Hebrew Voices #92 – Unpacking the Moses Controversy

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, Unpacking the Moses Controversy, Nehemia Gordon speaks with filmmaker Tim Mahoney about the latest installment of his Patterns of Evidence series. Mahoney explains why secular scholars say Moses could not have written the Torah, they discuss Paleo-Hebrew and earlier forms of writing that preceded it, and the earliest known undisputed Israelite inscription.

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Hebrew Voices #92 - Unpacking the Moses Controversy

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: That’s one of my favorite lines of the entire movie. You’re quoting what the scholars say, and they say… I love this line, guys. This one line makes the whole movie worth it. So, the scholars say, “The exodus that didn’t happen had to have happened in the 13th century BC.”

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon, and welcome to Hebrew Voices. In this episode I have Tim Mahoney, who is the writer, producer, director of the “Patterns of Evidence,” investigative documentary series. His latest movie, “The Moses Controversy,” is about to be released in nearly 1,000 theaters across the United States. Shalom, Tim.

Tim: Thank you for welcoming me, and I'm glad to be here. Oftentimes, I'm actually welcoming people so sometimes, I get my cues wrong. Because I'm always interviewing, but now I get to be interviewed.

Nehemia: The tables have been turned. Tell us about this movie. It's gonna be in 1,000 theaters. I heard that, I was very impressed. In fact, I was speaking just the other day to a friend from Tennessee, and I told him I was gonna be interviewing you. And he said, “Actually, I'm going to see that with my entire congregation; we've already bought tickets.”

Tim: Oh, really?

Nehemia: Pretty cool.

Tim: Oh, really? That's good to know. Well, it's good for people know that you can buy tickets for groups, which is great. It's called “Patterns of Evidence.” I made a film earlier, in 2015, it came out into theaters, and that film explored the question of, were there Israelites in Egypt? I was basically told when I went there in 2002 that there really wasn't any evidence for some of the stories of the Bible. And I ended up personally having what I would call a crisis of faith, and that film then shows my journey to look for patterns of evidence in the story of the Exodus.

And we looked for six steps in that investigation, the arrival of the Israelites, their multiplication, their enslavement, and then the judgment of the people in Egypt, the exodus out of Egypt, and then the conquests of the promised land. And that's what the first film identified. And then, as I was going along, I started to think about, “Well, the next part of it is the route. And there are many descriptions about the route and they're detailed; there's detailed information.”

And I realized that, once again, we had lots of people who said that Moses didn't write these first books, that they were written possibly as much as 1,000 years after the potential events happened. And also, they said there's a lot of speculation about exaggeration. You know, the sea parting, walls of water on both sides… And so, the question I raised was, how do we know for sure? And what would we look for to give us a closer understanding as to, could Moses have written the stories in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy? And so, that was what this film then was set out to do, before I go on the route of the Exodus.

Nehemia: You said you had a crisis of faith; I think that's really interesting. I had my own sort of crisis of faith when I did my undergraduate at Hebrew University, and then my master's degree. By my master's degree I think it was over. But I did two degrees, one in biblical studies and one in Archaeology, and then a master's in biblical studies. And the fundamental principle in both of those degrees is that the Bible is not true. And I was told this straight out by professors. I would see these professors who would be arguing back and forth with people who did believe in the Bible, this was Israel after all. The professor would bring up some contradiction in the Bible, and the person who believes in the Bible would raise their hand and say, “Well, that's easily explainable.”

And I remember one particular professor, he said, “Your purpose is to settle the contradictions. Mine is to focus on them and amplify them, and identify different authors particularly within the Torah, based on what we call ‘apparent contradictions.’” And I think it's actually important to identify what the apparent contradictions are. There's an entire field of Jewish literature which focuses on these apparent contradictions, and says, “Yeah, these have perfectly logical explanations.” They're easily explained. But particularly what's called “historical literary criticism” or so-called “higher criticism,” its purpose is to say, “Look, we know Moses didn't write the Torah, so who wrote it?”

And their conclusion is that it was written by a series of people called JEPD, or groups of people, four different sources it's compiled from. And then, the debate is, did this compilation begin in the time of Josiah in 621 BC, or did it happen after the Babylonian exile? That's a classic debate between Kaufmann and Wellhausen. But anyway, so you focused on one particular aspect, which I found really fascinating, which is... And I love the way you pose the question, the way you frame the question. Your question, here's the quote, you say, “Moses could have used, or Moses could have written the Torah using a particular script.” Because their argument is, Moses did not write the Torah. And how do we know that? Because Hebrew didn't exist as a written language back then.

I paid very close attention in your movie to what some of the experts said, and they weren't just saying that the script didn't exist, but even the language didn't exist. I want to give people an analogy here. So today, we're here speaking in English. If you went back 1,000 years and read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, you would not understand even 10 percent of the words. The English we speak today did not exist 1,000 years ago, and they say the same thing with Hebrew. The Hebrew that you have in the Torah is the Hebrew of the late Judean kingdom, and it didn't exist at the time of Moses.

There was some other Northwest Semitic language that existed at the time. I don't know why we all can't just call it “Proto-Hebrew,” right? Proto means an early form of the language, or an early form of anything, really, before it became its more classic, defined, or familiar form.

Talk to us about how you came to this issue, what you were presented with by the scholars that made you devote essentially, an entire video, an entire movie, very well-done investigative documentary, to this question of, did some form of the Hebrew writing system exist that Moses could have used? And what I love is, you're not proving he used it, because really that comes down to a matter of faith, I think in both directions. If you don't believe Moses existed, then Moses couldn't have written the Torah. If you do believe Moses existed, then the question is, could Moses have written the Torah? That's the question that you explicitly asked. So, talk to us about why that was such an important question to devote an entire documentary to, and why you couldn't just take it on faith?

