Special documentary about Kush

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A friend sent me a link to this National Geographic special about the Cushite dynasty in Egypt (content is US/US proxy only). You can watch the full documentary on the PBS website, here. There’s also a lot of very interesting information about the Ancient Egyptian propaganda machine.

As far as I can recall, we’ve only met the Cushites on two occasions: In Genesis 10, Cush is listed as a son of Ham, and the father of Nimrod, the great hunter. According to my study Bible: “An old fragment of tradition relates how Nimrod, a successful warrior, built a kingdom in Shinar (Babylonia) and Assyria.” In the documentary, they talk about the conflicts between the Cushite dynasty in Egypt and the Assyrians.

The second mention comes in Numbers 12, where Moses’ wife, Zipporah, is described as a “Cushite,” and his siblings don’t seem to like her for this reason. Suggesting, perhaps, that their dislike for her was a race issue.

History Channel’s The Bible: Episode 3, “Homeland”

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Forty years after the events of the last episode (in narrative time, it hasn’t actually been that long since I wrote that post!), we open with Joshua praying in a deep, melodious voice that I am sure gets that actor oodles of gigs as a movie trailer narrator. The prayer serves to establish Joshua’s character – both his identity and goal.

His prayers over, we then zoom up Joshua’s nostril has he tells his spies to sneak into Jericho, and then into the spies’ nostrils as they agree.

We really get right up there.

We really get right up there.

I pointed out in my review of episodes 1 & 2 that the series tends to make up details to make the baddies seem like actual baddies, rather than just guys who happen to have settled in the wrong area (or, in Lot’s wife’s case, had complex feelings about leaving her home forever). So, of course, the figures of authority – apparently something like police officers – in Jericho are complete jerks. Right off the bat, one of them calls Rahab a “whore” and acts like a complete creepster.

The spies are fairly incompetent, and have perhaps forgotten to wear britches because everyone in town recognizes them immediately. They spend their time in Jericho running from alley to alley, recognized by more people at each turn, pursued by an ever-growing mob. Finally, they settle on the winning strategy of holding a knife to Rahab’s son’s throat and threatening to kill him unless Rahab protects them. Which, for some reason, doesn’t make them baddies. Rahab, like everyone else in town, immediately recognizes the Israelites, to which they reply, “you’ve heard of us?” As if they haven’t just spent the better part of the evening running from an entire town full of people who’ve heard of them and recognize them. At least the show managed to stay true to the text in making these the worst spies in the history of espionage.

Rahab agrees to delay the guards while the spies escape, either because she’s wowed by their super powerful deity or because they’ve just been holding a knife to her son’s throat. With a big third wall-breaking smirk, one of the spies gives her a red cord and tells her to tie it to her doorpost so that “you’ll be passed over.” Get it? Like the Israelites in Egypt? Get it??

When they get back to camp, they tell Joshua that the battle’s already half won because the citizens of Jericho believe that God is on the Israelite side. Joshua snaps at then, “God is on our side!” Yeah, dude, they know. That wasn’t the point. In fact, this happens several times during the episode. Some character will use “they think” language, and a Holy character will pause for a moment to shout, full froth, that God really really is with them, and then everyone resumes the scene as if nothing happened. I can just imagine some guy in the screenwriter circle with serious anger issues demanding that the line be added, in full caps, at regular intervals throughout the script. Perhaps he even brought a Bible along so that he could thump it to accentuate every second word.

The hapless spies failed to find a way into the city, but the angel of the Lord comes to Joshua and gives him the “Walls of Jericho” choreography. It’s the black one this time. We’ll see the white one later. The Asian band of our rainbow was apparently benched for this episode.

Bible_03_02_The Angel of the Lord

When the walls of Jericho fall, Joshua yells something that sounded something like “he truly is the saviour of the world” – or, perhaps, “this truly is the centre of the world.” Either way, it makes little sense in this context. Unless, of course, our True Believer scriptwriter wanted to remind everyone that Jesus is what it’s all about, even in the Old Testament.

