Simcha Jacobovici researched and narrates this documentary for the History Channel.
The thesis is that the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt indeed took place as described in the Bible, and there are (a) documentary evidences of the Israelite’s presence in Egypt, and (b) scientific explanations for the plagues and parting of the sea.
The documentary evidence includes an etched stone from around 1500 BC talking about a terrible storm and darkness attributed to a (singular) god. The Pharaoh Achmose (Hebrew for brother of Moses) expelled a people from Egypt around that time. Other evidence talks about the Hyksos people in Egypt from 1700 to 1500 BC. In a tomb at Beni Hassan, wall paintings indicate a mass migration of figures with Semitic features and colored tunics, identified as ‘amo. Also at the urban center of Avaris, royal rings etched with Jacob have been discovered. In a slave hovel at Serabit is an inscription “El save me” and El is the Hebrew name for God. The “Ipuwer Plague” papyrus speaks of a strange hailstorm. Finally, an inscription at El Arish seems to describe a parting of sea and exodus of “the evil ones.”
The scientific evidence is a narrative surrounding the huge volcanic explosion of the island of Santorini, which around 1500 destroyed the Minoan civilization that flourished there. Supposing that this was connected to a shift in the continental plates, Jacobovici surmises that gas leaks set lose under the Nile could cause Plague #1: the river turning red. Such apparently happened in recent memory to two lakes in Cameroon. The iron oxide that caused the redness would kill the fish, but the frogs would jump out (plague #2). Then, the dirty water would lead to an increase in lice, flies, and epidemic (#3, 4, and 5). Boils and blisters (#6) also occured in connection with the Cameroon lake incidents. Hail (#7) was caused by “accretionary lapilli,” or something like hail that can form around volcanic ash; the resulting coldness would lead to swarms of locusts from the general region landing here (#8). The “palpable darkness” (#9) was an ash cloud that arrived from the Santini explosion. The climactic miracle, the death of the first-born sons, was due to the CO2 gas rising up and killing people lying close to the ground. Sociologically, this would have been the case for the royal first born sons, while others would have slept on rooftops. In confirmation of the latter, a mass grave of only males has been discovered, and we know that Achmose’s son Sapair died at age 12. The parting of the sea (which is identified as other than the traditional site from linguistic evidence) was due to the plate shift, followed by a tsunami that wiped out the Egyptians.
I find the documentary evidence far more important and convincing than the “scientific.” And indeed, the “fact” that the quite strong correlation of evidences (including others not mentioned in this film, such as the destruction of Jericho) is “off” by a hundred years, and therefore the Bible is written off, rather than the dating scheme being readjusted, seems like proof of the stubborn bias of the scholarly community.
Jacobovici’s claim that “according to the Bible God did not suspend, but manipulated the laws of nature” is something I have never read in my Bible. There are other claims that seem dubious as well. For example, he says the Hebrews would have been known as ‘amo (“his people”); and surprise, surprise, this term crops up on one of the documents. However, according to a brief surf I made on Bible Works, that term is only used with respect to a human’s “people,” as in Gen 25:8, 25:17, 35:29, 49:33, Num 20:24, Deut 32:50, and Ezek 18:18. Did I miss something?
This may be an example of a rhetorical trick that Jacobovici uses to prime the listener for what would count as decisive evidence as each new document is “discovered.” Another example is “if we would find the Hebrew word for God, ‘El,’ this would count as proof, blah blah.” But of course Jacobovici knows in advance what each document actually does contain, so this type of preface is a bit manipulative.
The entire narrative has a Jewish spin to it, starting with the pronounced accent of the narrator (he was raised in Montreal: where did he get that accent?), and including the Christ-denying dating scheme of “BCE.” Think about it: he had to expalin what it meant, whereas if he had said “BC” he would not have had to explain. Yet, in a one-episode documentary, he has to go out of his way to do it. As if to say, “the Bible is true, but Jesus Christ is not.”
He does get sound-bite clips of various goyim to chime in. James Hoffmeier of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School says regarding the Exodus, “Something must have happened. I can’t explain what happened, but it shaped ancient Israel’s identity, and therefore I can’t dismiss it as a fairytale.”
Note well what he is saying: he doesn’t believe what the biblical narrative says, but only that “something” must have happened. And, he doesn’t believe even that “something” because it is the word of God; he believes it because of Israel’s identity.
(Many people don’t realize it, but this is the type of attitude that many OT professors have even at “conservative” reformed seminaries. It is all about Israel, not the word of God.)
Christians have made documentaries of equal quality over the years, dealing with, say, Noah’s ark. But I don’t expect History Channel to be showing those. Only those that deny Christ need apply.
In any case, the subtle message (or perhaps not so subtle) is similar whether done by Jew or evidentialist Christian, namely this: science (or history, or whatever) shows X, therefore maybe the Bible is true with respect to X. But a “faith” that emerges from this is only going to have as much longevity as the ephemeral findings it was based on.
Instead, we need to keep driving home that neither science nor human thought itself could exist without the Christ that upholds all things by the word of his power. Without Christ, even the “pious” Jew speculating about how Israel’s story is really true is just as lost as any other God-hater.