In Part 2, Tim Mahoney talks about the controversy surrounding Moses as well as his newest film the Red Sea Miracle.
[Darris McNeely] : Welcome to Beyond Today interviews. We have been going through a series with Tim Mahoney, writer, producer, and filmmaker, from Thinking Man Films, the “Pattern of Evidence.” A film series that Tim has done on the exodus, on the Moses Controversy and the latest one that’s coming out on the “Red Sea Miracle.” Tim, again, welcome back to our studio. The first, you know, this series has been very informative, looking forward to getting into this next topic with you about Moses. So, thank you for being here with us. You know, before we start, I think that one of the questions that has been in my mind knowing the commitment that such a journey that you’ve been on takes. You say you’ve been working at this over 20 years and traveling many places in the world to do your filming and interviewing people. Work like that takes…can take its toll. How has it impacted your entire family life during absences and long hours of commitment to what you’re doing?
[Tim Mahoney] Well, in the early years, I would go alone with the film crew. And the challenge was, you know, when I’d come home, I had been gone for maybe a month, you know, family gets used to you being gone, and then all sudden you’re trying to get back into your…to being a part of the family. And I could tell that, you know, that wasn’t healthy. I mean, I was doing what I needed to do, and I didn’t want my wife to sometimes go with me into the Middle East, and we still had children, you know, living at home so it wasn’t as easy for her to leave. But as time has gone on now, both my wife Jill and I have been able to travel together. And so, it’s been very, very important for us to be together and she…I’ve actually been able to train her how to do sound. So, we’re a little documentary crew and we hire and bring along other technicians as we need them. Sometimes if we’re in Israel, or Jordan, or Egypt we’ll hire a crew there.
[Darris] Has your work inspired your children to follow your footsteps or take up any part of it at all?
[Tim] Not at all. No, I think they realized just how hard it is, and I realized just how unique it is. But I’ve got grandchildren, eight grandchildren, and I’m seeing some promise there.
[Darris] There’s still hope there. Your second film that you did, “The Moses Controversy,” explain exactly what that is. What is “The Moses Controversy?”
[Tim] It’s basically a criticism that started several hundred years ago against the writings of Moses with. In other words, they’re saying we don’t…people were starting to be critical and they said, “Did Moses really write these five books?” Because he writes about his death, for example. And so, were the five books of Moses authored by Moses or were they authored by other people? So Moses has been discredited, and some people have been okay with that. I mean, that doesn’t affect them, they would say. But as I started to look at the fact that Moses is referenced in almost all the other books of the Bible…
[Darris] Right. Especially the New Testament, Jesus Christ.
[Tim] Jesus basically identifies that Moses existed and that he wrote. So, the question then was, what does that do to their testimony? If Moses wasn’t a real character, or if he didn’t actually write then what happens is that it causes suspicion about the rest of the books, whether they’re authentic, or whether they’re based on anything that’s true. And as again, I’m a filmmaker, I’m not a theologian, I’m not a archaeologist, but I could see from a practical standpoint that that was a serious problem. And so, “The Moses Controversy,” that’s the controversy is that did Moses write these first books of the Bible? Because they’re foundational, all the way from the beginning telling us how the universe came into being. And there are things that Moses wrote about that science didn’t learn about until thousands of years later. So, I believe that God was revealing to Moses divine information that only…that, I mean, that who would say that something came from nothing. We had no intention of doing “The Moses Controversy” until we realized that we will have a problem making a film about the Ra of the Exodus and putting a lot of weight on Moses’ ability to communicate that they turned left here, or that this happened here that there were walls of water when the sea parted, or that there was fire on the mountain or whatever. They’re gonna go, “Ah, we know that’s not true.” And our films are built on what we call dramatic logic, and it starts with the logic. So, we have to sort through information so that the film will have a structure like this building. The studio has a structure to it. It has walls, it has bearing walls and all that. Our films have bearing walls in them. Now, they’re very creative. The dramatic part of it is how we…like an architect. So, you have a structural engineer, and then you have…and there’s an architect, but there’s beauty behind it. So, it’s this blend of logic that’s wrapped in cinema.
Man 1: Moses had written down all the instructions from God, as well as the history of his people, beginning with the creation of the world.
Man 2: Did Moses write the Torah? Frankly? I don’t think so.
Man 3: I don’t think any mainstream scholars would any longer hold that view.
Man 4: If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
[Tim] Surprisingly, it was one of the most profound films I think I’ve ever made or will ever make, because what it reveals is that you said, “Well, how do you attack a problem like that?” So, this pattern we’d have to look for and say, was there a writing system that Moses could have used?
[Darris] I think that was your first point that you had to, or point, the pattern of evidence you had to come up with. What did you find?
[Tim] Well, what we know is that we had to look for it at the right time in history. So, this…our writing system had to be at the right…
[Darris] Near 1400s BC.
[Tim] Yep. And it had to be in the right place, right time, right place. So, it had to show up in Egypt, in this area, or in this region.
[Darris] In the area where the Israelites were then, northern Egypt.
[Tim] So, not in South, America, or in Africa, or in China, or some other place of the world. It had to be there because that’s where they were. If Moses is gonna be telling us…and it probably wasn’t going to be Egyptian, you know, or what was it? No, they were Semitic people. And because we know the writings of Moses were not in Egyptian, they were in Hebrew. So, it’s a form of Semitic writing. Hebrew is a form of Semitic writing. So, we have to find, was there something connected with that? And eventually, what is uncovered is that, to my surprise, is that the various…the very earliest form of an alphabet shows up in Egypt at that time, and it shows up exactly at that place. Not only that, it shows up exactly where Joseph and his family arrived into Egypt.
[Darris] Now, this is the same Avaris that we talked about right and the earlier interview underneath the place called Ramses in Scripture, there in the Nile Delta area.
[Tim] I have an interview with Egyptologist Donald Redford, and he goes, “I’m gonna go on a limb here.” And he tells me that he’s an agnostic. He says..he was a believer, but he became an agnostic. He says, “I believe the epicenter of this early form of alphabet is Avaris. So, what is that telling us? I get so excited about that is that this family and it actually shows up even a little bit earlier than the time of Moses. So, what they started to see is that common people, not the Egyptian pharaohs or not the Egyptian scribes, but common people were actually using this writing system and scratching it on rocks in the Sinai desert and different places. And why it was significant is that it was alphabetic, the archaeologists later on started to…an Egyptologist started to find this, in fact, Flinders Petrie and his wife Hilda, were out there and they were in these mining caves area in the Sinai and they found this writing. And they go, “Wait a minute. Somebody took Egyptian hieroglyphs, but they’re not making sense this way.” And they realized that, for example, the bull’s head, you know, if we basically…the symbol for the bull, Aleph, eventually becomes the letter A, and it flips around and becomes the letter A.
So, what they did is they shifted from a symbols of what Egyptian would use maybe 1,000 or 1,500 hieroglyphs, somebody took and modified into a phonetic alphabet, I think at the time was around 22 or 23 symbols. And that became like, like Gah and Fah, and the meaning of words, so that the shape of words, Aleph, you know, so they started creating it. I don’t believe there are any vowels at that time and so now we have something interesting, because in that film, I actually went to Jerusalem again and Coralie Goldwasser and she starts to tell that here the are common people, and her explanation was just common people who had the freedom to create an alphabet, started scratching, you know, on the walls of caves in different places and it was like graffiti.
[Darris] Now, you say that it likely was, predated Moses. Where would you place the beginnings of this alphabet that you’re describing?
[Tim] I think it goes back to…if you see our films, what we’re also suggesting is that the biblical data is locked and we’re not messing with the physical date at all, but that Egyptian dating is questionable. So, what we’re saying is that it shows up several hundred years before the time of Moses, and in some of that dating potentially would shift even closer to the time of Moses. But what we’re…
[Darris] Time of Joseph?
[Tim] The time of Joseph, exactly. So, it’s very possible. Some people believe that Joseph actually was the one who started to develop a language writing system for his own people. That’s what some of the scholars are suggesting, that it was Joseph who used this and then taught it to his family.
[Darris] Well, let’s talk about Moses for a moment there. So, the biblical account tells us that he grew up in the household of Pharaoh after his mother put him on to the waters because of the command to kill all the firstborn of the Hebrews. And he was raised in the Egyptian household. Years ago, we were on a tour went to Karnak and I remember the tour guide, pointing out a spot there in the temple of Karnak, where there would have been a school. And the tour guide said, “That’s probably where Moses was taught in the School of the Egyptians.” So, he was a literate person reasonable to come to that conclusion, given the training that he would have had.
