The Exodus Decoded is a 2006 History Channel documentary created by Jewish Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and the producer/director James Cameron. The documentary explores evidence for the Biblical account of the Exodus. Its claims and methods were widely criticized both by Biblical scholars and by mainstream scientists. Jacobovici suggests that the Exodus took place around 1500 BC, during the reign of pharaoh Ahmose I, and that it coincided with the Minoan eruption. In the documentary, the plagues that ravaged Egypt in the Bible are explained as having resulted from that eruption and a related limnic eruption in the Nile Delta. While much of Jacobovici's archaeological evidence for the Exodus comes from Egypt, some comes from Mycenae on mainland Greece, such as a gold ornament that somewhat resembles the Ark of the Covenant.
The documentary makes extensive use of computer animation and visual effects made by Gravity Visual Effects, Inc., based in Toronto. It runs for 90 minutes and was first aired in Canada on April 16, (Easter Day) 2006 (Discovery Channel Canada). Shown in the US on August 20, 2006 (History Channel US), UK on December 23, 2006 (Discovery Channel UK) and Spain on December 25, 2006 (Cuatro).
Jacobovici's Egyptian Archaeological Evidence
* The Hyksos Expulsion, contemporaneous Egyptian records of the driving out of the mysterious Semitic Hyksos people. Jacobovici suggests that the Hyksos and the Hebrews were one and the same, a thesis he supports with Egyptian-style signet rings uncovered in the Hyksos capital of Avaris (30°47'14.71"N, 31°49'16.92"E) that read "Yakov/Yakub" (from Yaqub-her), similar to the Hebrew name of the Biblical patriarch Jacob (Ya'aqov).
* The Ahmose stele, also called the Tempest Stele pieces of this stone tablet were unearthed in Karnak by Henri Chevalier in 1947. In it an unknown god incurs one of the same plagues described in the Biblical account (darkness, also described as "a great storm"). The Exodus Decoded official website quotes the stele, "How much greater is this the impressive manifestation of the great God, than the plans of the gods!" An alternative reading is "Then His Majesty said 'How these (events) surpass the power of the great god and the wills of the divinities!'".
* Ahmose I. Jacobovici suggests that the name of the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus may have been a pun (paronomasia). Jacobovici states that in Hebrew, the Egyptian name Ahmose would mean "Brother of Moses." Yet in Egyptian, "Mose," "Moses," "Mes," etc. means "son of." and "Ah" is a common part of Egyptian royal names referring to the moon god Iah. The documentary also examines the mummy of Ahmose's son, Sapair, who appears to have died at the age of 12. In the Bible, the pharaoh loses a son to the Plague of the Firstborn.
* Serabit el-Khadim turquoise mine, a labour camp in the Sinai with a Semitic alphabetic inscription that reads "O El, save me from these mines." He argues that the use of "El" suggests that it was written before the alleged revelation at Sinai, supporting the thesis that Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, although this inscription was undated.
Jacobovici's Mycenaean Archaeological Evidence
* Gravestones. Jacobovici suggests that three of the stones marking the wealthy tombs of Grave Circle A in Mycenae depict the parting of the Sea of Reeds. The stones, Jacobovici claims, show a man on a chariot in pursuit of a man on foot carrying a long, straight object. Jacobovici proposes that the man on the chariot is Ahmose I, the man on foot is Moses, and the long, straight object is the staff of Aaron. Above and below the scene are rows of swirls which, in Jacobovici's interpretation, represent the parting waters. He admits, however, that archaeologists have typically interpreted the scene as a chariot race, with the long, straight object being a spear or sword.
* A Gold ornament excavated from one of the tombs in the Grave Circle is believed by Jacobovici to show the Ark of the Covenant against a background of the tabernacle altar. However, when you compare the photo of the gold ornament to the Biblical story of God telling Moses how to build the Ark, the descriptions differ in several ways. Jacobovici suggests that members of the Tribe of Dan may have emigrated to Mycenae after the Exodus. This, the documentary suggests, is why Homer refers to the buried at Mycenae as "Danaoi." The Greek myth states, however, that the Danaoi were descended from the Argosites under the matriarch Danaë.
Jacobovici suggests that the Biblical Exodus took place shortly after the eruption of Thera (now known as Santorini), which is thought to have happened some time between 1650 BC and 1600 BC. The dates are disputed, depending on the use either of archaeological dating results (1600 BC to 1550 BC), or of radiocarbon dating results (1650 BC to 1600 BC). Jacobovici, however, accepts a date around 1500 BC. He goes on to explain how each of the Mosaic plagues, and even the parting of the Sea of Reeds, could be explained by earthquakes, faulting and a limnic disaster, all caused by Santorini.
