Meet the 11-year-old boy who speaks for God when Moses sees the burning bush in Exodus: Gods and Kings

Meet the 11-year-old boy who speaks for God when Moses sees the burning bush in Exodus: Gods and Kings November 12, 2014

isaacandrewsBack in February, it was reported that Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings would feature “an unconventional depiction of God”. Now we have a better idea of what that report was talking about.

The Hollywood Reporter says Isaac Andrews, an 11-year-old who recently played a young Thracian prince in Hercules, appears in Exodus as a boy named Malak who “meets Moses in front of a burning bush” and “reappears thereafter to guide and debate Moses, who soon realizes the child is speaking as God.”

This is a striking departure from previous Moses movies, which have usually depicted God as a disembodied voice that is often provided by the actor playing Moses himself. But there is actually a biblical precedent for giving God and Moses a go-between like this.

The name “Malak” is a Semitic word that means “angel” — and Exodus 3 says “the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in flames of fire from within [the burning] bush.” Two verses later, and for the rest of that passage, it is God himself who calls out to Moses from within the bush, but in Acts 7, the early Christian martyr Stephen says God spoke to Moses and sent him to lead the Israelites through the angel.

So while Scott’s depiction of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush certainly sounds like a departure from other movie depictions of that encounter, it might actually reflect closer attention to the text than most filmmakers have shown. Might.

In any case, Scott told the Reporter he decided to have Moses get his marching orders from a young boy because “Malak exudes innocence and purity, and those two qualities are extremely powerful.” Rabbi David Baron, a consultant on the film, says the filmmakers “went off the biblical text” because “the biblical text was very terse.”

It will be interesting to see just how many scenes this Malak character will appear in. Will he travel with Moses from Sinai to Egypt? Will he be present at the Red Sea crossing? Will he have any role in dictating the Ten Commandments?

The scene by the burning bush is especially crucial because it is here that God first reveals his name — YHWH — to mankind. Will this 11-year-old boy have any dialogue to that effect, or will the film simply drop that part of the story?

Also: will there be any ambiguity around Moses’ interpretations of what this boy tells him, the way there was some ambiguity around Noah’s interpretation of his dreams and visions in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Or will the film flirt with the possibility that this boy might be a manifestation of Moses’ so-called “schizophrenia”?

Finally, I cannot help but note that the casting of a young boy as the angel who visits Moses is reminiscent of the young girl who appeared to Jesus — and was later revealed to be Satan in disguise — in The Last Temptation of Christ. But see also the young girl who played the angel in Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew. There may be other child-angel precedents that I’m forgetting right now.

November 13 update: A reader reminds me that many Christians over the years, puzzled by how “the Angel of the Lord” sometimes speaks as though he were God but also sometimes speaks as though God was someone else, have identified this angel with the preincarnate Christ — and, thus, have identified this angel with the Second Person of the Trinity: yes, the angel is God, but no, he is not God the Father.

That’s obviously not how a Jewish interpreter would understand this character, and I certainly don’t expect Scott to follow that line of interpretation. But it does occur to me that at least one film has already played with that idea, i.e. the History Channel miniseries The Bible, which had the voice of Jesus speak to Moses from the burning bush, just as it spoke to Abraham when he was about to sacrifice Isaac, etc.

So with that in mind, I cannot help but be amused when people like the so-called Faith Driven Consumers complain that Scott has cast a boy to play “God the Father”. Not only are they imposing later Trinitarian theology on a story that doesn’t require it, but they’re getting their persons of the Trinity mixed up! Accuracy, indeed.

The more I think about this, though, I do wonder what it would sound like for a boy — and one who represents “innocence and purity”, at that — to tell Moses that he is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart, send several plagues, and ultimately kill many of the Egyptians. That is the basic message the boy is going to give Moses, right?

November 28 update: The New York Times also has a story on the 11-year-old who plays God and/or his messenger, and Scott’s reasons for this odd bit of casting:

Mr. Scott compared the search for Mr. Andrews to casting a young Dalai Lama. Of his eerie ability to mix innocence with command, Mr. Scott said: “One gets the sense that he comes from a very clean place. He only speaks logic and truth.”

The Times also spoke to a minister named Floyd Flake, who says many Christians will respond positively to the child God because it is consistent with the stories in the New Testament of Christ’s birth, and Gary A. Rendsburg, a professor of Jewish studies:

Gary A. Rendsburg, a professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University, said last week that he could immediately think of only one Old Testament reference that might support the notion of God as a young innocent. That is a very brief reference in the first Book of Kings, Chapter 19, in which God speaks to Elijah in what is described as a “still small voice.”

In the Book of Exodus, Mr. Rendsburg said, God is neither man nor spirit, but rather “a character” who still has manlike traits by which much older generations understood him. “He’s very conversational, and you can still have a one-on-one with him,” said Mr. Rendsburg — though he noted, per Exodus, Chapter 33, that to look upon God would kill a human.

Exodus 33 is actually ambiguous on this point. Yes, at the end of that chapter, it does say that Moses could not see God’s face and live. But only a few verses earlier, it also says that God “would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

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