WARNING!! Everything you are about to read contains MAJOR spoilers about the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings. So be forewarned. Want to see the movie not knowing what’s going to happen? Go see it first and then come back and read my review. Otherwise, here we go…
This review of Exodus: Gods and Kings is the second movie review I’ve ever written about any film, much less a film that is more or less about events and people one reads about in the Bible. (The first one I wrote was on the film Noah, which you can read here.) Just to let you know right off the bat, my focus is not on critiquing the acting, the directing, the cinematography, etc. If you want that kind of review, there are plenty of places to go on the web to get it. Personally, I thought Ridley Scott’s directing was great, the cinematography and special effects (especially concerning the scenes with the plagues and the Red Sea) were superb, and the acting done by Christian Bale (Moses), Joel Edgerton (Ramses), Aaron Paul (Joshua), Ben Kingsley (Nun), and the others was very good. From a cinematic standpoint, the film was very well done, even better than Noah.
However, the focus of this review in particular and this blog in general is show biblical truths to you, the reader. That being the case both here and as it was with Noah, I want to write about what this film got right and close to right (i.e., portraying events which while not technically described in the Bible could still be within the realm of biblical possibility). I also want to write about what this film got wrong from a biblical standpoint (that is, what it portrayed which blatantly contradicts clear biblical truths.)
There’s a reason I want to do this. With the exception of the film The Gospel of John (whose goal was to basically show on camera the entire gospel of John, verse by verse), I have yet to see any biblically-based film which remained 100% true to the Bible. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this in most cases, per se, because the Bible does not go into great descriptive detail about many of the events it describes. Therefore, if you are going to make a film based on biblical events you will by necessity have to take some degree of “artistic license.”
When I talked about this in my review of Noah, I cited the biblical account of Noah (Gen. 6-9) as an example. If one reads those chapters, they will see that there is no record of Noah himself or anyone else (other than God) saying one word to anyone about anything until chapter 9, after he has already built the ark, survived the flood, and put his feet back on dry land. A film about Noah which remained 100% true to the Bible in terms of dialogue would be, for all practical purposes, a silent film. Thus, I have no problem with a screenplay writer imagining conversations Noah would have with his family about building the ark, or imagining a scene in which they cared for the animals inside the ark while the flood was going on and talked about how they would do so. Likewise, I don’t have a problem seeing Val Kilmer’s Moses in The Prince of Egypt having conversations with Miriam about Pharaoh refusing to let the Israelites go, or the scene in Jesus of Nazareth which portrayed the death of Joseph with Mary at his side before Jesus began his ministry in which a dying Joseph talks proudly of the great things Jesus will do. Scenes like that are not in the Bible, true, but they do fall within the realm of biblical possibility. In other words, one could say that the events in those scenes COULD HAVE happened without contradicting in any way the actual biblical account.
As my review of the film showed, Noah strayed so far from the biblical account that it was embarrassing. I actually saw several people get up and walk out of the theater when the film depicted Noah somehow deciding that it was “the Creator’s” will for him to murder his family while on the ark. I cite that scene as an example of how hard-pressed I was to find any part of the film which was true to the Bible in any way, much less find a scene whose “artistic license” fell within the realm of biblical possibility. As far as biblical accuracy goes, Noah gets an “F,” a “D-” if one is generous.
Exodus: Gods and Kings fares somewhat better than Noah in the biblical accuracy department, but there is definitely room for numerous improvements. It is far from being on the level of the superb biblical accuracy found in The Gospel of John, but when compared to the absolutely deplorable biblical accuracy shown in Noah, Exodus is significantly better in several ways, especially since it at least comes within shouting distance of the biblical account. After watching Noah, I would give Exodus a “C” in the biblical accuracy department simply because this time, in spite of the numerous inaccuracies described below, I could at least walk away from the film feeling that I had watched a depiction that at least was in the same ballpark as what had actually occurred in the biblical account. (Upon further reflection, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Exodus is standing outside the ballpark parking the car in the most distant parking space in the lot away from the ballpark. Either way, at least it’s on the same property as the ballpark. Noah, by comparison, was about twenty miles away from the ballpark trying to get tickets to the game online only to find out that it was sold out.)
The film starts off by citing the date of the events as taking place in “1300 BCE.” First off, I wish they would have said “BC” (Before Christ) instead of using the more recently imagined, politically correct, and probably anti-Christian “BCE” (Before Common Era), but that’s just a personal scruple. Regardless, the year 1300 is reasonably correct, with room to debate whether it’s off by 100 years or so. The Bible gives 480 years between the time of the exodus and Solomon’s construction of the temple during the fourth year of his reign (1 Kings 6:1), which most likely occurred in the year 967 BC, thus making the exodus at around 1447 BC. However, as said before, there’s room for reasonable debate concerning the date.
