The Adventist Indiana Jones: Hoax or Hope? Part 2

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The Adventist Indiana Jones: Hoax or Hope? Part 2

In the previous article, we looked at the supposed discoveries of Ron Wyatt in regards to Noah’s Ark. We will now turn to another of Wyatt’s “discoveries:” the Red Sea crossing.

The Red Sea Crossing

Perhaps the most credible claim that Wyatt offers is that of the Red Sea crossing and finding Pharaoh’s chariot wheels. To dramatically summarize, due to space, Wyatt’s argument, taken from a series of articles on Wyatt’s own web site, is to work backward, starting from Mt. Sinai, which identifies as Jebel el Lawz in Saudi Arabia.

 

From there, the crossing point would be through the Gulf of Aqaba, not Suez as is commonly thought. He discovered the Nuweiba beach, which is large enough for a lot of people plus an army and is only accessible through a narrow wadi, roughly matching Josephus’s description.

 

Upon further investigation, Wyatt found British underwater survey maps that show an underwater bridge right at this spot, perfect for crossing the gulf. When he and his sons dove along this bridge, they almost immediately came across bits of animal bones, human bones, and, most famously, chariot wheels. He even took pictures! There we go, ironclad proof.

 

Except for the long list of problems.

 

Again, due to space, I’m not going to go into all the problems with Sinai being in Saudi Arabia. Wyatt bases his claim on English translations of the Bible coupled with his own, interpretation of Josephus, who wrote millennia after the events. Furthermore, he suggests that Sinai was outside Egypt and since the modern Sinai Peninsula was under Egyptian control, it too was part of Egypt.

 

This is not true, as Canaan was also under Egyptian control and never once has anyone argued for it being part of Egypt proper, including the Bible writers. Egypt was the Nile and the Nile was Egypt; anything else was the barbaric outlands that Egypt would control but not assimilate.

 

Then there is the Red Sea identification. Based on the Hebrew text, which Wyatt does not cite and seems not to have consulted, the Israelites never crossed the Red Sea but the Reed Sea. The Red Sea comes from the Septuagint[1] rendering, which is still somewhat of a mystery, and then was used by the Latin Vulgate and a tradition was born. Where or what even was the Reed Sea? Hard to say for certain, although the best guess would be a marshy, estuary-like region at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez that has long since been turned into pristine lakes or dried up from the receding sea of the last several centuries for which evidence still remains.[2] Significantly, no such marshy region is or was possible around the Gulf of Aqaba.

 

But what about the underwater bridge? The chariot wheels? The pictures?

 

I’m going to ignore the fact that the one clear “wheel” picture looks like a bad photoshop job. As for the underwater bridge, well, it doesn’t actually exist. At least according to every British Admiralty chart in existence, dating back to 1862. Nor does it exist on the American chart Wyatt claims to have used.

 

At this supposed crossing point, the depths reach up to 850 meters, much deeper than the proposed 300 meters maximum depth. Seven miles of the ten-mile stretch is in fact below this 300-meter threshold, which by the way is deeper than light rays can penetrate so any claimed photos anywhere but the immediate shoreline must be fake.[3]

 

Furthermore, Wyatt and Jonathan Gray claim to have done most of their diving 1 ½ miles offshore to a maximum depth of 60 meters. However, according to the charts of the region, including Wyatt’s, this means diving over 150 meters down. At the time, the world record depth for recreational scuba gear like Wyatt was using was 133 meters.

 

If Wyatt’s story is to be believed, he buried the lead: the man set a scuba world record! In fact, the only area that matches Wyatt’s description of the depth would be within a half mile of Nuweiba beach.[4] This means the “chariot wheels” Wyatt found were on the very edges of the sea, and not in the middle of the sea as the Hebrew text (and English translations) claim.

 

But what about those wheels? Again, ignoring the photoshop element of the evidence, it should be noted that Wyatt removed none of the wheels, as they were deemed too fragile. Only the hub of one, an eight-spoked wheel was recovered and according to Wyatt, was verified by Dr. Nassif Hassan, a head Egyptian archaeologist.

