Moses the Barbarian

Christian Bale, who plays Moses in the soon-to-be-released movie Exodus: Gods and Kings and he created some controversy in an interview recently when he made the entirely obvious claim that Moses was a “barbarian” and likely schizophrenic. Ted Baehr and Ben Kayser, the Christian right movie reviewers, take exception to that characterization:

In what could either be considered a genius marketing move, or quite detrimental, Christian Bale stirred things up with some controversial statements regarding the biblical figure. Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, Bale didn’t hide the fact that he was trying to distance himself from Charlton Heston’s Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic 1956 movie, “The Ten Commandments.”

“I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” Bale said about Moses. “He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”…

Bale’s statements are concerning, not because Christians don’t see Moses as a conflicted man who struggled with God’s calling, because he was in fact that. What’s disconcerting is that Bale’s comments make it appear Ridley Scott has turned a hero of the Christian faith into a barbarian.

No, what’s concerning is that a man who was clearly a barbarian — if the Bible is to be believed — has been turned into a hero of the Christian faith. I can’t imagine how someone could describe the Moses in the Bible as anything but a barbarian. Look at Numbers 31 alone, the chapter that, more than anything else, led me to reject Christianity in my late teens. Moses orders, at the alleged command of God, that the Israelite soldiers slaughter all the men, married women and male children in Midian, but to save the virgin females alive to be passed out to the soldiers as the spoils of war. At which point they would have been raped — or “married,” as if there is a difference. When you kill their entire families and then force them to marry the men who committed the slaughter, what else could it possibly be but rape?

This is something that even Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin did not do, for crying out loud. How else could this possibly be described but as barbaric?

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  • themadtapper

    I’ve said for quite some time that the Old Testament reads like a barbarian diary with “it’s okay because God said we could” thrown in every couple of chapters.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Moses orders, at the alleged command of God, that the Israelite soldiers slaughter all the men, married women and male children in Midian, but to save the virgin females alive to be passed out to the soldiers as the spoils of war. At which point they would have been raped — or “married,” as if there is a difference.

    Is that where Boko Haram learned that trick?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Come on, Ed. Stalin and Hitler didn’t have a Divine Charter to do it. That changes everything.

    Of course, it does put Moses into the “I was only following orders” camp. A lot of the people who are giving Moses a pass on the whole “genocide and rape” front are fine with “only following orders” on the US use of torture, even on people who later turn out to have been innocent by just about any standards.

    About the closest that “I was only following orders” comes to being an excuse is if the liability gets passed up the chain of command — the one who gives the orders is fully responsible for the actions taken in his (or “His”) name. We don’t do that any more — Bush and Cheney get a pass too. And so, interestingly, does the Christian God.

    So you see, in our modern 21st Century view of such things, it’s quite possible for armies to commit genocide, torture, and rape without anyone — from the President (or deity) on down to the schmuck with a rifle — being to blame.

  • Kevin Kehres

    @2…since the Koran is a mash-up of Judaism, early Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, I’d say it’s quite likely.

  • eric

    I’m somewhat perturbed that Christian Bale has not read about any other (equally) barbaric individuals. Did he skip his history classes in HS? Because history is full of them.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    No doubt if Mr Bale ever happens to play them he will comment on them. The only redeeming factor in the Moses story is that it’s mostly (or more likely all) a lie.

  • robnyny

    Biblical marriage! Moses’ mother was also his great aunt, and his father also his cousin, by virtue of being aunt and nephew themselves.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    @6 I remember watching one of those History channel programs where a chap was theorizing that the Exodus myth was based on a possibly true story of escaped slaves from Egypt that was later appropriated by the population at large. Apparently there are some place names that can be fitted into the pattern.

    What we do know is that there is no evidence to back the population movements described in Exodus.

  • Trebuchet

    I remember watching one of those History channel programs….

    Well THERE’S your problem!

  • Loqi

    I think Bale will do a much better job playing Moses the Barbarian that Arnold did, despite not having the muscle mass.

  • peterh

    I’ve always thought Moses (if indeed there was such a single person & not some mythic conflation) was decidedly bi-polar.

  • Larry Kearney

    Numbers 31 : Moses, what is best in life? “Crush your enemies. See them driven before. Hear da lamentations of der wvomen”

  • Abdul Alhazred

    When you call Moses schizophrenic you are entirely discounting the “made up shit” theory. 😉

  • Pierce R. Butler

    According to the story, Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s court by a high-ranking princess.

    So, by contemporary standards, he qualified as civilized rather than barbaric – all, of course, quite compatible with ordering massacres and atrocities.

    The name “Moses” (also found in Pharaonic names such as Thutmose and Ramses) just means “son”, and fits in with much of the other evidence that his mythos was wholly fabricated. The best reading I’ve found on the question: Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? and Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.

  • Sastra

    When you kill their entire families and then force them to marry the men who committed the slaughter, what else could it possibly be but rape?

    Oh dear. I had a friend who read a lot of “Christian” romances, including many which were set in the past. I borrowed a couple of the ‘best’ on her recommendation. They were … not very good. But they were very pious and full of fervent witness of God’s presence in True Love.

    So the above sentence suddenly suggested a whole series of plots, combining the Christian Romance genre with the Bodice-Ripping Maiden-and-the-Barbarian Romance genre.

    Oh, dear. Let that creative idea end here.

  • CJO, egregious by any standard

    The name “Moses” (also found in Pharaonic names such as Thutmose and Ramses) just means “son”, and fits in with much of the other evidence that his mythos was wholly fabricated.

    That, and the fact that the narrative uses “Pharaoh” throughout as a personal name and not a title. Which suggests that the author either did not know the name of the king of Egypt at the time in which he set his story (a time, in the real world, when Canaan was an imperial possession of of the Pharaonic state), or, the narrative is intended to carry the overtones of a mythic fable. Neither choice bodes real well for historical accuracy.

  • busterggi

    Much ado about a fictional character – its as if there were folks outraged over who will be the next Batman.

  • http://almosteverythingsucks.wordpress.com Hank_Says

    Morally, the only saving grace of the Old Testament is that it’s fiction. That or (if I’m being generous) based on verbal histories that were exaggerated to the point of being indistinguishable from same.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    According to the story, Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s court by a high-ranking princess.

    As Christopher Hitchens once pointed out, that would mean he’d have been familiar with Egyptian law, which would have made the whole exercise where god tells him “thou shall do no murder” eye-rollingly stupid.

  • dingojack
  • lofgren

    When you kill their entire families and then force them to marry the men who committed the slaughter, what else could it possibly be but rape?

    WINNING.

  • dan4

    @5: “I am somewhat perturbed that Christian Bale has not read about any (equally barbaric) individuals?” Uh, Bale said “one of the most,” not “THE most.”

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    Marcus,

    Boiling down the entire corpus of Egyptian law to ten rules would be a pretty good trick though. So I don’t think Hitchens had much of a point.

    A better approach to looking at the Moses story would be to start with the origins of the passover ceremony. Research suggests this is a mashup of two pre-existing celebrations of spring under king Josiah just before the Babylonian exile:

    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/passover/.premium-1.585404

    The two pre-existing ceremonies involved eating unleavened barley bread (all that is available at the start of the harvest) and the sacrifice of a lamb. The political purpose behind unifying the two celebrations was no doubt to create political cohesion between the different groups. The sacrifice has to be offered in the temple itself.

    If those are the circumstances in which passover is invented then Moses looks like an evo-psych style just-so story to explain the ceremony. What is presented as a narrative fiction in one generation becomes a holiday tradition in the next and a sacred text in the generation after that. In this case the story becomes greatly elaborated during the Babylonian exile.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    @9

    Some of the documentaries are (edited) versions of BBC programs so they are not all useless. But they do tend to be tediously slow. A 40 minute BBC documentary is stretched to an hour.

