Beyond Today Interview
The Search for Mount Sinai with Tim Mahoney - Part 1
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Beyond Today Interview: The Search for Mount Sinai with Tim Mahoney - Part 1
Beyond Today host Darris McNeely sits down with filmmaker Tim Mahoney, the writer and director behind the “Patterns of Evidence” series and the new film "Journey to Mount Sinai Part 2".
[Darris] Welcome to "Beyond Today" interviews. With me once again is Tim Mahoney of Thinking Man Films, who is now back with the premiere of a brand new film, "Journey to Mount Sinai," where Tim takes us on a quest to find the biblical location for Mount Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments to His people.
[Tim] Join me as I conclude my 20-year search for which mountain best matches the biblical event in "Patterns of Evidence: Journey to Mount Sinai II," a nationwide theatrical Fathom Event May 15th and 17th. Get tickets now.
[Darris] Tim, it's good to have you back in our studio once again. It's been a few years since we had you here, but welcome back to "Beyond Today."
[Tim] Well, I'm really glad to be here. Thank you, again, for having me.
[Darris] Could you explain to the average student of the Bible, how does knowing the exact location, pin-pointing Mount Sinai, help a person's faith in God and in His Word from your point of view?
[Tim] Well, I have had college students come to me. In fact, one of them came to me, and she almost was going to walk away from faith because her professor had told her in a class, and she was at a Christian college, and she said, "He said that there was no evidence for this and we think it's just a fairy tale." And she was so discouraged that she thought, "Why did I even become a Christian?" And she was from another country. And someone said, "Well, you need to see 'Patterns of Evidence.'" And she said, "What's that?" And so she found it, she watched it, she took all sorts of notes and went to her class, to her professor and said, "You're wrong." She says, "There is evidence for the Exodus." And this was dealing with, you know, Joseph and the plagues in our first film.
And what we see is that there are many, many young people that once they get to an age of sort of thinking it through, they're hearing that there's no evidence for the Bible and that it's a fairy tale. And why would you believe this? And why not just become a humanist? This is not something... They're looking for ways to throw off the obligation that there is a God because people wanna be their own gods. They wanna control their own destiny. They don't want to know that there's a God that has created the world. And I think that the purpose of identifying these locations is because there are so many people that are pointing to the locations that aren't really good candidates and saying, "See, there's nothing there. This is a fairy tale." And I believe that that's the reason why it has been very, very helpful. And so we've been taking our way through giving more clarity to this.
[Darris] One of the things that I was, you know, intrigued by is looking at all the different locations beyond Jebel Musa, the traditional one, going back to the time of Helena, that have come into people's minds. And it seems like every expert has a compelling case to make based on their evidence, based on their reading of the Scriptures. And you examine every current location for Mount Sinai that is held by prominent archaeologists and scholars today. And that's quite interesting. How has that developed among these different scholars that we have such a variety now where for hundreds of years there was only one?
[Tim] Well, I think that for a long time, people knew where Mount Sinai was. I mean, you know, after it happened, they knew where it was.
[Darris] The original audience.
[Tim] The original audience. Yeah. The Israelites knew where it was. But what had happened is that over time, we lost the understanding of where it was. And if you think about what happened is when the nation of Israel was destroyed by the Romans and the Israelis were scattered all over the nations, that memory of those locations, I think, became less and less because they were just trying to survive. Well, what's happened now is that many secular scholars that are biblical minimalists, basically, are saying that, "Well, we can't find any evidence for it." And then they say, "Well, the reason we don't find the evidence is because it didn't happen." And so one of the challenges that we're faced with.
When I talked with an Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, very prominent, very important, and very good archaeologist who was sincerely searching for these things, he says, "When we look in the Sinai Peninsula, we find no evidence of the Israelites." And in that school of thought, what they're saying is that, "Well, then maybe it just didn't happen."
[Darris] Well, you mentioned that the original audience, the Israelites with Moses, knew and that was known for some time. Of course, they settled into the land of promise. But we come forward really to the 4th century AD and Helena, the mother of Constantine, is the one who...did she essentially revive this interest when she traveled through the Holy Land and into the Sinai and identifying these various sites connected with the biblical stories? Was that revival under her in terms of, let's say, the Christian period?