 

However, Hassan himself has never publicly corroborated this statement.[5] By the way, experts that Wyatt claims to have consulted either never corroborate or outright deny verifying his claims is a running theme here, but that’s a separate issue.

 

More to the point, could chariot wheels and human remains have lasted on the bottom of a tropical sea floor teaming with scavenger life for more than 3,000 years? The short answer is no.

 

The Standish brothers appropriately point out that salt water is murder on organic material, such as bone and wood. As they observe, in all the investigations of the Titanic, sunk in far deeper and colder water a little over a century ago, zero bodies or even bones have been found, as they were devoured by scavengers or dissolved by the sea water. So any claims of bones fragments from 3,000 or more years ago must be met with extreme skepticism.

 

As for the wheels themselves, Wyatt claims they were preserved in coral formations that grew around the wooden axles. None of the photos I saw demonstrated chariot wheels or axles unless you squinted at it just right and certainly nothing clear enough to determine the original size or shape of the vehicle, let alone the number of spokes. The one clear “wheel” photograph is of a gold, four-spoked wheel that was again, too fragile to remove. While four-spoked wheels were used by Egyptian…

 

Wait. GOLD?!? Yes, Wyatt claims the photo is of a gold war chariot wheel.

 

Now if there is one thing I can claim expertise in, it is ancient weapons and warfare and the Egyptian war chariot is no exception. Gold is the absolute worst material for any part of a chariot, especially a wheel. Erroneously compared to tanks, chariots, especially Egyptian ones were more akin to the modern strike fighter.[6] Mobile archery platforms, they relied on speed and maneuverability rather than brute force.

 

As a result, light was the keyword when constructing chariots and so wood, sinew, and leather were the primary materials with as little metal as possible. A soft, heavy metal such as gold would render any chariot utterly ineffective.

 

To Wyatt’s partial credit, he recognizes this potential issue, pointing out this was a gold-plated wheel around a wooden frame and was a ceremonial chariot for a priest. What this chariot and priest were doing on a campaign several hundred miles from Egypt itself, Wyatt further explains in his pursuit of Israel, Pharaoh grabbed every possible chariot he could and sent his whole army after the Israelites.

 

Except, according to the Bible, Pharaoh didn’t. Exodus 14:7 says, “and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.”[7] While the phrase, “all other chariots” of Egypt might lend credence to Wyatt’s claim, the Hebrew “other” does not occur, so a better reading would be “and all the chariot officers of Egypt over all of them.”

 

The word “chosen” is of particular note, as is the number 600. In military contexts, when a group is “chosen,” it either refers to part of a whole or more particularly, an elite group within the military.[8] Furthermore, campaigns by Pharaohs Thutmose III and Rameses II had large armies with chariot contingents numbering in the thousands, not hundreds. Therefore, according to the text and context, Pharaoh was assembling a small, elite strike force, not a major mobilization. Thus, there is absolutely no reason for there to be a gold chariot wheel anywhere near here.

 

In addition to the previously mentioned flaws by Wyatt, another one pops up here to be on guard for how one treats the source material matters. If you haven’t noticed, Wyatt never consults Hebrew or Greek, let alone any Egyptian, relying on English translations both of Josephus and of the Old Testament.

Had he been competent in the primary sources, and English translations of the Hebrew text are not primary sources, he would have realized that he was looking in the wrong spot, as those who are competent in the original sources already have noted. When you come across someone’s claims, look at how they use their sources: are they using primary sources? Are they competent in their use of them? If not, then any conclusions should be viewed skeptically.

The Ark of the Covenant

Up to this point, Wyatt’s claims, while obviously flawed and wrong, have a shred of logic in them. When it comes to the Ark of the Covenant, however, he went way off the deep end.

