Patterns of evidence: Exodus. A review

A new film shows evidence of the Hebrew occupation of ancient Egypt


Published: 15 January 2015 (GMT+10)

Because of the wealth of artifacts, plus famous landmarks like the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, many people are fascinated with Egyptian history. Often, scholars use Egyptian history as a ‘clock’ to calibrate all the surrounding ancient civilizations and this same chronology has been raised as a problem for biblical accuracy—which some say has no solution.

The traditional dates assigned to ancient Egyptian chronology are being used to increase skepticism in the Bible’s account of history. If one speaks with any secular archaeologist today, they will tell you there is no evidence at all of any Hebrew settlement in Egypt, and thus, their Exodus from this country. Like the theory of evolution, traditional conventions are the ruling paradigm and are accepted as fact. These dates and the seeming lack of evidence of the Hebrews in ancient Egypt have created false histories—like seemingly insurmountable reefs upon which the faith of many have been shipwrecked.

Let me say from the outset, as one who has more than a passing interest in the Bible’s history, and in recent times a growing interest in Egyptian chronology, I was skeptical that any documentary or film to do with this subject would be balanced. Most Christian books or videos on the subject usually pay homage to a particular revisionist’s view. It’s understandable though in one sense. The terms ‘Egypt’ and ‘Pharaoh’ are mentioned hundreds of times in the Pentateuch alone although the pharaohs' names are not specifically mentioned. Coupled with the alleged lack of any Egyptian ‘evidence’ of the Hebrews, it is an issue that has plagued Bible believers for a century. As such, when one feels they have solved these problems it may be perceived as a major accomplishment and one’s own raison d’etre can often be tied to same. But, sadly, facts are often shoehorned into one’s particular pet revision. I was expecting more of the same with this film. But I am pleased to say my fears were not realized.

The need for revision

Patterns of Evidence does not spend a great deal of time discussing any one particular revision of Egyptian dates, although it does feature David Rohl quite heavily as a consultant. Rohl is an expert on Egyptian history, and although an agnostic, he believes that the Bible’s account of the Hebrews in Egypt is real history. Rohl, in his books, A Test of Time: The Bible From Myth to History and Pharaohs And Kings: A Biblical Quest among others, strongly argues for a reduction in years assigned to Egyptian chronology. I had some concerns at the heavy featuring of Rohl (he was obviously instrumental in the making of this movie), because there are many biblical scholars who strongly disagree with his revisions as they would also affect traditional Ancient Near East dates. However, at the end, the film fairly shows that there are several people who have different ideas and revisions.1 In any case, supporting any one view was not the major focus of the documentary. It majored on whether there is any archaeological evidence for the Hebrews in Egypt during the time of the pharaonic dynasties, and that the need for a revision in time, in general, is a key to determining their presence.

Israeli Prime Minister, Ben­jamin Netanyahu: “Moses was the great­est rev­o­lu­tion­ary of all time.”

Patterns of Evidence features an impressive lineup of scholars that includes archaeologists (both secular and biblical), historians, theologians—and it also features the President and Prime Ministers of Israel, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu (respectively). The scene is set when both a Jewish archaeologist and Rabbi David Wolpe claim that the Exodus did not happen as written. Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles (perhaps the world’s largest Jewish congregation) and has been described by some as one of the most influential Rabbis in America.2 The film posits the question ‘If the two great religions of the world are based upon historical events that did not actually happen, then what are the consequences?’ Are these religions, in effect, lies? We agree that the consequences of rewriting history are grave, because, in the same way, the creation vs evolution debate is not so much about science but more about two competing histories. It’s a premise that the atheists clearly understand only too well, and it helps explain why the Bible’s history is under so much attack today. Rohl remarks that the Greek historian Herodotus is regarded by many as the first true historian. He wrote about his own travels to Egypt, for instance. However, Rohl argues that Moses was the greatest historian and that the Bible is really the world’s first history book spanning some 4,000 years. We’d certainly agree with that!

A personal journey

Film­maker Timothy Mahoney search­ing for ev­i­dence in Karnak, Egypt

The documentary records the personal journey by filmmaker Tim Mahoney. His desire is to find out the truth about those Bible stories that he had been brought up with as a child, and he confesses to being a tad skeptical at the outset. This is a trait only too familiar for those who’ve received a public education today and along with it a secular view of history. While in Egypt he encounters field experts who maintain that there is no archaeological evidence of Hebrew occupation or that the Exodus ever happened. Without providing too much of a spoiler, it is simply not that clear cut. This is because a lot of evidence that could very easily refer to the Hebrews is ignored or just dismissed from a chronological timing point of view. In other words ‘This mention of a people group could not be referring to the Hebrews because it is 200 years too early.’

