THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956)
Readers of this blog may recall my scathing assessment of the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, in which I described it as the most ludicrous, far-fetched story in movie history. I still insist it is woefully inadequate, yet when compared to C B DeMille’s 1956 opus The Ten Commandments, deciding which of the two is the least believable becomes a toss of the coin. CB’s blockbuster is, let’s face it, a complete load of twaddle. Why? Well, let’s start at the beginning.
Charlton Heston as Moses
Are we really expected to swallow the story that the mother of the baby Moses, hell bent on saving her boy from the Pharaoh’s edict that all newborn Hebrew boys were to be drowned in the Nile, stuck the little guy in a basket with no water and no food, (not even a hat or sun-screen), and floated him off down the river in the hope that someone would defy the Pharaoh’s edict and raise him as their own. Little Moses is found by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter Bithia who decides to raise him as a ‘foundling’, (just as any member of the Royal household would do, of course). Dear old dad, who had cooked up the ‘let’s drown all the newborn Hebrews in the river’ edict in the first place, evidently is not an overly curious individual because he accepts his daughter’s decision to adopt an abandoned baby out of the blue and Moses is raised as one of his own. In today’s world Pharaoh would be a shoo-in for ‘Father of the Year’!
Yul Brynner as Rameses II
Anyway, Moses gets to grow up in the Royal Egyptian household. Was he told of his lowly Hebrew origins by Bithia (or anyone) on his way to manhood? Perhaps, it never crossed Pharaoh’s mind. Soon after attaining manhood, however, Moses up and kills a slave-driver who was flogging a Hebrew slave and is sentenced to death! One might expect some kind of Royal intervention, but Egypt is such a justice-driven society… or maybe, someone finally figured out that Moses might not be an Egyptian foundling after all? Anyway, faced with a short stint on Death Row, our hero hits the road for Midian, a desert country south of Judah. There he meets and weds a woman named Ziporrah. Then God puts in an appearance. On Mount Horeb, He comes to Moses in the shape of a burning bush, why he needed such a disguise is unclear. The Lord commands him to return to Egypt and lead God’s ‘chosen people’ out of Egyptian bondage and into Canaan, the ‘Promised Land’.
Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora/Ziporrah
Moses could well be forgiven for posing the logical question: ‘Why me, Lord? I’ve been raised as Egyptian royalty and am a convicted murderer. Why not simply handle it yourself?’ Moses, probably a tad unsure about how he is to accomplish this Herculean chore, gets into a dispute about it with God. As per his usual mode of problem solving, God tries to kill Moses, but Ziporrah intervenes and saves hubby’s life. Ah, the power of a good woman! One wonders why God did not immediately give Moses the flick and tell Ziporrah to take on the might of Egypt in his place. However, this is a Biblical tale, after all. Women barely rate a mention in the holy tome, much less are they given heroic roles.
Moses (with God’s help) parts the Red Sea.
So Moses gets a reprieve and carries God’s demands to the Pharaoh – ‘let God’s people go or look out!’ According to the scriptures, God then causes the Pharaoh to refuse him point blank! Why? Was the ‘Big G’ spoiling for a fight? Could it be he wanted an opportunity to try out his ‘ten plagues on Egypt’ plan? And why did the Pharaoh not simply settle the issue on the spot by putting Moses to death? The bottom line is that nine plagues bombed out, so He resorted to number ten – the killing of all the first-born males in the land. If the reader is thinking this sounds a lot like the Pharaoh’s ‘drown all newborn Hebrew babies’ edict from before, well, you be the judge? The Bible tells us that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-merciful, so why did he need the services of Moses in the first place? Why not kill the Pharaoh and be done with it? Come to think of it, why had He allowed slavery to continue willy-nilly for centuries anyway? I guess we must just have faith in his mysterious wisdom. Hmn.
‘The Golden Calf’ – where did all that gold come from?
