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A Skeptic’s Guide to Passover

PUBLISHED: April 8, 2009

All the Jews, atheists, and fans of The Ten Commandments out there might be interested in my piece on scientific explanations of the Exodus story, which just went up on

For thousands of years, skeptics and believers alike have debated whether the events described in the Passover story—the parting of the Red Sea, the ten plagues, and the burning bush—actually took place. Roman Jewish historian Josephus Flavius speculated that the parting of the Red Sea “might be of God’s will or of natural origin. Let everyone believe at his own discretion.” The skeptic’s skeptic, Sigmund Freud, called the Passover story “a pious myth,” contending that Moses was a rebellious Egyptian prince who worshiped the sun god Aton and made up the Jewish religion as a political ploy. In more recent times, scientific explanations of the Passover story range from formula-laden academic papers like “Modeling the Hydrodynamic Situation of the Exodus” to more popular inquiries such as Cambridge materials scientist Colin Humphreys’ The Miracles of Exodus. Whether or not you subscribe to these theories, they beat listening to your little cousin sing the “Four Questions.”

Those who are especially interested in the topic might also want to check out this video of Florida State Oceanographer Doron Nof explaining how the Red Sea might have parted. And if you still want to hear more about scientific explanations for the parting of the Red Sea, the ten plagues, and the burning bush, I’ll be talking about it Saturday on All Things Considered.

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