Desktop Project Part 7: A new volcano parts the Red Sea. Kinda

By Phil Plait | April 1, 2012 7:00 am

[Over the past few weeks, I've collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside... but I decided my computer's desktop was getting cluttered, and I'll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I've therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they're gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

It probably won’t surprise you to hear I’m not exactly a Biblical literalist. Still, parts of the Bible are known to be based on actual events, so when something turns up that sounds like one of the stories come true, it’s not always surprising.

Still, I always figured the parting of the Red Sea was wholly fictional. But now something has turned up hat makes me wonder if it could’ve sparked — literally — the legend: a volcano has poked its head up from above the waters of the Red Sea.

Here’s the scene on October 24, 2007, as seen by the Earth Observing-1 satellite:

[Click to enhaphaestenate.]

That all looks pretty normal. Calm seas, a couple of islands (Haycock Island to the north (left), and Rugged Island to the south, both about a kilometer long), no biggie.

Now take a look at the same scene on December 23, 2011:

[Click to Cecilbdemillenate.]

Holy smoke! Look at that: a whole new volcano! This is happening off the coast of Yemen near a group of islands called the Zubair Group. This region is in a rift zone, where two tectonic plates are pulling apart, so volcanic activity isn’t too surprising.

And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something like this were the genesis* of the story from Exodus. A big eruption could cause big waves, flooding, disasters on a smallish scale… and over time the story grew, had bits added to it, and next thing you know there’s an overwrought movie with Charlton Heston yelling at the water and shaking a stick at it.

To me, the story of science is always better than the ones we humans make up or embellish, though. Look at that: a brand new volcano, born right before our eyes, and all courtesy of space travel, satellites, good detectors, and a burning, unending desire to understand the world better.

There’s a revelation for you.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team.


*HAHAHAHAHAHA! I kill me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Religion

Comments (49)

  1. “And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something like this were the genesis* of the story from Exodus. “

    Except the entire story itself has the hallmarks of being entirely made up. Instead, it would seem to be a political statement against the power of the day.

  2. hm, phil the link on the first image is the same as the link on the second image. (both point to the same huge pic)

  3. Bob

    Two words: Ancient Aliens.

    That is all.

    Bob

  4. Chris P

    Couldn’t a tsunami be the genesis (ha!) of the story of the parting of the Red Sea?
    If a tsunami was heading north up the Red Sea, the sea would recede from the shore at the north end of the Gulf of Suez allowing the pursued party to take a shortcut before the incoming water washed away the pursuers.

  5. Yup, cut and paste fail on my part. I fixed it, thanks to those who pointed it out.

  6. Trebuchet

    The parting of the Red Sea was explained to me — in Sunday School — as being a misreading of the “Sea of Reeds”, a swampy area that Pharaoh’s chariots were unable to pass while the Israelites waded through. Yes, I was in a rather liberal denomination.

    I can’t wait until Lo-ihi pokes its fiery head out of the sea just east of Hawaii. Of course, since that’s expected to be 10,000 years at least, I guess I’d better get used to waiting!

  7. Oz

    The problem with the biblical account as it has come down to us is in the translation from the old Aramaic and Hebrew scripts into Greek, Vulgate Latin and then into English. They never actually crossed the Red Sea….they crossed the Reed Sea (Yom Sarif) which is an area of marshes along the coast near the Med, just after you leave the Nile Delta. The column of fire they were following was the eruption plume from Santorini and the parting of the “sea” was the withdrawl of water prior to the landfall by the tsunami. The swamps, which are connected to the sea via streams and such, would’ve emptied out and allowed the Israelites to get across them, post haste. I doubt all of them made it across though, as the tsunami would’ve come in pretty quick. Plus, the tsunami from the eruption would’ve been substantial….probably over 50 metres in height. Those that were left must’ve beaten a pretty hasty retreat to higher ground when they saw the wave coming. Not only that, however, the accounts of the numbers of people that left Egypt are greatly exaggerated. It was more likely 600 or so (you could even make it 6000) but it was hardly 600000, which at the time of the exodus would’ve been a substantial proportion of Egypt’s population at the time…. which has been estimated as being around 3 million.

