Beyond Today host Darris McNeely sits down with popular filmmaker Tim Mahoney, the writer and director behind the “Patterns of Evidence” series. Mahoney’s films explore whether the archeological record confirms Bible accounts like the Exodus.
[Darris McNeely] Welcome to “Beyond Today Interviews.” Today, we have writer, and director, and film producer, Tim Mahoney, of Thinking Man Films. Tim has done three films on the Exodus, on Moses, and a new one coming up on the Red Sea Miracle. Tim, welcome to our “Beyond Today” set. We’re glad to have you with us today.
[Tim Mahoney] It’s great to be on the program, Darris.
[Darris] We’ve been looking forward to this a long time. Perhaps you could start by telling us how it is you came up with the idea of the title of “Patterns of Evidence.”
[Tim] Well, “Patterns of Evidence,” I was told it was a terrible name in the very beginning, but it was exactly what we were looking for. And, as you know, the scientific method is to look for evidence and see if you can see a pattern in it. The Bible is giving indication that certain things happen. Let’s just say if there was an Exodus, it says, well, first before there was an Exodus, the Israelites had to go into Egypt. So, in the very first film, in “Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus,” we had to look for the arrival of the Israelites. And what I started to realize was that sometimes people would look for one part of the story, and they would try to build all the events around that, and you can do that if you can find and identify other elements of the story. So, in our particular case with the Exodus story, what we ended up doing was we looked for the arrival of the Israelites, then the fact that they grew into a large group of people, that would be the multiplication, and then the enslavement of the Israelites.
So, we had to say, “Well, is there any time in history, in Egypt’s history, where you would see those three activities happening, where a foreign group came into Egypt, that they were allowed to be there, they didn’t, like, have a war to get in there, but they were invited in and that they then grew into a larger group of people, and then they were enslaved?” And then the fourth part of the pattern was, “Was there some type of judgment of Egypt, some type of hardship that happened?” Which would be the plagues. And then the fifth one was, “Did the people who were the Semitic people leave?” And then, “Was there a conquest of the Promised Land?” So, that gave us six things to look for in a sequence. And so, that’s how our films have been created was we look at the Bible first and say, “Well, what type of events would you look for?” In that particular case, we looked for six major events, and we said then, “Can we find a sequence of events that align with that?”
Female: I don’t believe there was a single event that we can call the Exodus.
Male: …he couldn’t have seen all this. He imagined it.
Male: So far, there is no documented evidence about the Exodus.
Male: Exodus did not happen in the way that it is described in the text.
Male: How can we prove that?
Male: You look for collapse in Egyptian civilization, and that’s where you’ll find Moses and the Exodus.
Male: If we can prove there even was an Exodus.
[Tim] There’s been a lot of pushback against the Bible over the last 100 years. People have been not accepting it. They think it’s a religious document. But what’s very interesting is that, let’s say Egyptologists, they will look at Egyptian documents which are religious, but they consider them as history or Babylonian. And so, a lot of these documents have mentions of their gods in them, but there’s a bias against the God of the Bible, and so that they don’t want to allow that God, that information to be considered historical. So, you know, it’s kind of a double standard there.
[Darris] So, you’ve adopted this approach of establishing these patterns, and in your films, you found the evidence to sustain that approach.
[Tim] Yeah. You couldn’t make a film if there wasn’t something there, you know, and I have seen a number of documentaries, I think we all have, where they’re searching for something, and they take you and then they never find anything. In this particular case, when I first went to Egypt in 2002 for the very first film, “The Exodus” one, what really started it was I was searching for the route of the Exodus. And so, I went to the very location where the Israelites were said to have lived. This place, which some people would call Ramesses…
[Tim] …but actually underneath Ramesses was a much older town called Avaris. In other words, it was built in an earlier time. And I went to that location, and it wasn’t easy to get there, and I went to an archeological dig site, and there was a man who had been there for 20 years digging. His name was Manfred Bietak, and I went to his dig site, and, like I said, it was very difficult to get there. I won’t explain it, but, you know, it wasn’t in a protected area. So, it was very complicated to get up to that area with the crew. And I showed up, and I had been emailing him for quite a long time, but he didn’t respond because he was…
[Darris] He’s probably busy.
[Tim] Well, his offices were in Austria, but he was in Egypt, and so he wasn’t answering my emails, and when I arrived, he wasn’t happy. In fact, he was quite put off because he had a dig site. And what happens in archaeology is, in that area, they rent from the farmer a field, and they will then dig down, and they only have so much time to get there. They’ll identify all the archaeology, and then they’ll put all the dirt and everything back, and the farmer will get his field back. So, he was under a time constraint. And so, I come along and interrupt him, and I said, “Please, it was so difficult to get here. Could I just talk with you for a few minutes?” And he said, “Okay.” And I said, ‘Have you found any evidence for the Israelites, for the Hebrews?” And he said, “So far, not.” And when he said that, I was just shocked. In fact, it was almost like my… You know, I remember as a kid at one time ran into a wall, and, you know, how you have that ringing in your head? I was, like, struck by, you know, like a 2 by 4, and I couldn’t hardly respond. And I said…I started to fumble around to ask him a few more questions. And that began, for me, the beginning of a personal crisis of faith.
