The Part­ing of the Sea: How Vol­ca­noes, Earth­quakes, and Plagues Shaped the Sto­ry of Exodus

Bar­bara J. Sivertsen
  • Review
January 9, 2012

Reach­ing the end of this book, all I could think was, this is blow­ing my mind.” Not to be over­wrought, but Bar­bara Sivertsen’s The Part­ing of the Sea rewrites the major sto­ry of the Jew­ish peo­ple, that of the Exo­dus from Egypt. Assem­bling and inter­pret­ing a dizzy­ing amount of sci­en­tif­ic mate­r­i­al, Sivert­sen doc­u­ments how earth­quakes, vol­canic erup­tions, and a tsuna­mi played key roles in estab­lish­ing Jew­ish peo­ple in the land of Canaan. She backs up the geo­log­i­cal data with metic­u­lous­ly detailed archae­o­log­i­cal evi­dence. In a book 262 pages in length, sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion begins on page 157

Spoil­er alert: The major hypoth­e­sis of Sivert­sens’ work is that the Jew­ish peo­ple did not expe­ri­ence a sin­gle exo­dus from Egypt, but rather two. The first exo­dus was aid­ed by a mas­sive vol­canic erup­tion on the island of San­tori­ni, from which spewed clouds of nox­ious gas caus­ing boils to erupt on cows and poi­son­ing the waters from which the frogs hopped. One hun­dred sev­en­ty eight years lat­er, a sec­ond exo­dus was abet­ted by a vol­canic erup­tion from the island of Yali, sling­ing a sol­dier-drown­ing tsuna­mi toward the Egypt­ian coast.

Sivertsen’s book is a schol­ar­ly and sober work. As such, the read­ing requires com­mit­ment; this is not a pop-sci­ence jaunt. How­ev­er, the effort pays off: you can’t imag­ine how the walls of Jeri­cho actu­al­ly came tum­bling down. Abbre­vi­a­tions, appen­dix, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, glos­sary, maps, notes, tables.

Discussion Questions