Moses Movies

I watched the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments the other day, and I was intrigued by it.  It started me thinking about how Moses movies have changed over the last century.  One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, I was binge-watching a whole bunch of them, which then led to the decision to present my thoughts on all these movies in an essay.  I cannot claim to have made an exhaustive survey.  I would like to have seen The Ten Commandments:  The Movie (2016), but the DVD is not available yet.  I did not bother with any animated versions, such as The Prince of Egypt (1998), because these are obviously aimed at children.  My interest is not what dramatic presentations are deemed suitable for children, but rather what dramatic presentations are deemed suitable for adults.  Any documentaries examining what evidence there is for the story in the Book of Exodus were passed over, such as The Exodus Revealed:  Search for the Red Sea Crossing (2001).  While such films are not without value, the truth or falsity of the story of the Hebrews in Egypt is not my concern at the moment.  I am only interested in contrasting the story as told in the Bible with the story as told in the theaters or on television, and how that has changed over time.  For that purpose, it would be all the same if the story in Exodus were literally true, partly true, or just so much fiction and fantasy.


The Ten Commandments (1923)


The first movie to depict the story about Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, The Ten Commandments (1923), was directed by Cecil B. DeMille.  DeMille obviously enjoyed making biblical movies about pagan decadence and debauchery, accompanied by much spectacle and wrath of God, so notwithstanding its being a silent film and all, I figured it might be worth a look.  I was surprised, then, when early in the movie we learn that Egypt has already been visited by nine plagues, none of which we got to see.  What’s the deal?  This is especially perplexing considering that the movie is two hours and sixteen minutes long.  Even the tenth plague, the one where all of Egypt’s firstborn die, is disappointing, for we see no one actually being struck down.  All we see is the Pharaoh’s son alive, and then later we see him dead, after which the Pharaoh tells Moses to take his people and get out.


As we all know, people pick and choose the parts of the Bible they agree with and ignore the rest.  But movies have the unique task of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible that are suitable for dramatic presentation to large audiences.  One of the items we expect the movies to suppress is the one in which the Hebrews loot Egypt before they leave, taking gold and silver jewelry and some nice clothes as well under false pretenses.  As a burning bush, God told Moses he would do this in Exodus 3:


3:21  And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:


3:22  But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.


Just before the tenth plague, in Exodus 11, God tells Moses this last plague will do the trick.  Therefore, the time to start borrowing gold and silver jewelry is now:


11:2  Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.


It does indeed come to pass, as stated in Exodus 12:


12:35  And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:


12:36  And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.


Now, whereas Exodus 11 seems to imply that the borrowing took place before the tenth plague, Exodus 12 seems to imply that it took place afterwards.  The movie follows the latter interpretation, the Great Borrowing coming after the tenth plague has taken its toll, with the intertitle saying, “And they despoiled the Egyptians of jewels of silver, jewels of gold, and raiment.”


Try to imagine what that must have been like.  It’s the middle of the night, and the firstborn of each Egyptian household has died (Exodus 12:29-30).  During that same night (Exodus 12:31-34), the Pharaoh tells the Moses to take his people and leave immediately.  So, all the borrowing must have taken place before the sun had even come up.  A typical example might be a Hebrew woman knocking on the door of an Egyptian woman, saying, “I heard a great cry coming from your house, so I figured you were up.  Oh, your baby just died?  I’m so sorry.  But since you will probably be in mourning for a while, could I borrow your bracelets, necklaces, and earrings in the meantime?”  It is only something to be imagined, however, because there are no such scenes in the movie.  Instead, all we get is just that one lousy intertitle, followed by scenes of people leaving Egypt.  If you didn’t know better, you might wonder why they even bothered to mention it.  It might also make you wonder if that was the real reason the Pharaoh changed his mind and chased after the Hebrews:  “Hey!  They borrowed all our gold and silver jewelry, and I’ll bet they don’t intend to return it.  Let’s go get it back.”


We finally get some spectacle when the Hebrews come to the Red Sea.  Not bad, considering.  Then Moses climbs up Mount Sinai to receive the title Commandments.  While he is away, the Hebrews make a Golden Calf.  And that, of course, is why it was necessary to include the part about borrowing the jewelry, so we don’t wonder where a bunch of slaves got all the gold needed for its fabrication.  But since the manner in which they obtained that gold is disgraceful, the movie downplays it by not depicting it.


The Golden Calf having been made, Miriam, Moses’ sister, gets all sensual with it while displaying as much of her body as was permitted in the movies in those days.  Dathan, “the discontented,” starts to make love to her, but then he sees she has leprosy.  Now, somewhat later, as told in Numbers 12, God does eventually inflict Miriam with leprosy, because she objected to Moses marrying an Ethiopian woman, but in this movie, she gets inflicted with the disease during the Golden Calf party.  Moses breaks the tablets in anger, Miriam begs him to heal her, and God lashes out with bolts of lightning, ending the party.


It is at this point that we find out why we were shortchanged on the first nine plagues of Egypt.  After only fifty minutes of screen time, with almost an hour and a half to go, the movie jumps to the present, and we discover that we have been watching a visualization of the story in Exodus as it was being read by a woman to her two adult sons.  One of the two sons, Johnny, is a carpenter (Oh, brother!), and he is the good son.  The other, Dan, is an atheist, and he blasphemes, making fun of the whole story.


At the beginning of the movie, there was a prologue that told of how belief in God had come to be thought of as a “religious complex,” and how people had come to think of the Ten Commandments as old fashioned.  But then came the World War.  “And now a blood-drenched bitter world—no longer laughing—cries for a way out.”  That way out, of course, is the Ten Commandments, the Law without which men cannot live.


The World War must have already worn off on Dan, however, and it isn’t long before his mother turns him out of the house for his godless attitude.  What follows is a melodramatic plot in which Mary, a homeless and hungry but beautiful woman, is allowed to stay with Johnny and his mother, as well as with Dan, who came back to get his coat, and, seeing Mary there, decided to stick around awhile.  Johnny and Dan both fall in love with Mary, but she marries Dan.  They leave the house, promising to break all the Ten Commandments as they live their heathen lives.