[Darris] When he said, “So far, not,” those words from Manfred Bietak…
[Tim] What he was telling me was that he hadn’t found any evidence for the characters of the Israelites in Egypt there.
[Darris] So, you went into this with a measure of faith and belief. You were questioning. You were wanting to support what you personally already believed in.
[Tim] Right. I mean, I didn’t know that there was a question about that at all. You know, I went there, and I had heard, by the way, that he had actually found something, but he was telling me there, and there’s different reasons why he had to have that answer, “It’s very difficult to suggest that where you’re digging, you might be uncovering evidence of the Israelites.” And there’s a lot of political issues that go on, you know. You have to be very careful. Archaeology is political.
[Darris] Yes, it is.
[Tim] And so, I would come to learn later that there were other problems. But what happened, and I think this happens to a lot of us or to people at times, is there’ll be something that will create a doubt, a doubt in your heart about the Bible or a doubt in your heart about God, and you’ll be troubled by it. And you don’t always tell anyone. It’s not like you go around and say, “Hey, guess what happened? I’m starting to doubt the Bible. I’m starting to doubt…” You know, I was conflicted. I wasn’t saying I was… It was more like catching the flu. I mean, you start feeling achy, you know, but this lasted for weeks. And finally, when I came home on a weekend, I was watching that footage by myself in the edit suite, and I listened to it again, and all of a sudden, I literally started to cry. I said, “Lord, you have to help me. What is the reason? Why is he saying there’s no evidence for the Israelites?”
And at that moment, I felt almost like the room got cold, and a thought came into my mind. Everything your family has believed about the Bible, your mother believes about the Bible, you believe about the Bible is a lie. It was like a chill came into my…you know, this thought came into my mind. And at another moment, another voice. It was like one was on the left-hand side, and one was on the right. On the right-hand side, it said, “Stop editing. Get up and go to your office.” I got up, walked to my office. “Go to your bookcase.” I went to my bookcase. “Read that book.” I pulled this book out, and somebody had given me this book about a year earlier, and said, “I think you need to have this.” He’s a friend of mine. And I looked at it, and I go, “Oh, thank you very much,” and I, you know, I stuck it on my bookcase. I never looked at it. I never read it.
[Darris] Which is what we do with a lot of books that people give to us.
[Tim] Yeah. I have multiple bookcases full of books. I opened the book, and I opened it up, and it’s illustrated, and there, the very dig site that I was looking at, the very man who I was looking at in the edit suite, was in this book. And it was another whole understanding of what was being uncovered there. And the reason why he couldn’t say that there was any evidence for the Israelites had to do with the time that has been given by mainstream scholars today for when the events of the Bible happened.
[Darris] Which is?
[Tim] 1200, 1250 B.C.
[Tim] Yeah. 1250 B.C. But if you go back, the Bible actually gives a different date, which is 200 years earlier as 1450, roughly. And so, if you look at that time period, this other scholar was saying there’s a pattern of evidence. He didn’t probably use those terms, but he was saying there’s evidence for Joseph and his family coming into that area, and this man has uncovered his palace. If the earth is, you know, if the ground is here, and they build on it, I mean, years earlier, there might have been something. So, civilizations are built on top of…you know. So, in this particular case, there was an earlier city, and that is where the story of the Exodus and the earlier Israelites shows up.
[Darris] So, this Avaris, is it the place where Joseph was?
[Tim] Well, what the archaeology was telling, the archaeologists, was that a group of Semitic people, the Semites, the Semitic people, that were different than the Egyptians were allowed to come into that very area. And the Bible says that Pharaoh allowed Joseph’s family, Jacob and the family, to come and settle in Goshen, that land, the Goshen. And that is exactly what the archaeology showed. This small group of people comes in. Now, it says “small group of people.” So, there’s 70 men that were identified, but that doesn’t…
[Darris] Right. With Jacob, who came down.
[Tim] That’s right. But that’s just the men. There were women and children. There could have been 10 times that many, and then if they had servants and their flocks, so there could have been 1,000 people or more that came in. Abraham, you know, you hear about Abraham, but when he went off to chase someone, I think…
[Darris] He had an army.
[Tim] Yeah. He had like 300 men, didn’t he? Something like that. So, these were the princes, really. Jacob’s sons.
[Darris] It was a large entourage that came in with Jacob at that time. So, you’re saying that’s where they settled, and that’s up in what we would call the Nile Delta area.
[Tim] Yes. On the northeast side of that. Yeah.
[Tim] And that’s where Manfred Bietak was digging. If you believe that the Israelites came at 1250 B.C., and these are earlier, well, then you’re gonna say these are not the Israelites.
[Darris] That’s a different group.
[Tim] So, when he said, “So far, not,” he was looking for the Israelites at 1250 or in that particular time period later than this earlier evidence. But what this other Egyptologist David Rohl who wrote the book, I think it was called “Pharaohs and Kings,” he was telling me, and he’s an agnostic, by the way, he was saying, “This is where it begins, and this is evidence for the Bible, and it’s matching the narrative of what the scriptures are telling us.”