  8. VinceRN

    Seems likely that there is a seed of reality in the parting of the Red sea. Volcano, earthquake, tsunami, huge wind/sand storm. Some natural phenomenon likely changed the appearance of the red sea to at least make it look like land were partially exposed. No fleeing rebel slaves need have crossed in.

    I’ve always figured that this, the flood, and other things in the deepest past of the Old Testament were based on the continued retelling, exaggeration and embellishment of stories that existed in the local cultures.

    Seems reasonable that there were a people that migrated out of Mesopotamia to the Levant, and that the used ancient stories and legends to adapt for their own purposes, as many others did. Luck had their stories, once written down, survive and grow and become the foundation of many cultures and civilizations thousands of years later.

    If we could invent a time machine it would be interesting to see the look on Abraham’s face (or who ever it was that lead that group out of Mesopotamia) when shown what would happen with his story.

  9. VinceRN

    I have heard the Reed Sea thing before. It seems to me like a way to make the biblical story fit a group of people actually crossing a body of water. That need not ever have actually happened, any more than a boat full of animals need have happened for that story to have arisen in a culture that lived in an area dominated by two huge rivers.

  10. Scott Romanowski

    Phil, I think you fell victim to an old pitfall. Before trying to explain something, make sure what you’re trying to explain happened. AFAIK the evidence shows that the ‘Jewish slaves leaving Egypt’ story in the “Bible” didn’t happen, so there’s nothing to explain.

  11. Stephen P

    @Oz: yes, some people have proposed that version as an attempt to “rescue” the Exodus story, but it’s a pretty desperate attempt. For one obvious problem, just take a look at the map: leaving the Nile Delta, Santorini would have been almost *behind* them, not ahead. The fact that the name of the Pharaoh is never mentioned is just one indicator that the whole story is an invention.

  12. Cliff Clark

    If the presence of the new volcano holds up (thanks to skeptics for pointing out that Photoshop can be mede to do interesting things this close to April Fools) I would wonder what impact this could have had on the “Out of Africa” story of the diaspora of modern humans from (possbily) near the Horn of Africa through present-day Yemen, around the Arabian Sea, etc. Of course, there is no real need to invoke volcanic islands, which could appear (and disappear?) over the time scales we are talking about, especially when early humans may have had some ability to cross “water obstacles”. Still, it increases the number of possible mechanisms… Talk about a Genesis story…

  13. Wzrd1

    I recall hearing a slightly different theory on the exodus, where the people in question were a mercenary family, whose services were no longer desired in Egypt, so they were, erm, convinced to depart. Their chosen path being through the Sea of Reeds (as said frequently above, it’s a swamp), where they could separate from the following chariots. No need to recede the sea, it’s a swamp.

    As for the flood, one need only consider Gilgamesh’s account of the flood, which pre-dates the estimated time of the Noah account to find the source. That could be a result of ancient legends from the super lakes draining at the end of the last ice age, which raised ocean levels globally. There are signs in the Med of villages that are rather deep under water, as the Med was more of a lake than a sea at that time. The flooding would’ve been rather slow, rather than the drastic account when the cultures learned how to record their legends.

  14. Meryt

    Naaah, there weren’t 600,000, not 6,000, not even 600 guys evading Pharaoh’s medjay. There were 6 guys, all pals of Mose, who stuck with him after he killed the Egyptian nobleman. They hid out in the reed swamps, a common practice for people evading the law, even for rival royalty, as in the case of the rebel king Khababash Senen-Setep-en-Ptah 338-336BC, who hid from the Darius III’s assassins in the swamps.

    the bible has a way of exaggerating – think of the Noah story.

  15. The Bad Astronomer

    I understand the skepticism given the date, but if you check the Earth Observatory link I put in the post, you’ll see this was originally announced several weeks ago.

  16. HP

    There are all kind of geological and physical phenomena that might be interpreted as the source of the Biblical story. But that ignores the fact that the Jews were never, ever in bondage in Egypt.