The film then says in its introduction that the Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years. God had prophesied as such to Abraham (Gen. 15:13).
The introduction closes by saying, “God had not forgotten them.” This also mirrors the biblical account (Ex. 2:23-24; 3:7-8).
The film chooses not to directly show the events surrounding Moses when he was an infant (Ex. 1-2), only alluding to them later when Nun and later the daughter of Pharaoh, Jochebed, and Miriam inform an adult Moses of his Hebrew heritage and birth. From what I remember, the accounts they give to Moses of his birth reflect the biblical account, with the exception being when Nun said that an apparently divine prophecy was made of an upcoming savior of Israel during the year in which Moses was born. I do not remember such a prophecy being in the biblical account.
No mention is made of Joseph or the episode with the midwives recorded in Exodus 1. That’s fine, as that is not the focus of the story the film wishes to tell.
Exodus opens with Moses as an adult, a general and prince of Egypt in Pharaoh’s court who has been friends since childhood with Ramses, the prince next-in-line to the throne after the current Pharaoh dies. Apart from his generalship, I was reminded of how the animated film about Moses, Prince of Egypt, also had the plot of Moses and the Pharaoh he would eventually oppose being childhood friends in the Egyptian court. Now that I think of it, I believe Charlton Heston’s classic The Ten Commandments had Moses as a general in Pharaoh’s court during his Egyptian days, but I might be wrong about that.
The biblical account of Moses’ life skips over his youth, going from the time Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him as an infant directly to his adulthood (Ex. 2:1-11ff). No mention is made of his being a prince or a general in Egypt’s government, nor of a childhood friendship with the Pharaoh with whom he would eventually become an enemy. That said, I could easily see such things taking place within the realm of possibility, considering that the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter would almost certainly be considered a prince in Pharaoh’s courts, would possibly even receive a military education and rise in the ranks of the Egyptian army, and might even have been friends with a fellow prince of Egypt who was in line to the throne.
Also, I am not aware of any passage in the Bible that directly gives the name of “Ramses” to the Pharaoh who was Moses’ nemesis; however, some Bible historians theorize that one of the “Ramses” might have been Moses’ Pharaoh, and the Bible does say that Israelite slaves built the store city named Ramses (Ex. 1:11), thus implying the possibility that one or both of the Pharaohs of Exodus held that name. Thus, this also falls within the realm of biblical possibility.
In the first scene, an Egyptian pagan priestess makes a prophecy under the supposed power of one of Egypt’s gods that in an upcoming battle between Egypt and the Hittites “a leader” would be rescued, and his rescuer, if memory serves, would become “a savior.” Moses is immediately shown to be very skeptical of all things religious and dismisses the prophecy; the film would later hint rather strongly that Moses was an atheist before his repeated encounters with God produced faith within him. Ramses, however, believes the prophecy. Later, of course, Moses does in fact save Ramses in a rather spectacular battle with the Hittites. Ramses and his father who is the current Pharaoh find that rather significant in light of the prophecy, while Moses continues to dismiss it. None of this is in the Bible.
The film strongly implies that the current, older Pharaoh favors Moses over Ramses, but realizes that Moses could never succeed him as king of Egypt. This also is not in the Bible. In fact, the Bible says that the older Pharaoh tried to kill Moses, prompting him to become a fugitive and leave Egypt for Midian (Ex. 2:15). The older Pharaoh then dies of supposed natural causes (although my friend who saw the movie with me thinks Ramses poisoned his father with snake venom; I don’t remember the film showing this or alluding to it, but I might have missed it). His death takes place some time before Moses becomes a fugitive, which goes against the biblical account (Ex. 2:15-23). Ramses then succeeds him as Pharaoh, and makes Moses his chief adviser.
Israelite slaves are shown building the Egyptian city of Pithom, which is biblically correct (Ex. 1:11). Moses is sent to investigate whether the Egyptian viceroy over the Pithom project is completely honest with his financial dealings with the government. During his initial conversation with the viceroy, the high reproductive rate of the Israelites is mentioned (see Ex. 1:7ff), as is the biblical meaning of the name “Israelite” (or “Israel”): “he who wrestles with God” (see Gen. 32:28). I was pleased to see this.
While at Pithom, Moses encounters Joshua for the first time. Joshua is a young Israelite slave in the process of being whipped by an Egyptian taskmaster when Moses initially encounters him. At first I thought Moses would intervene and kill the Egyptian as shown in the biblical account (Ex. 2:11-12), but such was not the case. Joshua is first mentioned in the Bible shortly after the exodus (Ex. 17:9ff); thus, it is possible, although no directly stated, that Moses and Joshua interacted at some point before the exodus, although it would be more likely they would have first met after Moses had returned from Midian rather than before he had first left Egypt as a fugitive.
