'Decoding' the Bible

A screening at tonight's Jerusalem Film Fest purports to offer long-missing evidence of the biblical Exodus.

decod bible88 (photo credit: )
decod bible88
(photo credit: )
There is a saying that when it comes to the Bible, "for those who believe, no explanation is necessary, while for those who don't believe, no explanation is possible." But what of the many people who fall somewhere between these two certainties? Such people owe it to themselves to see The Exodus Decoded, a 90-minute documentary by Canadians James Cameron (the director of Titanic, Aliens and The Terminator) and investigative journalist and producer Simcha Jacobovici. The film will be screened at 6 p.m. this evening as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. The Exodus Decoded claims to present proof of the biblical account of Jacob's descent into Egypt, his son's rise to power there, his people's enslavement, and their eventual liberation under the leadership of Moses after a series of miracles. It's all a matter of knowing where - or rather when - to look. Those scientists who believe the Exodus happened at all (and most don't) date it at between 1213 and 1279 BCE, and remain unable to explain the apparent absence of any supporting evidence. But, say the filmmakers, start from a stele long suppressed by the Egyptian authorities - these same authorities did nothing to help and much to hinder Jacobovici's inquiries - that describes something very much like the Exodus from the Egyptian point of view but about 200 years earlier, and everything starts to fall into place. For example, the Egyptian capital during that era was a wonderfully advanced, recently uncovered "island" city of temples named Avaris (with an intriguing resemblance to Plato's Atlantis, by the way) whose ruler in 1500 BCE was a pharaoh named Ahmose, or "Brother of Moses." Ahmose's first-born son, like the biblical pharaoh's son, died young, and the city contains a mass grave composed almost entirely of males - a detail that would appear to support the Torah's description of the 10th plague. Further, wonderfully preserved wall paintings depict the arrival some centuries earlier of a group of Semitic shepherds, and royal signet rings have been unearthed in Avaris bearing the name "Jacob" in ancient Hebrew. As provocative as all this is - and these are only among the lesser of the film's purported revelations - for this viewer, the most touching (and somehow the most powerful) piece of "evidence" was a slave's plea, written in the same proto-Hebrew on the walls of an ancient turquoise mine: "God, save me." So the argument is that the Jews' ancestors (then known as the Hyksos) indeed arrived in Egypt and rose to prominence before being enslaved there. But what of the Exodus? What of the 10 Plagues, and the parting of the sea? Well, it's again a question of knowing when to look - this time combined with a basic understanding of geology and chemistry and a willingness to concede that miracles, rather than being violations of nature, may be evidence of a God's manipulation of nature for divine purposes. For this, say the filmmakers, was the time of the Santorini cataclysm, a massive volcanic eruption just north of Avaris in the Mediterranean, and Jacobovici makes a scientific argument for how the trigger of this eruption, the eruption itself and its aftermath could have caused all 10 biblical plagues, as well as the parting of the Sea of Reeds (now a dry freshwater lake), all within a six-month period. From there, the documentary only becomes more astonishing. After constructing a compelling case for the true location of Mount Sinai, and still using archeological artifacts "hidden in plain view," Jacobovici makes what for many will be the fantastic claim that trade between Santorini (home of the Minoan civilization) and Avaris had been well established by 1500 BCE, and that at least some of those who left Egypt during the Exodus went "home" to the Greek island while their brethren wandered in the desert, taking with them the Egyptians' gold and the Danites' intimate knowledge of the Ark of the Covenant, the appearance of which, Jacobovici concludes, is depicted in a long-overlooked "Egyptian brooch." Given the pedigree of its makers, it shouldn't be surprising that this $3.5 million documentary is extraordinarily well-done, with state-of-the-art graphics, high production values and excellent commentary from both scientific naysayers and open-minded religious experts. As the saying goes, some people will remain unmoved no matter how challenging the evidence. But for many, this film will provide welcome assurance that a belief in the Bible need not come at the expense of scientific truth or common sense.