Timothy P. Mahoney is a commercial and documentary filmmaker, who founded Thinking Man Films production company with the stated purpose of encouraging people “to reexamine what they have been taught about science, history, religion, and culture.”
His first feature-length documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus---A Filmmaker's Journey, is the focus of this interview. It won the award for Best Documentary at the 2014 Pan Pacific Film Festival in Los Angeles. The DVD of the film, along with a companion book with the same title, will be released in August of 2015. For more information, visit the official Patterns of Evidence website.
Timothy P. Mahoney Interview
Does modern science provide evidence for the Exodus story? bitly.com/evidenceofexodus #apologetics #skepticismThank you for agreeing to this interview with TheBestSchools.org. Could we begin by hearing about your personal journey? When and where were you born? What were your family's circumstances? What role did religious faith play in your upbringing? Where were you educated? How did you get involved in the commercial video and film business? Outside of being a film-maker, what has been your day job?
Timothy P. Mahoney
I was born in Minneapolis in 1957 and am the oldest of four children. My mother was a music teacher and my father was a decorated Korean War vet who eventually became a police officer and state trooper. Due to post-traumatic stress and police work, my father could become very angry. During one of those times for our own safety my mother decided it was time to leave. My folks separated when I was 11 years old and later divorced. My father left the state and I didn't have any contact with him for many years.
In this single-parent environment, my mother, as a person of faith, would read Bible stories to us every night before we went to bed. So, there was a foundation she laid for me that these stories were true, and because they were true she believed that we could trust God to help us in our own time of need.
I graduated from Edina-East High School in 1975 and went to what is now called North Central University in Minneapolis where I took a two-year Associate of Arts degree. I then attend a local film school run by a group of independent filmmakers. It was called “Film in the Cities.” It was one of the happiest times of my education. We had real filmmakers for instructors, very small classes, and professional gear like 16mm film cameras, sound gear, and editing tables. The experience was amazing and having close access to the instructors meant that all of our questions could be answered.
During this same time I was working part-time for my uncle at his body shop learning the trade of car painting. That fall I met my future wife, Jill. She was attending Illinois State University and came to Minnesota to visit her brother's family. We were married the next year, bought a house, and the following year had our first of four children. With a growing family I needed real income, which meant I didn't complete film school but started painting cars for a local dealership. I was a musician and had played pedal steel guitar on a number of records during my high school and college years. So, I had the idea to put a recording studio in my home as a means into the media business. I got work doing jingles and a series of slideshows for Honeywell. Eventually, I made an hour-long outdoor archery video called “Silver Mountain Memories.” I had spent our life savings to make the film and, although it didn't sell that well, it got me into my first ad agency as a TV commercial producer and video guy.
In 1989, I left the agency to start my own creative production company, Mahoney Media Group.
Minneapolis has a lot of major companies headquartered here and I was able to get production business from companies like Northwest Airlines, Pillsbury/Grand Met, Seagate, 3M, NAPA Auto Parts, and Federal Cartridge. I also got work from a number of ad agencies and started to work with growing franchises like ABRA Auto Body and non-profits like the Red Cross, Children's Hospital, and the Boys Scouts of America. We also had a large niche in the outdoor world, filming around the country in mountains and streams for Best-in-Class Sportsman products.
It was a fantastic education and I was developing my creative muscles by listening to businesses and their communications needs, and then coming up with creative solutions and the professional looks they needed. In the past 25 years, we have grown into one of the major production companies in the area, doing regional and national work.
I had a concern though; I didn't want to get complacent and stuck in the commercial/corporate world of production. I have always had a burning desire to do something much bigger eventually. I was interested in making movies, but I had to make a living. The first opportunity began when I started to develop a series of 30-minute documentaries---"Behind the Scenes" TV specials for new films that were being produced by World Wide Pictures, the motion picture arm of the Billy Graham Association. In 1999, I also developed a national TV special with Grizzly Adams Productions, called "Secrets of the Bible Code Revealed." These are just are a partial list of the projects I have participated in over 35 years of writing, directing, and producing.
In 2000, I heard about a project that concerned searching for the route of the Exodus. It even had people diving for the remains of Pharaoh's army on the bottom of the Red Sea. That began my interest in what would eventually lead me to Egypt, the Sinai, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Europe, and a variety of American cities trying to answer the question: Did the events recorded in the Bible, like the Exodus, really happen?
Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus is both your first full-length documentary film and also a labor of love. We will be focusing on this film throughout this interview. (Note: after several special showings, the film will be released on DVD for general distribution on August 4.)
Therefore, could you please give us a quick description of the film---your underlying assumptions, your methodology, your basic claims, etc.---for the benefit of our readers who have not yet had a chance to view the film?
Timothy P. Mahoney
How would I describe Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus?
It really is my attempt to take the viewer on the journey that I experienced as a documentary filmmaker looking for evidence of the Exodus story in Egypt and Israel. It's one of the most foundational stories in the Bible and features Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt and on to the Promised Land.
And one thing that I like about documentary film is that often the filmmaker is never sure where the story is going to take them. If you would have told me that it would eventually take 12 years to make this film, I would have just cried and said “No Way, I can't last for 12 years working on one film!” But it took me that long to understand how to unwrap a very complex problem and make it visual. And I didn't do it alone, but with the help of a lot of scholars and team members.
Again, the film is about answering one question:
Is there a pattern of evidence at any time in the archaeology of Egypt and Israel that matches the events of the Exodus and the Conquest as recorded in the Bible?
Were there any underlying assumptions? Yes. We decided to take the biblical text as you would any other historical document. So, we just let the Bible speak for itself.
The methodology was simple, yet what many would say is brilliant: We identified six major events in the biblical text, ARRIVAL, MULTIPLICATION, SLAVERY, JUDGMENT, EXODUS, and CONQUEST. All six of these events had to be in the right sequence and in the right time span in order for them to qualify as potential evidence for the Exodus event.
I also knew that whatever we did had to be visual. We created a wonderful device called "The Wall of Time." This concept allowed a work space for the language of scholars to be understood. We simplified their definitions onto this Wall of Time so that we ourselves, as well as the viewer, could understand what time period and what event we were all talking about. I have even had numerous children conversing with me about Egyptian Kingdoms and Bronze Ages after seeing the film---they got it. They understood the key ideas and how they relate to each other.