One possible scientific conjecture of the past has referred to a spot on the western end of a now-dried lake where it has been observed in the past to turn to a sandbar and facilitate foot travel when a low tide and a strong eastern wind coincide. Jacobovici refers to the possibility of the bed of the reed-filled lake rising out of the water due to geological movements, leaving the water on the sides and below the bed. The text of the story of Exodus 14:21-22, however, states that there were literal walls of water on either side, making this explanation incomplete.
* The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus suggested in his work Contra Apion that the Hyksos were, in fact, the ancient Hebrews.
* Many of the theories explored by Jacobovici were previously published in the 1998 book Act of God written by British historian Graham Phillips.
* An obscure university thesis by Israeli student Ayal Yacobi.
* Tempest & Exodus, a book by Ralph Ellis
The documentary claims that most historians consider the Exodus a "fairy tale," and it also claims that others reject scientific explanations that are not explicitly miraculous. Jacobovici reminds viewers that God, according to the Judeo-Christian description, manipulates nature, having an intimate understanding of it. His miracles may therefore be an efficient and timely exploitation of natural cycles and logic.
The documentary ends by posing the question of whether the Exodus was just a natural event or "the Hand of God," implying that it is for the viewer to decide.
Jacobovici's assertions have been extensively criticized both by scientists, and by religious scholars. The criticism addresses virtually every one of Jacobovici's claims, as well as his methods in general. Critics point out, among the following:
* Jacobovici uses circular logic for his assertions. In the absence of any other evidence, Jacobovici attempts to find a real world explanation for a Biblical phenomenon. Then, from the fact that a phenomenon could be caused by a certain event, Jacobovici surmises that a Biblical phenomenon was caused by exactly that type of an event.
* Biblical scholars further criticize Jacobovici's method of first assuming that the Biblical description was an embellished description of a real world event, followed up with claims that his explanation is "exactly as the Bible describes," whereas in reality his explanation diverges from the Biblical description.
* Chris Heard, Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University on his Web site called "Higgaion" claims that while a single supposition is not an invalid tactic, Jacobovici uses a chain of suppositions to support each subsequent claim, often using commercial breaks to move from "it could be possible that" to "now that we've established that," an invalid rhetorical trick.
* Chris Heard also claims that the Santorini eruption happened some time between 1550 BC and 1650 BC, narrowed to between 1627-1600 BC, with a 95% probability of accuracy. There's absolutely no evidence that it happened in 1500 BC.
* Jacobovici puts the Exodus in 1500 BC. However, it is believed that the pharaoh Ahmose ruled decades earlier, in 1550–1525 BC. Jacobovici does not address the issue, and simply moves Ahmose's rule 50 years to the future in order to fit his theory, without presenting any evidence or support for his claims.
* As in Hebrew the word 'Ah' means brother, and 'Mose' means Moses, Jacobovici claims that the word Ahmose can be understood as 'brother of Moses'. This however is incorrect, as actual hieroglyphics in the pharaoh's name read Yahmes. 'Ahmose' is a mangled obsolete misreading of the name, still used traditionally. Yahmes has nothing to do with Hebrew Ah Mose, and means 'moon born' or 'moon is born'. Furthermore, Moses is an English version of the Greek variant of the traditionally Hebrew Mosheh. Egyptian would have differentiated between 's' and 'sh' in Mose / Mosheh.
* Chris Heard further claims that the mechanism of the Lake Nyos eruption and subsequent events is cardinally different from what would have happened in a river such as the Nile. Build-up of gas, or high concentrations of iron in the deep waters, would only be possible in a deep lake with still water; not in a shallow river with flowing water.
* There's no archeological evidence, or any supporting evidence presented by Jacobovici, to support the claim that Egyptian first-born slept in beds, while all others slept on roofs. Jacobovici's explanation for the 10th plague as being caused by carbon dioxide, this does not account for the Biblical description of deaths of firstborn cattle.
* Chris Heard on his "Higgaion" website claims that while Jacobovici talks of a palpable ash cloud in Egypt, 800 kilometers from the volcanic eruption, later on in the documentary a geologist backs up the claim that ash reached Egypt by showing that only a microscopic amount is found in the soil, which would not only not create a palpable cloud, it would be altogether invisible to the naked eye.