We don’t see Dan and Mary making any graven images of God, but other than that, they do presumably break the other nine Commandments, and the juicy ones are actually depicted.  Dan cheats on Mary by having an affair with Sally Lung, a woman half French and half Chinese—a dangerous combination Dan is told by one of his cohorts.  As for the Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” Dan inadvertently does in his own mother when the cathedral he was building with shoddy cement collapses on her.  And it turns out that the ship that brought in the cheap material for making that cement passed by an island that was a leper colony, from which point Sally Lung had stowed away.  Why Dan never noticed her leprosy while he was having sex with her, we don’t know, but his skin starts showing the tell-tale signs.  He shoots Sally in anger, so this time he deliberately breaks that Commandment about not killing.  Then he ends up giving the disease to Mary, just before he tries to escape the law for his role in the cathedral collapse and ends up killing himself when his speedboat hits some rocks.  So, the theme of leprosy as punishment for sin runs through both parts of this movie.


Mary decides to run away, possibly planning to kill herself, now that she has leprosy, but Johnny stops her.  He reads to her from the New Testament, telling her about love, and in the morning she is cured of the disease.  This squares with the dying words of the mother, who said she was wrong to make religion be about fear of God instead of love.  But it doesn’t square with the prologue, which said the Ten Commandments, not the New Testament, were what people needed following the World War.  Ambivalence regarding the Ten Commandments vis-à-vis the message in the gospels, however, is not unique to this movie.


The Ten Commandments (1956)

We may have wished for a little more spectacle while watching Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 movie titled The Ten Commandments, but we never feel shortchanged while watching his great 1956 remake, for it has spectacle galore.  In addition, the principal actors get to wear those nifty outfits and deliver all those heavy lines, speaking in a manner that befits an epic from ancient times.  Actually, the biblical Moses had a difficult time speaking on account of his “uncircumcised lips” (Exodus 6:12), but would we really want to hear Charlton Heston, who plays the part of Moses, stuttering and stammering his way through this movie?  If any movie ever called for an eloquent Moses, this is it.  Other improvements add dramatic interest.  The addition of Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) as part of a love triangle between Moses and Rameses II (Yul Brynner) is good stuff.  She gets to look all beautiful and sensual, while the two men get to display their muscular, chiseled bodies as they try to out-macho each other.

Speaking of macho, Moses is portrayed as an Egyptian general who has been victorious in battle, even though there is no indication of this in the Bible.  This may be a way of staving off the idea that Judaism and Christianity are, as Nietzsche argued, religions suitable for slaves, which is to say, those who are weak and defeated.  It is not unusual to see movies in which religious figures are shown to be strong, so that we are assured that in being Jews or Christians, they are not just making a virtue out of their weakness.  For example, in San Francisco (1936), Clark Gable plays Blackie Norton, an atheist; Spencer Tracy plays Tim Mullin, a priest.  Early in the movie, we see them sparring in a boxing ring.  Tim knocks Blackie to the mat, and Blackie admits that Tim is the better boxer and always has been.  Later in the movie, Blackie and Tim argue over Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), Blackie wanting her body, Tim trying to save her soul.  When Blackie hits Tim in the face, drawing blood, Tim does not hit back.  The earlier scene in the boxing ring, then, was necessary to assure us that it was not out of weakness or fear that Tim did not hit back, but because Jesus said we should turn the other cheek.  Tim became a priest out of strength, the movie is at pains to say, not weakness.  It is probably for the same reason that this movie portrays Moses as a mighty warrior.

These are aesthetic alterations, however, while others are of a moral nature.  For example, the God of the Old Testament is the God of the Hebrews, who are his chosen people, while the Moses of the movie has a Universalist attitude, saying God is for everyone.  Also, there is no indication that the Hebrews were opposed to slavery per se, but only that they did not like being slaves themselves, whereas the Moses of the movie talks as though slavery is intrinsically wrong.

And then there are all those times referred to in Exodus where the Pharaoh is just about to agree to let the Hebrews go, but then God hardens his heart:

4:21  And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.

Thanks to the addition of Nefretiri, however, the movie is able to blame her for hardening Rameses II’s heart, although Moses does throw in a quick line about how God will work his will through her.  But mostly, the movie wants us to blame the woman.

The reason given as to why God keeps hardening the heart of the Pharaoh is to make a point:

14:4  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.

That seems to be acceptable as long as God is just making the lives of the Egyptians miserable, as when they have to walk around in the dark for three days (Exodus 10), but we start feeling a little queasy when God decides to make his point by killing all of the Egyptians’ firstborn (Exodus 11).  To render God’s behavior morally acceptable to a modern audience, the movie first has Rameses II decide to kill all the firstborn of the Hebrews to show them what’s what.  Earlier in the movie, the previous Pharaoh, Rameses I, had ordered all the newly born Hebrew sons to be killed.  And so, while watching the movie, we readily believe that Rameses II would do something similar.  In point of fact, there is nothing of that in the Bible.  It is God who simply decides to kill all the firstborn Egyptians to really make the point that he is the Lord.  But in the movie, once Rameses II orders the killing of all the firstborn of the Hebrews, Moses talks as though this has set in motion an opposite process, the killing of all the firstborn Egyptians, almost as if there is a kind of supernatural mechanism that brings this result about automatically.

But let’s back up for a moment.  As told in Exodus 1, a previous king of Egypt had feared the increasingly numerous Hebrews and thus ordered that all the newly born sons be killed.  Of course, if you want to put a check on population growth, the thing to do is kill the girls, but this king was thinking of the military strength of the Hebrews and thus worried about the boys.  And this was what led to Moses’ mother putting her baby in a basket, where he was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised by her as her son (Exodus 2).

This movie, however, deviates from the biblical story in an important way.  The movie has the High Priest give Rameses I a very different motive for killing the newly born males, saying, “Divine One, last night our astrologers saw an evil star enter into the house of Egypt.”  He goes on to say that this star foretells trouble from the Hebrew slaves:  “Among these slaves, there is the prophecy of a Deliverer who will lead them out of bondage.  The star proclaims his birth.”  As a result of this warning from the High Priest, the Pharaoh orders the death of all newly born males.

The similarities between this story and the one in Matthew 2, in which Herod hears that the King of the Jews has just been born from some wise men, who know of this because they saw a star, after which Herod orders all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two to be slain, is so painfully obvious that I cannot believe the people responsible for putting it in the movie had the gall to do so.  Presumably, the reason for it was to Christianize, if only subliminally, the story of Moses.

Anyway, after the death of Rameses II’s firstborn son, he tells Moses that he and his people can go, taking their belongings and livestock with them.  But then Rameses tosses in a remark from out of left field:  “Take what spoils from Egypt you will, but go.”  That’s a little bizarre.  It is not as though Moses had made that demand previously, as in, “Let our people go, and throw in all your gold and silver too, or get ready for some plagues.”  But having Rameses say this makes it look as though he offered to let the Hebrews take the gold and silver, that it was decreed by him, rather than the way the Bible tells it, that the Hebrews accumulated the gold and silver by way of individuals borrowing jewelry in bad faith.

It is not enough, however, to have the Hebrews come into possession of the Egyptian gold and silver merely as an instance of “To the victor belong the spoils.”  Instead, a man tosses gold items out to the crowd, saying, “All who shared the toil will share this gold.”  In short, the spoils are anachronistically construed as reparations for slavery.

After the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians, the Hebrews eventually make it to Mount Sinai, which Moses climbs in order to talk to God.  While he is away, the people begin to think he is never coming back.  In Exodus 32, the people ask Aaron, brother of Moses, to make gods for them, and he complies.  He even has all the people get naked and dance around.  In the movie, it is Dathan (Edward G. Robinson) who inspires the people to demand a Golden Calf.  Aaron (John Carradine) opposes the idea and later protests that the people made him do it.  So, the movie minimizes Aaron’s complicity.

When Moses comes down from the mountain with the tablets and sees the orgy going on, he blows up the Golden Calf by flinging the tablets on it.  Just as Miriam got her leprosy a little early in the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments, so too does Dathan meet his doom now when the earth opens up and swallows him instead of much later (Numbers 16).

When we reach the end of the movie, Moses knows he will soon die and that he will not be able to cross the Jordan.  Moses’ wife, Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo), referred to as “Zipporah” in the Bible, is with him, and this seems strange, because the Bible says that he eventually married an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12).  In fact, early in the movie, Moses brings a beautiful Ethiopian princess to Egypt and presents her to the Pharaoh, and for a moment I wondered if she was going to be the one that Moses eventually married.  But this second wife has been expunged from the film.

On the other hand, some say that Moses had only one wife, that Zipporah was the Ethiopian woman.  That, however, would mean that Zipporah had been black all along, and not just slightly brown.  But then, notwithstanding the movie’s declaration that all slavery is wrong and that slaves deserve reparations, I suppose depicting Moses as being married to a black woman in 1956 would have been a little too much for the times.

Moses the Lawgiver (1975)

Originally, Moses the Lawgiver (1975) was a television mini-series with a running time of six hours.  I was only able to see an edited version lasting two hours and twenty minutes.  It begins where most Moses movies do, with the Pharaoh ordering all newly born Hebrew boys to be killed; but it follows the biblical account, in which the motive is to limit the military strength of the Hebrews, as opposed to the account in The Ten Commandments (1956), in which the motive parallels that of Herod in Matthew 2.

Just to make sure we in the audience know that Yokebed’s baby is a boy, we are shown the baby’s penis right after he is born.  Now, I would have taken their word for it, but as long as they went to the trouble of putting it on full display, I could not help but notice that the penis was uncircumcised.  You may think this should not be worth commenting on, but it turns out that this movie is taking a stand on of a matter of some controversy, for whether Moses was born circumcised is a bone of contention.  The following verse in Exodus is significant:

2:2  And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

Regarding this, makes the following remark:

What did she see? One interpretation, cited in several classic sources, is that she saw that he was circumcised and knew that there was greatness in store for him. Being born circumcised was an expression of the otherworldly perfection that characterized the one who would speak face to face with G‑d.

I assume the “o” was left out of the word “God” so as not to violate a taboo about uttering or writing God’s name.  Anyway, this movie is in the camp of those who think Moses was born with his foreskin.

But that does raise an interesting question:  When was Moses circumcised?  In movies like the present one, as well as The Ten Commandments (1956), Moses does not find out until he is an adult that he is a Hebrew.  But if he was born circumcised or if his parents circumcised him before putting him in a basket, everyone would have known he was a Hebrew right off.  An uncircumcised Moses allows for more drama and suspense regarding Moses’ identity, and this may be the reason most movies prefer a Moses with foreskin, either explicitly, as in this case, or implicitly, as elsewhere.

As for what is in the Book of Exodus, however, it would appear that Moses knew all along that he was a Hebrew:

2:11  And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.

This would be consistent with the theory that Moses was either born circumcised or was circumcised before being put in the basket.  But enough of this.  Suffice it to say that Moses has grown to be a man in this movie before he and other Egyptians discover the truth.

Before going further, a word is necessary about the names of the Pharaohs.  In the 1956 movie, Rameses II is Moses’ stepbrother, the Pharaoh with whom Moses must contend.  In other movies, such as this one, Ramses II is the Pharaoh that orders all the newly born males to be killed, and it is one of his sons, Mernefta, that becomes the Pharaoh who refuses to let the Hebrews go.  The Bible never names the Pharaoh that reigned at the time of the exodus, so movies are free to name them as they see fit.  Also, as the names of the Pharaohs and other characters have various spellings, I simply follow the lead of whatever movie I am reviewing.  Finally, Moses’ relationship to the Pharaoh that will not let the Hebrews go varies from movie to movie.  Here, Moses and Mernefta are said to be cousins.  Similar differences among the movies concern which is Mount Horeb and which is Mount Sinai and whether they are one and the same.  The moral of all this is that there is no consistency among the several Moses movies as to who’s who or what’s what, so don’t look for any.  But only if you are crazy enough to binge-watch them all as I have is it likely to cause any confusion.

