EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS: The Wrong Protagonist

exodus-posterThe differences between the Exodus story according to film director Ridley Scott and the Biblical account of the Exodus is in the chosen protagonist (chief actor; hero). Ridley Scott casts Moses as the protagonist; the story is about him. The Bible recounts the heroic actions of God; the story is about Him.

Scott’s Moses is sent into exile once he is discovered to be a Hebrew. The Biblical Moses flees for his life after killing an Egyptian overseer. Scott’s Moses suffers a head injury in a rock slide, after which he occasionally envisions a surly child who gives him directions regarding his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. The Biblical Moses is called by God as He fulfills His part of the covenantal relationship He has with His People: in return for their service and worship of Him alone, God will always provide for, protect, and rescue His Chosen People. To accomplish this rescue of His People, God first speaks to Moses through a burning bush, next to which stands the Angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

In the Biblical account, Moses is commanded by God to go to Pharaoh and demand that he release His People so that they might go and worship Him. Ridley Scott’s Moses sneaks back into Egypt to covertly train a band of Hebrew terrorists who organize a series of attacks on the city of Memphis. God’s representative Moses promises to persuade the Pharaoh through signs and wonders, leading to a series of plagues. Scott’s Moses meets with Pharaoh like a union negotiator, asking for “equal rights” for the Hebrews, and pay for their work. If Pharaoh can’t meet his demands, Moses suggests that Pharaoh let them leave Egypt. The final plague of death to all first-born sons, not covered by the blood of a lamb, kills Pharaoh’s first born son, and so, according to Scott, grieving, he lets the Hebrew people leave Egypt. In the Biblical Exodus, with the Passover of the Angel of Death, God establishes the “Lord’s Pascha”, a day to be kept forever by the People of God. Scott ignores this significance, as well as the establishment of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Scott’s Moses leads the people out of Egypt according to his own best efforts. In the Biblical account, “God led them, by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night a pillar of fire”, with the presence of the Angel of God, Jesus Christ.

At the Red Sea, Scott’s frustrated Moses flings his sword into the water, only to discover the water receding to create a path of escape. The Biblical Moses follows the instructions of his God and praises Him when the Hebrews are delivered from Egypt through the wall of water:

Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorified in holiness,
Marvelous in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them up.
In righteousness You guided your people whom You redeemed;
In strength You called them to Your holy resting place.

Like all film directors, Ridley Scott wants to exercise his creative imagination. In Exodus: Gods and Kings his imagination created an exodus without God, or at least without a God recognizable as the historic God of the Biblical covenantal relationship with His People. Scott’s Exodus is to its source what a Lincoln assassination film would be if it presented Lincoln killed by a John Wilkes Booth acting under the power of aliens from outer space – imaginative perhaps, but disrespectful of the historical record.

If Mr. Scott wanted to exercise his creativity, and avoid a simple remake of the famous Cecil B. DeMille epic, there are countless avenues to pursue, all of which respect the truth.

For example, he could find a way:

  •  to present the Exodus as part of God’s ongoing covenant with his people, connecting it to both Noah and Abraham;
  •  to unite the deliverance of God’s People by Moses through the Passover Pascha and the water of the Red Sea to the ongoing deliverance of God’s People by Jesus Christ through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
  • to extend the implications of the Exodus story to the New Testament’s New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ;
  •  to connect the Exodus story to the New People of God, the New Israel, the Church, where all people are invited to experience the covenantal blessings of the God of history.

But that would take real cinematic imagination. A director might actually need to read Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses. Far easier to just eliminate a character, even if it is God, than to create a true historical context for the signs and wonders of the living God.

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