Movie review: Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy
New Patterns of Evidence film tackles tough questions
Tim Mahoney’s first film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus (see CMI’s review), examined the evidence for the historical Exodus. Did the historical records outside the Bible and the archaeological evidence bear witness to events that the Bible describes? The film took us on an eye-opening and fascinating journey that ultimately ended in satisfying, Bible-affirming answers. So, we were excited to review the next film in the series, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy.
The first five books of the Bible, known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch, explicitly claim to be written by Moses—a claim which is affirmed by later biblical authors and even Christ Himself when He said “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). But most mainstream Bible scholars do not believe that Moses—or any one person—ultimately wrote the Torah. Instead, they claim that various groups of people accumulated oral traditions that eventually were compiled into the final versions of the five books during the time of the Exile. This is known as the documentary hypothesis, and it is mentioned unfavorably in the documentary, but in our opinion the film would have been a bit stronger had they spent more time on refuting the arguments often put forward for this view.
The documentary hypothesis would mean that the Bible is wrong—and even Jesus would be wrong, because they believed Moses wrote about the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus as an eyewitness. This is not a ‘side issue’—as he noted, among the scholars he consulted, those who rejected Mosaic authorship became much less likely to believe in God at all. This is made all the more poignant because these scholars for the most part came from conservative homes where they were taught to believe the Bible. It’s a sad but logical consequence. If the Bible is not real history, as we’ve pointed out with the origins issue, then what is Christianity ultimately based upon?
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A hot topic
The issue of the origin of the Hebrew language, and its implications for Mosaic authorship, is not widely known to the average Christian, but it is very controversial in scholarly circles. One argument against Moses being the author of Genesis is that the original language of the Torah—Hebrew—is thought by most scholars to have been developed from Phoenician in the tenth century BC, far too late for Moses to have used it to write the Torah around 500 years earlier. So, Mahoney breaks down the problem to ask: was there a language that existed in Moses’ time that was available to him to use, that had an alphabetic script, that could even be called a very early form of the Hebrew language?
Some experts note that there is a very early language known as proto-Sinaitic, or proto-Canaanite, that seems to have modified some hieroglyphic symbols to represent consonant sounds. In other words, it represents a leap to alphabetic language. The inscriptions can be read as a very early form of proto-Hebrew, and one can even trace how the symbols might have changed over time to become paleo-Hebrew, Phoenician, and other early ancient forms of written language.
Mahoney leads us on an investigation of possibilities and interviews experts from different camps, unbelieving and believing, with a range of views on the issue. Some believe that the account of the Exodus in Scripture has almost nothing to do with a historical event, while others believe that it is historical and was written by Moses himself. He asks one expert, “Is the Bible a literal story of God acting in history?” The scholar answers, “It purports to be, but whether it is or not is a question of belief, it’s not something that can be proven.” Even as Mahoney weaves together a possible explanation for Mosaic authorship of the book of Exodus, he includes the opinions of unbelieving scholars who disagree with him in the strongest terms. This gives the documentary balance and makes it apparent that Mahoney has done his homework.
Yet in other areas he seems to take huge leaps of logic, then runs with them in a way that seems less than fully thought-out. For instance, the idea that God literally inspired the alphabetic writing system seems both unnecessary and unsupported by Scripture itself. This also seemed to be a contradiction given he had just shown compelling evidence as to the origin of this proto language coming from Egypt and then spreading to all ancient Semitic languages.
Concerningly, the documentary also includes images of the debunked ‘chariot wheels’ in a certain location said to be the true location of the Red Sea crossing. This was not explicitly endorsed or refuted, but it is important to note that this is not sound evidence, as these are only coral formations that look superficially like wheels and/or axles, but have not been proven to be real chariot wheels. Please read the linked article for more details.
Faulty Egyptian chronology is linked to secular views about Scripture
One strength of the documentary is that he highlights the assumptions secular scholars are making. For instance, they assume that the standard method of dating the Egyptian Pharaohs is correct, meaning they don’t consider certain things as evidence for the Bible, which changes if the standard dating needs to be adjusted. And their assumptions about how languages are related to each other leads them to reject other possible lines of evidence. (See our Egyptian chronology article cautioning accepting secular dates and why).
Ultimately, this is a documentary that gives very viable options, but not final answers. It will be helpful in allowing people to see the evidence, which we suspect most will not be aware of, and the range of opinions that will allow people to come to their own conclusion. However, while we recommend this documentary as worthwhile viewing, we caution about dogmatically accepting some of the conclusions. This is a documentary that has a wide range of potential audiences, including teens, non-Christians, Christians who want a deeper grasp on their faith, and anyone interested in ancient history or archaeology. The overall quality of the film is excellent and is highly recommended to add to the already overwhelming weight of evidence we have in support of the Bible’s history.