Filmmaker Tim Mahoney is a man on a mission, to find out the real history of the Exodus. Recently, I viewed a Fathom theatre event, showcasing his latest Patterns of Evidence film: The Red Sea Miracle. The Red Sea Miracle is part one of a two part set of films, the second to be scheduled for theatre release on May 5, 2020.
In general, The Red Sea Miracle was ambitious, even for a 2 1/2 hour movie, but the storyline held together better than his last film, The Moses Controversy, which explored the possibility of how Moses might have been able to write the first five books of the Bible. Like the original film, The Exodus, which considered the chronology of Moses, and the timing of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, this first part of the third film series, The Red Sea Miracle, looked at yet another controversial question, regarding the historicity of the Exodus, namely where the crossing of the “Red Sea” might have taken place. Overall, I found the newest film quite fascinating and encouraging, despite a few noticeable drawbacks.
First, let us consider the good parts of the film. The Red Sea Miracle does a very good job at giving a helpful overview of the questions that archaeologists, Old Testament specialists, and other scholars are asking, when they try to determine where Moses might have led the Israelites across the “Red Sea.” The amount of data to work through, both biblically and archaeologically, is quite a lot, and numerous interpretation challenges remain. So for a 2 1/2 hour film, Tim Mahoney is to be commended for his honesty, his warmth, his sincerity, and his determination, in helping viewers understand the complex issues involved. He also produced a cinematically pleasing movie to look at, a highly professional piece of film making that helped me to focus on the topic being addressed.
Tim Mahoney also rightfully exposes viewers to a wide range of scholarship, in considering the question of where Moses might have parted the Red Sea. Anyone who has shown serious interest in Bible archaeology will know that the majority of archaeologists today are highly skeptical about the presence of Israelites in Egypt, much less who believe the traditional account of the Red Sea crossing. Mahoney interviews some of these scholars, but interestingly, he interviews one scholar, Manfred Bietak, one of today’s leading Austrian Egyptologists, who now believes that there is at least some evidence, that is consistent with the story of Israelites being slaves in ancient Egypt. When Mahoney interviewed Bietak, over a decade ago, for the first Patterns of Evidence film, The Exodus, it was Bietak’s skepticism regarding the historicity of the Exodus story, that first discouraged Tim Mahoney in his film making journey.
In addition to some skeptical scholars, Mahoney also interviews a wide range of evangelical Christian scholars, who hold various, and even conflicting views, as to where the Red Sea crossing might have occurred. Mahoney divides these scholars into two broadly-defined camps: those who favor the “Egyptian” view, and those who favor the “Hebrew” view. The “Egyptian” view, generally speaking, favors a crossing of the “Reed” Sea, through the shallow lake region, within a few dozen miles of Egypt, with perhaps as few as 20,000 or so Israelites. The “Hebrew” view favors a crossing at the Gulf of Aqaba, over 200 miles away from Egypt, on the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula, with over 2 million Israelites. The “Egyptian” view favors the traditional location of Mount Sinai, on the Sinai peninula, whereas the “Hebrew” view favors Mount Sinai being in Saudi Arabia.
I was surprised to discover, that unlike the two previous Mahoney films, Mahoney is now less enamored with the ideas proposed by Egyptologist David Rohl, who Mahoney tends to elevate highly in the first two films. David Rohl, who considers himself to be an atheist, is a genuine, peer-reviewed scholar, but his unconventional revision of Egyptian chronology has yet to gain significant support from his other historian and archaeologist colleagues, from within the scholarly guild. This is important, for a viewer of the first two films might be erroneously drawn to conclude that David Rohl’s proposals carry far greater weight, in academic circles, than is actually the case. One can not simply dismiss David Rohl’s ideas out of hand, but a lot more work needs to be done before Rohl’s proposals gain broader acceptance. Interestingly, I found it quite telling that David Rohl is highly skeptical of the “Hebrew,” Gulf of Aqaba crossing view. He tells Mahoney that he would need to see an actual chariot wheel dug up from the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba, before he would accept a “Red Sea” crossing, at that location.