This chronological timing error is due to the widely-held view that the Exodus took place during the reign of Ramses II (commonly called Ramses the Great). In Egyptian chronology and the Bible: Do the dates ascribed to the Egyptian dynasties falsify the date of biblical creation? I wrote:

Hollywood and popular culture loves to display Ramses II as the pharaoh of the Exodus in Moses’ time. One main reason is because Exodus 1:11 states that the Israelites built the store cities of Pithom and Raamses (Pi-Ramses). The latter usually gets associated with Ramses II (the Great), and thus, many liberal scholars use this to favour a ‘late Exodus’ date of c. 1267 BC.


… we can determine the probable date of the Exodus from Scripture … A biblical text for the Exodus is 1 Kings 6:1 which says:

“In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.”

Most evangelical scholars generally believe the date for the commencement of the building of the Temple (the fourth year of Solomon’s reign) is in May 967 or 966 BC. This would place the Exodus at around 1446 or 1445 BC. To prefer a late Exodus date of 1267 BC, the 480th year referred to in Scripture would have to be allegorized.

Mahoney then visits the site of ancient Avaris in northern Egypt and meets with renowned Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak who has been digging in Egypt for over 25 years. Avaris sits directly south and even partly underneath the later city that Ramses II established, and Bietak says this city was occupied by what the Egyptians would call ‘Asiatics’.

Archaeologist Manfred Bietak at the Avaris site

Bietak (a non-believer) says:

“We uncovered the remains of a huge town of 250 hectares with a population of 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.”

In addition, they have uncovered 12 tombs of leaders (12 tribes) and a lot of other evidence that circumstantially seems to fit very well with the biblical account where the pharaoh of the day allowed the Hebrews to freely settle in Egypt. Their method of burial is also unlike Egyptian practices of the day. Bietak goes on to say that there is evidence of sheepherders having roamed around in the area. But amazingly Bietak then displays his bias when he says he does not think this is a settlement of Hebrews as described in the Bible because it is too early (if Ramses II is the pharaoh of the Exodus). It is an apt example of how presuppositions play a part in interpreting facts even in the area of archaeology.

The wrong pharaoh

It is true that Ramses left no record of a Hebrew people or an Exodus. But if he is the wrong pharaoh then obviously one would not expect to find anything. So, departing from Ramses II and rather than just look for evidence of the Exodus in particular, Mahoney tries to look for historical patterns of evidence stretching back before the Exodus, such as the arrival of the Hebrews in Egypt. And he finds plenty.

In addition, the film highlights other circumstantial evidence that might support the biblical account such as the Ipuwer papyrus. This is a document housed in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands that possibly refers to some of the plagues of Moses’ time (although written from an Egyptian perspective). Again, this is rejected by the director of said museum because he believes it precedes Ramses II, and thus, is too soon. Also the Brooklyn papyrus mentions the names of some Egyptian slaves that are synonymous with Hebrew names mentioned in the Bible. But most significant is the mention of the nation of Israel from the Merneptah Stele, which was written very shortly after Ramses II’s death during the reign of Ramses’ successor, Merneptah. If Ramses II was the pharaoh of the Exodus then Rohl says this mention of Israel as a nation is too soon for Israel’s establishment—especially given the 40 years of wandering before entering the Promised Land. In addition, there was time needed to conquer cities in that land. However, the information on this stele is not a problem if the Exodus is moved backward in time from Ramses II as many evangelicals believe needs to be done. Most of the aforementioned items though are circumstantial and once again there is a lot of debate about their validity from other Bible scholars. This includes the Merneptah Stele, because although it mentions Israel some say it does not qualify them as a complete nation yet. The film highlighted how scholars outright rejected even the remotest possibility that any of these artifacts had to do with the Hebrew people, because it conflicts with established chronology, which is firmly fixed in stone (pun intended).

Where the traditional dates come from

The established Egyptian chronologies rely on one major problematic source; the Egyptian historian Manetho. This was discussed in my Egyptian Chronology article. It would be well worth reading this article to be more acquainted with these problems, as it even shows how supposed Egyptian history (gleaned from artifacts) actually conflicts with itself. But regardless, Manetho’s chronology is still used as the major reference guide for Egyptian history. And like the theory of evolution, nothing is seemingly allowed to challenge it.

