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Exodus Adaptations

There have been numerous film adaptations of the Exodus story over the past 100 years, from the famous 1923 Silent Film, The Ten Commandments, by Cecil B. DeMile, and his even more famous 1956 remake by the same name, to last year’s Exodus: Gods & Kings. Each retelling brings something unique to the story. While none of them are biblically accurate (no movie based on the Bible is. Even 2004’s Passion of the Christ added elements not found in Scripture), each version can be used as a starting point for learning about the actual story.

Today, I just want to focus on what I consider the three main films inspired by the Exodus story. These are The Ten Commandments (1956), Exodus: Gods & Kings, and the 1999 animated film The Prince of Egypt. I’m going to go through the Exodus story and compare the three films as I go.

Chapter 1 of Exodus is pretty much bridging the gap between the end of Genesis and the time of Moses, so let’s move on to Chapter 2.

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother.9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the women took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.

The story of baby Moses being saved from death by his mother putting him in a basket and setting him adrift in the Nile, to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter is included in all three versions of the Exodus story. However, only The Ten Commandments had the sister of Moses coming to speak to her. Though we don’t actually see it in the movie, we’re told later in the movie by a servant.

Which makes me wonder why in all three versions, even The Ten Commandments, has Moses completely unaware of his heritage. He was raised by his birth mother. He didn’t go into the Pharaoh’s house until he was older. He knew he was Hebrew. I guess it’s more dramatic to find out your life is a lie.

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.

The Ten Commandments version

Joshua is tied up at night by the overseer, and Moses comes up behind him and strangles him. It’s said later that his body was found buried in the sand, so I guess this could technically be considered following the Bible, because no one was around when it happened. It doesn’t say it was Joshua or that it was a leader he killed the overseer, but the Bible is vague enough about the incident that it could be left up to interpretation, so this could be how it happened. Afterward, Moses is exiled and sent into the desert, which is different from the biblical version, where the Pharaoh wishes to have him executed.

The Prince of Egypt version

Moses, just having found out he is Hebrew, notices a slave being whipped repeatedly, so shoves the whipper off the platform, falling to his death. It’s witnessed by hundreds of people, so Moses doesn’t get a chance to hide the body in the sand. He immediately goes to flee Egypt, but Rameses tries to talk him into staying, saying it’s not a big thing, that he “can make it so it never happened”. So not quite like the biblical version. However, it’s not as much as bad as…

Exodus: Gods & Kings version

Oh, wow. Where do I start with this. For one thing, they portrayed Moses as a madman, which might explain what Christian Bale (the actor playing him) said, “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life”. Of course he thinks that, look how they wrote him in the movie. Instead of killing an Egyptian for whipping a Hebrew then burying the body in the sand, he kills a random person for bothering him, then just leaves them there, storming away angrily. He’s angry for most of the movie.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. And the shepherds came and drove them away: but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. And when they came to Reuel their father, he said, How is it that ye are come so soon to day? And they said, An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock. And he said unto his daughters, And where is he? why is it that ye have left the man? call him, that he may eat bread. And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

This is in all three versions of the story. All three versions are pretty much the same, and like The Ten Commandments with Moses killing the Egyptian, the wording could be open to interpretation and all three fit into it.

Chapter 3 and the first seventeen verses of Chapter 4 are too long to quote, so feel free to read those links. But to give you some idea how important talking with God is, the entire story up to this point has been confined to one chapter, which was Chapter 2. Yet Moses talking with God at the burning bush takes a chapter and a half.

The Ten Commandments version

While the parts it does cover is nearly word for word with Scripture, they leave out the miracles. It probably still happened, because it cuts away before the meeting is over. Also leaves out Aaron’s part.

The Prince of Egypt version

A few changes, but still mostly word for word. As with The Ten Commandments, it leaves out the miracles and the part about Aaron. In fact, in this version Aaron is practically an antagonist. He mocks Moses and says things like, “What has God ever done for any of us?”. Quite the opposite from the biblical account.

Exodus: Gods & Kings version

Once again, this movie takes artistic liberties where there needs not be any. There’s the burning bush, but instead of God speaking through the bush, the bush is just a background thing. God appears as… child. An angry child, who screams about how unfair it is to not be loved by his own people. Definitely not the biblical version.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone. And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

The Ten Commandments version

Skipping ahead to Chapter 7 (Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapter 7 before these verses are Moses trying to talk some sense into Pharaoh, and the scene with the staff turning into the snakes), we get to the plagues, starting with the Nile turning to blood. In this film, it happens while Moses is at the palace, standing next to Pharaoh. I love the way it’s done here. It shows ALL the water is turned to blood, even their fountains not connected to the Nile. Pharaoh even tries pouring some “blessed” water into the Nile to fix it, and the water that comes out turns to blood.

The Prince of Egypt version

While the same thing happens here (on the riverside instead of at the palace, with Pharaoh on a boat), not all the water turns to blood. The high priests tries duplicating the miracle by throwing red dye into some water, which obviously turns red. But the point is, they have water. It should have turned into blood.

Exodus: Gods & Kings version

Crocodiles attack each other and turn the water into blood…….

Chapter 8 through Chapter 12 contains the rest of the ten plagues, but all three movies kind of gloss over them. The Ten Commandments skips straight from the Nile turning to blood to the death of the first born, The Prince of Egypt turns them into what is admittedly a pretty cool song, while Exodus: Gods & Kings…did it’s own thing.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses.

Finally, we get to the Red Sea crossing. Nobody gets this right…

The Ten Commandments version

Moses Holds his staff out and the sea immediately parts. The people cross, the sea falls on the Egyptians.

The Prince of Egypt version

Moses slams his staff on the ground and the sea immediately parts. The people cross, the sea falls on the Egyptians. Movie ends.

Exodus: Gods & Kings version

*sigh* Moses throws his sword into the sea, then goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he starts walking into the sea, and it starts parting as he goes. Eventually the water is a mile on either side of them. When the people get across, the water starts to close, but Moses runs out to sword fight Pharaoh (because reasons…I did say Moses was angry in this version). The two are swept up by the waves, and Moses washes up on the Israelite side of the shore and Pharaoh washes up on the Egyptian side of the shore. Movie ends.

I think we can go ahead and agree that Exodus: Gods & Kings was less an adaptation of Exodus and more a re-imagining of The Ten Commandments.

If it seems like I rushed through the book of Exodus, it’s because these movies did so. Considering how much story they added, they removed so much more. I would love to see an adaptation that actually portrays what the Bible says about the Exodus story. And they always stop too early. The Red Sea crossing is usually the climax of the movie. That is in Chapter 14. Exodus has 40 chapters. I think this story deserves a proper adaptation.


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