Plagued by No Doubts, a Filmmaking Detective Turns to the Exodus
What if it is all true – Moses parted the waters, 10 plagues fell on Egypt, the Israelites took a mass journey out of Egypt? Simcha Jacobovici, an investigative reporter and filmmaker, contends that he has assembled a compelling case for the veracity of the biblical story of the Exodus. He unveils his theories in a 90-minute documentary called “The Exodus Decoded,” to be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday on the History Channel.
Mr. Jacobovici, an Emmy-winning documentary maker, directed, produced and narrated “Exodus Decoded,” based on six years of research and three years of filmmaking. The $3.5 million film was broadcast on the Discovery Channel in Canada in April and was shown in Israel in July at the Jerusalem Film Festival. He made front-page news in both countries with the film.
Among his attention-getting ideas is that the Exodus occurred more than 200 years earlier than most scholars believe. He suggests that the biblical plagues and the parting of the Red Sea can be attributed to a volcanic eruption some 3,500 years ago in what is modern Greece. And he believes that he has located the lost Ark of the Covenant (in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens) and identified the real Mt. Sinai (Gebel Hashem el-Tarif in Northeast Sinai, close to the border of modern Israel).
“How did we do it?” the tall, bespectacled Mr. Jacobovici asks at the start of the film, which includes special effects and onscreen musings by the executive producer, James Cameron, who wrote, directed and produced the 1997 film “Titanic.” “By tracking down experts from a variety of disciplines who rarely, if ever, talk to each other. None of them fully subscribes to our take on the story, but many possess critical pieces of the puzzle, and what emerges will challenge even the most skeptical.”
Mr. Jacobovici, who lives in Toronto, was making the media rounds in New York for the United States debut of “Exodus Decoded.” Among his other film credits are “Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream” and “Quest for the Lost Tribes.” And now Exodus. Mr. Jacobovici knows that most scholars remain skeptical of his ideas and that there is not a single archeological artifact supporting the story of Exodus.
“The short version is that it all started with my very first film about the black Jews of Ethiopia,?” Mr. Jacobovici said in an interview, fresh from an appearance on “Today.” “It was the first time I saw that conventional wisdom is not necessarily correct,” he said, referring to the debate he kicked off with “Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews.”
Mr. Jacobovici, a 53-year-old Israeli-born Orthodox Jew and a father of five, said he was not grinding any particular ideological ax in his new film. “My question was simple,” he said. “Has anybody checked the biblical account in its totality?”
He argued that a reporter examining a biblical story was no different from a detective solving a murder. “We don’t expect a DNA guy to solve a mystery,” Mr. Jacobovici said of the credentials needed to investigate a story usually left to disciplines like archeology, geology, history and Jewish studies.
“Exodus Decoded” makes no grand theological pronouncements. It ends by asking viewers to decide whether the events depicted in the Bible are caused by nature or divine intervention.
Mr. Cameron, who met Mr. Jacobovici through a mutual friend, said he had always been fascinated by archeology and history. (In the 2003 IMAX documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss,” Mr. Cameron actually journeyed to the submerged Titanic wreck.) Mr. Jacobovici’s project so excited him, Mr. Cameron said, that he helped him to shape it and convinced him to narrate it.
“What Simcha was able to demonstrate, quite definitively, is that the Exodus took place,” Mr. Cameron said. “When you get into the miracles, that’s more conjecture.” He said he believes that Mr. Jacobovici “takes risks and makes leaps that academics can’t make.”
James K. Hoffmeier, a professor of Near Eastern Archeology and Old Testament at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., is one of the academics interviewed in the film. He said that Mr. Jacobovici does not make his case. Some of his evidence – about natural disasters, for example – has been presented and knocked down before, Mr. Hoffmeier said.
In the last 20 years the debate about the historic accuracy of the Bible has heated up, said Mr. Hoffmeier, who is now at Oxford University teaching a course centered on the biblical Exodus story.