For the same reasons that secular scientists will ‘not allow a divine foot in the door’, one cannot help sense the resistance that secular archaeologists have to any information that might support the Bible’s history. After all if the Bible’s history is true, it might mean God really exists and for many that is not an acceptable consideration.

One needs to be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of any chronological revision of Egypt that seemingly solves all the problems. It’s all too easy to be convinced before one hears any contradictory information. The fact that there are a plethora of views among good, Bible-believing scholars, only serves to highlight just how difficult this all is. Obviously, they cannot all be correct. And while not supporting one person's particular revision, this documentary clearly demonstrates the overdue need for a revision. For the Bible-believing Christian, this documentary is well made, worth seeing and should be an encouragement.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus will have a second showing in US theaters on 29 January 2015. See Fathom Events' website for a list of theaters.

References and notes

  1. For example, see David Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology: A View From Palestine, biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/05/23/David-Rohls-Revised-Egyptian-Chronology-A-View-From-Palestine.aspx, 6 January, 2015. Return to text.
  2. Rabbi David Wolpe, America’s Most Influential Rabbi, 2012 (Newsweek), thelavinagency.com/speaker-rabbi-david-wolpe.html, 2 January, 2015. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

R. M.
It is remarkable that Leon Wood's arguments (A Survey of Israel's History) have been set aside by most Egyptologists, and subsequently, often ignored by conservative scholars. Having worked on an archaeological dig in Egypt and studying extensively, I find it puzzling why even so called conservatives are so quick in dismissing the Hebrew text when attempting to establish Hebrew chronology, especially on this subject. It is not in the best interests of secular historians to do so for obvious reasons. But assuming the veracity of the Biblical texts should be paramount. If we cannot assume certainty of Biblical chronology concerning Egypt, presumably written by Moses, a contemporary of the events, then how are we able to establish creation as described in Scripture? If we are truly creationists, then we must also be conservative in our understanding of Egyptian chronology from a Scriptural perspective.
Matthew W.
I saw this movie the other night and was thrilled by the fair presentation of recent evidence that has been found to support the Hebrew habitation in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus. I was equally thrilled by those featured in the film who held the "popular" view and how through their own simple comments showed their resistance (to put it nicely) to the Biblical record and their bias to the "popular" view (especially the Dutch museum curator - talk about totally closing your mind to evidence). As a Christian and a believer that the Bible is historically accurate I feel this film gives me ammunition against those who attempt to discredit the Bible. As a lover of history in general, the film wonderfully exhibits how archaeological evidence can be initially interpreted, misunderstood, then reinterpreted over again. I can't wait to purchase the dvd so I can watch it over again and share it with my friends and family!
Karel S.
French (or Belgian?) scientist Jean-Marie van Halst teached very interestingly about history of Exodus (cca 1445 b.C.) in early 90's during his mission in former Czechoslovakia.
Shoomie H.
Just for your information, according to the Jewish Midrash, the bones of the 12 tribal leaders were taken from Egypt to the land of Israel during the Exodus, just as the bones of Joseph were. Rabbi Natan says: And how do we know they also took the bones of the other tribal heads (Joseph’s brothers) with them, for he stated [in the oath he placed on his brothers], mi-zeh ittekhem (“from here with you” [Exodus. 13:19]). While from Exodus 13:19 it might seem that Joseph was speaking to the Israelites in general, in Genesis 50:24-25, he is clearly making this request from his brothers. Your remark that there were 12 tombs, not 12 bodies or bones, would fit nicely with this.
Sue B.
I was interested to read your article (although I haven't seen the film yet) as a friend and I (who used to work as a stone conservator in the British Museum were discussing the same thing yesterday. Actually she was discussing, I was listening! She tells me that there are 'dark ages' [i.e. periods of time in most civilisations that appear as 'gaps' in the record] and that by revising the Egyptian dates by 300 years, most of these 'gaps' would disappear. Do you have any information about this?
Gary Bates
Sue, please first read the link that I have mentioned several times already, Egyptian Chronology, to get an understanding of the problems. We have to understand the problems before embarking upon possible solutions. Then perhaps read Timing is everything for an explanation of possible solutions. If you type 'Egypt' into the search engine you will find lots of interesting articles. Remember, the search engine is your friend. -:)
Sandra H.
While the topic is very interesting (hence my reading it in the first place), I have to once again shake my head. I have never understood how one can consider anyone's theories, conclusions or fantasies as fact. The fact is that none of it can be proven. If you or I were not there then we do not and cannot know for sure. It is all speculation. Even if an ancient document was found stating that the descendents of Jacob were definitely there or not there, that does not mean it is true or fact. Common sense is often not used and my common sense tends to make me think that ancient peoples were just as likely to write a work of fiction as a work of fact. Historian or not. I doubt that people have changed that much over the years and people tend to like to exaggerate or even outright lie when it fits the idea(s) they want to convey. It all comes down to what you believe and due to the things that have happened to me in my life, I believe God. I also believe if He wanted us to know something He would have made sure we did. If He did not see fit to make it known then, to me, He did not think it was important and I am not going to waste a lot of time speculating about it. I will, however, have faith that He has given us what He does believe is important, give Him all the glory that I believe only He deserves and anxiously await the day of His return. Thank you for your time.
Don S.
My wife and I watched "Patterns of Evidence" last night. This was a tremendous documentary. Well done Tim Mahoney! Gary's last comment that "this documentary is well made, worth seeing and should be an encouragement," is right on the money for Christians. The theme is "let the audience decide". How refreshing. I wish most education allowed multiple views on the evidence to be expressed. Then let the students decide. The constant mantra of skeptics is "there is no evidence". And that is true for those that don't have the "sense" (And I literally mean the 5 evidential senses) to see what is right in front of them. Tim Mahoney lays the evidence out like a skilled lawyer, and the audience is the jury. Not the archaeologists, the curators, the news reporters, the scientists, just you. Thanks Tim.