 

The story goes that during one of his diving trips to the Red Sea, Wyatt got so badly sunburned that he couldn’t get into his gear and therefore had to spend the remainder of his trip in Jerusalem. While walking around one day near the Garden Tomb, his left hand shot out and he said,

 

That’s Jeremiah’s grotto where the Ark of the Covenant is.

 

He claims to have no memory of this while those with him do, strongly suggesting he was “divinely guided” to the ark’s location.[9]

 

The scenario Wyatt proposes is that during the 28 days between Zedekiah’s flight and the burning and destruction of the city, the priests under Jeremiah’s guidance slipped the ark into a sarcophagus to disguise it as another burial and hid it, along with the other temple articles where they remained until Wyatt discovered them in 1982.[10]

 

Between Jeremiah hiding the ark and Wyatt’s discovery, one other significant event happened: the crucifixion. According to Wyatt, and he is the only one to have seen the ark when he found the sarcophagus, it was directly under where he found Christ’s cross hole. The lid was partially broken and covered in dried blood, as was the lid of the ark itself, also known as the Mercy Seat.

 

When Wyatt had the blood tested, it came back with only 24 chromosomes, instead of the normal 46, which according to Wyatt, proves not only that this was the blood of Jesus but that Jesus had only one human parent who provided 23 of the chromosomes (Mary) with the Y chromosome being added to determine sex, thus supporting the divine parentage claim for Jesus. Furthermore, this blood is still alive and was simply in a dormant state until, and I am not joking about this, you just add water.[11]

 

We could go on with the more about this particular find, including four angels helping Wyatt lift up the Mercy Seat so he could pull out the 10 Commandments, which are “currently unavailable.”[12] As it is, there is plenty to unpack.

 

First and foremost, Wyatt is the only one to have seen any of this. Unlike his other “finds” where he was accompanied by others who ostensibly saw the petrified wood or chariot wheels, no one else has seen any of this.

 

For that matter, Wyatt took no photos or any other form of documentation to either corroborate his claim or give others a chance to check his work.[13] Attempts by the Garden Tomb owners and Israeli archaeologists (actual archaeologists) have yielded some interesting although academically useless finds thanks to disturbance from previous excavations.

 

The ark and its chamber were nowhere to be seen.[14] Even his own website acknowledges that there is absolutely no evidence, just Wyatt’s word,[15] which has already been shown to be dubious at best.

 

The irony is, without all the other problems, this might be the most likely of his claims to be true. The area north of the Damascus Gate and around the Garden Tomb is riddled with holes and caves. Indeed, it was likely used as a quarry during the Judean Monarchy. In fact, there is a remarkable cave system that extends under the city itself which is pretty neat to visit. Going off the 2 Maccabees account, it would be a reasonable hiding place for the Ark of the Covenant.

 

But Wyatt produced no evidence, even claiming to have sealed up the chamber after cleaning it up and adding he was prohibited from bringing the evidence out. While it is certainly possible that the ark was hidden in a stone box, the burial idea doesn’t work because at no point in their history did Israelites ever use sarcophagi for burials. And that’s the most reasonable part of his theory.

 

The Garden Tomb, or Gordon’s Tomb after British General Charles Gordon, is a terrific place to visit. The people who run it have done a tremendous job of preserving the ambiance and feeling of what Jesus tomb would have been like on that day, unlike the chaotic zoo known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It’s one of my favorite places to visit in Jerusalem.

 

It’s also certainly not where Jesus was crucified or buried. For starters, the tomb dates back to the time of Hezekiah, not Jesus. Since Jesus was placed in a “new tomb,” this rules it out. Furthermore, there is no historical tradition connecting the site until the 19th century, while the Holy Sepulcher has had a church there going back to the time of Constantine.

 

Furthermore, people went with the Garden Tomb because it was outside the current walls, while the Holy Sepulcher is in the middle of the city. However, in the time of Christ, it has since been understood that the Holy Sepulcher was also outside the walls on a quarry. The area around is riddled with verified 1st-century Jewish tombs and an actual, everyone-can-see-it cross hole has been found. So, miserable as the place is, the Holy Sepulcher is the almost certainly the site of the crucifixion and resurrection.

