67: The Ten Commandments (Part 2)
This week we’ll conclude our look into the historical accuracy of Cecil B. DeMille’s classic film, The Ten Commandments. This week we’ll conclude our look into the historical accuracy of Cecil B. DeMille’s classic film, The Ten Commandments.
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- The Ten Commandments (1956 film) – Wikipedia
- The Ten Commandments (1956) – IMDb
- The Ten Commandments (1956) – Synopsis
- 10 Fascinating Facts About The Ten Commandments (The Movie) | HuffPost
- The Ten Commandments – Comparison with biblical account
- Movies | Ten Awesome Non-Bible Things In “The Ten Commandments”
- The Ten Commandments (1956) Synopsis – Plot Summary – Fandango
- Exodus 6 KJV – Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now – Bible Gateway
- Moses – Wikipedia
- Jochebed – Wikipedia
- Exodus Gods and Kings Movie: Truth Behind the Moses Story? | Time.com
- Amazon.com: The Making of the Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean from the Beginning to the Emergence of the Classical World (9780199999781): Cyprian Broodbank: Books
- Was Moses real? – The Washington Post
- How Christian Bale’s Exodus Compares to the Bible and History | Time.com
- Did the Exodus of Moses and His People Happen? – ABC News
- In Sinai desert, no trace of Moses – The New York Times
- Is there any historical evidence that Moses existed and led the Jews out of Egypt? | Yahoo Answers
- NOVA – Official Website | Archeology of the Hebrew Bible
- Saba’ | ancient kingdom, Arabia | Britannica.com
- Sheba – Wikipedia
- Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus – Free Ebook
- Antiquities of the Jews – Book II
- L 242 Josephus V Jewish Antiquities 1 3 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
- L 281 Josephus VII Jewish Antiquities 7 8 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
- L 490 Josephus VI Jewish Antiquities 4 6 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
- L 365 Josephus Jewish Antiquities IX: 12 13 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
- The Antiquities of the Jews, by Flavius Josephus
- Timeline of ancient Egypt
- Akhenaten: Egyptian Pharaoh, Nefertiti’s Husband, Tut’s Father
- The New International Encyclopædia/Midrash – Wikisource, the free online library
- Tales and Maxims from the Midrash index
- Exodus Rabba
- The Project Gutenberg eBook of Philo-Judæus by Norman Bentwich
- Full text of “Two Theban queens, Nefert-ari and Ty-ti, and their tombs”
- Dathan – Wikipedia
- JOSHUA (JEHOSHUA) – JewishEncyclopedia.com
- Joshua and the Prostitute
- Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Core, Dathan, and Abiron – Wikisource, the free online library
- Moses and Pharaoh are mentioned in history
- Battle of Kadesh – Wikipedia
- Chapter IV: Moses in Egypt
- Exodus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary): Douglas K. Stuart: 9780805401028: Amazon.com: Books
- Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt – Seti I
- Memphis | ancient city, Egypt | Britannica.com
- How Long Can a Person Survive Without Water?
- Mount Horeb – Wikipedia
- Exodus 3 KJV – Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his – Bible Gateway
- Exodus 4 KJV – And Moses answered and said, But, – Bible Gateway
- The Name and New Discoveries – NehemiasWall.comNehemia’s Wall
- The Hebrew Yeshua vs. the Greek Jesus – Book – NehemiasWall.comNehemia’s Wall
- A Prayer To Our Father – Book – NehemiasWall.comNehemia’s Wall
- Use of Silk In Ancient Egypt
- History of silk – Wikipedia
- Jericho (BiblePlaces.com)
- Jericho (article) | Khan Academy
- Map of Ancient Israel – Jericho – Bible History Online
- Exodus 5 KJV – And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, – Bible Gateway
- The incredible ‘blood Nile’ picture that shows the river running red | Daily Mail Online
- Did the Nile River Really Turn to Blood? : Christian Courier
- The Science of the 10 Plagues
- How Did the Egyptians Perform Magic Turning Sticks into Snakes?
- Please explain Exodus 34:28. Does it mean that Moses wrote the Ten Commandments?
- Numbers 20 KJV – Then came the children of Israel, even – Bible Gateway
Last week, we looked at the first half of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.
If there’s one thing we learned, it’s that there’s a lot of debates over the events in the movie…or even if the events happened at all. While there’s been a lot of debate over the whether or not the events we saw in the movie are historically accurate, there was also a lot of debate over the movie itself.
After its release, a lot of people didn’t know and argued one way or another about who the person was that provided the voiceover for the voice of God coming from the burning bush.
The role is officially uncredited in the movie. And thanks to some heavy modification on the voice, it’s nearly impossible to tell for sure.
For the longest time, most people thought Cecil B. DeMille was the one who did the voice since he had provided other narrations throughout the film. But then in his 1995 autobiography and the DVD version of The Ten Commandments, Charleton Heston said he was the one who did the voiceover.
If nothing else, the mere fact that there’s so much debate about who provided the voiceover goes to show how much the movie can get picked over when you’re dealing with topics like this.
With the debate finally resolved, people could go on to debate the authenticity of the events the movie was based on—this being a debate that will likely never be resolved.
If you haven’t listened to Part One, I’d highly recommend giving that a listen first because this week on the podcast we’ll take a look at the second half of The Ten Commandments.
The true story behind The Ten Commandments
As the movie fades back in after the intermission, we’re no longer in Midian as we see the beautiful pyramids of Egypt.
Next we’re in Pharaoh’s throne room as ambassadors from around the world are delivering some of the finest luxury goods.
You can probably guess this by now, but there’s no way to know if that scene is true. We just don’t have evidence of it in historical records.
But there are bits and pieces we can test against history.
For example, one of the luxury goods brought before the Pharaoh is something they refer to as a cloth spun by the gods called silk.
The first mention of silk we have comes from China dating back to somewhere between 4000 and 3000 BCE while the first evidence in Egypt is around 1000 BCE.
So that’s a little after Rameses II took power in 1279 BCE, but I’d say it’s definitely possible that it could’ve shown up earlier than 1000 BCE. I mean, if the Chinese were using it for over a thousand years, as the Egyptian empire grew it would make sense that they’d expand their riches with goods from around the world.
Then there’s the ambassador of Jericho. That was a real place, too. In fact, it’s not that Jericho was a real place. It is a real place. Located north of the Dead Sea in the West Bank region, to this day Jericho is the oldest continually inhabited city on the planet with a history dating back about 14,000 years.
One of the emissaries to Pharaoh is Moses along with his brother Aaron. This begins the warning that Moses brings to Egypt, demanding that the Hebrew slaves be set free.
When Rameses refuses, Moses commands Aaron to cast down his staff. When he does, it’s transformed into a snake before the eyes of everyone there. According to the movie, Rameses is unfazed. His own priests cast down their staffs, and they’re also transformed into snakes. But then Moses’ snake kills the other two snakes.
It doesn’t work, though, and the movie shows Yul Brynner’s version of Rameses tell Moses that his staff can perform a bigger miracle. Let the slaves make brick without straw—an essential ingredient.
Here the movie makes a distinct alteration from the account we see in the Bible.
So the part that the movie gets right, at least according to the Bible’s account, is when Moses and Aaron walk into Pharaoh and demand he release the slaves. When Pharaoh—remember, the Bible never specifically calls him Rameses—refused, he simply jumped directly to declaring that the Egyptians wouldn’t give the slaves straw anymore. They’d have to get it themselves.
You can read that account in Exodus 5. It’s not until two chapters later, in Exodus 7 that the account happens with Moses’ staff turning into a snake. In that chapter, yes, the staff turns into a snake and the Egyptian magicians drop their staffs—it doesn’t say exactly how many there were—and those turn into snakes, too. Then the staff-turned-snake devours the other staff-turned-snakes from the Egyptians, very similar to what we saw in the movie.
But all of that happens when Moses comes back later for a second time. Not to get too far ahead of our story, but the movie mentions this too early.
Oh, and the movie shows Moses giving his staff to Aaron. In Exodus, it was Aaron’s own staff and not Moses’ staff that did the magical transformation. As Exodus 7:10-14 says:
…and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
But even though the movie shows the above passage as happening the first time Moses and Aaron visit Pharaoh, that’s actually a later visit. As such, it’s ahead of where we are in the movie.
Getting back to where we are in the movie, after Pharaoh refuses to let the slaves go, it’s Moses and Aaron who have to deliver the bad news to the slaves that they’ll be getting their own straw from now on. They expected a deliverer, and they received even more hard work.
While the movie makes it seem more emotional to see Charleton Heston’s version of Moses have to deliver the bad word himself alongside his brother, Aaron, the story according to Exodus tells us that it was the taskmasters and not Moses and Aaron who told the slaves the bad news. Exodus 5:10-13 explains:
And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.
So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.
Slight difference between movie and history, but the basic idea is fairly similar. The movie even has Dathan there to explain that they’ll have to go collect the stubble in the fields. All of this basically, as the movie shows, made their workload that much more. Without straw given to them, the slaves would have to gather the straw themselves while at the same time making the same number of bricks they were making before.
It sort of makes you wonder who was giving them the straw before that they weren’t gathering it themselves prior to this.
After this initial disaster between Moses and Rameses, Moses is whisked away to Nefretiri. She’s apparently still harboring her love for him, but Moses is less than impressed now. As we learned in part one, there’s no evidence to suggest there was any romantic relationship between Moses and Nefretiri.
Then we see Joshua and his own romantic interest, Lilia. And again, we have no evidence of Lilia’s existence or there being any romantic connection. All of that is made up for the movie.
To do a little recap of Moses and Aaron’s visits to Pharaoh according to the Bible, during the first visit Pharaoh flat out refused and demanded instead that the slaves now need to gather their own straw.
Then Moses and Aaron came back and performed the miracle with Aaron’s staff turning into a snake. Pharaoh still refused to let the Hebrew people go.
Then the next morning, Moses and Aaron returned.
So the film seemed to have turned those first two visits into a single visit.
In the next scene in the movie, we see Moses and Aaron return to Pharaoh again to demand the release of the slaves. When Yul Brynner’s Rameses refuses yet again, Moses again hands his staff to Aaron who, in turn, stretches it against the waters and turns it red with blood. Moses says this will last for seven days and Egypt will be without water for that period.
If you’ve heard of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, this was the first of those plagues. And the historical validity of the first plague is something that historians, Egyptologists, scholars, archaeologists and religious people throughout the millennia have tried to prove and disprove one way or another.
How could the rivers of the Nile be turned red with blood?
If you believe the account in the Bible, it wasn’t normal water turned red through discoloration. As Exodus 7:20-21 says:
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.
Now in the movie, Rameses tries to again do the same trick himself by pouring pure water into the deep red water. This time it doesn’t work, though, and the water turns red before he’s done pouring. However, according to the Bible the Egyptians seemed to have been able to do something similar of their own. The very next verse, verse 22, explains:
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the Lord had said.
Something the Bible doesn’t mention is how this affected the Hebrews. In the movie, we saw Moses’ sister, Miriam, warn some women by the well before Moses goes into Pharaoh to fill up all of their jugs with water since there won’t be water for seven days.
But then again, according to the movie, Rameses was pouring water from a pot and the water turned red inside the pot—so why would the Hebrew jugs of water be any different?
Josephus gives us a bit of insight into this in Chapter 14 of Antiquities of the Jews:
For the Egyptian river ran with bloody water at the command of God, insomuch that it could not be drunk, and they had no other spring of water neither; for the water was not only of the color of blood, but it brought upon those that ventured to drink of it, great pains and bitter torment.
Such was the river to the Egyptians; but it was sweet and fit for drinking to the Hebrews, and no way different from what it naturally used to be. As the king therefore knew not what to do in these surprising circumstances, and was in fear for the Egyptians, he gave the Hebrews leave to go away; but when the plague ceased, he changed his mind again, and would not suffer them to go.