There is a theory one hears of from time to time that the ancient Egyptians were black.  I have never given it much credence, but for those who care about such things, we do see a handful of black Egyptians here and there.  They seem mostly to have low-level positions, however, while all the important Egyptians are white, the one exception being Mernefta’s wife, who is black.

As per the usual story, Moses kills an Egyptian that was beating a Hebrew, goes to Midian, marries Zipporah, and they have a son, Gershom.  After the passage of several years, Moses, now played by Burt Lancaster as an older man, sees the burning bush on Mount Horeb.  When God speaks to him, however, it is the voice of Burt Lancaster that we hear.  Then there are two miracles:  Moses’ staff is turned into a snake and then back into a staff; Moses’ hand is made leprous and then returned to normal.  Both miracles are filmed in a blurry, distorted manner.  It is hard to avoid interpreting the whole thing as a hallucination on Moses’ part.  Later on, Moses speaks of miracles as having ordinary causes, so there is patina of naturalism overlaying this film.

According to Exodus, after Moses learns that God has a special purpose for him, he heads back to Egypt, taking Zipporah and his son with him.  For some reason, this movie shows him leaving his family behind.  This is a significant departure, because Exodus tells us that on the way back to Egypt, Zipporah saves Moses’ life:

4:24  And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him.

4:25  Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.

4:26  So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.

When this movie has Moses leave Zipporah and their son behind, I could not help but wonder, “So, what’s going to happen when God tries to kill Moses, and his wife is not around to do the necessaries?”  However, I have read that there is a scene from the original mini-series in which Zipporah circumcises their son, saving Moses’ life, before Moses heads back to Egypt alone.

It never surprises me when a movie leaves out the circumcision scene, of course.  But what does surprise me is the way several of these movies about Moses have him leave his wife and son behind when he sets out for Egypt.  In other words, when Exodus 4:20 specifically says Moses took his wife and son with him to Egypt, why would this movie and a few others have him abandon them, even if only temporarily?  It is not as though they are going to get in the way, as can be seen from watching the movies where they do accompany Moses back to Egypt.  My guess is that this departure from the Bible is due to a feeling that domesticity and spirituality do not go together, so the producers of these movies figure that the less we see of Zipporah and Gershom, the better.

Anyway, Moses returns to Egypt, there are the ten plagues, and the Pharaoh finally allows the Hebrews to go.  The Great Borrowing does not take place, as in The Ten Commandments (1923), nor is gold and silver jewelry taken as reparations for slavery, as in The Ten Commandments (1956).  All we see is one Egyptian woman being granted a drink of water from a Hebrew when the first plague turns all the water into blood, after which she gives the Hebrew something in return, which I believe is a piece of gold jewelry.  Perhaps we are supposed to generalize from that scene, in which case the Hebrews get the jewelry by selling water to the Egyptians.  In any event, when the Hebrews arrive at Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai), Moses climbs it, and the people get tired of waiting for him to return, there is talk of “the treasure,” which we see is not only gold and silver jewelry, but also gold goblets and what have you.  Since this is a shortened version of the six-hour mini-series, perhaps the Great Borrowing was actually depicted but edited out for the version that I saw.

As usual, Aaron is shown to be reluctant about building the Golden Calf, it all being Dathan’s fault.  Moses returns and breaks the tablet with the Ten Commandments on them.  Following that, Exodus tells of how Moses gathered the Levites around them and ordered the slaughter of kith and kin:

32:27  And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

32:28  And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

The ways in which people are put to death in this movie are various:  one guy has liquid gold from the idol ladled down his throat; others are stoned to death; many are slain with arrows; and we see another man being thrown off a cliff.  Now, all this may seem a bit much just for building a graven image and dancing naked around it, so this movie tries to justify the slaughter by making the orgy that took place worse than that described in Exodus 32.  The movie shows a man being murdered and his woman being sacrificed to the Golden Calf, thus making the Hebrews seem a little more deserving of the death penalty.

Speaking of the death penalty, there is a scene earlier in the movie in which Moses explains the idea of the Sabbath, a day of rest.  Anyone who violates the Sabbath will be punished, he says.  As we know, Exodus says the punishment is death:

31:14  Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

In the movie, however, when someone asks Moses what the punishment for breaking the Sabbath will be, Moses answers, “We’ll think of that later.”  I snickered when I saw this scene, figuring it was the movie’s way avoiding something that might offend a modern audience, a tactic not uncommon in Bible movies.  Much to my surprise, however, when later in the movie a couple of men are caught chopping down a sapling on the Sabbath, Moses, having by now had a chance to think it over, orders that they be stoned to death, just as is written in Numbers 15:32-36.  We get to see the stoning of these men, which is pretty gruesome.  I guess the value of stoning as punishment lies in its participatory nature.  Only one man could put someone to the sword.  Perhaps several men could shoot arrows into a condemned man as a sort of primitive firing squad.  But the whole tribe can take part in a stoning, thereby strengthening the communal bonds.

In Numbers 20, the story is told where God informs Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the Promised Land, apparently because Moses was angry when he struck a stone to get water, or because he struck the stone twice instead of speaking to it, or because he did not believe what God said:

20:12  And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

At the end of the movie, Moses says he never really understood this “sin of doubt.”  That makes two of us.  Anyway, he speculates that Aaron’s sin was that he loved the people more than the Law, whereas he, Moses, loved the Law more than the people.  Presumably, this is the movie’s way of looking forward to the New Testament.