But, I did have other concerns, because there was a great risk when I started to do this. I thought that there could possibly be no evidence and a lot of people who believed in these stories would be hurt or offended. But, the reality was that the majority of mainstream scholars had already come to the conclusion that these early events in the Bible were not historical. At Tel Aviv University Professor Ze'ev Herzog told me, “The Exodus story is a legendary compilation about the people of Israel but it has no real historical basis.” Here we have an Israeli archaeologist telling me that the foundation story of his own people was a myth. Why did he say this? Because when he dug up the archaeology, it didn't add up to the biblical story and he felt he couldn't lie to himself anymore.
I asked Professor Israel Finkelstein (right), who wrote the book, The Bible Unearthed (Free Press, 2001): "Do you think people made up these stories in the Bible?"
He put it this way: “There was a need in the time of the authors to tell the story. This does not mean that they invented the story. I don't believe in authors inventing stories anywhere, in Jerusalem or any other place in the Iron Age. We need to go to a broader understanding of the work of the authors. They collected traditions from the two Hebrew kingdoms, especially from Judea, of course, but not only, and they put those traditions into work in order to convey their ideology.”
The experience was an ongoing education and what we uncovered was an amazing pattern of evidence matching all six of the biblical events. But not in the time period where many believed they should exist.
Patterns of Evidence has been 12 years in the making. Could you give us a brief run-down of the steps by which you became involved in this project? What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the project launched? Who were its major funders? Why did it take so long?
Timothy P. Mahoney
I originally became interested in this topic in 2000, and over the next two years developed this current project back in 2002. This was also a year after 9/11 and heading to the Middle East was not something a lot of people were doing at the time. I was not involved in front of the camera work at first. I learned about a Swedish DNA scientist, Dr. Lennart Moller, who was researching the route of the Exodus, so we went to Egypt with Moller and spent a month at numerous temples along the Nile, following the possible crossing sites of the Bitter Lakes, Lake Manzala, the Suez, and then traveled down into the Sinai Peninsula to several mountains in that region and ended up at the Gulf of Aqaba. When we returned via London, we filmed at the British Museum and then went off to Liverpool to interview Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen. That was the beginning of my role shifting from director to interviewer.
There are always challenges to making a film. These challenges never cease. First, do we have an idea for where the film should go? Can we raise the money? Can we get into Egypt? Can we get to a difficult area and get a very important interview? Can we get out of the country with all of our film? Can we make a film out of the material we have shot? What is this story really about, again?
For us, the project kept getting bigger and bigger. I think we have conducted one of the largest investigations on this topic ever recorded visually. Currently, I believe we have at least a trilogy of films and the brand is much larger then even that. In one of my interviews with Egyptologist Jim Phillips I believe he said, “Why are you searching for the route of the Exodus when the real question is ‘Did the Exodus ever happen in the first place!'" It was after that that we started to focus on looking for an answer to that question, and that became the first film. Now, we are looking at the next film, searching for the route of the Exodus and the location of Mt Sinai.
But to sum up our challenges, there are usually two things:
1. MONEY - It costs a lot to keep all of the research, filmmaking, and marketing funded. We need more patrons---just like the great artists throughout the centuries had some patrons who allowed them to create the works that have lasted for centuries.
2. CLARITY - What is it that we are trying to say? Do we really understand what is happening?
And I think that what we have contributed is the ability to take all of the work of these scholars and step back and through the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus show a mosaic of information that tells what I believe, and many others are now agreeing as well, is a new and interesting pattern that matches the stories the Bible. I think a film has a way of telling you how it should be made if you go out and do the work of gathering the footage and do the research.
This film is a commercial project just like many independent films. Most of our funding has come from within. I have taken profits from my own production company and services to fund the making of this film for over a decade. David Wessner, our executive producer, and his family have funded the larger portion. We have other investors, as well. We are developing many products, both commercial and educational, so there is a possibility of other types of giving and investing in the future.
You have said that a crisis of faith brought you to this project. Could you tell us more about this? The veracity of the Bible seems to have been at the center of this crisis for you. Did you first resolve this crisis in your own mind and then produce your documentary, or did the making of the documentary itself help resolve the crisis? Or has the crisis yet to be resolved? Please explain.
Timothy P. Mahoney
When I went off to Egypt the first time in 2002, I didn't know what the position of mainstream scholarship was about the historical credibility of the Exodus. I was just on a lifetime adventure, finally working on a film that I believed had some significance. We coordinated a trip with our Egyptian production company and headed early one morning from Cairo to the northeast area of the Delta known today as Tel el-Dab'a. I was trying to find the dig site of one of the world's premier Egyptologists, Austrian Manfred Bietak (right). He had been digging in the areas of the early Israelite settlements as recorded in the Bible. When I reached his site with a full film crew, he wasn't too happy at the uninvited arrival. But I treated him like I had just found Livingstone. I had been emailing him for several months and never connected. When I explained, he kindly agreed to an interview.
So, I asked him.
“What have you found at this site?”
Bietak said, “We uncovered the remains of a huge town of 250 hectares with a population of approximately 25,000--30,000 individuals. These were people who originated from Canaan, Syria-Palestine. Originally, they may have come here as subjects of the Egyptian crown or with the blessing of the Egyptian crown. Obviously, this town enjoyed something like a special status, like a free zone, something like that.”
I would learn that this city of foreigners had a long history in the midst of Egyptian territory, with no walls or defenses. These facts indicate that it had been allowed to develop by the authorities. What Bietak said sounded exactly like the Bible. The Bible says that the pharaoh gave his blessing by allowing the early Israelites to settle freely in the best part of Egypt. Once there, they and their flocks prospered and multiplied greatly. This was just what I was looking for.
So I asked him, “Could these foreigners be the early Israelites?”
He was careful as he replied, “We have some evidence of shepherds. We find again and again in this area pits with goats and sheep. So, we know shepherds, probably Bedouins, with huge herds roamed around this. But to connect this with the proto-Israelites is a very weak affair.”
I was stunned when Bietak said it was a weak affair. This was not what I had expected to hear from him. A weak affair? I thought this was a new discovery, a new connection to the story in the Bible. The tat, tat, tat, tat of the water pump seemed to grow louder as my mind tried to comprehend what I had just heard. My attention was brought back by a flock of startled birds rising from the adjoining field. Bietak was waiting for my next question.
“Why couldn't these be the Israelites when they match the Bible's story so well?”
“According to my opinion, the settlement of the proto-Israelites in Canaan only happened from the 12th century BC onwards.”
What Manfred Bietak was saying was that the physical evidence of these people at Avaris was centuries too early to be connected to the events of the Exodus. He believes that the earliest settlement of the Israelites in the land of Canaan didn't happen until after the time of Ramesses II (left).
In Bietak's view, the evidence for the Semitic occupation he's uncovered at Avaris runs from about 1850--1550 BC. Since the Conquest of Canaan happened shortly after the Exodus, this makes the Avaris evidence too old to be connected with the Ramesses Exodus Theory date of around 1250 BC.
I thanked him for his interview and then directed the cameraman to film some of the activities of the dig site. While I walked back through the tall grass to the van, I didn't know then how those five minutes with Bietak would impact my life for years to come.
We rode back to Cairo with the countryside projecting its images against the window. The sun had set, and blurred reflections of palm trees, fields, and canals escorted our journey home. Now I had done it. I had gone to the very location where the events of the Exodus were said to have happened and stood before one of a handful of men in the world who could tell me if there was any evidence for the Israelites in Egypt, and he'd basically told me there wasn't any. The implications were profound, because no Israelites in Egypt means no Exodus. And no Exodus means that the foundational story of Judaism is based on a myth.
For Christians, if the Exodus never happened, it means that Jesus Christ and the writers of the New Testament also got it wrong, since they all accepted the historical reality of Moses and the Exodus and built their teachings on them.
(Excerpt from Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus hardcover book)
After that interview, the doubts about the story were planted in my mind and it was the beginning of my crisis of faith. Remember, I was raised by a single mom who had put all her trust in this book filled with stories about how God rescued people and cared for them through all sorts of adversity. Now, had everything she believed and tried to teach her own children been just a myth? There became in my own life a dissonance between faith and reason which I wasn't willing to share with anyone, not even my wife. I reasoned that if the one man who dug at the location where the Israelites were supposed to have lived doesn't see any evidence, then something was greatly wrong.
I was in an editing suite one Saturday morning reviewing Manfred Bietak's interview when all of this came to a head. I stopped editing and sat there as a cold chill of unbelief came over me. Had we believed in a lie all this time?
After a moment, another thought interrupted me with an idea that I was to stop editing and go to my library. I got up and walked to my office. There, on a lower shelf, I noticed a book that someone had given me a year earlier that I hadn't read. It was David Rohl's Pharaohs and Kings (Crown, 1996). When I opened and began to leaf through it---I was startled to find Bietak's dig site explained in a whole different light. David Rohl (right), an Egyptologist and an agnostic, wasn't interested in the Bible at all; he had been dealing with Egyptian chronology trying to sort out problems in Egypt's timeline. He started to recognize major anomalies in certain periods. Then, he realized that these anomalies would impact other significant events, including those mentioned in the Bible. When he looked at what Bietak was uncovering, he saw that the archaeological record was similar to the story of Joseph and the Israelites' early arrival into the land of Egypt. Rohl also found the archaeology matched other events, including the inhabitants' fall into hardship similar to that of slavery and their sudden departure matching the biblical Exodus out of Egypt. This core information and much more also became the basis for a BBC television special.
So, making this film brought me both into a crisis of faith and ultimately out of this crisis of faith. But what I could see is that if we didn't make this film, others would go down a path similar to my own and make a decision about the historical credibility of the Bible that I think would be inaccurate. Even though it took 12 years to unravel, I believe that Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus now gives another option for people to consider. It reveals strong supporting evidence that matches six major biblical events in the correct sequence; it allows both sides, pro and con, to express their opinions; and it allows the viewer to make their own decision.
The great German historian Leopold von Ranke famously said the historian's job is to find out “wie es eigentlich gewesen.” In other words, how it really was or what really happened. In your film, you show Rabbi David Wolpe telling Michael Medved that the Exodus is “a story that whether it was true, it is true.” On this view, what really happened is not what matters. What matters is how people respond to and internalize what is said to have happened, and the role that this story thus plays in their lives. Wolpe is thus advocating a reader-response or narratival approach to the Exodus rather than a traditional realistic approach, as was customary in times past.
You clearly take Ranke's side against Wolpe with respect to the Exodus. You want to know what really happened, not what people believe or imagine happened, or what good it does them to do so. Why is that and why is that important to you? What if Wolpe were right and demonstrably so (i.e., no real Exodus of Israelites from Egypt to Canaan)? What difference would that make to you personally?
Timothy P. Mahoney
In Rabbi Wolpe's defense, when I talked with him the first time, which was a decade earlier, he told me that Israel Finkelstein's archaeological work showed there was little if any evidence for an Exodus or a Conquest. These findings greatly influenced Rabbi Wolpe (left) to write his controversial Passover sermon, in which he suggested that the Exodus didn't happen as written in the Scriptures. That statement shook many people.
In his interview with Wolpe, national Radio Host Michael Medved leaned forward and asked about this sermon: “I know that a lot of people who heard your sermon all of those years ago, questioning the historical reliability of the Exodus, felt as if they had been hit right in the guts.”
Medved continued, “What did you want people to feel, not to think, but to feel about the Exodus?”
“I wanted them---not about the Exodus, but about their faith---I wanted them to feel that their faith was unshakable, that it didn't matter what the conclusions were of archaeologists, scientists, and historians.”
Medved questioned, “If it turns out that there is better archaeological, scientific, and historical evidence of the actuality of the Exodus, of the accuracy in its core of the biblical account that can be shown scientifically to be reliable---does that change your theology?”
Wolpe smiled. “I'll dance in the streets! But no, it doesn't change my theology. But I'd be very pleased because at least the controversy would be over. Look, if there is historical evidence, I think it's wonderful and I'd be thrilled, and that's great. But that's not what my faith is based on. It just isn't.”
(Excerpt from Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus hardcover book)
As a filmmaker who has interviewed a lot of people concerning these subjects, let me bring in a few of my other friends. First, Professor John Bimson, of Trinity College Bristol, in England. I asked Professor Bimson: “Can you have a belief in the Bible if there is no historical basis for its events?”