Must more fitting with the tone of the Deuteronomic history is Joshua’s other shout: “If we obey the Lord, anything is possible!”

Samson

A hundred years pass and the Philistines are being jerks. The show introduces the concept of judges (plural), but completely skips most of them over to get to Samson – a strong black man with dreadlocks. In Judges 16:19, a reference is made to Samson’s “seven locks.” Some – particularly those in the Rastafari faith system – believe that this indicates that Samson may have worn dreadlocks. I found it interesting to see that theme taken up here.

Choosing to make Samson black is interesting, too, especially given the direction in which they decided to take the story. Rather than being the personal revenge story we get in the text, here it’s depicted as a sort of defence of interracial marriage – further, it’s one where our sympathetic character is the person of colour. Samson and his mother are black, whereas the Philistines are all portrayed as white.

Samson with Delilah

Samson with Delilah

To make it work, they’ve written out the lion and the riddle and the first wife’s betrayal. Instead, the Philistines murder Samson’s wife (by setting her on fire, no less) because “our people should never mix.”

Except that it isn’t quite that simple. The Philistines (you can tell they are baddies because they all wear Jack Sparrow eyeliner) are shown to be against Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman from the start, but so is Samson’s mother. At her own son’s wedding, she is shown pursing her lips judgementally, prompting Samson to ask her what she wants from him. “What would you have me do? Reject the woman I fell in love with just because she’s a Philistine?”

Bible_03_Wedding

Because it’s a lot harder to CGI burning foxes than just to have a couple of stunt doubles wail on each other, Samson’s revenge involves the latter as he shouts, “for my wife!”

JAWBOWNED!

JAWBOWNED!

As in the text, Samson escapes and hides in a cave for a bit.

Also like the text, the Philistines start harassing nearby Israelites (in this case, Samson’s mother is included in the group). The History Channel couldn’t help but to add a little Hollywood flair, however, as the Philistines pull the old “for every arbitrary unit of time you make us wait for Samson, we will kill one of you! Starting NOW!” canard. The Israelites find Samson and convince him to submit.

The Philistines have Samson in chains, there’s a baddie/goodie exchange, Samson breaks free, then comes the jawbone.

It’s on his escape from his fight that Samson meets Delilah, violently grabbing a water jug out of her hands and then, inexplicably, thanking her as though he’d asked for it like a normal human being. This apparently sets Delilah swooning.

The Philistines approach Delilah and try to convince her to betray Samson. At first, they argue that he’s been going around butchering Philistines – entirely the impression of the text, but a lie in the context of the History Channel’s spin on the story. Delilah is unconvinced, “He’s changed, he’s a different man since he’s met me.” I mean, sure, he was covered in Philistine blood when she met him, but he hasn’t even tried to commit genocide since!

What finally convinces her is the offer of money. That meshes with the text, but it feels worse here, somehow. Delilah is portrayed as having genuine affection for Samson, defending him and even crying when he is captured. Yet her greed overrides her affection to the point that she methodically sheers his hair while he sleeps, with no indication of internal conflict.

As in the text, Samson is blinded. Where the adaptation deviates, however, is that it has him brought to Dagon’s temple immediately. When Samson regains his strength, it is through prayer only. There has been no time for his hair to grow, so the History Channel has chosen to just skip over the possible pagan elements that, I suppose might have been theologically troubling to their resident Bible thumper – the one who peppers his speech with shouts of “God is with us!” – even when simply discussing the weather or how to conquer nearby cities.

Finally, we get the Hollywood trick of having Samson’s mother pulling rubble away to reveal her son, and Samson’s chapter ends with her crying over his corpse.

Samson’s mother features quite prominently in the adaptation. In the text, she’s unnamed – clearly important, and it’s notable that God speaks to her rather than her husband, but still rather effaced. Here, however, the reverse is the case. Samson’s mother is written into a number of scenes, while her husband is entirely absent. Anyone who didn’t already know the story might well get the impression that her pregnancy was, like Mary’s, one that needed no human help getting started.

