The Prince of Egypt
For years the Christian community has been waiting for Hollywood to come out with a film by either actors or animation that would have an accurate portrayal of the bible. The Prince of Egypt is created by Stephen Spielbergs studio Dreamworks SKG. This production is not like most of the films that have come out from any company in Hollywood. I commend them for taking a biblical story and trying to make one that everyone can enjoy, and try they did.
Dreamworks did a wonderful job in animation in trying to capture the Exodus story. Using state of the art technology for their animation their characters become real to life. The movie is moving and shows the suffering of man and the miracles of God. But it does not compare to the real life story found in the bible.
The producers wanted to tell the Exodus story faithfully so they consulted the expertise of those who are Archeologists and Egyptologists. The Christians consulted for this film were Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and James Kennedy. They also went to the religious communities of Jews , Muslims and interfaith. Maybe there were just too many to consult because there are a number of things going on that contradict the biblical record. Katzenburg one of the creators of this story said, " Our choices of how to make it could not diminish the message or values of the story as it is in the bible." This is true if one takes a general perspective. To their credit they post a statement in the beginning of the film "The biblical story of Moses can be found in the book of Exodus."
The saying too many cooks spoil the broth is true in this case, especially when they come from different religious perspectives. The study guides that are handed out for this movie explain why there are so many changes. Those involved in the study guides are the Interdenominational Theological Center , the Co-Director for Interfaith Relations, National Council Of Churches of Christ in the USA , Roman Catholic Diocese, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries , University of Judaism, Brigham Young University Islamic Center of S.California .While there are some we would certainly find agreement with, it appears this was to include all and exclude none, a uniting of the religious communities so to speak.
While they have a disclaimer "The views expressed in these materials are the authors ; they do not represent the views of DreamWorks." Certainly the theology is found in both the movie and the songs. While going over the study guides you find where they agree with the movie and when they do not. This left up to their own books such as in the Koran. The problem with the freedom of various opinions is that the true story is based on the bibles record written by Moses and he should know he was there.
Normally I wouldnt consider doing a review of a movie except because of this movies tremendous advertising it has a potential impact on society and the Church. While the general message and values of the Exodus story are not altered in this movie there are a number of things in the story that are. The producers recommend not to have your children see it alone but to make it a family event. The parents should talk through the story with their children before taking them to see it. I think they may be doing a lot more talking afterwards as I had too with my almost 8 year old son. So if you are a parent who is going to bring your children to see the film be ready to correct the inaccuracies throughout as well as what may be missing.
As with any production liberty is taken to make the film more interesting and exciting. Although for the life I me I dont see why this is necessary. The Exodus story is the most interesting and exciting biblical story outside the gospel accounts . It tells of both the sinfulness of humanity and the power of God to sustain and accomplish anything. The struggle of Israel to follow God with the cares of the world in opposition leading the people away. None of this is touched on in the movie. The music is moving and sometimes emotional and fits well in the picture complimenting it. But some of the words in other songs dont seem to relate and are the opposite of the story. There is dialogue and situations changed that do not necessarily affect crucial doctrines but there are others that certainly make a setting up for a plot change that affects the characters roles, as well as historical record.
The first divergence begins with Moses who is pushed off into the river by his mother and is then given an exciting death defying water ride with huge waves in the Nile, dodging boats, alligators and fishermans nets. Scripture says he was placed among the reeds at the river bank. In the movie he is found by Pharaohs wife not the daughter of Pharaoh, which then proceeds to make Moses and Rameses brothers and rivals. In Scripture Pharaohs daughter found the child and disobeys the Pharaohs command to kill him .(Ex.2: 9) we find Moses sister asks to find a Hebrew to nurse him, she is given the ok and then brings his mother, in which Pharaohs daughter actually pays her to nurse. All this which is the sovereignty of God is missing in the movies story. Yet this is what makes the biblical story so incredible that God controlled the events to fulfill his purpose even from Israel's enemies. The reason that Pharaoh's wife and not his daughter adopted Moses in the movie was so that it would not contradict the Muslim faith which teaches this. So we can trace the plot change to the Quaran.