He held a view very different from Rabbi Wolpe's. “If you took away the historical basis, then you've really deprived it of a lot of its theological truth. So much of what the Old Testament says about the character of God and his purposes in calling Israel are intertwined with this story of this people coming out of Egypt and entering the Promised Land. So history and theology are tightly intertwined in the Bible.”
I will invite another, Dr. Walt Kaiser, an Old Testament scholar and author of numerous books and commentaries who has served as an instructor and Dean at Trinity Theological Seminary, and was President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He saw the film and we asked him: “Does it matter whether the events of the Bible are true or not?
He replied: “Sure it does! There is within the human psyche a real desire: ‘I've got to know if this is true or not.' You can fool yourself and say for a while, ‘Well I can still believe it, even if it didn't happen.' But, why carry on the SHAM? Why deal with something of our own making? And if we won't say it, then our children and grandchildren will say it. They will just say: ‘Ha dad, you're fooling yourself. Cut it out. I'm not going to follow that stuff because it has no basis in truth.' God is a God of truth---he keeps emphasizing that all along. And if we can't show the reality of what is posted there in the Scriptures, then I think we ought to give up. That doesn't mean in every case I can show every fact. I had a teacher, Merill Tenney, my New Testament teacher, who used to say, ‘Look, whenever you have a problem put it on a back burner, turn the heat down, don't turn the heat up, it will make a mess out of your mind. It will boil over. But keep it on simmer, keep reflecting, keep looking.' And he said, ‘You'll be surprised how many of those pots you can take off the stove over the years as you come into more and more evidence. Because that is what life is about---it's about expanding our understanding and our involvement. And then you can put on a new pot on the stove with a new problem.' I liked that. I think that was a good way to handle that.”
I have found myself agreeing with Professor Bimson and Dr. Walt Kaiser. Why bother with any of these stories and what they mean for us today if they are fairy tales? But on the other hand, if there is truth to them, then it changes the way I think about the world and what decisions I need to make for my family and myself.
We would now like to probe some specific issues raised by Patterns of Evidence, and to ask you to respond to some criticisms of the film. Some of our questions will be hard-hitting, but please understand that we raise them because difficult questions, if left unanswered, don't go away but merely keep raising their head. We are sympathetic with your project and would like, short of its complete success, to see it bring clarity to many thorny questions regarding Egyptian and Israelite archeology.
In the Zondervan Archaeological Study Bible (2005, p. 106), in its article “The Date of the Exodus,” the editors write: “Unfortunately, no single theory completely harmonizes archaeological evidence with Biblical claims.” Your film, commendably, tries to redress this problem. Please comment.
Timothy P. Mahoney
Let me begin by reminding everyone of the title of this film---it's called, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. The majority of the two-hour investigation is spent looking for six major events and their surrounding characteristics in the archaeology and finds of ancient Egypt and Palestine. The film is not called "Chronology: The Exodus." That's a different film to make. But time does play fundamentally into the investigation. The current academic world has one major assumption and that is that if the Exodus happened, it happened during the time of Ramesses II. But when anyone has looked into that time period, the evidence does not support the Exodus story. So something is wrong. Either it's the Bible, or the idea that Ramesses is the pharaoh of the Exodus, or a number of other possibilities. That is why many believe that the Bible's early history is mythical.
How we decided to deal with this was to start over. Can we find all six events---ARRIVAL, MULTIPLICATION, SLAVERY, JUDGMENT, EXODUS and CONQUEST---in the correct sequence during any time in the history of Egypt and Canaan? And the simple answer is: Yes! This approach has harmonized archaeological evidence with the biblical claims.
Previously, other theories for a possible Exodus were based on one or two connecting points, but failed to have all six major events in sync with their idea. So, the standard to set is that any successful theory needs to fulfill all of the criteria, and if not, have some reasonable answer for the lack of evidence.
One of the obstacles early on to understanding this problem, as I have mentioned, was being chained to the idea that Ramesses II must be the pharaoh of the Exodus. Once we were freed from that, we could look anywhere in Egypt's past.
Dr. Walt Kaiser, who as you know was one of the editors of the Zondervan Archaeological Study Bible, had this to say about both Ramesses and the film:
Well, I was impressed by the film, I thought that it has some excellent points of view, particularly on the types of houses that came at Avaris. I liked the 1440 date for Exodus. I think this film makes a wonderful prelude to the uncovering some of these things; all we need is one or two real good epigraphic materials that are written materials that will be extremely helpful. But it is clear there is no way that Ramesses I or II or any of them are going to actually work. There just is not enough time. So, why do the archeologists insist upon that as the possible date as the Exodus, or, moreover, say there never was an Exodus at all? I appreciated the Admonitions of Ipuwer and think we're on the right track there and I think the film showed a lot of good sense. Just watching body language and the way in which the experts have responded is an indication that we are on to something, we need to keep pressing. So, I like it, congratulations. I think it will make a great film. I just hope for one or two more breaks that will unlock the case for you. So, I like it very much.
Here is what Dr. Norman Geisler, Christian theologian, apologist, and co-author of The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible (Harvest House, 2013), had to say after seeing Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus:
Patterns are really more important than dates because dates kind of fluctuate and the argument about dates is still ongoing. So, finding patterns, especially patterns that have more than one event in them, is a very important thing and I think the pattern here fits perfectly into the time period which the OT gives for that event. So, to find a series of patterns that fits the Exodus is crucial to ultimately dating the Exodus.
We asked Dr. Geisler if other reputable scholars question Egypt's chronology and the Exodus date. He replied:
There are a lot of reputable scholars who question Egypt's chronology. I've studied under Dr. Gleason Archer who was a Harvard Ph.D. He knows the 30 languages and all of the surrounding biblical languages. He wrote a book on the OT and he held the early date of the Exodus. There are numerous scholars but they haven't hit the mainstream of the media because they all recite the party line---you know, what's politically correct---and the politically correct view is not to talk about an early Exodus because they've pretty well captured the media outlets of the people who hold to the late date for the Exodus. And it's hard for them to give an articulate view in the media for these minority voices because they just aren't acceptable by the mainstream, but there are numerous scholars. There's an organization of scholars, 3000 people. The Evangelical Theological Society, for example, is the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world and most of the OT people in the Society would agree that there was an early date for the Exodus.