Of course, she receives the news of her pregnancy from the creepiest angel ever. Seriously, the guy is as bad as a Jerichoite. God’s HR department needs to have a sensitivity course with its angels to talk about personal space, I think.

Bible_03_03_Creeper Angel

Samuel

Micah’s idol, the concubine’s rape, and the ark’s adventures are all skipped over, and we move straight into Samuel’s old age. The voice over tells us that poor Samuel tried his best to unite the Israelites to fight against the Philistines, but he has failed.

Unlike his text self, he assumes that his sons will succeed him, and defends him from the Israelite accusations that they are corrupt and have been accepting bribes. He is clearly meant to be a goodie, but his resistance to the monarchy is not explained. Given the lack of eyeliner on the Israelites asking for a king, they seem to be sympathetic characters too. Rather than coming across like a legitimate question that is up in the air, it ends up just looking like Samuel is a horrible guy and a bad leader who the show really really wants to convince us is on the good side. The whole scene feels awkward and rushed.

Samuel explicitly personalizes the rejection of his sons and the judge system, crying out that the people “have rejected me” and adding “and you, God” as though it were an afterthought.

When God shows Samuel the king he’s chosen, Samuel says, “that could never be me. But I will still be your prophet!” I don’t know what impression I was supposed to draw from Samuel’s scene, but it struck me like a corrupt old man scrambling to keep hold of power. Like I said, it was awkwardly done.

In a nice touch of framing, we return into a nostril as the episode comes to a close.

Bible_03_08_Saul 2

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Watching the Ten Commandments, Part II

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I’ve finally gotten around to watching the second part of The Ten Commandments with Yule Brenner and Charleton Heston. It’s only been 2.5 years, which is fairly par for the course as far as my movie-watching habits go. If you need a refresher (why would you?), you can find my review of Part I here.

The first part of the movie covers Moses’s early life in Egypt, his flight to Midian, meeting Zipporah, and closes with Moses returning from his first encounter with God. The second part sees his return to Egypt, the plagues, Israel’s escape from Egypt, the parting of the sea, the issuing of the decalogue, and ends with Moses heading off to die.

10Commandments1When Moses first returns to Egypt (uneventfully, there’s no Exodus 4:24-26), he confronts Rameses while the latter is accepting tributes. Notably, one of the tributes is offered by a certain Priam of Troy who is, inexplicably, dressed like a blue Roman soldier. The dating for this to be the Priam of Troy is possible depending on your historian of choice.

Moses has Aaron pull his staff-into-snake trick (the literal passing of the baton as incomprehensible on screen as it was in text). When Rameses’s son flinches, there’s a bit of nasty foreshadowing when his mother, Nefretiri, tells him not to worry because “nothing of his [Moses’s] will harm you.” The scene ends, as in the text, with Pharaoh punishing the Hebrews by making them make bricks without straw – though in the movie version he allows them to collect gleanings. Unless I’m mistaken, this is an addition.

Now, we never really see the Israelites making these bricks. When we see them working in Part I, they are pulling blocks of stone around, presumably because someone thought it was more dramatic. In context, it’s rather funny to see them griping about not being allowed to make their stone blocks with straw, though.

Nefretiri plays a fairly common femme fatale/Lady Macbeth character. She tries to tempt Moses,  is rebuffed, then lashes out by holding the Israelites hostage. In the text, we are told that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he has more opportunities to show off how mighty he is. Here, it is Nefretiri who convinces Rameses to keep the Hebrews captive (ostensibly to get back at Moses, though Rameses later accuses her of doing it to keep Moses around).

10CommandmentsThe plagues are largely skipped over. Given the costs involved in showing them, it’s quite understandable. We do see a few glimpses, though, such as the hail storm from Exodus 9:24. Interestingly, while most translations have it as a hail storm with lightning, others have it as “hail and fire.” In the movie, they had this as regular hail that, for some reason, ignites on the backdrop while failing to set Rameses – who is standing in it – on fire.

