Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Ten Commandments

I watched DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" the other day. Unfortunately I have to put it in the category of classic films which have not stood the test of time. I can overlook the stony acting, but it's even harder to overlook the special effects, which are unsurprisingly laughable by today's standards. The most disappointing aspect is that Moses is a far less interesting character in the movie than he is in the Bible. The movie adds a lot of extra-Biblical material, some from ancient sources but a lot that they just made up (like a romance with Pharoah's future wife), but that isn't very interesting. Yet after the encounter with the burning bush, Moses is portrayed as essentially a one-dimensional inerrant servant of God. We see nothing of his lack of self-confidence (even faith!) before God that led to God appointing Aaron as his mouthpiece. We don't see Moses pleading with God for mercy for the Israelites after the golden calf episode, or the conflicts he had with Aaron then and at other times. We don't see Moses' sin at Meribah, or the grief he must have had over God preventing him from entering the promised land. It's telling that the Bible gives us a more nuanced portrait of major characters than some modern storytellers can manage.

I think that DeMille's stated theme for the movie --- that people everywhere should be free from slavery and the despotism of kings, being subject only to (God's) law --- is misplaced. Worthy as it is, as far as I can tell it is not a significant theme anywhere in the Torah. God delivered the Israelites from oppression, explicitly not because of they deserved it, but rather because of his promises to Abraham and his desire to set apart a chosen people for his own glory. DeMille's theme would not have sat well if the movie had shown the non-democratic aspects of Moses' rule, or the Israelites continuing to take slaves; I think he was imposing his own priorities on the story. (The story of Samuel would be much better foundation for that theme --- when the Israelites demand a "king such as other nations have", with severe consequences.)

One part of the movie I thought was really good was the depiction of the night of the first Passover. It captured just a little of the horror and dread that must have been experienced by everyone, including the Israelites.



7 comments:

  1. You mean they made a movie that is not an accurate portrayal of the story it is based on? That's unpossible!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "God delivered the Israelites from oppression, explicitly not because of they deserved it, but rather because of his promises to Abraham and his desire to set apart a chosen people for his own glory."
    I agree up to a point, but I think that it was also important that the Egyptians were made aware that there is only one God. By sending the plagues etc. God made it known that only He has the power to save and that idols are just chunks hewn from wood and stone.
    I spent some time in Egypt and was surprised to learn that before Moses was in Egypt Akhenaten started to worship "The One True God" ... the people soon went back to worshipping other gods. Akhenaten gave the Egyptions their chance to worship God so the destruction that the Egyptians experienced is much more clearly justified from this perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Robert O'Callahan17 September 2010 18:22

    Good point.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Except, of course, for the fact that the Old Testament was, in the words of a PBS documentary on the subject, mostly fiction with little basis in fact.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mike: Akhenaten's "One True God" was not the Jewish God. He just picked the already existing sun god/sun disc as the only god. This would be akin to the Greeks one day deciding that Zeus was the only God and started erasing all the other Olympian gods from the record. Furthermore, during Akhenaten's reign, Egypt was probably more henotheistic than monotheistic, and his changes were pretty much eliminated right after his death, several centuries before Israelite/Judaic history in the eastern Mediterranean coast. Oh, and worship of the sun disc was very naturalistic, a method quite distinct from Hebraic worship.
    So if the plagues, etc were punishment, they weren't for abandoning worship of the Hebrew God.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Robert O'Callahan18 September 2010 17:39

    Helen, invoking unspecified talking heads interviewed by PBS is pretty weak even for an argument from authority.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well I have to say that I agree with Lisa because that is what the truth is!!!
    And I just wanted to say...
    Lisa would YOU like to go out with me?
    If you do this is my number '07254367551'
    I AM ALREADY IN LOVE WITH YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete