Globe and Mail April 14, 2006
Do we really need to say that we believe; that the exodus actually happened, that it occurred as described in scripture for the reasons given in scripture and through the agency (God)attested to by scripture? Okay, we do...s8int.com
Photo:Simcha Jacobovici says he has found a dozen
relics that confirm the tale. (Discovery Channel)
A provocative $4-million documentary by Toronto filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici claims to have found archeological evidence verifying the story of the biblical Exodus from Egypt, 3,500 years ago.
Religious Jews consider the biblical account incontrovertible — the foundation story of the creation of the nation of Israel. Indeed, they celebrated the Exodus Wednesday night and last night with the annual Passover recitation of the Haggadah.
But among scholars, the question of if and when Moses led an estimated two million Israelite slaves out of pharaonic Egypt, miraculously crossed the Red Sea ahead of the pursuing Egyptian army and received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, has long been a source of contention.
Absent definitive proof, archeologists have argued variously that the biblical account is simply a nice fable or that it may have happened, but not on the scale suggested by the Book of Exodus. Nor is there any consensus about when it might have occurred.
Now, in Exodus Decoded, Mr. Jacobovici says he has found almost a dozen overlooked relics that confirm the biblical story.
They include: a miniature, 3,500-year-old gold replica of the lost Ark of the Covenant, said to have been built during the Israelites' 40-year sojourn in the Sinai desert and three stone stelae with carvings depicting a charioteer chasing a single man through churning waters — the pursuer, like the Egyptian army, is ultimately drowned.
In addition, there is hieroglyph, the el-Arish stone, which appears to recount the Exodus from the Egyptian point of view — as a disaster, that is — and the seal of a royal scarab, found at Avaris north of modern-day Cairo, engraved with the name Ya'akov, the father of Joseph, who the Bible says was grand vizier, the second-most-powerful man after pharaoh.
Dating the Exodus to roughly 1,500 BC, the two-hour film presented and executive-produced by Hollywood director James Cameron and airing Easter Sunday on Discovery Canada — suggests that the great Santorini volcano caused the Ten Plagues that the Bible says were visited upon the Egyptians and which finally persuaded the pharaoh of the day.
The Greek island of Santorini lies only 700 kilometres north of Egypt. When it erupted, it sent smoke and ash 37 kilometres into the sky. Mr. Jacobovici contends that volcanology and geology can explain not only the first plague — that Egypt's waters were turned blood-red through the release of toxic gas, similar to what happened at Lake Nios in Cameroon in 1986; but they also can explain the succeeding nine plagues — frogs, fleas, flies, livestock deaths, boils, hailstorms, locusts, darkness and the death of the Egyptian firstborn males.
The film contends that the tsunami unleashed by the Santorini upheaval can also account for why the Israelites were able to cross the parting sea ahead of the pharaoh's army and why the Egyptians were subsequently engulfed.
But Mr. Jacobovici says the sea Moses crossed was not the Red Sea, as is traditionally thought, but a smaller lake, known in Egypt as the Reed Sea. Its Egyptian name, translated into Hebrew, means "the place where God swallowed up."
Later in the film, Mr. Jacobovici, a 53-year-old two-time Emmy winner, claims to have found the authentic Mount Sinai. It is not the 2,285-metre structure widely considered to be the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments, near the foot of which now stands the Monastery of St. Catherine.
Instead, he locates it farther north and east at a place called Hashem el-Tarif, and says it perfectly fits the Bible's description.
What experts will make of the high-tech documentary, with 45 minutes of computer graphic enhancement, is not clear.
Mr. Jacobovici includes interviews with more than a dozen historians, archeologists, geologists and writers that support key parts of his argument. These include the distinguished Egyptologist Donald Redford, now teaching at Penn State University. But no single scholar endorses the entire thesis.
In fact, Dr. Redford not only dismisses most of the film's points as fantasy, he doubts that any exodus of Israelites actually occurred.
Mary-Ann Wegner, professor of Near and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Toronto, says that the biblical topographical descriptions and the policies of Egypt's rulers support the notion of an exodus, but considers the rest of Mr. Jacobovici's evidence unpersuasive.
However, neither Dr. Redford nor Dr. Wegner have seen the film.
Two scholars who have seen it are more positive. Barry Wilson, a professor of religion at York University, calls it "a fabulous detective story ... Perry Mason goes biblical. It's a remarkably well-executed study."
Kenneth Green, a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Toronto, says the film is "provocative and challenging.
"It's all 'maybes,' but it's plausible and coherent. I think he's going to be attacked viciously, but he's made a case that has to be answered."
Mr. Jacobovici, who recently sold the film to the History Channel in the United States, concedes that many scholars will "scoff at my evidence.
It's a closed club, after all. But they can't just dismiss it. There's a cluster of evidence here. If it walks like an Exodus and quacks like an Exodus, it is an Exodus. That's not Egyptology. That's logic."