[Tim] Exactly. Now what’s interesting is that later on, what we see, and this is what I was looking at, is that Moses then tells the Israelites to teach the commands to their children, to write them on the doorpost of their homes. So, I asked the question, how is it that the slaves are gonna be able to do that? Were they gonna teach them, you know, Egyptian or whatever? And if you go to Israel today, it’s all Hebrew. You know, I mean, when Israel became a nation, it was like, “We’re moving the Hebrew. We’re not gonna be English or some other language. And that is the question that this film then explored. Was there a writing system? Then, the big question was, was it alphabetic? Because Hebrew was an alphabetic form of writing. And what we uncovered in that film was that absolutely, there was a writing system that was in the right place, it was at the right time. It actually was a form of Semitic writing and not only that, it was alphabetic. And guess what? Slaves were actually the ones who were introducing it into the area. So, that’s where the connection. So, you started to say there is a sequence, a pattern of evidence that’s reinforcing what the Bible is telling us. In fact, it was so profound. And if you look at it right now, and we ask ourselves, what are some clues in the scriptures that tell us how important writing is? You know, we just see the word of the Lord came. And one of the criticisms is that the Bible has changed over the years, it’s changed over time, and that we don’t really know what it said, it what it means, or whatever. It’s been exaggerated, like the telephone game.
[Darris] The oral traditions, oral history passed down.
[Tim] Yeah, yeah. But if we look at what happened here with this writing system, it contradicts that. It’s basically saying wait a minute, Moses had a writing system. And not only that, but it’s so profound is that the alphabet, this alphabet migrates from Egypt into the promised land.
[Darris] Again, I go back to the reference point. You know, our generation, “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille, is our reference point to understand this whole story of Moses and everything else. And, you know, the movie shows Moses working under Pharaoh before he gets his calling, engineering the building of the city of Ramses as they portray that. And so, he would have been an illiterate, educate…highly educated individual as you say. So, I’m just tickled to death that we’ve got that part of the Hollywood narrative at least validated.
[Tim] What’s interesting… Well, I’m glad you’ve accomplished that…
[Darris] I’m a boomer and all these things are important to us.
[Tim] You know, I think that we’re created in the image of God. And oftentimes, we see ourselves a lot less than what He’s actually created us to be. And if you think about Moses’ life, he was educated to be a leader and yet God had…he was gonna…he thought he was gonna do it one way with a military sort of rule. And then he murders the Egyptian because he’s trying to protect his people and he has to flee for his life and he spends 40 years in the backside of the wilderness. And then he comes back and it was like God had a whole another way that he was going to reveal what was going to happen. And the thing that was so exciting about “The Moses Controversy” for me is I remember waking up one morning and I said…and this thought came to my mind. What if the alphabet… Because what I want you to know what your audience should know is that this alphabet that was birthed at the very location in the Israelites were, possibly by Joseph and his family, is the basis of all alphabets in the entire world. In other words, from there, it’s spread in different places and people thought this is the most ingenious thing. Now, normal people, common people don’t…
[Darris] Can’t read.
[Tim] Yes, because there was a separation before. Only sophisticated intellectuals…
[Darris] The priests and the elite.
[Tim] Yeah. It was a way of separating people and having knowledge up here and regular people were dumb.
[Darris] Which in Egypt was that very rigid caste system. You were at the top right or at the bottom, there was no in between.
[Tim] Right. But the question then is, what…as I was looking at it, woke up that one morning, I said, the thought came into my mind, what if the alphabet wasn’t just a coincidence, but its primary purpose was to retain the knowledge of God? And that just struck my heart, and I realized that in order for us to know God’s word, you’d have to have a way so it could be, you know, written down, and then kept and passed on. And if you look at the Jewish scribes, they were so meticulous in passing on the information of the Torah, that if there was anything wrong with it it would be destroyed. I mean, they were very rigid about that. And they would save that and they just died saving it throughout centuries and centuries and centuries. And then the prophets come along, and they were able to write down. So, you’ve got Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and you got Daniel. And God is revealing Himself through inspiration through the centuries. But guess what? The alphabet is the device that is communicating God’s word.
And you know today, the number one book that uses the alphabet more than any other book is the Bible. When when you think about the question that could Moses have written, what this really shows you is that not only could he have written but the first writing system, alphabetic, shows up in the very place at the very time. It’s Semitic, and I actually believe as we show, it’s actually Hebrew, an early form of Hebrew, and it becomes the basis of all alphabets. And what you’re gonna see through history, which we’ve already filmed some of these but this but it will be coming, is that when books come into place it was actually the early church, I believe that took scrolls and said, “Hey, we could use the backside of this paper, we’re gonna be traveling around,” and they started to create books. And that was a leap forward in technology, writing instead of on scrolls on both sides, and making into a book. Later on, the printing press. Well, Gutenberg’s press, the first thing it printed was the Bible.
[Darris] That’s right.
[Tim] It was to be able to communicate the Bible. So, these technological advancements, the book, the printing press…
[Darris] Writing the book, the method of distribution.
