Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus explains how abundant archaeological evidence supports the historical truth of the biblical Exodus. Dramatizations ranging from the recent film Exodus: Gods and Kings to Cecil B. DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments have offered artistic interpretations of the biblical account. This high quality documentary produced by Tim Mahoney of Thinking Man Films is,1 in this writer’s opinion, every bit as enjoyable and dramatic as the fictionalized adaptations featuring Christian Bale or Charlton Heston. Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus takes us on the producer’s quest to discover the truth about this pivotal event memorialized in everything from the solemn Jewish Passover celebration to thriller novels and decades of cinematic endeavors.
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus asks whether evidence affirms that the ancient Hebrews’ flight from slavery really happened, and—spoiler alert!—shows that it does. The documentary examines the patterns of evidence that help place not just their post-plague departure and Red Sea crossing in history but also the surrounding events. After all, if Moses really led the Hebrews out of Egypt to cement their identity as God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6–7, 9:29) and create for them a nation to preserve His Word (Romans 3:2) and serve the divine messianic plan for the world (John 1:11–14, 3:16–18), then it is reasonable to look for patterns of evidence supporting the chronological episodes that set up this pivotal event as well as evidence for its aftermath. The film therefore focuses on the historical footprints of Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph’s descent into Egypt as a slave, his rise to power as a pharaoh’s vizier, the shift of wealth that occurred in Egypt under Joseph’s administration during a protracted and devastating famine, the emigration and establishment of Joseph’s extended family in Egypt, the enslavement of the Hebrew people, the ten plagues and Red Sea catastrophe that wrecked Egypt’s economy and army making the nation vulnerable to invasion by the Hyksos, as well as the subsequent conquest of Canaan by the nation of Israel under the direction of Joshua.
A Film for All People
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus is a historical documentary, not a sermon. Although it was produced by a Christian to chronicle his investigation of the historicity of an event theologically very important in the Christian faith, it is not a “Christian film” per se. Three of history’s most relevant religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—memorialize the Exodus of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt under the leadership of Moses and base much of their teachings in the historicity of Abraham and Moses.
The existence of archaeological evidence for the biblical Exodus runs contrary to the claims of both atheists and many Judeo-Christian “experts.” After the 1950s, when many archaeologists began to question the historical accuracy of the Exodus, many religious leaders jumped on the skeptical bandwagon with atheists. They began to consider the Bible a sort of divine fairy tale, albeit a theologically important one teaching “truths” even though it supposedly was not actually “true” or trustworthy.
The historical account recorded by Moses . . . is foundational to the Christian faith.
And since the historical account recorded by Moses thousands of years ago in the world’s first real “history book”—as the film calls the Mosaic writings in the Old Testament—is foundational to the Christian faith, the faith-strengthening answers in this film are a needful addition to our arsenal of answers (1 Peter 3:15), equipping Christians young and old with a shield and sword to confront the claims of those skeptical of biblical history.
An Essential Foundation
The dramatic account of the events that led to the founding of the nation of Israel is recorded in the Old Testament, but its historical accuracy is a vital underpinning of the New Testament. If the biblical account of the Exodus and surrounding events were not historically factual, then Jesus the infallible Son of God as well as the New Testament writers would have erred when they spoke of those events as historically factual.
Jesus repeatedly refers to Mosaic history and law. For example, in Matthew 8:4 he commands the leprous man he healed to “offer the gift that Moses commanded you, as a testimony to them.” In Matthew 19:7–8 He asks, “Why then did Moses command . . . ?” and answers, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you . . .” as He reconciled God’s hatred of divorce (Malachi 2:16–17) with the existence of laws making it possible. To illustrate how the Jewish leaders had twisted God’s Word and made it ineffectual (Mark 7:13), Jesus began with “For Moses said . . .” (Mark 7:10). Explaining His identity and mission to Nicodemus, Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Jesus referred in John 7:19 to the presentation of God’s Ten Commandments through Moses: “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?” Jesus recalled the historical giving of manna in the wilderness: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Jesus recalled the re-establishment of the rite of circumcision under Moses: “Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers)” (John 7:22). The writer of the Gospel of John explained, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus told the Pharisees that if they really believed what Moses wrote they would believe in Him: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words” (John 5:46–47).
The Place of Evidence and Presuppositions
While the historical reality of the Exodus as recorded by Moses in God’s Word is important, the fact of its reality does not rest on the existence of evidence outside the Bible. While external evidence in support of the historicity of this important event should bolster the faith of Bible-believers and remove stumbling blocks to faith for many, absence of archaeological evidence should not be a deal-killer for faith in the facts as presented in the Bible.
Absence of evidence should not be a deal-killer for faith in the facts as presented in the Bible.