    Not only is there no evidence to support the idea of chattel slavery in Pharonic Egypt (let alone the mass enslavement of Semitic desert tribespeople), but there is actually positive evidence against chattel slavery, in the form of wage receipts, workers quarters, graffiti, papyri, and so on.

    There’s no reason to assume to that myths and legends have some kind of historical basis. And there are plenty of reasons to assume they don’t.

    Which has nothing to do with very cool satellite photos of volcanic eruptions, but it has a lot to do with skepticism. (Warning: Peeve alert.) I wish more skeptics would realize that history and archeology are your friends.

  17. Artor

    I’m with HP on this one. Egypt in the time of Exodus was already a very literate society, and their records make no mention of Semitic slaves, of plagues, Moses, or pursuing fleeing rebels. No armies lost, no nameless Pharaoh drowned, and no cataclysmic tsunamis.
    But volcanism, tectonics & geology are seriously awesome. Isn’t there a rift in the area where the plates are parting at the rate of several feet per year?

  18. The complete lack of extra-evidence for the Jews being enslaved in Egypt really has nothing to do with this.

    Somehow ancient people who may or may not have any continuity with modern Jews told this story. The is no reason to question that they told it, and if they did, there was a reason.

    Some tale of a sea parting for some reason existed, and that tale was worked into the biblical story of the Exodus. Something sparked that story, though it may have changed several times over centuries.

    Even escaping from bondage as a story element likely has a basis in reality, though there is no reason to think it was with the Jews. It was common for conquered peoples to be enslaved, it it is certain that some later rebelled and tried to get back to what they perceived as their home. The Jews may well have just adapted existing stories to their culture, just as they did with the flood.

    If you look at these stories without the hate and bigotry that so many evangelical athiests seem to hold, and without the unreasoning faith of the believer, they become interesting and educational.

    The bible is as important and as educational as the works of any other ancient peoples, and that is how it should be read.

  19. MadScientist

    I don’t remember any historical events portrayed in the bible. While True Believers go around looking for nonsense like “evidence of the Great Flood”, whenever I see a contemporary story that people wish to imagine as being a biblical story, I only see coincidence – with about 2000 years gone by, if the bible were not mere fiction with no basis whatsoever in reality, we’d would surely have seen more coincidences.

  20. Blargh

    VinceRN: Not all stories are based on anything historical. People are wonderfully imaginative, and have always been.

    So yeah. I’m a bit disappointed in Phil for the whole “parting the Red Sea” spin on this story. Volcanoes are awesome and islands appearing out of seemingly nowhere are awesome, so there’s no need to shoehorn in a “possible historical basis behind a myth” element.

  21. VinceRN

    @20 – MadScientist – Looking for evidence of “Great Flood” that covered the entire worls and left a boat on a mountain top, is of course silly. However, that doesn’t mean there is not some basis for the story.

    The Sumerians had a very similar story, animals and all, though theirs added immortality into the mix. Since Mesopotamia is the origin of the people who came to be called the Jews, the people of Abraham, it seems obvious that that is where Noah’s flood came from.

    An area like Mesopotamia must have had some pretty devastating floods from time to time, which were exaggerated in the retelling over hundreds of generations. What better to help people deal with a bad flood than stories of a worse flood long ago?

    One should not look for anything literal from the bible, or from any other religious sources, but we should still look for the root of the stories. At least if we are interested in history, in how our culture got where it is.

    Our culture, even those of us who view the world skeptically and scientifically, is built upon what these ancient people said, did, and said they did. We can learn from studying these people and cultures. We learn nothing either from believing them, or from scorning and dismissing them.

  22. NAW

    “Still, I always figured the parting of the Red Sea was wholly fictional. But now something has turned up hat makes me wonder if it could’ve sparked — literally — the legend: a volcano has poked its head up from above the waters of the Red Sea.”

    You are missing a “t” there in the second sentience. (“hat ought to be “that”) I had to read it three times until I got it. Easy mistake though. I bet everyone just did that weird mental adding of the “t”.

