Did Moses really part the Red Sea like it says in the Old Testament? What about the Nile turning blood red or the plagues that finally compelled Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery? Did those things actually happen? These are among the questions Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici attempts to answer in "The Exodus Decoded" which premieres Sunday, Aug. 20, 8-9:30 p.m. EST on cable's History Channel.
Challenging opinions that dismiss those events as myth, the thought-provoking documentary uses investigative journalism aided by modern science to examine archaeological and geological evidence in separating historical fact from fiction.
Jacobovici believes that archaeology does support the Bible, though his arguments are based on a rethinking of the events and some chronological tinkering.
First, he sets the Exodus some 300 years earlier than the traditional timeline – to around 1500 B.C. – and identifies the ancient Israelites with the Hyksos, a Semitic people living in Egypt at that time who, according to the program, suddenly fled the country en masse.
The earlier date of the Exodus proves key to Jacobovici's thesis, as it places it at the time of the cataclysmic eruption of the volcano on the Greek island of Santorini, the linchpin to many of the theories proposed. Citing documented modern parallels such as the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon, he believes that much of what the Book of Exodus describes can be explained by a chain reaction of natural phenomena, triggered by the Santorini eruption and a related earthquake.
He even has a ready answer for the slaughter of the firstborn by the angel of death: It was a lethal cloud of poisonous carbon monoxide gas released by the geological upheaval.
Of course, the most dramatic event recorded in Exodus is the parting of the Red Sea, a scene immortalized by Cecil B. DeMille. But while revealing ancient carvings and hieroglyphics that he argues support the Old Testament account, Jacobovici again offers a scientific explanation. Suggesting that the biblical reference to the "Red Sea" is actually a mistranslation of an ancient Hebrew word which meant "Reed Sea" – a now-dried body of water – he hypothesizes that the seismic activity caused by the earthquake may have temporarily raised a land bridge for safe passage and the pursuing Egyptians were the unfortunate victims of perfectly-timed tsunamis approaching from the Mediterranean.
Jacobovici also speculates on the true location of Mount Sinai and uncovers a gold trinket overlooked among other ancient artifacts in an Athens museum which he believes depicts the legendary Ark of the Covenant.
While many of the theories are intriguing, the film raises some questions. First, if the clues are out there in plain sight it seems suspicious that Jacobovici is the only guy smart enough to piece the puzzle together. Why isn't it all over the news? Also, regarding the experts interviewed, the deck is pretty unevenly stacked in favor of Jacobovici, with a noticeable absence of critical voices.
Executive produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron, the program combines the treasure-hunt elements of a real life "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with 3D computer graphics, including a flashy virtual-reality home-base set.
The filmmaker does not try to take "God out of the equation" but merely makes the case that in miraculously intervening in human history God chose to use, rather than suspend, his laws of nature to achieve his divine plan. Jacobovici leaves his guesswork at the foot of the mountain he believes to be Sinai, as his tone turns reverential and he recites the Ten Commandments.
In trying to find a "plausible scientific explanation" for Biblical events, the film misses a very important point: The Bible is a testament of faith, not a history or science book, written by authors who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, were trying to discern and understand God's hand in the drama of salvation.
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DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops