“The actual evidence concerning the Exodus resembles the evidence for the unicorn.”
That viewpoint, presented in the 1990s by professor of Jewish Studies Baruch Halpern, continues to be the mainstream academic view today in archeology. Biblical minimalism—dismissing most or all of the Old Testament as presenting historical truth—is now the norm, and any challenges to that perspective tend to be treated as revealing the biases of religious believers, usually evangelical Christians.
That’s not an entirely unfair assumption. Christians can have confidence in the historicity of the Exodus because of the testimony of Jesus; we don’t need to rely on the inexact science of archeology for confirmation. Yet it’s also true that many who do challenge the mainstream view are Christians who believe the Bible presents historical truth. If the Bible is true, then the assumption is that we are likely to eventually find confirming evidence for the events in the first books of the Bible.
So is there currently any evidence that the Exodus story actually happened? Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney spent twelve years making a documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus, that tries to answer that question. His answer: Yes, but we’ve been looking in the wrong timeframe.
The film won’t convince any Biblical minimalists, and even many Bible believers will remain skeptical. But the documentary itself is quite an achievement and worthy of consideration.
Mahoney’s “pattern of evidence” suggests the events of Exodus likely did not occur in the Egypt’s New Kingdom under Pharaoh Ramesses II. Instead, Mahoney makes the case that the modern view of the chronology of Egyptian history is off by about 200 years. Once that gap is corrected, the evidence (scarce though it may be) lines up more closely with the Biblical account.
If that description doesn’t make you want to rush to the theater, then this may not be the film for you. The languid pacing, two-hour runtime, and scenes of Egyptologists skeptically shaking their heads will bore many viewers who aren’t enthralled by Old Testament historical controversies.
Yet despite being made for a niche audience, Patterns is one of the most well-crafted documentaries released in years. Audiences have become so accustomed to seeing low production values in “Christian” films that it’s rather shocking to see a work of such high quality. Mahoney is a filmmaker of such considerable skill that it’s almost worth watching his film simply to admire the craftsmanship.
Mahoney also shows how to present a particular point of view—even a contrarian one—in a way that is fair-minded and compelling. He allows skeptics almost equal time to explain why they disagree, and though he is convinced of his findings, he never oversells the evidence. He trusts the audience enough to let us judge for ourselves what to make of the “patterns.”
As for myself, I’m intrigued though not quite convinced—at least not yet. I suspect we are overdue for a paradigm shift in archeology, and I won’t be surprised if the “new Egyptian chronology” championed by Mahoney turns out to be correct. As a layman, though, I’m hesitant to take a firm stand based on watching a single documentary. I know the events of Exodus are historical and trust that we’ll eventually become scientifically advanced enough to confirm that fact; I just don’t think we’re there yet.
Indeed, we likely won’t reach that point for decades or even centuries. But if Patterns of Evidence: Exodus is correct, we’ll get there much sooner if we not only look in the right place but also start looking in the right time.
Patterns of Evidence: Exodus will be released for a single-night showing at 650 theaters nationwide on Monday, January 19th, 2015 at 7pm, local time. The film will be preceded by a pre-show starting at 6:30 pm and will be followed by a half hour panel discussion with Fox News commentator Gretchen Carlson and featuring author Anne Graham Lotz, Eric Metaxas, Father Jonathan Morris, and Dennis Prager.. Tickets are available through Fathom Events