Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wind could have split Red Sea, scientist says

The parting of the Red Sea is one of the many miracles described in the Bible and a spectacular feat of early special effects in the 1956 Hollywood epic The Ten Commandments. But now a Christian engineer claims to have proved the phenomenon has a basis in science.

Carl Drews, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, used computer modelling techniques to show that a strong east wind could have pushed the waters in Egypt back far enough to create a land bridge, as is described in the Book of Exodus.

According to the Bible, Moses and the Israelites were able to escape Egypt from the pursuing Pharaoh's army after the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds, miraculously parts before them.

The research paper, published in the peer-reviewed online journal Public Library of Science, found that when strong winds of about 63km/h blew on a specific body of water for an extended period, it could theoretically cause the water to tilt and recede from the original shoreline, leaving exposed mud flats on the bottom.

"The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus," Mr Drews said.

"The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."

On his website,, Mr Drews says he is a "Christian who accepts the scientific theory of evolution" and "miracles recorded by the Bible", including the Red Sea, "seem to have a natural component."


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Does a Bible proverb recommend the political Right?

Solomon the Wise was much inclined to proverbs and, as a consequence, the Book of Proverbs in the Bible is usually attributed to him. And I have no doubt that some of the better proverbs there were indeed his work.

But there are also proverbs in that most unusual book of the Bible: Ecclesiastes. And I think the attribution of that book to Solomon is not in serious dispute.

Chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes contains a rapid-fire sequence of proverbs and one that has amused me lately is in verse 2. The NIV translates it, perhaps mischievously as:

"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left."

It would be tempting to take that as a political statement and I do in fact put it up in the sidebar of my DISSECTING LEFTISM blog for a bit of fun. In fact, of course, Solomon was writing around 3,000 years before political divisions came to be referred to in Right/Left terms

So what does it mean? Probably the most literal translation from the Hebrew is: "The heart of the wise is at his right hand but the heart of the stupid is at his left hand". And the King James and the Geneva Bible versions render it along those lines too.

So what does it mean? The meaning is certainly obscure today so I thought I might look up how it was interpreted a couple of hundred years before Christ in the Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek done by 70 devout Jewish scholars in Alexandria). But it looks like they were no wiser than anybody else. They translated the Hebrew word for "heart" quite routinely as kardia, right as dexios and left as aristeros, which tells us nothing new.

I have looked at a number of other translations in the search for light and I have also consulted my extensive library of Bible commentaries without finding much either. So I suppose it is time to offer my own tentative suggestion: I suspect that it means that a wise man goes by reason whereas a fool goes by emotion. And, by coincidence, that is a pretty good summary of the difference between the political Right and Left of modern times.

How do I justify that translation? Only on rather vague grounds, unfortunately: It has long been a tradition in human societies, ancient and modern, to use "left" in a derogatory way. The Latin word for left is sinister and we all know what that word means today. And reason has always had a better reputation than emotion. Not a strong case but at least it makes SOME sense.

Someone might argue, however, that Hebrew is written from right to left, which suits left-handed people best and the tribe of Benjamin is praised in the Bible for its left-handed warriors (though the Septuagint translates them as ambidextrous warriors). So one could argue that Left-handedness was not viewed so negatively in Hebrew. To argue that is to lose sight of the text at issue, however. Solomon clearly associated left-handedness with fools.

Curiously, however, the ancient Greeks seem to have had a positive view of Left-handers. aristeros is a variant of aristos, meaning "best".

I write above from the viewpoint of a textual scholar but a religious person might reasonably see the matter quite differently. If such a person believes that the Bible was written by God, who is all-knowing, he could well see the text as a prophetic warning from God to avoid the political Left of today.