  23. Radwaste

    Hey, this gang is supposed to be reasonable. So: don’t forget to work out the physics. If you want water to move, that takes energy, and a bunch of it. Get Google Earth out and start measuring distances, too. Then, figure out who can travel how and where and how fast.
    Pretty soon, you’ll recognize that a lot of Bible content was written without the first nod to reality.
    That doesn’t invalidate the supreme idea of the unheralded sacrifice for another, or the infuence of British Protestants making the USA possible, but it’ll make a bunch of people squawk because their parents told them the Bible’s all True™.

  24. Paul

    Could you refer to this story again on Monday so that I can be sure it is not just another 4/1 prank?

  25. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (14) said:

    There are signs in the Med of villages that are rather deep under water, as the Med was more of a lake than a sea at that time. The flooding would’ve been rather slow, rather than the drastic account when the cultures learned how to record their legends.

    It’s possible that there was a dramatic flod at the end of the ice age in the Mediterranean area. If the Strait of Gibraltar were blocked by an ice dam, when that dam melted, then there would indeed be a pretty sudden inrush of water from the Atlantic. Well, sudden as in days / weeks rather than years.

  26. Nigel Depledge

    HP (17) said:

    There are all kind of geological and physical phenomena that might be interpreted as the source of the Biblical story. But that ignores the fact that the Jews were never, ever in bondage in Egypt.

    Not only is there no evidence to support the idea of chattel slavery in Pharonic Egypt (let alone the mass enslavement of Semitic desert tribespeople), but there is actually positive evidence against chattel slavery, in the form of wage receipts, workers quarters, graffiti, papyri, and so on.

    Heh. So much for the “inerrant word of god”.

  27. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (19) said:
    It was common for conquered peoples to be enslaved,

    OK, I know this pertained in Iron-Age Britain and in much of the Roman Empire, but did the Egyptians practice it?

    it is certain that some later rebelled and tried to get back to what they perceived as their home. The Jews may well have just adapted existing stories to their culture, just as they did with the flood.

    Well, sure. But, if there was never any slavery of Jews in Egypt, then it becomes just another fireside story.

    If you look at these stories without the hate and bigotry that so many evangelical athiests seem to hold,

    Citations needed regarding hate and bigotry references.

    IOW, what hate and bigotry?

    and without the unreasoning faith of the believer, they become interesting and educational.

    And what makes them even more interesting and educational is a comparison with the archaeological evidence, as mentioned in #17.

  28. Georg

    “”It probably won’t surprise you to hear I’m not exactly a Biblical literalist. Still, parts of the Bible are known to be based on actual events, so when something turns up that sounds like one of the stories come true, it’s not always surprising.”"

    Is is always good to know the adversaries literature/propaganda.

  29. prianikoff

    #8 “They never actually crossed the Red Sea….they crossed the Reed Sea (Yom Sarif)”

    The Hebrew expression, which was subsequently mistranslated, is Yam Suf, not “Yom Sarif”.
    (Yom=day, “Sarif” is probably meaningless)

    Yam Suf means either the “Sea of Reeds”, or something like the “Stormy Sea”.
    The mistranslation was pointed out as long ago as the 11th century by Rashi.

    No one’s sure where it was supposed to be.
    One theory being Lake Badarwil, one of the bitter lakes on the North Sinai coast.
    An area of treacherous marshes, known as the ‘Graveyard of Armies’ since Antiquity.

    Santorini might be an explanation for the “pillar of cloud/pillar of fire” allusions in Exodus. However, the big Thera eruption occurred in the 2nd Millennium B.C.
    Whereas the Biblical account seems to be located in a 1st Millennium context.

    The recent eruptions in the Red Sea are a long way off, near the coast of Yemen.

  30. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (22) said:

    We can learn from studying these people and cultures. We learn nothing either from believing them, or from scorning and dismissing them.

    I agree with the first part of this, but probably not for the reasons you might have hoped.

    We can learn a great deal about a people by studying their stories (see, for example, what we learn of Anglo-Saxon life in Britain from Beowulf).