Greatest Heroes of the Bible (1978-1979)

The Story of Moses (1978) and The Ten Commandments (1979) are two parts of a television mini-series entitled Greatest Heroes of the Bible.  And there are two parts, in turn, to The Story of Moses, the first half of which appears not to be included on the DVD I watched, because the story starts when Moses (John Marley) has just returned to Egypt and has started making demands on the Pharaoh.  Presumably, that first part had the stuff about Moses being put in a basket, fleeing to Midian, marrying Zipporah, and seeing the burning bush.  On the other hand, the Pharaoh acts as though he has never seen Moses before or even heard of him, which belies the story that Moses was raised by the daughter of the previous Pharaoh.  But since I did not get to see the first part, I cannot explain this oddity.

From what I was able to see, in any event, there is not much remarkable about either of these two movies from the mini-series.  Nothing is said about God hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, and unlike The Ten Commandments (1956), which blamed it on the Pharaoh’s wife, in this movie the wife does all she can to soften his heart.  The hardening appears to be nothing but a character flaw.  There is nothing about the Great Borrowing in this film, nor is there any other explanation, like reparations for slavery, as to where the Hebrews got all the gold needed to make a Golden Calf.  In other words, instead of giving alternative explanations for problematic parts of the story as do some of the other Moses movies, these two movies just sidestep them altogether.

One thing the second of these two movies does not sidestep, however, is Aaron’s complicity in the building of the Golden Calf.  Though Exodus 32 shows no reluctance on Aaron’s part in gathering gold to fashion an idol, yet the movies usually depict him as resisting the idea.  This version of The Ten Commandments, however, takes the extra step of completely making up a story about his son Eleazar, in which he is almost murdered by a man who wants his wife.  Because Aaron is desperate for Eleazar to recover from being run through with a sword, he goes along with fabricating the Golden Calf in the hope that this god will do what the God of Moses has not.  So, whereas other movies simply show Aaron giving in to pressure, this movie further apologizes for him by adding a father’s love to the mix.

The funny thing is, no sooner do they make the Golden Calf and start dancing around it than Eleazar recovers.  If we didn’t already know the story, we might conclude that the Golden Calf is a god of great power, and that Aaron did the right thing in deciding to worship it.  But we know the fix is in.  The prima facie evidence for the efficacy of this idol notwithstanding, the Golden Calf has to go.

Moses (1995)

The title character of Moses (1995) is a far cry from the manly Moses played by Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956).  First of all, he is played by Ben Kingsley, whose screen persona is mostly determined by movies like Gandhi (1982) and Schindler’s List (1994).  As an example of the difference, Exodus tells of how Moses helped the seven daughters of the priest of Midian water their father’s flock when some shepherds tried to drive them away, but it does not say how he did this:

2:17  And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.

The Charlton Heston Moses of The Ten Commandments (1956) uses physical force to drive the shepherds back, and most of the other Moses movies that depict this scene show Moses using force as well, an exception being Moses the Lawgiver (1975), in which Moses’ commanding voice and imposing demeanor intimidates the shepherds; but the Ben Kingsley Moses bluffs the shepherds, making them think Egyptian soldiers will soon be arriving and will take their sheep.  He is the weakest Moses of any of the movies I watched.  Whereas the Heston Moses declares at Midian, “I will dwell in this land” (which is epic-speak for “I’m going to live here”), the Kingsley Moses wants to leave, but Jethro, the Midian priest, overwhelms him with his insistence that he stay, and, not knowing how to get out of it, Moses relents.  We also see Moses crying, and he is given the speech difficulties of the biblical Moses.

According to Exodus, Moses marries Zipporah and they have a son.  Years later, Moses encounters the burning bush and learns that God has a special purpose for him.  So, he takes Zipporah and his son and heads back to Egypt.  As in Moses the Lawgiver (1975), however, this movie shows him leaving his family behind; but unlike Moses the Lawgiver, we never see Zipporah again.  Jethro shows up and talks to Moses at one point, but he is by himself.  As noted in the review of the former movie, the reason for minimizing Zipporah and their two sons was likely the sense that a man with a wife and two children to support will not be able to dedicate himself fully to the plans that God has for him.  Perhaps another consideration is the sense we get from Exodus 18 that Moses sent Zipporah and his two sons back to Jethro because he was tired of them.  However you look at it, Moses just does not seem to be a good husband and father in the Bible, and movies have to work around that the best they can.

On some points, this movie seems to be a fairly authentic rendering of the Book of Exodus.  For example, unlike the Heston Moses, who is shocked to learn in a dramatic moment that he is a Hebrew, the Kingsley Moses and everyone else pretty much knows all along to which race he belongs, which is indicated in the original story (Exodus 2:11).  Furthermore, this movie fully accepts the biblical explanation for why the Pharaoh would not let the Hebrews go, to wit, that God kept hardening his heart.  Moses says at one point that God will keep hardening the Pharaoh’s heart until he thinks the time is right for the Hebrews to get their freedom.  Moreover, the Pharaoh (in this movie, Mermefta) is not the one who first threatens to kill all the firstborn of the Hebrews, as Rameses did in the 1956 movie, which then brought about the tenth plague in which all the firstborn Egyptians were killed instead.  Rather, this movie follows the Bible in having God make the first move against the firstborn of the Egyptians.

By this time I was starting to be impressed.  The elimination of Zipporah aside, the movie really seemed to be following the Book of Exodus.  For a moment, I thought I was actually going to see a depiction of the Hebrews intruding on grieving Egyptian families so they could borrow all their jewelry just before they left town.  But at this point, the producers of this movie had a failure of nerve.  Scenes of the Great Borrowing were apparently deemed unsuitable for our consumption.  It is not even referred to.

That aside, the movie once again follows the Bible in the parting of the Red Sea, which according to Exodus 14:21, was brought about by an east wind that blew all night.  And this may be as good a point as any to say that while this Moses movie may be more faithful to the original story in many ways, the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments is by far the greater movie.  I got bored watching the Kingsley Moses hold his staff out all night long while waiting for the sea to part.  In fact, in this and many other ways, this movie seems to drag on forever.  Dramatically speaking, I’ll take the Heston Moses, who says, “Behold his mighty hand!” after which the Rea Sea parts before our very eyes.