So this would seem to be quite different than what we saw in the movie. Pharaoh apparently agreed to let the slaves go, but then once the plague went away changed his mind?
And was it actual blood? Or bloody water, as Josephus suggested?
Some more recent scholars have suggested it wasn’t actually blood, but rather water turned red as a discoloration. In a book released the same year as the movie by Werner Keller called The Bible as History, he suggested perhaps it was deposits of silt from the Abyssinian lakes that made the water turn a dark reddish color.
Other scientists have suggested perhaps it was a phenomenon known as “red tide” which happens when red algae blooms. These blooms can be toxic to life in the water and poison anything that feeds on them, thereby causing the massive economic devastation that Egypt saw during the first plague.
In any case, can you imagine going seven days without water? As we learned earlier when Moses traveled across the Sinai desert, most people can only go about three days without water. So while they might’ve been able to get some fluids in that time, it’s also very likely that a lot of Egyptians perished before the plague subsided.
Back in the movie, there’s more plagues but the movie speeds all of these up and doesn’t show each one. Jannes, who’s played by Douglass Dumbrille, is the magician who turned his staff into a snake earlier in the movie, and here he’s telling Pharaoh of the plagues they’ve had to endure: Thirst, frogs, lice, flies, sickness and boils.
In the matter of a sentence, the movie is mentioning the first six of ten plagues beset on Egypt. Of course, they didn’t know there was ten. We know from the sacred and historical texts that recount the tale that there were ten.
We already learned about the thirst the Egyptians would’ve had to endure had the Nile been turned red with blood, whether actual blood, red algae or some other sort of discoloration affecting their water supply.
Just like the Nile turning red, there have been countless scientists, historians and religious people over the centuries who have tried to historically and scientifically prove or disprove the plagues. So we won’t bother trying to do on this one podcast episode what scores of people have been unable to do in lifetimes of work, but if we believe the story in the Bible then the movie is fairly accurate to those plagues.
Although the movie doesn’t mention how much time has passed, we can get a sense for the time passing based on the plagues that Jannes has mentioned. The first plague was the water turning into blood. Then the second plague was frogs. According to Exodus 8:1-15, frogs came up out of the waters and covered Egypt.
And although the movie doesn’t show this, the magicians of Egypt were also able to replicate this. Why they’d want to bring up frogs on their own land, I don’t know, but in Exodus 8:7, the Bible states that they were also able to bring up frogs on the land.
And just like the Bible says he did with the water turning into blood, Pharaoh asked Moses to get rid of the frogs and he’d let the people go. So the frogs went away and then Pharaoh turned back on his word and decided not to let the people go.
Some scientists have suggested if the first plague was something like red algae, that could’ve been enough to force scores of frogs out of the water and onto land. But again, we have no historical proof of this.
That pattern is something the movie overlooks. It pretty much just shows Yul Brynner’s version of Rameses refusing to let the slaves go no matter what his people are going through. But according to the Bible, each time a plague hits he tries to get Moses to stop by promising to let the people go. Then, when the plague stops, according to the Bible, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he changed his mind.
After the frogs came lice. So many lice that, according to Exodus 8:17: all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
This time, though, the Bible mentions that the magicians in Egypt couldn’t perform the same enchantment. So they told Pharaoh it must be God. According to Josephus, this plague was even worse. He mentions:
Accordingly, God punished his falseness with another plague, added to the former; for there arose out of the bodies of the Egyptians an innumerable quantity of lice, by which, wicked as they were, they miserably perished, as not able to destroy this sort of vermin either with washes or with ointments.
Lice coming out of the bodies of the Egyptians? Gross!
But, as you can probably guess, Pharaoh didn’t listen. He still wouldn’t let the Hebrew people go.
Next came a plague that the movie mentions in the most Christian of ways. By that, what I mean is that the movie mentions the fourth plague as being a plague of flies. And many Christian sources refer to this same thing. However, not everyone thinks it was flies. For example, Josephus had this to say about the fourth plague:
…for he filled that country full of various sorts of pestilential creatures, with their various properties, such indeed as had never come into the sight of men before…
Similarly, a lot of Jewish scholars throughout history have interpreted the historical texts as saying they’re not flies, but wild animals such as scorpions, snakes and other horrible things you don’t want crawling around you.
Flies or not, the plagues were getting worse and worse.
After this, in the movie, Jannes mentions sickness.
Well, the fifth plague was indeed sickness, but not targeted at the humans but rather on the livestock. Exodus 9:3 sums up the plague by saying: Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain.
That last word, murrain, is a term that means infectious disease. It’s not really used anymore, but during medieval times this term was used synonymous with death.
You can start to get a sense for the economic effect these sort of plagues could’ve had on Egypt. A proud and prosperous nation as it was slowly brought to its knees.
Meanwhile, none of these plagues were affecting the children of Israel. The very next verse in Exodus explains that: And the Lord shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel.
After this, according to Josephus, Pharaoh agreed to let the Hebrew men and women go. But not their children. He wanted to keep them, most likely to rebuild their slave workforce.
But that wasn’t good enough.
After the diseased livestock, the seventh plague brought boils and blains. Basically, inflamed, swelling sores on the skin that some historians think might’ve been leprous.
We can learn the Biblical account from Exodus 9:9-11, which explains that boils broke out on both man and beast throughout all of Egypt. The magicians couldn’t even stand in front of Moses to try to replicate this because there were boils all over their skin.
And that brings us up to the sixth plague. That’s the last plague mentioned by Jannes in the movie as a means of speeding up the story in the movie. But even though the movie skipped over it, at this point there would’ve been a lot of deaths.
When Josephus referred to the plague of boils alone, he said: a great part of the Egyptians perished in this manner.
But realistically speaking if any of these plagues were to afflict a country there’d be a lot of people dying. Not only that, but think about the stench and filth. Dead frogs, livestock, people…how many more people would’ve died just as a result of the sickness that being surrounded by such death would’ve caused?
