

And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, [and] all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.Exodus 14:28

Of course, the flip side of suggesting that the Exodus story might have a historical base is interesting too. This would certainly suggest that the Lord most definitely does move in myseterious ways — if the Thera Eruption was divinely inspired, then as well as freeing the Israelites from slavery, He was destroying the Minoan civilisation at the same time…

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3 Comments to Moses Reconfirmed

  1. Mike says:

    April 21st, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Next week: ‘why the giant spider in Lord Of The Rings isn’t real’.

    Bah. Just had my biked nicked. ‘Very True Mood’: arseholed, pissed off and intolerant…

  2. Marcel Cairo says:

    April 21st, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks for this story and follow-up. Very interesting indeed. I’ve always loved putting biblical stories under the microscope of historical events. It just intuitively makes sense. However, there’s the whole Joseph Campbell angle to it all, that these stories are architypical memes channeling through cultures and histories.

  3. David Kessler says:

    May 19th, 2011 at 8:54 am

    A fiction book with the same title (by Adam Palmer) also endorses the theory that the eruption of Thera/Santorini lay behind the Reed Sea story. But Palmer argues on the lines of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch, that that events at the Sea of Reeds were a separate event/story, predating the Bible that were then written retroactively into the Biblical narrative. This theory – highly speculative though it is – reconciles the Thera eruption with the Biblical timetable.

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