Hollywood’s Exodus: Gods and Kings film – a review1
Film Director Ridley Scott’s re-telling of the history of Moses and the Exodus has just been released for viewing in cinemas throughout the UK. The film stars Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as the Pharaoh with whom Moses speaks with in order to obtain the freedom of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.
From the opening of the film, which introduced the events about to unfold as happening from 1300 bce onwards, rather than bc, it was clear that this film would not be attempting to endear Christians to its story. Slighting Jesus, his entrance into the world, and biblical history from the start is never going to be a good idea.
All biblical history is important as it forms a historical framework for salvation. From Creation to the Corruption (the Fall and Curse); to the Cross; to the consummation of all things. Hollywood’s Exodus film changes the plot and characters so that it no longer falls into line with this historical framework, so that people need not consider the wider implications and can just view the movie as is. So rather than the dot which, when complete, shows the picture, Exodus: Gods and Kings is more like a dot on its own with no real context. The lack of context—i.e. the promises made to Abraham2 and Israel,3 in relation to their descendants (the Hebrew people) possessing the land of Canaan after 400 years in slavery—means that the film fails historically, theologically and will leave many viewers unsatisfied with the depth of the story line.
Different from the Bible
The film strayed from the Bible in a number of significant story changes, such as:
- Moses doesn’t know of his Hebrew Origin and is instead told of it by Nun, father of Joshua. Instead, the Bible is clear that Moses knew he was a Hebrew and at the age of 40 went to see his own people.
- Miriam, Moses' sister, is a live-in nanny in Pharaoh’s household who raises both Moses and Pharaoh. This was a strange twist to the storyline, although essential for Scott’s presentation. In the Bible Miriam places Moses in a basket, when he is three months old, in some reeds along the bank of the Nile. It is here that, when Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, Miriam asks if she should go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for her; when the reply is yes, she then brings Moses’ mother to Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse the baby Moses. Moses then returns to his own household, where he is raised by his mother, until Pharaoh’s daughter later takes him as her own son and names him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
- Moses kills two Egyptians, not one, and not for beating a Hebrew.
- Moses is exiled by Pharaoh when he receives information from a Viceroy running the slave city, Pithom, informing him of Moses’ true origin as a Hebrew; rather, in Scripture, Moses fled when he found out Pharaoh now sought to kill him after killing the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.
- The burning bush incident, although happening in the film, is vastly different. Moses, informed by his wife that a mountain beside their dwelling is the mountain of God and that no-one is allowed to climb it, in an act of defiance against God tries to climb it. While trying to climb the mountain a rock slide occurs, with a large rock hitting Moses quite violently on the top of the head. When Moses wakes he is trapped in mud, where he sees a burning bush behind an 11 year old boy, playing the role of God. He tells Moses that he needs a general to fight. When Moses then initially goes to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Hebrew people go, Pharaoh replies, “From an economic standpoint alone, what you’re asking is problematic to say the least.” Moses then takes his own idea to the Hebrew elders and starts to attack the Egyptian supply lines, applying economic pressure in order to coerce the Egyptian people into getting Pharaoh to let the people go. It seems to be the start of a political movement rather than a theological one.
- The emotional scene between Moses and Zipporah, when Moses leaves to ‘be a general’ and does not take her and Gershom (his son) with him, strays from the biblical account, in which he does take his wife and sons. And the drama didn’t add anything to the story.
- Moses’ rod is absent during the film, so it never turns into a snake. Rather, the important emblem (tool) used throughout the film is a sword given to Moses by the former Pharaoh, who dies towards the start of the film.
- Aaron, while sneaking into a few scenes here and there, is virtually non-existent in the film, as opposed to the major role he plays in the biblical narrative.
The ten plagues
The implementation of each of the ten plagues vastly differs from the biblical account and none features Moses or Aaron.4 The first plague, the turning of the water into blood, was portrayed as a croc-fest killing frenzy with numerous CGI crocodiles eating anything they could find, including each other, which turned the water into blood. Not a good start in tallying with the biblical account.
The rest of the plagues, especially the plague of frogs, looked pretty realistic, as far as CGI can be, although there was one very strange scene halfway through the plagues when an Egyptian ‘scientist’ tried to explain the first few plagues in a naturalistic way. The 10th plague, death of the first born sons, was really well done with the despair and wailing of the Pharaoh and the Egyptians very clearly demonstrated, leading to the straw that broke the camel’s back and the Hebrew’s being freed. Any theological relevance of the plagues was not presented in the film, including the imagery of the perfect lamb slaughtered at Passover and blood as a covering in relation to the then forthcoming saviour of the world, Jesus Christ.
