Movie "Patterns of Evidence" Mainstreams Early Date of Exodus
A new documentary “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” undergirds the early date for the Exodus affirmed by conservative Bible scholars.
Tim Mahoney’s documentary “Patterns of Evidence” was shown January 19th at selected theaters across the United States. Twelve years in the making, the film looks at how six essential events of the Exodus story (migration of Hebrews into Egypt, their expansion, their enslavement, the plagues, the sudden escape, and the conquest of Canaan) fall into sequence or pattern with strong archaeological support – provided scholars are willing to question the traditional dating. By moving the pattern approximately 200 years earlier into the Middle Kingdom period, the data fit remarkably well. Archaeologists, historians and Bible scholars from a variety of perspectives are interviewed, leaving the viewer with plenty of arguments and evidence to evaluate the historicity of the Bible account.
After the special showing, a pre-recorded 30-minute panel discussion, hosted by Gretchen Carlson, played onscreen featuring Jonathan Morris, Anne Graham Lotz, Eric Metaxas and Dennis Prager before a live audience, giving their impressions of the film. Our review follows.
One thing should be noted right away: this is not new. The early date for the Exodus has been argued for decades by conservative Bible scholars who take I Kings 6:1 seriously, which dates the building of the Temple by Solomon at 480 years after the Israelites left Egypt. There’s no way that could put the Exodus in the time of Rameses II ~1250 BC, the “accepted” date among secular scholars and Hollywood movie makers. Mahoney does a good job of showing how the “late date” of 1250 BC is merely a bias accepted uncritically by secular scholars, primarily based on Exodus 1:11 that mentions the Hebrew slaves building Pharoah’s store cities, Pithom and Raamses. Scholars have assumed that passage implies Ramesis II was the pharoah of the Exodus. Evidence for an earlier city, though, named Avaris with extensive Semitic habitation, primarily shepherds, is strong. David Rohl (an agnostic who nevertheless believes in the historicity of the Exodus story) explains to Mahoney that the name used in Exodus 1:11 is an anachronism written by a later editor for the sake of readers who would have been familiar with Raamses but not with the earlier city name.
What the film achieves is giving a wider visibility to the conservative view. Mahoney presents himself as a seeker who wants to know for the sake of his own faith whether the events described in the Bible are true. He interviews notable scholars on both sides, from Israel Finkelstein the skeptic, to Hoffmeier the centrist, to Bryant Wood the conservative, and a number of others. Each has their say and is presented in a respectable light, Dennis Prager notes in the panel, so that the viewer gets to hear all sides. It remains to be seen if this effective presentation of the early date will gain traction among scholars and archaeologists. Prager has doubts it will. If God wrote a message in the clouds in all the languages of the world, he quips, nothing would change. Other panelists agree that the power of unbelief and tradition in academia is hard to change, especially when their careers and books depend on the traditional interpretation. We might compare it to the evidence of dinosaur soft tissue that, so far, has not forced evolutionary paleontologists to reconsider the dates of dinosaur extinction. Prager’s greatest delight, he quipped (getting chuckles from the audience) was to see the smugness of experts challenged.
The evidence Mahoney musters is compelling even without the interviews. Strong evidence of a Semitic population prospering in the region, then suffering hardship, then leaving suddenly and appearing later in Canaan as an established people with the name “Israel” is hard to dismiss. Some pieces of the pattern, like whether a particular tomb in the Avaris dig is the tomb of Joseph, may require more critical analysis. One particularly tantalizing piece of evidence is a manuscript in the University of Leiden, the Ipuwer Papyrus, that seems to describe the plagues as an eyewitness account, but this is denied by the “expert” Egyptologists who claim there are contradictions as well as parallels. Perhaps the film will motivate more study of this document.
A running theme is the unwarranted bias of skeptics. Whether Finkelstein, or Rabbi Wolpe (interviewed by Michael Medved) or the curator at the museum of Leiden, all of them are shown to be dismissive of the Bible in spite of the evidence, primarily because they presuppose the Exodus occurred late, where no evidence for it exists. The Ipuwer Papyrus is dismissed out of hand by the curator because it is “far too early” for the events described in the Bible. The fall of Jericho and other Canaanite cities is dismissed by some archaeologists because there is no evidence of conquest in the assumed late date of Joshua. The patterns fit beautifully, Mahoney shows, if the dates are moved back 200 years. The audience chuckles when the skeptics try to claim that it doesn’t matter if the stories are true, because their spiritual meaning lives on. Mahoney lets the interviews and the evidence itself expose the anti-intellectual bias.
Production-wise, the film’s quality is solid. A variety of camera angles, B-roll site shots and interviews, both seated and standing, keep viewer interest. The editing is well paced. The music works. Well-designed animations help viewers understand the chronological issues. Clips from Cecil B. DeMille’s epics are woven in. The Passover is described well. Overall, though, the imagery has a dark aspect; there are no vivid colors, but instead, a predominance of high-contrast images and shadows.
As far as it goes, Patterns of Exodus succeeds in arousing interest in the historicity of the Exodus and making a compelling case for the early date, without being pushy or dogmatic. A notable omission is evidence for the Red Sea crossing. This omission makes Questar’s documentary Exodus Revealed: Search for the Red Sea Crossing (2002) a good companion film. Actually, Exodus Revealed (produced by the same people who do the Illustra films) preceded Mahoney’s approach by 13 years, using “patterns of evidence” to build a case for the historicity of the Exodus (settlement, escape, conquest at an early date), using some of the very same evidence presented by Mahoney. It has the added benefit of providing evidence for the Red Sea crossing and an alternative site for Mt. Sinai. In that light, Exodus Revealed may offer the more complete case (be sure to see the longer “Director’s Cut” version), whereas Patterns of Evidence had better marketing. Our theater was packed. The panelists all praised it highly. The ending showed that a book accompanies the film; the website advertises pre-orders for a DVD. It remains to be seen what Mahoney will do next to get his message out. We can expect a skeptical backlash, too; don’t think for a minute that the skeptics will watch this documentary and say, “Well, what do you know; we were wrong.”
The panelists agreed that one cannot have a reliable faith if the Bible stories are myths. Anne Graham Lotz considered unbelief in the Exodus story as a falling domino that topples the rest of the Bible, undermining the Passover, the Old Testament, the redemption of the “Lamb of God” Jesus Christ, and the New Testament epistles. You can’t pick and choose what Biblical narratives are factual and which are mythological, she argued. Prager said that the two pillars of Judaism are Creation and the Exodus. Would that the panelists would expand that theme (arguing for the historicity of these accounts) to the Flood accounts, too. It’s doubtful that any of the panelists are ready to accept a global flood, with a real Noah and a real ark bearing the only surviving humans and land animals not that long ago (certainly not millions of years ago). But on what basis would they deny the same argument they garnered to support the truth of creation and the Exodus? We hope that Patterns of Evidence starts a trend back toward viewing the Bible as a reliable history source, and send a new generation of truth seekers looking for the patterns of evidence that support all of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the Flood. The evidence is there; what may be lacking is the courage to muster it against the wrath and fury that would certainly result from challenging academia’s idols: Darwin and millions of years.