Cover Story

Unearthing Clues to the Exodus

By Judith S. Gillies
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2006

In the middle of a serious conversation about a sacred subject, Simcha Jacobovici ventured a light-hearted apology to the star of "Raiders of the Lost Ark":

"Sorry, Harrison Ford. You looked for it, I found it!'

Jacobovici was talking about the biblical Ark of the Covenant, the chest containing two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Jacobovici, a filmmaker with Indiana Jones flair, has spent about seven years researching biblical history, including the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, the location of Mount Sinai and the discovery of a 3,500-year-old gold image that he thinks depicts the biblical chest.

There has been growing scholarly doubt about the story of the Exodus, Jacobovici said, with some calling it only a fairy tale. But Jacobovici and executive producer James Cameron ("Titanic") challenge those doubts in the two-hour documentary "The Exodus Decoded."

The film includes artifacts, talks with experts, visits to archaeological sites, and stunning computer graphics -- including visually arresting 3-D special effects similar to those in films such as "The Matrix."

"The Exodus is arguably the most important story ever told, for it is the founding story of Western civilization," Jacobovici said. "I'm an investigative journalist -- and what better thing to investigate?"

Jacobovici started following forensic evidence, not knowing where he would end up. He filmed over three years in Egypt, Israel, Greece, Britain, Holland, Canada and the United States.

Cameron joined the project about 14 months ago after much of the filming was completed. He was involved in post-production, helping organize the information and making suggestions about ways to present the story.

But Cameron touts his major contribution as pushing Jacobovici into the spotlight.

"You're the detective here," Cameron recalled telling Jacobovici. "It's your personal story and passion. Find a way to be that storyteller."

Jacobovici is host-narrator and occasionally Cameron also is in front of the cameras in "The Exodus Decoded," which assembles a "virtual museum" of artifacts and clues.

"Usually, the documentary follows some archaeologist as he runs here and there," Jacobovici said. "But the virtual museum allows us to put together centuries-old pieces in a new way."

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