So even if Wyatt had miraculously discovered the ark and even if there had been blood on the Mercy Seat, it would not have been Jesus’s blood simply because that is not where Jesus was crucified.

 

Speaking of the blood, how is that explained? For starters, again, no one other than Ron Wyatt and Jonathan Gray have seen the blood or the blood test results. Inquiries into seeing the blood results, seeing the blood, or even knowing who did the tests have been stonewalled with glib answers like “There were persons in Jesus’ day who were constantly demanding, ‘Show me this, prove me this’ and told to wait until the ‘proper time,’”[16] whatever that means.

 

As pretentious and asinine as that answer is, Jesus blood containing only 24 chromosomes has some serious theological and practical issues.

 

For starters, Jesus would not be human as possessing 46 chromosomes is one of the fundamental definitions of being human. Instead, our Savior would be more likely a melon or a snail, both of which I believe contain 24 chromosomes. While this would certainly force us to reinterpret what it means to be the salt of the earth, Christ being our brother, being one of us, being the first of us to experience the resurrection, well, none of that would be true. Wyatt’s claim runs directly contrary to one of the most core beliefs in all of Christendom: Christ was fully divine and fully human, not this demigod Wyatt describes.

 

This brings me to the third point of skepticism: evidence matters. When someone makes a claim, it is incumbent upon them to back the claim up. Imagine if I said, “I have a pet dragon” and then when you naturally ask to see the dragon or photos of the dragon, I tell you I can’t show you.

 

Most of you would be skeptical as this is not a reasonable claim and when I fail to provide evidence, you call me on it. If my response is something like, “I’ll show you when the time is right” or “you can’t prove I don’t have a dragon” or “you just have to have faith” like I’m some sort of prophet, you’d think me a lunatic at best, a liar and trickster at worst. And you would be right to do so.

 

Yet, that is what Wyatt and company are essentially asking. They want us to swallow a tale that makes Indiana Jones look like a documentary with no evidence at all other than one man’s word, a word that is already established to be shaky. Citing Jesus as Gray does, further illustrates the danger of what they are doing because Jesus provided a boatload of evidence for his claims. He didn’t just show up one day and say, “Hey Y’all, I’m the Messiah and you better just believe it.”

 

He healed the sick, he forgave sins, he multiplied bread like a Star Trek replicator, calmed seas, and took an evening stroll on a lake! Jesus refused not because he was averse to giving evidence, after all, he gave evidence to John the Baptist’s disciples upon request, but to make the point he wasn’t a dancing monkey.

Principles to Evaluate Claims

Throughout this article, I’ve been highlighting how to evaluate someone’s claim on anything really. First, check their credentials: do they have the training or experience to validate their authority on this subject? Second, check their methodology: does it hold up to scrutiny? Is it reproducible? Third, check their sources: there is a reason I have left a relatively extensive bibliography here, both in works I’ve cited and those I recommend for further reading. Also, check how they use their sources: do they demonstrate a command of them or is it just random stuff yanked together? Finally, check their evidence: is there any or are you supposed to just believe what you’re told?

 

I imagine there are three groups of you out there: those who never believed Wyatt’s claims, those who have bought in, and those who have been reading this wondering what on earth I’m talking about. For the first group, hopefully, you learned a thing or two about evaluating claims and now have some data to back up your challenges to Wyatt-believers. To the latter group, I’m sorry for bringing you into this mess; hopefully, you have been warned and prepared to deal with the nonsense.

 

To the middle group, some of you are going to be quite angry with me for challenging Wyatt. You will undoubtedly think me a skeptic, someone lacking faith who now goes about destroying other people’s faith because I’m part of the conspiracy or whatever. You, I can’t help. Sorry.

 

But others of you might be shaken. Maybe you came to the faith because of Ron Wyatt’s claims or maybe your faith was strengthened because of what he said. Maybe you’ve relied on it and now you might feel that foundation is being yanked out from under you. To you, I am truly sorry for the crisis you must be going through.