    However, this does not diminish the scorn deserved by those who believe – with no corroborating evidence – the story as if it were literal unembellished truth.

  31. Nigel Depledge

    I said (26):

    It’s possible that there was a dramatic flod . . .

    Oops.

    I meant, of course, flood. Flod is the Middle-English for “river”.

  32. TR

    I have heard the “Sea of Reeds” translation; I have also seen a translation that’s more along the lines of “Moses led them through the morass.” Which could literally mean a swampy area where the Pharaoh’s chariots couldn’t pass, or may just be a poetic way of saying that Moses cut through all of the confusion and managed the exodus efficiently.

    In any case, I think this is a silly conversation. If you believe in a hands-on God mucking about in humans’ day-to-day affairs, then just call it a miracle and let it go. If you believe in a world governed by physical laws in which demonstrable causes lead to predictable effects, than the whole Bible is either a metaphor or a fairy tale. This practice of trying to come up with scientific explanations for the so-called miracles described in the bible is equally insulting to both science and religion.

  33. @ prianikoff:

    Whereas the Biblical account seems to be located in a 1st Millennium context.

    Early second millennium, more likely, at least the original folk tale on which it was based. Rameses II (the evil pharaoh in the story) reigned in the 13th century BC.

    But you are correct in one sense, in that the story was compiled into its current form in the 1st millennium.

    Also, the Santorini date still doesn’t mesh perfectly with the original time frame of the story, but this is really unimportant. It is most likely that details such as the pillar of flame, the parting of the red sea, etc, were later embellishments on the basic story, added to give it a little poetic oomph. With that in mind, eyewitness accounts of the Santorini eruption could very well have served as the inspiration for those details.

    @ TR:

    This practice of trying to come up with scientific explanations for the so-called miracles described in the bible is equally insulting to both science and religion.

    I think not. Religious stories are just like any other form of human creativity. They can be studied, interpreted, placed in historical context, just as epic poems, folklore, fairy tales, tribal mythologies, et al can be. Learning about the origins of religion and religious stories can tell you a great deal about what was going on during the times in which they were developed. Many people, myself included, find this knowledge to be infinitely more fascinating than the stories themselves.

    It’s only insulting if you choose to be insulted by something that might conceivably change your established point of view.

  34. PdlJmpr

    The Bible is a Faith document and never intended to be a Science or History Document. I only have a small understanding of science or history, so I have to take much of what is said here on faith and I have no problem with that. What I do have trouble with is trying to apply the same rules and arguments to faith issues as are applied to science and history issues. Apples to oranges.
    A weather scientist from NCAR in Boulder has a convincing theory on how it would have been possible for a sustained wind blowing for several days could cause a drop in the water level in the Red Sea and there are places shallow enough to be exposed. For me the physics, be it earthquake, volcano, tsunami, or just several days of very strong winds, is not the miracle. The miracle is the timing and I believe it literally happened.
    What makes a mystery captivating is the tension between opposing arguments and evidence. If the Bible contained irrefutable science and history it would no longer be a faith document. Faith can only exist where there is reason for doubt.

  35. TR

    @ kuhnigget

    If you read my post carefully, you’ll notice that do not say that studying religions/fairy tales is silly. I think there is something to be learned from either. What I did say was that the practice of trying to establish a scientific basis for a miracle is silly.

    Moreover, I did not say that I personally found the process insulting, but that it is insulting to the institutions themselves.

    Your comments on the cultural importance of religious stories (and your enjoyment of them) have no bearing on either of those observations, and I stand by both of them.

  36. @ TR: well, I never said you did think it silly, but okay, I agree with your sentiment about miracles and such.

    I still don’t get the insulting bit, however. If something has occurred, be it identified as a miracle or simply a misunderstood phenomenon of nature, how does making conjectures about that insult anyone? It seems no more insulting than speculating on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and this sort of inquiry has been keeping theologians busy for centuries.

    BTW, the writer Ted Chiang wrote a wonderful novelette called Hell is the Absence of God that explored some of this to great effect. In particular, he had a whole riff on how the appearance of an angel would leave behind devastating radioactivity. Far from being insulting, it’s actually a very moving and thoughtful story.

