image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The response to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "How Did Moses Part the Red Sea? The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians" has been quite interesting.
Since its publication on December 5th, it has been the "most popular" story listed in the right-hand column for several days in a row, and only today slipped to the "second-most-popular" position. Further, the story has stirred up an often-contentious train of reader comments now over six hundred in number.
Clearly, the subject of the historicity of this story from the ancient Hebrew scripture, as well as the possible "mechanics" of this particular miracle, remains extremely compelling to many men and women to this day.
The article in question was written by Dr. Bruce Parker, former chief scientist of NOAA's National Ocean Service, now a visiting professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and author of a new book on The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters. The hypothesis he presents in his article, in short (please read his actual article for full details), is that Moses used his knowledge of the tides to spring a nature-based trap on the pursuing armies of Pharaoh:
Moses had lived in the nearby wilderness in his early years, and he knew where caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. He knew the night sky and the ancient methods of predicting the tide, based on where the moon was overhead and how full it was. Pharaoh and his advisers, by contrast, lived along the Nile River, which is connected to the almost tideless Mediterranean Sea. They probably had little knowledge of the tides of the Red Sea and how dangerous they could be.
Dr. Parker even speculates that Moses might have used the observation of the dust clouds thrown up by Pharaoh's army and their chariots, and used their progress to time his springing of the trap. He posits that Moses could have gotten all the people across to safety in advance, and then "sent a few of his best people back onto the temporarily dry sea bed to entice Pharaoh's chariots to chase them."
("It's a trap!")
As Dr. Parker is someone whose professional interests involve awareness and prediction of the powerful ebbs and flows of the sea, such an explanation would certainly seem to appeal to him, and his expertise in the area would make him capable of assessing the possibility that tides changes could have been involved. Predictably, however, his hypothesis has raised a chorus of protests from a wide variety of readers, many of them upset that he is suggesting a natural phenomenon to replace direct supernatural intervention, and many others upset at the suggestion that there is any history to the story at all, or that he is discussing the Red Sea as the body of water that Moses and the Israelites crossed in the Exodus story, rather than some other body of water such as the Nile delta.
Having just completed a series of posts arguing that critical analysis should include consideration of every possible explanation, and the examination of evidence in order to help determine which explanation best fits the evidence, I believe that Dr. Parker should be commended for offering a hypothesis and for bringing his professional knowledge and experience to bear on the question (those previous posts on the importance of analysis include "Analysis: Against mind control, for human consciousness" and "Thomas Jefferson and Immanuel Kant on reason, analysis, and mind control," plus my recent interview with Professor James Tracy of MemoryHoleBlog in which the same important subject was a topic of conversation).
While I don't believe this particular explanation is the best fit for the body of evidence available, I do not believe it should be rejected out of hand as some of the comment-writers seem to be doing, simply based on commitment to a prior dogma, whether literalistic Biblical dogma, "ideology of materialism" dogma, or some other.
I believe that it can be demonstrated that the overwhelming bulk of the evidence strongly argues that the stories of the Old Testament and New Testament are esoteric metaphors built upon the motions of the sun, moon, stars and planets through the sky, and the daily, monthly, yearly, and even multi-year cycles created by these heavenly bodies.
Previous posts have outlined the numerous, detailed points of correspondence between the celestial actors and specific stories in the Old and New Testaments, including the story of Adam and Eve, the birth in the manger and the visit of the Magi, the events foretold in Revelation chapter 9, the story of Elisha and the two she-bears, the Ark of Noah and the dove, the episode Noah's sons Shem, Ham and Japheth, the episodes in the life of Samson, the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter, the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, and many, many more.
Further, it can be demonstrated that myths from around the world also appear to follow the very same pattern of celestial metaphor!
This index lists many of those, along with links to previous posts discussing them -- and it is by no means exhaustive but merely scratches the surface of the available stories which could be examined and found to be built upon the motions of the heavens.
This evidence is absolutely astonishing. It suggests that the conventional paradigm of the ancient history of the human race may be grievously incomplete. It also suggests that the stories recorded in the Old and New Testaments -- like the sacred myths and legends from the other cultures around the globe -- are not a record of literal, historical events enacted by human actors upon the earthly terrain, but rather poetical, metaphorical, esoteric stories describing the stately motions of the majestic celestial actors upon the infinite stage of the heavens.
