For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:30-31
I didn’t think Exodus: Gods and Kings was a very good film, mostly because I didn’t find it to be good storytelling, the acting by everyone except Joel Edgerton was run of the mill, and there wasn’t a good enough effort to get the audience emotionally invested in the main characters and their relationships. I’d like to see a director’s cut of Exodus, to see if it fills in any gaps in the flow of the film.
Don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this article, and though it’s currently rated an abysmal 27% on RottenTomatoes.com, I do recommend seeing the movie. It gets enough right that you’ll actually feel sad at how great a movie it could have been.
I found to my surprise that I felt more sorry for Rameses than anyone else. He was an authoritarian king, but everything he did made sense to me. Especially considering he was an autocrat not in the 19th century a.d., but 1300 b.c.
The story of the Exodus is not one that can be told in 2 hours and 34 minutes on screen, and be completely faithful to the story. You need an HBO mini-series. And yes, it would need to be on HBO or Netflix. Trust me, you can’t show the inside of a temple of Min, or what was going on with the Golden Calf on NBC.
Even The Ten Commandments, by Cecil B. DeMille had to be 3 hours and 40 minutes long, and give an intermission, just so they could fit enough of the story in to make it flow nicely. If you want to tell these stories the right way, theaters need to bring back the intermission; seriously.
I’ll get into all of the above in my movie review at a later date, but one big idea I’d like to address, is the idea that this was an inaccurate depiction of God and Moses.
I think the first thing you have to realize when watching the movie’s handling of the story is that it’s not inaccurate. It gleans information about the historical Moses from the Bible, the Quran, and writings from historians like Josephus. It doesn’t match exactly what you were told in Sunday school, because if they told kids the real story of the Exodus in Sunday school, your children wouldn’t sleep at night.
Artistic license was taken, but much less than in Noah. Certain events that occurred in the biblical story occur in a different fashion here, some events that didn’t occur in the biblical story occur here, simply because it makes sense from a socio-political or economic standpoint.
The depiction of God in the film was clever for about two seconds, until he kept talking, and talking. Yet, it wasn’t inaccurate in terms of personality. I think it faltered in terms of delivery. Imagine Chris Pratt delivering Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We all love Chris Pratt – God bless him – but he’s obviously not the person you should cast to do an MLK speech.
Oh and the casting… according to the film, in 1300 b.c. Egypt, Blacks and Arabs are either thugs or servants. How charming.
I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists that believe Jesus was black or Moses was black, and for me it really doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, black skin was very conspicuous even to the Patriarchs, and it’s often pointed out by the biblical authors.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13:23
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. Numbers 12:1
If you’re looking for black people in the bible (or people of mixed Sub-Saharan African descent), you can look at Moses’ Ethiopian wife1, the indigenous (non-Hebrew) multitude that followed the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 12:38), the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon’s Egyptian wife (1Kings 3:1, Song of Solomon 1:5), the Ethiopian Eunuch in the book of Acts, Simeon Niger (literally “Simeon called Niger”).
If you’re looking for less-reliably, though possibly black or mixed people in the bible, you have Pharaoh during the time of Joseph, Joseph’s wife, Simon of Cyrene2, Abraham’s mistress Hagar, and subsequently their son Ishmael. Whenever you’re dealing with Egyptians in the bible, because they were an ethnically mixed metropolitan society, there’s always a chance that you’re dealing with a black person.
If you’re looking for black or mixed Egyptians in history, you can look at the Sphinx (yes, the Sphinx), Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye, their son Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), and his son Tutankhamun (King Tut) to name a few off the top of my head. Before we were married, I often jokingly called my Eritrean wife my “Egyptian princess”. We got her DNA sequenced, and it turned out I wasn’t exactly wrong.
Furthermore, the idea that “the people living there now are the same people that have always been there” is absolute rubbish. Take Nigeria for example, in 1804, a group of Feudal Fulani herdsmen, from Futa Jallon what is now Guinea, invaded Northern Nigeria and conquered the Hausas to form an Islamic Caliphate. They’ve now so interbred with the indigenous northern Nigerians, that they are now called the Hausa-Fulani. They’ve been in Nigeria for 200 years now (and they have a right to be here) and they can call themselves Nigerians, though that was a term concocted by the British, but the Fulani are not the indigenous people of the northern Nigeria.
