Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Meh Commandments

It's spring break this week so Carol and I are schlepping Ben around to several colleges. We've already visited Berklee School of Music in Boston and are now at the College of St. Rose in Albany. Tomorrow we head to William Paterson in New Jersey.

On Sunday night, as we hung out in our hotel room, The Ten Commandments was on TV, as it has been every Easter evening forever. I'm not sure why a movie about Moses is the go-to for Easter, rather than a movie about Jesus, but TV scheduling makes about as much sense as Christianity (boom!). I've seen it many times over the years and I like the amazing sets and the spectacle, if not the story, which features some real boneheadedness by every character. Since nothing else was on, I watched it. Neither Carol nor Ben have ever seen it and neither was interested.

Watching the movie as a non-believer, it really struck me how actually crazy "holy" Moses seems at first. Pharaoh's skepticism at Moses' claims of speaking for god is completely justified, and I liked the way that he thinks Moses' first attempts at miracles were mere tricks. Later, when the Nile turns red, Pharaoh actually cites the news that a mountain nearby was erupting a red fluid, thus turning the river red. I found myself rooting for Pharaoh (aside from him being a despotic douche for having slaves).

But then Moses pulls off some tricks that would be hard to explain. Calling for flaming hail minutes before it arrives is pretty convincing of his having some power as is a three-day eclipse. At that point, Pharaoh starts to look pretty stupid for continuing to fight Moses. Finally, after God kills a bunch of innocent Egyptian children, Pharaoh relents and frees the Hebrews, and then immediately changes his mind to go chasing after the departed slaves to kill them.

At this point in the story, we come to Dathan, played by Edward G. Robinson, who is a Hebrew collaborating with the Egyptians. He is thrown out of Egypt with the rest of his people but longs to return to his life of power. At every stage of the flight from Egypt, he urges return, despite striking, irrefutable evidence of Moses' power. He witnesses a tornado of fire, the parting of the Red Sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh's army, but still believes that Pharaoh (and his Egyptian gods) is right. The movie makes Dathan look like a moron just for added conflict, and when he convinces almost all of the rest to rebel when Moses goes up Mt. Sinai, it makes the Hebrews look like complete idiots. I mean, how many clearly supernatural miracles does it take to convince these dumbasses? It seriously makes you wonder how such doofuses became God's chosen people.

I always enjoy the special effects of God writing the Ten Commandments, but the commandments, themselves are mostly useless. Anti-rape and anti-slavery commandments would have been much more useful than the one about cursing. And coveting is a serious sin?  Sheesh.

When Moses returns to find his people in rebellion, he destroys the tablets to kill a bunch of them (including Dathan) and then the Hebrews spend 40 years wandering in a fairly small desert, thus demonstrating that they're not only idiots, but that they apparently have no navigation skills. There's no word on how Moses gets another set of tablets.

Finally, it should be noted that the movie is FICTIONAL. There is no archaeological evidence that Hebrews were ever enslaved in Egypt. Moses himself is likely just a myth and many Jewish scholars admit it. So anyone taking this movie as actual historical fact is as crazy as many of the characters.


ReptilianSamurai said...

Your blog appears to have eaten my comment.

I don't think it's put on for Easter, it's for Passover (which is the same time of year).

Ipecac said...

What? A movie about a Jewish holiday airing on a Christian holiday? This is America, dammit!

Eric Haas said...

As I recall, in the book, Pharaoh was ready to let the slaves go earlier, but God “hardened his heart” so he could continue showing off his power.

Also, while the movie assumes the Pharaoh in question was Ramses II, Exodus strangely never names the Pharaoh involved--more evidence that the story was a literary creation made up long after the “facts” it purports to tell.

Ipecac said...

Yep, it's hard to be a good guy when God makes you be the bad guy. Kind of undercuts the story a bit.