Reflections on the Documentary “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” (Timothy Raymond)
Monday night a small handful from my congregation attended the one-night-only showing of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s a new major documentary on the archaeology supporting the Bible’s account of the Exodus, and comes to rather conservative, Bible-believing conclusions. While the memories are still fresh, I thought I’d chronicle a few reflections of my own.
I completely agree with Joe Carter’s review over at The Gospel Coalition that this documentary is extremely well done. It certainly doesn’t have the kitschiness and cringe-factor that seem to characterize most Christian films. (As a side-note, it technically isn’t a Christian film but a “Bible-believing” film. Apparently, along with evangelicals, Orthodox Jews were involved in the production and promotion.) For addressing a rather technical subject, it is beautiful, well-edited, sometimes moving, highly informative, and concludes poignantly and persuasively. It “feels” like a high-quality documentary you’d see on PBS or National Geographic.
For transparency’s sake, I must confess that, due to the subject matter, the movie definitely feels more like going to school than going to the movies. If your family is hoping for a movie night and you’re debating between this one and Frozen, your kids will probably start weeping and gnashing their teeth if you put in Patterns of Evidence. For over two hours, Tim Mahoney, the producer and director, flies around the world examining ancient tombs, hieroglyphic steles, excavated tells, deteriorating weapons, and fragile manuscripts while discussing these with world-renowned Egyptologists and archaeologists. If that description doesn’t grab your attention, you might find yourself bored stiff. Personally, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and found the evidence compelling but did catch myself looking at my watch several times as the night progressed. I took my 9 year old son, who tends to be rather academic and interested in the Bible and Ancient Egypt, and while he loved several parts, on the whole he found the documentary uncomfortably long. But if you’re interested in Bible history and archaeology and looking for what seems to be an excellent summary of the archaeological evidence for the Exodus, this is a movie for you.
Perhaps what I most appreciated is how Patterns of Evidence interviews some of the very best scholars in the field. I imagine we’ve all seen some of those bizarre documentaries on, say, how ancient aliens supposedly visited the prehistoric Aztecs and taught them how to build time machines, and to support such an outlandish claim, they interview these strange looking individuals who are self-described as “speakers-at-large” with advanced degrees from obscure, questionable institutions. After watching such a “documentary” you feel as if you can’t trust anything you see on TV. Thankfully, this movie is not that. If you compare the credits with a scholarly bibliography on biblical archaeology and Egyptology, you’ll see that Mahoney sought out the world’s very best (including James Hoffmeier, Bryant Wood, and John Bimson, among others). While you may not agree with all their conclusions, these folks know what they’re talking about.
I am not an archaeologist or Egyptologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I will say that I found the overall argument of Patterns of Evidence thoroughly convincing. The main contention of the movie is that, while secular archaeologists claim there is no evidence for the Exodus, that’s purely because they’re looking in the wrong time frame. If, however, they dug just a bit deeper and examined the evidence from the 16th and 15th centuries BC (which actually corresponds nicely with the Bible), the evidence is abundant. But since, according to the secularists, the Exodus couldn’t possibly have occurred this early (why this assumption?), the evidence (and thus the Exodus) is dismissed out-of-hand. If that didn’t make sense, the movie lays it out clearly and simply. I was especially fascinated by what are almost certainly the tombs of Joseph and the 12 patriarchs of Israel. If you’re open-minded, I imagine you’ll find this film highly persuasive.
In conclusion, I enthusiastically recommend Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. Yes, it’s long and technical but I believe it is worth watching, especially for those of us who believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God (and to imagine that such a movie was shown in secular movie theaters across the country is something for which we should praise the Lord). Maybe consider breaking it up into two, one-hour-long parts and watch it in two sittings. It is also something which could be used beneficially in two or three Sunday school lessons and discussed together. But it is definitely helpful to be familiar with the archaeology underlying the Exodus. And if the conclusions are anywhere close to being accurate, Patterns of Evidence powerfully supports the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Here is the trailer:
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.