Exodus: Gods and Kings–unless you’re a biased blasphemer, the movie is utterly historically plausible

Exodus: Gods and Kings–unless you’re a biased blasphemer, the movie is utterly historically plausible December 17, 2014

posterI just saw Exodus: Gods and Kings, preparing myself for 2’20” of absolute nonsense, judging by most of the reviews I’ve read.

But I honestly don’t know what all the fuss was about. I found the movie to be amazingly accurate, or at least plausible and possibly accurate.

The critics are wrong.

First, I think we need to trust Ridley Scott here, folks. He’s been making movies for a long time, and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Just look at his corpus of work, like Kingdom of Heaven, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and othersall of which intend to be accurate, so they must be presumed to be accurate.

Plus how many of us have made movies? Exactly. Just as I thought.

I think it is only right and logical, therefore, that we begin a priori with the assumption that this movie is accurate until it is absolutely 100% certain that Scott has been inaccurate–and even then we should still give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that the fault is in our own errant interpretive skills.

It’s quite fashionable among the movie elite to criticize Scott, but I think that needs to stop. It’s just wrong. So very wrong.

[Now begins the spoiler alert stuff.]

One of the things Scott has been criticized for is portraying God as a 10 year old boy with a British accent and an anger problem who likes inflicting pain. But I ask you, what could be more plausible?

What makes me say that? Logic, that’s what. First, can you think of a better explanation for why God crushes humans left and right in the Bible every 3 pages like he’s stepping on an ant hill?

My second reason is also logical. How do you know God isn’t a 10 year old boy? Have you ever seen him? Are you absolutely certain that God absolutely couldn’t be a 10 year old boy?

Of course not, so you need to leave open the possibility that God could be a 10 year old boy, thus giving Scott the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise, by closing off that possibility, you are arrogant and your God is too small.

Another complaint people have is that most of the people in the movie are white. But again, can you be absolutely sure that they were not?

After all, none of us were there. And whatever pictorial depictions of Egyptians we have are open to interpretation–unless you are arrogant and close off all possibilities but your own. As for Israelites, the oldest and best depiction we have is from the 9th century Black Obelisk, but that is very late and drawn by Assyrians, so we cannot assume its accuracy.

We also have to remember that archaeology is a very young field (only 130 years old) and is therefore subject to the mere whim and unexamined philosophical biases of those leading the expeditions. We can’t fully trust their findings until we can be sure that they are absolutely free of bias.

Seti
Seti

This is why I have no reasonable reason to doubt the accuracy of (1) Moses leading an army to fight against the Egyptians, which included the guerrilla tactic of blowing sky high the Egyptian food supply or (2) Egyptian chariots, navigating dangerous mountain roads in chasing the Israelites through the wilderness, ending up in a 20 chariot pile up with a good number of them falling off the edge into the rocks below.

Sure, there’s no actual “evidence” for these things yet, but I’m sure if we’re patient evidence will one day be found and published in a journal someplace that will overturn the current ivory tower “scholarly” consensus that these things never happened.

And bear in mind–I don’t mind repeating myself, because this is key–that these things could have happened;  it’s not completely impossible that some smaller supply of food was blown up or maybe a far fewer chariots in a high speed chase spilled over the side of a mountain, and that these accounts were slightly exaggerated later on while still maintaining their “essentially historical” character, even though not a shred of archaeological evidence can be found.

But how could it? It is unreasonable to expect that kind of evidence to remain, so the only reasonable conclusion that does justice to the movie is that it likely happened, and to think otherwise is to claim omniscience, which is blasphemy.

We also need to remember that the Egyptians would never ever record anything that made them look bad–even so public an event like a mass release of 100s of 1000s of slaves and the total decimation of their economy not to mention their standing army. Even though every other nation around them spun defeats–blaming them on their own gods’ anger for some breech of contract–the Egyptians would never ever do that. So it is unreasonable to expect the kind of historical verification our biased modern minds expect.

Zipporah
simple shepherdess Midianite Zipporah

Remember, too, that Scott is quite the movie producer. As I listed above, many of his other movies show tremendous attention to historical detail so we can presume the same of this one.