It’s sad to think about such death and destruction.
Back in the movie, Charleton Heston’s version of Moses declares to Pharaoh that because he won’t let the slaves go, hail will fall from a clear sky and burn on the ground. Then darkness will cover Egypt for three full days.
Immediately, as Moses leaves, hail starts to fall and burn as fire on the ground, forcing Yul Brynner’s Rameses to take cover inside. Then the scene shifts to him inside talking about three days of darkness. He’s doing this in a brightly-lit room and talking about it as if it’s already passed.
So we don’t get to see that one in the movie. But I guess if it were dark, we wouldn’t be able to see anything on camera anyway.
Both of these are plagues mentioned in the Bible. They were the seventh and ninth plagues upon Egypt.
Although, the Bible never mentions that it’s the hail actually causing the fire like the movie implies. For example, in Exodus 9:24, we can read: So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.
Even as the hail fell from the sky, the Bible mentions that Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron. Verses 27-29 of Exodus chapter 9 say:
And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. Intreat the Lord (for it is enough) that there be no more mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.
And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the Lord’s.
When the rain, hail and thunder stopped, Pharaoh again changed his mind and refused to let the Hebrew slaves go.
Now if you noticed, earlier I mentioned that the hail and darkness were the seventh and ninth plague. There seems to be a number missing there.
Well, oddly enough the movie doesn’t really talk about the eighth plague. That was a swarm of locusts and it came in conjunction with the hail to utterly destroy any crops the Egyptians had. Pulling from Josephus, we can learn that:
…hail was sent down from heaven; and such hail it was, as the climate of Egypt had never suffered before, nor was it like to that which falls in other climates in winter time, but was larger than that which falls in the middle of spring to those that dwell in the northern and north-western regions. This hail broke down their boughs laden with fruit. After this a tribe of locusts consumed the seed which was not hurt by the hail; so that to the Egyptians all hopes of the future fruits of the ground were entirely lost.
To get another side of the story from the Bible, there were so many locusts that they themselves darkened the skies:
For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the Lord your God, that he may take away from me this death only.
And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the Lord. And the Lord turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.
Let’s contemplate this for a moment. One of the earlier plagues brought devastation to the livestock in Egypt. Then, not only were the crops lost for the current year, but according to Josephus all hopes of future crops were gone as well. The agriculture of Egypt was completely and totally destroyed.
By the way, locusts are a species of grasshoppers.
Oh, and in that last verse you’ll notice it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Like every other Bible verse, this is something Biblical scholars have theorized and debated for centuries, but it’s interesting to point out that even according to the Bible’s account, it doesn’t seem to be Pharaoh making the decision himself to refuse to let the slaves go. Instead, it seems to be God purposely refusing to let the slaves go so that more destruction can be wrought against Egypt.
After these plagues came the darkness. Three days of it, just like the movie says. Not the kind of darkness that comes from scores of grasshoppers, though.
While we don’t get to see the plague of darkness in the movie, the tale of darkness from historical texts is much more terrifying than flipping a light switch. According to Exodus 10:15: And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.
Have you ever felt darkness? It’s hard to even imagine what that must be like. According to the Bible, it was so dark that no one dared move. Exodus 10:23 says: They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.
But staying still for three days didn’t seem to be the only issue. Josephus had this to say about the ninth plague: a thick darkness, without the least light, spread itself over the Egyptians, whereby their sight being obstructed, and their breathing hindered by the thickness of the air, they died miserably, and under a terror lest they should be swallowed up by the dark cloud.
I can’t even begin to imagine the mental terror and exhaustion that must come from being scared out of your mind for three days straight. Pure, thick and stifling darkness. So thick that it’s hard to breath.
This is where there’s a slight difference between the accounts we can read in the Bible and what Josephus had to say. According to the Bible, when the three days ended, Pharaoh and Moses had another chat. According to the Bible, Pharaoh agreed to let the men, women and children go. He only insisted that the Hebrew flocks and herds that hadn’t been touched by the plagues stay behind to help feed his people.
According to Josephus, Pharaoh’s request that the flocks stay while all the Hebrew people leave happened before the darkness and after the hail and locusts.
Regardless, both the account in the Bible and Josephus agree that Moses refused this compromise. As Exodus 10:26 explains: And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the Lord our God.
Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the Lord our God; and we know not with what we must serve the Lord, until we come thither.
Remember, all of the Egyptian flocks had perished and they didn’t have any crops either, so it was only a matter of time before starvation would set in. Pharaoh had to have known this, so logically speaking his request that a massive source of food be left behind in exchange for the freedom of the slaves isn’t really a bad one.
But it was a deal-breaker.
After the darkness in the movie, Yul Brynner’s Rameses and Charleton Heston’s Moses face off once again. This time, Rameses issues an ultimatum saying that if there is one more plague on Egypt, it’s he who will turn the Nile red with blood. He doesn’t come out and say it, but he’s implying he’ll order his troops to slaughter the Hebrew people.
Charleton Heston’s Moses then mentions it was Rameses’ father’s father who did something similar. If you listened to part one, you’ll remember that was an edict from Rameses I, Seti I’s father and Rameses II’s grandfather.
Then, after he leaves, Rameses says that he’ll bring a plague to the slaves in Goshen. He goes on to issue an edict that the firstborn of each Hebrew household shall die—starting with Moses.
While there’s plenty of dialogue added into the movie that we don’t see in the Bible, the spirit of the story in the movie here seems to be a blend of what we can read both in the Bible and from Josephus’ account.
According to Exodus 10:28-29: And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die. And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.
In the movie, one of the first things Charleton Heston’s Moses asks to Yul Brynner’s Rameses is how long Rameses will refuse to humble himself before God. Then he goes on to say that if there is one more plague on Egypt, it’s by Rameses’ own word that God will bring it.