[Darris] So, why do you think evidence fails to change certain mindsets?
[Tim] Well, I believe that part of it is peer pressure.
[Darris] The academic community.
[Tim] Yeah. There’s a lot of peer pressure. I have, actually, archaeologists, you know, that have told me that, you know, “You’re not gonna go anywhere with your career today, let’s say, if you start suggesting that the biblical narrative is historical or if you start looking for the biblical narrative.” So, I’ve got interviews that communicate that. I have other interviews with scholars that have told me, “We talk about this all the time in private.” He says, “Yeah, that matches the Bible. That matches the Bible. Yeah, but I can’t talk about it. I can’t print it because of…you know.” And finally, this guy said, “You know what? I’m about to retire, and I don’t care anymore,” you know, and he was much more open. So, what I started to realize because as I went on a journey, this is…I’m going into almost 20 years in this particular area. I’ve interviewed some of the leading people in the world in archaeology and Egyptology, and it’s been a wonderful education. Now, I’m a filmmaker, and I’m a journalist in a sense, and I’m trying to understand the story. Just because an archaeologist or a scholar makes a claim doesn’t mean that what they’ve communicated is necessarily the truth. It means it’s their interpret-,…
[Darris] Are you saying, Tim, that there’s fake archaeology?
[Tim] Well, I’m going to tell you that there’s more to the story. It’s like Paul Harvey said, “And this is the rest of the story.”
[Darris] The rest of the story.
[Tim] Yeah. If you’re old enough to remember that.
[Darris] I do remember.
[Tim] But there’s more to this story. And so, as I’ve interviewed scholars and I’ve tried to understand what was going on, they’ve taken a viewpoint that has a lot of conditions applied to it. Those conditions, once you start to, you know, unravel that, you go, “Well, wait a minute here. This is what you’re trying to say?” And the challenge for the average person is like, “Well, I can’t figure all that out.” Well, what I’m doing is trying to figure it out and make it simple for people.
Male: Why is it we’ve never heard of these fights?
Male: Because in the scheme that’s used by scholars to date all these events, they’re way too early.
Male: So, we may be wrong 10 years here and 10 years there, but there’s no way, you know, to shift centuries.
Male: As it would undo a lot of their bugs, wouldn’t it?
Male: Right, it certainly would. Yes.
[Darris] What led you to get into filmmaking and to even begin this to get you to that spot, that day where you were standing over the pits of Avaris?
[Tim] Yeah. Well, when I first became interested in film was when I was 18 years old because I grew up in a conservative home, too, and I never went to a movie. I didn’t go to a film until I was 18 years old. And then the first time I went to a Billy Graham film called “The Hiding Place,” and I saw that movie three times in one week. And it was so powerful, and it was like the beginning of something new in my life. And I was always interested in music, and I thought I would be either in music or in radio. And so, I would hang out at radio stations as a teenager and got to know the manager and I was headed to radio and then I heard a radio commercial for a film school. And that’s how I ended up moving from radio to television. And so, it’s been a long journey, but I think that God has callings on our lives, you know, and you were created to do certain things.
And I think in my own personal life, I look back on it now and I realize my interest in history, my interest in film, my openness to people and understanding their viewpoints, different viewpoints, all allowed me to have the right kind of chemistry to make these kinds of films that explore the big questions, you know, that we need to explore. But my bigger goal for myself was to have an understanding for myself, and I’m taking this audience along a journey so that…and I don’t tell people what to think in my films. I’m trying to be honest about, “Well, here’s what I think,” but, you know, it’s really up to you because in our culture today, people don’t want to be told. They don’t want to be preached to. And in my particular case, I give them questions, and I can say, “Well, why is this evidence in a sequence? I mean, so why did it get there? Do you think it’s possible that it’s connected to what the Bible is telling us all along?”
[Darris] Has Manfred Bietak, to go back to him, has he altered his views at all?
[Tim] Well, this is the exciting thing is that when I met Manfred Bietak in 2002, and I had a crisis of faith, in 2018, I had the opportunity to go back and meet him again in Jerusalem and guess what? He comes along now, as opposed to shaking my faith, he comes along with new evidence that supports the biblical narrative at the location, and that’s in “The Red Sea Miracle,” the new film that we have coming out. It’s a powerful scene of which we’re going to build upon evidence for the Bible. I never in my wildest imagination ever thought that I would be sitting with Manfred Bietak again in Jerusalem and be able to be talking about the Bible and affirming it.
[Darris] Well, why don’t we hold that thought for our next sequence in this interview and come back to that? Because I’ve seen it and it’s a fascinating piece of information to consider and to think about. So, be sure and stay tuned for the next installment of our series, of our interviews here with Tim Mahoney of Thinking Man Films and “Pattern of Evidence” productions that he has. We’ll talk about the writing of the Bible itself and the Moses controversy and in the future here, the actual parting of the Red Sea and information regarding that. So, you’ll want to be sure to watch that and see that, so stay tuned for those.