Yes, he does dabble in fiction and fantasy movies (G.I. Jane, Blade Runner, Prometheus, and Cats and Dogs), but that doesn’t take away from the historical accuracy of his other works. Plus, even in this movie he has accurately portrayed the 13th c. BCE Battle of Kadesh, where the Egyptians battled the Hittites.

Joshua
crazy Joshua

Frankly, the evidence that Exodus: Gods and Kings is at least historically plausible and possible, if not historically accurate, is overwhelming.

Perhaps there is some embellishment–like Wagner or Celtic music (couldn’t tell) playing in the background during the Red Sea scene, or Moses sending a warning message to Rameses written not only in blood on the side of a horse but in Hebrew in the 13th c. BCE, or John Turturro making a remotely plausible Pharaoh Seti, or Jesse Pinkman playing a Charlie Mansonesque Joshua, or Moses finding let alone marrying a Midianite woman who clearly is a swimsuit model on the side, or Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley? seriously?

But all these things need to be looked at carefully without rushing to modern biased judgment about what can and can’t happen. Plus those things don’t take anything away from the essential historicity of the movie.

I think it’s important to battle against biased critics. I hope this has been helpful and gives you more confidence in watching this amazing movie.

 


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  • William Colburn

    Hehe

  • Thank you for restoring my faith in this movie, professor. I really believe that if we question the authority of Ridley Scott, the whole movie-going public will fall into moral decay. We need to keep our focus on the right thing: getting as many people as we can to SEE THIS MOVIE.

  • Kim Fabricius

    Absolutely — and thanks. Give Scott a break.The picture of the British kid with the inscription “Yahweh” underneath would grace an archaeological exhibition of ancient Hebrew iconography. The only inaccuracy I can detect is that surely God would be wearing a Yankee cap (or would that be Seti?). (BTW, still LMAO.)

  • Taylor Burns

    What you have done here—and I do see what you have done here—is pure masterpiece. That was one of the most neatly woven and beautifully fitted undertones I’ve ever seen you write on this blog.

  • Andrew McDonald

    This movie will be a great opportunity for revival and renewed evangelism in America. Ridley Scott is beyond criticism; he is the one of whom the prophet speaks, “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose.”

    • TheLump

      I have it on good authority that the word, “shepherd” is old Aramaic for “filmmaker.”

  • Brian MacArevey

    I understand your points here. And largely agree. But I think that there are other problems with the movie. I have given my thoughts here: https://brianmacarevey.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/exodusmovie-when-empire-appropriates-the-literature-of-the-oppressed/

  • David Satya Hartanto

    Well, Ridley Scott is not immune to historical inaccuracies. However, when he does care about it, the accuracy is pretty good.

    If the Exodus: Gods and Kings were criticized for its pacing, storytelling, camera angle, and so on, that’s legal. However, if the criticism was directed mainly to the portrayal of the character, that’s ridiculous. That’s biased.

  • Joe Barthelmess

    Umm anyone who has read the Bible knows the movie to be inaccurate. Why does Hollywood feel the need to change such an amazing Historical story? Seriously? A Boy as God? God spoke to Moses through the Burning Bush, not a boy (with an English accent I might add). Not to mention, why does Hollywood have to have a witness to Moses speaking with God? I guess that is the only way they can justify History. In their eyes, no way Moses’ people follow him just on his word that he spoke with God. Shameful

    • John

      You shame yourself, your family, and your faith.

      • Joe Barthelmess

        By speaking the truth? You, John, shame all of the above by being an internet troll attacking people without stating a basis or reason for your attack. Furthermore, you are clearly uneducated, cowardly (just John? Really?) and closed minded not to actually contribute to a conversation rather than state your meaningless opinion. See? Any moron can attack someone personally.

  • ajl

    I was mostly disappointed in the fact that Kirk Cameron was absent from the film – I wanted him to share the gospel with the soldiers right before they died.

    • “So go on! Get the biggest toads! The angriest locusts!”

  • Is this a test in genre identification?

  • I expect at some point John Turturro gets turned into a toad as one of the plagues.
    Please tell me this happened.