Tim: Well, one of the things that's going on, as you mentioned, is that when you go to university today, if you go to any universities, most of them, if you go to the religious department or go to the archaeological department, what they're going to tell you is that there is no evidence for these stories, or they're going to be very, very negative about a lot of this. But what's happened is that they have basically pointed to a particular time in history, which I call the “Rameses-Exodus theory.” In other words, they've pointed to that time in history where they're saying all the biblical evidence has to arrive at that time. That's when the exodus happened, during the time of Rameses.

And I think we might have, in an earlier conversation, mentioned that when the Bible communicates that Jacob came into the land of Egypt, it references to the land of Rameses. And so, what we know is that in this time, they're telling us something, they're telling us the location, and they're trying to help people understand where it is. In the first film, we uncover that there's a much earlier city called “Avaris,” and that's where the evidence for this story of the Exodus happens. It's the right location, but it's called a different thing at a different time.

And just as languages change, cities change. And so, what the films that I've been working on are showing us is that there's strong evidence, there are strong patterns of evidence earlier in history, for the Israelites. And we also know that chronology is man's best attempt to try to sort things out, but it doesn't mean that they've got it figured out. And so, that's why it's better to look for patterns of evidence, you know, what were the things you would look for?

And in this film, the question is, could Moses have written the first books of the Bible? And people say, “Well, Hebrew didn't exist, it wasn't around.” So, we say, “What kind of writing system would Moses have needed?” It would have to be in the region of Egypt, something that was around that area. It had to be around the time of the Exodus, or prior to the time of the Exodus, and it would have to be some form of Semitic writing. And the question then is the connection to Hebrew, since almost all Torah scrolls have been written in Hebrew.

The question then goes back to, is there a form of writing like Hebrew that would have been used? And as we move along, not to give too much away, but what we realize is that an alphabet is extremely important. And that's why I think the gift that this film gives people is this understanding that what we start to uncover is that the first alphabetic inscriptions show up at this time in history, when Joseph and his family and the early Israelites would have lived in Egypt.

Nehemia: Look, I have a background in archaeology. And it was kind of obvious to me the direction you were going in the first 15 minutes, because I'm like, okay, well, this is Proto-Sinaitic, that's the answer. To me, this was obvious, but I would assume most of the audience doesn't know what Proto-Sinaitic is. And really to understand that, I really want you guys to go and watch this movie. It's a great movie.

So, Proto-Sinaitic, I think a lot of my audience will be familiar with it. I want to define some terms. In the movie, you talk about old Hebrew. Many people will be familiar with the term “Paleo Hebrew.” Paleo Hebrew is the classical form that we know from First Temple period inscriptions. We know it from the Siloam inscription, we know it from other inscriptions. And then there's an earlier form, which scholars called “Proto-Sinaitic,” and that was found in a number of places in Sinai. You talk about Serabit el-Khadim, I believe that is the first place it was found. And that is an earlier form, there an aleph actually looks like a bull. A gimel looks like the back of a camel, because “gamal” means camel.

There are some questions there, though, that aren't so clear. So, “dalet” is a door, but it would appear from that Proto-Sinaitic that dalet is actually “dag,” a fish. This is actually the central principle in the Hebrew alphabet, is that the sound made by each letter, each letter represents a picture, and that picture represents something from everyday life, and that something from everyday life has a sound associated with that picture. So, ga, for gamal, for the back of a camel, etc. Sometimes it's not so obvious. In your movie, a gentleman proposes that hey comes from the word “hallel or hallal,” to praise, which is a very tempting explanation, except in Hebrew today we call the letter hey, not “hallal.” And so, maybe dag and dalet has a similar form of development. It raises a lot of very interesting questions.

Tim: I realize that sometimes that's all I have. I don't have the answers, I just have questions. I don't even know all the questions when we're doing this. But what I could see is that the history of this text was really significant. And that's where we ended up focusing the investigation. I think it's really important for people to realize that if we take a step back and say, “Why is it important that we know this is true?” It's because all the other books throughout the Bible point back to the authority of Moses, and to the writings of Moses. And I think that if you undermine that, then what's happened is the rest of it is being undermined. That's why it's important to establish. That's what I started to understand.

Nehemia: I once had a meeting with this Reform Rabbi, and there was a bunch of her congregants around. And she asked me, “Nehemia, what do you believe about the Torah?” And I unhesitatingly said, “It's the perfect word of God revealed through Moses.” And her response was, “For me, that's the big difference.” She said, “For me, the jury's still out about whether Moses existed.” And that's actually more than you can say for most scholars in the secular world.

The way it was explained to me by one scholar was that Moses was like King Arthur, that stories were written hundreds of years later about this figure, King Arthur, who maybe existed as like a Roman general, or some Anglo-Saxon warlord, or minor guy over some small area. And then hundreds of years later, I believe in the 12th or 13th century, they wrote these stories about him being king over England, which is an anachronism, because England wasn't the United Kingdom then. It was seven kingdoms, or many, many kingdoms, even, depending on when he lived. They don't even know when he lived.

That’s one of my favorite lines of the entire movie. You’re quoting what the scholars say, and they say… I love this line, guys. This one line makes the whole movie worth it. So, the scholars say, “The exodus that didn’t happen had to have happened in the 13th century BC.” And you're paraphrasing what all these scholars were saying. They're saying, “You can't look for Moses in 1450 BC when the first Book of Kings places him.” In other words, where do we get that? Well, we believe... I was gonna say we know, but we don't know. And "we" meaning secular scholarship, even, believes that Solomon lived around, let's say, 950 BC. That's based on the raid of Shishak into Israel around 924 BC. And then it says the Temple was built approximately 480 years after the going out of the Israelites from the land of Egypt. That puts us roughly 1,450 BC, if you believe the first Book of Kings. Scholars don't believe the first Book of Kings, and they say it has to be in the 13th century. Therefore, Tim Mahoney, you're looking in the wrong century. So, the exodus that didn't happen had to have happened in the 13th century BC. I love that statement.

