Movie Review: Patterns Of Evidence: Journey To Mount Sinai: Part Two

I was one of two people who sat in a theater outside of Portland, Oregon, one of the most irreligious cities of the United States, to watch a film that was made by a prolific documentary filmmaker who has made his reputation for taking the Bible particularly seriously as a source of historical insight and knowledge. This film is at least the fourth film in a row, and seemingly the final one, based on questions about the veracity of the biblical account of Israel’s experience in Egypt as well as leaving Egypt to eventually reach Mt. Sinai. The author’s approach, which is mirrored in the title of the film, is to look at various theories and ideas about how it is that the Bible’s events happened and to fit the evidence we can find not into a preconceived set of theories but rather sifted to uncover patterns of evidence that reveal the inference to the best explanation. This approach is quite common in scientific discussion but has often been missing in historical analysis, especially in an age like our own where politics often trumps concern for fidelity to the truths of scripture and history.

This particular film picks up where Part One of the movie–which I do not remember seeing in movie theaters–left off. That first part looked at three proposed sites for Mt. Sinai that are in the Sinai Peninsula weighed according to how much they fit the biblical account when it comes to various factors that include the journey taken by Israel, the suitability of the site in sustaining life for a year, the presence of streams and caves that match the biblical record, and so on. This particular film then looks at three more sites, one of them at the southern end of Judah, and the other two in Saudi Arabia, that are potential sites for the historical Mt. Sinai. The film examines how it is that the knowledge of the location got lost, at least with a reasonable argument about this, but spends most of its time seeking to explore the various sites through the eyes of those who are experts on each place, and who have very strong ideas about why it is that their particular mountain of choice is in fact the actual Mt. Sinai, through the presence of calf-worshipping inscriptions, altars, standing stones, streams, and the like.

As far as documentaries go, I have always enjoyed the approach of the filmmaker in serving as a friendly interviewer who draws out the various experts that he talks with about matters of biblical history into discussing their own ideas and perspectives. In this movie, though, more than in the other two films I remember seeing in this series, the director makes his own perspective as well as his own investigations and theories plain. The stakes of this film–and by implication the whole series–are also very plain, in that the worth of the Bible as a spiritual text depends in large part on the fidelity and veracity of its truth claims. A book that is made up of imaginative and creative fictional stories about supposed people groups wandering through the desert has no moral authority, but a book that discusses God’s genuine and often miraculous acts in history is worthy of our respect and praise of a God who is worthy of worship. At numerous points in this movie, people talk about their crises of faith that led them to investigate the truth of the Exodus as a means of giving them a solid foundation of truth on which to ground their religious convictions.

Given the heavy emphasis that the filmmaker places on the importance of the historical veracity of the biblical account to the overall legitimacy of the Bible as a worthwhile basis of religious faith, it is perhaps unsurprising that the film ends with the singing of various generally familiar Christian songs–Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace among them–by a praise choir made up of people who have overcome addiction. It is a common phenomenon for writings or films about matters relating to history or apologetics from a Christian perspective to end in an altar call for the audience, and such is the case here. After eight or so hours of generally historical and philosophical explorations of matters of serious biblical history, this book presents the uncomfortable picture of people ranging from professional scholars to controversial popularizers to Saudi authorities making decisions because of personal and political biases that often hinder the exploration of the truths of scripture and how they can be verified and recognized on the ground. The film–and the series as a whole–are excellent, but they leave the viewer with uncomfortable questions of how it is that we recognize and evaluate various historical claims. Perhaps that is for the best, for we deserve to be uncomfortable about the often slender basis of our theories and ideas.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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