A film called Patterns of evidence was shown last Monday in a number of theaters across the country, and is showing again tomorrow at the Regal Santa Cruz Theater on Pacific. Cost is $12.50, just enough for a decent bottle of evanescent spirit and a little manna but no quail.
The film claims to be a documentary and examine “scientifically” the evidence for the story of the exodus in the Bible, together with its related stories of Abraham, Joseph, Joshua. As in the disastrous discussions on evolution vs creation(ism), it sets things up—a debate!—as if there are only two sides, and the public can decide for themselves what the evidence means! There is indeed a pattern, that of bamboozling the public. The on-going “debate”, if the public falls for it, should make a little money for its promoters.
I was alerted to the existence of this film a few weeks ago and tried to know a bit more. I looked at the links and watched a few snippets. Very interesting attempt, in terms of modern transformations of religious minds, to go back to a kind of history where facticity and dates are taken to be unproblematic and the real history of the writing of the exodus story never has a chance to be told. It’s another effort to pretend to meet archaeologists’ and historians’ objections to the notion of a historical exodus located sometime in the second millenium: if not in Ramses II’s time (to accommodate the figures given in the Bible), then even more improbably in the Hyksos period (1720 to 1550 or so). It doesn’t ask itself any question about the writing of the story: when was that done, by whom, in what circumstances, and for what purpose? The story of that writing is much more interesting as well as intellectually and theologically more demanding than the tons of suppositions attempting to prove that it happened as told in the book of Exodus.
The language used by the authors of this film and those behind them (I don’t know what the groups are: certain evangelical Christians?) is devious. They speak of “skeptical scholars” who “contend it never happened.” I myself am not skeptical and I don’t contend it never happened. With most scholars, all I say is that there is no evidence whatsoever matching the exodus story as told in the Bible. All kinds of insuperable problems arise if you try, beginning with attempts to isolate and date the “event”.
I’ll give a tiny example of the silly problems one encounters when analyzing “evidence.” It has to do with the supposition regarding an eastern wind that would have helped to dry a shallow body of water then used by the fleeing Hebrews (that word is a problem too). Is there a dry eastern wind (or a western wind for that matter) that blows that way in northern Egypt? I couldn’t find evidence for it in northern Egypt. It is however a well known phenomenon in Palestine. Did the writer(s) at the tail end of the Israelite and Judaean monarchic period (i.e. 7–6th c. BCE) assume the conditions of their own locale for those of northern Egypt? Probably so, but this needs to be argued, very much like it needs to be shown how this text, a book of Exodus, arose at a time of extreme tensions with empires in the eighth to fifth c. BCE (Assyrian > Babylonian > Persian), when Egypt itself collapsed under them (not without rebelling repeatedly, however). Etc…