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Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle provides compelling evidence for the Bible

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Published: 10 February 2020 (GMT+10)
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Atheists often attack the truth of the Bible by claiming there is no evidence of biblical events that should have left evidence, such as the Israelites in Egypt and the Exodus. Tim Mahoney’s excellent Patterns of Evidence series (see the reviews of the first two films entitled Exodus and The Moses Controversy) have laid out an argument that some scholars do not see the evidences of biblical history because they are not looking for evidence of any Hebrew occupation or are interpreting evidence incorrectly by assigning it to the wrong times. The latest installment, Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle continues this trend.

God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt including the plagues on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea was foundational to Israel’s identity as a nation in covenant with Yahweh and their understanding of who God was. These miracles were also of such great magnitude that even the Canaanites remembered it a generation later (Joshua 2:10). But nearly every geographical location surrounding the event is contested—particularly the site of the crossing itself, and the route Israel took to get there.

Using the personal, engaging format of the previous documentaries, Mahoney speaks with experts representing all the major views. In this film, they are divided into the ‘Egyptian view’, that tends to view the population of Israel, the distance traveled, and the scale of the Red Sea miracle as smaller, and sometimes a naturalistic event, rather than the supernatural intervention of God. Then he explains what he terms as the ‘Hebrew view’, which views the population, distance, and scale of the miracle as larger. While this characterization might seem simplistic, it is accurate enough for the purposes of the documentary, and makes the debate much more understandable for the ‘uninitiated’ viewer.

Size of the Israelite population

A ‘literal’ translation of the Hebrew text is that the Exodus consisted of 650,000 men plus women and children, meaning around 2 million people. But the Egyptian view argues that the word translated ‘thousand’ (elef) may also have the non-literal meaning ‘family group’, bringing the numbers down to several thousand, not millions. Mahoney does a particularly good job giving the Egyptian view scholars a fair representation, including OT scholar Barry Beitzel who had a good amount of screen time to argue for his understanding. But Mahoney also does a good job of presenting a compelling case for understanding “thousand” literally, using the principle of Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Red Sea or Reed Sea?

The Hebrew term for the body of water that the Israelites crossed on dry land is Yam Suph. We translate that term as “Red Sea” based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But Mahoney argues persuasively that the actual meaning is “Reed Sea”. Martin Luther also reflected this understanding when he used the German Schilfmeer, which means “sea of reeds”.

It is necessary to pre-empt a possible skeptical attack here, because Acts 7:36 and Hebrews 11:29 use the Septuagintal Greek term for Red Sea. If the Hebrew was “Reed Sea”, and the Septuagint translators got it wrong, then the New Testament would be in error for using that term. How do we defend the NT usage if Yam Suph means “Reed Sea”?

The simple answer is that place names change over time, and updates to reflect later designations are common in Scripture. Yam Suph was the correct name at the time of Moses, and Red Sea reflected the Greek name in usage at the time of the Septuagint translation and the New Testament. We see this elsewhere in Egypt where Avaris, the Hyksos capital, was later built over and renamed Ramses and even Pi-Ramses, which is what we read in our Bibles today.

The crossing site?

There are three major candidates for the general area of the Red Sea Crossing

  1. Some people argue that north of the Red Sea, there are some relatively shallow bodies of water that qualify.
  2. The Gulf of Suez is the major traditional crossing site, with most traditional Christian commentators supporting it.
  3. The Gulf of Aqaba is a site that is gaining popularity, especially among some researchers outside the mainstream archaeological community. There are three places in the Gulf of Aqaba where the crossing could have possibly happened.

Closely linked to this is the route Israel took to get there. The discussion of how fast people and herds could possibly travel and the implications for the crossing site is particularly enlightening.

A high-quality visual masterpiece

Often, biblical debates can be confusing and difficult to understand for those new to the subject. And there are those who feel that they have settled these matters in their own minds and are perhaps resistant to other views. But Mahoney walks the viewer through the various options in a way that is very understandable and leaves one feeling like they have the information necessary to form their own well-informed opinion. The production value is also very high, with stunning video and graphics.

Why does it matter?

For Mahoney, this isn’t just a dry academic discussion. He stated in previous Patterns of Evidence installments that he needed answers to these questions for his own faith, and in this film he says that he wants to have answers for his grandchildren. This drives it home that the Bible’s history matters, and we should want to be able to defend it with all the tools at our disposal. Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle adds several arguments that we can use to defend the Bible’s history and does much to build our faith in the accuracy of the Bible’s account. For those who’ve had some doubts about God’s parting of the Red/Reed sea, this film should be a faith-building encounter at the greatness of our God. After all, if He is the one that created this massive universe, why should parting a body of water on the earth, regardless of its size, be so difficult? We heartily recommend Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle.