Geology Home Page physical geology historical geology planetary gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Ashley Forbes
Proving the Exodus
Because of the manner in which volcanoes brought destruction and the
geographical mass which they covered, they have always been feared, and not
without cause. Some were awed by them and worshipped them as gods, while others
considered them to be the result of a god’s wrath. While, in today’s view, this
theory is mocked as mere superstition and mythological in origin, there could be
cause to speculate the mere chance of natural disasters such as volcanoes not
being divinely used. For example, the eruption of Santorini had, according to
Greek myth, been a punishment from the gods, which, of course, has no scientific
or realistic application. However, some archeologists have controversially
connected the event to the ten plagues as well as the parting of the Red Sea.
Santorini, which is geographically located in the Mediterranean Sea,
is thought to have been so large and catastrophic that “Geologists
judge the eruption as far more violent than the 1883 eruption of the volcanic
island of Krakatoa in Indonesia, which killed more than 36,000” (B.). The
Santorini caldera islands’ “collapse of the centre of a circular
island caused by the emptying of the magma chamber during an eruption” (Flikr)
and was thus sizably reduced by the 1500 B.C. eruption.
It is also claimed by archeologists that “the
eruption was even more powerful than once believed” (Vergano). In fact, some
say that it is the largest recorded eruption over the last couple thousand years
(Flikr). The remains if volcanic rock from the eruption surrounding the
islands cover five hundred and thirty square miles on the ocean floor and two
hundred and sixty square miles along the coast (Vergano). The Santorini pumice
rock, found all over the Mediterranean, most “likely rode across the ocean waves
at the time of the eruption, a superheated ‘pyroclastic’ wave” (Vergano).
Because of the size of the eruption, it would have affected the climate of the
Mediterranean, and possibly the world, causing “earthquakes, ashfall, tsunamis,
and worldwide climatic effects such as volcanic winters” (Flikr).
However, since there are no present witnesses and scarce historical records of
the actual event, the true affects of the natural disaster and still questioned
and debated upon.
Like with all archeological disputes, controversy begins with dates.
In order for the Santorini eruption to coincide with the event found in the
Exodus, the dates must correctly align. The dating of both events has been under
much debate and archeological, as well and geological, disagreement. In fact, it
would seem as though no one can come to any common understanding. Whie the
Santorini eruption is said to have occurred anywhere from c. 1500 B.C. to c.
1600 B.C., The dating for the Exodus ranges from c. 1270 B.C. to c. 1500 B.C.
(“Exodus Decoded”). Although many would disagree, much support has been conjured
to conclude that both events occurred simultaneously, dating them at 1500 B.C.,
though most carbon dating scientists say that the eruption occurred at an
earlier period (Vergano). Although the debate will continue to wage, if this
theory is correct, then the story found in the Bible can only be given more
acknowledgment by the academic world.
As Simcha Jacobivici claims in “The Exodus Decoded,” as do other archeologists and scientists, the plagues of Egypt brought down by God in the Bible are likely to have been caused and are explained by the Santorini eruption. The first plague of Egypt, water turning to blood, can be scientifically explained as trapped gas released into the water. Exodus 7:20-21 says,
so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the
smote the waters that [were] in the
the sight of
and in the sight of his
and all the waters that [were] in the
[was] in the
stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the
throughout all the
The Nile is geographically located along a crisscrossed fault-line. As has
happened before, when gas is trapped beneath a fault-line, it usually escapes in
the event of an earthquake, causing high concentrations of iron and rust to turn
water red and a lack of oxygen. This single event would cause fish to die and
react as a stepping stone for many of the other plagues, including frogs, which
must get out of the water for survival due to lack of oxygen, lice, flies, an
epidemic, and boils (“Exodus Decoded”). The seventh plague, hail-fire, (Exodus
9:18) On an Egyptian stele by Pharaoh Ahmose it says,
"the sky rained,” which was an extremely rare event in ancient Egypt, and could quite possibly indicate a rainstorm” (Flikr). However, looking closely at the surrounding descriptions, such as darkness and earthquakes and fire, makes one question that the storm spoken of is more than a mere rainstorm or, as some would believe, a figure of speech. In fact, Egyptologists such as Zahi Hawass claim that ash-hail was one of the side affects of the Santorini eruption (Morrison). The next plague, darkness, “could have been the resulting volcanic winter, and the hail the large chunks of ejecta spewn from the volcano”
In the Bible, after the last plague of Egypt had caused Pharaoh to set the Israelites free, the last miracle to be cause by the Santorini eruption is the parting of the Red Sea, or, as some have suggested, Reed Sea:
"Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to
go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land,
and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into midst of the
sea on dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand on
their left. (Exodus 14: 21-22)"
Because it is said to have caused “a 35 to 150 m high tsunami that devastated the north coast of Crete, 110 km (70 mi) away” (Flikr), it is safe to assume that, because of its magnitude, that it also caused a tsunami to hit Egypt during that time. According National Geographic:
"The tsunami that resulted from the Thera eruption is also speculated to have caused the parting of the sea that allowed the Israelites, under Moses, safe passage of the Red Sea, possibly devastating the Egyptian army with the returning wave. The archaeologists also theorize that the volcano created a giant tsunami that swept the lava all the way to Egypt. (Morrison)"
Yam Suf, translated Reed Sea, is most likely the place in which the Israelites crossed over, though this is a new concept and under much speculation. The translation of the words “Red” and “Reed” are often confused due to their similarity, causing early translations of the Bible to mix the words. The Reed Sea, which was once much more sizable in depth and width, was once a connection between the Elbala, a fresh body of water, and the Mediterranean, a salt- based body of water (“Exodus Decoded”). The tsunami would have separated both bodies, causing a splitting, or parting. Thus, giving scientific claim to the event.
Although the arguments made for the Santorini eruption are strong, as with almost all ancient scientific assumptions will never be fully proven, nor full agreed upon. Nonetheless, as long as the dating between the two events are simultaneous, there are strong grounds for biblical accuracy of the event. Using geology, archeology, and biology to prove the Bible neither discredits it as a miracle, nor puts to question divine authority. It merely explains the event in a way that is cohesive and comprehendible to man.
“Exodus Decoded.” History Channel. Dir. Simch Jacobovici. Perfs.
James Cameron. 2006. Television.
Morrison, Dan. “Ancient Egyptian Cities Leveled by Massive Volcano, Lava Find
Suggests.” National Geographic. 2 Apr. 2007. Nov. 23 2009.
Vergano, Dan. “Ye Gods! Ancient Volcano Could Have Blasted Atlantis Myth.”
22 Nov. 2009. 27 Aug. 2006.