And when we asked him, "How do you feel about the film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus?," this is what he said:
I was very impressed with it. I was not only impressed with it; I was overjoyed by it because it's the best presentation of the material that I've seen. I've seen a lot of material and studied archaeology and been to the Holy Land, and I was so impressed because it put together so much material in a balanced way by giving both sides of the view, but yet allowing for a credible view for an early date for the Exodus. There is a tremendous value in filmmakers pursuing these types of projects because otherwise the masses won't get the point. This is a very technical point that scholars argue about all the time in the books, but the average person wouldn't be interested in the books and wouldn't get the point. They'd get lost in the forest for the trees. But this puts it out in a visual way that enables the average person to see and understand what's going on.
Let's start with Larry Largent over at Biblical Remains website. He says that the proposal you make to move Egyptian chronology forward by two centuries so that the archaeological evidence aligns better with the Exodus story is an old---and largely discredited---idea. How would you respond? Absent the Bible, is there any other evidence from the ancient world to justify this reinterpretation of Egyptian chronology? Please elaborate.
Timothy P. Mahoney
There is a great deal of evidence in the Egyptian archaeological record that indicates a revision of the chronology of Egypt is required. Much of it was published in David Rohl's best-selling book, A Test of Time (Random House of Canada, 1995; published in the USA as Pharaohs and Kings, mentioned above). All around the ancient world there are anomalous dark ages created by an overly stretched Egyptian chronology, since the Bronze Age Greek, Anatolian, and Levantine civilizations are all dependent on Egypt for their dating. This "dark age" problem was addressed in the book Centuries of Darkness (Jonathan Cape, 1991), written by a group of postgraduate scholars based in the UK, as well as in David Rohl's book, The Lords of Avaris (Century, 2007). All this is completely independent of the Bible.
The last time David Rohl came to Minneapolis to give lectures and attend showings of the Patterns movie to large church audiences, my researcher, Steve Law, invited Larry Largent to meet David Rohl and discuss his Internet critique. They spent an entire afternoon in my company boardroom. Steve reported to me that Largent had admitted that he had not read any of Rohl's books or published academic papers. This is the standard of review you are referencing.
It was immediately clear to both Rohl and Law that Largent did not really understand Rohl's New Chronology. How could he, since he had never studied it? In the end, his entire case boiled down to the issue of the Philistines. He claimed that they had not arrived in the Levant until the invasion of the Sea Peoples in the reign of Ramesses III at the end of the Late Bronze age, and since the Philistines first appear in the time of the Judges, this meant that the Exodus could not be as early as the Middle Bronze Age where Rohl puts it. When it was pointed out to him that he was, in fact, in error because the Philistines first appear in the Book of Genesis as contemporaries of both Abraham and Isaac, he simply dismissed the biblical usage as an anachronism. When it was further pointed out that the Philistine "cities of the plain" during the Amarna Period (late 18th Dynasty) were ruled over by kings bearing Indo-European names, he denied that these could be the Philistine seranim (lords) at the time of Saul and David. When he was informed that several scholars (including Finkelstein) had noted the parallels between Labaya, king of the hill country, and Saul, king of the hill country, both of whom waged war against the cities of lowland Philistia, and both of whom died in battle against the lords of those cities at or near Mount Gilboa, and who both had a surviving son called "Man of Baal" . . . well, he had no response.
Larry Largent is not an expert when it comes to the intricacies of chronology and Syro-Palestine stratigraphy. He is just repeating the mistakes and misunderstandings of other people who do not understand Rohl's thesis, simply because they have not read it or studied it. The fact is that the standard view is the one that does not supply satisfactory results for the Exodus events, while the pattern in the Middle Bronze Age/Middle Kingdom is very strong.
Here's another issue. Ted Wright, on the Crossexamined website, has taken you to task for relying so heavily on David Rohl's revision of Egyptian chronology. His main beef is that Rohl's ideas do unacceptable mischief to interconnected datings in Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere. Other respected biblical archaeologists we have consulted make similar points---redating the Exodus to the Middle Kingdom simply does too much violence to well-established chronologies in other parts of the Middle East.
Could you please respond to these two points? First, why do you place so much weight on Rohl's proposed datings? Your film describes Rohl as an Egyptologist. However, his critics would argue that since he lacks formal training and credentials in the field, he is essentially a layman. How would you defend Rohl to such critics?
Second, how would you respond more generally to the crucial point that redating the Exodus in the way you propose messes things up everywhere else?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Where did you get the idea that David Rohl "lacks formal training and credentials in the field"? In no way is he a "layman," as you suggest. That is patently untrue. Being fair-minded, I contacted David about this challenge, which he is all-to-familiar with. He appreciated the opportunity to defend himself and supplied me much of the following information.
David has degrees from University College London in Egyptology (studied under Professors Harry Smith and Geoffrey Martin), Ancient History (studied under Professor Amelie Khurt), Levantine Archaeology (studied under Professor Peter Parr), and Mycenaean and Minoan Archaeology (studied under Professor Nicholas Coldstream). His tutors were some of the top experts in their fields. This is what Peter Parr, Head of Levantine Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, London, had to say about Rohl:
I have known David Rohl for at least 20 years, as an undergraduate and research student at University College London; as a member of my excavation team at Tell Nebi Mend (ancient Qadesh-on-the-Orontes) in Syria; as a colleague and travelling companion; and as a personal friend. He was outstanding as a student, with an exceptionally profound knowledge of the archaeology of Egypt, the Near East, and the Mediterranean region. Most impressive was his ability to keep up-to-date with current research, and to assimilate new discoveries and ideas into his own work. He already had a highly developed critical faculty and never hesitated to challenge the currently accepted wisdom, ever seeking new answers to old questions, as well as formulating new questions, which he believed archaeology should address.
Since his student days Rohl has become a successful author of books and maker of films on ancient history and archaeology, all of them exhibiting the quite extraordinary enthusiasm he has always had for the subject, and what can only be described as a passion to disseminate the results of his research among a wide, non-professional public.
David was awarded the prestigious W. F. Masom postgraduate history scholarship by the University of London. He excavated the famous site of Kadesh-on-the-Orontes in Syria with the Institute of Archaeology, London. He was a tutor in the Department of History at UCL. He was Field Director of the Eastern Desert Survey in Egypt and Editor of the Eastern Desert Survey Report. He spent 12 years as Director of the Institute for the Study of Interdisciplinary Sciences, and Editor (for 10 years) of the Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum. During his postgraduate research years he organized six academic conferences at the University of Reading, attended by some of Egyptology's leading figures.
In addition, he became Archaeology Correspondent for one of the UK's leading newspapers, presented three internationally acclaimed documentary series for Discovery Channel (USA) and Channel Four (UK) based on his work, appeared in numerous documentaries for the BBC, has written six major books on the ancient world (three of which were best-sellers), and was Honorary President of Sussex Egyptology Society (in the company of Professor Kent Weeks and Professor Barry Kemp).
David, at the age of 13, was also the youngest person to become a member of the Egypt Exploration Society back in 1964, having been nominated by Professor Herbert Fairman of Liverpool University. He first went to Egypt at the tender age of nine and has returned more than 100 times. He has also traveled widely over the entire Middle East, including nine expeditions into Kurdistan, Luristan, and elsewhere in Mesopotamia and Western Iran in search of evidence for the early Genesis stories. There are few scholars who know the landscape of the ancient world better than David Rohl.
David Rohl is a genuine scholar with a full list of academic credentials, who is an expert in ancient world chronology. His chronological revision of Egyptian history allows the obvious pattern of evidence for the six steps of the Sojourn, Exodus, and Conquest that he has uncovered in the late Middle Kingdom to coincide with the biblical date of circa 1450 BC for Exodus. If you do not employ his chronology, then the pattern of evidence, highlighted in the Patterns film, is disconnected from the biblical date by 200 years. In which case, a revision of the biblical timeline is required, placing Solomon two centuries earlier than Edwin Theile's dates for the United Monarchy period.
Which would you prefer, revising the Bible's timeline or removing two centuries from the dark age known as the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period? Removing these 200 years from the TIP also removes, in one stroke, all the dark ages in the ancient world (dependent on Egyptian dating), which were created as a direct consequence of the over-extended Egyptian chronology.
On your second point, Rohl's chronology does just the opposite of what those critics claim. As I said, they do not appear to understand what he is proposing and just keep repeating the same old mistakes of others. Rohl's dating harmonizes biblical history with both Egyptian history and the archaeology of the Holy Land. As an example, archaeologists note the strange conundrum that, following the destructions of the Middle Bronze Age cities in the hill country of Canaan, there is no evidence of cities during the first part of the Late Bronze Age. All they find is cemeteries, but no settlements. Finkelstein reasons that this is because the population were semi-nomadic and lived in tents. In Rohl's chronology, this would be the time of the early Judges when the Israelites, having destroyed the Canaanite cities, lived in their tents. In what way is that "messing up" the archaeology of the Holy Land? Why don't you ask the critics you mention to give you some actual examples of how the archaeology is "messed up"? Then, perhaps, we can explore those specifics. And I think it would be useful to order David's new book, Exodus---Myth or History? (Thinking Man Media, 2015), from the Patterns of Evidence web store, since it has a mass of extra evidence and detailed arguments to support his Middle Bronze Age Exodus theory.
Ted Wright (in his blog) quotes Bryant Wood as exemplifying the critiques of Rohl's archaeological revision:
A revised Egyptian chronology would directly affect the dating of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Palestine since the dating of those periods is dependent upon synchronisms with Egyptian history. Biblical chronology, on the other hand, remains unchanged since it is derived from synchronisms with Assyria in the Divided Kingdom period and then calculated backwards using the internal chronological data of the Bible.
Exactly what is the criticism here? Yes, Rohl's thesis revises our understanding of biblical history in relationship to the archaeology of the Holy Land. But wasn't that the whole point? The current conventional interpretation does not work, and that is why leading scholars say that the Bible is a myth. In order to find the Bible in archaeology, of course we have to revise our understanding of the archaeological record! The implications of such a new understanding are entirely beneficial. Take, for example, the archaeology of Jericho.
The city of Jericho was destroyed in the Middle Bronze IIB, burnt to the ground and abandoned for six centuries (that is the consensus among archaeologists, with the exception of Bryant Wood). It was then rebuilt as a town in the Iron Age IB. In the Bible, Jericho was destroyed by Joshua and the Israelites, burnt to the ground, and cursed. No one could build anew there without laying the foundations on the bodies of his sons. In the time of Ahab, a man called Hiel rebuilt Jericho, laying its foundations on his two sons. In the conventional dating, Jericho is destroyed some 200 years before the time of Joshua, so (in the words of Professor Bill Dever) “Joshua destroyed a city that wasn't even there!” Then, according to the archaeological record, Jericho was rebuilt during the late Judges period (this is where conventional thinking places the judges), i.e. Iron Age IB (not the time of Ahab).
Where does any of that fit with the biblical narrative? However, in Rohl's chronology, the MB IIB city of Jericho was destroyed by Joshua and then abandoned for six centuries until the time of Ahab (which in his revised dating is the Iron Age IB). This fits exactly with Scripture. So, being open to revising our interpretation of the archaeology is absolutely what needs to be done. That was the whole point of the Patterns of Evidence documentary movie, following David Rohl's 35 years of research.
In your film, you interview several experts who, at least at the time of the filming, dissented from your conclusion about redating Egyptian chronology, such as Israel Finkelstein and James Hoffmeier. Where are they now in their views? How many of these dissenters remain unconvinced? Have any of them had a change of heart after examining the evidence you highlight in your film? Were there any surprising “converts” to your position among these experts? If so, who?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Again, the film is called "Patterns of Evidence' because it focuses on the patterns matching the Bible, and not the chronology. I have yet to hear from Israel Finkelstein, but have sent him a link. And I don't know if Dr. James Hoffmeier (right) has seen the film. Everyone is keen on the last 10 minutes, which asks the question: Why are these patterns earlier then expected? That's when we look at potential reasons for the history being earlier, and I will tell you that in future films there is more supporting evidence that reveals the same pattern of being earlier then expected.
I don't expect many to change their current views, but I think it will help a lot of regular people, as well as young people, to have another viewpoint that shows a strong pattern of evidence that matches the biblical events. Why?
