Exodus: Gods and Kings (The Book Is Better)
Warning: Spoilers for the new movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings ahead.
This past weekend, my husband Andrew and I saw the new movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings. Now, I did not expect this movie to be my favorite. I knew it would probably stray from the biblical record in ways I didn’t like. But the exodus is fascinating to me — I wrote my grad school thesis on it — so I wanted to see how these chapters from the Bible would be portrayed in this movie, especially since my visual of the exodus is limited to Charlton Heston in a red and black striped robe.
The new exodus movie, directed by Ridley Scott, was well done in certain areas. It has intense battle scenes (not in the Bible), it has British accents (not in the Bible), and it has Christian Bale (not in the Bible). Although some people don’t like how the plagues were portrayed, I thought the visual reality of these plagues was fascinating. We can read about a plague of flies, but to see them all over everything showed how miserable it would have been to experience it.
But what struck and disappointed me about the new movie was the amazing story that was left out. After we saw the movie, Andrew and I read through the story of the exodus in the Bible in Exodus 1–14. Now, I can see how some biblical stories might be hard to bring to life in a movie — lots of pages in the Bible don’t have much dialogue or detail. But the story of the exodus has so much — lots of conversations, lots of amazing details. There are fourteen chapters dedicated to this struggle for freedom and this amazing show of power from God. So, for me, the main disappointment of Exodus: Gods and Kings is what Scott left out.
Scott’s portrayal of God felt the most inaccurate and lacking. First of all, God (or God’s messenger) appears as a child in the movie. A child with an attitude problem. This God explains nothing and He basically just seems to want the Egyptians to suffer these plagues for no reason. There are times in the Bible when God feels elusive or mysterious (see the book of Job, for example). However, the exodus account is not one of those times. God has a lot to say in Exodus 1–14, starting with the burning bush in chapter 3. God explains who He is — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He talks about how He is concerned with the suffering of the Israelites, and He says that He is going to bring them to the land of Canaan. He tells Moses that He will be with him every step of the way, and He reveals His unique name — Yahweh — to Moses. He instructs Moses with signs for those who don’t believe, and He tells Moses that Pharaoh’s heart will be hard. All of this dialogue, and the heart behind God was going to do, was in the burning bush encounter, and none of it was portrayed in the movie.
In Exodus: God and Kings, Moses rarely hears from God, and when He does show up, He doesn’t offer much information. But if you read the exodus account, God speaks all the time and outlines what is happening, and how and why He is displaying His mighty power to the Egyptians and the Israelites.
Basically, Scott left out a lot of cool stuff in his movie. A lot of stuff about God and a lot of details that could have made the movie much more compelling. For example, the Egyptians honoured numerous gods, as did most people during that time period. (This is why it is completely ridiculous that Scott makes Moses basically an atheist for the first half of the movie. Atheism was not a thing in the ancient near east. People believed in multiple gods or possibly one God like the Israelites, but never no gods.) The Egyptians would have prayed to their many gods for different things. Certain gods were thought to control the crops or fertility or health. There were sun gods and gods whose blood ran with the waters of the Nile.
In the Bible, Moses goes to Pharaoh and says that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, wants him to let His people go. Pharaoh responds, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know Yahweh and I will not let Israel go.” I actually think this is a fair response from Pharaoh. He has never heard of Yahweh, this God of his slaves. Why should he listen to what Yahweh wants? So Pharaoh may genuinely be questioning, wondering who Yahweh is and what He is like. He is about to find out…
In the ancient near east, gods were thought to control certain areas — countries, land, waters, etc. So a god in Egypt would have control of Egypt. The God of Israel would have control in the land of Israel, but nowhere else. So in the book of Exodus, God completely turns this idea on its head. Through the plagues, He shows His power over all of creation. In the movie, the plagues come in quick succession and are explained mostly through natural causes (although it is clear that God is the one making them happen). But Scott could have done so much more in his depiction. In reality, each of the 10 plagues in Exodus directly defeats one of the gods the Egyptians worshipped. For example, the Egyptians worshipped a fertility goddess named Heqet. She was always depicted with the head of a frog. So when Yahweh shows up, He sends a plague of frogs — God is in control, not Heqet. Similarly, the Egyptians worshipped Serapia — a god who promised to keep away locusts to protect crops. But Serapia does not reign — Yahweh God does. He sends a plague of locusts showing that He is the true God, the only one in control. We could walk through each of the plagues to see how they defeat the gods of Egypt. It’s fascinating and so cool! But all of these things were missed in Scott’s movie.
Ridley Scott does not believe the biblical exodus actually happened. And sadly, that kept him from portraying a beautiful, powerful, compelling, true story. The book of Exodus is amazing. It shows how God remembered His people who were suffering. It shows how He kept His promises. It shows how He convinced the Egyptians of His power and His supremacy. It shows how He proved to the Israelites, through His actions, that He could be trusted.
It’s an amazing, true story. So if you see the movie, make sure to read the book. It’s much better!