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The Exodus Decoded: An Appraisal (By Chris Heard)

17th September 2006

Perhaps one of the most lavish documentaries produced on the Hebrew Bible in recent years is Simcha Jacobovici’s The Exodus Decoded. This two-hour documentary purports to “analyze the latest archaeological findings and scientific papers;… explore the dusty back rooms of out-of-the-way libraries and museums around the world; and… track down dozens of forgotten relics and ancient documents” with an aim to “tell the true story of the Exodus.” This is an impressive claim — and the documentary’s slick production values will undoubtedly convince many casual viewers. This is not Jacobovici’s first foray into sensational biblical archaeology. He also produced a documentary series called the “Naked Archaeologistâ€? for VisionTV up here in Canada (You may want to read my review of the episode on “Who Invented the Alphabet?” here).
I will not offer my own critique of the Exodus Decoded. Instead, what I will do is point you to the excellent and thorough review of the documentary by Chris Heard over at Higgion. He has written a six-part extended review that is second to none:

  • Part 1 (A critique of parallel between the Tempest [Ahmose] Stela and the biblical story of the ten plagues)
  • Part 2 with addendum (Problems with the identification of Ahmose as the Pharaoh of the exodus and Jacobovici’s 1500 BCE date fro the exodus)
  • Part 3 (A rebuttal of Jacobovici’s identification of the merchants in the Beni Hasan wall paintings with Jacob’s migration into Egypt, among other things)
  • Part 4 (A critique of the connection made between the “Jacob-harâ€? seals discovered at Avaris and the biblical Joseph, son of Jacob)
  • Part 5 (Questioning the Israelite identity for the Serabit el-Khadim slaves)
  • Part 6 (A dismantling of the connection of the ten plagues and the Tempest Stela catastrophe to a Bronze Age eruption of the Santorini volcano)

All in all Chris does an excellent job picking apart Jacobovici’s falicious arguments — and there is more to come! He is only half way through the documentary! I am looking forward to reading the rest of Chris’s installments. Good work, Chris!

This documentary underscores to me the need of scholars to popularize our research. Reporters often misrepresent or misunderstand their sources, documentaries often pander to sensational theories, and the public appears to lap it all up. I don’t think that we as academics can do much to prevent how our views are presented. What we need to do, IMHO, is learn how to “spin� our research and bridge the gap between the academy and the everyday world ourselves. We need to team up with popular writers, directors, marketers, etc., and tell our perspectives in a way that is compelling and interesting. And we need to take the time to do this important task.


2 Responses to “The Exodus Decoded: An Appraisal (By Chris Heard)”

  1. Matt Page Says:

    Hi Tyler,

    Thanks for posting this. I covered it briefly in May (here), but haven’t actually had the chance to see it yet, so it’s good to read a few comments on it.

    There was also a useful summary of it at Wikipedia last time I looked.

    Matt

  2. Jim Linville Says:

    “This documentary underscores to me the need of scholars to popularize our research. ”
    I couldn’t agree more! There is an interesting paper on SBL’s Forum site by John Dart called Biblical Research Findings for the Public that complains that a number of institutions discourage academic “wasting” their time doing just that! The article is at:

    http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=567

    One thing that might get in the way of serious and popular biblical studies is the very problem tearing professional biblical research: the interface between emic and etic perspectives. How to “spin” biblcial academics to a pluralistic audience will not be that easy, although we can probably do better than we are doing now.

    Cheers,

    Jim