Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

 Is Biblical history really history? Ridley Scott’s fictionalized Exodus: Gods and Kings may not have had the box office legs it backers had hoped but those interested in the true story of the Book of Exodus may want to make their way to one of the over 650 theaters hosting tomorrow’s (1/19) one night-only documentary premiere event on the subject. The Fathom Events presentation Patterns of Evidence: Exodus program starts at 6:30 PM (local time) with a half-hour pre-show. The investigative film begins at 7:00 PM. A panel discussion, emceed by Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, follows. The panelists will include talk show host Dennis Prager, author Eric Metaxas (Miracles), Fr. Jonathan Morris (Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel) and Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz (who also happens to be evangelist Billy Graham’s daughter). To find a theater near you that’s showing the movie and to purchase tickets (including group tickets) click here.

The film is directed and produced by Tim Mahoney who spent twelve years of his life getting the project to screen. I recently spoke with him about his commitment to the project.

JWK: Can you tell me about your background and what motivated you to make a documentary about the Exodus?

TIM MAHONEY: Well, my background is that of filmmaking. I’ve done other projects in the past. I’ve made documentaries, shorter ones, and I’ve made lots of commercials but I was really looking to get involved with a larger idea…I was intrigued by (the Exodus) so I started to try to develop that project.Eventually I was able to go to Egypt and when I got into this area people said to me “Well what’s the point of searching for the route of the Exodus when these events never really happened?” I said “What are you talking about?” I went then to the location where the Israelites were said to have come the first time when Joseph and his family came and settled in the land of Egypt and the delta in the eastern area. It’s called Goshen. So, I went to that location and I met with an Egyptologist and, basically, he told me that there was little evidence for the Israelites (being there).  And that was shocking to me.
JWK:  So, you were told that there wasn’t much evidence for the Exodus story as told in The Bible.
TM: Very little, if any — that you couldn’t build a case for that. And that was news to me…So, I came back from that first trip in a bit of a crisis of faith because I know that these stories are stories of faith but you think that there should be some history behind them.
JWK:  May I ask what faith you were brought up in?

I was raised a Protestant. I went to Sunday school and my mother would read the stories of The Bible to us as kids and I believed these things. They were stories that my family believed in. So, I came home with that sense of doubt growing (though) I wasn’t telling anyone about this.
JWK:  So, what specifically did this Egyptologist say? Did he offer evidence that the Exodus didn’t happen?
TM: I’m trying to think of the exact phrase that I used. I said “Do you have evidence of the Israelites (being there)?” and he said “So far, not.”

But here’s the good news. What happened was that after a period of time I persevered with this and I found out that another Egyptologist had looked at this material that had been dug up and he had a completely different interpretation — and this is where the film takes off in the sense of my journey. We started to realize that, when archeologists look for things, they look for them in certain time periods in history. What this other Egyptologist was saying was that if you dig deeper, at a deeper level, that you will find the story of the Israelites coming. There is a city underneath the city of Ramesses which is called Avaris and that is the city that has caused a lot of interest and excitement because it’s a city that was full of Semitic people.

 JWK:  Why is that so interesting?
TM: Because what we found here is that this city was allowed to be there. It started as a very small group of people. The archeology showed that these people were allowed to be there and that they grew into a very large city in the ancient times and it was full of Semitic people.

So, what’s that saying is that the Egyptians allowed these people to come and that’s what The Bible says had happened — that Joseph’s family was allowed to come in. And then it says that they grew to such a large number that the Egyptians were fearful that if someone came against them that these people would join (the attackers) against them in war — and so they enslaved them.

And then, guess what. The archeology shows that these people (in Avaris) were prosperous (but all of a sudden) they went into hardship and started to die at an early age and there were actually more females than males. And we know the story of The Bible that talks about the culling of a male child. I’m talking about when the Egyptians — in the story of the Exodus — decided to have all the male children killed. So, what they were suggesting here is that it looks as if there’s more females than males in the grave evidence.

JWK:  So, where did that lead you and the film?

TM: I started to realize that there were two stories going on. There’s the mainstream story which is the story that says there is no evidence — at this particular time. And there’s this alternative story where archeologists and Egyptologists are telling me “Wait a minute! There’s something more going on here.” If you look at a different time in history you can find the story of the Exodus. And that’s how we then proceeded to continue to track down these parallel events, matching the Biblical (story) with the archeological (evidence). That’s what this film does. It exposes the information. I’m still allowing you to hear the mainstream position and then I show you through the storytelling of the Biblical story and then the archeology where another pattern of evidence arises — and that is the main structure of the film. We look at six major events in the Biblical story — the arrival, the multiplication,  the enslavement, the judgement in Egypt, the Exodus out of Egypt and the conquest of the Promised Land.

JWK: What has the reaction been from skeptics to this alternative scenario that supports the Biblical story?

