REVIEW - Exile: A Myth Unearthed

Courtesy The NFB

Director: Ilan Ziv
Feature documentary w/Zeev Weiss, Seth Schwartz

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

What happened to the Jews after they lost their revolt against the Roman Empire and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD? Did they really scatter to the four winds, leaving the present territory of Israel and Palestine to others? Or did some stay—-and if so, what happened to them?

Exile: A Myth Unearthed, a new doc co-produced in Canada and Israel with the support of the French-German TV broadcasters ARTE, attempts to answer some of these fascinating questions. The film traverses the ancient terrain of Galilee and other areas of modern day Israel seeking truths in caves and archaeological digs where villages and old temples once stood.

An essay film that employs voice-over narration and interviews with social scientists like Zeev Weiss and Seth Schwartz, Exile has the structure and feel of old style didactic documentaries—the kind that worked for high school teachers but not for cinema audiences. The operators of the Projection Booth East, on Gerrard Street East, are to be commended for taking on this film and giving it a weeklong run.

Unfortunately, Exile doesn’t come close to answering the questions it poses. Situating part of the film in the locale where Sepphoris, the home of the Virgin Mary’s parents once dwelled, hardly makes the point that Jews stayed on in Galilee after 70 AD. Unlike the vast majority of towns in ancient Judea, Sepphoris’ citizens didn’t participate in the rebellion and so were never exiled by the Romans—-if such orders ever did take place. It makes sense that Jewish ruins from the period after 70 AD would be found in Sepphoris.

Similarly, the doc unquestioningly uses Josephus, the Roman historian, as a source for much of their information on the period of the Jewish revolt and purported exile. While that makes sense—Josephus’ accounts are the best known resources on the “Jewish Wars”—-it should have been made clearer that many scholars regard this classical historian with a great deal of suspicion. After all, he did join the Romans after losing major battles during the Wars, and may be considered a traitor to the Jewish cause.

In the end, the filmmakers involved in Exile don’t really prove anything. They do succeed in raising another fascinating question: if the Jews really didn’t leave in 70 AD, what became of them 600 years later, after the rise of Mohammedanism? Did they become the Palestinians?

If you enjoy Biblical and historical debates, Exile may appeal to you enough to see it in a cinema. If not, I suspect there will be a TV broadcast in this doc’s imminent future—and then, the price will be right.