    One of the BBC folk had an excited archeologist who thought he had found the Israelite settlement in Egypt. Which seemed rather implausible though he did have a statue with what seemed to be a coat of many colors.

    Now one explanation would be an extraordinarily lucky archeologist. But rather more likely is that coat of many colors statues were a staple for some cult which might or might not have a connection to the myth.

  • dingojack

    Phillip Hallam-Baker – Isn’t ‘coat of many colours’ simply a mistranslation of ‘coat without sleeves’. Bang goes that hypothesis*.

    Dingo

    ———

    * Reflects rather poorly on the Beeb’s creditability in choosing ‘archaeologists’ (in this case read: ‘very likely a Christian Nutjob who goes looking to confirm what he already thinks happened in the near past’)

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    25, As I said, an excitable chap. After all, why paint a statue at all if you are OK with just one color?

    I don’t think we need to go into the translation thing to be less than convinced that someone has found Joseph. And the alternative translation is only a theory rather than a consensus so I don’t think you can say bang goes the theory. If the statue was evidence it would refute the miscopying theory. The problem is that the statue isn’t really evidence.

    The Joseph story does require the coat to be special because that is key to the plot. This isn’t an obscure biblical passage, it is central to the exodus story. So its unlikely that a change in interpretation would come about through casual error.

    In an oral tradition the names of the tribes would surely change according to the audience and be the names of the villages. Its telling that there is no ‘Joseph’ tribe, the name of the main character would have to be constant. And one the multicolored coat was introduced, that would have to be a constant too. But what we have in the scriptures are surely redactions and summaries of the common elements of a tale told in many versions.

  • kevinalexander

    According to the story, Moses was raised in the Pharaoh’s court by a high-ranking princess.

    The story I heard was that Pharoah’s daughter suddenly decided to visit her great aunt in Memphis for a few months and on the way back ‘found’ a baby floating in the Nile.

  • Nick Gotts

    Moses and Pharoah: the true story.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    kevinalexander: “…great aunt in Memphis …floating in the Nile….”

    Mississippi, surely

  • http://www.rodlamkey.net reverendrodney

    As I’ve been finding the seeds of ongoing Middle Eastern slaughter in the Old Testament, I would not be surprised if the commanders at Nazi concentration camps got their idea of deciding who works and who dies from the process of determining which girls were virgins from which weren’t. Where else in all of literature, history, or mythology, is this notion of killing girls for lack of hymens even mentioned, except in the Old Testament.

    And they call it the good book.

  • freehand

    reverendrodney: “Where else in all of literature, history, or mythology, is this notion of killing girls for lack of hymens even mentioned, except in the Old Testament.”

    .

    Once it was figured out – even retroactively, when they were writing down elements of a retold story to solidify a myth – that sex leads to children, various cultures found various ways of establishing that a particular man had sired a particular child. Once that became a major issue, the rights of women (if any were remaining at all) pretty much must have gone right out the window.

    .

    When I was studying Korean in school, I saw an old painting of a medieval Korean girl jumping on a type of seesaw with a girl standing on the other end. (Down & up, up & down) They were doing this to catch glimpses of the outside world over their house walls. Young maidens of child bearing age were kept inside walled houses if the family was rich enough to afford such a house.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    If you take a hard look at the Exodus story, it is obvious that it is a composite formed from a set of independent stories.

    The Joseph story really has nothing to do with the Moses story. It is the classical tale of the outcast turned hero. The king doesn’t need to be Egyptian, in fact it works a lot better if Joseph’s brothers don’t have to hike all the way to Egypt to get famine relief crossing a barren desert in the process.

    The bridge between the two is just one line, ‘and there came a pharaoh who knew not Joseph.’

    In the Moses story we have the flight from Egypt which looks like a standalone story which is inserted into the lawgiver narrative. Since there are ten commandments the number of plagues would have to be adjusted if necessary. Oh and add in some miracles those are always popular.