Strangely, Rameses denies the miraculous nature of the plagues, coming up with a naturalistic explanation – despite the fact that he watched, just a few minutes prior, the water in his jug turn to blood. The scene felt like a rather heavy-handed attack on the movement in biblical scholarship to find natural explanations for miracles.

The film-makers seem to have been understandably troubled by the slaughter of the first born from Exodus 12. Rather than God just doing it because he can, the film-makers chose to have Rameses order the slaughter of the first-born Israelites first (echoing the killing that brought Moses into the royal household in the first place), making the supernatural plague a retaliation. That being said, Moses is the jerk who, when Rameses relents, starts rattling off all the people and stuff he’s going to take with him when he leaves as Nefretiri is onscreen holding her dead child.

They also add a strange detail – Nefretiri comes to Moses’s home and sends away Zipporah and her son. Perhaps this was included to prevent the audience from seeing her as a full baddie. The film-makers also seem to really like Bithiah – the princess who finds the baby Moses. On the night of the plague, she defects to the Israelite side and, during their eventual escape, brings an old man onto her palanquin.

In the movie version, the Israelites are released when Rameses thinks that it might save his son. They do not lie and escape under false pretences. They do still steal from the Egyptians, though, only in the movie, it seems to be a foreshadowing of the Golden Calf story, showing the greed/vice that the movie will tie explicitly to that episode. It is not commanded by God, as it was in Exodus.

Joshua features far more prominently than he does in the text at this point. Not only is he seen to be organizing the escaping Israelites, he is also given a love interest – Lilia, who is married (or perhaps simply cohabitating) with Dathan. Dathan, too, sees his role expanded from a minor baddie in Numbers 16 to a traitor/overseer, maybe-rapist, and the principal instigator of the Golden Calf incident.

10Commandments2Speaking of which, Korah is there as well, though only as a brief name-drop. When Moses throws the tablets down in anger upon finding the people worshipping an idol and getting up to all sorts of nasty business (everything from partying to attempted human sacrifice), the ground under the idolaters opens up, as it does in Numbers 16. This is quite different from the Golden Calf story in the text, where Moses has the faithful cut the idolaters down with swords. This wouldn’t, I suspect, have fit with the image they were trying to present.

At least Aaron is seen to be centrally involved in the making of the Calf.

Interestingly, Moses curses the idolaters by telling them that “for this you shall drink bitter waters.” This seems to be a reference to Numbers 5, but that was a test, not a curse, and was used on women suspected of adultery. I think it likely that a script-writer just wanted a “biblical-sounding curse” and that’s what someone came up with.

On the whole, I found Part II much slower and duller than the first. Then again, much of it could simply be because I’ve never been a fan of action sequences. I tend to listen to movies rather than watch them; I need to keep my hands busy, so I do other things and only look up occasionally. For me, a long action sequence is nothing but a bunch of fast-paced music and, depending on the movie, the sound of explosions. I did try to actively watch The Ten Commandments – easy enough while my paintbrush was replaced with a pen for taking notes – but the long periods without dialogue toward the end of the movie had me fidgeting all over the place.

Even so, it was an interesting movie. It’s very clearly dated by its special effects and acting style, but it was interesting to see what they did with source material that doesn’t lend itself easily to film adaptation. I found it particularly interesting to re-watch the movie after Noah has come out. I haven’t actually seen Noah yet, but I’ve heard complaints from many quarters about how unfaithful it is to the source material, whereas the only complaints I’ve heard about The Ten Commandments have to do with hammy acting. This is something I particularly noticed with The History Channel’s The Bible, since that has been getting a lot of play in churches, despite clearly inventing a lot of details that contradict the text. One might be excused for assuming that the reaction to embellishment is guided more by whether they mesh with the viewer’s preconceived ideas than simply their presence.

