Titanic director takes on the parting of the Red Sea

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James Cameron, the director of Titanic, is the executive producer of a new documentary that claims to have uncovered evidence confirming one of the most dramatic episodes in the Old Testament: the parting of the Red Sea and the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

In The Exodus Decoded, a 90-minute documentary to be shown in the US this month, Cameron and Canadian producer Simcha Jacobovici claim a volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini triggered a chain of catastrophes recorded in the Bible as the 10 plagues God visited on Egypt for enslaving the Jews.

Cameron believes the parting of the Red Sea may have been a tsunami that destroyed the pharaoh's army as it pursued the escaping Jews. The documentary claims the episode occurred not at the Red Sea but at the smaller Sea of Reeds, a marshy area at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez.

Despite the obvious reference in the $5.2 million documentary's title to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, Cameron is not suggesting any conspiracy in the Bible. He says he is confirming that the Bible is correct, despite the conclusions of many archeologists and Jewish historians that the exodus never occurred.

''Whether it's a completely mythic story that's specific to the Judaeo-Christian religion, or whether it's something that really happened, knowing there was a physical event that underlies that is fascinating,'' Cameron said.

Jewish scholars have reluctantly concluded that an episode central to their faith -- commemorated each year at Passover -- may never have taken place.

Rabbi David Wolpe, head of one of the US's biggest Jewish congregations, sparked a furore five years ago when he admitted that ''the way the Bible describes the exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all''.

Yet Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have unearthed more than a dozen archeological relics suggesting the exodus took place three centuries earlier than Bible scholars estimate.

Adopting Brown's revisionist techniques of reinterpreting artwork at museums in Luxor, Cairo, Athens and elsewhere, Jacobovici dates the exodus to about 1500BC.

That was about the time, some geologists believe, when the Santorini volcano, 650km north of Egypt, erupted. Historians have long speculated that the 10 plagues suffered by Egypt were linked in a ''domino theory'' of natural events.

The documentary's website argues that a series of earthquakes ''destabilised the entire Nile Delta system and resulted in part of the delta sliding off the African continental shelf''. This would have raised the level of land around the Sea of Reeds, believed to have been saltwater swamps.

''In other words, the sea parted,'' the website says. ''Water would have cascaded from higher ground to lower ground ... creating dry land on which the Israelites could cross. This event would also have caused an enormous 'backsplash' of water, a veritable tsunami. If the waves went a mere 12km inland they would have engulfed the Egyptian army.''

The Exodus producers believe the waters were turned red by chemicals released by underwater tremors. Something similar happened to lakes in Cameroon in 1986. If the waters were poisoned, amphibians would hop ashore, producing the biblical plague of frogs. When the frogs died, insects would breed on their rotting corpses leading to plagues of locusts, fleas and lice.

They, in turn, would spread disease to humans (the plague of boils) and animals (the plague of dying livestock). Crops would have been threatened, forcing the storage of grain, which might have then turned mouldy. Contaminated food might account for the plague of deaths among first-born Egyptian males. Weather conditions caused by the eruption might also have caused the plagues of hailstorms and darkness.

Jacobovici said scholars might ''scoff at my evidence ... but they can't just dismiss it''. If The Da Vinci Code is any guide, the Exodus producers will be scoffed at all the way to the bank.

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Randll Reese Besch - 8/12/2006

I would expect such reactions from those who don't truely believe. Other wise they wouldn't care what the few worldly ones do to explain it all away. Personally I find the "Bible" quaint,exciting,vile historical fiction.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/8/2006

This article grossly distorts the state of archaeological and theological understandings of Exodus in order to make what is basically a "current state of the field" documentary into something with a frisson of transgressive energy.

The volcano theory is years old, for example.