[Tim] Yeah. That's exactly what happened is that from what I understand is that the Byzantines had a revival of wanting to find locations for the Bible. And there's something attractive for people, humans, to go to the location and to find the place, for example, where was Jesus buried? Where was Jesus crucified? Where did these things happen?" And so they were also looking for the Old Testament events. And so, basically, she went on a trip. In fact, we recreate this scene in our films where Queen Helena actually goes and she's told that this location here is Mount Sinai, this is where it happened.
[Darris] That is Jebel Musa.
[Tim] Right. Well, I think what happens is that somebody finds one thing and they just happen to go, "Wait a minute. This sounds like this could be connected to Mount Sinai." For example, Emmanuel Anati, when he came to his mountain, Har Karkom, he basically saw that it was a religious mountain and then he found something interesting. He found 12 pillars, and he also found some rock art that he believed might be connected to the 10 Commandments. And that's when he started to really seriously look at it. He wasn't looking for Mount Sinai. He was doing a survey in the Negev.
And if we look at other places, people are looking for clues. But what ends up happening is, I found out... What I've documented is about 17 or 18 clues that need to fit together. And that's why we make the film "Patterns of Evidence." Is the pattern complete? Obviously, we've all put together a crossword puzzle, or not a crossword puzzle, but just a regular puzzle.
[Darris] Jigsaw puzzle.
[Tim] Jigsaw puzzle. And you realize that, "Hey, maybe I could get this piece to fit in here, but it doesn't fit the other pieces." And I think that a little bit of what's going on is people are grabbing one little piece and they think it'll fit, but the rest of it doesn't fit, but they ignore that. And I think that what, you know, we were able to do is to look at all those. And by the way, there's probably more, like, 20 locations. We only talked about six locations, but you have to basically look at that whole pattern.
[Darris] Well, each of these scholars, they have, let's say, their particular pattern for evidence. Maybe you could just walk us through briefly exactly what are your patterns that you look for from your scorecard that help you come to these decisions all along the way from the Exodus to now Mount Sinai?
[Tim] It really boils down to... In our new film, we actually have... I call it a biblical scorecard. In fact, I've got a Mount Sinai scorecard here, which you can actually go to our website, Patterns of Evidence, and you can download this scorecard. And it takes you through the Scripture verses. It's a whole piece that you could do a little Bible study before you see this upcoming film. And I'm excited about it. It's gonna be in theaters nationwide May 15th and 17th. We're looking for a pattern of evidence. And so you say, "Well, what would that pattern be?" And the Bible tells us that there are certain campsites that they stopped, and those campsites had attributes to them. There was a stream at the mountain because Moses, when they ground up the golden calf, he put the water in the stream and told them to drink from it.
[Darris] They had to drink from it.
[Tim] Yeah. And then there was a cave. And it was where Elijah was in that cave when the Lord, you know, came to him and appeared to him. So, you have to look for those types of attributes. And, you know, for example, one of them is they camped at Yam Suph.
[Darris] Which is the Red Sea.
[Tim] Which is the Red Sea, yes. And then in our earlier films, we talked about, "Well, what does the Yam Suph mean and where is it? Is it a reedy, bitter, or is it a lake next to Egypt? Or is it the Gulf of Aqaba? Or is it the Gulf of Suez? What is the definition of the biblical Yam Suph?" But if you look in the Scriptures, you'll start to see that there are clues. There's clues which include the route. It also includes the distance and the time it would take for them to reach the mountain. And in the film, we actually demonstrate what this looks like on a timeline, as well as the wildernesses, because they go into the wilderness of Shur right after, and then from there they go to the Wilderness of Sin, and then the wilderness of Sinai. So, there's three wildernesses. We know that it has to be in the proximity of the land of Midian.
[Darris] Yeah. I notice in both of your films that it seems that Midian is kind of a key. The location of Midian is the key to this, solving this question. Is that correct?
[Tim] Absolutely. Yeah. And if Moses fled to the land of Midian... And if we remember now, Midian was actually a son of Abraham by one of the other wives. And so that is a really important connection. And there's evidences of Jethro, you know, historical...
[Darris] The father-in-law of Moses.
[Tim] The father-in-law of Moses. And so we're looking at that area. And then there's the pottery. And I think in the first film we demonstrate that Midian is in that northwest corner of Saudi Arabia on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba, in that area. So, Midian is really important because how far would Moses have taken the flocks? Would he have gone hundreds of miles away?
[Darris] This was his pre-Exodus life when he was a tenderer of sheep.