Tim: Yeah, I'm sure that we'll get a lot of laughs out of that one, because that's the truth, that's the irony of it. You start to realize that what's happening is that scholarship is built on other scholars who come up with an assumption, and then they've made it law. And so, the challenge with that is, what about the false assumptions? Could it be that a generation, or several generations of scholars have been preaching and sort of communicating that this is the way it is, and don't deviate from this.

And so, what ends up happening is that you're locked into this very narrow time period, when mainstream scholars say the exodus that didn't happen had to have happened at that time. And so, you're going, “Okay, why should I agree with that?” And, by the way, I think there's about five other references to this, what we call the early date of the Exodus, around 1450, by other people in the Bible that are communicating that that would be the time that it happened.

And I just did an interview last week, I can't remember them off the top of my head, but there are more than just the Kings reference. And so, what we start to see is that the Bible’s communicating that it has a time period when the exodus is to have happened. And the other problem that we have, which is not what this film is about, but as I continue to investigate these topics, is that if you have a Rameses exodus time period, you have no time to fit in all the other information that was to have happened. You get what I'm saying?

Nehemia: Which is why they say it didn't happen, right?

Tim: Yeah.

Nehemia: In other words, that's one of the arguments. I'll tell you, from what I know, having studied archaeology at Hebrew University, the real reason that they put this in the 13th century BC. There's the “Stele of Merneptah” which mentions an Egyptian raid, and I call it a raid, meaning they invaded the country, but only just to steal stuff and then they left. So, there's an Egyptian raid in the time of Merneptah who mentions that he vanquished these different peoples and one of them is Israel. And that's in the 13th century BC.

So, scholars who don't want to admit any details of the early history of the Bible are forced to admit Israel existed in the 13th century BC. They have no choice whatsoever but to admit it, because they have the Stele of Merneptah which they date to the 13th century. Whether that dating is correct, is not such a clear answer.

Probably, the primary reason I went to study biblical archaeology in Israel, is I wanted to know whether the archaeological chronology was based on solid information. And what I saw was when there was a carbon 14 date that didn't fit what the archaeologists believed, they ignored it. When it did fit, they held it up and waved it. And you would have the Assyriologists base themselves on the archaeologists from Israel, and archaeologists in Israel on the Egyptology and the Egyptology on the Assyriologists.

And it was this big, interconnected web of assumptions, like you say. And this was my crisis of faith that was settled by the conclusion that they really don't know the chronology. And you've proposed a possibility in the film, and I've heard this before, and there's different theories out there of how Rameses the second, whether it's the second even, and Merneptah have been misdated. And whether that's true or not… And by the way, even that inscription of Merneptah that mentions Israel, it's in hieroglyphics, and it can actually be read as “Jezreel,” right? It's not even clear that it refers to Israel. It might be that he raided the land and attacked some tribe in the Jezreel Valley, because the Egyptian language when it translates Hebrew words, all kinds of things get corrupted.

Here's really the point for me. Look, secular scholarship takes a certain approach, which I think is a very important approach. When I go to a secular Bible conference, I put on a different hat than I wear when I'm speaking in a Church. And the hat I wear is, okay, all of my faith I have to leave at the door. And I walk into the room of the secular conference and I am dealing in a humanist field. And I cannot employ principles based on miracles, based on faith. It has to be what can I prove.

And you actually didn't ask the question, “What can I prove?” You asked what could be true. And I think that's really important, because the secular scholars say, “Well, you can't prove Moses existed. But we can prove that he didn't write the Torah,” which is an incredibly audacious claim for them to prove he didn't write the Torah. And I want to quote from Orly Goldwasser, who really is one of the foremost experts on ancient Hebrew and Semitic scripts. So, you ask Orly Goldwasser, this Professor, a really great expert in ancient Semitic languages and writing systems, that you've spoken to other people who suggested that Proto-Sinaitic, this early form, it really could be called a primitive form of the Hebrew writing system. Again, aleph means a bull. And there, the aleph actually looks like a bull. Ayin means an eye. And not only is it a circle, as in the Paleo-Hebrew, but there's a dot in the middle of the eye, I love that. It actually looks like an eye.

And you asked her, “Some people are saying this is an early form of Hebrew, right?” I would call it just Proto-Hebrew. And she calls this "fake knowledge.” And then, Professor Goldwasser says, “Hebrew is a kind of old Canaanite dialect that developed much later,” meaning much later than Moses or Proto-Sinaitic. And she says, “To call this Hebrew is opportunism.” And she says, “It's a very bad, misleading mistake, and the person who writes it has an agenda.”

So, I want to say my favorite thing about your movie, Tim, is that you included these quotes in the movie, because she is essentially to your face calling you an “opportunist who has an agenda.” And I think it's pretty clear for anybody who watches both videos, you're just trying to find the truth. You're just trying to navigate through this minefield of secular humanism and traditional biblical scholarship, and find out not what we can prove, because ultimately, it does come down to faith, but what could be true. ‘cause they're making the claim, not just we can't prove it, but we can prove it's not true, that Moses didn't write the Torah. So, talk to me about that.

Tim: Well, what you start to see is that if you ask the question, “What can you prove?” If you asked some questions like, “Is there a script that's available at the time that Moses would have existed? Is there a script that's in the region? Is there a script that's a Semitic language like Hebrew?” And what we end up finding is that yes, there is a script there, and it's not Egyptian. But what's more fundamentally important about this script is that it matches…You know how films have “aha’s.” They have “aha’s” for me like, “Wow, I can't believe we uncovered this, or found this, or see this connection.”

But going back to the reason they don't believe that the script is Hebrew, is because they don't believe the Israelites lived at the time when the Bible puts them there. You see, if they think that the Israelites don't really show up until later, that these people sort of become a people later in history and they write the Books of the Bible to give themselves a history, if you buy into that idea, that's the reason why they don't see any connection.

But if you look back at what the Scripture is actually saying, then the Israelites actually existed earlier. And so, that is the big difference. If you follow the Bible and look at what the Bible is saying, the history of this script matches the history of the early Israelites. I think that's the biggest gift that the film kind of uncovers, is showing a strong connection. Like we said, you hear from all these different people why they say it can't be. And then you're looking at evidence, and I think at the end of the day, you're going, “I think the evidence is pretty strong.”

Nehemia: Well, when I studied about Paleo-Hebrew, and Proto-Sinaitic, and Proto-Canaanite in the ‘90s before some of these inscriptions were even discovered, which I think even further cements this, it was obvious to me that this was really just a semantic argument that they were calling it “Proto-Sinaitic” and not “Proto-Hebrew.” Really, no reason not to call it “Proto-Hebrew.” One thing you didn't bring in the movie which I think is really an exciting point, is that the original inscriptions were found at Serabit el-Khadim, which is a place in Sinai, and what is Serabit el-Khadim, where were they were found? It was an Egyptian turquoise mine. And the people who wrote these scripts were presumably, it would seem, Egyptian slaves, who wrote in the language that is virtually... And I would even say indistinguishable from Hebrew, and I would call it a dialect of Hebrew.

One of the inscriptions there, in this Proto-Sinaitic mentions, if I remember correctly, “mat leba'alat,” which is “matat” in more classical Hebrew. That is, “A gift to the wife of Ba'al.” Well, that fits perfectly what we read in the Bible about the ancient Israelites, when Jacob comes back from being with Laban, they've gotta bury all their idols under a tree. And Rachel keeps some of them under her saddle, right? So, we have this history of the Israelites who are adopting Canaanite gods.

I mean, think about it. We have these slaves in an Egyptian slave mine who are writing alongside the Egyptian that is written. There's a temple to Hathor at Serabit el-Khadim, who was the goddess of the desert, a bull Goddess, or cow, I guess. I'm a city slicker. A female bull, a bovine goddess. And so, alongside the Egyptian writing there to this official Hathor goddess, there is what is virtually indistinguishable from Hebrew. And why do I say "virtually?”

This is something that I don't feel like Professor Goldwasser has addressed, and other people, or at least not in your movie, to be fair. I'm sure they've addressed it somewhere. So, within the Tanakh and within biblical Hebrew, we have variations of dialects. So, why does it say “mat leba'alat” and not “matana” or “matat leba'ala?” It's a different dialect of Hebrew, that's not a problem. The most famous example is in Judges 12:16, there's a battle between the tribes and one of the tribes seizes the forge over the Jordan River. And they say to the tribe of Ephraim, “If you want to get back home, you have to say the word “shibolet,” and the Ephraimites can't pronounce that, literally, to save their lives, they say “sibolet.” And I think the more important example in our case here, because we're talking about the period of Moses, that's the period of Jephthah, which if you believe the biblical chronology is a few hundred years later.

In the story of the manna, the Hebrew word for manna is “mon,” mem nun. And it says they called it mon, because they didn't know what it was. And the Hebrew word for "what" is “ma” and it's very clear when you read it in Hebrew that “mon” means "what,” but not in the Hebrew of the Torah. And you come away from this realizing, “Wait a minute. The Hebrew of the Torah is a particular dialect of Hebrew.” Now, the secular scholars will say, “Yeah, it's the dialect of Hebrew from the time of Ezra,” but we can prove that's not true. Read the Book of Ezra. I shouldn't say completely, but it is a distinguishable dialect from the Hebrew of Ezra. And so, other scholars will say, “Okay, that's the Hebrew of the time of Josiah.” Well, maybe it's the Hebrew of the Levites, and Moses writing it wrote it in the Hebrew of the Levites. I have no idea, now we're just speculating.

The point is that the people who are quoted in Exodus 16 as saying “mon hu,” what is it, are speaking a slightly different dialect of Hebrew than Moses is writing the Torah in. And we have tons of examples of this. The other example I love is the Samaria Ostraca, which admittedly is from the 8th century BC, but there they have these lists, and they have the word “year.” The Hebrew word for year is “shnat” in the Torah, but they write “shat” repeatedly, shin tav, without the nun. So, here it's in the kingdom of Israel, in their royal palace, they're using a slightly different dialect of Hebrew. I can still understand it, right? I can decipher it. Some Israelis might not be able to understand it, but if you study the language you should be able to decipher it, but it's still Hebrew.

And so, what we find in that respect, what we find in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions is as close to biblical Hebrew as the examples of biblical Hebrew that we have from other archaeological artifacts like the Samaria Ostraca and from biblical stories like Exodus 16, the story of the manna. So, to say it's a different language… It could be a different language, but to say it can't be Hebrew? I don't see that.

Tim: The reason why they say it can't be Hebrew goes back to the Rameses-Exodus theory. I think it goes back to the fact that it's earlier in time, and they don't associate it with the Israelites. But I do think that the case is made that the pattern of evidence for the Israelites being earlier is very, very clear. And so, that's what this series of films is about, is sort of re-challenging these questions that are out there. And when you look at it, you start to see that there's a really strong pattern of evidence. That's the beauty of taking the patterns of evidence approach, is that now you aren't based upon somebody saying, “Well, we can't think about that, because we already decided that.” You go, “Well, let's just look at the archaeological evidence and see if there's a pattern.”

And the other thing about a pattern is even if you've got a pattern, let’s say you've got five points, those points have to add up, right? It can't just be one. And I often see really smart people find one little thing and they hang everything on that one little thing. But you have to have the pattern. If you have the pattern it adds up, and it has to be in the right sequence, right? So, you have to have a language in the region of Egypt. It has to be at the time of the earlier Israelites if we're going to believe in a 1,450 BC Exodus, according to second Kings. If you find all those different connections, and then it has to be a form of writing like Hebrew, and then it has to... The big idea is, it's alphabetic, because the Hebrew language is an alphabetic language.

And guess what? This film uncovers all four of those major ideas that are there. And it becomes the basis of all alphabetic languages that then goes around the world. And the biggest idea for me was, I take it a step further, but I see a connection, and maybe it's because I'm a person of faith. I see a connection between needing to have something that is transferable. Doesn't it say, Moses is told to tell the people to write these commands on their doorposts and teach them to their children. So, if a writing system was so complicated that it would be hard to learn, in hieroglyphics and cuneiform, that's those two ancient writing systems in that place of the world, they were very, very difficult. They'd be 1,000 to 1,200 characters, so people couldn't learn them. But all of a sudden, something comes along at the time, and history, and the place that matches the story of the Israelites. And guess what? It's transferable. I think that's the beauty of what this is about. It reveals its transferable-ness. The ideas that were given at Mount Sinai, teaching the laws and all these things, are transferable.

Nehemia: Now, you've raised a really interesting question. So, first of all, I just gotta put out there that phrase about, “Write them on your doorposts,” I take that to be a metaphor. But the very fact that you would have a metaphor related to the common person writing suggests that maybe the common person was at least literate. And that's really interesting, because Professor Goldwasser... And I don't mean to pick on her, but scholars in general will say, “Well, wait a minute, you're speculating here.” And then they go, and they speculate with speculations that are far more…what's the word I'm looking for, that are impossible to prove.

So, one of her statements, and this is a quote, so she talks about the invention of this Proto-Sinaitic, which she believes is a Northwest Semitic language, not Hebrew because Hebrew didn't exist, according to her. Okay, fine. I'm gonna call it “Proto-Hebrew,” she calls it “Proto-Sinaitic.” She says, “My inventors were illiterate.” In other words, the standard explanation of Proto-Sinaitic is that it was someone who was educated, and that he took a form of hieroglyphics and he turned it into an alphabetic system. I won't give this part away, but you have a really intriguing suggestion that comes from David Rohl in your movie. I won't give that one away.

But she suggested no, this was invented by some common person. And she has no proof for that. It could be, it's very possible. And I actually think she's probably right. I want to give some analogies. We have a modern analogy to a man named “Sequyuoyah,” who in the 1810s and 1820s, in a period of about 20 years, invented a written writing system. He was a man, illiterate, who came from a preliterate society, the Cherokee. And he took the Cherokee language and he invented a writing system. Now, he didn't invent symbols, he did exactly what Proto-Sinaitic did, if you believe the standard explanation.

What Sequyuoyah did is, he took letters from the English alphabet, and the Greek alphabet. And he actually didn't know what they represented in the English or Greek alphabet, and he assigned them values in the Cherokee language. And he produced a syllabic alphabet, based on syllables, not consonants and vowels. So, the Cherokee character may have a completely different sound than it does in English or Greek, because Sequyuoyah didn't know English or Greek. And he invented a writing system, and this is actually the only example known in history where we've witnessed a preliterate society becoming literate within a single generation. Within about 20 or 30 years, the average Cherokee was reading a daily newspaper. Imagine that, they went from a preliterate society to reading a daily newspaper in a period of a few decades.

They had a written constitution. They had written laws in a very short period of time. And the theory is that Sequyuoyah was... I mean, he was, he was a silversmith. It’s a theory, we don't know, but it's believed he wrote down symbols to indicate to people, “Okay, this was the silver brought to me by so-and-so, let me give him a symbol.” And he experimented with different symbols until he invented a writing system. So, why couldn't that have happened with Proto-Sinaitic from the Israelites? They saw these Egyptian symbols, and they said, “Oh, that looks like water. In Hebrew, water is mayim, or in our Northwest Semitic dialect, the word for water is ‘mayim’ or ‘mem,’” or something like this. And they used that symbol to represent the “meh” sound, right? And they saw a pillar, and they said a pillar is “samekh,” “somekh,” it holds something up. And so, they drew a very primitive picture of a pillar for the “seh” sound, for “samekh.”

If that happened with Sequyuoyah, that surely could have happened with these Egyptian or these Semitic slaves. It's indisputable; Semitic slaves in a turquoise mine in Sinai wrote a Northwest Semitic language which absolutely could be Hebrew. The last part scholars may not agree with. They’ll say, “It can't be Hebrew, because it's an anachronism.” But linguistically, it could be Hebrew. That's really exciting to me, that there was some ancient Sequyuoyah who maybe wasn't in that Egyptian mine, maybe it was somebody 100 or 200 years before, that we really don't know. All we know is when we have the earliest form of this writing, and even the dating of that is a bit speculative.

Tim: I agree with you. I think that what we talked about here is that there could have been a genius with this revelation of taking phonetics, but someone who is familiar with Egyptian hieroglyphs. You have to see the film, because it shows you the connection between Egyptian hieroglyphs and this early language that then someone modifies it. But guess what? Then that would have been passed on to the Israelite people. And they would have had their own phonetic written language, and that would have become the basis. And then when they went into slavery, they still knew how to write. And I believe, which I haven't told you, is that there's quite a bit of other footage and information about what these inscriptions say. And so, we'd have Rabbis reading them, and all this is highly controversial, but it's pretty fascinating.

Nehemia: Are you going to make that footage available to people?

Tim: Yeah. The films that we're making have to be made in such a way that they can only take so much. I mean, you probably felt there's quite a bit in this film.

Nehemia: There was a lot in the film. And it was two hours, which is kind of on the long side, unless you're making a Hungarian film about cows. In the American genre, two hours is kind of pushing it.

Tim: That's why if you come to the showing of “Patterns of Evidence: the Moses Controversy,” it's going to be in theaters March 14th, Thursday night, at 6:30, we're starting it early. And then on Saturday on the 16th, and then on the 19th, which is a Tuesday, and there's a pre-show. And then, there's the showing of the film and there's an intermission. Remember the days, I had to say, “Listen, our films are so dense, people need a break.” And so, they've allowed us to have intermissions in our films, which has been fantastic and people enjoy it. They can kind of absorb, they go to the restroom, they could get popcorn. They can come back and enjoy the second part of the film. And after the film, we actually have a panel discussion, and we're going to have Ted Starnes, he's a Fox Radio announcer.

Nehemia: Is this gonna be live, the panel discussion?

Tim: The panel discussion we pre-record it, because it has to go out to so many places that we pre-recorded it in December. And we have pastor A.R. Bernard from the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. And then we've got Os Guinness, who's a social critic and writer, he's in the film, and Michael Medved, a good friend of mine, who is a radio host and author, film critic, and then myself. And for just a short time afterwards, we're going to basically say, “Okay, none of us are language scholars. But what does this mean? Why is this relevant? Why is this important?” And so, there's quite a night, quite an added value feature there with this whole thing. Gets you thinking in a whole new way.

Nehemia: Guys, I'm definitely gonna going to be going to this. I've actually seen the movie but I'm going to go to it and I'm gonna take some friends to it, because I think this is important. How often do we have a movie like this that makes it into mainstream theaters? It's not a common thing. I think that's actually a really important cultural experience. Take your atheist friends, take your agnostic friends to this. I'm going to take some Christian friends to this. I'm Jewish, but I'm taking some Christian friends and some Jewish friends. I think it's an important cultural experience. I want to touch on two more points. Do you still have some more time?

Tim: Oh, I was gonna tell you something, that you saw the December version. But you know what? It's February. I actually went on the road and added more interviews. So, there's some really cool new information that you haven't even seen.

Nehemia: Wow, I'm really looking forward to that. So, I saw, I guess, a pre-released version which they updated. Excellent, looking forward to that. So, I want to talk about two things. One thing I wanna talk about is Izbet Sartah, but we're gonna get back to that. Izbet Sartah, I think it's key, and it was mentioned by one person in passing in at least the cut I saw. But I think it's actually central to this whole discussion. But before we get to that, I wanna just take a minute and have you comment on Professor Goldwasser refers to this as “fake knowledge.” And she says, “Anybody who's making this claim that Proto-Sinaitic is an early form of Hebrew writing, that this is opportunism.” Why do you think she would say that?

Tim: Well, I think that they understand the desire by, let's say, people of faith, or people that believe that Moses wrote the Torah, that people of faith that want to make that connection, they would find comfort in seeing that there's a connection between the Proto-Sinaitic. So, I think the opportunism is that, yes, this basically sort of takes away the documentary hypothesis story and makes it a different one. And I actually think that that's what's happening here.

We talked about the documentary hypothesis, that Moses didn't write it, but other people wrote it maybe 1,000 years later. There's no actual evidence that that has ever happened to any book, that any book has been carried on for hundreds and hundreds of years, and other people have written and changed it. We're going to be taking on that in the future films. But the issue is that I think the reason why she would say that is because if you have a set of rules and those rules are telling you the Israelites didn't exist until much later, then they can only come up with one conclusion. That you're trying to take and attach a group of people who didn't exist at that time. And that's the reason why she would say something like that.

But if you re-examine this case, and you start looking and you go, “Wait a minute, the Israelites, we believe, are where they were at the time they were, where the Bible places them.” And this dismissing of the time that the Israelites lived in history is, I believe, the reason why there's so many doubting people about the stories of the Bible, because they don't actually take the Bible for what it says. They've already re-edited the whole story based on Rameses, focusing the whole story around the Rameses-Exodus theory, that 1250s time period gets it all goofed up, in my opinion.

But this case comes at it in a whole new way. In other words, it's asking some questions that I think are providing some very solid answers. I now personally feel very confident that Moses wrote the first books of the Bible, or had the ability to write it. There are parts of the Scriptures that obviously we have to just have faith that they happened, but there's no reason to doubt that Moses didn't have the ability to write. And, by the way, that actually makes it easier, the plausibility is so much stronger to understand that he could be writing an eyewitness account. And now, that's the next part of our investigation, as we go to the Red Sea miracle, the film that we're currently working on. That then says, “Okay, if Moses said these things happened, then let's go investigate that. Which way did they go, how far did they travel, what campsites did they stop at? What sea did they go to? Did the waters part?”

Nehemia: And I think the way you presented it was a very balanced and fair presentation. To say, “I can't prove that Moses wrote this. Maybe it was a guy named Bob, but Moses could have written it, the script existed.” And I think that's fair. Ultimately, whether it was Bob or Moses, that comes down to a matter of faith, because we weren't there. And we don't have a video of it. Even if you have a video today, it comes down to a matter of faith, right? I mean, today videos are being taken out of context and faked, as well.

So, now I want to get back to Izbet Sartah, and then we're gonna close with that. So, Izbet Sartah is a site that was excavated by Israel Finkelstein and Moshe Kokhavi back, I believe, in the ‘70s, or they published it in the ‘70s. And they found there an ostracon, a piece of pottery written with a script that's called “Proto-Canaanite.” And Proto-Canaanite has some of the features of the later Paleo-Hebrew, “later” meaning from 100 or so years later, but it also has features of the earlier Proto-Sinaitic. And it's been called the missing link between Proto-Sinaitic and Paleo-Hebrew.

And I don't know if you have some more in the parts you didn't include in the two-hour movie that deal with that. But I think that is central, because Moshe Kokhavi who published this, he and others have argued that this was written by somebody who was just a common person. And why does he think that? So, the bottom line is what's called an “abecedary.” That is, it's the ABCD, abecedary. It's the entire 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet written out, and interestingly, pey and ayin are switched in their position. And your first thought is, “That's a mistake.” And then you realize, “Wait a minute. In the Book of Lamentations, there are verses that each section begins with a letter. And they switch pey and ayin in some of the things there in Lamentations.” Maybe there was an alternative Jewish or Israelite tradition that switched the order of those two letters.

So, this actually supports, in a way, what Professor Goldwasser is saying, that there were semi-literate people, common people who were using this script. So, that's in the 13th century BC, according to Moshe Kokhavi, and he calls this “Proto-Canaanite.” But he also makes the explicit statement, I read an article last night that he wrote in Hebrew. And Moshe Kokhavi says, “This is the first link in the Israelite culture that continued throughout the entire First Temple period.” In other words, he's viewing this as Proto-Hebrew, even though he officially has to refer to it as “Proto-Canaanite.” But he believes this is a form of an Israelite script. He explicitly says that this was an Israelite script, and what everyone - I shouldn't say everyone - what seems to be agreed upon is that the site where the Izbet Sartah inscription was found was a granary in an Israelite settlement, I'm gonna call it a village.

It was an Israelite village that had what's called the “four-room house”, that is the classical house from the early Israelite period, at least what archaeologists have called the early Israelite period. And, of course, they've dated that to the 13th century, so now we've got sort of this circular argument. The 15th century can't have Hebrew because we dated this to the 13th century. We dated this in the 13th century, because Israelites didn't exist before this, right?

Tim: Right. I think here's the takeaways. I believe that when the exodus happened, not only were the people of Israel, you know, they were promised this land, they were given freedom from slavery. And I'd have other interviews throughout the past, but they were also given other freedoms. If you think about the laws, they were given freedom how to live in a society. They knew how to interrelate with people because the laws were communicating to them.

But I also think they were given spiritual freedom to basically leave the gods of Egypt and get rid of those gods that were... Moses writes in Deuteronomy, “If you worship idols, you're worshipping demons.” I mean, that's what he says in Deuteronomy. And so, there was this sort of shifting that was going on. And not only that then, doesn't it make sense that in an alphabet, that in order to know God's word, if you were to bind them on your forehead and you were supposed to do this, you would have to be a literate people.

And so, I believe that there was freedom intellectually, as well, and that we're starting to see that the very people who God calls the “People of the Book” are the people who end up showing up in the time in history, and in the place where they were during their Exodus. And that yes, maybe they were slaves, and they were carving on mines waiting for the deliverance, and they were writing these different things. So, when we think about common people having it or this ABCD... I always forget how to say it...

Nehemia: Abecedary.

Tim: Yeah, the Izbet Sartah, is it called?

Nehemia: Izbet Sartah.

Tim: Yeah, the Izbet Sartah, that all is connecting a bigger story. And I believe that what's encouraging to your audience is for them to realize that I think that God wants to be known. He gives us His words, you see? “Thy word have I hid in my heart,” right? Well, what is a word made of? “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” And if you think about all throughout the time the word of the Lord came to this Prophet and the word of the Lord came to that Prophet, and you're getting the testimony of those words. But if you didn't have the ability to read it for yourself, then it wouldn't transfer. But guess what? That alphabet was a technology that spread throughout the world, and that then also allows the understanding of God's word to spread throughout the world. And that's exactly what history bears out, by the way.

Nehemia: I definitely agree with what you're saying here. One last example here is, there's an inscription from a place called “Mesad Hashavyahu.” It's near Yavne, or Jabneh. It's on display at the Israel Museum. And it's an inscription by this man, and this does date to the 7th century BC, so it's much later. But it shows we have Izbet Sartah in the 13th century, there's some common person who's writing out the alphabet, and a bunch of random letters just to practice. And then, we have hundreds of years later, in the 7th century BC, we have a man who's so poor, he literally owns one garment. And he writes on this piece of pottery, this ostracon, he writes out a letter to a judge saying... And it's really cool, because it's the earliest reference to Shabbat, to the Sabbath, outside of the Tanakh, outside of the Bible.

He talks about how he was harvesting and bringing in his harvest before Shabbat, and he put it in the granary, and the debtor came and took away his garment. And he says, “I don't have another garment, I need this returned to me.” And he writes the same thing three or four times. You can tell he's upset when he's writing this. He's very passionate here, he's repeating himself. He wants his garment back, and he just keeps repeating himself.

And it's really cool, because here you have in 7th century BC, you have somebody who's literate. And then we have the Siloam inscription written in the tunnel, and who was reading that? It talks about how this tunnel was dug at the time of King Josiah, that these men were hitting with their axes. Well, who was doing that? You think the people in the royal court were swinging their axes? No, these were peasants. These were common folk who were working, and nobody could see that inscription except the tunnel workers, the people who were bent over, or maybe they were short, but I have to hunch over. They were people who were in there with little oil lamps who were cleaning out the tunnel. They were the only people who were ever expected to see this inscription.

And so, I walk away with this picture that the ancient Israelites could read. And to suggest that Moses could not have written the Torah, I don't think that fits the evidence, especially since Moses was raised in the royal house of Pharaoh.

Now, I want to end with this. Professor Goldwasser says that anybody who suggests that Moses could have written the Torah, or that Proto-Sinaitic is a dialect of Hebrew, that they have an agenda. I want to accept that and embrace that. I just want us to identify what the secular agenda is versus, I'm just gonna speak for myself, my agenda. Here's my agenda when I approach a topic like this. I believe Moses existed.

Now I want to ask the question for myself. Could Moses have written the Torah? Did the tools exist for him to do that? And my agenda is also, I believe Moses wrote the Torah. So, could Moses have done that? And I believe that's what you do in your film, and I think that's a fair question to ask. But the secular agenda is a different agenda. They say, “We know Moses didn't write the Torah, because it was written by J, E, P and D, these four different schools over a period of several 100 years. And we know that Israel didn't exist before the 13th century BC.” How do we know that? Well, it's an argument from silence, based on their chronology. So, they don't really know it, but they believe it.

And so, their agenda is, if Israel didn't exist and Moses didn't write the Torah, then what is this Proto-Sinaitic? And they come to completely different conclusions. And I think it's important to identify, and maybe it's not fair to call that an “agenda” but it's definitely a perspective. When I approach this question, I'm coming from a different perspective than a secular scholar is, and I think that's okay. I think it's important to identify what their approach is and what mine is and understand why we're coming to the different perspectives.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. I'll tell you why it's valuable, is because there is more than one perspective. When you send your son or daughter off to university, you have to prepare them. One of the ideas here is that a lot of young people go off to university and they go, “Wow, these are really smart people. My parents must be simpleminded here.” And you're basically saying, this film is really, really important for parents of teenagers and university students, because I have received many comments and calls of young people who went into a class on the Bible, and just came away totally devastated in their faith. Because they were told, “Hey, this is just a book of moral teachings. These events really didn't happen.” And like I show in the film, what ends up happening is that if that becomes the mindset, a lot of the people that I interviewed, many of them are agnostics. They have no idea if there is even the existence of God.

Nehemia: I really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. The movie is called “Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy.” Any final words for the audience?

Tim: Yeah, get the word out. It's going to be on March 14th, 16th and 19th. There's a Thursday night, a Saturday matinee, and a Tuesday night. You can buy tickets right now if you go to patternsofevidence.com/moses or just patternsofevidence.com, you can get to our website, and you can get group tickets. You can get a special discount on some of the theaters for groups. It's across the nation. I was going to come up with something that says, “You can't escape. If you're on vacation in Florida, you can't escape the Moses controversy, because it's going to be everywhere.” So, you just have to be willing to do it.

And then we really need your help. This is very important. You can go to our site, there are resources. You can actually download the trailer, post it on Facebook. You can send emails out. You can send all sorts of information. I'm hoping that a lot of the people who like what you're doing will really see why this is such an important film for people to see.

Nehemia: All right. Thank you, Tim Mahoney. Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy. Shalom.

Tim: Shalom, thank you.

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Patterns of Evidence - The Moses Controversy


  • daniel says:

    I got my ticket tonight! Thoroughly enjoyed Tim’s first film in the series, and looking forward to this one. It’s hard to fathom why such a small percentage of mainstream Christians don’t get stoked about this stuff when it really fuels my Faith. Some ‘get it’ after I explain that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, James, and even Jesus (Yeshua) are perpetuating a myth if the Biblical narrative “ain’t necessarily so”. Thank you very much, Nehemia for this interview. Check out the website, and read all the ‘Thinker Updates’ too.

    • daniel says:

      Unfortunately, the movie did NOT show when and where prepaid tickets had been purchased for – sincerely hope it was an isolated case – as it was a real ‘bummer’ of an evening, and Cinemark has yet to refund the $.

  • Alberto Trevino says:

    I will be going to this movie and advising both my family and friends to the 3 showings.

    The only thing that was missing is at the end of the interview there was no prayer from Host or Guest, not coming from two gentlemen of faith, I really feel I got robbed and it’s not right. 🙂

    As Yehovah lives, so should we!
    Alberto Trevino

  • Steve S says:

    I very much enjoyed this video on an interesting topic and subtopics.

  • Stephanie Shiflet says:

    My husband and I were really blessed by the work of Timothy Mahoney’s Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. It answered a lot of questions we had about information that we had received that turned out to be false. Thank you Tim!! We are looking forward to seeing this next movie Patterns of Evidence: Moses Controversy. I certainly hope there will be a Book and a DVD coming soon, because I want them so I can share!

    Thank you Nehemia for promoting Yehovah’s Kingdom with finding the truths that have been hidden from us. Stand Firm my brother. Keep up the great work! I look forward to learning more about real truth and righteousness from a Biblical standpoint. I pray blessing and protection over you from Yehovah In Yeshua’s name. Amen!

    Baruch Haha B’Shem YeHoVah! Psalm 118:26

  • Susan Lein says:

    Thank you!! We already have our tickets to see the movie — it was wonderful to get to hear this extended interview with Tim! Totally looking forward to seeing this in theater!

  • Ken says:

    As the darkness covers the Earth as it will do, men/women of faith will need all of the strengthening that can be produced. Your work, and Tim’s, along with the obvious fulfilling of Last Days prophecies should allow us all to stand for the Truth.

  • Richard (Rick) Winkler says:

    In this latest Patterns of Evidence film does Tim Mahoney allege that there is physical evidence of Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness?

  • Gnarlodious says:

    Timothy Mahoney’s previous DVD “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” effectively deconstructs the nonsensical chronology invented by Egyptologists in the 1800s. He convincingly explains that the assumption that the Egypt timeline is authoritative has misinformed scholars, historians and archaeologists. He describes an increasingly untenable timeline based on more recent artifacts, and presents an adjusted timeline that aligns biblical events, east Semitic archaeology and Egyptian events. Highly recommended for those who can handle an alternative history.

  • Karen Malle says:

    I just listened the the interview about the Moses Controversy. One of my favorite books is Unwrapping the Pharaohs by John Ashton and David Down. They place the date of the Exodus around 1445 BC. They get that date from Egyption archaeology. And, yes, it makes sense to me that Moses was highly educated, and he very well could have invented an alphabet for the Hebrew language.
    I listen to your shows often and appreciate the Jewish insite into the Old Testament. Understanding the OT really makes a lot of the New Testament make sense.
    Thanks so much!

  • Nechemyah thank you for this and all you do dude! This was truly God speaking to me, through your ministry, as he does often. I was literally discussing this same topic just yesterday, probably while you posted this. You’re an inspiration and I hope I can be something like you and your ministry one day for someone like me. You’re always on the money and I like how you can switch hats from secular to spiritual as well. I am emotional and overwhelmed with the coincidences of your posts compared to my daily thoughts. It is too much to simply call coincidence I know Yehovah is working through you and trying to speak to me.

    Again, you’re an inspiration and I pray that Yehovah bless you and continue to work through you with all your knowledge and understanding. May Yehovah bless and protect you, may Yehovah deal kindly and graciously with you, may Yehovah show His favor upon you and grant you peace brother!

  • Yeshayah says:

    Awesome! I purchased the original documentary, and the information presented is first class. Will see this one as well!