History Channel’s The Bible: Episodes 1 & 2, “Beginnings” and “Exodus”

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I’ve finally gotten around to watching the first two episodes of the History Channel’s The Bible miniseries (I wanted to wait on the rest of the episodes because, you know, spoilers). The episodes, titled Beginnings and Exodus, cover the events of the Pentateuch – from Genesis to Deuteronomy.

The Bible

Conceptually, having Bible stories at all on something called the History Channel isn’t problem-free. Even among theologians, the idea that the Bible is primarily historical truth isn’t exactly considered a settled matter. But I, personally, am okay with it. Whether or not the stories are historical in a literal sense, they are certainly worth discussing in a historical context. I’d feel the same way about a History Channel Trojan War miniseries. And, at least, the series begins with a card screen telling us that it is “an adaptation of Bible stories.”

The problem is that the card screen also tells us that “it endeavors to stay true to the spirit of the book,” which is a rather misleading statement.

Throughout the episodes, the authors’ theological slant is plainly evident in what they change, what they add, and what they leave out. In several cases, the departures are significant, and they colour interpretation.

The most obvious example of what I mean is what I like to call the “Hot Jesus Injections.” Throughout the episodes, there are glimpses and hints of Jesus, even though it covers only the events from Genesis through to Deuteronomy. One of the three angels that come to Abraham (wearing a hood of a different colour from the two others, of course) always has his back turned to the camera or is seen out of focus, yet he is quite clearly the actor who will play Jesus later on in the film.

The same actor also provides the voice of God whenever he speaks to the patriarchs (and Sarah). This comes out rather silly because, of course, they chose an actor who could portray a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He can hardly muster the thunderous boom of the Old Testament God. So what we get are the patriarchs getting thrown about by these violent storms, seeing these great acts of nature, and then this totally chill, stoner voice with a slight reverb coming down from the skies. It’s decidedly underwhelming.

Which brings me to the subject of race. There’s some attempt to at least get white people with brown eyes and dirty-blonde hair at the lightest, so I guess that’s a start – and the angels accompanying God tick off a few diversity boxes – but I expect a Bible-based miniseries coming out in 2013 to do a whole lot better than White Jesus.

White Jesus

Several narratives are altered to make them less morally troubling. For example, turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt just because she looked back at her home as she flees is troubling, to put it lightly. So they set her up early on as someone who is chronically contrary, making sure that the audience will be predisposed not to see her as a victim.

When God tells Abraham to go into Canaan, Lot’s wife argues against the idea. Later, when they arrive, they find that they have so many animals that they cannot graze them all together. In the Bible, Abraham proposes that they separate, so Lot heads off to Sodom. But in the miniseries, it’s Lot’s wife who nags Lot into separating, clearly against Abraham’s wishes. That’s not just filling in the gaps to make a more compelling narrative for a screen adaptation, that’s outright contradicting the source material to fit a theological agenda. Just to make it even more clear that Lot’s wife totally deserves what’s coming to her, the miniseries has her scoff at faith in “a god we cannot see.”

All of this makes it absolutely silly when Abraham goes on about how he’s been promised “as many descendants as the stars, to populate our land.” This comes right after his separation from Lot because the land is already full with just their two households. Maybe he should adjust his ambitions a little…

The destruction of Sodom and God’s conversation with Abraham surrounding that event really struck me. In the biblical story, God is all in a huff and will destroy the whole city, but Abraham argues with him and manages to talk him down a bit – at least enough for God to send the angels in to find any good men. But in the miniseries, the conversation is about Abraham discovering Jesus’ plan, and Jesus being all “don’t worry, bro. I got this.”

Lot never offers up his daughters to the city-dwellers, and he never sleeps with them after. There’s also no mention of Abraham prostituting his wife (twice). But the narrator makes a special point of the fact that Lot “never saw Abraham again” after he fled from Sodom – which, even if it fits with the biblical narrative, was certainly not something that attention was drawn to. I cannot figure out why the miniseries chose to highlight this. Given that the narrator is used so seldom, I can’t help but think that it served some kind of purpose, but I can’t think of what it might be.