[Tim] Right. And then I talked with an archaeologist, Peter Parr, because as you remember, wells, water sources are really critical.
[Darris] They are.
[Tim] And there are different times in the Bible that talks about, you know, fights at water sources. And so if a shepherd were to take and go across all sorts of different territories, he would be invading in a sense other shepherds' territories for water and for food and everything like that. So, to me, it made a lot more sense that Moses stayed near Midian and that the mountain was near Midian as well.
[Darris] One of the things that intrigued me is in the first film on this two-part series, you were in Jordan at the bottom of a map and you turned that in just a way to show that Midian, if you turned it with the orientation in the correct way from Jerusalem, you'd go south to Jerusalem and Midian would be then on the east side of the Red Sea.
[Tim] Yeah, that's right. That's right. The other attribute is the backside of the wilderness. Where is the backside? What does that mean? Well, it means that Moses was somewhere that was, you know, next to a wilderness and on the backside. And so you have to ask the question, "Well, does this mountain fit that category?" And then the other two are attributes and artifacts. And those have to do with, you know, attributes of the mountain. Having a large plain, enough water, a stream, and a cave. And then the artifacts would be...
[Darris] Before we leave attributes, let's go back just what that large plain means. That's pertaining to the size of the number of Israelites. And there's a distinction, there's a difference in opinion as to how many Israelites went out of Egypt. The Egyptian view puts it at less than 10,000, correct?
[Tim] Right, right. Yeah. In fact, I've heard as little as several hundred of Israelites as opposed to, you know, a million. I mean, you know, we know that the Bible talks about they had a census of fighting men and there was over 600,000 fighting men. And if you think of when Joseph and Jacob and the family were there, there was about 70 of them plus whoever they brought. And over several hundred years, they would have grown into a multitude. And it says that they were exceedingly fruitful. And that's the reason why Pharaoh was concerned. Well, so the question then is, for me, the numbers, what's the biggest challenge I had? How in the world would the Lord sustain that many people in the wilderness?
[Darris] Which would be, if you take the more literal view, possibly over 2 million people.
[Tim] Right. In the wilderness.
[Darris] Men, women, and children. So, you've got to have a big enough location and resources to take care of them, which is what you have here under the attributes.
[Tim] The other thing too is that it's very possible that 3,500 years ago, that area, there were actually forests, it says, you know, in Midian. And it was a different climate. And the climate has changed over a period of time. And there was probably more sources of water and...
[Darris] Are you saying they had climate change in that period of time?
[Tim] Well, I'm saying that it appears that there...yes, I'm saying that. Yes. I think what we're hearing or what I've heard is that there was more vegetation, you know, and that things have changed in the last 3,500 years in that area.
[Darris] So, the region would have been able to sustain possibly that many people, more than 2 million people.
[Tim] Yeah. And not only that, but God sustained them.
[Darris] With the manna.
[Tim] Yes, with the manna. Yeah. And the water that was available.
[Darris] Of course, we even have that as a miraculous occurrence by Moses striking the rock on one occasion.
[Tim] Right. Right. Well, you're gonna see some interesting things in this movie. Just possibly how much water there was and how they were...
[Darris] From the rock or already there?
[Tim] At one of the locations, that's what impressed me greatly was that there was the possibility of an abundance of water and that there was a stream. I mean, in one of the locations, the stream is still there. I mean, there's still evidences of that happening. And so that's what's encouraging to me was when I looked at it, I could see evidences of the stream, I could see evidences of a way that there would be water that would sustain that many people.
[Darris] You have artifacts as another one of your patterns of evidence. How does that work into your system?
[Tim] Well, Moses was told to have these pillars, for example, to set up pillars that would represent the tribes. And I believe what they did is during the sacrifice, they sprinkled the blood on these pillars. And so the question is, are there any pillars like that that you can still see today? Now, at some of the different locations, we're looking at Har Karkom, Emmanuel Anati found pillars, 12 pillars. At another location, they also found what they are pointing to as pillars. The question is, are the pillars supposed to be manufactured, or are they supposed to be just standing stones from the ground?
[Darris] That were already there?
[Tim] That were already there, yeah. And at Jebel al-Lawz, there are pillars that people have pointed to. Now, Jebel al-Lawz is very... That's where I started. In 2003, I actually went to Jebel al-Lawz with a small group.
[Darris] Jebel al-Lawz is in current-day Saudi Arabia.