Eventually, they come to Mount Sinai, where God tells Moses to get the people sanctified before he will speak to them.  In the movie, Moses tells the people to wash their clothes and tells the men not to have sex with their wives for three days, just as in the Bible, but the movie leaves out the part where any person or any animal that touches Mount Sinai during a three-day period must be put to death.  When God does speak, this is dramatized in the movie by having the Hebrews spontaneously utter the words of God themselves, as if they are all divinely inspired.  Beginning in Exodus 20, Moses receives the Ten Commandments, orally at first, along with a bunch of additional jaw-dropping laws, such as the one that tells you the proper way to sell your daughter into slavery, that no movie, including this one, will have anything to do with.  In the end, however, only the Ten Commandments are engraved on the two tablets.

There is no Dathan in this movie.  Taking his place is Zerack, but since he is not mentioned in the Book of Exodus either, they might just as well have kept Dathan.  Perhaps people producing these Moses movies feel the need to show their independence from what came before, even if only in small ways, so Dathan is replaced by Zerack just as Rameses is replaced by Mermefta.  In any event, Zerack is just as thick-headed in his skepticism as Dathan was in the 1956 movie, never believing in God for more than five minutes after the last miracle.  And just as in the 1956 movie, it is Zerack who is primarily responsible for making the Golden Calf, with Aaron giving in reluctantly after much pressure, instead of freely going along with the idea, as told in Exodus 32.  No reference is made to where the Hebrews got enough gold to make the calf, however, neither by way of the Great Borrowing nor by way of the reparations for slavery in the 1956 movie.  We are just left to suppose that these former slaves had that much gold jewelry all along.

When Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and sees what is going on, he becomes angry.  Now, just prior to that, according to Exodus 32, God was angry about the exact same thing, and Moses admonished him so much that God “repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (32:14).  But Moses ends up doing the very evil he talked God out of.  First, he breaks the tablets.  Following that, Exodus 32 tells of how Moses gathered the Levites around them and ordered the slaughter of kith and kin.  We only get to see a light version of this part of the story in the movie.  Moses orders the killing to begin, and it appears that maybe twenty or thirty men are killed, somewhat less than the biblical three thousand.  Still, it is pretty crude seeing Moses put a bunch of people to death just for sculpting a cow.

After Zerack is dispatched in the massacre, Miriam takes his place as a malcontent.  Numbers 11 tells of how the people began grumbling about not having meat and vegetables to eat, nothing but the same old manna day after day, and in the movie, Miriam becomes the spokesman for this grievance.  For that she is struck with leprosy.  As we know, Numbers 12 tells us that she got leprosy when she and Aaron objected to Moses marrying an Ethiopian woman, but no such woman is to be seen in this movie.  You would think that once the decision has been made to omit the story about Moses marrying an Ethiopian woman, the people making the movie would cut Miriam a break and omit the leprosy too.  After all, the leprosy was supposed to be condign punishment:

12:10  And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.

As a technical matter, leprosy does not turn people white, so this disease was probably confused with something else that does.  But whatever it was that turned Miriam white, it was as if God was saying, “So you think it is wrong for Moses to marry a black woman, huh?  You think being white is superior, do you?  Well, I’ll show you white.  Take that!”

Notwithstanding the fact that this specific punishment goes with that specific sin, for some reason, this movie and the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments omit the Ethiopian woman but still afflict Miriam with leprosy.  It is as if the idea of Miriam having leprosy was too satisfying to let go, and so they just came up with some other reason to punish her.

While we are on the subject, The Ten Commandments:  The Musical (2006), starring Val Kilmer as Moses, does not deserve a separate review, but is worthy of a comment here.  It is basically the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments stripped down to the bare essentials, not only because it is only two hours long, but also because it is a musical, and time must be allowed for a lot of singing and dancing.  Nevertheless, Zipporah is played by Nita Whitaker, who is African American.  I guess this would go with the theory that Moses had only one wife, Zipporah, who was the Ethiopian woman all along.  But when Moses takes her to Egypt, and Miriam sees her, she voices no objection, and she does not get leprosy.  Make of that what you will.

As for the present movie, it continues on with the story of Moses and that of the Hebrews as told in subsequent books of the Bible, ending when Moses realizes he can never cross the Jordan.

The Ten Commandments (2006)

The Ten Commandments (2006) follows the 1956 movie of the same name in having the Pharaoh decide to kill all the newly born males on account of a prophecy about a Hebrew baby being born that will become a great leader of his people, causing Egypt much trouble, rather than the biblical account, in which the slaughter of infant boys was motivated by a fear of increasing military might on the part of the Hebrews.  The movie differs from the one in 1956, however, in that when Moses (Dougray Scott) grows to be a man, he has no interest in being a warrior, and says later on that he had no training as a soldier.  In fact, his stepbrother says he is “much more at home in a library.”  Furthermore, Moses finds out while still a child that he is a Hebrew.  This is somewhat in keeping with Exodus 2, which suggests that he knew this early on:

2:11  And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren.

2:12  And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

In the movie, however, instead of Moses killing an Egyptian for hitting a Hebrew, he kills the man for trying to rape a Hebrew woman right in front of her husband.  Perhaps this modification in the story is motivated by a desire to make things more relevant to our greater sensitivity to sexual assault these days.  Anyway, to avoid punishment, Moses takes to the desert and ends up at the well at Midian, where he drives the shepherds away from the daughters of Jethro.

He eventually marries Zipporah and takes her and their son with him back to Egypt after the burning bush episode.  But when it appears that the Pharaoh, Ramses II, is going to be difficult about letting the Hebrews go, Moses sends Zipporah and their son back home.

There is no reference to the Pharaoh’s heart being hardened, so no one is said to be the cause of such.  After the tenth plague, when the firstborn in each Egyptian family is killed by an angel of the Lord, Ramses finally relents.  I have already discussed how different movies have different names and relations regarding the Egyptians and Moses, but this movie is especially weird.  Moses’ stepbrother is Menerith, and it is Ramses who refuses to let the Hebrews go.  At first, I thought that meant Ramses was the father of Menerith, but that wouldn’t make sense, because he or some older sibling would have been the firstborn of Ramses that died in the tenth plague and not some little boy, which was the case in this movie.  (I say “sibling,” because the sex of the firstborn is not specified in Exodus 12 or in any of the movies.  And yet, I don’t think I saw any female firstborns die, so I cannot be sure.)