In other words, we do not actually need to get too narrowly-focused upon the details of Professor Parker's theory which tries to fit the events of the Red Sea crossing described in Exodus into the tidal mechanics of our terrestrial oceans and seas, if the overwhelming bulk of stories in the Bible contain abundant clues indicating that they are celestial in nature. We need not point out that the "tidal trap" theory requires the armies of Egypt to show up at almost the exact perfect moment to venture out into tidal flats and then get swallowed up by the incoming tide -- a rather unlikely scenario -- or that the region uncovered by the low tide would probably have been fairly uninviting for masses of chariots and horses in the first place. Such details do seem to argue against Dr. Parker's hypothesis, but they are actually quite tiny details once we "zoom out" to survey the much wider landscape composed of Bible story after Bible story after Bible story which each testify to their celestial foundation. To argue that this one story, the crossing of the Red Sea, was an historical event which somehow managed to be preserved in scrolls filled with celestial metaphors on either side of it as far as the eye can see would appear to be a bad fit for the majority of the evidence.
Further, the fact that we can find very compelling evidence within the Red Sea crossing narrative itself pointing to its own celestial nature provides even more conclusive proof that this crossing is a heavenly and metaphorical event, and not an earthly and historical-literal one.
In order to explore some of this evidence within the Red Sea episode, we must understand the important "zodiac wheel," which depicts the cycle of the year using the background of the twelve zodiac signs within which the sun successively appears to rise each morning on the eastern horizon as we progress throughout our annual circuit (for some visual discussion of what causes this, see the "dining room table" analogy depicted in this video I made some years back).
This annual circuit, with its backdrop of the twelve zodiac signs, is conveniently divided into four quarters by the important "station points" of the two solstices and the two equinoxes (numerous previous posts have tried to illustrate the mechanics behind these four points using various metaphors -- one metaphor I find to be helpful is the "earth-ship metaphor" described in this post).
Previous posts have already discussed the evidence that this ancient world-wide system of celestial metaphor often depicted the equinox points, where the sun's ecliptic path crosses back above the celestial equator during the day (initiating the half of the year in which days are longer than nights) and back down below the celestial equator during the day (initiating the half of the year in which days are shorter than nights) as places of sacrifice -- see for example this post, this post, and the discussion of the sacrifice or near-sacrifice of Iphigenia discussed on pages 34 through 37 in the online preview chapters from my book, The Undying Stars).
In those stories of sacrifice, which contain clues to indicate that they pertain to one or the other of the equinoxes, there is almost always a direction mentioned: the sacrifice is at a crossing going up (the spring equinox) or at a crossing going down (the fall equinox). Is it possible that the crossing of the Red Sea, in which the ancient scriptures tell us that Moses led the children of Israel up out of Egypt,* also represents an equinoctial crossing? I believe there is good evidence to suggest that this is the case.
Below is the zodiac wheel, with the two crossing points of the equinoxes marked with a red "X" at each equinox point. The horizontal dividing line separates the "lower half" of the year -- from the fall equinox through winter and then back to the spring equinox, the half of the year when days are shorter than nights -- from the "upper half" of the year, which stretches from the spring equinox up through the summer solstice and then back down to the fall equinox at the other "X":
It can be demonstrated rather conclusively that the start of the year among many ancient cultures, including the ancient Hebrews, was associated with the point of crossing of the spring equinox (the "X" located on the left side of the wheel as laid out above). Thus, the zodiac sign that metaphorically could be said to "lead" all the other signs (the zodiac sign at the "start-point" of the circular train of signs) would be the one who was "leading" across that "starting line" at the spring equinox (the "left-side X" in the diagram).
In the wheel above, which depicts the Age of Aries, that leader is the zodiac constellation of Aries the Ram (you can see that it is the first sign "above the line" at the left of the diagram, at the equinox crossing-up point).
This is the sign who leads the "children of Israel" (the other eleven signs) up "out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage." In this version of the metaphor, the lower half of the year, the wintery half of the year, the half of the year in which the forces of darkness oppress the forces of light, is allegorized as the land of Egypt, "the house of bondage." In other myths, this lower half is allegorized as Hades, or Tartaros, or Sheol, or the land of Troy in the Iliad of Homer, and many other depictions in many different cultures.
Thus, Moses can be seen as playing the role of Aries the Ram in this particular story, leading his people up out of bondage (the lower half of the wheel) and making the upward crossing at the spring equinox over to the other side, where there is much rejoicing (days once again becoming longer than nights). Further evidence to support this reading can be found later, at the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32), when Aaron the brother of Moses makes the idol of a bull-calf and tells the people that "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). Moses is furious at this declaration: Taurus the Bull is not the leader of the zodiac band: the precessional Age of Taurus preceded the Age of Aries, but it is over and now the declaration that the bull led them up out of Egypt is infuriating to Moses.