 

But I want you to know a few things: one, we aren’t going to have all the iron-clad proof we want and that’s okay. It is okay to struggle with doubt and questions. As much as we crave that proof, we must be wary of thirsting so much for it that we believe what anyone says so long as they give us that proof.

 

Secondly, there is still a remarkable MOUNTAIN of evidence that the Bible actually knows what it is talking about. Is it the Ark of the Covenant? No. But it’s even better! Not only is this evidence strong evidence the Bible is true, but it even helps us understand what the Bible is saying even more! Is that not so much better than just finding a few chariot wheels in the sea? It is for me.

 

RELATED LINK: Searching for God’s “John Hancock” in the Bible

 

For those who are wanting or needing that evidence, I leave you with homework instead of a cookie:

 

  • On the Reliability of the Old Testament, by Kenneth Kitchen;
  • Life in Biblical Israel by Lawrence Stager and Phillip King;
  • Israel in Egypt and Israel in Sinai by James Hoffmeier; and
  • Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith edited by James Hoffmeier.

 

These books are just a few of the texts written by real archaeologists with verifiable data and evidence that I have found encouraging as they bolster my confidence in the Biblical record. I encourage you to join a real excavation or at the very least go to Israel yourself and see the amazing sites there. It’s a real place that real people lived and breathed and walked thousands of years ago, some of whom you’ve read about in that most wonderful of books. Trust those who walk in the light of day, and not those who hide away in secret.

 

Further Resources:

  • Noah’s Ark-the Early Years. 2011.
  • Ark of the Covenant. 2019.
  • Aaron A. Burke, “Walled up to Heaven”: The Evolution of Middle Bronze Age Fortification Strategies in the Levant (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant, 2008).
  • Contributors, Wikipedia. “Ron Wyatt” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; last modified February 9, 2019; accessed February 10, 2019.
  • James Karl Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus
  • Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
  • David Merling, Has Noah’s Ark Been Found? (1993).
  • Richard Rives, “My Friend Ron Wyatt,” Wyatt Museum; accessed February 10, 2019.
  • Noah’s Ark- Ron Wyatt’s Story, Youtube, 2015.
  • Ron Wyatt—the Ark of the Covenant, Youtube, 2015.
  • Andrew Snelling, Special Report: Amazing ‘Ark’ Exposé.
  • Russell R. and Colin D. Standish, Holy Relics or Revelation (Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications, 1999).
  • Yehiel Zelinger, Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb: The Final Report (Israel Antiquities Authority, 2006).

Click here to read the rest of Jonathan’s series on Biblical Archaeology

______

Notes.

[1] For those unaware, the Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament done in the 2nd century BC. It varies, sometimes significantly, from the Masoretic Hebrew Text and Dead Sea Scrolls we now have but was also the translation Paul most frequently uses.

[2] James Karl Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus

Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 199-223.

[3] Standish and Standish, Holy Relics or Revelation (Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications, 1999), p. 165-67.

[4] Ibid., p. 166-67.

[5] Ibid., p. 187.

[6] Aaron A. Burke, “Walled up to Heaven”: The Evolution of Middle Bronze Age Fortification Strategies in the Levant, Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008), p. 31.

[7] Taken from the ESV.

[8] See Joshua 8:3; 1 Samuel 13:2; 2 Samuel 10:9; 17:1.

[9] Ron Wyatt- the Ark of the Covenant (Youtube, 2015).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Standish and Standish, p. 45-50.

[14] Yehiel Zelinger, Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb: The Final Report (Israel Antiquities Authority, 2006).

[15] Ark of the Covenant (2019).

[16] Standish and Standish, p. 56.

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About the author

Jonathan Gardner

Jonathan Gardner is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School studying archaeology and ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to the Old Testament. Writing is one of his big two passions, along with travel, so he happily contributes to Compass while maintaining his own blog on theology, godlikesus.wordpress.com.