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A review of the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings

by

Published: 16 April 1907 (GMT+10)

20th Century Fox

Exodus movie poster

One of the posters for Exodus: Gods and Kings shows that the movie makers focus on a showdown between Moses and Ramses.

It’s understandable that if Christians compare Hollywood storytelling of biblical events with Scripture they may well be disappointed. Who did not come away from watching the Noah movie shaking their head at how much it differed from the Genesis account?

Would another ‘biblical epic’ Exodus: Gods and Kings be any different? It’s almost 50 years since legendary director Cecil B. DeMille gave the world The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston as Moses; so what would Sir Ridley Scott1 deliver in retelling the account of the Jewish nation’s exodus from slavery in Egypt?

It was never likely that Scott would portray events as they really happened. But still I couldn’t help but compare this telling of Moses and the Exodus with the Hobbit movies in the sense that director Peter Jackson did far greater justice to J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings than Ridley Scott does to the Bible narrative.

Inevitably, some things in Exodus: Gods and Kings will grate with Christians particularly how God is portrayed, and the fact that Moses’ brother Aaron hardly features at all. Which is puzzling, given how important the partnership between the brothers was as they confronted Pharaoh.

Christian Bale is Moses and Joel Edgerton is Ramses who takes the throne as Pharaoh after the death of his father Seti during the course of the movie. Moses and Ramses are ‘cousins’.

Note: Although there are many views, we cannot know for sure who was Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. This is because, although pharaohs are often mentioned in the accounts of Joseph (in Genesis) and Moses (Exodus), they are not mentioned by their names, unlike later writings in the Old Testament. The word ‘Pharaoh’ is mentioned 209 times in Genesis and Exodus alone.2 Hollywood always leans towards Ramses II because the Bible mentions the Hebrews building the cities Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 1:11). However, there are good reasons to presume that the cities were not known by that name during the Hebrew occupancy of Egypt, and also that Ramses II came to the throne many years after the biblical date for the Exodus. For more on this see Egyptian chronology and the Bible: framing the issues.

Early in the movie there is a gory battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites. During this battle Moses, a general, saves Ramses’ life thus fulfilling a ‘prophecy’ we learn of in the opening scenes that “in the battle a leader will be saved and his saviour will some day lead”.

It was never likely that Scott would portray events as they really happened

So it then becomes apparent that Moses and Ramses will from that point be at loggerheads. The story develops with the tension slowly building.

When Moses goes to the area where the Hebrew slaves are producing materials for building the pyramids (a historical inaccuracy), he meets some of the elders to establish if they are going to rebel against Pharaoh and tells Nun (Joshua’s father, Exodus 33:11) that he is wrong to think the people can return to Canaan.

Nun confronts Moses with his true heritage and explains how his parents had his sister help save him from a decree at the time that all first-born Hebrew boys should be killed. The explanation reasonably follows the biblical account, but Moses’ reaction and the dramatic scenes that follow with him being sent into exile are not so accurate.

Moses does meet and marry Zipporah and have a son named Gershom, as in the Bible, but his first encounter with God at the burning bush is presented in an ‘interesting’ way.

The dialogue includes:

Moses: Who are you?
God: Who are you?
Moses: I’m a shepherd.
God: I thought you were a general. I need a general.
Moses: Why?
God: To fight. Why else?
Moses: Fight who? For what?
God: I think you know. I think you should go and see what’s happening to your people now. You won’t be at peace until you do. Or are they not people in your opinion?
Moses: Who are you?
God: I am.

20th Century Fox

Christian Bale as Moses

Moses (Christian Bale) is depicted as a seasoned warrior.

When Moses returns to Egypt he goes to see Nun and his son Joshua, meets his own brother Aaron and thereafter comes the confrontation with Ramses, the plagues and the escape through the Red Sea. The plagues and the Red Sea parting are presented in such a way that an all-powerful God is not really at work.

There is even a ‘scientist’ trying to explain away the plagues and his advice is unwelcome, to say the least, as Ramses becomes more irrational.

Unlike the biblical account in which Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh on several occasions to entreat him to set their people free, the movie deals with it in a dramatic conversation between Moses and Ramses.

Part of the conversation goes like this, and seems to owe more to 21st century sensibilities than to either biblical accuracy or historical authenticity:

Moses: I’ve been told that things here have become … much worse.
Ramses: Things are better than they ever have been, Moses. We have order.
Moses: Order? Order? The slaves, their bodies burn night and day now; I’ve seen it with my own eyes; you call that order?
Ramses: They’re slaves, Moses.
Moses: They’re Egyptians; they should be treated as Egyptians; they should have the same rights; they should be paid for their work; or … you must set them free.

What can be said of the movie? An epic?—Yes. Too long?—Yes. Sex scenes?—No. Biblically accurate?—Somewhat. Entertaining?—Reasonably. Too much violence?—Some may think so.

But if you can accept that it’s Hollywood with a semblance of real history thrown in—and not expect too much—you may even enjoy it.

Now if only I could get my money back from that Noah movie debacle.

Comparisons between the Exodus narrative and the movie storytelling

Some individuals mentioned in Exodus

Individuals featured in the movie

Moses Moses
Pharaoh (not named) Seti
Ramses (succeeds Seti)
Aaron (Moses’ brother and prophet) Aaron
Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) Jethro
Miriam (sister of Moses and Aaron) Miriam
Zipporah (Moses’ wife) Zipporah
Pharaoh’s daughter who raised Moses (not named) Bithiah
Pharaoh’s wife (not named) Tuya (Ramses’ mother)
Nefertari (Ramses’ wife)
Joshua Joshua
Nun Nun
Hegep (corrupt viceroy in charge of Hebrews)
  

The plagues

Exodus account Movie (portrayed as continuous events)
Water becomes blood Nile crocodiles go on killing rampage
Frogs Frogs
Lice Unclear in the scenes between frogs and flies
Flies Flies
Diseased livestock Diseased livestock
Boils Boils
Hail Hail
Locusts Locusts
Darkness Darkness
Death of first-born Death of first-born

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References and notes


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