Later, Moses speaks of how he has actually been to the land of Canaan, and even hints of giants being there (see Num. 13:27-33). As far as I’m aware, the Bible seems to imply that Moses had never been to the land of Canaan, considering how strongly he pleaded with God to allow him to go there towards the end of his life (Deut. 3:25). However, I suppose it within the realm of possibility that as a free citizen and probable prince of Egypt during the first 40 years of his life he could have traveled to Canaan (or possibly even during the 40 years of his life he spent as a shepherd in Midian.) Either way, I was pleased to see the film allude, however distantly, to the description of the inhabitants of Canaan found in Numbers.
Moses then meets Nun, who is correctly shown as Joshua’s father (Ex. 33:11), and learns of his heritage. None of this is in the Bible. However, the wording of Exodus 2:11 hints that Moses was aware of his Hebrew background at the time he killed the Egyptian. Hebrews 11:24-27 states even more plainly that Moses definitely knew of his Israelite heritage and had strong faith in the Hebrew God by the time he fled Egypt.
After his meeting with Nun, two Egyptians encounter Moses in a dark alley and mistake him for a slave. He kills both of them, supposedly unseen, until the next scene reveals that two Israelites saw him commit the murders and report him to the thieving viceroy, who has reason to dislike Moses due to Moses’ intentions to report his financial misgivings. The viceroy then reports Moses’ murders to Ramses, who questions Moses about it, and then about the rumors surrounding Moses’ Hebrew background. Moses denies his Hebrew lineage, prompting Ramses to call in both the Egyptian princess who was Moses’ adopted mother, the Egyptian Queen Mother (a bit part played by Sigourney Weaver), and Miriam, Moses’ sister, who in the film apparently is a servant in the Egyptian court and whom it is said raised Moses as a young prince. Moses’ adopted mother denies his Hebrew background over the objections of the Queen Mother, and likewise Miriam when she is questioned by Ramses. Ramses suspects Miriam is lying and is about to cut off her arm when Moses stops him and admits his Hebrew heritage. Ramses throws Moses into prison and is encouraged by the Queen Mother to kill him, but doesn’t want to do that considering their friendship and the fact that Moses had saved his life in battle, and so exiles him instead. At the Egyptian border, Moses is told more about his heritage by Jochebed, his actual Hebrew mother, and Miriam, before bidding them farewell and receiving a friendly farewell from the Egyptian soldiers who had escorted him out of the country. While wandering in the desert, he crosses the shallows of the Red Sea, his horse dies, and two assassins from the Queen Mother (he thinks they’re from Ramses) try to kill him and he kills them instead with a sword Ramses had hidden in his pack. He eventually makes it to the well where he stands up to the shepherds who are harassing Zipporah and the other daughters of Jethro, who takes him in and later gives his daughter Zipporah to him in marriage. They later have a son, Gershom.
The biblical account is different in several significant ways, but also similar in a few aspects. The Bible records that an adult Moses killed a solitary Egyptian (rather than two of them) who had been beating a Hebrew (rather than beating him for thinking he was a slave), thinking it had been done without witnesses, and buried him in the sand, only to find out the next day from two Hebrews that his deed was known (Ex. 2:11-14). Pharaoh (the older Pharaoh) heard about it and tried to kill Moses, prompting him to flee and stay in the land of Midian (Ex. 2:15). Once in Midian, he sat down by a well and saved the seven daughters of the priest of Midian from the harassment of the shepherds (Ex. 2:15-17). The daughters report this to their father Reuel (later called Jethro in Ex. 18:1), who takes him in and gives his daughter Zipporah to him in marriage, with whom he has a son, Gershom (Ex. 2:18-22).
No mention of the two Hebrews tattling to a viceroy who then turns in Moses to Ramses, the encounter with Ramses, his adopted mother and the Queen Mother, and Miriam. No mention of Miriam serving in the Egyptian palace or having raised Moses in the Egyptian palace. In fact, the Bible says that at Miriam’s suggestion Pharaoh’s daughter gave the responsibility of nursing the baby Moses to Moses’ actual mother Jochebed, and only after the child grew up did she give him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who then adopted him and named him Moses (Ex. 2:7-10). Considering that Miriam had been the one to initially suggest Jochebed as a nurse to Pharaoh’s daughter, I suppose it within the realm of possibility that Miriam might have been drafted to later provide further care to the child Moses in the palace, but the Bible doesn’t specify that happening.