Moses

I found it interesting that the ‘baby in the basket’ narrative is almost entirely glossed over. The narrator never mentions it, nor does the princess (who tells Moses of his origins). All we get is half a second of footage of picking up the basket.

Once Moses escapes to Midian, a card screen tells us that he waits 40 years before God appears to him as the burning bush. I get that the actor they got to play Young Moses lacked the gravitas they needed to play Prophet Moses, but why choose 40? I don’t remember that being in the biblical narrative, so I can only think that it was just an excuse to get a more mountain man-looking actor in.

Speaking of the burning bush, the narrative was oddly done. I found the bush itself to be rather lacklustre, and the Hippy Jesus voice coming from it really didn’t lend it any of the mysterium tremendum that I had imagined from reading the Bible text. I also found that the miniseries Moses doesn’t show any of the humility that the biblical Moses had when encountering the burning bush.

Zipporah is entirely absent. On a related note, I found the Miriam-Aaron relationship to be rather disturbing. Miriam is shown to have two children, while Aaron apparently has none (or, at least, is never shown to be associated with any children other than Miriam’s). Neither is ever shown with a spouse. Not only that, but they seem rather close – and not in the way of a brother and sister – while waiting out the Passover night. I don’t know what that’s all about, but I got a distinct Lannister vibe from them, and it was creepy.

Aaron and Miriam

I found the ten plagues to be quite well done, visually. Interestingly, the “who can turn their staff into the mightiest serpent” contest with the pharaoh’s court magicians never happens. I suppose that the miniseries’ authors didn’t want to show anyone other than a God Approved Prophet having magical powers. Again, I feel that theology got in the way of retelling the story.

After the Passover plague, the pharaoh agrees to allow the Hebrews to leave. This was the same narrative I’d heard in Sunday School, and it was the same in The Ten Commandments. But, as we learned when we read Exodus 12, the pharaoh only allows the Israelites to leave because they lied and told him that they were just poppin’ ’round the corner for mo’. The lies (and the stealing from the Egyptians) are erased by the miniseries’ authors.

Once in the wilderness, there’s no golden calf, no rebellions, no reason given for why it would take them 40 years to get to Canaan. There is, however, the carving of the decalogue, which was actually a pretty cool scene.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the acting was quite decent (though maybe they could lay off on making the actors run around the block right before each take, because I found the huffing and puffing – particularly when Moses has his audience with the pharaoh – to be quite distracting), despite the many odd casting choices. I’ve already mentioned the white-washing and tokenism, but there were also some rather offensive choices, such as putting someone with dwarfism among the baddies who capture Lot. Because, you know, physical deformity is always a reflection of inner sin, right? Sort of the Disney method of character design.

There’s some odd absurdities as well. For example, there’s the scene where Lot is captured and Abraham’s household come to rescue him. For some reason, the captors decided to use the most absolutely useless gags I’ve ever seen – while gagged, Lot manages to call out, with perfect clarity, to his wife. I get that making a proper gag is really hard, but these are actors. They could have at least pretended not to be able to speak!

I also felt that the authors allowed their theology to get in the way of both accuracy and good storytelling (and, in many instances, both at the same time). It was enough that I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching it to anyone who hasn’t already read the relevant biblical chapters.

If watching TV isn’t your thing, good news! The stories of The Bible are now available in a book!

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Prepare for the flood…

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..of Bible-based movies!

There’s an article up on Gawker about a few Bible-based movies in the pipeline:

1. The first is a Ridley Scott retelling of Exodus, with Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, John, Turturro, and Aaron “It’s Science, Bitch” Paul. I’m something of a Weaver and Kingsley fan, though both have played in some pretty awful movies; so the fact that both of them are fantastic actors doesn’t necessarily reassure me.