The same goes for the Americas. I’m somewhat taken aback when I see blonde haired blue eyed native Argentinians, and a European looking Mexican President. No offense, and you’re not responsible for the actions of your ancestors, but I just choose not to ignore the history of the region, and I feel empathy with the indigenous people. We all know what a real Central and South American looks like, they are copper skinned with black hair and brown eyes, because they’re Native Americans. The North American and South American continents belonged entirely to Native Americans until Europeans came and wiped most of the indigenes out directly though war, and indirectly through disease.
Literally, take a pause from this article and do a Google image search for “[insert south american country] women” and you’re going to see a bunch of European eyes staring you back in the face. I choose women as an example, because women represent the apex of what a nation perceives as attractive.
Don’t even get me started on Bollywood.
It’s ok though. Forget all that. I forgive him for the Exodus cast, because I hear Ridley Scott will be casting Jackie Chan as Superman and Denzel Washington as JFK in his next two movies.
Archaeological and historical interest
Since I take pretty much everything after Abraham as literal history, when talking about scripture, I find the story of the Exodus quite interesting. If you had to place the story of the Exodus in what we know of Egyptian history today (which is still quite fuzzy and hotly debated), you have pretty much one option: The Hyksos dynasty.
Take what I say next with a grain of salt, because I’m going to drop a ton of info that might make you think “amateur historian”, but it’s really more like “amateur literate.” I just consider myself a somewhat well-read guy that is good at noticing nuance and connecting the dots. Bear with me, it’s nerding-time.
Clues as to who, when, and where
Basically in the biblical story, you have Joseph, a Hebrew who becomes Regent of Egypt (Genesis 41:37-44), who providentially stores grain to help avert a regional famine (Genesis 41:33-36), who then sells that grain on behalf of the Pharaoh to Egyptian citizens and indigenes (Genesis 41:57). Then once the Egyptians run out of currency, he sells the grain to the Egyptian people in exchange for land rights (excluding the priests’ land), and then servitude from Egyptian citizens in the form of a 20% tax on all production (Genesis 47:13-26).
Those provide many clues about how to date the time period in which Joseph was Regent, but Egyptian culture presents problems. Often, new Pharaohs would plagiarize the works of old Pharaohs or administrators. They’d simply erase some guys name off a statue if they didn’t like him, and put their name there instead. It’s a nightmare for historians.
When we jokingly say, let it be “stricken from the record” today, the idiom doesn’t come out of thin air. They’d literally take a hammer and chisel and get to striking the name off of the stone until it was flat and smooth, in which case they’d re-engrave a new name.
Maybe the best clues as to culture and time period, which has no incentive for erasure, are in Genesis 43:32 and 46:34.
First, Joseph and his Egyptian servants refused to eat with his brothers because it was “detestable to the Egyptians to eat with the Hebrews” (because they were shepherds). In addition, the Pharaoh who made Joseph Regent, told him to settle his emigrating family in the land of Goshen because “shepherds are an abomination to the Egyptians.” It also says that the land (or region) of Goshen and the city of Rameses are in (at least roughly) the same place (Exodus 47:11, 47:27).
Whoever was Pharaoh during the time of Joseph, and whatever culture the Egyptians practiced, they did not mix with shepherds.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Exodus 1:8
Years later, quite abruptly, a Pharaoh who didn’t know of Joseph decided to enslave the Hebrews that lived in Goshen. Why wouldn’t that Pharaoh know of Joseph, when he basically saved the Egyptian empire, and increased the wealth and influence of the Pharaohs?
Why would the Hebrews, who were friends with the Egyptians, join Egypt’s enemies in the event of a war?