No mention of being officially placed into exile by Pharaoh and a friendly military escort to the Egyptian border with a final meeting with his Hebrew mother and sister; in fact, as seen above, the biblical account paints a very different picture. Thus, no encounter in the desert with the Queen Mother’s assassins. I suppose it possible that he crossed the shallows of the Red Sea at some point (such a place does exist, I am told; skeptics of the biblical account of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea often cite the existence of the shallows as an alternate, “more realistic” crossing point for Israel), or perhaps he took a boat across, who knows? The encounter at the well and the subsequent marriage to Zipporah seem to be biblically accurate.
Exodus then skips forward to the time Moses encounters God at the burning bush, stating that nine years have passed. In reality forty years had passed (compare Acts 7:23 to Exodus 7:7).
During this nine year interim the film shows a scene which alludes to Moses’ continued atheism/skepticism and contrasts it to the faith of Zipporah. In reality, the Bible makes it clear that by this time in his life Moses definitely had a strong faith in the Hebrew God (Heb. 11:24-27).
The conversation between Moses and Zipporah that showed their religious differences was instigated by a report their son had given Moses about how God had commanded that no one climb the mountain next to their home. This would turn out to be the mountain on which Moses would encounter God and the burning bush, thus making it Horeb, “the mountain of God” (Ex. 3:1), later called Sinai, the same mountain on which God would later give Moses the ten commandments (Ex. 19:11). While the Bible does record God later commanding that no one in Israel touch or climb the mountain (Ex. 19:12-13), there is no indication that such a command was given to anyone else during this period of Moses’ life. In spite of that, I was pleased to see the shout-out given by the film to this little known bit of biblical trivia.
Moses does indeed climb the mountain shortly thereafter while chasing sheep who had wandered up its slopes. While doing so, he is caught up in a rockslide and is hit upon the head and loses consciousness. When he awakes (although a case could be made that he is still unconscious and having a vision of some sort), Moses finds himself with a broken leg, buried in mud or quicksand with only his head above ground. He can see a bush burning nearby and giving off a bluish, phosphorous glow, and a young, per-pubescent boy approaching. The film seems to depict God as taking the form of this boy to appear to Moses both here and in all subsequent encounters (although in an encounter taking place much later in the film Moses angrily refers to the boy as God’s “messenger” rather than God himself, causing me to be confused as to which was which.) God tells Moses in a very brief conversation that he is looking for a general to fight for him, and wants him to go to Egypt and see what is happening to his people. Moses asks to whom he is speaking, and God replies by referring to himself as “I AM.”
The biblical account of Moses’ encounter with the angel of the Lord at the burning bush (Ex. 3-4) is quite different in many, many ways. I was pleased that the film showed God referring to himself as “I AM” (see Ex. 3:14). However, besides that and the shown existence of the burning bush (which unlike the biblical one seemed to have no purpose in the film other than being in the background; compare to Exodus 3:2-4), the film drastically departed from the biblical account. In the Bible Moses, having suffered no head injury from any rockslide and being clearly free to move about rather than being buried in mud and having a broken leg, sees the bush burning without being consumed and wants to investigate further (Ex. 3:2-3). God then speaks to him out of the bush (Ex. 3:4ff) rather than appearing to him as a young boy. Granted, the Bible records other instances of the Lord appearing in a human form to others (see Genesis 18), but no such depiction is found in the biblical record of this instance. The biblical conversation between Moses and God is much longer than the one in the film and depicts Moses’ initial reluctance to take on this assignment, as well God granting to him the ability to perform miracles (Ex. 3:7-4:17). The film shows none of this, which puzzles me considering that the filmmakers clearly had the budget to show miraculous events such as a staff turning into a snake onscreen, considering that they did not fail to show other biblical miracles in the film. Doing so in this instance would have been not only more biblically accurate but also more interesting from an entertainment perspective as well.
The scene at the burning bush abruptly ends and the next scene opens by showing Moses in bed, being cared for by Zipporah. He tells her disjointedly about what happened on the mountain and admits to being dishonest with her about his past. She dismisses the report of his encounter with God as delirium brought about by being hit on the head. Later, Moses is shown limping at night outside of his home when he encounters his son, who then morphs briefly into the boy God had previously appeared as. Moses recoils in fright, and then takes his son inside. None of this is in the Bible, although I suppose Zipporah’s doubt about what Moses saw could be within the realm of biblical possibility.
