THE greatest story ever told has acquired a Hollywood twist. James Cameron, the director of Titanic, is the executive producer of a new documentary that claims to have uncovered fresh 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 that will be shown in America this month, Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian film producer, claim a volcanic eruption on the Greek archipelago of Santorini triggered a chain of natural catastrophes recorded in the Bible as the 10 plagues that God visited upon Egypt as punishment 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. An underwater earthquake may have released poisonous gases that turned the waters red.
Jacobovici said “the common wisdom is there isn’t a single piece of archeological evidence backing up the biblical story of the exodus”. Jewish scholars have reluctantly concurred that an episode central to their faith — commemorated each year at Passover — may never have taken place.
Yet Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have unearthed more than a dozen archeological relics that suggest the exodus took place three centuries earlier than biblical scholars estimate. By reinterpreting artwork at museums in Luxor, Cairo, Athens and elsewhere, Jacobovici dates the exodus to around 1500BC.
That was about the time when some geologists believe the Santorini volcano, 400 miles north of Egypt, erupted in the eastern Mediterranean. Scientists and historians have long speculated that the 10 “plagues” suffered by Egypt might have been linked in a “domino theory” of natural causes.
The documentary’s website argues that a series of earthquakes may have “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 around El Balah, the now extinct lake.
“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 seven miles 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 the 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 have bred on their bodies leading to plagues of locusts, fleas and lice.
They in turn would have spread disease to humans, the plague of boils, and animals, the plague of dying livestock. They would also have threatened crops, forcing the Egyptians to store grain which might have then turned mouldy. Contaminated food might account for the plague of deaths among first-born Egyptian males. Weather conditions spawned by the eruption might also have caused the plagues of hailstorms and darkness.
“It’s individual pieces that start to form a compelling pattern,” said Cameron.