Up to this point, all Moses has demanded is that the Hebrews be allowed to leave, taking their possessions and livestock with them.  But just as Ramses says they can go, Moses throws in another demand:  “Before they leave, their masters and mistresses will give them gold and silver as tribute for the labor of four hundred years.”  In other words, the Great Borrowing does not take place in this movie.  Like the 1956 movie, the gold and silver is given to the Hebrews as reparations for slavery, the only difference being that in the 1956 movie, Rameses simply tells Moses to take the stuff without being asked, while here it becomes a last-minute item in Moses’ demands.

Things proceed as usual until sometime after the crossing of the Red Sea, when we get to the battle with the Amalekites, which is covered in Exodus 17.  This includes a rather bizarre bit about Moses keeping his hands up in the air:

17:11  And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

17:12  But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

The problem with this story is that it goes beyond the more or less acceptable forms of divine intervention that we expect in a religious movie and puts us into the realm of magic and silly superstition.  So, I wondered if it would be depicted in the movie.  The answer came very quickly, when Moses announced that there would be no miracles in this battle, that the Hebrews would have to win it themselves.  Moses does stand on a hill overlooking the battle, holding up his staff, and when he gets tired and lowers his hand, Aaron helps him hold it up.  That’s not bad.  It looks as though the staff, which has acquired a great deal of symbolic significance by now, acts like a flag.  As long as a flag flies during a battle, the thinking goes, soldiers are inspired to fight on; but should the flag fall to the ground, soldiers become dispirited.  So, I count this as a pretty decent rendering for modern audiences.

Later on, Jethro shows up with Zipporah and her two sons.  This part of the story in Exodus 18 is ambiguous as to whether Jethro later left by himself, leaving Zipporah and her two sons with Moses, or Jethro took his daughter and her sons with him.  The movie decides that Zipporah and her sons leave with Jethro.  Moses gives as a reason why she can’t stay with him that he has too much of the Lord’s work to do to have a family as well, but it is not very convincing.  With all the thousands of Hebrew families he has following him, it would seem that his own family tagging along would impose no great burden.

Early in the movie, we found out that Moses liked to spend time in the library.  This prepares us for a flashback that Moses has, in which an Egyptian priest tells him about Akhenaten, a Pharaoh that promoted the idea of monotheism, and it is suggested that this is where Moses got the idea that there is only one God, a theory advanced by Freud in Moses and Monotheism.  This is unusual for a Moses movie.  Normally, these movies make it look as though it was the Hebrews who first discovered God’s existence as a fact, not that monotheism is an idea, whether conceived of originally by the Hebrews or borrowed by them from Egyptian culture.  I suspect this scene about Akhenaten was thrown in as a sop to sophistication.

What follows is an interesting sequence, completely made up for the movie.  A man and a woman, both of whom are married, have an affair.  The woman’s husband surprises them while they are naked in a pool.  The husband starts abusing his wife, and the paramour kills him.  They hide the body.  When it is discovered, an innocent man is accused of murder.  When Moses asks for proof, the paramour steps forward and bears false witness against him.  The man is tied up so he can be stoned to death.  The adulteress is given the privilege of throwing the first stone, since it was her husband the man supposedly murdered, but Moses stops her.  I guess he had a hunch.  Eventually, she and her paramour confess, and they are tied up for stoning.  While dozens stand around with stones in their hands, Moses picks one up.  We think ahead to the New Testament.  Will Moses, a man guilty of murder himself, cast the first stone?  You’re darn right he will.  He throws it hard and true.  Many more stones follow, and the two adulterers are killed.

Anyway, it sure seems as though these people are in need of some Commandments, especially the ones about adultery, murder, and bearing false witness.  Of course, such things still go on in the world and always will, but I guess the idea is that the Ten Commandments will at least put a check on this sort of thing.  So, Moses climbs Mount Sinai to get the tablets, and while he is away, the people start demanding a Golden Calf.  Once again, Aaron is shown to be reluctant and overwhelmed by the demands of the malcontents, unlike the story in the Bible, which indicates complete willingness on his part.

In Exodus 32, after Moses gets back, becomes angry, breaks the tablets, and destroys the Golden Calf, he orders those who are on his side to stand with him:

32:27  And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

32:28  And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

This movie gives us the whole hog.  Men are slaughtered right and left.  Then, when the battle is over, Moses is asked what should be done about the ones that surrendered, to which he answers, “No quarter!”

Most of the time, biblical movies try to avoid depicting scenes from the Bible in which a religious figure does something that would be morally offensive to a modern audience.  But this movie is actually more outrageous than the original story.  As indicated above, the Bible says that three thousand men were killed that day.  But the movie shows women and children being put to the sword.  Not that that would be out of character, for we know that women and children will be slaughtered by the Hebrews under Joshua’s command in the process of taking back the Promised Land.  Still, it is strange that we would see women and children being murdered when there is no indication of such happening in this particular story in Exodus.

In any event, when the killing was all done, it made me think of a line from Ninotchka (1939).  To paraphrase Greta Garbo’s classic remark, “They now have fewer but better Hebrews.”

Exodus:  Gods and Kings (2014)

The first thing we notice about Exodus:  Gods and Kings (2014) is the photography, even if we did not see it in 3D in the theater.  I assume it is digital photography of some sort, but whatever it is, I always get a feeling of revulsion whenever I see a movie that uses it.  However, I won’t belabor my personal preferences for ordinary film.  Another stylistic difference is the absence of the grandiose speaking often found in movies depicting an ancient epic, especially in The Ten Commandments (1956).  In this film, ordinary colloquial English is used, albeit with just enough accent so that people don’t sound as if they are from Nebraska.