* Jacobovici's claim of a shelf collapse, leading to a decrease in water levels, immediately followed by a second natural disaster, a tsunami, leading to a restoration of water levels, has absolutely no geological evidence, whereas such a calamity would have led to wide-spread devastation across the entire region, not just localized to one lake, and it would have left a huge geological footprint. It would have likely also been recorded by eyewitnesses. There's no record of anything of this magnitude happening anywhere. Also, while Jacobovici claims that his explanation is 'exactly as the Bible describes', the Bible actually describes a wall of water on each side of the Hebrews, which is the exact opposite of Jacobovici's explanation.
* Jacobovici presents the Beni Hasan tomb painting as proof of Jewish migration into Egypt. However, Jacobovici ignores the fact that the tomb painting is actually signed by the author, identifying the caravan as a merchants (not migrants); coming from the land of Shut, which is not in the area of modern Israel; and dated to the reign of pharaoh Senusret II, circa 1890 BC and not Jacobovici's claim of 1700 BC.
* Prof. Heard claims that presenting a ring signed Jacob-har and linking it to the Biblical Joseph, Jacobovici ignores the fact that Yaqub-Har is a well-attested to Egyptian pharaoh of the Second Intermediate Period; and Yakov and variants are common Semitic (not just Hebrew) names from the period. Furthermore, Jacobovici provides absolutely no explanation as to why Joseph would have a signet ring with the name of his father Jacob, and not his own, which is a modern-day equivalent of signing legal contracts with a signature of one's father.
* Chris Heard states that inscriptions at Serabit el-Khadem, which refer to El, are not necessarily proof that Hebrews worked in the mines. El is a common Semitic (not just a Hebrew) word that means god (for example, see Baal); and the word El in the Bible is often used to refer to gods other than the Hebrew God. Altogether, the word El appears in the entire Tanakh 226 times, often referring to other gods; whereas the word Yahweh appears 6,800 times and it refers exclusively to the God of Israel. Furthermore, the actual inscription shown in the documentary does not contain the word El at all; two other El inscriptions from the mine are known, but they are not shown in the program.
* Altogether the connection of the Serabit el-Khadem mines to the Exodus is suspect, since the Bible tells of Moses liberating Hebrew builders from the Nile delta, not miners from 400 kilometers to the South.
* The composition of the Admonitions of Ipuwer, a papyrus that according to Jacobovici describes a plague of hail and fire, is in fact dated to ca. 1850 BC - 1600 BC, at least 100 years before Jacobovici's Exodus date of 1500 BC. The papyrus also refers not to current events but, most likely, to the First Intermediate Period of ca. 2134 to 2040 BC, five to six centuries before Jacobovici's Exodus.
* The El-Arish granite shrine dates to nearly a thousand years after 1500 BC, and the symbols Jacobovici refers to as the 'parting of the red sea', two knives and three waves, mean nothing of the sort. The claim is akin to saying that the name Ramesses, based on hieroglyphics used to write it, means sun-fox-skins-folded-cloth-sedge-quail-chick. Altogether, the text in the stele is mythological, and none of the things Jacobovici refers to from the stele are actually found in any known translations of the text.
* Chris Heard claims that while speaking of the 3 Greek stelae, Jacobovici only shows stelae 2 and 3 from Grave Circle A, and does not show stele 1, which clearly shows a hunting scene with chariots, and not Moses and the pharaoh. Instead of stele 1, Jacobovici shows a different stele from a different find, with a hole in the middle. The actual stele is shown only briefly, and is then replaced by a CGI version, with the hole filled in. Figures on the actual stele, which have tails curved up and are instantly recognized as lions, are replaced with CGI versions with tails turned down, now identified as horses.
* The swirls motif on the stele, which Jacobovici identifies as water, is very common in Mycenaean art of the period, and often appears in context that clearly excludes its identification with water.
* The Higgaion site claims that Jacobovici greatly distorts the Biblical description of the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tabernacle, in order to present the Greek pendant as a representation of the Ark. The pendant does not resemble the biblical description.
In his review of the documentary, Dr. Ronald Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. writes:
"The made-for-TV documentary, The Exodus Decoded, begins with some excellent special effects and a short excerpt from the Steven Spielberg-George Lucas thriller, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This introduction sets the stage for a fast-paced show with high production values and dramatic footage. Unfortunately, unlike the Indiana Jones movie, this film presents itself as non-fiction. Watching it is reminiscent of an expensive infomercial, in which the actor-salesman makes increasingly exaggerated claims for his product—it makes you lose weight, adds muscle, and makes you rich to boot. In this case, the actor-director is selling a highly dubious bundle of theories about the historical and scientific veracity of the Biblical Exodus.