Idol Chatter

You may not have heard of him yet, but for the past year or so, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici has hosted a television show in Canada–where he is huge–as “The Naked Archeologist,” in which he is neither naked (thankfully) nor an archeologist (interestingly). The show’s wanton title comes from its premise–to “strip down” Biblical archeology for the layperson, or as the auteur himself states on the VisionTV Documentaries website, “to demystify the Bible in general, and archaeology in particular, to brush away the cobwebs and burst academic bubbles.”

But Canada isn’t enough for this veteran of 30 documentaries; in his latest opus, Jacobovici takes on the biblical account of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. In its beginning moments, the film, The Exodus Decoded, taps into our cultural memory, evoking the iconic–if fictional–image of the Ark of the Covenant, as found by Indiana Jones. The Ark is boxed and rolled away by a nameless worker, vanishing into a government warehouse of similarly boxed items. The question is, what happens to the inquiry after that? The film goes a step further, analyzing the archeological and historical evidence surrounding the biblical Exodus. As executive producer James Cameron–yes, that James Cameron–explains in the introductory narration that the film is on “a mission to answer the question: is the Exodus fact, or fiction?”

Of course, the business of attempting to prove a historical basis for biblical stories may necessitate challenging the status of the events these stories portray, events that religious people of multiple faiths believe are miracles. For instance, the film posits that the Ten Plagues, regarded by many as the miraculous centerpiece of the pre-Exodus narratives, did indeed happen, but that they were the result of a geological event, the Santorini volcanic eruption. The plague of the rivers turning to blood was a natural gas leak causing the water to be red-tinted; the pollution of the water caused all the fish to die and the frogs to hop out to safety, because they were the only ones who could; that led to pestilence, etc.

Those who are unwilling to find natural causes for biblical miracles will undoubtedly rail against the premise of the film; others might be more willing to say that a historical explanation is not inconsistent with miraculous status. Perhaps, in the more expansive view, a natural event–with the proper amazingly appropriate timing–is what creates a miracle.

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