The famous physicist Max Planck once wrote, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Continental Drift Theory was first proposed in 1915. It was only fully accepted by geological science in the 1960s. The Vatican officially apologized for condemning Galileo some 350 years after his death. It took Christianity three centuries to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. Why, then, would you expect an immediate acceptance of a radical reinterpretation of ancient history like this only a few months after the initial US release of the Patterns movie?
I think we just need to be more patient. How many scholars in the field have seen it? Not very many, I would guess. This will be an ongoing process and, just like other theories, it will be tested out over decades. I look forward to exploring all the possible solutions in the future.
In connection with your documentary, you also produced a 30-minute video described on your website as “an expert panel discussion moderated by journalist Gretchen Carlson ... including AnGeL Ministries founder Anne Graham Lotz, best-selling author and TV host Eric Metaxas, religious media commentator and serving the New York Archdiocese Father Jonathan Morris and speaker and radio show host Dennis Prager.” As a cultural commentary on your film, this discussion was interesting, but we would have liked also to see a discussion of the film by archeological experts, especially some of those you interviewed. Are there any plans for having such a discussion?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Yes, there are, but let's go back to the reason why we didn't choose to have an archaeological debate. First, the film was two hours of archaeology. The average person was already overloaded with information; they didn't need more. What the Fathom panel did was help the audience process and give context to this information. And this really resonated with the majority of the viewers. So, when you make a mass media product, it needs to appeal to a mass media audience. There is a plan for more academic engagement for more debate in the future, but this is a much smaller audience. It's what I call “inside baseball.”
Would you care to speculate what such a discussion might show if it featured David Rohl and James Hoffmeier across from each other?
Timothy P. Mahoney
We are hoping to arrange such friendly debates with different participants in the future. I think there is an interest with a lot of people to learn more about the Bible and the archaeology that relates to it. But these things take time.
The good news is that we do have some opportunities happening in the very near future. David Rohl is debating the 13th Dynasty Exodus date with archaeologist Professor Eric Cline (George Washington University) and Egyptologist Professor Betsy Bryan (Johns Hopkins University) at an event organized by the Biblical Archaeology Forum in Washington on October 20, 2015, followed the next day by a postgraduate seminar at George Washington University. There will be similar academic events in the coming months and years. Hopefully, one such debate could be arranged with Professor Hoffmeier. Rohl has often debated his views in the past and we are looking forward to exploring his and other views more in the future.
In the Gretchen Carlson panel discussion mentioned in the last question, Anne Graham Lotz, a daughter of Billy Graham, states that we don't judge the Bible but the Bible judges us. In context, she seems to be saying that we need to accept the truth of the Bible, and that if anything contradicts the Bible, the problem is elsewhere and not with the Bible. Is that your view, too?
Timothy P. Mahoney
I think that I allowed the Bible to speak for itself---or, as Anne Graham Lotz (left) would say, "testify to itself"---but I did this in the way I produced the film. We had interviews from a number of viewpoints, some criticizing and others supporting the historical events recorded in the Bible. At first, it was uncomfortable to not react to someone's comments. But I grew more comfortable in my own understanding about telling a balanced story, and comfortable in letting the Bible tell its own story---it's a story that has survived over 2000 years of scrutiny! And if it is a historical document, then what evidence can be found? Is there any truth? Well, what we found was an amazing pattern.
I also tried to walk a line down the center of the story. The audience needed to trust me---that I was going to take them on a journey that they would be able to feel was fair, honest, and gave them something they didn't have before they saw the film. I think I accomplished that.
What do you say to the concern that some viewers of your documentary might have that it is an exercise in “confirmation bias”---meaning that it is an more about finding and supporting what you want to be true, rather than a dispassionate search for the truth?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Oftentimes, scholars come up with extra-biblical theories about what “really happened” and then try to apply these theories to the biblical account. Then, when the evidence does not end up supporting the entirety of their theory, it's the Bible that gets the bad rap. That's not really testing the actual biblical account---it's testing their “pet” modification of the text.
One of the reasons we separated the JUDGMENT step from the EXODUS step was because so many scholars ignore the judgment aspect of the Exodus. If it happened like the Bible describes, Egypt would have been devastated.
But to get around this idea and the question of miracles, many scholars say things like the following: “The text is an exaggeration. There really weren't that many Israelites in Egypt. The plagues weren't as bad as described. Not all the first-born were killed. Egypt wasn't devastated.”
So, now you have a minor Judgment of Egypt, not a major Judgment, and you can fit that into most times of Egypt's history. But the problem is: now they are testing their “pet” theory, not the claims of the Bible.
In order to fairly test the Bible, our working hypothesis was that the Bible gives an accurate historical account. Then, we went out to see if the evidence supported that hypothesis or not. To discount the Bible and not take it for what it is actually claiming would be a very un-objective approach---it would be biased against the Bible before the investigation even begins.
We don't investigate other historical claims that way. And scholars don't approach other issues dispassionately. People dedicate their lives to a field of study. They are passionate about the ancient world and they start with an idea that interests them. They want to know more about a particular culture or city. So, they come up with an idea of where they should dig and what answers they are likely to find there. They start with a proposal and they pursue that proposal to see if it bears out or not. That's the way science and people work.
As I told you, I was raised to believe that these stories were true, and as I got older I was challenged to lose those beliefs. And there are millions of people who have been through this experience. But, I also know that there are millions of people who still are very curious about what really happened. I think what we all want to know is: Is the Bible based on truth or not? Remember what Dr. Walt Kaiser said: “There is within the human psyche a real desire: ‘I've got to know if this is true or not.' You can fool yourself and say, for a while, ‘Well I can still believe it, even if it didn't happen.' But, why carry on the SHAM?” This approach works for atheists, as well.
Early on, we tested the film with different audiences. For one of the tests, we went to a local theater and showed the film to a wide variety of people who for the most part were not of the faith. What was startling was that when the survey information was gathered, we saw a very interesting statistic. In the category of Atheist and Agnostic, nine out of 10 rated the film Good to Excellent. What was more surprising was that they would recommend it to their friends. So, here we had a two-hour film exploring the questions concerning the Bible and archaeology and atheists wanted to tell their friends to watch it! That's when we knew this film was working on a new level. I think bias was kept in check because the approach was fair and the pattern of evidence profound.