I wonder if they’ll really stick to Exodus, or if they’re just using it as short-hand to mean “that Moses stuff.” There’s some interesting stories there. Certainly, the baby in the basket cum prince cum exile cum freedom fighter cum prophet stuff is pretty compelling, though it’ll require a whole lot of embellishment to turn into a feature-length film. I’m assuming that they’ll stick in some better known stories from the exile as well, like the Golden Calf. It’ll be interesting to see if they put in some of the other stuff, like the taking of the census, the loooong list of ordinances, or leperfying Miriam.

2. The second movie is a Darren Aronofsky imagining of the story of Noah, starring Russell “Are you not entertained?” Crowe and Hermione. It also, interestingly enough, will include Anthony Hopkins playing Methuselah (who, according to the numbers provided in Genesis, would have died the year of the flood, but who is not actually mentioned in the flood narrative).

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Crowe is certainly a fit for Gladiator-esque epics, but Noah is just about a guy who chats with God, builds a boat, and then flashes his grandson. It’s not exactly the kind of epic that Hollywood seems to like. I can well imagine how they could spruce it up, but I feel like they’re going to have to deviate quite far from the story to do so. We’ll see.

The Christian Science Monitor sums up my crotchety feelings quite well:

“Hollywood is more and more unable to create original stories,” she says. The industry is reaching for Biblical stories because they have name recognition, high stakes, a built-in “fan base,” and an epic quality that seems ideal for today’s CGI technology, she notes.

Watching the Ten Commandments, Part I

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EDIT: You can read my review of Part II here.

I’d never watched the Ten Commandments before. I know, I know, it’s a classic and I really should have, but I somehow just missed it; just like my husband had never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies until we started dating. Life’s just crazy like that sometimes.

Well, now that I’m reading Exodus, I figured it’s about time I watch it.

The movie helpfully divides itself into two portions: Part I covers the events of Exodus 1-4, and Part II covers the rest. In the interests of not giving away too much of the story, I’ll only be reviewing Part I today, and I’ll review Part II once we’re finished with Exodus.

The movie opens with an announcer coming out on stage and giving a little speech. Here’s an excerpt:

The Holy Bible omits some 30 years of Moses’ life: from the time he was a three-month-old baby and was found in the bulrushes by Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh, and adopted into the court of Egypt, until he learned that he was a Hebrew and killed the Egyptian.

Right off the bat, the movie deviates quite markedly from the Bible’s account.

  • Moses was never adopted into the court of Egypt. Pharaoh’s daughter merely took pity on him and sent him away to be nursed by a Hebrew woman (who collected wages for the deed and, happily, happened to be Moses’ real mother).
  • Moses never had to find out that he was Hebrew because he was immediately identified as a Hebrew and this was never kept secret.

The speaker continues:

The theme of this picture is whether man ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?

Theological clichés aside, it’s something of an oxymoron to be “free souls under God.” The speaker is merely contrasting two different rulers and declaring one beneficent and the other a dictator. He just happens to be on God’s side.

But if we want to talk about freedom, what freedom has God afforded the Hebrews? He wanted them in Egypt so he starved them out of Canaan. What did Rameses do? He put them to work in accordance with God’s wishes/plan. At no point is Rameses acting contrary to God’s intention for the Hebrews. Therefore, if men are subject to the whims of anyone it’s God.

Continue on, dear speaker:

The conquered were made to serve the conqueror.

This is said as though it were a bad thing, perhaps something against the natural/divine order. How terrible that the Egyptians enslaved the poor Hebrews! But do we forget that Joseph, a Hebrew, first made slaves of all the Egyptians (Genesis 47:21)? I hate to play the “Hebrews did it first” card, but the Hebrews totally did do it first!

charlton heston 060408In the opening scene, Moses’ mother sets the basket containing her baby adrift in the Nile. It’s a powerful scene in which she calls on God to safeguard her son as she entrusts him to the vicissitudes of the current, but it’s one that is entirely made up. In Exodus 2:3-4, we’re told that his mother placed him in the reeds, which would keep the basket in one place. Rather than follow the basket, Moses’ sister merely watched it until someone came by to find it.

