Yesterday night I went to watch a movie that I heard about from one of my friends who happens to be deeply involved with biblical research  in Southern California. This particular movie, “Patterns Of Evidence – Exodus,” decided to take an empirical approach to the issue of the Exodus, first starting with what a sequence of the biblical Exodus story looks like (the filmmaker divided it into six stages from arrival in Egypt to the conquest of the cities in Canaan discussed in Joshua). Once this sequence had been identified the filmmaker traveled around the world and hunted down a wide variety of leads in order to find hard evidence of that sequence that would demonstrate a biblical case, without a predetermined approach. The filmmaker also interviewed a wide variety of people with different perspectives, sharing their best commentary on the evidence, and making it plain that the subject matter involved (biblical archeology and Egyptology) were exceptionally contentious fields. No two people talked to had the identical approach, and even those who were most heavily involved in protecting or discovering such evidence were often the most skeptical of the plain meaning of the finds they were responsible for. Additionally, one of those most helpful people in terms of the Exodus chronology from an interpretive standpoint himself is an agnostic as far as religious belief is concerned.
Watching this movie was fascinating even though I was familiar with many of the finds separately, whether one is looking at the Middle Bronze age destruction of Canaan’s major cities in the central highlands (as well as Judah), looking at the growth of Avaris and its Semitic population, or even the plague texts of the Middle Kingdom and the debate as far as the “gaps” of other cultures of the area that are necessary to defend the traditional chronology of Egypt. The movie was certainly immensely persuasive in allowing people to make a case for the veracity of the Bible in surprisingly specific ways (including a larger than life statue of Joseph with red hair and a multicolored coat found in a pyramid tomb in Avaris in a palatial complex that contained twelve tombs in total), as well as a mention of Israel as one of the three main peoples of the Promised Land (along with Ashkelon—the Phillistines, and Canaan) in the 1300’s BC, long before any Ramases-era Exodus could possibly take place. What was most appealing about the movie, though, was not the facts in isolation, but rather the fact that the filmmaker was able to make a persuasive and convincing pattern that could then be used to connect the evidence with biblical claims. The author’s willingness to follow the evidence where it led rather than have a predisposed answer was also immensely appealing, if somewhat rare. I know that I myself have a particular personal taste for patterns, and find their proper use in order to gain insight to be immensely useful, even if sometimes the patterns we uncover about ourselves and the world around us can be immensely painful .
Although I have long appreciated the importance of chronology in history , this movie was helpful in reminding me of why it is contentious. For one, the fragmentary nature of what we know about the past depends on having a firm foundation of dates and names for interpretation to be accurate. The presence of multiple dynasties in the same realm can be a sign of complicated power sharing between church and state (as it is, for example, in the dynasties of Memphis and the High Priests of Thebes that ruled concurrently), as well as between a central authority and powerful subordinates (such as the possibly Israelite dynasty based in Avaris that ruled over an autonomous state before Israel fell into slavery while another dynasty ruled elsewhere). The fact that early heathen historians during the Hellenistic period were more prone than biblical historians were prone to exaggerating the antiquity of their kingdoms (as was the case with Manetho in Egypt) made their chronologies suspect. The fact that there have been long gaps inserted into various chronologies also adds a certain element of arbitrariness to the chronologies that are made, and so the choice of the right absolute chronology is of vital importance, as that chronology needs to be able to connect easily enough with others and also be robust enough to provide an accurate picture of the relative chronology of other nations. It is likely that for those watching this film, if they were not already predisposed to question the bias of many academics, that this skepticism will tend to increase as a result of seeing a compelling fact-based narrative that supports the biblical account in its claims.
Patterns of evidence have provided a great deal of contention in other fields as well that are worth considering. For example, the focus of some scientists in Intelligent Design has been in the search for biological patterns as representing evidence of design, and in exploring explanatory filters similar to those used in forensics (a classic historical science) that allow for the appeal to design once chance has been dismissed as a likely alternative. Both natural history and forensics are historical sciences (like archeology) in that we have a fragmentary record of the past and the desire to understand the past as best as possible despite the fact that a large part of the historical record has been lost, or never even recorded in the first place. In some ways, though, the randomness of the patterns of history is a friend to understanding it, as small details can lead to great insights. The fact that full seed jars and the pattern of walls falling in Jericho correspond exactly to the biblical account is not a matter of ex post facto theorizing, as those who faithfully record the past will always include telling details that can be verified, for our lives and behavior on this earth leaves a trace that can uncover what we did, so that the imperfectly recorded evidence of our lives can match with the recorded account of our life, with both giving life and providing context for the others, to show that we did live here and do something of value in leaving behind a legacy that could be found and appreciated by later generations not as mere tradition but as living memory of actual historical truths.
This is especially important for both people of faith and people of science, since both religion and science are profoundly fact-based enterprises. The purposes and nature of our creation and the involvement of God in our world  matter on the facts of that involvement. Evidence of the veracity of the biblical account of history also provides evidence of the applicability of its moral and ethical principles, since the history tells of the Eternal as a being deeply interested in the ethical behavior of not only His believers but also the societies those believers live in and interact with. If the Bible is true, there are repercussions and consequences of that truth for our behavior. Likewise, science and history are truth-based enterprises as well, even if our human nature tends to interfere with the best practices in those fields (as in many other cases). Where there are vested interests to protect, and there are always vested interests to protect, the temptation to slant the evidence or deny its import becomes immense, and that threatens the legitimacy of the endeavors that people seek to pervert to preserve their own power and position. Let us remember that we are all human beings, and the legitimacy of fields of study does not depend on the worthiness of those who have offices in those fields, for we are all subject to human frailty, no matter how many initials are behind our names or how lengthy our schooling, or how great a gift of intelligence we have been given by our Creator, and recognizing that frailty and remaining humble about it allows us to learn and grow. The power of a pattern in providing a narrative to organize the facts we uncover is a great power, and one we have to use wisely, and justly.
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