[Tim] Saudi Arabia. Right. And a lot of people have heard about it. They've heard about the altars and pillars. There's a lot of activity there, but it has been off-limits for a long time. So, when I started this film, it began in 2003. So, for the last 20 years, I've been working at trying to understand how to basically make this film. And I was accused by Egyptologist David Rohl, of being unfair, that I've only looked at one mountain. And I took that challenge on and I said, "Okay. I'll pause and I will start to look at the other mountains." And that's when I created the Mount Sinai scorecard. I said, "Let's see what the Bible says, and let's compare Jebel al-Lawz and all the other mountains and see which one seems to fit best with the pattern."
[Darris] Well, since you mentioned David Rohl, let me bring that up. I was curious as I watched the films, he figures prominently in several of your films, especially "The Moses Controversy" where you established the writing of the Hebrews, which is another critical key to the story and proving that Moses was literate and the Israelites were literate and he helped establish that particular pattern. And yet, on this one, the two of you come down on different locations. We won't give the full disclosure on that necessarily, but you come down with a difference of opinion. How do you handle that? How do you reconcile that as, again, you interact with a number of different experts on this? How is it that you work with that?
[Tim] I let the Bible be the guide. And if it doesn't match with the Bible... And, obviously, I'm a filmmaker. I'm not a theologian. I'm not an archaeologist. I'm not an Egyptologist. But I'm saying, "Okay. What does the Bible say?" And as I look at that, the Bible tells me, for example, that there was a great multitude that left Egypt. And David Rohl is one who leans towards a small group of people.
[Darris] He's a minimalist.
[Tim] Yes. And he doesn't necessarily see, you know, the miracles of the Bible. He doesn't see a lot of that. So, the question is, how do I navigate with different scholars and different ideas? I think they know that I'm gonna ask them the tough questions, and if it doesn't add up, then the pattern isn't there. And I have to be honest about that in a generous way. And I have to say, "Okay. Explain to me what's your reasoning for this?" And someone would say, "Well, distance." Well, I have them camping for three weeks at the Red Sea. And that way, they can finally get them there in 45 days.
[Darris] To Mount Sinai.
[Tim] To Mount Sinai. So, they've got either long camping periods. Well, the Bible doesn't necessarily one way or the other if they were camping for that longer period of time. But it does say that they left with haste.
[Darris] When they left Egypt.
[Tim] Yeah, when they left Egypt, until, obviously...
[Darris] So, that haste, you think, then continued throughout the entire journey?
[Tim] I think God commanded them to come to the Mountain to worship Him. I don't think that they were necessarily, if I were to use a word, lollygagging along the journey. I think they were trying to get to where they were supposed to be.
[Darris] That would not make sense.
[Tim] Yeah. And there were some places where there wasn't any water. So, they wouldn't be able to sustain. Yeah, because they had that many people. And I think the numbers of the Israelites was the hardest thing for me personally to believe because when you realize just how many people that is and how much water that would take and how they would deal with that and how God would provide for them, that's where I had to have faith.
[Darris] Before we leave David Rohl and his contributions on, let's say, the writing, let me ask you a question. In any of the places, and particularly, let's say, where you feel Mount Sinai would be, has any evidence of that writing been found on any shards, or evidence, inscriptions anywhere that matches the place that you covered in "The Moses Controversy?"
[Tim] Jebel Sinai.
[Darris] Jebel Sinai.
[Tim] Jebel Sinai is where these mines and these caves are. And that's one...
[Darris] That's the one near Jebel Musa.
[Tim] Yes. Right near Jebel Musa, right up there, there's a mining area. And that's the reason why Peter van der Veen and Rabbi Michael believe, and they're in our first "Journey to Mount Sinai" film, they're pointing to that location and they're pointing to inscriptions and they're basically interpreting those inscriptions to say, "This is talking about manna. This is talking about the Exodus." The challenge is how do you read those inscriptions? Because everyone reads them a little bit differently and there hasn't been a consensus on that.
[Darris] Well, that's an ongoing discussion among the experts, isn't it?
[Darris] Tim Mahoney is our guest on "Beyond Today" interviews today. His film, "Journey to Mount Sinai," brings us to the location that he feels is the actual Mount Sinai of the Old Testament. We're going to, in Part 2, explore that topic further, but more importantly, what it means to our individual faith and our relationship with God. So, be sure to watch that.