Judge Dylan Charles wonders if the Exodus was encoded in 48-bit encryption, or merely in the old "crypt" function.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that trying to determine if the events depicted in The Bible are "folklore or historical fact" is a controversial subject. There are many trials to overcome in order to get to the heart of this matter: great swatches of time obscuring facts, political roadblocks, distorted records and the biggest obstacle of all: personal bias.
Facts of the Case
Filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici (Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream) takes it upon himself to prove that the events that take place in the Exodus are historical fact, rather than myth. With James Cameron (The Abyss, Aliens) occasionally narrating his journey (Cameron is also a producer), Jacobovici travels around the world (well, Egypt and Greece) talking to researchers, climbing to the top of Mount Sinai and going to where Moses parted the Red Sea. The basis of his hypothesis revolves around a volcanic explosion that took place in 1500 BCE. He believes that the ten Biblical plagues mentioned in Exodus were the result of an eruption at Mount Santorini. Does he prove his case? Is Exodus a historical account?
There are a few problems with The Exodus Decoded, but I'm going to give you the good news first and then we'll deal with the tricky bits.
Jacobovici lays out his proof in a clear and precise manner for the most part. His step-by-step account of what happened historically and how it lines up with the events of Exodus are not only clear but also extremely compelling. He scientifically explains all of the Biblical plagues, from blood red waters to plagues of locusts to the deaths of all of the Egyptian first born sons. And these explanations all come from the same place: geological repercussions as a result of a massive volcanic eruption.
Jacobovici even comes up with a rational explanation for the parting of the Red Sea. It's worth watching the documentary just for that one bit.
But there are problems.
First, with the presentation of the material. They've created something called "the virtual museum." This is nothing more than an annoying hodge-podge of CGI effects; a bunch of whirling grids and spinning graphics that are more distracting than anything else.
Then, more importantly, there's Jacobovici's obvious bias. It's plain to see that even before he started this search for proof, he believed that Moses and his miracles were historical fact. There are several points where he glosses over things that could stand a wee bit more inspection.
For example, I wanted to know a lot more about the Hyksos. The Hyksos were a group of Semite people that ruled in Egypt in the 1500's. During this time period they were expelled from the region by the pharaoh Ahmose. After Jacobovici states that the Hyksos were in power and that their expulsion was likely the historical exodus that the Biblical account was based on, he continues to refer to them as Hebrew slaves being led to freedom by Moses. To me, there's a drastic difference between being forcibly ejected from power and being freed from slavery. It's almost as though, once Jacobovici has a bit of evidence to corroborate Exodus, he ignores the contradicting data in his mind's eye.
The scenario that he outlined in The Exodus Decoded goes like this for me:
The Hyksos have climbed to a position of power in Egyptian society. They have their own walled city, Avaris, and things are going great for them. But then some bad things start happening. Because of volcanic gases, the water has turned blood red and the fish have died. Volcanic ash has blocked out the Sun. But the Egyptians don't know about geology, they just know something is extremely wrong. The last straw comes when Egyptian first born sons are killed in their sleep by low lying toxic gases and the Hyksos are untouched. The Pharaoh, whose own son has been killed, blames the Hyksos for what has happened and has them expelled.
This is what I got from the data he showed. The only thing that contests what I've just written is the Biblical account, which has the Hyksos enslaved by the Egyptians and Moses as a liberator.
Jacobovici already has an idea in his mind of what he wants to see and this idea supplants itself over what he's presented (Hyksos become Israelites without a second thought). He makes frequents jumps to conclusions that I'm not comfortable with. He states at one point that, "many would argue that identifying Mount Sinai would be tantamount to corroborating the biblical tale." This kind of bias means you have to take what he says with a grain of salt.
I watched the featurette that came with the disc in the hopes that it'd shed some light on the issues I had with the documentary itself, but instead I got a fairly boring little teaser for The Exodus Decoded in which Jacobovici extols the virtues of the virtual museum.
Everything is really pretty, not that I expected the History Channel to short-shrift its documentary during the transfer process.
It's disappointing that there is such a strong bias present, because Jacobovici has some fascinating evidence to back up his claim that the Exodus did take place. It just didn't take place as is told in the Bible—according to the information presented in this documentary, anyway.
Nonetheless, if you're interested in religion at all, I definitely recommend checking this out as a rental. Just beware the bias and you'll be fine.
Not Guilty, but the Judge cautions Jacobovici to present all sides of the case next time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• History in the Making Featurette
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