    But anyway, have a nice day.

  37. icemith

    I’ve long felt there was something wrong with the “Parting of the Waters” account in the Biblical story of the Israelites keeping ahead of the Pharaoh’s pursuing armies. Though I have never really had to clean up after a flood, where there was widespread destruction and significant debris, I only have our modern TV to see and appreciate the mess.

    Imagine the mass of muddy river/sea bed and all the other, now, rotting vegetation, and the maybe meters deep silt etc., and you will see what they would have been faced with. Funny thing though, all the paintings I ever saw, indicated that the “seabed” was dry, and solid. Of course the story does not take account of these factors in reality. We have become used to being critical about the intricate details, as it is important to our understanding of modern drama as portrayed in our movies and TV programs. In fact it is the very basis of most crime stories, and the forensic detail that makes the stories an entertainment.

    What we are doing now is going over the stories as if they were an NCIS episode or a “whodunit” or Cold Case.

    Sherlock Holmes would be impressed.

    Ivan.

  38. Radwaste

    “Faith can only exist where there is reason for doubt.”

    Notice something else? Faith CANNOT exist where there is no doubt. You do not have “faith” when something is demonstrated to you – only when someone who was not there for an event claims that simething they don’t understand happened.

    “What we are doing now is going over the stories as if they were an NCIS episode or a “whodunit” or Cold Case.”

    If you do not want to be a fool, you check, that’s all. So special pleading is set aside.

  39. @ kuhnigget:
    It’s using science to try to explain an event that probably never happened in the first place – thus validating and justifying the original myth. Even worse, this kind of “this could be the basis for the myth of …” speculation is exactly the kind of thinking that runs a chance of ending up with “∴ Ancient Aliens

    And while Hell is the Absence of God is a good story, it really has nothing to do with what’s being discussed. The story in question is a pure “what if” of the kind that Chiang’s really good at: what if God, angels, heaven and hell all incontrovertibly existed (and hell wasn’t really a punishment but a place without God, and angelic visitations caused terror and destruction). A relevant story here would be one that tried to explain something biblical as the result of some natural phenomenon.
    In other words, what the Turkey City Lexicon refers to as a “Shaggy God Story”. :)

    Anyone who hasn’t read Ted Chiang should, BTW. Chiang’s uneven – but when he’s good he’s frickin’ awesome! Exhalation (freely available online – click my name!) is a good place to start: an intriguing story based on… the second law of thermodynamics. That’s right. A story about thermodynamics. It has to be read to be believed! :)

  40. @ Blargh:

    It’s using science to try to explain an event that probably never happened in the first place – thus validating and justifying the original myth.

    Agree, which is TR’s point, as well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t gain information about the past based on that myth. As we’ve both said, and Nigel pointed out, too, there’s a lot you can learn about a culture based upon its folklore. Read right, many OT stories reveal much about the political situation in the Levant when the tales were compiled. The sciences of anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, et al, are quite appropriately aimed at such investigations.

    Even worse, this kind of “this could be the basis for the myth of …” speculation is exactly the kind of thinking that runs a chance of ending up with “∴ Ancient Aliens”

    True again, but then ANY thinking (that should be “thinking”) can lead to that. Witness the twisted logic of the UFO nutters.

    We’ll have to disagree on Chiang’s story. While it’s true the plot revolves around the “what if” you mention, plot alone does not define what’s “in” the story. The radioactive consequences of angelic appearances has major impacts on the characters, which if I’m not mistaken, Chiang was the first to come up with.

    You’re right, though, Exhalation is pretty amazing. I haven’t read any of Chiang’s later stuff. Is he even still writing?

  41. reidh

    thats not how it happened, why don’t read the damn bible?

  42. The radioactive consequences of angelic appearances has major impacts on the characters, which if I’m not mistaken, Chiang was the first to come up with.