Later, Moses leaves to return to Egypt by himself, much to his wife’s displeasure and his son’s hurt, and very much in contradiction to the biblical account (Ex. 4:18-20). Perhaps the filmmakers were hesitant to try to depict the biblical account of what happened to Moses and his family on the way to Egypt (Ex. 4:24-26); if so, I can’t say that I blame them, as that passage is one of the most difficult ones to understand in the Bible. Of significant note is the line in the film where Zipporah, previously shown to be the believer of the family, expresses her doubt that God told Moses to go back to Egypt. One would think that she would have been more supportive of Moses’ endeavors, considering that she had earlier been disagreeing with him about his lack of interest to raise their son with a faith in God.
While on the way back to Egypt, Moses encounters some shepherds who show him another way to travel through the mountains which will prove significant later in the film. While this encounter is not in the Bible, I did notice a pillar of stones near to where Moses talked with the shepherds, which reminded me of the pillars of stone often set up by Jacob in the years before Moses (cf. Gen. 28:18; 35:14). If the insertion of the pillar of stone was to make reference to such biblical accounts, I applaud the filmmakers for doing so.
Upon his return to Egypt, Moses looks up Nun, Joshua, and other Israelites, and then meets his brother Aaron, apparently for the first time. Again, the film departs from the biblical account which has God sending Aaron to meet Moses at Mount Horeb and be Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh (Ex. 4:14-17, 27-31; 5:1ff). Oddly, Aaron has a very minor role in the film, being seen in only a few scenes and having only two lines which I can remember. Joshua is more of a sidekick to Exodus’s Moses than Aaron, and even then Joshua is rarely seen also.
In a sharp departure from the biblical account, Moses forms what can only be described as a guerrilla band of terrorists made up of Israelite slaves. He then takes a few of them as bodyguards to ambush Ramses late at night in the palace horse stables. This is a scene which, in addition to being extremely biblically inaccurate, is also hard to believe. Would the king of Egypt be by himself late at night in a horse stable, with no bodyguards of his own to protect him, making it easy for Moses to literally walk right up to him and stick a sword in his throat?
Yet that’s what happens in the film. At first Moses seems more interested to avenge himself upon Ramses for the assassins sent to kill him nine years earlier, but Ramses protests that the Queen Mother had sent them and that Ramses had actually saved Moses’ life by putting the very sword now held to this throat in Moses’ pack so Moses could defend himself against the assassins. Moses then demands that Ramses let the slaves go, but Ramses protests that such would be an economic possibility. He then talks somewhat disjointedly of negotiation. The conversation ends with Moses informing Ramses (in a way in which Christian Bale seemed to be channeling the way he played Batman in The Dark Knight) that God had sent him.
The biblical account of Pharaoh’s first meeting with Moses is very, very different (Ex. 5:1ff). Aaron is with Moses, the encounter seems to take place in a much more open and public fashion, there is no violence shown towards Pharaoh by Moses, Pharaoh has no interest whatsoever in letting the Hebrews go and speaks in no way of negotiation, and decides to punish them for Moses’ request by making their workload impossible to achieve (the film’s Pharaoh also increases the Israelites’ burden in identical fashion, but later, as retaliation for the plagues God had sent upon the land.)
The next day Ramses orders the death of Moses and his family, somewhat reluctantly at first. (At times it seems that Exodus’s Ramses is more victim or reluctant villain than tyrant, and at other times he seems unmerciless and very evil. I blame the script for its indecisiveness more than the actor.) As a result of his execution order, Moses and others go into hiding under Nun’s house. Ramses tries to get Moses to come out of hiding by killing random Israelites every day. In the meantime, Moses is shown organizing and training his underground guerrilla army and then taking them into the Egyptian countryside to perform acts of terror against Egyptian officials and citizens in an attempt to put political pressure upon Ramses to let Israel go. Ramses retaliates by murdering lots of Israelites.
None of this is in the Bible. It’s a shame too, because the film would have been so much better both from a biblical standpoint as well as an entertainment standpoint if the filmmakers had opted to show Moses’ and Aaron’s second encounter with Pharaoh and the subsequent miracle of the staffs of Aaron and the Egyptian magicians turning into snakes, with Aaron’s staff eating the staffs of the magicians (Ex. 7:10-12). Why make up a scene in which Moses becomes some sort of resistance leader when the real thing would have been so much better to show?
Moses then encounters God for the third time. God rebukes Moses for his guerrilla warfare tactics (why? I thought God had earlier told him that he wanted a general to fight for him. Moses was doing exactly what God had said: acting like a general). Moses in turn speaks rather harshly to God, who tells him to watch what God would do, thus introducing the start of the plagues sequence. In the background, Joshua is seen lurking about spying on Moses’ conversation with God, the first of at least two cases in which this happens. From Joshua’s perspective, it looks like Moses is talking to air. I thought something would come of this (would Joshua publicly try to turn people against Moses, claiming that Moses is a crazy man talking to air?), but nothing ever did.
