I was privileged this week to preview, before its release to the public, what may well prove to be a masterpiece of the documentary film-making art—a new look at the Biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt in the light of contemporary archeology and politics in the Middle East.
Filmmaker Tim Mahoney’s The Exodus Conspiracy, due to be released within a few months, seeks to demonstrate the historical accuracy of the Biblical narrative of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt on the basis of recent archaeological discoveries and geographic explorations. A secondary thesis of the film is that the “Red Sea” crossed by the Israelites was the Gulf of Aquaba (called the Gulf of Eilat by modern-day Israelis), rather than “Sea of Reeds” in Egypt, as most Biblical scholars have always assumed, and that the true “Mount Sinai” or “Mount Horeb” of the Exodus narrative is in northern Saudi Arabia, and is not the Mt. Sinai shown to pilgrims and tourists over the centuries in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.- Advertisement -
At the same time, the film also documents the efforts of Arab governments, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to suppress, or at least to seriously impede, the discovery and publication of archaeological data that would confirm the historicity of the Biblical narrative. Is this a conspiracy to suppress the truth about the ancient history of the Middle East? And if so, who could possibly want to deny the reality of a 3,500 year old event, and why? The film’s answer to these questions is that Arab governments and political circles wish to deny to the Jews the status of indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East; and above all, to deny the 3,000-plus years of continuous Jewish inhabitance of the Land of Israel (called “Palestine” by the Romans, the British, and now the Arabs). The entire Arab justification for 88 years of relentless war against the Jewish people in the Holy Land, and their efforts first to prevent the rebirth of the Jewish nation there, and then to destroy it, rests on the claim that the Jews are alien European “settlers” in the Holy Land, while the Arabs are the “indigenous” native population, who have lived there “since time immemorial.” Archeology that confirms the accuracy of the Biblical narrative, and which documents the ancientness of the Jewish habitation of the land, is thus extremely inconvenient to Israel’s enemies, even though (or rather because) it concerns events in the remote past.
While the archaeological-historical conclusions of The Exodus Conspiracy are controversial, a great deal of support for them can be found in On the Reliability of the Old Testament, a thoroughly documented and brilliantly presented study by Professor Kenneth A. Kitchen, a professor of archeology and Egyptology at Liverpool University in Britain. Also offering strong support for the historicity of the Israelite worship experience at the Biblical “mountain of God” is the work of Italian archaeologist Emmanuel Anati, who has explored a mountain in the Wilderness of Paran along the Israel-Egyptian border. At this site, Dr. Anati has discovered inscriptions, tools and other remains of worship ceremonies left by ancient Semitic nomads that bear a striking similarity both to those described in the Book of Exodus, and to those found by the explorers of a mountain in Arabia who present their findings in The Exodus Conspiracy. I do not pretend to know which mountain was the original of the Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb described in the Book of Exodus. Nevertheless, archeology certainly confirms that ancient Semitic nomadic peoples engaged in worship at the base of desert mountains that was very similar to that described in the Biblical narrative of the exodus.
However, Mr. Mahoney’s description of a major propaganda effort to deny the reality of the Jewish people’s three thousand-plus years’ residence in the Middle East is undeniably true. This effort is documented in numerous reports in the daily press, and in nearly every Arab book, pamphlet or website devoted to the Arab-Israel conflict. It is also documented by the writings of numerous “revisionist” historians and archaeologists, many of them Jewish and some Israeli, who support the Arab side in the Arab-Israel conflict. The attempt to deny the reality of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt has even been joined by a well-known Los Angeles rabbi, David Wolpe. Indeed, Mr. Mahoney could have said much more than he has chosen to say about the non-Arab and non-governmental participants in this war against history.
Conspiracy supports its conclusions with interviews with a wide range of explorers, archaeologists, Biblical scholars, religious leaders, and even senior Israeli political leaders, such as President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu. It contains brilliant cinematography of ancient archaeological sites and the stark desert landscape in which they are situated, taken from original videos shot by the explorers of these sites. The documentary also contains recreations by actors of parts of the Biblical narrative of the origins of the Israelite people, clips from Cecil B. DeMille’s magnificent original 1920’s silent epic “The Ten Commandments,” and oral narrations of the Exodus story by distinguished “storytellers,” actually scholars and/or religious leaders of different faiths and from all parts of the world, dressed in their traditional national costumes. There are beautifully photographed scenes of present-day Jerusalem , and a truly shocking film clip of an Arab mob destroying Joseph’s Tomb, an ancient holy site sacred to three faiths, during the so-called “Intifada.” In short, there is something here for everyone; The Exodus Conspiracy has great educational value and is first-rate entertainment as well.- Advertisement -
To bolster the case for the historicity of the exodus, Mahoney cites recent archaeological work in the region that was once called “the land of Goshen,” described in the Bible as the home of the Israelite people during their four hundred year sojourn in Egypt. These archaeological explorations have uncovered the presence of a substantial Semitic population there—which suddenly disappeared in the 13Th Dynasty of Egypt. This just happens to be the same era in which, many historians have surmised from surviving Egyptian historical records as well as references in the Biblical account, the Exodus must have taken place.
The people who lived in this region on the eastern edge of the Nile Delta, until their sudden and mysterious disappearance, kept sheep, which the Israelites raised and the Egyptians did not raise. The architectural style of their houses was characteristic of the Fertile Crescent region and different from that of contemporary Egyptian houses.
Most interestingly, perhaps, there is an elaborate tomb in this area of a high official of a Pharaoh’s government, which could easily be the tomb of the patriarch Joseph. Remnants of paint on a statue of the man even suggest that he wore a coat of many colors!
At around the same time and the same place, there is evidence of a sharp increase in deaths and mass graves have been found, as if victims of a plague were hastily buried without the usual funeral rites. Evidence of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born by the angel of death, as the Book of Exodus records?
Yet no archaeologist working in this region of Egypt has been willing to say publicly that he or she believes that the Semitic people who inhabited the Land of Goshen , and then mysteriously disappeared from it, were the Israelites. Why not? According to several scholars and archaeologists whom Mahoney interviewed, the answer is fear: the Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi A. Hawass, decides personally which archaeologists will be allowed to work in Egypt, and he would never allow any archaeologist who expressed a belief in an ancient Israelite presence in the country to work there.
If there is subtle, quiet intimidation of archaeologists in Egypt, the intimidation of them in Saudi Arabia has been anything but subtle. Explorers convinced that the Biblical ‘mountain of God,” where He revealed the Law to the Israelites, is in northern Arabia, rather than in the Sinai Peninsula where post-Biblical tradition places it, have encountered fierce opposition from the Saudi authorities. One exploration party was subjected to 78 days of imprisonment. Several have encountered armed Saudi soldiers and police ordering them to evacuate the area immediately. Even the personal physician to a high-ranking Saudi prince, armed with a personal letter from the prince authorizing him to explore anywhere in Saudi Arabia, was denied entry to this area by armed guards. Why, Mahoney and his interviewees ask, is the Saudi government so intent on hiding ancient ruins and inscriptions?
One reason may be that the explorers have discovered a mountain on which are located the remains of religious altars, ancient Semitic inscriptions, and evidence of major encampments by nomads at the base of the mountain—all of which are elements, of course, of the Biblical narrative of the Revelation at Sinai. If the Exodus really took place in northern Saudi Arabia as Mr. Mahoney and his interviewees maintain, then the Arab claim to be the sole “indigenous” inhabitants even of the Arabian Peninsula itself, let alone “Palestine,” could be thrown into doubt.- Advertisement -
Mahoney also places the obstructionist tactics of the Egyptian and Saudi governments within the broader context of the archaeological “front” of the Arab-Israeli conflict—a “front” that includes denials by Palestinian Arab religious and political leaders that there ever was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, despite the overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence of the presence of two magnificent Jewish temples there over a 1,000-year period. As a part of their effort to cover up the ancient Jewish presence at the Temple Mount, the Muslim religious authorities who have been allowed to control the site by Israel have carted away and dumped tons of rich ancient soil containing archaeological remains of the two Temples. The shocking desecration and destruction of the tomb of the Biblical patriarch Joseph, who first led the Israelites to Egypt, by Palestinian Arab “militants” in Nablus (the Biblical Israelite city of Shechem) was yet another “action” in the archaeological-historical front of the war. It is as if the Palestinian Arab “militants” think that they can erase the ancient Jewish inhabitant of the land by destroying the surviving physical remains of that presence. The Arabs are waging a war against history itself in an effort to uphold their claims. The Israeli diplomat and scholar Dore Gold, author of The Fight for Jerusalem, in a brief on-camera interview in the film, lucidly summarizes the Jerusalem-Palestine “front” in the Arab war against Israelite-Jewish history. However, additional documentaries are needed to explore more fully this front of the propaganda-misinformation war against Israel and history.
While The Exodus Conspiracy is not the last word on this subject, and many additional documentaries about it should be made in the future, it is a must see for everyone who wants to understand the inseparable connection between the present-day conflict in the Middle East and the ancient events narrated in the Bible.John Landau Contributed to this Article