    • fredx2

      Actually he gets turned into a blue smurf.

  • Rob

    “After all, none of us were there.”

    Good one.

  • Caleb G

    Brilliant. James K. Hoffmeier would be proud.

  • Clarke Morledge

    Pete: Would you be willing give us an in-depth review of the _Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus_ film/book when it comes out? Not everyone understands some of issues involved and some of the apologetic difficulties that have to be dealt with. Is the (non)-historicity of the Exodus event really an open and shut case?

  • Jeff Y

    I do like what you are doing here with this. Excellent rhetoric and satire. But, it still begs the question.

  • Cynthia

    Rather than carp about the accuracy of portrayals in this biblically themed movie and others like it such as “Noah,” be amazed that our God can work through anything! A movie or other media doesn’t have to meet our sniff test in order for the God of Creation to do his work. We will never know how many may be drawn to learn more about God simply because they went to a movie that invoked biblical history in some form or another.

  • James

    I also love movies, especially those that claim some sort of historical or literary base. The main value to me, other than aesthetics and story, is the prompt to go back and check the sources. Hopefully, the movie prompts people to read Exodus. And this allegorical review should help them interpret it–seriously!

  • David W

    Wow, so surprised many of the comments here don’t see what Pete is doing.

    • peteenns

      David, You should see the comments I didn’t let through. It seems that several people read my post as a serious review of the movie. I can’t even. Others pointed out all the inaccuracies of the movie, as if Scott just flubbed up and “doesn’t know his Bible” rather than making conscious decisions about how to present the story. Again, I can’t even.

      • ratnok

        I think that most people didn’t read beyond the first 2 paragraphs. They felt offended and shut off. Sarcasm is a hard thing for authors to get across on the internet.Sometimes criticism and commentary gets too serious. A little humor now and then helps. Kudos for you in trying though. But not everyone gets the joke all the time.

      • Poe’s Law.

      • Gina Wright Hawkins

        Careful. Your basic white girl is showing. Guess you only like odd numbers.

  • Johnny Number 5

    When should we expect the release of the “Ridley Scott Tells Me So” companion monograph?

  • eric r

    Lovely sardonic review wish i had written it myself.. Seriously , though seems there was some sort of slave escape since it is so deeply embedded in multiple layers of the Hebrew bible.. Probably “their” story became “our ” story as the national epic of Israel and yahweh grew and became embellished.

  • Scott E. Starr

    Weird, the more ‘Christian blogs and comments i read the less i like Christians or want to be considered one of them…

    • fredx2

      That’s OK because we are sort of appalled at you too.

      • Scott E. Starr

        We? Who? You and your pet weasel? And- why? You have anything besides an un-Christlike wisecrack?

        • Gosh, can’t take a joke, can you Scott!

          • Scott E. Starr

            Who was joking?

        • Phil Steinacker

          Really! You ARE a weenie, aren’t you?

          You start off with a crass insult of Christians and then get all puffed up and defensive when fred pulled your chain.

          Why don’t you take your ball and go home? Hopefully, you already have.

          • Scott E. Starr

            It wasn’t an insult, but rather a statement of sad fact I didn’t like the sarcasm or snark in many of the comments. Now, you are participating in it too. I couldn’t care less about your childish insults. I AM a Christian, I just don’t like the attitudes I am seeing or ONE person speaking for all like Fred. and you- calling someone you don’t know a weenie and all… you have no room to talk whatsoever.
            Now, I just watched the new movie Exodus. The ‘Christian’ critics of this
            movie are wrong. Its fantastic. Yes, I know its not entirely accurate
            according to Scripture and the producers took some poetic license, but
            with something like 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, all
            based on the same book and information, is there really room to complain
            about that? Side note: Moses is the grandfather of liberation
            theology, Jesus the father… Cannot the poor, downtrodden and oppressed
            not expect some relief in THIS world and not just the next, just as the
            Hebrews did? I say yes. Why would that be wrong? Spare me the Marxist junk- I ain’t one.

    • Scott E. Starr

      I am going to see the movie now, with pleasure.

  • Tim

    Lol.

