What if Moses really didn’t write the first five books of the Old Testament? Would this mean the Bible isn’t true? Furthermore, does it matter?
Scholars far and wide have debated the true authorship of these books for some time. Many in the mainstream believe the idea of Moses writing anything to be virtually impossible as the Israelites predated the use of an alphabet. While there is compelling evidence to support this side of the debate, documentary filmmaker Tim Mahoney believes he has found the answer to refute such claims.
In the new Fathom movie event, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy, set to debut in more than 900 theaters this week (March 14, 16, 19), Mahoney examines ancient hieroglyphics and cave drawings to determine what role they may have played in this conundrum. He concludes that these symbols could very well link the Hebrew people to an early alphabetic system, one that could be the origin of the world’s first alphabet. Thus, Moses’ authorship is not only quite likely but restores faith that the world’s most influential book, the Bible, is fully accurate.
I recently spoke to Mahoney about his new Patterns of Evidence film, why it is so important for Moses to be the Torah’s author, and whether the first alphabet’s primary purpose was to communicate God to the world.
As a documentary filmmaker it is your job to seek answers to difficult questions. Proving or disproving the validity of the Bible is potentially an explosive topic. What motivated you to find answers to these questions regarding the validity of Moses’ writings?
What I started to realize is the Bible had been called into question by a lot of people. A lot of young people who grew up in Christian homes were being told that the Bible was tried and found guilty of not being historical. I made this film in a way to investigate the validity of those claims. And because I would always be faced with as I went forward with a challenge to the future films I was going to be making, which was, ‘Well, you know this is a fairy tale. You really can't look at the details of the Bible, of Moses’ eyewitness account. I was going to use that route in the investigation of the distances, the campsites and all that was very particular to look for geographical identity. Things that would still be there today. Because of the criticism that I was receiving, I thought we have to take this other problem on first and clear that away. So, that’s what I did. I wanted to take on the ability for Moses to write. We haven't covered all of that, but we're going to be continuing to deal with those types of criticisms that have been there for the last hundred years or more.
As someone who was brought up to accept the teachings of the Bible as infallible, did it unnerve you at all to chase this topic?
I think what I was doing was standing in a gap. I had talked with others, mainly biblical scholars. Walt Kaiser, for example. He was the president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and he basically said that, ‘You know, sooner or later your kids are going to come up to you and are going to say, “Hey pops, is this true or isn't it true?” You're going to have to basically be able to say, if it's true, then it happened and we should be able to find a pattern. We should be able to find evidence for it.’ I don't think that we're going to find evidence for everything. But the things that were being said about the Bible and its integrity, I think were unanswered. And so what I ended up doing was try to be generous. I think when you watch the film you realize that I'm very generous to people who've been critical of the Bible.
But in that generosity, it also frees the viewer to make a decision. And I think what we're finding is that the patterns of evidence that are testifying to this story fitting together are so strong that you feel like you're free to actually take on the information. That's what I started seeing was happening. Young people, college people, or people who might be skeptical of the Bible get freed up to basically make a decision. If I only told one side of the story, what would happen is those people would never be able to be free to make a decision. But now they are.
One of the key questions you try to find answers for in Patterns of Evidence is whether Moses actually had the ability to write the events of the Exodus as a true eyewitness account as Scripture tells us. What were your findings?
We had to come up with what would we look for? And the question would be, I had heard that there wasn't even a writing system that Moses could have used because Hebrew didn't exist until around 900 BC. Not only that but these Israelites couldn't read. If Moses would've written, he might've written with ancient hieroglyphs. That was contrary to what the Bible is saying on many levels. The first thing we look for is … is there a writing system available earlier in history? That number one, would be in the region of Egypt. It would have to be used at the time the Israelites were living there. It would have to be some form of Semitic writing since the Israelites were Semites. Hebrew has Semitic language in it. So when we looked for those four major ideas in the region, at the time, with a Semitic type of writing and is an alphabet, that's basically the beginning of the first part of the investigation. What the film uncovers is that there's this discovery of this Proto-Sinaitic in Scripture that are not Egyptian, but somebody took Egyptian and modified it into a whole new language and whole new writing system.
What if someone else wrote these books and not Moses? Why is it so important for Moses to be the author?
That's a really excellent question and I think that's a question that people haven't really addressed. The reason why it's important is because the rest of the Bible is a testifying to the fact that Moses was the author. The prophets maintain this all the way through Scripture. And then when we get down to Jesus, He basically makes a very clear claim in John 5:46-47 where He says, ‘For if you believed Moses, you would believe me for He wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words. This is 1,500 years after the time of Moses and here we are 3,500 years later. And guess what? That hasn't changed at all. So the question I started to realize is that Jesus himself, he's testifying if He's the son of God, he would know if Moses existed. And if you have scholars who are saying, ‘We don't think he existed and we don't think he wrote this,’ what does that do then to the entire integrity of the whole Bible?
Furthermore, where does that leave Christians and Jews who have built their entire foundations upon that belief system? It’s an interesting thought as to where that takes us. As we have seen with the evolution of language from the original King James version of the Bible to what we find today with translations like the New Living Translation or The Message, can the same be true of the Hebrew language in regard to the writings of Moses?
This film uncovered something that I didn't know about. I felt that I'm working on a theory where I believe the alphabet wasn't a coincidence, but that it was actually part of a divine plan. Some people say, ‘Well, how can you say that?’ But I can see the fact that, that in order for Moses to write, and it says that he commanded the Israelites to teach the Bible, teach these commands to their children and to write them on their doorpost and on their gates. And now you're going to hear from mainstream scholars that literacy wasn't around. Who would have been reading it? But I can tell you this. We have found plenty of places in the Scriptures where we're finding out that these people who were supposed to be illiterate were writing. And guess what? Those inscriptions are found in caves where slaves were.
Fascinating. So, with that said, what if the alphabet’s primary purpose was to communicate who God is to the world?
I absolutely agree with that. I remember waking up one morning and thinking this is so powerful! If you think about the fact that we have this amazing technology that hasn't changed. This technology basically went from the Israelites and goes through history. The alphabet goes, leaves Egypt and goes to Israel. And then from there it goes to Phoenicia. And then from there it goes to Greece. It spreads. It spreads throughout the entire world. The Bible does the same thing. The Bible utilizes the alphabet. I believe that the reason we have an alphabet is to retain the knowledge of God. And then there's clues in Scripture. It says it's the Word of God and the Word of the Lord came. And then later on in John 1:1 it says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” What an unusual connection. And so you think, well, what do I need for work? Do I use a symbol? Of course we had this genius device that's 26 letters today. You can communicate any idea in the world with those few letters and you can teach it to children. But ultimately I think it was to communicate the Word from God.
After people have seen Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy, as a filmmaker what would you like to see your audiences get out of this experience? What is your greatest hope for the film?
I think that people can be more confident that the Pattern of Evidence films help people to affirm faith. There are a lot of people that are sort of passive. And I think what you can do is become more positive. This will help your children and grandchildren to understand that we have a historical faith. And I think what I would like to see is for more people to know that there is a historical faith and we shouldn't give up on that. The patterns of evidence are there that support and affirm the stories of the Bible.
Watch a trailer for Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy: