Comments and Replies ... and Who We Are

TANATA is devoted to discussing the paradoxes and the mysteries of life, among which is the paradox of the coexistence of good and evil. “God is love,” John tells us. Evil exists, we would suggest, not because God is detached or unconcerned, but because free will exists which is required for true, unforced love to exist. Still, it is painfully hard to reconcile this paradox. We believe that all evil one day will be judged and destroyed, until then we must pray.

DANIEL 7:13-14

13 “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.


7 Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.

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Sinai Peninsula, east

When I was a child, around 5 years old, my mother took me to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. I believe it was 1958. It remains my favorite film. I’ve never grown tired of watching it. The special effects in the exodus portion of the film were obviously unlike anything I had ever seen, and indeed they rival those of today. If you had asked me then if I believed that the God of Israel had really parted the Red Sea (and not the Sea of Reeds) and swamped the Egyptians as the Exodus story tells us, I would have been surprised by your question. “Of course it happened,” I would have said. “Otherwise the Israelites would have all died.”

If you were to ask me now, I would say the same thing, only now I have a better understanding of how it might have been accomplished, right on time, with no seconds to spare, though this theory has been heavily debated: A volcanic eruption on one of a collection of islands called  Santorini in the Aegean Sea in 1450 B.C. (some say later) is strongly believed by some Bible scholars to have been the catalyst of the force which formed a tidal wave. The exodus is believed to have occurred 1450-1477 B.C. But, of course, I would have no understanding of the geography of the Exodus until all these many years later.

(An article which appeared in The New York Times in 1985 builds the case for the Santorini-Exodus theory. But I don’t place all my trust in this explanation.)

I saw a documentary on television several years back. I do not remember the name of it, nor do I remember who made it or who narrated it, but it focused on the stretch of land pictured below, the Wadi Watir in the Gulf of Aqaba (pictured above), which hydrologically is a very unusual place. It is unusual because it is shallow in some places, much deeper in others … and there is an unusual current which cuts across it. The documentary made the case that the volcano on the Santorini island erupted which caused a tsunami, as we have said. The tidal wave originating at this island is believed to have caused the Wadi Watir currents to do what they naturally, unusually do on a much more vast scale. A massive rip tide would arguably be sufficient to draw in and drown an army. But the Santorini thesis is somewhat under assault. But, with God, nothing is impossible.

A natural explanation is fine with me. But the timing was of course supernatural! The God of Israel seems not to be a God who is into hype. He does only what needs to be done, by natural means, when things need to be done. What was most interesting about this documentary was its conclusion, when underwater cameras showed several chariot wheels on the ocean floor near the Wadi Watir … which had become encrusted with sea life over thousands of years.


BELOW: Nowhere to run or hide. God provides.


Probing 20 feet into the soil of the Nile delta, American scientists have found tiny glass fragments from a volcano that they say could lend support to a theory linking a volcanic eruption to the seemingly miraculous events associated with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Scholars for some time have tied the devastating eruption 3,500 years ago on Santorini, a Greek island also known as Thera, with legends of the lost continent of Atlantis and have cited it as a major factor in the fall of the Minoan civilization on Crete. More recently, the eruption has been invoked to explain phenomena related to the Exodus, as described in the Bible. According to this controversial theory, the ash cloud from the eruption could account for the ”deep darkness over the whole land of Egypt, even a darkness that may be felt,” and the ensuing tidal wave could have created the ”parting of the waves” that swallowed the pursuing Egyptians and allowed the Israelites to escape.

Daniel J. Stanley, a senior oceanographer at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, called the ash discovery ”a nonarcheological, hard-science proof that the effect of the volcano was felt as far away as Egypt.” This, he added, ”lent credence” to the Egyptian and biblical descriptions of a daytime darkness during the Exodus.

Dr. Stanley and Harrison Sheng, also of the National Museum, reported at a recent meeting of the Geological Society of America that they had found the ash at four widely scattered sites around Lake Manzala, near Port Said. Their analysis, they said, established the approximate age of the ash as 3,500 years and determined that the glass was virtually identical in structure and composition to debris from the eruption found near Santorini.

”They have the first evidence that vindicates me,” asserted Hans Goedicke, an Egyptologist at Johns Hopkins University who advanced the Santorini-Exodus theory four years ago.

Dr. Goedicke, chairman of the department of Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins, interpreted a royal Egyptian inscription to mean that the Exodus occurred in 1477 B.C., about 200 years earlier than had been assumed by most biblical scholars and archeoloists. Dr. Goedicke’s date could make the event coincide with the volcanic eruption and, as he said, ”verify the biblical account to an unexpected degree.”

But Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archeology Review, said the new ash findings were ”fascinating but inconclusive” as far as establishing any link between the volcano and the Exodus. He said that Dr. Goedicke had not won any ”scholarly support” for his theory, although it ”remains a possibility, of course.”

It was Dr. Goedicke’s theory that led Dr. Stanley to search for volcanic debris in core samples of sediments collected by the Egyptian Coastal Research Institute. He is working with the institute and other scientists in a study of the geologic history of the Nile delta.

After a year of painstaking work, examining several cores and hundreds of thousands of silt-sized fragments, Dr. Stanley and Mr. Sheng finally isolated 30 grains of volcanic ash that yielded the evidence they were looking for. They used a polarizing microscope to separate the volcanic glass grains, which appeared black under such examination, from the translucent non-volcanic glass. They used scanning electron microscopes and microprobes to determine the chemical composition of the glass.

Each volcano produces its own chemically distinctive ash. Fragments from the Santorini eruption, believed to have occurred sometime around 1450 B.C., had been found on Crete, 70 miles from the volcano, and on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea at least 250 miles southeast of Santorini - but never as far as the Egyptian coast 500 miles away.

”It is not surprising that the ash reached Egypt,” Dr. Stanley said in an interview. ”But the chances of finding it in sediments were very slim.”

No volcanic ash was found in sediments laid down at the time most other scholars believe the Exodus occurred, in the late 13th century B.C.

This date for the Exodus was established in part from archeological evidence that the first settlement of Palestine by Israelites seems to have occurred in about 1200 B.C. Mr. Shanks said it was difficult for historians to accept Dr. Goedicke’s conclusion that the Exodus occurred 250 to 300 years earlier because that would leave a gap of three centuries in the known record of the Israelites, from the time of their flight from Egypt to the settlement of Palestine. Some scholars even question whether the Exodus was an actual historical event.

”It’s like a lot of those could-be’s in biblical research,” Mr. Shanks said in an interview. ”You find a shroud and say it could be the shroud of Jesus. You find evidence of a flood and say it could be Noah’s flood. The same thing may be happening with the volcano and the Exodus.”

According to Dr. Goedicke’s interpretation of Egyptian inscriptions from the reign of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, a woman, the Exodus took place in the spring of 1477 along the shore of the Mediterranean. The Israelites turned to defend themselves against the pursuing Egyptian army at a plateau near Lake Manzala. The Egyptian chariots on the plain below the plateau were suddenly wiped out by a flood of water. Dr. Goedicke said this could have been a tsunami, or tidal wave, set off by the volcanic eruption on Santorini.

Dr. Goedicke said that he still held to his theory and planned to publish a scholarly account of his findings next year. And Dr. Stanley has just returned from another expedition in which he obtained more cores from the Nile delta and the western Sinai and perhaps more evidence suggesting a link between the volcano and the Exodus.