I think it’s because that new Pharaoh wasn’t Egyptian. He was a Hyksos invader (see: Hyksos Dynasty), and they conquered the Egyptians shortly before they decided to enslave the Hebrews, a large indigenous population who supported the old regime. What we know of Hyksos history shows they only conquered Lower Egypt (northern Egypt), not Upper Egypt (southern Egypt), so war could easily break out again with the Egyptians who were now exiled to Upper Egypt. Also, the dating of the Hyksos invasion, plus ~430 years (of slavery) place their overthrow right around the time of Moses, but again, the dating is disputed.
How did the Hyksos conquer the Egyptians? Probably by use of the composite bow and war chariots. That’s right, those were Hyksos contributions to Egyptian technology. Notice how the Pharaoh during the time of Moses had many war chariots (Exodus 14:6-7)?
So the Hebrews are enslaved not by ethnic Egyptians, but by Hyksos Canaanites. Since the Canaanites are a Middle Eastern and Indo-European people, just like the Hebrews, Moses could easily pass for a Canaanite, so Miriam’s plan to pass Moses off as part of the new Egyptian ruling class wouldn’t be far fetched.
By the way, what were the Israelites building for this new line of Hyksos Pharaohs for the next 400 years? Treasure cities: Pithom and Rameses (Exodus 1:11). Remember that Rameses is probably a city in the Goshen province.
Then God sends Moses and sends the plagues and destroys the economy, social structure, and armies of the Hyksos rulers of Lower Egypt.
The way I read the story in the Exodus after the Israelites are freed, it shows a complete collapse of government, economy, and social structure of Lower Egypt. Furthermore, these judgements would be visible to the real Egyptians still living in Upper Egypt, and through trade and travel, it would become obvious that Lower Egypt was in anarchy, and could easily be re-claimed by it’s previous owners.
For example, if Phoenix got nuked, people in Flagstaff would hear about it, and could even witness some of the effects from the safety of their city, moreover there would be people fleeing the calamities and anarchy to take refuge in places like Flagstaff, Sedona, and Payson.
Biblical plagues don’t happen in a vacuum. Even the Cannanites were scared of the Israelites because they heard what God had done in Egypt (Exodus 15:14-16, 23:27; Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:9-10; Joshua 9:9-10; Numbers 22:5), the stories of the biblical plagues were still passed around surrounding nations, even hundreds of years later (1 Samuel 4:8-9).
In the biblical narrative, Pharaoh died. Pharaoh’s first born son died. Most of pharaoh’s generals died, and most of his horse and chariot drawn army. With the coercive arm of government gone, and the economy in shambles, no clear successor, and no food, you have the makings of a Lower Egyptian holocaust.
The reign of the Hyksos wouldn’t be the last time a foreign power occupied the Egyptian throne. Cleopatra wasn’t an Egyptian. She wasn’t even African or Middle Eastern, she was a Greek Ptolemy. Really, she was ethnically Macedonian, but she’s usually considered to be Greek because Alexander’s father Phillip co-opted Greek culture when he conquered the city-states.
It’s annoying to have to nitpick the differences between Macedonia and the Greek city-states during the Hellenistic period.
Alexander the Great conquered most of the civilized world, which included Egypt, and upon his death when his empire was divided between his generals, his general Ptolemy became Pharaoh and took control of Egypt and the African the portion of Alexander’s empire.
Basically, the Ptolemys are the first white people to be Pharaohs of Egypt, if you want to be historically accurate.
After the Greeks came the Romans, then the Byzantines, then the Arabs, and then the Ottomans. Control of Egypt has changed hands so many times, it’s hard to keep track. I’m sure I’m missing someone. The people that call themselves Egyptians today are such a mixture of different genes, cultures, and religions that they probably bear little resemblance to the Egyptian Pharaohs that existed before the conquest of Alexander the Great.
I have a hunch that the closer your place of origin is to Egypt, or the Mediterranean, the more varied your DNA becomes. My family is from Edo State in Nigeria, part of the Esan tribe. I’m 98.8% West African and 0.8% Central and South African. My wife’s family is from Eritrea. She is 69.7% East African, and 23.1% North African (Middle Eastern), and 0.4% European, despite her family being Ethiopian/Eritrean for generations.