We should here interject the question: What if there were no evidence of the Exodus? The film takes a “devils’ advocate” approach, introducing the prevailing skepticism among scholars. Both the film and the book of the same name give ear to many scholars, archaeologists, politicians, and theologians who deny the biblical Exodus ever happened or at least that any evidence exists.2 The movie approaches the topic of evidence from the skeptic’s point of view for the benefit of a secular audience lacking biblical presuppositions—a baseline faith in the truth of God’s Word. This approach is also suitable for those who, as the website for the film mentions, are suffering a “crisis of faith.”3
Unfortunately, the resulting narrative could leave some viewers wondering whether the filmmaker’s Christian faith would be overturned if the evidence were not found. Filmmaker Timothy Mahoney states that he believed the stories of the Old Testament as a child but as an adult was challenged and now “just wanted to know the truth.” He said, “I know some people say you don’t need any evidence; just take it by faith. But if there’s no hard evidence for any of it, had I been believing in a lie?” Much of the film is even narrated by skeptic Michael Medved. Despite the soul-searching concerns expressed in the movie—concerns that Mahoney says led him to keep digging for the evidence and to make the film—Mahoney, a Christian, states repeatedly in his book about the project, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”4
The biblical Exodus is not the first biblical event decried for lack of evidence by popular scholars before corroborating evidence emerged from the sands of time. For example, many scholars have denied the existence of the biblical King David because no written archaeological record had been found attesting to his existence. Then in 1993 an Aramean inscription, probably written about a century and a half after David’s death by Israel’s enemy Hazael, was found to contain a reference to his victory over a member of “the house of David.”5
Another excellent example of how trust in God’s Word can guide archaeological endeavors is the case of the Hittites. In fact, it is the discovery of the Hittites that eventually toppled trust in the secular dates traditionally assigned to Egyptian chronology! The Old Testament refers to the Hittites. According to 2 Kings 7:6, during Elisha’s lifetime the Hittites were as formidable as Egypt. Yet there was a time when, having no physical evidence of the Hittites’ existence, skeptical scholars claimed the Hittites were mythical creations of those who penned the Old Testament. Then Irish missionary William Wright decided to take God at His Word and search them out. Wright believed that the inscriptions he found “would show that a great people, called the Hittites in the Bible, but never referred to in classic history, had once formed a mighty empire in that region.”6 Eventually discrepancies that surfaced through comparison of the dates assigned to Assyrian and Egyptian historical records concerning the Hittites led even secular Egyptologists to conclude the traditional timeline assigned to Egyptian history was wrong.7
We are blessed to live in a time when archaeologists have uncovered an abundance of archaeological evidence affirming the historicity of the Bible. Patient faith in the inerrancy of God’s Word is often rewarded by such discoveries. Yet in an age when archaeology has uncovered so much evidence corroborating biblical history, skepticism has increased.
In matters of ancient history we must depend on the eyewitness accounts of others, be they God or man, and look for supporting evidence.
This is largely due, we believe, to the increasingly pervasive tendency of many in our scientifically minded modern age to treat matters of biblical faith and biblical history as if they were—like raw scientific observations—derived from evidence rather than affirmed by evidence. Yet in matters of ancient history we must depend on the eyewitness accounts of others, be they God or man, and look for supporting evidence. For instance, we know that God created the earth and all kinds of life on it to reproduce after their kinds in six days, not because we can go back and scientifically observe our origins, but because God’s Word describes those events as history. Observational science affirms the biblical creation account that we, as Bible-believing Christians, already know is true. Likewise, this film chronicles a logical search for patterns of evidence supporting the biblical account of the Exodus.
Nevertheless, even if thousands of years had erased the physical evidence for a particular event, even an important one, a Bible-believer should not discard his or her faith. Continue asking questions and searching for evidence, yes. Let a deeper study of the biblical text guide that search—as Mahoney dramatizes in Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. But abandon faith in God’s Word and the God of the Word? No!
Much of the evidence presented in Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus has actually been discussed in articles on this website. But this compelling and memorable cinematic presentation is a great way to review the facts, learn some new ones, prepare to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15), and share the truth with others.
Looking for History Out of Time
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus builds its case for the existence of evidence supporting the historicity of the Exodus by demonstrating that even some secular experts like agnostic Egyptologist David Rohl see that traditional Egyptian chronology is a shambles. Chronologies for all the ancient nations of the Middle East were built through their connections with Egypt, and eventually it became apparent to many secular and biblical scholars that that there were problems—beyond the biblical inconsistencies—stemming from the traditional Egyptian chronology yardstick.8
Suggesting to us that dogmatic adherence to the traditional Egyptian timeline may be misplaced, the famous 20th century Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, late in life, wrote this in his notebook:
It must never be forgotten that we are dealing with a civilization thousands of years old and one of which only tiny remnants have survived. What is proudly advertised as Egyptian history is merely a collection of rags and tatters.9
Yet Egypt’s dry climate has preserved many artifacts and monuments, and Egyptologists have worked for many years to understand the story they tell. As with any historical endeavor, certain assumptions have been made, and the whole edifice of chronology now so well established is built upon them. The timelines in the stories of other ancient cultures have been calibrated according to Egyptian chronology, for it was Egypt that produced the first ancient archaeological timeline. Traditional Egyptian chronology is the yardstick commonly available to all, even if it is wrong.
To tear down the whole timeline of the Near East and rebuild it from the ground up is favored by many scholars but not the majority, for it would be quite an undertaking requiring reevaluation of everything. Furthermore, those scholars who agree the chronology should be reconstructed are not necessarily in agreement with how to do so, and most would agree that more research is needed.10 On this faulty but sadly still-popular traditional Egyptian chronology rests the archaeological skepticism about a historical Exodus.
Archaeologists have for decades been looking for evidence of a Hebrew presence and escape from Egypt in the New Kingdom city of Ramses on the Nile delta. After all, Joseph’s family settled in the “land of Rameses” (Genesis 47:11), the slaves built the cities Pithom and Rameses (Exodus 1:11), and the children of Israel departed from Rameses” (Numbers 33:3). But the film points out, quite correctly, that this region was referred to as the “land of Rameses” in biblical texts like Genesis 47:11 that refer to events such as the arrival of Joseph’s family in Egypt long before the time of Ramses the Great no matter how the dates are calculated.11
The film suggests the biblical text included these geographical references so that readers would know the land of Goshen where the Hebrews lived was at the city of Avaris, which is near the city of Ramses. Because Ramses—meaning “the Egyptian god Ra gave birth to him”—was a very common name to honor pharaohs, it may have become associated with property in this region long before any of eleven pharaohs known as Ramses or the Ramses the Great became specifically associated with the land. In any case, when archaeologists look in the region of the New Kingdom city of Ramses in deeper layers associated with the older “Middle Kingdom,” they find a wealth of archaeological and textual support for the historicity of the Exodus just as the Bible records it.
This illustration from the book Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus is similar to those in the film. Here the upper wall of time shows the traditional view of Egyptian chronology and the “late Exodus” view, which places the Exodus at about 1250 BC, during the reign of Ramses the Great. (The reign of Ramses the Great, who built many monuments, is indicated in the 1200s BC by a graphic “monument city” on the wall.) The colored blocks indicate events such as the arrival of Joseph’s family in Egypt, their multiplication and enslavement, the events directly related to the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. Archaeological evidence for these events is not found when the search is made for it in material related to that timeframe of history, but if the timeframe is shifted backward (white arrow) about two centuries toward Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, and the Exodus is placed around 1450 BC, archaeology tells another story. This is shown in the lower illustration. Image courtesy of Timothy Mahoney, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus.
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus uses an appropriately monumental display to visualize the timeline of Egyptian and biblical history—a wall stretching back through antiquity with pillars dividing it into thousand-year segments. The various positions—biblical and otherwise—on the timing of the Exodus are superimposed on this wall of time to illustrate the debate over whether it occurred in Egypt’s “New Kingdom” or “Middle Kingdom.”
The narrator describes this timeline as “a wall of time stretching back to the earliest moments of civilization.” We should note here that the visual timeline does appear to stretch back to an antiquity too old to be compatible with the chronology calculated from the Bible. From the Bible, we know Earth is only around 6,000 years old, and the global Flood of Noah would be dated in the 2300s BC.12 Therefore, the suggestion of dates prior to this time, such as the beginning of Egypt’s Old Kingdom in the mid-2600s BC, reflect secular assumptions and even some incorrect assumptions related to biblical history. You can read more about these assumptions and the jumbled mess of Egyptian chronology in “Doesn’t Egyptian Chronology Prove That the Bible Is Unreliable?” and Unwrapping the Pharaohs.
Finding Saving Faith in the Fullness of Time
Faith in God’s Word is not ultimately rooted in evidence, but because God’s Word is true the archaeological evidence affirms its truth.
When we dig through material from the right archaeological “time,” the evidence is consistent with history as recorded in the Bible. While “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), faith in in the truth of God’s Word and in the God of the Word makes it possible to correctly interpret and understand the secrets hidden for millennia beneath the sands of Egypt. Rather than recounting here all that evidence—which is presented chronologically and dramatically in the film—I will avoid further spoilers and encourage you—whether you already believe the Bible or not—to see the film yourself. Faith in God’s Word is not ultimately rooted in evidence, but because God’s Word is true the archaeological evidence affirms its truth.
Even if you don’t think you need evidence, you should see Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus—which will air in theaters only one night (January 19th)13—so you will understand why people with limited understanding of the supposed “lack of evidence” for the Exodus (during the New Kingdom of Ramses the Great!) are skeptical of God’s Word. The film will help equip you to explain the evidence for a Middle Kingdom Exodus well enough to give an answer to those who ask you for a reasoned apologetic (1 Peter 3:15). It will help you remove the stumbling blocks to faith that may shadow your own life or the lives of those you love.
And if you count yourself among the skeptics, I challenge you to view the film with an open mind and find out the truth about history. You can even follow up your search with more details in the book of the same title! Then you can decide for yourself what you believe about the rest of the Bible and its claim that Jesus Christ “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7) was sacrificed so that the guilt and penalty for sin can pass over each of us and make salvation available to all who repent and receive His gift of grace.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Corinthians 5:7)
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