This likewise is not in the Bible. Additionally, let me say something about Exodus’s Moses’ disrespectful attitude toward God. It is true that the real Moses questioned God at one point during these events (Ex. 5:22-23), but even so the Moses of the Bible is depicted as having a very strong faith in God (Heb. 11:24-28), a deep humility (Num. 12:3), and a deep reverence for God (Ex. 3:6). Thus, any questioning the biblical Moses made of God during these events would surely have been done with much more reverence than Christian Bale’s disrespectful shouting or his arrogant “I’m not impressed” statement to God after witnessing some of the plagues. To be fair, Exodus’s Moses at this point in the film is a man who is slowly turning from an atheist/skeptic into a believer, and it must also be acknowledged that by the end of the film Bale’s Moses clearly shows a deep, penitent, reverential faith in God.
The sequences showing the ten plagues takes a good portion of the film (at least 20-25 minutes), and for the most part is biblically accurate or close to accurate. Overall, I was very impressed when I saw the massive swarms of frogs, gnats, and flies descend upon the people of Egypt. The film did a good job showing the livestock die, but I was even more impressed with the depiction of the boils. Even Ramses himself was not immune, and the boils were very much realistic-looking (and gross.) Likewise, the sequences with the hail coming out of giant tornadoes and the locusts were very well done. I especially like how the film had the plague of locusts result in a desperate attempt by some of the starving citizenry of Egypt to raid Ramses’ storehouses, only to be subsequently killed by his soldiers as they exited the storehouses with their loot. The Bible says that not a single plant remained due to the plague of locusts (Ex. 10:15), so it is definitely within the realm of possibility that the citizens of Egypt could have reacted in such a desperate manner. I also liked how the film showed the plague of darkness coming upon the land right in the middle of Pharaoh’s massacre of those starving citizens.
True, the minute details of the biblical record of what took place during each of the plagues were overlooked; for example, several biblical conversations between Pharaoh and Moses that took place during the plagues were skipped or changed (in one scene, Moses sends Ramses a message painted upon a horse). In like manner, rather than showing the biblical account of how the Egyptian magicians either duplicated or tried to duplicate the plagues (cf. Ex. 7:22; 8:7, 18), Exodus’s magicians tried to scientifically explain each plague, even going so far as to suggest that the plagues built upon each other (the blood in the water brought the frogs on the land, and when they died the gnats and flies came, etc.); in the end a disgusted Ramses killed them all.
The biggest discrepancy took place with the first plague of the water turning into blood. Rather than stick with the biblical account of Aaron lifting up his staff and striking the Nile River to turn its water into blood (Ex. 7:20), Exodus had God sending giant crocodiles into the Nile to attack and eat Egyptians and each other, turning the water bloody. While watching this, at first I thought Exodus was trying to depict a “rational” explanation for the plague (i.e., the water didn’t turn to blood, it just became very bloody due to all these crocodiles ripping each other apart in it). However, the film then (in a somewhat confusing manner) seemed to show the blood miraculously spreading so that soon all the water everywhere was blood.
During the plague of darkness, Ramses wonders if Moses is hiding in a dark, empty room (it is never shown whether he is) and threatens to drown all the Hebrew children in the Nile if the plagues don’t stop. While this is quite different from the offer Pharaoh made Moses in the Bible during this same time period (see Ex. 10:24-26), I did like the shout-out given to what his predecessor had actually done to the Hebrew children earlier in the biblical account (Ex. 1). I also like how Ramses referred to himself as a god. Historical records show that many an ancient pharaoh of Egypt thought of himself as divine and demanded that his citizens worship him.
Later, Moses comes to see Ramses for the second time in order to warn him about the tenth plague that would kill his son. Rather than kill Moses, Ramses lets him leave for some reason. Moses then goes to the Israelites and tells them to mark their doorposts with the blood of lambs in order to protect themselves from this final plague, a scene very much in the Bible (Ex. 12) and which I was extremely happy to see depicted in the film.
The depiction of this final plague was well done. Death was shown as a sort of shadowy eclipse that slowly covered all the land. Whenever the shadow crossed a flame of any sort, the flame went out. Whenever the shadow crossed a sleeping Egyptian child, the child quietly perished. Ramses’ newborn son likewise perished in a scene which could not help but move me deeply since I have a newborn daughter around that same age. Since the Bible does not go into great descriptive detail about this last plague (Ex. 12:29-30), the way the film depicted it certainly falls within the realm of biblical possibility.
