Documentary Review: Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy

Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy

In 2015, a Christian documentary was released named Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. Many scholars believe the Exodus as described in the Bible never happened, and many archaeologists agree that opinion. The purpose of Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus is to show that archaeologists are looking for evidence from the wrong time period, so naturally there wouldn’t be evidence of the Exodus. A few simple calculations using dates the Bible gives leads to the approximate date of the Exodus, so why aren’t researchers looking for evidence of the Exodus in that time period? The documentary presents both sides of the argument, and was well done and easy to follow. I recommend seeing Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus.

The Exodus filmmaker Timothy Mahoney has been working on a new project for the past several years, and the first public showing was on Thursday, March 14, 2019. I had planned to see it on opening night, and post this review last weekend, but the local theater which was scheduled to show it had problems with the projector. My wife and I saw it last Saturday instead, and it was as interesting as I had expected. This review will be much shorter than my review of Fragments of Truth last week, because I wasn’t able to  stop the film to take notes and write down quotes. I will probably buy it when it’s available online or Blu-Ray and do a longer review. 

The new documentary is Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy. For nearly 3,500 years, Moses has been attributed as the author of the first five books of the Bible (Hebrew Torah, Greek  Pentateuch), but in the past 150 years some scholars have denied his authorship. The claims include:

  • The alphabet didn’t exist when Moses lived, so he couldn’t have known how to write.
  • Moses taught orally and what he taught was written down much later.
  • The Israelites couldn’t read, so there was no point in writing anything.
  • There never was a person named Moses who led the Israelites out of Egypt, and the books attributed to him were written 800-1,000 years after the Bible claims he lived.

According to these theories, even Jesus was wrong about Moses being the author when he said: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46 ESV)

What does the best evidence available to us indicate?

Mahoney interviews about 15 experts in the documentary. About half of the experts believe Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, while the other half believe Moses did write the books. Both sides of the controversy were presented, to allow viewers to arrive at their own conclusions. Mahoney starts the documentary by interviewing non-believers, and I was wondering if anyone was going to leave the theater, thinking the whole show would be critical of Mosaic authorship. As you may imagine, Mahoney arrives at the conclusion that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible.

We’ve all seen pictures of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which are used to convey broad ideas, but aren’t useful in conveying words with subtle meanings. The teachings in the Bible were new, and hieroglyphs didn’t exist to represent those ideas. To be able to write down words requires an alphabet. Also, to be able to understand hieroglyphics, a person would have to know thousands of symbols. An alphabet, on the other hand, is made up of relatively few letters (26 in English and 22 in Hebrew), and those letters represent sounds people make when speaking. Alphabets are more efficient for both the writer and the person learning how to read.

The documentary focused on the alphabet Moses could have used to write the first five books of the Bible. Mahoney asks, and answers, several questions in the documentary:

  • Had the alphabet been invented by the time of Moses?
  • Did an alphabet exist which Moses would have known?
  • Could the alphabet be used to write Hebrew?
  • Could the Israelites read?
  • Who created the alphabet, and why was it created?

I was particularly interested in how the letters used in Hebrew had changed over time from the earliest alphabet to the alphabet used by Moses, which are different than modern Hebrew.

Moses builds on the earlier documentary, Exodus, by showing there are more assumptions many scholars use which aren’t really supported by the  historical evidence. Perhaps a more accurate way of stating it would be, the evidence can understood from a Biblical perspective and not contradict the evidence scholars and archaeologists have found, as many scholars assume.

I do have some quibbles about the film. The documentary is subtitled: Who Really Wrote the First Five Books of the Bible?, but it never really gave evidence Moses was the author. The film focused on whether an alphabet had been created by the time of Moses, and didn’t address the issue if Moses actually used the alphabet. Just a few minutes could have been used to highlight the many verses which show Moses wrote at least parts of the Bible. The objection Moses couldn’t have written the first five books of the Bible because no alphabet existed for him to use was clearly overturned; from that perspective the documentary was successful.

One question I had expected the documentary to address but didn’t is: Did Moses know how to write? If Moses didn’t know how to write, he couldn’t have written the beginning of the Bible. The question is answered in the New Testament:

Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action. (Acts 7:22 NIV)

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. (Romans 10:5 ESV)

I thought Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy was quite informative, although it likely went into more detail than most people are interested in. The Moses Controversy is about a pretty esoteric topic, one most people have probably never considered, so I think the audience for it will be smaller than for Exodus. If you haven’t seen Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus (View Exodus trailer) or Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy (View Moses trailer), I recommend seeing them if you’re interested in how modern scholars are finding new evidence to support the historical reliability of the Bible.

(The next documentary in the series will be Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle, but the website doesn’t have much information about it yet.)

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