Half the movie is about the rivalry of Moses and Rameses by setting up the false presupposition they are brothers who will later meet as Moses comes back to deliver Israel from him . As they grow up they are in competition as well as friends in crime so to speak. There are some off color scenes in the movie as well. Moses and Ramses are having chariot race. Ramses races his chariot ahead on a higher scaffolding. As they are racing along they are shouting back and forth to each other, Ramses makes the remark "You always will have to look up to me, Moses." Moses looking up at the buttocks of Ramses replies to the effect that from his view it is not so impressive. This not an innocent comment but intentional and certainly not acceptable to children as a family movie.
In the movie Mariam seems to have a greater role than Aaron. He complains a lot and seems to lack faith and is kept in the background. Both Zipporah an Mariam are portrayed as very strong personalities. Mariam has a major role in giving confidence to Moses and becomes a great influence over his fulfilling his destiny and keeping faith.
Biblically Zipporah is not found in scripture until Moses flees Egypt and saves her and her sisters from shepherds keeping them from the well as they try to give water to their sheep. In the movie this is changed . Rameses Moses brother is scolded by his Father the Pharaoh for being a son who is always getting into trouble. Moses sticks up for him and because of this shortly after, Ramses is appointed a leader who then appoints Moses chief architect over the temples. He gives him a feisty and strong willed slave girl as his present who happens to be Zipporah . When he goes to his room to be with her she has tied up his servant and dogs and exited out the window. Moses is enraptured by her spunk and goes after her, finding her ready to be caught by guards he distracts the guards for her. She escapes through the land of Goshen where all the Hebrews are. Moses follows and ends up to be confronted by Mariam and Joshua . She tells him who he is and learns for the first time he is not royalty but really a Hebrew slave saved from the fate that the other babies suffered. Shocked by this Moses runs to safety in his palace and falls asleep having a dream which reveals the truth of his being taken from the water and spared. In the dream he is reminded of what is written in hieroglyphics on the walls. He confronts Pharaoh who is supposedly his dad about this matter and he confirms he is not his. He now wrestles with knowing his people are slaves and he was spared to be one.
It is shortly after he sees one of his brethren being beaten by an Egyptian taskmaster and then is moved to help. but instead kills the Egyptian by mistake . Again this changes the biblical account. This is done in the Movie in front of many witnesses but not so in the bible Ex. 2:11-12 "Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. This is premeditated and he tries to hide his crime.
Rameses in wanting to protect Moses says he will make it as if it never happened. Moses is visibly shaken that he killed a man and says this cant be done. It is this part although altered shows the integrity of Moses. unfortunately he flees not because of Pharaohs punishment as the bible states but because of his conscience of killing someone. Quite a difference
Ex.2:13-15 And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, "Why are you striking your companion? "Then he said, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" So Moses feared and said, "Surely this thing is known!" When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh .
In the Movie Moses is very young when he leaves approximately 20, he comes back looking like 40. When scripture shows him to be twice the age. Again this makes the human Moses a strong leader and takes away from God who worked his miracles through him at the age of 80 years old and his brother at 83 . But then God might get the glory. This is something that is subtly missing as the movie progresses.
In the movie when Moses flees to median the story is changed. He protects the woman who ends up to be Zipporah and her little sisters. Probably because it would not look so well for a number of grown woman unable to protect themselves so the shepherds outnumber the grown one 2 to 1. Moses falls into the well when Zipporah with her sisters wheel him up and find out it is Moses who she escaped from years before she drops him back in the well. Humorous but again inaccurate.
After Moses departure from Egypt when he is taken in to Jethros house. Being exhausted and filthy from his journey through the desert, the women in the camp personally give him a bath by putting him into a tub naked. He tells the women, who are enjoying this, that that have washed every inch of his body and they need to stop. The women are seen to focus their attention upon washing the lower part of his body, around his private parts. Moses makes an off comment that they had missed something. He is then pulled out of the bath with the women staring, being covered in a towel by Jethro .