  • MN WS

    The reason the people who I’m incontact with aren’t seeing the movie because the race isn’t right, you’re in AFRICA and what this movie is saying is all the important people in Africa/Egypt were white. It’s the white-washing of history if he had more black people in there i would imagine it would be a bigger success

    • lmntCrans

      The reason isn’t that Americans are racist, it is the foreign market. In the leaked SONY emails, a producer is quoted as saying, “(I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation)… I believe that the international motion-picture audience is racist—in general, pictures with an African-American lead don’t play well overseas,” Hollywood is not anti-black, or anti-Christian, or any of that. Hollywood is pro money. If the foreign market bought tickets, Hollywood would gladly sell them movies with black people.

      http://www.theroot.com/blogs/the_grapevine/2014/12/sony_execs_were_warned_not_to_cast_denzel_washington_because_black_leads.html

      • John

        Sure, but can we ethically separate not spending money to watch a black actor from not utilizing black actors due to less money? It may not be racism rooted in hate, but it is racism rooted in economics, which may actually be worse.

        • lmntCrans

          What do you propose? That a corporation violate its fiduciary obligation to the stockholders and knowingly reduce present net value? That would be illegal.

          • John

            Ha ha. I have no idea how you got it in your head that it is illegal to pursue a path of lesser NPV. That’s a frankly absurd statement (but also kind of irrelevant). I don’t have a proposal, only an observation of systemic bias.

          • lmntCrans

            While a course of lesser NPV is not explicitly illegal, maximizing NPV would be a shield against allegations of violating fiduciary obligations of not maximizing shareholder wealth.

            This moves the potential discussion from incompetence (loss of income, your implied choice) to proper enrichment (the corporation or the shareholder, and specifically not the fiduciary himself).

          • John

            Yeah, no.

  • John

    I see what you did there…

  • Bob Dylan

    This is the absolute stupidest piece of shit article I’ve ever read.

  • Dennis Kelley

    I think the concept “satire” escapes some people…..

  • *guffaw*
    Brilliant.

  • MandoZink

    Your splendiferous appraisal of the inevitable cinematic truthiness that will be forthcoming simply brought me to tears. Another imperative reminder that I remain steadfast in the blindness I have embraced, and abide by the prudent introspection of Jules Feiffer:

    “Christ died for our sins. Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?”

  • TheLump

    Masterful.

  • dcake2013

    Most people claim this film is incorrect seeing as the people in the film are not Black but Caucasian. It’s hard to get people to see it’s not the color of those portraying the events but how they are portrayed! Just a tidbit .!

  • TRUTH

    One thing I do know and it’s a fact where ever theirs alot of sunlight there are also a lot of black people. White people can’t survive a summer without using sunscreen n that’s a fact

    • cken

      Are you saying the tens of millions of white people who live near the equator will have a very short life expectancy. Wouldn’t the Hebrews being mostly a white race have become extinct during their 400 years in Egypt.

    • John

      Last summer I spend a wonderful week in Dubai, where the temperature exceeded 110 degrees most of the time.

      Oh, btw, Arabs and Persians are WHITE.

      • TRUTH

        And I’m sure you went with alot sunscreen

        • John

          No. I just wore long sleeves and slacks and a head-scarf. Like the locals have been doing for thousands of years. (Rolls eyes at the endless ignorance)

  • lmntCrans

    “Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.”

  • fredx2

    Anytime someone disagrees with Ridley ‘Scott, I just tell them “Oh, yeah! How many Hollywood movies have you made that just make stuff up?” That usually shuts them up

  • LOL Peter, perhaps I’m just dense, but for the life of me I can’t tell what the aim of your satire is exactly. What we all wanna know, is – did ya like the movie or not?
    Is your point that who the heck cares about historical accuracy in what is obviously eye-candy drama about a story that is likely mythologized to begin with? Alas, if you have to explain a joke, it just loses its punchline anyway. 😉

    • peteenns

      I was making a point about how inerrantists make arguments for the historical reliability of the exodus story in the OT.

