Are Exodus: Gods and Kings — and other Moses movies — picking on Ramses II unfairly?

Donna Dickens has an amusing post up at Hitfix in which she begs Hollywood to “please stop character assassinating Ramses II”.

The Bible, you see, never says precisely who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but most big-screen versions of the story — from The Ten Commandments to The Prince of Egypt to Ridley Scott’s upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings — have assumed it was Ramses II, one of the most powerful Pharaohs who ever lived.

There are reasons for this, which I’ll get to in a moment, but Dickens proposes an alternative theory. Instead of dating the Exodus to the time of Ramses, who lived in the 13th century BC, she proposes dating it to the time of Thutmose III, an accomplished Pharaoh in his own right who ruled in the 15th century BC.

Why so much earlier? Partly because I Kings 6:1 tells us that Solomon began building the Temple 480 years after the Israelites came out of Egypt, and that he did this during the fourth year of his own reign. So Solomon began his reign 476 years after the Exodus, and if you date the beginning of Solomon’s reign to about 970 BC, as Dickens apparently does, then all you have to do is add 476 years and — voila! — the Exodus took place in 1446 BC, right in the middle of Thutmose’s reign.

I used to subscribe to this theory, or at least a version of it, myself.

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King Solomon reimagined as a modern country-music star

“Even the wisest of men was a fool for love.”

So goes the tagline for The Song, an upcoming film that takes the story of the biblical Solomon and reimagines it as a story about a singer-songwriter dealing with fame and temptation in present-day America.

The biblical Solomon isn’t exactly known for his singing and songwriting — not like his father David, at any rate — but the Bible does say that “his songs numbered a thousand and five”. Two of the Psalms are attributed to him, and so, of course, is the Song of Songs. So it seems that this film is taking that as a jumping-off point.

The film will also make use of Ecclesiastes, a book of subversive wisdom that is also commonly attributed to Solomon.

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Movies that flip their source material on its head

My friend and colleague Steven D. Greydanus tweeted the other day that the new Lone Ranger movie is not just one of those films that doesn’t “get” its source material but, rather, it is made by “people who do understand the source material—and dislike it.” He has since noted that this point is also made by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, who wrote that the film is “an ambitious movie disguised as a popcorn throwaway, nothing less than an attempt to revise, reinvigorate and make fun of not just its source but also nearly every other western ever made.”

This got me wondering about other films that have knowingly inverted their source material, rather than adapted it, per se — i.e., films that have explicitly challenged the themes of their source material. Two examples came to mind immediately.

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Solomon, his two lovers, and the demons they battle

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Jerusalem Film Fund, which supports films and TV shows that take place within Israel’s capital city, has given some money to an animated film called Being Solomon, which is described as “a Hungarian-British-Israeli production that imagines the biblical King Solomon joining forces with the Queen of Sheba and an Arab queen, Na’ama, to fight the king of demons, who is seeking to take over their kingdoms.”

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Review: The Bible Collection (dir. various, 1994-1999)

MANY FILMMAKERS have turned to the Good Book for story ideas, but they haven’t always turned those ideas into good movies. The genre’s highs and lows are both on full display in The Bible Collection, an ambitious series of TV-movies that has been produced over the past eight years, and isn’t quite finished yet.

The first four films covered the Book of Genesis in warts-and-all detail, and dealt matter-of-factly with some of the racier episodes that Sunday School classes tend to ignore. Three of these films, focusing on Abraham and his descendants, starred well-known British, American and Australian actors and were broadcast on the Turner network in the United States. One, Joseph, won the Emmy for outstanding mini-series in 1995.

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