I was also glad that Mahoney did not mention Ron Wyatt in the film, the late adventurer and fringe archaelogist, who made a big splash years ago by reportedly spotting such a chariot wheel on the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba floor. The shenanigans of Ron Wyatt have brought a lot of Christian attempts at archaeology into ill-repute, making for an unnecessary stumbling block for some regarding the Gospel. Thankfully, Mahoney did his best to interview top, well-regarded scholars in the field instead.
Despite the film’s many strengths, there was one aspect that stuck out as a major criticism of The Red Sea Miracle. Mahoney clearly favors the “Hebrew” over and against the “Egyptian” view of the crossing. He believes that a shallow lake crossing, with a relatively smaller number of Israelites, is somehow less “miraculous” than a Gulf of Aqaba crossing.
This is really peculiar, as it assumes that the bigger the miracle, the more miraculous it would be, and therefore, the more Scripturally faithful it would be. I get the point that Tim Mahoney is trying to make, but it is not necessary to make such a point, in the interest of defending the Bible. Sure, if Moses took over 2 million Israelites across the Red Sea, Cecil B. DeMille-style, even somewhere relatively deep, like the Gulf of Aqaba, then God can do anything. Who are we to put limits upon God?
But a smaller event is still a miracle. To conclude that today’s shallow lake region near Egypt is unsuitable for a crossing, assumes that Pharoah’s army could not have drowned in only a “few feet of water.” Nevertheless, storm surges can still kill a lot of people, even in relatively shallow areas. Just consider how at least 6,000 died during the 1900 hurricane to hit Galveston, Texas, with an 8 to 12 foot storm surge.
Yet even if a more naturalistic explanation could be found for the Red Sea crossing, the timing of such an event, such as a large wind separating the waters, at just the right time, is still miracle enough, and thoroughly demonstrates the power of God. Did Moses simply get lucky that the sea parted, just when he got to the water’s edge? Or was this, too, evidence that points to the providence and power of God?
Consider the story of the Risen Jesus: If God really wanted to show a grand miracle of Resurrection, he could have Resurrected thousands upon thousands of people on Easter morning. That would have been a much more impressive miracle. But it was sufficient for God to demonstrate his overwhelming power and victory over sin and death, by Resurrecting the one God-Man, Jesus Christ. Does not God have the right to demonstrate his miraculous power, however God wishes to do so?
Unfortunately, Mahoney did not adequately address some of the weaknesses of the Gulf of Aqaba crossing proposal, that is rejected by a greater number of evangelical scholars. Alas, there is only so much you can do in such a long film, and still hold people’s attention, even with an intermission midway through the theatre showing. Dr. Michael Heiser, for example, notes that a Gulf of Aqaba crossing presents a number of problems when trying to reconcile certain chronological aspects of the journey through the Wilderness, such as where the Israelites obtained water from a rock. In other words, the issues are a lot more complex than most realize (which is partly why the controversy over the location of the Red Sea crossing continues to perplex even the best evangelical scholars).
To be fair, while Tim Mahoney still appears to favor what he calls a “Hebrew” view, he rightly acknowledges that different evangelical scholars hold some widely differing perspectives, in good faith, on this most interesting topic.
The last half hour of the film was a panel discussion, held at the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter, in Kentucky, where some Christian leaders reflected on the film, including Truett McConnell University Old Testament scholar Jeremy Lyon, radio talk show host Janet Mefferd, Precepts founder Kay Arthur, and Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham. What was interesting about this panel is that all four participants interviewed are all Young Earth Creationists. Yet perhaps the larger majority of scholars interviewed in The Red Sea Miracle do not hold a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible. Is this perhaps a sign of a rapprochement between advocates of Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism? It made me curious.
All in all, I enjoyed The Red Sea Miracle, despite what I detected to be noticeable flaws. The exact location of where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not a critical matter of faith, nor is the exact size of the Israelite nation as they crossed it. At the same time, considering these issues would help believers to gain a greater interest in studying Scripture, as well providing helpful conversation points, when engaging with skeptics. As a bottom line, I would tend to agree with Dr. Michael Heiser, “Although we can’t determine the precise location of the crossing, the various possibilities in no way rule out God’s providential intervention on behalf of his people.”
Keep an eye out for The Red Sea Miracle, Part 2, coming May 5th.