  • cken

    Can God be a 10 year old boy? I think since nobody has any idea what God actually is, He She or It can be anything you imagine. One question. Why is there no Egyptian record of roughly 2.5 million Hebrews leaving Egypt. Maybe there was an exodus and maybe there was a Job and a Jonah, maybe there wasn’t. Does it really matter? The morals and lessons of the stories are still applicable. Just because the Ten Commandments were taken directly from the Egyptian Book of The Dead doesn’t make them any less valuable guidelines to live by.

    • Not true, regarding the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

      Many skeptics point out that seven of the Bible’s ten commandments also appeared in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which preceded the book of Exodus by several centuries. The part of the Book of the Dead in question is the Papyrus of Ani, where a “negative confession” is given. That is, a person who has died and is entering the underworld is listing sinful things that they have refrained from doing, and thus declaring themselves worthy to enter the underworld.

      These aren’t commandments being given here, simply statements the
      person is saying about themselves, though they are declaring these
      things to be sinful, as the ten commandments are doing.

      The 10 Commandments are absolutely unique in recorded human history, as of the time of writing at least.

      Dave

  • Muff Potter

    So far (here and elsewhere) I’ve read everything from how it’s insensitive to the plight of African Americans, to an almost absolute certainty that the Exodus never really happened. Big eye-roll to them all. Does everything that comes out on the silver screen nowadays have to have an ideological screed stretched over it? I for one was thoroughly entertained by the skill and artistry of one of the better film makers (Ridley Scott) in the business.

  • Ryan Hoselton

    This article shows two things 1) you don’t understand the theology of the inerrantists and 2) you’re bitter. Is the whole mission of this blog to convince the world that inerrantists are stupid? It’s becoming predictable and boring. You’re a gifted intellectual and you should spend your energies on other things.

    • peteenns

      I appreciate your comment, Ryan. I understand deeply and intimately the mindset of the diverse articulations inerrancy. My view is that inerrancy–any articulation of it–is a poor way of describing scripture’s own behavior, and therefore sells God and the Bible short. And I post directly against it occasionally to give those who need it a way of seeing that there are other, better, more ancient ways of looking at the Bible. If you’re interested, I’ve written an essay explaining myself in the 5-views inerrancy volume (that came out last year (Zondervan).

      • Ryan Hoselton

        Thanks for the gracious reply. Whether you understand the view or not, you misrepresent it in this article by comparing the inerrantist understanding of God as a sovereign and truthful author who preserved his word from errors to a Hollywood director exploiting a story to make a successful movie. (I don’t have a problem with him making the movie, I haven’t seen it but I would take it for what it’s worth, an embellished form of entertainment, not an accurate account of the Bible). The character of the author, the speaker in the speech-act, makes all the difference (insert comment about how the Bible is a human book too, I know that, but the authors were carried along by God the Spirit). I appreciate your motivation to lead readers to right ways of understanding the Bible, but whether it was your intention or not, this article demeans many sincere believers who hold their inerrantist views because they want to honor God’s truth. Even so, thank you Pete for challenging us to think more carefully about how we articulate the authority of Scripture.

        • peteenns

          I don’t think I’m doing that at all, Ryan. I am parodying how some inerrantist defend the accuracy of the historiography of the Bible. I also believe, though, that the “truthful author” of scripture fully embraces ancient human categories of expression–not simply as an unfortunate concession that the Holy Spirit successfully neutralizes when we formulate a bibliology. Maybe that is where we have a difference of opinion?

        • Ryan, I can relate pretty well to Pete and his aims. I was many years pretty close to an inerrantist myself. Now, after many more years and much more study of the Bible and psychology, sociology of religion and related fields, I know how hard it is to break down the “illogic” of inerrancy and other doctrines. Humor may well be one of the better ways to get through to some people. As was certainly true for me, many Christians who are very well-intentioned do need to “lighten up” a lot… including in their theological thinking.

    • eric pone

      Its not that they are stupid. They are simply not reading the book as written. The books have been blatantly redacted purposely. Even the Jews admit and embrace their redaction of the Book. If you want to be a inerrantist go ahead. I think that you are completely shutting yourself off from the beauty of the literature and boxing God in but if that is what you need to be accountable to God and lead a righteaous life go ahead. Just remember not everyone needs or wants that level of discipline in their lives.