There’s a reason it’s called the Fertile Crescent, and it was the site of the first great civilization. It’s because it’s prime real estate, so humans keep fighting each other for it. Places people fight over are going to have the greatest genetic diversity.
My Hyksos theory isn’t water-tight, but it’s interesting to think about.
My gut reaction is that many Christians will think God was too mean, and Ridley Scott was trying to pull a fast one on the audience. Actually, I think he got it pretty spot on, except that he made God a little mercurial.
As someone who plays close attention to films, I think the only suitable depiction of God in the Old Testament should make you want to run out of the theater. I don’t think this would be as visual as it would be auditory. You’d have to work very closely with sound engineers, and sit in a theater and experiment to get it just right. The closest I’ve seen to an accurate auditory depiction of my mental image of God was in the film The Matrix Revolutions. It only works in surround sound in the movie theater.
“Speak.” Deus ex machina
Having read the entire Torah, and taken extensive notes on it (it’s not that hard, it’s only 5 books), I’d say the Old Testament God isn’t capricious or mercurial at all. Rather he’s calculated, and has a complex web of reasons for every action he takes. Nothing is arbitrary; everything is a lesson. It doesn’t make him any less scary, it’s just that you can predict an outcome of a situation based on the behavior of the human in question. Literally, a simple, “I’m sorry, I was wrong. How do I fix it?” would have cleansed the Old Testament of all it’s brutality.
This bible verse sums up the Old Testament God quite well:
With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.Psalm 18:27
I have a Theory of Everything blog series, and one of my next two installments will be entitled “Scary God”, whenever I get around to it. However much you know Him, you don’t know Him as well as you think you do.
There are a myriad of theories to explain away the violence in the Old Testament, and the harshness of the Mosaic Law. Some say that wasn’t really God, that the true personality of God can be found in Jesus, and that the Israelites made up all those “God told us tos” so they could get away with genocide. Basically it’s the idea that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are not the same person. I think that theory falls apart in the crucifixion of Jesus.
If it wasn’t the same God, why did he demand a blood sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of mankind? Why blood? Why sacrifice? Why the scourging? Why the crown of thorns? Why the crucifixion?
I think the simple answer to violence in the Old Testament is that God deals with people in their time and place. Jesus said in the New Testament of divorce, “Moses allowed this because of the hardness of your hearts.”
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:24-26
For example, polygamy makes sense in a world where human rights are achieved by force, and women aren’t very good at demonstrating force. The only way for women to be safe in that world is with their father, or with a husband. If most of the men are killing each other, and most women outlive men anyways, there are going to be a disproportionate amount of women to men. Any good father would marry off his daughter to a wealthy powerful man simply for her survival. That’s why wealthy powerful men had many wives, and why it was permitted in the Old Testament, even though it wasn’t God’s perfect plan for marriage.
Killing off entire bloodlines makes sense for a people without the infrastructure or economy to support a prison system, and to protect against blood feuds, which just means more violence over time.
To kill your enemy’s entire family was simply to put a period at the end of a sentence. It’s why I gave Rameses some slack in the movie. That’s just the way the world worked back then, pretty much up till the time of Emperor Constantine. Heck, it still works that way in North Korea. If you grew up in that world, you’d do the exact same thing. Humans take generations to question what they’re taught, and those that come before their time usually get killed or ostracized by their contemporaries. Look at Abraham Lincoln; look at Martin Luther King Jr.
Heck, they crucified Jesus didn’t they? A man comes and tells everyone to “love their enemies”, and what do we do, we kill him.
If you didn’t like the movie because you thought it made God look mean, you probably got saved at a Hillsong concert and haven’t actually read the Torah yet.
Though I am poking fun, there’s nothing wrong with being a baby Christian though. The bible says to work out your salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). You just haven’t gotten that far yet. You’ll get there.
Even if you’re a veteran Christian, they don’t actually preach this stuff in church. I grew up a Christian, with my father a pastor, and the first time I heard anything about God trying to kill Moses, or exterminate the Israelites (twice), was when I read the Torah for myself.
But this isn’t the time to get into all that. I’ll leave it for Scary God.