Well, that last part seems to be a tie-in created by the filmmakers, but the opening question is actually very similar to what we read from Josephus’ account:
…when the darkness, after three days and as many nights, was dissipated, and when Pharaoh did not still repent and let the Hebrews go, Moses came to him and said, “How long wilt thou be disobedient to the command of God? for he enjoins thee to let the Hebrews go; nor is there any other way of being freed from the calamities are under, unless you do so.”
But the king angry at what he said, and threatened to cut off his head if he came any more to trouble him these matters. Hereupon Moses said he not speak to him any more about them, for he himself, together with the principal men among the Egyptians, should desire the Hebrews away. So when Moses had said this, he [went] his way.
The key difference here is that it doesn’t seem like Pharaoh issued an edict to kill the firstborn children of the Hebrew slaves like the movie implies. In fact, we don’t have any historical evidence to show that Rameses II issued this sort of edict.
Which is ironic, since Yul Brynner’s version of Rameses says he’ll give them an answer the world will never forget.
It’d also seem from these accounts that after nine plagues, Moses wasn’t going to ask for permission to leave anymore. Instead, it’d be Pharaoh who would ask the Hebrew people to leave so as to stop the plagues from happening.
Back in the movie, Nefretiri heads to Moses and Sephora’s home to try to save their son from Pharaoh’s edict. Then, once Moses returns and Nefretiri tells him of Rameses’ edict, Moses staggers. Out of his own mouth will come God’s punishment. Then he explains it’s not the firstborn of Israel who will die, it’s the firstborn of Egypt.
Charleton Heston’s Moses says about midnight the destroyer will come, and all the firstborn of Egypt will die.
The destroyer that the movie is talking about is something that many religious texts have referred to as the Angel of Death. And this is the story of Passover, when the Hebrew households were ordered to mark their mantles with blood so that the death of the firstborn would pass over their homes.
We know this from Exodus 12:3, when God tells Moses that, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb…
That’s why, when we see Joshua visit Lilia at Dathan’s home, he tries to put lamb’s blood on the door to save her life. Of course, we don’t know if any of that is true since there’s no evidence to suggest Joshua had a romantic interest in a woman named Lilia, but the Bible does explain the lamb’s blood on the two side posts and above the mantle like we see Joshua put on Dathan’s home.
Exodus 12 goes on to explain the lamb will be used as a sacrifice, and it’s blood is the blood they should use to mark their homes.
While the movie says the Angel of Death will come at midnight of that very same night, that’s speeding things up quite a bit.
Even though the Bible doesn’t say how far off “the tenth day of this month” is, there seems to be no indication that it was happening the very same night that Moses left Pharaoh’s house like the movie seems to imply.
Oh, and as a side note, if you’ve ever heard the metal band Metallica’s song, “Creeping Death”, that tells the story of the Angel of Death coming. I can’t help but wonder if this movie helped come up with that visualization since the movie shows the Angel of Death coming, visualized as a dark fog creeping on the ground. As the fog enters a home, cries of grief start to fill the land.
There’s also no historical evidence to show that Bithiah joined Moses in his home like the movie shows. But it adds for a nice narrative to the story, I suppose.
In the movie, the firstborn children of Egypt perish. And that’s the final straw for Yul Brynner’s Rameses. Stricken with grief, he orders the Hebrew slaves to leave—disappear from Egypt.
That’s pretty accurate to the account from the Bible. This comes from Exodus 12:29-33:
And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said.
Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men.
Oh, and there’s even a part where a boy asks Charleton Heston’s version of Moses why this night is different than all others? To which he replies, tonight God will deliver us from bondage.
The movie’s inspiration here comes from Exodus 12:26-27, which says:
And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed their heads and worshipped.
We can only imagine what it must’ve been like that night. To hear screams and cries all around you as the firstborn of every Egyptian household perished.
And that was the tenth and final plague on the land of Egypt.
No more reluctance from Pharaoh’s part. No more letting the men and women go but keeping the children. Or the men, women and children can go but keep the livestock. The Egyptians wanted the Hebrew slaves out of their land so they could finally put an end to the death and devastation that had been ravaging their land since the plagues began.
Historically speaking, we don’t know exactly how long the plagues lasted. Honestly, other than the accounts we’ve learned about from the Bible, Josephus and other such historical texts, we don’t really know if the plagues even happened. Many have debated exactly that for ages, and no doubt will continue to do so for ages to come.
Oh, and in the movie, after Yul Brynner’s Rameses tells Moses to take his people and go, he mentions taking whatever spoils from Egypt they want as he grabs the jewelry from around his neck and casts it to the ground. This little detail actually comes from the Bible, also. This comes from Exodus 12:35-36:
And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.
After this, we see what filmmakers refer to as the exodus scene in the movie. While it’s dramatized for the film, it shows what it must’ve been like for thousands of people to move all at once. The filmmakers used thousands of extras to shoot the scene to help give it authenticity.
As a little side note, Cecil B. DeMille offers voiceover here as he does throughout the film, but he actually suffered a heart attack while shooting the scene.
One of the things the movie mentions is that the Hebrews didn’t know where they were going. But as we see a bunch of extras chatting as they pack up their goods and leave their homes, there’s a mention of a land flowing with milk and honey.
That’s also something the Bible mentions many times over. Exodus 3:8, 3:17, 13:5, 33:3, and so on…they all mention that the children of Israel will be delivered from Egypt and brought to a land flowing with milk and honey. That was the promise land.
But taking a step back, think about what this must be like. The Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians for 430 years. That’s according to Exodus 12:40.
We don’t know for certain what the average lifespan was back then, but today the average life expectancy is about 70 years. That’s a little over six generations. Of course, that’s optimistic because I highly doubt the life expectancy was 70 years back then. Not only because of scientific and medicinal advances that we have today, but if for no other reason than the fact that the Hebrews were slaves.
Try, if you can, to put yourselves in the shoes of the average person then.
The children of Israel had lived in Egypt for generations. For those who left that day, it was all they knew. It was all their parents and their grandparents knew. They were leaving, literally, by faith. Away from the whip of their taskmasters. Into the desert beyond Egypt and into…well, the unknown. Today we might have maps of where they went and what was beyond, but remember they were a slave nation. They likely didn’t have any sort of indication about where they were going.
One thing the movie doesn’t mention, though, is God’s own commandment issued to Moses and Aaron. According to Exodus 12:42, that commandment was to commemorate Passover. To remember that night when death passed over the homes of the Hebrews with lambs blood on their door.
Part of that commandment included the circumcision of all of the males. As Exodus 12:43-44 says:
And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof.
And that is what the children of Israel did. And that is why, to this day, Passover is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. It’s a celebration that Jews around the world still commemorate the night they were delivered from bondage in Egypt.
Going back to the movie, as they’re leaving Egypt, everyone seems to be happy. This was the day they’d waited for—finally here!
Through many shots of people leaving, children laughing, people moving their possessions and even new children being born, everything seems happy. Then we’re sent back to Yul Brynner’s Rameses and Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri. As the two mourning parents talk over their deceased son’s body, Rameses gets angry.
He calls on his guards and priests. My armor! My chariot!
Pharaoh is going to get the children of Israel back, to kill Moses and bring them back into bondage as slaves.
Next, in the movie, we’re in the Hebrew camp by a massive sea of water. They think they hear thunder, but that’s not thunder—that’s the chariots of Pharaoh coming from the desert!
Like most scenes in the film, we don’t know if this is how it happened of course, but the story according to Exodus tells us that after the children of Israel left Egypt, they traveled to the Red Sea. We don’t know how many days that took, but according to Exodus 13:21, God led their way with a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. That was their beacon that they followed.
Meanwhile, according to Exodus 14:6-8, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart. So much so that Pharaoh left Egypt with his entire army. We don’t know exact numbers, but Exodus 14:7 mentions 600 chosen chariots and, “all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.”
Josephus adds to that number in Chapter 15 of Antiquities of the Jews by mentioning: “the number that pursued after them was six hundred chariots, with fifty thousand horsemen, and two hundred thousand foot-men, all armed.”
The movie doesn’t show hundreds of thousands of people, of course, but they didn’t have the ability to create CG armies in the 1950s. Anyway, they raced out of Egypt, just like we saw in the movie, and met up with the children of Israel as they were encamped by the sea.
In the movie, this is quite the dilemma. People start to question their decision to leave Egypt. On one side they are backed up against the Red Sea and on the other side they have Pharaoh’s chariots bearing down on them.
This, too, comes from both the accounts in Exodus and the works of Josephus. According to both of those historical texts, the Hebrew people were on the Red Sea near a place called Baalzephon. Many historians today place that as being on the northeastern shore of the Red Sea, near where the Suez Canal is today.
Josephus even mentions a head count for the children of Israel, saying that while it was impossible to count the total number of people, the number of men fit for war were 600,000. So add to that older men not considered fit for war, women and children, and you’ve got a sizable amount of people on both sides.
Even though, according to these numbers, the Egyptians may have been outnumbered on a strict man-to-man count, remember that the Hebrew people had been slaves for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, the Egyptians had ruled the world with their military might. So they were the trained fighting machines of their time and place.
So, yes, the accounts we have of what happened next is fairly close to what the movie shows. The Hebrew people assumed they’d be totally and utterly destroyed by Pharaoh’s army. Almost immediately, they blamed Moses for leading them out into the desert to their deaths. Some, according to Josephus, even went so far as to start throwing stones at Moses.
Meanwhile, we see Charleton Heston’s version of Moses refuse to give into the fears of the people. He reassured them that they would be delivered by God.
Oh, and in the movie it’s Edward Robinson’s version of Dathan who seems to be the leader in the cries of stoning Moses. There’s no evidence of this whatsoever in the Bible or anywhere else.
Back in the movie, as Pharaoh’s chariots advance, a massive pillar of fire blocks the Egyptians way on one side. Then on the other side, a storm brews over the Red Sea, and we see Charleton Heston’s iconic stance with outstretched arms as the waters part right down the middle, revealing dry land for the people to cross.
This is all sped up quite a bit in the movie, but the spirit of the story is close to what we can find in the Bible.
Let’s start with the pillar of fire. If you remember from just a moment ago, we learned that the story in Exodus tells of God using a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Well, it’d seem that the pillar didn’t form for the first time just to block the Egyptians like we saw in the movie, because it was there all along. Exodus 13:22 says: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
The “He” being referenced there being God.
So the pillar was in front of the children of Israel the whole time. But then in Exodus 14:19-20, we find out what happened and it’s a little different than the movie:
And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.
The key difference here, I think, is the timing. For one, the movie never shows the Egyptians being there long enough to set up a camp. Nor does it show night time coming, which the Bible does mention.
With the Egyptians blocked off, what then of the other side? Did the Red Sea really part like we saw in the movie? Well, again here we’re getting some slightly different accounts for how things went down from what we saw in the movie.
Let’s start with the Bible’s account. This comes from Exodus 14:21-22:
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
And this is what Josephus had to say in Chapter 14 of Antiquities of the Jews:
When Moses had thus addressed himself to God, he smote the sea with his rod, which parted asunder at the stroke, and receiving those waters into itself, left the ground dry, as a road and a place of flight for the Hebrews. Now when Moses saw this appearance of God, and that the sea went out of its own place, and left dry land, he went first of all into it, and bid the Hebrews to follow him along that divine road, and to rejoice at the danger their enemies that followed them were in; and gave thanks to God for this so surprising a deliverance which appeared from him.
The Bible’s account is more like what we see in the movie, but it’s interesting that the filmmakers chose not to fill it in with extra details we got from Josephus. For example, the primary difference in how the miracle was performed was that in the Bible Moses stretched his hand out over the sea.
That’s sort of like what we saw Charleton Heston do, although the Bible does only mention a singular hand. But anyway, that’s different than Jospehus, who said that the sea parted from the point at which Moses hit the sea with his staff.