[Tim] Yeah, you know, all these things, alphabet, books, and printing press were huge ways to communicate, and the number one thing that it has communicated is God’s word. And that’s why I think it probably grieves God that we have His word there that’s so valuable, and I started to be convicted in my own life that this is a cherished, this is God’s word. And this is how He says, in the beginning it was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. So, you have that there and we need to really understand that and cherish it.
[Darris] What about what did we learn about the man Moses from all of these writings in terms of his stature on the world seen as a literal, he’s a biblical figure, but also just the, his impact on history.
[Tim] Well, I think that God chooses people throughout history to very important roles. And one thing I was going to say is that the Bible is not just the narrative of the Scriptures. It’s a legal document between God and mankind, There’s a series of covenants in the Bible. And Moses is writing the first of them. He’s telling us…he’s communicating everything from creation through the flood, you know, the Tower of Babel, he’s telling this to Abraham, in his…in these books, and it’s the foundation of what we know of our faith. And so, I think that what I appreciate about Moses, and the irony is that Moses struck the rock more than once I believe, and for that he could not go in the promised land.
[Darris] That’s what got him in trouble.
[Tim] So, Moses experienced the things that…
[Darris] No one has experienced.
[Tim] No. And I think that even when Jesus…I believe that Moses came when Jesus…and they talked up on the mountain.
[Darris] The transfiguration.
[Tim] Yes. And so, God had a calling on his life. That’s what I’ve come away with and I think that God has callings on our lives. And we can choose whether or not we’re going to obey them, because Moses could have bailed…
[Darris] He could have.
[Tim] …multiple times, and I think he wanted to. And there was a time when God said to Moses, “I’m gonna wipe out these people.” And Moses begged and said, “No, no, don’t do that.” And so, I appreciate the tension that Moses had, the risk that he had more than ever now, after being in the wilderness myself. And my wife and I have been there and you realize that death is like only a day or two away sometimes if you don’t have water. And he had all these children and all these people, and it was very, very difficult and yet he had to be faithful. And then the disappointment of the fact that the Israelites wouldn’t go into the promised land.
[Darris] And he would not be able to go himself.
[Darris] To stand on Mount Nebo is…think about that scene, it brings tears to your eyes, it’s a very moving experience.
[Tim] So, there’s a discipline that God has even for righteous people like Moses, that Moses was disciplined, you know, for just that. And as you get closer to God, there are disciplines that might happen to us if we don’t, you know, we kind of he, for a moment jumped into his old self. Remember, he struck the Egyptian in, anger and for whatever reason, he struck the rock, that caused him to be disciplined by God. After all he did, you’d say, you know, the other thing that I learned about and I’m learning about this is that I’m no much different than the Israelites. I’ve asked God many times to help me out of a tough spot. And even making these films that I’m making there are times when I’m not sure if I can go on if it’s, you know, can we keep at it, there’s so much risk. And I’m like the complaining Israelites out there and’s God saying, “Wait a minute. What a short term memory you have. Didn’t I rescue you from this?” That’s the reason why we have to write down all those rescue moments. That’s the reason why they grabbed those stones and say this is…
[Darris] Set them up as a memorial.
[Tim] Yep. Because I think there are memorials of our lives that we forget very easily and I think it’s just so disappointing to God. And I’m talking to myself here, is that I have to trust him, you know, that we’re gonna find a way through and that making these films are not easy. They’re very, you know, challenging, they’re very sometimes controversial and there’s lots of risks. But I think that God is calling certain people at times to risk to trust Him. And I think that’s what Moses’ life is completely about.
[Darris] When I was going back to the tour I mentioned in Egypt. The tour guide made another statement that has always stayed with me through the years that papyrus really fanatically when you broke it down the way to God, pa, pa, rah in Egyptian. If you take that, and then you go to Exodus, where God says through Moses about the children of Israel, “I’m going to make of you a kingdom of priests and kings.” That’s one of the standout descriptions that God was going to do with them. The means by which He would do that, beyond the spiritual development would be by writing and bringing them to a level of sophistication of writing because through the written word that Moses was going to do, they were going to understand the way to God, the true God that revealed himself to Moses there in the burning bush, and it adds another dimension.
So, I really do believe that what you’ve done with that particular program has opened up the understanding of how Moses would have been literate, children of Israel would have been able to understand, pass it on to their children, is really a big faith builder for people who read the Bible, believe the Bible, but can then have another anchor of faith that this is an accurate record. We do appreciate your watching these Beyond Today interviews, and we encourage you to watch the others in the series. And be sure to watch the one regarding the “Red Sea Miracle” that will be coming up very soon. Thank you for watching.