Rather than summoning Moses and Aaron to him by night as the Bible says (Ex. 12:31-32), Ramses and his soldiers meet Moses and his guerrilla army in the streets of Egypt the next day. Ramses is holding his dead son in his arms and calls Moses’ God a killer of children. Moses responds by saying that no Hebrew child died, a biblical fact (Ex. 12:1-28). Ramses then lets Israel go.
I was extremely impressed with the scene depicting the thousands of Israelites departing from Egypt. Later, an Egyptian soldier lists their number as 400,000. That goes against the biblical record of them having 603,550 male soldiers ages twenty and up (Num. 1:45-46). If one adds to that number women and children, we’re looking at possibly 2.5 million people who followed Moses out of Egypt.
Upon leaving Egypt, Moses wants to lead them to the shallows of the Red Sea which he had earlier crossed as an exile. Later, when his scouts detect Ramses and his army four days behind them in pursuit, Moses wonders if he should continue to go to the shallows of the Red Sea or to the mountain pass shown to him earlier by the shepherds. He then claims God tells him to take the mountain pass, even though the film doesn’t show God actually appearing to him in the form of the boy as done previously. Of even greater note is the film’s failure to show the Lord going before them by in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21-22). I must again ask why the filmmakers failed to depict this biblically accurate detail which would have been quite impressive to behold on the screen after showing the plagues and the Red Sea in such cinematically spectacular fashion.
After taking them to the mountains, Moses penitently prays to God and admits he needs divine assistance, something I was glad to see this Moses do after his earlier atheistic skepticism and irreverent behavior towards God. Moses then concludes God won’t help him or Israel (perhaps he thinks so because he recognizes his earlier arrogance towards God? One could only hope so.) Meanwhile, Ramses follows through the mountains, leading his troops at dangerously high speed over the narrow mountain passes (resulting in several of his troops falling over the cliffs.)
The mountain path leads them to the shores of the deep part of the Red Sea. Here Moses, recognizing that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place with the sea in front of them and Ramses behind them, prays to God with even greater humility, takes the Egyptian sword Ramses had earlier given to him, and throws it into the sea. That night, he awakens to see a distant meteor fall into the sea. He goes back to sleep. In the morning when he wakes up he sees that the Red Sea is much, much shallow. In fact it resembles a running stream with a fast current. It is so shallow that he can see the hilt of the sword he had earlier thrown into it sticking up out of the water. He wades out into the shallows and gets his sword back before concluding that the Israelites immediately need to cross the sea here. After rallying Israel with an uplifting speech in which he says God is with them, Moses leads them across the shallows of the Red Sea. As the camera pulls back we see that in many places the shallows have become more like dry land.
How I wish Exodus had shown what the Bible actually says had happened (Ex. 14:21ff)! Was Ridley Scott afraid that he would have been accused of copying Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments classic scene in which the Red Sea parted? I don’t know. All I know is that it would have been epic to see Christian Bale stretch out a staff (or even that sword of his that Exodus substituted for the staff) and see the magic of modern Hollywood CGI produce a wind that would part that sea majestically. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead, we see the Israelites crossing terrain which is partly dry land and partly rushing streams (compare that to Exodus 14:29) Meanwhile, Ramses and his army reach the shore behind them. Rather than God sending the pillar of cloud to block their path from the Israelites (Ex. 14:19-20), Ramses and his army immediately plunge after Israel, who are about three miles or so ahead with still a ways to go before they are out of the Red Sea’s territory. Seeing the approaching army, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua along with a few other soldiers mount horses and turn around, clearly meaning to fight the approaching army.
Suddenly, God starts tornadoes and storms in the background and we see a gigantic wall of water approaching in the distance from one side, thus showing what had happened to all the quantities of water during the previous night. I must say that even though I wish they had shown Moses parting the sea, I was very, very impressed with the special effects that showed this gigantic wall of water approaching, especially the scene in which it completely dwarfs and then swallows up a poor lonely white horse who is frantically running from it. Both the Israelites and the Egyptians flee when they see the incoming Red Sea, the Israelites toward the shore in front of them while Ramses’ army turns around in panic to flee back towards the opposite shore.
All of them except for Moses and Ramses, that is. Moses dismisses his troops while Ramses ignores his own troops’ abandonment of him, and both ride toward each other with the gigantic wall of water approaching them in the background at high speed. Both of them, as well as all of the fleeing Egyptian army, are engulfed by the huge tsunami. The Egyptian army and all of their horses are shown drifting underwater, dead and drowned. Ramses is swept away. Moses is shown hitting the bottom of the sea and being dragged along, a rock tearing open part of his back, before somehow surfacing, alive and conscious. The next scene shows the Israelites camped along the shore…and Moses is sitting on the beach? I’m wondering how he survived at all, much less finding the strength to swim back to shore. My skepticism is increased mightily when the film then shows Ramses, alive and well and on the opposite shore. This huge wave kills all who are in its path…except for Moses and Ramses?