But the Bible doesn’t mention what Moses did after the sea parted. Josephus, though, says that he was the one who led the Hebrew people through the dry land. The movie has yet a different account as it shows Moses standing on a rock nearby, but ordering Joshua to be the one to lead the people through the parted sea.
Going back to the movie, after the Hebrew people start making their way across the dry land made by parting the Red Sea, the pillar of fire that was blocking the Egyptians goes away. This leaves Pharaoh’s chariots free to charge through after the Hebrew people still crossing the Red Sea.
It’s worth noting, though, that Yul Brynner’s version of Rameses doesn’t go through the parted Red Sea himself.
Then, he watches in horror as the Red Sea starts to close in around his chariots as they’re swallowed up by the waters.
Like what we’ve seen so far with this scene at the Red Sea, the events are all sped up from what we can read about in the Bible. Interestingly, Exodus 14:25 mentions that as all of Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen were chasing after the Hebrew people, God looked down and removed the wheels from the chariots to slow them down.
Then Moses stretched his hand out across the sea yet again from the other side and, like we saw in the movie, the waters started to cave in. As Exodus 14:28 says:
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.
While the Bible’s account is short and to the point, as we’ve done many times before, we can get some more details from Josephus. He starts by talking about how the Egyptians didn’t rush into the middle of the Red Sea like we saw in the movie, but instead waited for a moment thinking that the Hebrew people were themselves rushing into their death.
This comes from Chapter 16 of Antiquities of the Jews:
Now, while these Hebrews made no stay, but went on earnestly, as led by God’s presence with them, the Egyptians supposed first that they were distracted, and were going rashly upon manifest destruction.
But when they saw that they were going a great way without any harm, and that no obstacle or difficulty fell in their journey, they made haste to pursue them, hoping that the sea would be calm for them also. They put their horse foremost, and went down themselves into the sea.
Now the Hebrews, while these were putting on their armor, and therein spending their time, were beforehand with them, and escaped them, and got first over to the land on the other side without any hurt. Whence the others were encouraged, and more courageously pursued them, as hoping no harm would come to them neither: but the Egyptians were not aware that they went into a road made for the Hebrews, and not for others; that this road was made for the deliverance of those in danger, but not for those that were earnest to make use of it for the others’ destruction.
As soon, therefore, as ever the whole Egyptian army was within it, the sea flowed to its own place, and came down with a torrent raised by storms of wind, and encompassed the Egyptians. Showers of rain also came down from the sky, and dreadful thunders and lightning, with flashes of fire. Thunderbolts also were darted upon them. Nor was there anything which used to be sent by God upon men, as indications of his wrath, which did not happen at this time, for a dark and dismal night oppressed them. And thus did all these men perish, so that there was not one man left to be a messenger of this calamity to the rest of the Egyptians.
The end there is key. In the movie, there is one man left. Rameses himself. So if, according to Josephus, no one survived does that mean that Rameses II died there? Well, historical documents would say otherwise. We know this because we have discovered the mummy of Rameses II and we can gather from the time of his death he was about 90 years old. Not only that, but he was suffering from severe arthritis and dental problems, so it’s not likely at all that he went out to battle with his troops near the end of his life.
But then again, we’re not entirely sure if Rameses II was the Pharaoh mentioned in the Exodus account in the Bible. Some things, we may never know.
Back in the movie, after being delivered from the Red Sea, Cecil B. DeMille’s voiceover explains that the children of Israel went to Mount Sinai and camped beneath it. Then we find out that Moses has gone up to the mountain to receive God’s law and he’s been gone for 40 days and 40 nights.
While up there, Dathan convinces the Hebrew people to make an idol made out of pure gold in the shape of a calf.
Then, we see Moses up on the mountain and God comes in the form of a pillar of fire, etching words into two tablets of stone. On each, written five laws for a total of ten—the ten commandments.
Even though the movie shows Dathan as the primary villain here, trying to convince the people of Israel to return to Egypt by creating a new god for them, Dathan is not the villain in the story from the Bible.
This part of the movie jumps forward in the Biblical account. It jumps past the story in Exodus 16 of how, after their provisions had dried up, God provided food for the children of Israel—manna from heaven. It jumps past Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, hearing of all that had happened and going out to meet with Moses.
In fact, it jumps all the way from the account of the crossing of the Red Sea, which happens in Exodus 14, to Exodus 32.
That’s when, according to the Bible, it was Moses’ brother Aaron who made the golden calf. Now the movie does show Aaron making it, but it shows Dathan being the primary driver in stirring the people up and convincing him to do so. The Bible doesn’t mention Dathan, but rather simply says the people gave up on Moses when he failed to return from Mount Sinai, and asked Aaron to make them new gods.
Oh, and the movie correctly makes note of 40 days and 40 nights. That’s how long the Bible says Moses was on the mountain in Exodus 24:18.
So, similar to what we saw in the movie, Aaron melted down the people’s golden earrings and made a golden calf. And there’s dancing, music, celebration and even a human sacrifice in the form of Lilia, offered up by Dathan. She’s not killed, but she’s thrown on the altar of the golden calf.
After God writes the ten commandments onto the tablets of stone, in the movie God’s pillar of fire disappears as He commands Moses to get down from the mountain, for the people have corrupted themselves.
As bazaar as much of this may seem, the story told in the account of Exodus tells of this and much more that the movie doesn’t show.
In the Biblical account from Exodus 32, while there was great merriment made by the people as they danced before the golden calf, God essentially said He wanted to wipe out the Israeli people. After everything He’d done for them, they made a golden calf to worship and had rejected God.
This story comes from Exodus 32:7-14, after the golden calf had been made:
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people:
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
So it’d seem, according to this account, that it was Moses who saved the children of Israel from the wrath of God. But, like the movie shows, Moses did return from the mountain with two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments.
Oh, and in the movie it shows the commandments being written into stones on the face of the mountain. The Bible doesn’t mention that at all. In fact, the Bible mentions in Exodus 32:15 that the “tables of testimony” as it calls them, were written on both sides. So double-sided.
