“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott and the Red Sea you think you know

exodus-gods-kings red sea

 

Let’s turn to Ridley Scott.

What did he say that has biblical literalists in a tizzy?

I quote, “the parting of the Red Sea will be F*#!ing Huge.” Ok, so people are not so concerned about the F Bomb, but clearly the fact that he would use an F Bomb means his entire movie can be discredited.

The main issue, apparently, is that Ridley doesn’t express biblical fidelity to Red Sea incident.

In this scene, from what I have read, Ridley doesn’t have God “doing” the parting of the Sea at the hands of Moses; he has an earthquake make the magic happen. Ridley opts for a different natural cause than the one the Bible uses: Wind.

BOOM! Unbiblical alert!  Entire message may now be discounted.

How can Ridley be so obtuse? The Bible clearly has Moses raising his hands above the water and then God’s giant mega hand coming out of heaven and parting the sea with a divine comb like I part my kid’s hair in preparation for school each day. The Wind, of course, being interpreted as the hand of God.

Ridley confesses that he learned a lot about Moses as he re-read the texts (can I even get an “amen”! a Hollywood producer is reading the Bible and LEARNING!! And fundies are still protesting) and found the Moses story extremely inspiring! I quote, “it [the story of Moses] has to be one of the greatest adventures and spiritual experiences that have ever been.”

Man, Ridley totally hates the Bible and wants to destroy the narrative. He even confesses he attended Sunday School as a boy and apparently didn’t pay attention (boo/hiss!).Shame on him for trying to make the biblical narrative a totally awesome cinematic experience. Shame on him for perhaps gaining a greater appreciation for this story via its production than via his Sunday School teachers.

As for the parting of the Red Sea, none of us were there. The writers of the text were not there.

The actual verse itself, Exodus 14.21, states, “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the Lord swept (or caused to go) the sea back BY a strong East WIND ALL NIGHT and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
Later in 14.29-30 the text states, “the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea and the waters were LIKE a wall to them on their right hand and on their left…thus the Lord saved Israel.”

This entire episode is tricky because the text itself indicates that parting the Red Sea was work, it took time, and it was not an instantaneous event like Charlton Heston would have us believe. The text says the wind took all night to accomplish this.

So this is an event that required some interpretation, some ability to look at the natural world around it and come up with an explanation that would continue to resonate with earlier Hebrew themes of God creating a way of salvation when there seemed to be no way of salvation. The Hebrew editors perhaps taking the same sorts of liberty to make sense of the event as Ridley does in his movie.

The point is not “how” the sea was parted; the point is that God harnessed the natural elements and delivered his people. So technically, just as the Hebrew editors, via oral tradition, found ways to talk about this event when there was no way to talk about this event, so Ridley stands in the tradition of continual interpretation that doesn’t change the outcome, just makes use of another possible means.

The biblical message remains in tact.

Thus, one of the texts main points is not that God literally historically parted a sea (even though a way was made through a “sea”), but that God has continued to harness nature (and in case you were wondering, nature Gods were a big deal in ancient Egypt but are apparently helpless here), a theme that will also remain consistent throughout the rest of scripture even into the story of Jesus.
God has not only harnessed nature to preserve his people, but the impassible sea, where death awaits all who enter, is passed at the willing of God.

Get out a bible dictionary or Theology of the Old Testament and look up how important the metaphor of sea is for ancient people; it’s a theologically and sociologically loaded theme. God hovers over it, sea monsters live in it, no one can cross it, people are saved through it, pigs drown in it and Jesus walks on it and in Revelation God destroys it.

The sea is bad ass in the bible.

But the kicker: God is more bad ass.

In addition to this significance of detail, a few other minor details must be noted that allow Ridley some directorial freedom when creating this event.

Biblical literalists please put down your King James Version and take note.

reed-sea

First, the Bible does not literally say in the Hebrew language (what the OT was written in) that they crossed the Red Sea. It says they crossed the REED SEA.

Scandalous!  Definitely doesn’t have the same biblical sex appeal does it?

The Hebrew yam sup, most likely refers to a sea of “weeds, rushes, reeds, papyrus plants.” Translators have messed this up and in the process confused a lot of people. This is not surprising though, since this language occurs nearly 20 times in the Hebrew Bible and at times refers to the Gulf of Aqabah, Gulf of Suez and also the sea of the Exodus event (all 3 distinct geographical areas).

The Red Sea is a HUGE body of water that separates Arabia from Africa, but it is FAR south of where the Hebrew People most likely crossed. The REED SEA is more north, a marshy area filled with shallow waters and REEDS that are an extension of the Nile River Delta. Most scholarly research, even from scholars who grant a lot of historical veracity to the Exodus Event (in other words scholars who believe it literally happened), believe the most likely passage based on text and archaeology was in this northern region, at the mouth of the Nile Delta around the Ballah Lakes region.

This is important because if we care about what the Bible LITERALLY says we can start by revising what we think about the Red Sea and actually change all of our Bibles to REED SEA as it should be. Translators have taken liberty to deviate from the plain simple meaning of the text, and instead, embellish it with a more grandiose picture of divine action that will captivate the imaginations of readers that God is in the business of violating every physical and metaphysical law in the universe when it comes to HIS “will.”

So let’s give Ridley a break. We give the Bible a break by not learning the original languages. So Let’s give Ridley a break.

If you want things literally how they are in the Bible, better start learning the literal bible we have, not the one translated in your lap.

And who wants to watch Wind? Did you ever watch the movie Twister in 1996?

Definitely not Oscar material.

Ridley’s going take a little liberty and let an earthquake split the sea. Isn’t it more fun to see an earthquake recreated than to watch wind blow around on the big screen? That’s a far lesser crime than actually mistranslating the Bible and confusing a whole generation of people that think God is a cosmic “magician” (to use Pope Francis’ recent word) that builds walls of water 2 miles high as 2 million people walk across dry land in one day, while also believing this is not enough time for Egyptians to catch up to them.

I mean seriously? Have we even thought if this is logistically possible simply given the details of the biblical account? Maybe God has Star Trek “beam me over” powers. SMH.

I’ll save that for another post.

So Ridley will take some liberty, just as biblical translators have done. Big deal. It doesn’t bother us that our bibles have been tampered with, why should a movie bother us?

Secondly, and lastly, the Exodus account is an INTERPRETATION of an event.

It’s an attempt to understand HOW God delivered and what sorts of obstacles GOD overcame WITH the people to deliver them.

Many of the categorizations of the event, either in biblical description, or in commentary on the Hebrew Bible in Talmud, are attempts to ascribe meaning and make sense of an event that people believe is being guided BY GOD. There is no literal proof that God harnessed winds and made a way through the Sea of Reeds. There is no literal proof that God was busy unscrewing the bolts with his divine hands in order to make the Egyptian chariot wheels wobbly. But wobbly chariots do make sense if they are trying to ride through a marshy muddy plain while the Hebrew fugitives move by foot.

Those declarations in the Bible are declarations of FAITH that God is at work. It’s an interpretation of their history through their theology.

Case in point.

If I apply myself, find a good job, make good money, and alleviate my financial stresses, then I would consider that a blessing from God. God did it. God helped me. God delivered. I interpret my personal history through my theology. The reality is: I applied myself, worked hard, was productive, another human felt I was worth paying, and I took care of my creditors. God is not involved at all, literally, BUT spiritually I believe that, just as I believe all good things come from God.

When we are reading stories in the Old Testament it is important to remember that these are INTERPRETATIONS of events through a particular theological worldview. These people see their history through God, but the same history could easily be seen from another perspective.

Another curious fact is that it is now widely accepted in scholarly circles is that the Old Testament was most likely finally edited and compiled when Israel was in Babylonian Exile!In other words, the oral traditions of Exodus, the prophets, those great vacation bible school stories in Exodus…they all take final form in a written text when GODS people need to be delivered and are lost, far removed from a sense of identity and deliverance.

They need a sense of hope and purpose, a perspective on the God they serve, where they have been, who they are and where they are going. And what do their preachers do? They preach stories that empower, unite, define and provide hope. A lot like your pastor does each Sunday.

The Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), which includes the Book of Exodus, is part of this purpose.

The Exodus event is arguably THE MOST important event for the shaping of the people of Israel, even more primal in purpose than anything that comes in Genesis. The Exodus event casts a very large shadow over these people, as does the personage of Moses, and this event as described in the Bible reflects the seminal importance in its retelling and interpretation for a community of folks who need to know if God is still in the business of overcoming the odds, doing the impossible and fulfilling promises.

The Exodus telling has an agenda. It is not an objective history, just as none of the rest of the Old Testaent is free of ideology, but that doesn’t mean it’s not inspired and that it doesn’t also carry the word of God in its very finite human telling and writing.

The proof of it’s inspiration being that the Holy Spirit continues to use it. My compliments to Karl Barth. Barth says it. I believe it. That settles it.

So when we consider the buzz that will be happening around this Movie over the next few months, give the directors and actors a break. They are trying to bring to life what has been lost in the dustbin of history as Bible reading has fallen out of favor with the vast majority of the world.
And they really aren’t doing anything to the biblical story, that hasn’t either been done already by the biblical authors themselves or by our imaginations of these events through the lens of our faith traditions.