We later see Rameses the soon-to-be-II (played by a very handsome Yule Brenner) and Moses, both sporting side locks. This hairstyle was, indeed, worn by Ancient Egyptian males, but only by pre-pubescent boys! It was hilarious watching these two muscular, manly men walking around with children’s hairstyles!

The Biblical account has the Hebrews making bricks. The movie seems to know this and often references bricks, mud, straw, etc. But it nevertheless shows the Hebrews trying to move large stones instead. I think it struck someone as more dramatic. Plus, an old woman screaming because she’s being crushed by a mud brick doesn’t really draw the same sympathy.

The young Moses, once charged with the construction of Seti I’s treasure city, decides that the people would work better if they were well-fed and rested. He therefore grants all the Hebrews a day of rest for every six of work. In the movie, this is called “Moses’ Day.” Is the movie really trying to credit Moses as the source of the Sabbath?

In the movie version, Moses is raised in court and is a competitor for the throne with his cousin, Rameses. This antagonism between the two makes a liar out of the Bible’s God when he later tells Moses to head back into Egypt “for all the men who were seeking your life are dead” (Exodus 4:19). But in the movie, Rameses is still very much alive and the dead Pharaoh, Seti I, dies declaring his love for Moses.

I found it interesting that in the movie version, Moses is exiled. In the biblical version, he’s afraid that Pharaoh will come after him so he flees the country. I guess someone figured that a manly hero like Hestmoses would never turn tail and run. Hollywood – improving the Bible since 1956!

When Moses finds out that he’s actually Hebrew, he seems to abandon worship of the Egyptian gods and take up God very easily. It’s like religion is nothing more than an ethnic trait, like dark skin or blue eyes… It makes it all the more interesting later on when Moses is talking to Zipporah about God. She points out a mountain where God lives and Moses responds:

If this god is God, he would live on every mountain, in every valley. He would not be the god of Israel or Ishmael alone, but of all men.

And yet, Moses already knows that this is the God of Israel, and we know he knows it because he dumped his old gods and took up this new one as soon as he found out that he was one of the Israelites. Beyond that, the statement itself is horrendously anachronistic. It reflects a decidedly Christian (and on) conception of God.

Another hilarious non-self-aware moment is when Zipporah is comparing her people to the Egyptians, moralizing about how the Egyptian women treat love as an “art” while her people see love as simply a way of life. Egyptian women wear beautiful clothes, but Zipporah’s people wear their honour. Yadda yadda. This is right after a scene where her twittering sisters, who can’t seem to think of anything to talk about other than how much they really really want some penis, perform an erotic dance in the hopes of enticing Moses into marrying them. Egyptian women paint their eyes, but Zipporah’s sisters paint their nails (as we find out in the first scene with the girls where one sister teases another about bothering to do it when there are no men about). I believe an expression about glass houses would be appropriate here.

One of the most striking things about movie was how hard they were trying to draw parallels between Moses and Jesus. This is especially funny because Matthew (as we’ll find out in a couple years when I actually get to the New Testament) puts a whole lot of effort into drawing parallels between Jesus and Moses!

So rather than Pharaoh simply killing baby boys in an effort to cull the Hebrews, he’s now doing it because of a prophecy about some sort of chosen one who would deliver the Hebrews from bondage (see Matthew 2:1-15). Later on, when Rameses is taking Moses into exile, he calls him “king” and hands him bogus royal accoutrements. This mocking parallels the soldiers who mock Jesus in Matthew 27:27-30.

I’m enjoying the movie so far. It’s long, but the pacing is good and there’s certainly quite a lot of drama. Some of the acting is horrendous, but most of it is pretty decent. It’s definitely a joy to see what they’re doing with the Exodus story and where they’ve deviated (and to speculate as to why).