Further confirmation that this entire episode is metaphorical and based upon the zodiac wheel comes from an examination of the chariots and horsemen that the Exodus account is very careful to describe as being destroyed by the sea. The actual crossing of the Red Sea is described in Exodus 14, and in verses 18 and 19 the Egyptian army is twice described in identical terms, as consisting of "Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen," as if we are to be very clear that horses are present. But this emphasis on the host of chariots and horsemen, as the Reverend Robert Taylor (1784 - 1844) points out in his Astronomico-Theological Lectures (see especially 393-394), creates a significant problem for those who take the Exodus account as intending to depict literal terrestrial events, because in Exodus 9 just a few chapters before, God declared in no uncertain terms to Moses to tell Pharaoh that the next plague visited upon Egypt would be upon "thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep" (Exodus 9:3), and that on the next morrow "all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one" (verse 6).
It is possible, of course, to argue that the plague promised only sickened the horses of Egypt and did not kill them all, but even so it is rather astonishing to see the mighty armies of Pharaoh which pursue Moses and the children of Israel so full of chariots and horses -- unless the entire story is describing the celestial cycles involving the zodiac wheel and not a literal and historic event that took place on the earth.
Also, the following plague described in Exodus 9:19 and following -- the plague of hail -- would seem to be designed to kill off any remaining beasts from Egypt that were not killed by the previous plague just described. There, God tells Moses to have the children of Israel bring their beasts out of the fields, because when the plague of hail comes, "every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die" (Exodus 9:19). Between these two plagues, it is difficult to argue that many horses would be left in Egypt, and even if there were some left, they would hardly be in a condition to swell a mighty army to pursue Moses.
Again, however, this is only a problem if the event is not a metaphor -- and the evidence outside of this story, from many, many other stories within the Bible itself and from myth around the globe all argue that it is.
Now, we might ask ourselves: if the event actually is a heavenly metaphor, then why would there be such an emphasis upon there being horses and chariots in the army that is "left behind" to be buried at the bottom of the sea, when the children of Israel led by Moses "cross over" (or up) to the other side?
Following the analysis of Robert Taylor, I believe the answer can be found if we look again at the zodiac wheel, and at the very bottom of the lower half of the year (the half which I believe -- in this particular metaphorical telling -- represents the oppressive forces of Pharaoh) you will see the sign of Sagittarius, positioned at one side of the winter solstice point, the very lowest point on the entire zodiac wheel.
Sagittarius is a horseman, and archer (sometimes a centaur) -- and just as the Ram is crossing up over the horizontal line towards the "promised land" of longer days and the rule of light over darkness, Sagittarius is left below at the very bottom of the year: in fact, at the very bottom of the sea.
Further support for this interpretation is provided by the actions of Miriam the sister of Aaron, after the safe crossing is accomplished. In Exodus 15:20 and following, we are told that she "took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dances," and sang that the LORD had triumphed gloriously, and "the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea" (Exodus 15:20 - 21). The text is here giving us a very strong hint that Miriam in this case is played by the important zodiac constellation of Virgo, whose constellation actually includes a faint circular disc of stars which is allegorized in ancient myth in many ways, but sometimes as a "timbrel" or "tambourine" (see discussion here).
If you look again at the zodiac wheel, you can see why Miriam is the one who "answers" the song of Moses (also presented in Exodus 15): she is the other constellation located "just above the line" which separates the "upper half" of the year from the "lower half," if she is indeed associated with the constellation Virgo (as her timbrel indicates that she is). If you look at the zodiac wheel diagram, you will see Virgo located across the wheel, just above the horizontal line and just before the "X" on the right-hand side of the diagram as we look at it on the page. Thus, she and Moses are "above" the line (they have "crossed the Red Sea," and escaped from Egypt) -- and both of them are glorying in the fact that the "horse and his rider" are "cast down" in the depths, below the line. They are almost certainly referring to Sagittarius in these verses.
Thus, I believe that the efforts to try to find "natural" explanations for the events of Exodus, including this episode of the crossing of the Red Sea, are misguided. In fact, the Greek philosopher Plato made much the same argument against the kind of explanations that Dr. Parker is pursuing in the article mentioned above, in the dialogue known as the Phaedrus (circa 360 BC).
In that dialogue, Plato has Socrates gently ridicule such efforts to use natural phenomenon such as unusual weather in trying to explain the myths (in this case, of course, Socrates discusses Greek myth and not Hebrew scripture). And, in doing so, Socrates also drops a hint as to what these celestial metaphors are actually to be used for instead.
In the Phaedrus, as discussed in this previous post, the young Phaedrus is walking with Socrates along the banks of the river Ilissus, and Phaedrus asks: "Tell me, Socrates, isn't it somewhere about here that they say Boreas seized Orithyia from the river?" Phaedrus then presses the question further, and gets to what he really means to ask, which is: "pray tell me, Socrates, do you believe that story to be true?"
Socrates gives a most revealing answer:
I should be quite in the fashion if I disbelieved it, as the men of science do. I might proceed to give a scientific account of how the maiden, while at play with Pharmacia, was blown by a gust of Boreas down from the rocks hard by, and having thus met her death was said to have been seized by Boreas, though it may have happened on the Areopagus, according to another version of the occurrence. For my part, Phaedrus, I regard such theories as no doubt attractive, but as the invention of clever, industrious people who are not exactly to be envied, for the simple reason that they must then go on and tell us the real truth about the appearance of centaurs and the Chimera, not to mention a whole host of such creatures, Gorgons and Pegasuses and countless other remarkable monsters of legend flocking in on them. If our skeptic, with his somewhat crude science, means to reduce every one of them to the standard of probability, he'll need a deal of time for it. I myself have certainly no time for the business, and I'll tell you why, my friend. I can't as yet 'know myself,' as the inscription at Delphi enjoins, and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters. Consequently I don't bother about such things, but accept the current beliefs about them, and direct my inquiries, as I have just said, rather to myself [. . .]. From the translation of Reginald Hackforth (1887 - 1957), found in this edition of Collected Dialogues, page 478.
Note that Socrates, in Plato's telling of it, offers up a theory that he imagines might be current among "clever, industrious people who are not exactly to be envied" and who are in fact wasting their time. Instead, Socrates says it is better to just accept the stories and concentrate on the enjoinder of the famous inscription of Delphi: "Know thyself."
I believe it is entirely possible that this is Plato's way of telling us that the actual message and purpose of the myths is to help us to pursue that very command from the temple at Delphi: "Know thyself." The message of the myths has to do with understanding who we are, a curious mixture of spirit and matter, like stars cast down from the proper realm above (the spirit realm) to be plunged into this "underworld" of incarnation in the physical and material realm of earth and water (imprisoned in bodies of "clay," as Genesis describes it). This is the "house of bondage" below the horizontal line of the zodiac wheel, where we toil towards the point of ascent again into those "upper realms."
And, as we do so, we are in fact "crossing the Red Sea" -- we are toiling along as spirit-sparks encased inside a material body: a material body animated by the pumping tides of our own internal Red Sea. Alvin Boyd Kuhn elaborates on this interpretation at great length in his 1940 masterpiece, Lost Light.
This, at least according to Plato and Socrates, may be the real message of this story -- and naturalistic explanations involving "gusts of wind" may be superficially attractive, but ultimately they lead us off the trail. Unfortunately, this is what I suspect Socrates might say about the theory of Dr. Parker.
However, if we read the final lines of Dr. Parker's article in a more metaphorical sense, rather than the apparently literal sense in which they are written, perhaps they contain a profound message for us after all. He says: "If the tide was indeed involved in Moses' 'parting' of the Red Sea, it has to qualify as the most dramatic and consequential tide prediction in history."
In fact, Alvin Boyd Kuhn would argue that this "crimson tide" does indeed qualify as "the most dramatic and consequential" concept of them all, for he says:
It can indeed be said that the one sure and inerrant key to the Bibles is the simple concept of fire plunging into water, the fire being spiritual mind-power and water being the constituent element of physical bodies, -- as well as the symbol of matter. Soul (spirit) as fire, plunged down into body, as water, and therein had its baptism. Hence soul's incarnation on earth was endlessly depicted and dramatized as its crossing a body of water, a Jordan River, Styx River, Red Sea, Reed Sea. Since the water element of human bodies is the "sea" which the soul of fire has to cross in its successive incarnations, and it is red in color, the "Red Sea" of ancient Scriptures is just the human body blood. Esoteric Structure of the Alphabet and Its Hidden Mystical Language, 20.
And so, although this Red Sea is "just" the human body blood, it is indeed the "most dramatic and consequential tide" of them all, and the question of the meaning of this "crossing of the Red Sea" is the question of the meaning of our human existence here in these material bodies! And that is indeed a question that merits the kind of intense attention that this article by Bruce Parker has been getting this week, and that the question of the crossing of the Red Sea has commanded for millennia.
* Examples of verses in which the motion of the children of Israel out of Egypt is described as a motion up abound in the scriptures: see for example Numbers 32:11 ("Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt . . ."), Amos 2:10 ("Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness . . ."), and Joshua 24:17 ("For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . .).