After Darren Aronofsky’s bible story re-imagining, Noah, became one of the most divisive films of 2014 – ruffling the feathers of both religious viewers and hardcore cinephiles alike – the release of 20th Century Fox and director Ridley Scott’s Moses movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings, was destined to carry another wave of controversy into theaters. While some filmgoers have been intrigued by the idea of a swords and sandals epic centered on one of the bible’s most well-known leaders, others have balked at images depicting a bearded Christian Bale wielding an ornate sword – rather than a staff.
However, now that Exodus: Gods and Kings has arrived in theaters, we finally know just how far Scott has strayed from the Old Testament story. For our official thoughts on the quality of the filmmaker’s adaptation, read our Exodus: Gods and Kings review or check back soon for an Exodus episode of the Screen Rant Underground podcast.
If you’ve already seen the movie (or do not mind being SPOILED), read on for our breakdown of this new interpretation of Exodus, as well as info to help casual moviegoers understand any differences between Gods and Kings and its biblical source material.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
CLICK on any topic to jump directly to it:
- Moses’ Backstory and Historical Context (This Page)
- The Relationship Between God and Moses
- Ramses and the Hebrew People
- God’s Influence on the Exodus
Moses’ Backstory and Historical Context
Despite some significant changes to Moses’ adult life, the basic setup for Exodus: Gods and Kings remains the same. Fearing that the Hebrew population was growing too fast, the Pharaoh orders every male newborn of Israelite descent be drowned in the Nile River. However, one Hebrew woman, Jochebed, refuses and places her son, Moishe, in a basket, floating him downstream – so that an Egyptian might discover and spare the child. Moses’ sister, Miriam (Tara Fitzgerald), follows behind the basket and, upon its discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithia (Hiam Abbass), Miriam helps persuade the princess to raise the child (and employ her as well as Jochebed to care for him). In the scripture, Jochebed is brought-in as a wet nurse, but the film does not directly address this aspect. Moses’ birth mother is only shown at the time of his banishment (played by Anna Savva) – and her role in/outside the Egyptian court is not specified.
As Moses becomes an adult, the lines between scripture and moviemaking become a bit more blurry. Scott’s film clearly depicts Moses as a well-trained general and strategist in King Seti I’s army – alongside his “brother” (read: adopted cousin) Prince Ramses. In the scripture, there is no direct mention of Moses serving in the Egyptian army, training as a warrior, or even carrying a sword – meaning that Scott definitely took liberties with his battle-hardened version. That said, given his role in the royal family, it is plausible that the biblical Moses might have fought in the Egyptian army – since kings, princes, and other royalty often led the charge in battle and, at the very least, were trained to defend themselves against assassins, spies, and other threats.
Still, without question, at the point that Moses returns to Egypt following his banishment (more on that in a minute), he was never depicted as an armored warrior; instead, Moses was a quiet (but firm) shepherd of the Hebrews – one who delivered his people from bondage with a staff (and God’s “wonders”/plagues), not an ornate Egyptian sword.
As for how Moses comes to be banished from Egypt, the scripture never pinpoints a specific moment when his true heritage is revealed to him, whereas the film inserts an entirely fabricated intervention – specifically a meeting with Hebrew slave, Nun (Ben Kingsley), who outright tells Moses the backstory.
Nevertheless, the turning point, where he elects to spill Egyptian blood in order to protect a Hebrew, remains somewhat the same. In the scripture, Moses kills and hides an Egyptian guard that was mercilessly beating a slave – only to find out that other Hebrews had witnessed the murder. As word spreads of his actions, Moses runs away from Egypt – and King Seti “sought to kill him“.
Exodus 2:11-14: One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.”
In the film, Moses kills (but does not bother to hide) two Egyptian guards that were mercilessly beating a Hebrew, but returns to Egypt anyway, hoping that his conversation with Nun (and rumors of his true heritage) never resurface. Unfortunately for Moses, a pair of spies overheard the meeting with Nun and report back to the corrupt Viceroy Hegep of Pithom (a character that does not appear at all in Hebrew scripture). Following the death of King Seti I, Hegep spreads rumor of Moses’ Hebrew parentage to Ramses in the hopes of earning favor with the new king. Reluctant to cast his “brother” out, and with no proof to outright validate the Viceroy’s claims, Ramses tests Moses’ allegiance by threatening to amputate Miriam’s arm.
When Miriam refuses to come clean, Moses intervenes and the Pharaoh banishes both Moses as well as Miriam to uncertain death outside the walls of Memphis (the Egyptian capital). Knowing that his mother, Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) wants Moses killed, Ramses hides a sword in his brother’s pack – to protect him in the desert from hired assassins.
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