  • Aaron Tubbs

    The humor is killing me! But it’s also healing me…thanks.

  • AugustineThomas

    I’m confused. Are you seriously defending Kingdom of Heaven? You think the Crusades were full of modern man’s parodies of medieval Christians and apparent contemporary men, fresh out of their time machines, to show the Christians who built modernity all we have to teach them, based on our ability to destroy the wonderful societies they built?

  • peteenns

    Just as a reminder, here is the comment policy I announced a while back. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/10/superamazing-major-announcement/

  • ccws

    God as a 10-year-old boy? Ridley Scott isn’t the first to put that idea out there. About 20 years ago a newspaper columnist (Clark deLeon, IIRC) wrote a hilarious and very much to-the-point riff on “proof that a 10-year-old boy created the universe.” The one thing I remember about it was the end of the dinosaurs: “Meh, I’m tired of the dinosaurs. I think I’ll drop a great big rock on ’em” or something to that effect. I’ve been looking for a copy ever since… B-)

  • Richard

    Mr. Enns, I just watched Exodus this evening, and went away wondering why at least some humanity is good and God is bad? Ramesses ii pointed this out in his question to God ‘s character re: the killing of children, while conveniently omitting earlier similar atrocities carried out under Egyptian edict. Respectfully, I don’t think the movie suffers due to a lack of literal adherence to the text, but rather liberty taken with the biblical narrative (please forgive and help me here – toad opining to a scholar:) Would not it be similar to switching Tolkien’s Gandalf and Saruman in the motion picture?

  • Richard

    Forgive the lack of sensitivity to the context of the
    discussion as well as the less than appropriate interaction on the sarcasm of
    the initial post. As you can easily tell, my question was basic to the
    general content of the Movie. I am presently wrestling with how as
    Christians we should explain the Old Testament to our children and others. I
    gather this is a shared passion, noting the books you have written directly for
    childlike curiosity. I find your
    honesty, especially in The Evolution of Adam, helpful; and, I am anxious to
    read the five views book on Inerrancy within which you are included. Your
    contributions to Biologos also seem helpful with promoting honesty within
    Christianity at large. I am admittedly skeptical of some things you
    propose, but between you and N.T. Wright I found responsible scholarship to
    give much needed sanity as I muddled through the issues brought up by Bart
    Ehrman in large part, but others also. To bring it back a bit, do you
    believe it is as unhelpful to promote strict inerrancy as it is to promote
    unfair characterizations of God?; or, is my question missing the mark?

  • Paul D.

    Almost had me fooled. Thanks for the judicious use of quotation marks. 🙂

  • Benjamin Spurlock

    I’ve got to say, Peter, I was a bit on the fence with you, since I’ve heard some very mixed things, but anyone who has a solid sense of humor while still maintaining an air of plausibility definitely deserves a second look. Almost had me going a little while, until the ‘so very wrong’ part. The fact that you’ve struck such a nerve with some just emphasizes the point. Well done!

    The only semi-serious point I’d raise, just because I find it really interesting from a historical point, is that the Egyptians really were one of the few peoples in that time and place to ‘whitewash’ history. Akhenaten is the most obvious one, but recent archeology indicates that the Nubian kingdom to Egypt’s south sometimes raided Egypt and even carried off their gods, which was- naturally- immediately expunged from all Egypt’s records, and we didn’t know about it until we dug up the Nubian part of history.

    Which really gives a hilarious mental image of the Egyptian priesthood. “Our gods were defeated, AGAIN? We’d better hush that up before anyone figures out what happened…”

  • John Shakespeare

    Sorry to come so late to this conversation, but I still want to join in with an observation I have not yet seen discussed. My wife and I saw the film recently, but it left me with the same problem I had encountered when watching Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B DeMille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’, namely, how could we be expected to take these films seriously as historical records when everyone knows that colour photography had not been invented in Moses’s time? The original black and white version, being closer to the technology of the time, is obviously a much more trustworthy account.

  • Very funny!