(In) the mainstream there’s been a strong sense that (the Exodus) had to happen at this one particular time and when (the evidence for that) didn’t show up, then it became discounted — and once it became discounted they didn’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s considered to be foolishness to consider anything else. You’re considered to be a little bit off if you try to do that. So, there not really open to dialogue — and what I was saying was “Why not?” I’m interested.

JWK: Do you suspect anti-religious bias?
TM: I don’t know what their motivations are. I think that there is a tendency not to want to deal with it anymore. In other words, it’s done and they’re not gonna talk about it. I do know that I did talk to some archeologists who said that they had information that they knew (supported the events) of The Bible but they were afraid to talk about it or publish it for (fear of) criticism. They say there’s a discrimination against reporting evidence that matches this story. I found that fascinating. So, (I said) “What you’re telling me is you have things that match the story?” He said “Absolutely.” He says often times they talk about it privately amongst themselves. I don’t think they don’t feel very good about not being able to talk about it but they know if they do that’s they’ll be a problem. There could be a problem with their career.

JWK: Science is supposed to be the following of facts. Why would they not want that discussion? That’s interesting to me.
TM: Well, it was interesting to me too…That’s what the film is looking at. It’s trying to say “Wait a minute. Let’s just explore this.”  This a pretty central story to world history. A lot has come from this story.

JWK: Why is there the position that the Exodus had to happen at a particular time, as opposed to another time?
TM: There’s a verse in The Bible that says the Israelites were building the cities of Ramses and Pithom. So, that is the verse that the mainstream looks at that says this is when the Exodus should have happened. We know who Pharaoh Ramesses was. We know the time was around 1250 B.C. when he reigned…When they look at that particular time they don’t find anything. So, what’s wrong? The challenge then is — and what the film explores is — was this event at the time of Ramesses or was it a geographical locator and at the location of Ramesses. That’s why I told you about that city called Avaris.Underneath the city of Ramses is a much older city called Avaris. So, if someone in the ancient world was writing about this and they were trying to tell you where it is… In other words, I live in Minnesota. Our capital is called St. Paul but, before it was called St. Paul, it was called Pig’s Eye. If I was telling you (this event happened) near St. Paul…but it was 300 years ago…you would say “Well, it didn’t happen during the time of St. Paul. What’s going on? It must be wrong.” Well, it happened in the location of St. Paul –because there’s a life and time when a city arises and then it’s gone but there’s a location of that city. So, I think it’s a geographical marker.
Here’s why. Because in the Book of Genesis, the same name Ramesses was used to describe where Joseph’s family settled. And guess what. That was hundreds of years before Ramesses existed. So, it seems as though the writer was using Ramesses as a geographical locator as opposed to a historical time period.

JWK: Does your film deal with the parting of the Red Sea?
TM: This particular one doesn’t. This is a trilogy of films. We’re saving that. There’s so much complexity in the route and the sea, the mountain and what happened at the mountain. That will be in the future. We’ve already started filming that. We’ve filmed quite a bit on that. That’s going to be our next film.

JWK: Can you give me a preview. Do you believe the event happened?

I’m trying to serve everybody in the storytelling. So, I’m trying to basically be as unbiased as I can and search for the truth of it…What I’m saying to you is I’m trying to be objective about it. I was taught to believe that it happened. So, I’m taking the audience on a journey to discover this for themselves and try to be as neutral as I can. That’s what I did with the first film.JWK: What will the third film be about?TM: The third one would be about Saul, David, Jonathan, Solomon and the temple. We also have a book. We’re coming out with a book that’s about the whole story of the making of the film and much more in-depth information.JWK: When does the book come out?TM: This spring.

JWK: Have you seen the recent Ridley Scott film, Exodus: Gods and Kings?

TM: Yes, I have.

JWK: What are your thoughts on that?

TM: I was very excited about it. I think he’s an amazing director but I wanted to see a film that stuck more to the story whereas he actually elaborated and created another storyline that wasn’t following the text. My interest was in the story in…the text.  His film was more fictional, obviously. I’m more interested in nonfiction and searching and exploring what’s the truth. That’s the difference.  I have to say I was wishing it would have been more in line with the Bible story.

JWK: Did you see Darren Aronofsky’s version of Noah?

TM: I did. Same thing.

JWK: Is there anything you’d like to say?

TM: Yes…Documentaries don’t normally get much awareness because they’re not seen by a lot of people. But…we worked really hard. I’ve worked on this film for twelve years. I’ve worked really hard on the science of it, the storytelling and the  craft of it.  It’s a very visual film. This film has animations where we recreated the actual cities according to the archeological dig sites. We’ve just worked hard at making this film very easy to understand (despite its) complex ideas. I’ve created something called the Wall of Time which is a really visual way of seeing where things are in history. All of this was done so that it could be taken in.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians

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