Jack L.
So the entire secular, anti-Bible argument is based on the work on 1 man who lived 1,000 years after these Kings he documented?
Gary Bates
Jack, your comment was a little vague so I am not quite sure what you mean. If you are referring to Manetho, he actually lived a lot longer after the Exodus than 1,000 years. And I don't think he was antibible, because there was no Bible yet for him to be 'anti' about. He tried to compile a list of dynasties as best he could but if he had any agenda it was only to extend Egyptian history back as much as he could. The bigger problem is what we do with them today and our reliance on them. If this is who you are referring to I encourage you to take the time to read our article Egypt chronology; framing the issues, as this will help you understand the situation more clearly.
Sarah R.
I am very taken aback from the use of the term "occupation" in the headline and in this article as apposed to a more accurate and politically neutral term like: residence. We all know the implications of the term occupation, and given those, regardless of the situation of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt, it was NOT what we refer to today as an "occupation".
Gary Bates
Understood, but to occupy (if you look up a definition on the internet) merely mean to inhabit or live in. As in "I occupy my apartment".
Albert B.
Thank you for your review of the Patterns of Evidence documentary today. I just saw the trailer for the movie and was wondering if it would be worth watching or if it was a waste of time. I really appreciate that CMI helps viewers to be discerning by steering us toward or away from films that really aren't worth the time it takes to watch them. We are excited to watch this one now and will have to brush up on some of those Egyptian chronology articles on CMI before we do. Thanks again for the top-notch work you all are doing!
Stephen I.
How can one view this documentary, is it available yet?
Gary Bates
There is a link at the bottom of the article for screening times in the US only at this stage. Presumably one will have to wait until it is rolled out in other countries. You could also contact the producers to ask them at www.patternsofevidence.com.
E. V.
I so hope that one day this film will be subtitled for different languages, including my own (dutch),
Martin K.
I also enjoyed this article. It really gives me grief when I think about how much information is out there confirming just this topic of the truth of the Israel's time in Egypt is kept from the public eye. I would wish that one day our society could mature to the point where information like this is not covered up. High school and university should teach students HOW to think and research for themselves, NOT spoonfeed them an atheist world viewpoint. I have enjoyed the films from Illustra Media and will look now for their work in a christian bookstore, so now I ask you Gary, who has made this film? What is their background and mission statement?
Thanks for your hard work
Gary Bates
You can visit the Patterns of Evidence website to find out more. We also hope to carry the DVD if it is released in that format.
Producers: Patterns of Evidence
This is an extremely well written and respectful review of our film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. Thank you for accurately capturing the dilemma that we face and the complexity of offering a fair solution. Our children are being taught that the Bible isn't true because of this problem with dating. Therefore, it is time to establish and support a new dialog - one that changes the debate from "if" it happened to "when" it happened. The stakes simply could not be higher.
Paul S.
Good points all. I plead guilty to the charge of a rather sweeping generalization regarding Velikovsky being frequently vindicated. In fairness, however, this is not the forum for presenting in depth examples of this (and to be convincing they must be such). I am not defending his physics or astronomy here, but rather the thoroughness of his research into the archives (and oral traditions) of ancient civilizations. I read them when they first came out, and was impressed by his thoroughness. His wide ranging speculations, however, can get interesting, to say the least. I was primarily objecting to what seemed to be a rather dismissive tone with respect to his work, something I have frequently encountered and not found to be warranted. In the particular case under consideration, however, I admit to the need for further research on my part.
Gary Bates
No problems Paul. Thanks for having broad enough shoulders to receive that. Keep in mind that I said we are catastrophists and see the need for a revision of Egyptian dates just like VK. We'd only be too happy to agree with something that is correct. But accuracy and integrity count and we need to say so if something isn't.
Paul S.
With respect to the Queen of Sheba and Velikovsky's dates, I would go with IV over his critics, regardless of their number. His catastrophism views have been vindicated time and again over those who ridiculed him when he first published. His research into the chronologies of many ancient peoples is thorough and meticulous.
Gary Bates
Paul, respectfully, before one makes a sweeping statement to show that he has "been vindicated time and again", one would have to demonstrate that. I advised in this article above and also my Egyptian Chronology article that:

"One needs to be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of any chronological revision of Egypt that seemingly solves all the problems. It’s all too easy to be convinced before one hears any contradictory information."

Did you read Patrick Clarke's refutation of the Queen of Sheba idea that was linked in the comment above that you were referring to? There is a lot of reading that can be done on this website that might be helpful to you before aligning one's self so strongly with a particular view. I readily understand that years ago his views had a lot of support among Christians because they may have seemed helpful and there was a dearth of any Christian research on many topics. However, we now have a lot more information than we did back then. At CMI we are clearly catastrophists but I don't think you'd find much support here for Velikovskian views on either his physics, astronomy, geology or Egyptology, I'm sorry to say. All the best.
Daniel B.
Jacob was not buried in Egypt (Genesis 50:13), but all of his sons were. Joseph's entombment would have been for more than a lifetime, but nonetheless temporary, as his coffin was removed in the Exodus.
Gary Bates
We completely agree and the movie reveals that one of the tombs was vastly different to the others (but I did not want to put too many spoilers in the review). Note that I said there were twelve tombs. I didn't say twelve bodies or 12 coffins. -:)
Chris H.
Thank you Gary for this article. It is thoughtful and balanced, and yet hard hitting, because it highlights the problem of interpreting evidence in accordance with a world view that cannot be challenged. This review certainly makes me interested in watching this film for myself, because for a change it sounds as though every side gets a fair hearing. It is vital to know the alternative points of view when so often we are only allowed to hear the reasoning and conclusions of sceptics. Most impressive though is the news about a whole city that may be a Hebrew settlement in Egypt! Complete with 12 tombs, no less! As the Bible clearly records that the Israelites carried the remains of Joseph with them to the Promised Land, one could speculate that they would have left behind them the remains of Jacob and his 11 other sons, buried somewhere in the land of Goshen. The possibility of finding such a site is indeed an awesome thought!
Gary Bates
Chris, from the sound of it I think you would enjoy the article Egyptian Chronology and the Bible.
Marc T.
Excellent, I really enjoyed reading the article. Thank you for your balanced presentation of the evidence, we can't and never will know everything but we can trust God's Word even when human research has no direct evidence to corroborate it.
Victor B.
Hi Gary - I appreciate the point " Patterns of Evidence does not spend a great deal of time discussing any one particular revision of Egyptian date" in the article. Out of interest does David Rohl identify who the Pharaoh of Exodus was? and who the Queen of Sheba was?
Gary Bates
My understanding is that Rohl thinks it is the 13th Dynasty pharaoh Dedumose I (Dudimose, Dedumesu, Tutimaos, Tutimaios), by revising traditional dates downwards by 300 years. With regard to Sheba, I am presuming that you ask the question because our friend David Down has written that this is the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty. This view seems to be strongly based upon the revisions of Immanuel Velikovsky, which I have to say, very few scholars subscribe to. See our article Why Pharaoh Hatshepsut is not to be equated to the Queen of Sheba and you can also see David's responses. I encourage you to read Egyptian Chronology and the Bible which will help you understand the huge difficulties in reconciling all of this.

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