Navigating the “Patterns of Evidence” for the Biblical Exodus

patterns-of-evidence-the-exodus

Today in select theaters, the fascinating documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus will be showing across the country. The film will explore the question of the historical Exodus. Is it just the stuff of myth and legend? Or, did it really happen?

The public at large has always been fascinated, even intrigued by the stories in the Bible. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible has had a profound effect on American politics and culture, not to mention all of Western Civilization itself!

It seems that even Hollywood has rediscovered the epic stories found in the Bible, even if they don ‘t portray them exactly as they are recorded in the biblical text. The latest installment was Daniel Arnofsky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses.

This most recent film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, however, is unlike other movies about the Bible because it actually explores the question of whether or not the Exodus actually happened, and what archaeological and historical evidence, if any, exists for it.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, follows the journey of filmmaker Tim Mahoney as a “crisis of faith” leads him to explore whether the events in the Bible (specifically the Exodus) are myth, and whether they were historical events that really happened.

Mahoney states,“I didn’t go with a preconceived conclusion, but I was willing to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as we searched for the truth,” He said. “I went to the top people in the world and said, ‘Tell me what you know about this story and what does the archaeology tell you.’ I talked with both sides – people who can’t see any evidence for Exodus and people who see the evidence. It became a balanced approach.”[1]

So, instead of assuming the truth of the Exodus story, Mahoney traveled around the world interviewing scholars from various theological and philosophical backgrounds to compare and contrast what is said about the evidence for the Exodus, pro and con.

As can be seen from the trailer, the film explores the evidence and arguments for and against the historical Exodus, by some of the best spokesmen for each view. Unlike most documentaries, such as those the History Channel and Discovery Channel, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus presents each view in a fair and balanced way, and allows scholars to present their case. Ultimately, it lets the viewer decide which view has the best evidence.

The list of interviewees includes archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) whose view of the historical Exodus is highly skeptical, based on his understanding of the archaeological record.

There are a host of other scholars and archaeologists who appear on the film besides Finkelstein, including James K. Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Egyptologist Manfred Bietak (University of Vienna), John Bimson (Trinity College, Bristol), David Rohl (Egyptologist, Author), Kent Weeks (Egyptologist, Theban Mapping Project), Rabbi David Wolpe (Rabbi at Sinai Temple, Author), and Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research), just to name a few!

How does one navigate the various views which are presented in the film? It has been said that if there are three archaeologists in a room together, there are at least five or six opinions between them!

The Bottom Line: DATING!

(Spoiler alert: I’m about to state the main point of contention in the film! In reality, it won’t spoil it for you, but hopefully help clarify the main idea better!)

First, I’d like to make a blanket statement, regardless of where one stands on the biblical Exodus:

The Exodus and Conquest stand or fall together. The two are inextricably linked. If there was an historical Exodus, then there should also be an Israelite conquest into Canaan approximately four decades after the Exodus. This is important because if either can be established on historical and archaeological grounds, then the patterns of evidence will begin to emerge for both.

In previous blogs on CrossExamined.org I have stated this in other contexts and articles, but most, if not all debates within Old Testament archaeology are over dating. Even agnostic archaeologist, Willam Dever’s book What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, attests to the importance of dating.

Where there is a biblical event in which it is difficult, if not impossible to establish a date – this is called an anachronism. The word stems from the Greek, meaning ἀνά ana, “against” and χρόνος khronos, “time” – (or a chronological inconsistency).

Many years ago, a brilliant scholar named Edwin R. Thiele wrote a truly groundbreaking book on reconciling the dates and reigns of the Hebrew kings in the Old Testament with the dates & reigns of other Ancient Near Eastern Kings, such as those of Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. His book was titled, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1951).

In chapter 1 Thiele correctly observed that,

Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation [i.e. Israel] must be grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of the neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world. [2]

In this film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, much of the discussion surrounds chronology and dating – and in reality – it is the KEY to seeing to understanding and seeing the patterns of evidence for the Exodus.

I’ve written several articles which explore the patterns of evidence talked about in the film in much more detail. Click on the links below to learn more about where we think the best evidence lies.

I’ll be “up front” here and state, that based on historical and archaeological evidence, that I believe Dr. Bryant Wood’s view on the Exodus is most consistent with the biblical record as well as with the archaeological and historical patterns. Both Wood and John Bimson argue for a revised biblical chronology based on archaeological evidence. Others in the film, argue against chronological revisionism (James K. Hoffmeier and Israel Finkelstein), however, if the chronology is not revised, then essentially there is no evidence for the Exodus and Conquest.

Of course, you’ll need to watch the film, listen to the arguments and decide for yourself.

As an associate and archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research, I can also state that I also have firsthand knowledge of excavating at the biblical site of Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel, which is the site of the biblical, Canaanite city of Ai which was destroyed by Joshua (recorded in Joshua 7-8) – additional evidence for the historical reliability of the Biblical record.

The following is a list of articles that I have written in the past which dig a little deeper into these questions (complete with footnotes & sources).

Articles Which Dig Deeper into “Patterns of Evidence” for the Exodus

  1. The Challenge to the Old Testament & Responding to the Challenge 
  1. The Biblical Patriarchs: Myth or Legend?
  1. The Date of the Exodus and the Archaeological Evidence
  1. Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
  1. The Conquest of Ai

One final word about the importance and significance of the Exodus.

If we think of the New Testament and the Gospels as the top of a tree with branches and leaves and fruit, then the bottom of the tree (the Old Testament) is anchored to the ground with roots that go deep and bring the tree life-giving water. Without the roots, the leaves and the branches would have no life and no truth to them.

Jesus died on Passover for a reason. The phrase “Jesus came to set the captives free” is not just symbolism, it is grounded in a real event in history.

The Exodus is vitally important to the religion of both Jews and Christians alike. It should rightfully be defended as being grounded in truth and reality.

 

 

[1]http://www.wnd.com/2015/01/statue-of-bibles-joseph-discovered/

[2] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, New Revised Edition (Grand Rapid: Kregel Publications, 1983), p. 33.

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