As Moses joins Jethro as a sheep herder. It is here where he stumbles onto the burning bush which is well depicted. Moses goes near and first Sticks his rod in the bush to see if it will burn, even though God doesnt tell him to come near. It is then He is told to take his shoes off because he stands on holy ground. Again a change in the story. When he argues with God about him being sent to Pharaoh the flame flares up and God says have I not made your mouth. There is no continuing dialogue on this nor is Aaron mentioned. Moses is portrayed as someone whom is quite willing to do this mission. But not so in the bible.
The biblical account records his excuses until the Lord says he will give him Aaron to speak. The staff turning into a snake his hand made leprous are all missing from this encounter. There is no prophecy of how God will deliver his people plunder the Egyptians and bring them into the promised land. Which is the main biblical theme that God has not forgotten his covenant with his people.
When Moses goes into Pharaohs court it is a sad reunion as brothers. The scripture states Pharaoh died and that all those who sought his life were dead. His son took over the kingdom in the movie but this is not possible. Ungers Archeology and old Testament (as well as others) writes of Thutmose the I was the Pharaoh Moses was born under and he had no surviving son as well as Thutmose the II . No matter who the Pharaoh was, scripture shows there was no camaraderie as it is clear in scripture Moses does not know this Pharaoh he is confronting and has no brotherly ties.
In the movie Rameses appeals to his emotions and Moses having gushy feelings can barely can squeak out at first that he needs to let his people go. Aaron has no part in speaking to Pharaoh as in scripture but instead Zipporah goes back to Egypt with him standing nearby as a support . Biblically she did not go back or participate, it was Aaron. Ex.4:20. The movie gives more prominence to the womens role in his life than Aaron.
Moses casts the rod down in Pharaohs court and it becomes a serpent . The bible states it was Aaron who casts the rod down (Ex.7:9). In the movie the sorcerers after seeing Moses rod turn to a snake make a big thing of him playing with the big boys now. The movie makes a huge production out of this contest than any other miracle except the last one. After the smoke and mirrors and the sorcerers singing is done one only gets a quick glance of his snake swallowing theres, so one misses the whole point.
When Pharaoh reacts but doubling the burdens of the Hebrews and they begin to complain. Mariam steps up for Moses. She consistently is portrayed as Moses helper .(with no hint of her rebellion and being struck with leprosy which we know comes later). Any negative representations of the women are missing except for Aaron. While it adds to their characters integrity, it no way gives any integrity to the film makers attempt of trying to be true to the real account.
In the bible the Lord tells Moses of how Pharaoh will be defeated and all kinds of wealth are given to Israel when they leave as they are paid back for all the years of suffering. This part of God telling him the future outcome and giving Israel assurance is missing.
All the miracles and judgements are a visual extravaganza but they are rushed and blended together, and never explained. biblically they took several months. As the judgements begin to be poured out, Moses and Pharaoh seem to have emotional ties with one another as brothers. Moses is struggling inside about the judgements being unleashed as he still has affection for his former brother. He looks to Rameses hoping for his compliance so the judgments will stop. Moses meets later with Rameses and says your empire will not be built on the back of slaves. Another politically correct comment. The bibles portrayal is that Pharaoh was judged for not letting Israel go to worship their God. Israel as Gods firstborn son having a special relationship with him among all peoples is missing and so it becomes god freeing slaves and not fulfilling the promise that he gave to Abraham over 400 years before recorded in Gen.15.
The last judgment of the death of the firstborn sons is focused on Pharaohs Son and is moving in its depiction as The spirit moves throughout the land and passes by the houses with the blood painted on its doors. But they dont explain the blood on the doorpost except to say to stand behind it for safety. Their is no sacrifice or the eating of the lamb and no unleaven bread explained. If one did not know the biblical story they would have no idea what this really means. (This of course finds its fulfillment in the Gospel of Christ as the final lamb.)
Ex.12:12 The purpose was the true God judging against all the Gods of the Egyptians. This movie makes it become more of a human contest between Pharaoh and Moses. Certainly that element is there but When they leave the movie shows them being obedient praising the Lord on the way through, the bible tells us the Israelites griped much along the way and were afraid they would die being pursued by the Egyptians. The animation of the pillar of fire rescuing them is vivid, but again only half true. It was the cloud that made it dark over the Egyptians to make their pursuit immovable while it was light on the side for the Hebrews to cross the sea. Moses doesnt say for them not to be afraid stand still and see the salvation of the Lord . But walks out into the waters plunges his staff in to unleash the power of God to divide them. Biblically it took all night to divide not in an instant.Ex.14:16-21. Moses received personal specific instructions here and throughout his journey. Gods instructions here seems to vanish and Moses is on his own to lead.