To cut a long story short, God tosses another ‘curve ball’ and chooses to ‘harden the Pharaoh’s heart’ yet again. Egypt’s head honcho decides to hop aboard his chariot and lead his army after the freed slaves. God, it appears, has sucked him in and lured him to the Red Sea. The Lord’s preferred method for problem-solving (Noah can vouch for this), is to drown humankind like so many rats! So He kills the entire pursuing army, Pharaoh, horses and all! Again, the question should be asked – why wait until then to kill the Pharaoh? Meanwhile, Moses leads his mass of freed slaves into the wilderness and to Mount Sinai. He tells them to wait while he heads off for a chat with God. Unfortunately, neither Moses nor God is in much of a hurry and the waiting ‘chosen people’ lose patience. They decide it is party-time so, according to the Bible, they fashion a golden calf to worship. One might tend to think that the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian Army would foster a healthy regard for the power of God. But no. A large proportion of God’s ‘chosen people’ have arrived at the conclusion that the whole thing must have been a ‘trick with mirrors or something’, so they fashioned an idol and began worshipping it instead of thanking the ‘Big G’. Bad mistake. Furthermore, one has to ask, ‘Why are these dummies deemed by God to be his ‘chosen people’?
Moses & the Ten Commandments
Moses takes one look at the idol (a ‘Golden Calf’, or so we are told) spits his dummy and angrily smashes the Ten Commandments the Lord had just handed to him. Just where the mob found the gold to build the golden idol has never been explained, (they were all slaves, after all). Nor are we told where the booze and the feast came from for the orgy either, but we are left in no doubt, whatsoever, that the worshipping of the idol bugged both God and Moses something chronic. The all-merciful, all-loving Lord, melts the thing down and feeds the molten gold to the idolaters! Evidently, he does not mind his ‘chosen people’ fornicating and getting drunk as skunks at the orgy, but worshipping a golden idol instead of worshipping him is the last straw. He then produces a replacement set of commandments and Moses delivers this replacement set to his people. God sure didn’t do Moses any favours when he got him to lug those stone tablets bearing the commandments down Mt Sinai. Being God, wouldn’t it have been easier to invent pencil and paper and write them down?
The Bible never identifies any Pharaoh by name. But that did not stop director DeMille from picking one of his own. The only evidence supporting Rameses II as the Pharaoh from whom Moses escapes appears in ‘Exodus’. It is claimed in Exodus that the Hebrews built the city of Rameses. Hardly conclusive but that was good enough for CB. Incidentally, he chose to cut the ‘frog plague’ out of his movie altogether because it was not frightening enough. In fact, people laughed as the frogs hopped after Nefretiri and other Egyptians throughout the palace. In his original production of The Ten Commandments (1923), CB’s script had Moses’ sister, Miriam, worshipping the golden calf, whereupon the all-loving Lord gives her a dirty big dose of leprosy as punishment. CB chose to discard that idea and depict Miriam as one of the faithful followers of Moses who do not partake in the revelry. DeMille, a devout believer in the Bible, was not averse to altering aspects of the story if need be. He even changed Zipporah’s name to Sephora for his movie!
What an amusing review, Alan! Really enjoyed your post
Thanks, Cat. It’s refreshing to read a supportive comment. Many religious fanatics singularly lack a sense of humor or fail to recognize the myriad anomalies in the story. Common sense and logic are not the forte of these people. I was even advised to check out the Koran ‘with the same dismissiveness’. as if I was being prejudiced against the Christian religion but no other. They are all the same – exercises in blind, unquestioning obedience – snow-jobs, and BILLIONS continue to fall for their bullshit! No wonder there will always be ideological wars. Humans are such dopes.
Most of Hollywood’s biblical epics are unintentionally hilarious, some moreso than others. The fact that an America of not that long ago took these cinematic spectacles seriously, as historical fact, provides evidence that we humans are not as evolved as we think we are. Then again, contemporary Americans are not being executed by an authoritarian figure on charges of disloyalty. Yet. Let’s see how the next election goes.
Now watch Islam: Empire of Faith (2000) , Muhammad: The Last Prophet (2002), Not Without My Daughter (1991)
Now question sacred elements of the Koran with the same level of dismissiveness in your writing.
I’m sure you will get right on it.
I dismiss the Koran and all other religious works similarly. None are worth the paper they are written on. I am an atheist. I leave the pipe-dreaming to people like you who think the phony promises of an after-life are more important than the one they are living.
AC, given the quality of his argument, is likely a devout Trumper who thinks that anyone who criticizes the Christian god or Trump himself (if that is not redundant) must be a “woke socialist” who keeps a copy of Mao’s Red Book under his pillow and dreams of Sharia Law superseding the Constitution. Just a guess of course.