Style aside, this movie follows the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments in making Moses (Christian Bale) an Egyptian general or at least a high-ranking officer.  A major difference between these two movies, however, is the attitude toward the supernatural.  In the 1956 movie, we never have any doubt that God exists and is actively causing all the miracles.  At one point, Rameses dismisses the plagues as a sequence of natural phenomena:

I too was afraid, until word came of a mountain beyond the cataracts which spewed red mud and poisoned the water.  Was it the staff I gave you that caused all this?  Was it the wonder of your god that fish should die and frogs should leave the waters?  Was it a miracle that flies and lice should bloat upon their carrion and spread disease in both man and beast? These things were ordered by themselves, not by any god.

But we know better.  The plagues are God’s doing.  In Exodus:  Gods and Kings, on the other hand, the story is naturalized and secularized, God’s existence not being required:  Moses is told by Zipporah that he was hit on the head, and so whatever he thinks he saw was just a hallucination; the plagues of Egypt seem to unfold in the manner described by the Rameses of the 1956 movie; and the Red Sea parts owing to a tsunami, perhaps caused by a comet. It’s no wonder that Dathan in this movie seems superfluous.  Who needs a skeptic in a movie that is itself skeptical?  I suppose the idea of denuding this movie of the supernatural is to make the story more acceptable to a modern audience.  But this is misguided.  People who believe in the literal truth of the Bible will find this rendering disappointing, and people who do not take these stories seriously don’t care.  It’s not as though once we have purged God from the Bible, what is left over is historical fact; so you might as well tell the tale in all its supernatural glory, much in the way we do with any other myth.  I mean, who wants to see a remake of Jason and the Argonauts (1963) in which everything that happens is explained as a natural phenomenon?

Is it my imagination, or were there subtle allusions to the holocaust in this film?  When the Egyptian soldiers were searching for Moses’ relatives, who then hid in a secret place beneath the floor, it called to my mind scenes in which a Jewish family would hide from the Nazis when they came to their house.  This ties in with a scene toward the end of the movie, just after the parting of the Red Sea, in which Moses expresses his misgivings about what will happen when all his people enter Canaan.  In other words, he is worried about the genocidal slaughter described in Joshua, Deuteronomy, and Samuel, in which everyone in a conquered city is put to death.  My favorite is in Joshua:

6:21  And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

And this raises a question I have often wondered about.  It was a common practice in the ancient world for the conquerors of a people to kill all the men and enslave the women and children.  If there are any historians, amateur or professional, reading this, I would like to know if the Jews were the first people to kill all the women and children also.  If so, that would be an ironic bookend to the holocaust of the twentieth century.

In any event, the people that produced this movie apparently liked the idea put forward in the 1956 version that it was Rameses who first threatened to kill all the firstborn Hebrews (in this case, only those that are still children), making it look as though he started it, thereby precipitating the tenth plague as a kind of turnabout’s fair play.

The orgy of the Golden Calf is all but omitted from this movie.  If you didn’t already know the story, you would never know that what was what going on in the background, briefly glimpsed, while Moses chisels the tablets.  Therefore, there is no need to say where the Hebrews got the gold to make this notorious idol.  As a result, neither the biblical account of the Great Borrowing, as described in the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments, nor the reparations-for-slavery account, as put forward by the 1956 movie, is used as an explanation.

After that, the movie jumps ahead to when Moses is very old.  I cannot tell if Zipporah is still around or not, but in any event, there is no Ethiopian wife to be seen.  Now, it was one thing for the 1956 version to avoid divorce and miscegenation, but this is the twenty-first century.  Moses could have divorced Zipporah and married the Ethiopian woman, no sweat.  Or Zipporah could have been the Ethiopian wife all along.  MaryAnn Johanson, of Flick Filosopher, wrote an entire review of this movie complaining that there were too many white people in it.  Seeing Moses married to a black woman would have filled an aching need.

Finally, there is the business about the child.  Exodus is ambiguous as to who it is that talks to Moses from the burning bush.  Either it is an angel of the Lord:

3:2  And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

Or it is God himself:

3:4  And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

Notwithstanding this initial ambiguity, however, subsequent verses strongly indicate that it is God who is talking to Moses:

3:14  And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

If it had been an angel talking to Moses, I should think the angel would have said, “HE IS THAT HE IS.”

And so, when a child appears during the burning bush scene and starts talking to Moses, I just figured it was God.  However, some critics go with the interpretation that Malak is just a representative of God.  Now, it is not as though the child says, “I’m Malak, an angel of the Lord.”  We would not even know that “Malak” is his name were it not listed as such in the credits.  Since “malak” is a word for angel, however, it does suggest that the producers of this movie thought of him as such.

Whichever it is, the idea that God (or his representative) is a child naturally resulted in various critics cracking wise, saying that the Old Testament God does act like a spoiled brat, but a more serious explanation for this bizarre representation of God is required.  Several theories have been advanced, and there are the reasons given by Ridley Scott, who directed this movie, but I have a pet theory of my own.  During the decade in which The Ten Commandments (1956) was made, the heroes in movies were typically bachelors.  The hero might get married at the end of the movie, but as often as not he remained single.  As the years went by, however, and the baby boomers got married and started having children, heroes in the movies began to follow suit.  And so the Lethal Weapon movies featured a married cop with children and another cop, a widower almost suicidal in grief.  The Die Hard movies feature a married cop as well, estranged from his wife, at least in the first of that series.  A child plays a big role in each of Aliens and Terminator 2.  And so on.  This is not an absolute distinction between then and now, of course, but rather a question of frequency.  In a similar way, political speeches back in the 1950s were relatively sparing in their references to children, whereas politicians of the last thirty years or so have really been laying it on thick when it comes to families and children.

And so, in a society that seems to be saturated with the importance of family and children, a bachelor God seems a little out of step with the times.  I suppose the movie could have given God a wife (the future Virgin Mary, perhaps?), but that might be a little too much.  Instead, making God a child not only was a safer way for the movie to conform to this recent trend, but also gave us a metaphor for the way our society sometimes seems to worship children.

3 thoughts on “Moses Movies

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