A few things to know about the biblical Exodus
Moses was skeptical and untrusting of God in the beginning, but God worked with him anyways. (Exodus 3:11-15, 4:1-14, 5:22)
Moses was a badass. He murdered an Egyptian guard, and he single handedly fought off a group of rowdy shepherds at the well of Midian (Exodus 2:11-17). Whatever training Moses received as an Egyptian prince, combat training was part of it. Early Jewish historians like Josephus and Artipanus give further extra-biblical information that Moses was actually a general of Pharaoh, and sacked the Ethiopian city of Hermopolis. Maybe that’s the first time he found himself attracted to Ethiopian women (Numbers 12:1)
God tried to kill Moses,3 because he didn’t circumcise his sons. Zipporah (his Midianite first wife) was against circumcising her boys, but did it to save Moses’ life, and was mad at both Moses and God (Exodus 4:24-26).
God dismantled the Egyptian empire from top to bottom through psychological warfare. This is textbook “How to destroy a nation”. He started with their economy, and ended with their emotions and religion (Exodus 12:12; Numbers 33:4; Isaiah 19:1).
“On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord” Exodus 12:12
There’s a scene towards the end of the movie that shows certain Egyptians exhibiting a type of psychosis. If you read the Torah, it makes perfect sense. Whatever dynasty in Egypt this represents had to be completely neutered. I happen to think this was the Hyksos dynasty in Lower Egypt, and when God destroyed them, The Upper Egyptians took over the nation again. You even slowly see Pharaoh’s inner circle begin to turn on him if you read the book of Exodus (Exodus 9:20-21; 10:7).
“Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him… Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” Exodus 10:7
God probably killed more Israelites in the wilderness than the Egyptians did in Egypt. Remember Hebrews 10:30-31?
- 3000 dead (Exodus 32:28)
- 250 dead (Numbers 16:35)
- 14,700 dead (Numbers 16:49)
- 24,000 dead (Numbers 25:9)
And that’s only the ones they counted…
When the Israelites worshipped the Golden Calf, God wanted to destroy Israel and “start over” with Moses and his kids. It was a sort of loophole that allowed God to still keep his promise to Abraham, and reminiscent of starting over with Noah’s family after the flood. Moses stood up for Israel and God decided not to kill them all. (Exodus 32:10)
Years later, in a completely different story, God again offered to destroy all of Israel, and start over through Moses and his children. Moses rejected the offer, so God spared Israel for the second time. (Numbers 14:11-20)
So when you see Ridley’s depiction of God in Exodus, remember that though the delivery is lacking, the substance isn’t inaccurate.
Two Billion Christians
Any Atheist could look at our bible and say, “Even if your God is real, why would you serve him?” Yet, there are two billion of us that believe in him, roughly 1/3 of the humans on Earth, who do have some inkling of the Old Testament God, and the things he’s done.
I think every Christian has some trouble with the personality of God in the Old Testament. My biggest take away from reading of the life of Moses was that God understands you’re a human being with weaknesses, skepticism, and limitations, and he’s willing to work with all of it.
Before taking time to study the Torah, I was very afraid of making God angry, thinking I had to be a sort of always compliant robot. It was reading the stories of the Patriarchs, and Moses especially, that helped me realize that I could just be myself with God. I could have some rough edges that God would patiently smooth out over the course of my life.
When God says “Jump!” he doesn’t expect you to say, “How high?” You might ask him what is the point of jumping in the first place. You can ask him “Why?” You can say, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” So long as it comes from a place of integrity, and not rebellion and pride, God will work with you to get you to understand.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:18-21
There are two kinds of people in the Old Testament, those that saw God and ran away, and those that saw God, asked, “Why?” and allowed him to explain himself.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. Psalm 103:7
If all you know are God’s acts, you will run for the hills.
Moses’ second wife, apparently, since the bible says he married a Midianite wife first (Exodus 2:16-21)↩
Cyrene is in modern day Libya↩
Honestly, God doesn’t try to kill anyone. He either kills them or lets them live. In this instance, God was just making a point. Remember, nothing is arbitrary; everything is a lesson.↩