I'll sum it up with archaeologist Bryant Wood's words. I asked him if he was biased and he said, “Yes, I think we all are biased in one form or another, but I didn't plant the evidence in the ground. I just said, look there it is!”
With the film complete and the DVD ready to launch on August 4, what has been your biggest take-away?
Timothy P. Mahoney
That there is a strong pattern of evidence that matches the story of the Exodus, despite the fact that most mainstream scholars today will tell you there is none.
What have you personally learned from this journey?
Timothy P. Mahoney
There are a lot of people who want to do something like make a movie or write a book, but it takes a lot of perseverance to make it happen. Without the daily sacrifice, we wouldn't be talking right now. I am glad I didn't quit.
What do you want viewers to take away from Patterns of Evidence?
Timothy P. Mahoney
That I think that we all need to use our minds more; and that faith and reason can coincide with each other.
I wasn't a particularly good student after my parents' separation and divorce. I attended three different school systems and I really didn't care much about school until the 11th grade. That's when one of my teachers, Barney Hall in a history class, looked at me and said, “Mr. Mahoney, that was a very good answer.” Something happened at that moment and I went from feeling stupid and uninterested in history, and school in general, to thinking differently about my own capability to learn. Mr. Hall gave me something I needed---a positive affirmation of my own intellect.
I think that many people have felt like I did and haven't really connected. That's why we tried so hard to make the film understandable and make the concepts visual. When you see it, you are able to come on the journey and not feel stupid but engaged. So, I would hope that this film awakens people to start to become thinkers about the world and how it relates to their own faith.
How convinced are you personally of the film's main conclusions?
Timothy P. Mahoney
First, let's agree on what the film's main conclusion is. I believe it's that there is a pattern of evidence matching the biblical record found earlier than expected. The question of why this evidence is earlier is still an open question, but one that we have introduced in this first film.
But I can tell you that there are more patterns matching the biblical record in future films---and guess what? They are also earlier then expected. Perhaps what I am most convinced about is that the common claim that there isn't any evidence matching the Exodus is just not true.
In particular, has making the film convinced you personally that the conventional academic understanding of Egyptian chronology is faulty and needs to be adjusted by being moved forward 200 years?
Timothy P. Mahoney
I think there is a lot of evidence suggesting a problem with Egypt's chronology. There are also a lot of problems for the Bible that happen by maintaining the standard chronology, which many conventional thinkers ignore. But, I would like---and am very open---to learning the counterpoints to all of this. There are other possible explanations for why the pattern is earlier, such as an Exodus date long before 1450 BC. We need to be willing to explore all of the possibilities. And these questions can be explored in future films.
You have produced a companion book packed with far more information than could be used in the documentary. Please tell about how the book came to be written.
Timothy P. Mahoney
I was driving to work one day and thought: “We've spent three years sorting out this script and its key ideas. What if we expanded this into a book? That way, all of the material we have had to cut for the film could be taken in as well.”
So, we started the process of writing the book. I added all of the "behind the scenes" stories and conversations I had when the camera wasn't rolling. And I knew we had thousands of photos and re-creations, and everyone wanted the book to help them with the film. We also had great maps and graphics, which included almost 40 "Wall of Time" illustrations.
Another thing that makes it all work so well is the large and diverse cast of characters I have to work with. I really liked all of the people I interviewed and have gotten to know them all very well---at least the transcripts of their interviews.
Who is your coauthor, Steven Law?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Steve is a filmmaker/researcher. Without him, I would have never been able to sort through all of the technical details or understand many of the complexities of the arguments presented. He and I have worked well together over the last years. I would start to write the journey aspects and come up with the creative direction, and Steve would build the logical/structural arguments into the material. When you put our two brains together, we make one complete person.
I would also like to point out two other important people: Our editor, Grace Kosloski, who has done a fantastic job going through numerous revisions, helping us to look good and sound intelligent. And our creative director and designer for the book, who is Kevin O'Neill. Kevin did all of the layout and branding for the entire Patterns of Evidence brand.
Who has endorsed the book?
Timothy P. Mahoney
But I must say that it meant a lot to me the day I went to give her a copy of the book. We were sitting together and she opened it; she was very proud and smiling; and then she cried, and so did I.
But to answer your question seriously, we are in the process of gathering formal endorsements from a number of sources for the book. And have had numerous film endorsements from a broad spectrum of scholars and commentators, as we've demonstrated in our promotional materials. So far, MIT physicist Gerald Schroeder (who wrote the Foreword) has highly commended the book, and archaeologist Bryant Wood has given an enthusiastic endorsement.
How much stronger do you see the book making the case that you present in the documentary? Please elaborate on this last point.
Timothy P. Mahoney
I think that the book is a whole different species from the film, and it certainly gives the film more credibility. We were able to expand the arguments and ideas on all sides to a much broader capacity. The graphics help the reader absorb the information, where in the film we were there and gone onto the next scene. So, the book allows you to pause on a page and really take in the ideas that are being presented.
The book gave me the opportunity to set the stage for the interviews. Now you know what was happening that led to the interview and what was being said between the scholar and myself when the camera wasn't running. The book also made it possible to share more of the setbacks that my team and I were encountering during the making of the film. Another part that I really enjoyed was shining the light on some of our production crew and how they helped to pull all of the creative elements together.
Finally, the book also gave us extended interviews, which I called "Bonus Chapters," because that's what they were: a bonus to the reader, letting the scholar make a fuller argument, if it wasn't fully realized in the film.
Do you have any new film projects underway?
Timothy P. Mahoney
We are currently making additional products around the Patterns of Evidence - The Exodus film: A youth version and small-group study version.
Where do you see yourself headed as a filmmaker (writer, director, producer)?
Timothy P. Mahoney
My hope is to continue to make the next several films in the Patterns of Evidence series.
Are there any other directions in which you would like to go?
Timothy P. Mahoney
I am interested in expanding this brand to its fullest potential, which will be additional films and books, as well as translating the material into a television series and educational materials for homeschoolers, schools, and universities.
Where would you like to be in five years' time? Ten years?
Timothy P. Mahoney
Hopefully, still producing films and media that people would like to see.