The parting of the Red Sea
In the movie, after being freed from Egyptian slavery, true to biblical form, Pharaoh then decides he has made a mistake. But rather than, as the Bible teaches, wanting to recapture his slave task force5 he now wants to kill them all. A scout informs Moses that Pharaoh is now in pursuit and he decides to try and take a route through a mountain pass that won’t allow Pharaoh to pursue them in his chariots. Halfway along this route, which is new to Moses, he comes to a junction. Despite praying to God he gets no direction and chooses his own path. This path leads down to the Red Sea, but not at a place where the Hebrew people can cross, due to its depth. Once again Moses looks to God for help, but none is forthcoming, and throws his special Egyptian sword into the sea. Moses later observes what looks to be a meteor flying overhead and it is suggestive that this is the cause of the receding sea, the drawback of a tsunami, which later returns from one side only and wipes out the Egyptian army just as the Hebrew people scramble to the other side of the sea fearful for their lives.
An interview with Ridley Scott in Entertainment Weekly in relation to these scenes reads, “If there’s one Old Testament image everyone knows, it’s the parting of the Red Sea. And when shooting that scene in Exodus: Gods and Kings, director Ridley Scott knew that he wanted to treat the incident as realistically as possible. ‘You can’t just do a giant parting, with walls of water trembling while people ride between them,’ says Scott, who remembers scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like 1956’s The Ten Commandments. ‘I didn’t believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.’ Scott’s solution came from a deep dive into the history of Egypt circa 3000 BC. After reading that a massive underwater earthquake off the coast of Italy caused a tsunami, he thought about how water recedes as a prelude to such disasters. ‘I thought that logically, [the parting] should be a drainage. And that when [the water] returns, it comes back with a vengeance.’”6.
This story and explanation completely flies in the face of the biblical account in which, after freeing the Hebrew people from slavery, God leads and completely protects the Hebrew people, going ahead of them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, neither leaving its place in front of the Hebrew people.7 While the Hebrews were fearful when they first saw that the Egyptian army pursuing them, God miraculously stepped in and provided safety for His people. God separated the two groups by the pillar of cloud, allowing no harm to come to the Hebrew people, and then instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. God then parted the sea so that there was a wall of water on both sides and dry ground in the middle for the Hebrew people to pass through. When the Hebrew people had crossed, the Egyptians attempting to cross behind them, Moses stretched his hands back out over the sea and the Egyptian army perished in the sea as the two walls of water collapsed inwards. Throughout this episode God’s miraculous provision, care and love for His people are demonstrated. And the reader of the Bible is left in no doubt as to who performed these miracles, with God saving the Hebrew people from the Egyptians and them putting their trust in Him.
In a rather unexpected ending (as it felt like a good place to end a rather long film), the journey doesn’t end after the Red Sea. Rather, there is then a short Ten Commandments scene, which is really a parody scene, with God and Moses in a cave while he inscribes the Ten Commandments on stone. The film then closed with a much older Moses, presumably heading towards the Promised Land, with no dialogue or explanation of what was happening.
Why the film doesn’t work
1 – It is too different from the biblical narrative. To be frank, it is an extremely poor reflection of the source material, yet Ridley Scott does not present a more interesting take on the biblical account.8 None of the changes made by Scott aid the storyline; rather they detract from it, making it more convoluted. If it was meant to be some sort of attempt at a mostly secular telling of the story of Moses and the Exodus then it hasn’t succeeded there either. For those in the secular camp there are still miraculous elements to the film, and the nation of Israel (some two million people9) are still shown exiting Egypt in a short time (something that critics have often attacked), similar to the time-frame recorded in the Bible; so in the end, the film really pleases neither the bible believer nor the non-believer.
2 – Theologically. It is totally insulting and blasphemous to present God as young child who is argumentative and somewhat cantankerous. Neither the holiness nor the power of God are presented in this film, nor any sense of reverence for Him. There is no sense of God’s provision and love for the Hebrew people in bringing them out of slavery through miraculous displays of His mighty power and fulfilling His prophecies. The promises of God are not seen to be fulfilled through these acts, which of course was the major reason for the Exodus.
Christians should always aim to defend all aspects of biblical history, not to let liberals and scholars try and tweak and rewrite it, or secularists dismiss it. Starting from Gen. 1:1 God tells us and shows us who He is and how He has created and impacted history; this should not be altered because Hollywood or anyone else decides, in their self-importance, that they wish to tell a different story.
So, is this recommended viewing? No. And, to quote a review in the Guardian: “On its own merits, this unfocused, pompous and silly take on biblical history might all too quickly be forgotten.”10
References and notes
- This is a second review of this movie; see Nunn, W., A review of the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, 6 December 2014; creation.com/exodus-gods-and-kings. Return to text.
- Gen. 15:1–21. Return to text.
- Gen. 46:3–4. Return to text.
- With the exception of the last plague when Moses gives Pharaoh a vague warning of what was to happen. Return to text.
- Exod. 14:5. Return to text.
- Vilkomerson, S., How Ridley Scott looked to science—not miracles—to part the Red Sea in 'Exodus: Gods and Kings', ew.com, October 2014. Return to text.
- Exod. 13:21–22. Return to text.
- It has been banned in Egypt and a number of other Arab countries for this reason. Return to text.
- Exod. 12:37 records: “… about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” Thus, two million Israelites is a very conservative estimate. Return to text.
- von Tunzelmann, A., Does Exodus: Gods and Kings deserve to be banned for historical inaccuracy?, theguardian.com. Return to text.