Again, it would have been so much better if they had simply stuck to the biblical account (Ex. 14:21-27) in which there was a wall of water on either side of them, the Lord clogged the Egyptians’ chariots wheels, the Egyptians panic and flee, and God tells Moses who is safely on the opposite shore alongside the rest of Israel to stretch his hand over the sea before returning the sea to its normal course and throwing the Egyptian army into the midst of it. People would have known the truth of the matter, and it would have been even more spectacular to behold than what they gave us.
After a short conversation with Joshua on the beach while watching sharks eat the bodies washing up on the seashore (a nice depiction of Exodus 14:30), Moses leads the Israelites back home to his family, where he reunites with them and tells his wife he has a people now. She agrees to accompany them on their journey. It is true that Moses reunited with Jethro after the Red Sea (Ex. 18), but according to the biblical account Zipporah and his son would have already been with him.
Later, the film shows Moses meeting God in the form of the young boy on Mount Sinai above what seems to be an Israelite camp that is in the midst of great revelry (an allusion to their worship of the golden calf? – Exodus 32). The film then shows Moses carving out the ten commandments on stone while God watches him in the background. God remarks to Moses that he has noticed how Moses doesn’t always agree with him, apparently approving of such. Moses doesn’t reply. God then talks of how Israel will need a guide once Moses is gone, and alludes to the ten commandments Moses is hammering out in the stone. He tells Moses to put down the hammer if he disagrees. Moses doesn’t.
For the final time, I wonder why the film simply couldn’t have shown what actually happened. It would have been easy for them to use their impressive special effects to show a majestic hand of God carving the commandments into stone (Ex. 31:18), and it certainly would have been more interesting to show than what they actually showed us. I also didn’t care for the small hint given by the filmmakers that God doesn’t mind that much if we don’t agree with him. To the spiritually weaker and immature, such would be the excuse they need to rebel against God and follow their feelings instead.
The film then cuts to its final scene in which an aged Moses, apparently forty years later (see Deut. 8:2), is riding in a horse-drawn, rickety carriage with curtains amongst the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Behind him in a crate (that is definitely not the ark of the covenant; see Exodus 25:10-16 and 1 Kings 8:9) is what the film infers are the tablets of stone upon which the ten commandments are written. Moses sees God in the form of a boy walking outside of the carriage alongside the Israelites. Suddenly God stops walking and, smiling, lets the carriage and Moses continue on into the sunset. Roll end credits.
I wrote this review for the same reason that I wrote the review about Noah…so that the truth of God’s Word will be known. The New Testament warns of false teachers, and also warns of how they will work: “…by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive” (Rom. 16:18). People tend to watch films of historical events and walk away thinking that what they saw on the screen was how it went down…when the historical evidence recorded in historical documents reveal a completely different story. Most people don’t know this, however, because most are very unfamiliar with actual history and also because what was portrayed on film was done so in a very believable and attention-getting way. Such is the power of film. In like manner, people tend to watch films of biblical events and walk away thinking that what they saw on the screen is how it happened, even if it is not. They do this for the same reasons people believe Hollywood over actual history: they are unfamiliar with what the Bible actually says, and they are “wowed” by the great acting, cool special effects, and the drama portrayed on the screen. The “smooth talk and flattery” of film “deceives the hearts of the naive.”
While Exodus: Gods and Kings is not nearly as bad as Noah, it does have many biblical inaccuracies. The biblically illiterate will walk away from this film with many misconceptions about Moses and the exodus. However, those who are knowledgeable of biblical truth will be able to see both the errors and what they got right.
I saw this film with my next door neighbor, a man with whom I have been sharing the gospel for several months. He had read and we had studied together the first fourteen chapters of Exodus a week before going to see this film. As we walked out of the theater after the show, I was encouraged to hear him remark on several aspects of the film which he recognized were biblically correct and incorrect. I have no doubt that this will open the door for future studies with him, as well as studies he might have with others who saw the film.
It’s up to your own personal judgment as to whether to take the time and money to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. If you see it, make sure you read your Bible both before and afterwards and compare what the Bible says to what the film showed. If you are knowledgeable of the biblical account of Moses’ life and you either see the film or encounter someone who has seen the film, I encourage you to discuss with them the film and point out in a loving way what the Bible actually says. Who knows what seeds you may sow?
I’ll leave you with the plea I gave at the end of my review of Noah. Regardless of whether you see Exodus: Gods and Kings, do yourself a favor and read Psalm 1:1-3.
And then obey it.