But then, things get even more different from the account in the Bible compared to the movie.
We don’t see any of it, but Cecil B. DeMille’s voiceover talks about adultery, rioting, nakedness, eating and drinking and playing like fools. Then, when Charleton Heston’s version of Moses returns from the mountain in the movie, he calls out to the people below, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come to me.”
That line comes straight from the Bible, but as you can probably guess there’s more to the story.
It starts in Exodus 32:25, when Moses stood by the gates of the camp and declared, just like we saw Charleton Heston do in the movie, “Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me…”
But then something happens that we don’t see in the movie. According to the last half of Exodus 32:25, it was the sons of Levi who gathered near Moses, declaring they were on God’s side. Then Moses commanded them to grab their swords and go from gate to gate among the camp: And slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.
Then Exodus 32:28 tells the number of those who were slaughtered:
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
We don’t see any of that happen in the movie.
After this, in the movie, Moses gets upset and casts the stone tablets onto the golden calf causing, for some reason, a big explosion.
The movie then shows a great earthquake swallowing up people along with the golden calf. But that’s not what happened in the Bible. There was no big explosion, and Moses didn’t throw the tablets at the golden calf. This is from Exodus 32:19-20:
And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
So that happened a bit differently than what we saw in the movie. Not only how the golden calf was destroyed, but the punishment of drinking the water with powdered gold in it from the calf.
Oh, and we don’t see this in the movie, but a little bit later, Moses would end up going back into the mountain for another 40 days and 40 nights. There, he carved out two new stone tablets and God rewrote the ten commandments on them.
Although, it’s worth pointing out that some Biblical scholars debate whether or not it was God who wrote the ten commandments the second time around, or if it was Moses who wrote them. I won’t get into that here, but you can read that account in Exodus 34 to decide for yourself.
As the movie comes to a close, Cecil B. DeMille’s voiceover explains that God was angry with Israel. To prove they could follow the commandments, they were forced to wander the desert for 40 years until that entire generation had passed. Then we see a white-haired Charleton Heston as Moses, looking out over the promise land beyond the Jordan River.
Then, according to the movie, Moses explains to Joshua and Sephora that God is angry with him for disobeying God by the waters of strife. As punishment, Moses can’t pass over the Jordan River into the promise land.
While the movie doesn’t really explain much of what’s going on there, it’s also pulling from the Bible here. This is way, way beyond the book of Exodus and into the book of Numbers. If you’re not familiar with the Bible the books of the Bible here are Genesis first, then Exodus, that’s where most of our story today came from, and then Leviticus and Numbers. So we’re two books—and many, many chapters—later in the story.
It’s in Numbers 20:3-12 that we learn what the story the movie is referencing here about the waters of strife and why Moses couldn’t pass into the promise land.
And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!
And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.
And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
As a little side note, the Bible doesn’t mention their location like the movie does, but in Chapter 8 of Book IV from Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus confirms the location we see in the movie when it mentions Moses gathered the people near the future city of Abila alongside the Jordan River.
So the disobedience that Charleton Heston’s Moses in the movie is referring to is when he hit the rock instead of spoke to it, like God had told him to do. Oh, and in the movie Moses says that he must stay alone. But you’ll notice that in the Bible, it was both Moses and Aaron who weren’t allowed to cross into the promise land.
The movie ends with Moses passing over his staff and cloak to Joshua, and with it the leadership of the Hebrew people. Both Sephora and Lilia are there, as well.
That’s not exactly as the Bible mentions it, but the gist of the story is about the same. By that, I mean Joshua was given leadership of the people. But it wasn’t given by Moses, nor was there any mention of Moses’ wife, Zipporah, or anyone named Lilia there at the time.
We learn this by jumping even further forward into the Bible to the book of Joshua. This is Joshua 1:1-3:
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,
Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
Something else the movie doesn’t mention is that, according to Joshua 3:13-17, the Hebrew people were able to pass by the Jordan River much in the same way they crossed the Red Sea. God parted the river so they could cross on dry land.
In the movie, Charleton Heston’s version of Moses mentions setting five books by the Ark of the Covenant by the tablets with the ten commandments.
The movie doesn’t really elaborate on the five books, but we can only assume those are what we now refer to as the Five Books of Moses. In the Jewish religion, those five books are believed to have been authored by Moses himself, hence the title, and tell the tales of what we have learned throughout this episode. They are the Torah, or the Written Law, and are the basis for the Jewish religion today.
For Christians, those books are commonly referred to as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
But what of Moses? In the movie, after declaring that the people of Israel should go on without him, he walks up the mountain a bit. Then, turning back to look, he waves a hand in an epic manner as the movie fades to black.
As is the case for nearly everything we’ve learned so far, what happened to Moses is something that historians and religious scholars have debated for centuries. So like we’ve done throughout this series looking at the story behind Cecil B. DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments, I will leave this with the historical text we have and let you be the one to determine if you believe it or not.
This comes from the end of Book IV, Chapter 8 from Antiquities of the Jews in the works of Josephus:
Now Moses lived in all one hundred and twenty years; a third part of which time, abating one month, he was the people’s ruler; and he died on the last month of the year, which is called by the Macedonians Dystrus, but by us Adar, on the first day of the month. He was one that exceeded all men that ever were in understanding, and made the best use of what that understanding suggested to him.
He had a very graceful way of speaking and addressing himself to the multitude; and as to his other qualifications, he had such a full command of his passions, as if he hardly had any such in his soul, and only knew them by their names, as rather perceiving them in other men than in himself. He was also such a general of an army as is seldom seen, as well as such a prophet as was never known, and this to such a degree, that whatsoever he pronounced, you would think you heard the voice of God himself.
So the people mourned for him thirty days: nor did ever any grief so deeply affect the Hebrews as did this upon the death of Moses: nor were those that had experienced his conduct the only persons that desired him, but those also that perused the laws he left behind him had a strong desire after him, and by them gathered the extraordinary virtue he was master of. And this shall suffice for the declaration of the manner of the death of Moses.