    Sure, but a relevant example would be the other way around – radioactivity somehow being the basis for stories about angels. I.e. natural phenomenon => bible story. Not bible story => natural phenomenon.
    (Also… it’s been a while since I read it, so it could just be that I’ve forgotten it, but I can’t remember anything about radioactivity in that story – plenty of other mayhem every time an angel showed up, but radioactivity?)

    You’re right, though, Exhalation is pretty amazing. I haven’t read any of Chiang’s later stuff. Is he even still writing?

    He is. He’s keeping up his almost-one-short-story-a-year schedule. ;)

  43. @ Blargh;

    Just looked at the story again. Yes, you are right. Devastation, volcanic wastelands, body-destroying blasts of light, but no radiation per se. My bad. (Although I suppose I could grovel and claim that the blast of light that kills the one character is radiation… No? Won’t fly? Sigh. Oh well.)

    Glad to hear he is still writing. I’ll have to look for his latest.

    Wasn’t there a novel a while back (80s? 90s?) about the example you gave: a radioactive artifact or something that was mistaken for a supernatural/divine talisman? Turns out it contained a mini black hole. Can’t think of the name.

  44. Brian Too

    What this whole thread reveals to me is the continuing fascination with attempts to corroborate our literature with other, newer sources of information.

    I saw a short exposition by a (pop culture sociologist?) He was describing the appeal of a TV series like StarGate. One of his points was that it tapped into a deep interest that our past is discoverable. If you offer people the possibility that humanity’s story telling roots is based upon some factual basis, and that basis could be determined, you’ll get their attention.

    That is so much more compelling than the usual “it’s an old story, no one knows much about it.”

  45. Nigel Depledge

    PdlJmpr (35) said:

    The Bible is a Faith document and never intended to be a Science or History Document. I only have a small understanding of science or history, so I have to take much of what is said here on faith and I have no problem with that. What I do have trouble with is trying to apply the same rules and arguments to faith issues as are applied to science and history issues. Apples to oranges.

    I agree, mostly. However, there are many people who spend their time trying to find correlations between biblical episodes and real-world evidence, and this is an abuse of both history and science, since these people seem mostly to try to fit the evidence to their preconceived conclusions, not draw conclusions as dictated by the evidence.

    A weather scientist from NCAR in Boulder has a convincing theory on how it would have been possible for a sustained wind blowing for several days could cause a drop in the water level in the Red Sea and there are places shallow enough to be exposed. For me the physics, be it earthquake, volcano, tsunami, or just several days of very strong winds, is not the miracle. The miracle is the timing and I believe it literally happened.

    If you believe it literally happened, then you are assuming the bible has some historical validity. What if the story really is just a bunch of metaphor or parable?

    Furthermore, if a previous commenter is correct and the Jews were never enslaved in Egypt, then the story could not have happened. This would not change its value as a parable, but it blows out of the water any claim that the account has some historical validity.

    What makes a mystery captivating is the tension between opposing arguments and evidence. If the Bible contained irrefutable science and history it would no longer be a faith document. Faith can only exist where there is reason for doubt.

    Or, in many cases, where there is reason to believe the opposite of the faith article.

  46. Nigel Depledge

    Reidh (42) said:

    thats not how it happened, why don’t read the damn bible?

    Two things here. Three. Three things.

    First, most people learn about these biblical stories in Sunday School, not by reading the actual account itself.

    Second, the exact wording in any account depends on the translations that have been performed on the text, so the same stories exist in as many different versions as there are translations.

    Third, give me one good reason why I should read the damn bible.

    Fourth (OK, it was four things after all), am I the only one that sees the irony in your use of the phrase “damn bible”?

  47. TR

    @ Nigel -

    Nope – I caught it too…

  48. Matt B.

    I saw a special on the History Channel (years ago, when it still did some history) connecting the Exodus with the explosion of Thera. They talked about how the event would have caused a lot of the “plagues” (which to me explains the stubbornness of the pharaoh, since these are repeated phenomena in Egypt) including the frogs and the water turning red. The events would have to be out of order, though, because the draining of a bay would come before any biological consequences. But the cool thing to me is that a single event may have created two myths–Atlantis and Exodus.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »