Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Science and History of the Biblical Exodus

I watched Simcha Jacobovici's 'Exodus Decoded' yesterday. I'm reluctant to credit Jacobovici for a lot of conjectures in the documentary that remind one of his controversial 'Jesus Famly Tomb' which was a pretty laboured effort at crafting a story around poorly researched evidence. This documentary makes a similar effort using some evidence, especially surrounding what the Ark of the Covenant may have looked like, the equation of the Jewish tribe 'Dan' to the Hellenic tribe Danites mentioned by Homer, and so on.

However the film was well preented and contained material one should not write off wholesale. I have a 1971 publication 'Marvels and Mysteries of the World Around Us' which features an article on how the Exodus events may have happened. The ideas in the film are exactly the same. When the volcano Santorini erupted, it changed the world and especially Western civilization forever, ending the Minoan civilization and signaling the beginning of the end for the Egyptian civilization. In the place of these two great civil societies came up Greece, Persia and other Semitic, Hellenstic and Indo-Aryan groups. Egypt suffered from earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic ash and carbon dioxide poisoning which prompted the ten plagues mentioned in the Bible. The film cites a similar occurence in Cameroon in 1984 and 1986 when a lake turned blood red from trapped gas oxidizing and forming rust, and later releasing carbon dioxide to kill people sleeping close to the ground. The event also prompted plagues exactly similar to the Biblical plagues- frogs, pests, boils and rashes... Interestingly, the 1971 book also talks about similar events that have happened prior to the Cameroon events that bear an uncanny resemblance.

Jacobovici also talked about the possibility of the Exodus account being the same as the Hyksos' exodus from Egypt which bear close resemblance as well. The Egyptian records of the Hyksos claim that these were a foriegn group that was powerful and ruled parts of Egypt (Joseph?) and made a mass exodus around 1500-1600 BCE. This is worth noting and has been considered by many scholars to be so closely similar to the Biblical account of the Jews' temporary residence in Egypt that the supposed difference in the timeline (200 years) may have been an error by contemporary scholarship. Archaeologists and geologists disagree on the timeline and this shows the inconsistency in understanding when certain events may have happened. The film claims that Moses' Pharoah then was not Rameses II as we consider these days, but rather Ahmose I. Ahmose in Hebrew means 'brother of Moses'. Interestingly we get to see his mummified body as well as that of his son who had died young at 12 or 13 years of age. The film connects this early death with the Biblical account of God's judgment on Pharoah's male firstborn. Jacobovici brings together some newly discovered evidence such as a 3000 year old inscription by a slave in an Egyptiam mine dating to 1500 BC, saying "El (God), Help me!" This is where I get a little skeptical- all these newly discovered inscriptions that Jacobovici is so fond of were fodder for his 'Jesus Family Tomb' which many have criticized as unscholarly; the inscriptions themselves have been criticized as being fake. But if indeed they were 3000 years old, then it is remarkable and may hold a clue for us, because, as the filmmaker says, the Egyptians had several gods and hierogyphic writing, while this script was alphabetic like the early Hebrew script, and addresses God in the singular.

Regardless of the conclusions he draws from some pieces of evidence, the film as a whole has been made well and several of the segments are truly worthy of further study. If nothing else, a believer understands that many of these events are not part of a fairytale, but perfectly orchestrated through nature by a purposeful God. Some may object to the absence of an overt hand of God, but as Jacobovici says, God may not necessarily suspend nature to accomplish His will, rather he manipulates it.

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