This makes for good production but not on target for accuracy. After the water comes back down everyone drowns except for Pharaoh who is spared thrown up on a rock (another untrue representation. Pharaoh drowned with them all.Ex.14:6,10,28; Ps.136:15). Instead of the song of Moses sung in Ex.15 and reflected in Ps.106, its the song When you believe with the chorus "Who knows what miracles You can achieve When you believe Somehow you will You will when you believe." But it wasnt their belief that made this happened but in spite of their unbelief. While it is a moving song it is changing the story. Rabbi Elliot Dorff and others who wrote the study guide states, a miracle is an intervention in the natural world that upsets the normal processes of nature. An event that follows the laws of nature but is unexpected and awesome.
The songs that are sung are mixed in their message. The song Humanity "The picture is humanity One world with so many tongues Must now sing the song unsung, Just one melody So let your voices ring Create the harmony The song is humanity.. One people one planet Don't take your brother for granted Shake a hand make a friend And let the love begin At the sound of the drum The race is run Man vs. Man For number one But if we call it a truce There's no way we could lose A winner's vanity Is such insanity There's just one race humanity." This implies that we can have peace without God and that what occurred in Egypt was a mistake. Moses (God) winning against Pharaoh was vain the same as Pharaohs stubbornness. Clearly a new age theme of one world together in harmony likened to the Tower of Babel.
The song Through heavens eyes has more of a biblical perspective "So how can you see what your life is worth Or where your value lies? You can never see through the eyes of man You must look at your life...through heaven's eyes." The song all I ever wanted Moses sings " I belong And if anybody doubts it They couldn't be more wrong, I am a sovereign prince of Egypt A son of the proud history that's shown Etched on ev'ry wall Surely this is all I ever wanted All I ever wanted." This is the very opposite of Heb.11 which tells us in vss.24-27 "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. 2 7By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible." Moses was never intended to be the Prince of Egypt because he never really was the Pharaohs son.
In the end the weight of this movies relation to the biblical account is from the overall theme and several of the miracles that carry it. There is no giving the wealth to get rid of the Hebrews as the Lord promised. The miracles of leading the slaves free is there, but the question may be asked to where? The desert! Or the promised land ! All this is missing. I realize you cant squeeze it all in a 2 hour production but there could have been less time spent on the frivolous fictitious boyhood exploits of Moses and Ramses and more on what it was really about. But then the plot twist would not have been set up.
The next thing we see is Moses coming down with the 10 commandments. It ends on a upbeat positive note unlike the true story with Israel committing idolatry and having him break the commandments. This is simple revisionism. What disturbs me is when this is done to American history (such as to Columbus or the pilgrims) we are in a uproar but it seems the Christian movie critics overlook this one because Hollywood finally did come close .
Overall the characters in the movie are life like, enjoyable, and special effects are spectacular, but this is no longer the true biblical story. It has biblical characters using a biblical account to spring board from. If someone taught this story from the pulpit, they would be called a false teacher but from the movies they are applauded.
This was made as a family event. The outcome is your children will be awed and excited from this movie to look toward the bible as not just a book of stories, but one that had real people experiencing the majesty of Gods grace and power in their lives, just as we can today.
Compared with other movies out there its progress in the right direction. If Compared with the Word of God it comes short in many areas. However this is probably as close as any production from Hollywood will get. We can applaud them for actually doing a story from the bible and maybe this will be the start of many. Its been said practice makes perfect and in this vein we can be hopeful that if they continue to practice they just may get it right one day.
All things being considered I think we can see this movie as opening a door to have us explain the true story from the bible to our children and unbelievers. As Christians who look to the word we cant endorse it for its biblical accuracy yet it can help in some way open the door to the bible and give the gospel to people who may otherwise not be interested.