*Source used in this blog: Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday: New York, 1992), Volume 5.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Christian Bale & the Moses you don’t Want to Know

Gods and Kings movie

 

Sometimes, it’s just embarrassing to be a Christian…

-like when all the Christian idiots are already dissing the new film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” based on comments by Christian Bale about his presumed knowledge of Moses’ mental health.

Then, in another interview, Director Ridley Scott dropped an F bomb describing the parting of the Red Sea cinematography.

Well, that won’t do much for the Christian faithful either.

I’m not surprised.  It happened with all the idiot rambling about Noah (see my Speaking of Noah under related posts) and it’s going to happen again and again in regard to the newest epic about Moses to be released  December 12, 2014.

Every day lay-folk, pastors and presumed experts are already offering popular commentary on Exodus texts and traditions based on their white evangelical protestant perspective and not from out of the cultural milieu of the text and tradition itself.

It seems not only was Noah everyone’s best buddy (despite not really talking in his story), but Moses is a close second.  We KNOW him, practically in the biblical sense.

And God forbid we take some creative license and liberty where the Bible leaves some gaping holes, cause you know, the Bible includes every detail of every event in all of history and is the MOST entertaining book in the world…all biblical authors being equally good story tellers and writers.

I mean, there’s nothing more captivating than the brilliant writing in the Bible.  Take the Gospel of John, for instance, where we get the powerful descriptions of Jesus’ inner turmoil over an unfaithful city as it turns its back on God.  We are stirred to our emotional core when we read, “Jesus Wept.”

I mean, that is Pulitzer material right there.

Even Better is this famous Genesis passage, “In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…” Whoa.  That is powerful writing.  I’ve read science books more poetic and descriptive than that.

We treat these biblical events and figures as if they are stagnant fixtures in a dynamic text and we remove their humanity for the sake of our piety, propping them up as idols rather than seeing them for what most of them really are: humans trying to make sense of the world and follow a calling from a transcendent other into places no one had presumably gone before.

How full of ourselves are we and what imaginary la la land do we think these biblical characters lived in?

We are so much better than them, right?  Because without reluctance we’d totally jump on the prospect of Moses’ calling with anticipation and not possess even a smidgen of self doubt, anger, fear nor can we imagine that a human being so holy would possess any negative personality traits…especially in a guy so even tempered that not even GOD would let him in the Promised Land!

Or so the Bible literally tells us.

OMG People, get real.  You protest too much already and my head is about to explode…AND this movie is still 8 weeks from release.  I’m gonna need a valium.

And let’s not forget the whole Moses gets pissy and breaks the 10 commandments thing, because Moses was perfect and never experienced rage.  But on that we give him a pass because God’s man is allowed to do whatever the hell he wants…you know, because he’s God’s man.

Can all of you who need a sanitized version of Moses please give us the Bible back?  You are clearly not reading it well and making all the rest of us who happen to think its inspired look like a bunch of idiots.

And time would have me be remiss of the epic Maury Povich Show that is almost the entire Book of Genesis.  I mean good grief; these people are messed up and if ANY of us had written the Bible we would have cleaned up all the messy nasty details that make the bible inspired.

The whole Brother killing brother (Cain and Abel), Noah getting drunk AFTER God saves him? WTH??, Jacob STEALING his brothers birth right and God apparently dismissing that sleight of hand and blessing Jacob anyway!!! Huh?!, Abraham sleeping with a servant only to kick her out of his house and even Lot sleeping with his daughters after Sodom and Gomorrah is destroyed (Did they really think there were no other humans anywhere to sleep with?).

There is more trickery, deceit and unholy behavior by “Gods” people in Genesis than we care to believe!

I’m glad we didn’t write the bible because pious Christians would have made all the “biblical hero’s” robots and edited out their humanity.  Thank God the Hebrew’s were not Puritans or incarnations of how an American Jesus after the advent of the Great Awakening would live.

I digress.  Back to Exodus: God’s and Kings and Christian Bale’s  “slamming” comments.

What did Christian Bale and Ridley Scott say that is inciting the protectors of the one holy faith?  In this post, I’ll tackle Bale.  Ridley Scott and his directorial deviations I’ll address this weekend.

First, Bale, in an attempt to position himself as a critic and actor in a recent interview, said that Moses was “barbaric” and “schizophrenic.”  Trouble is Bale plays the character of Moses…so Bale is essentially calling his character mentally unstable and uncouth.  Neither of which can be fully ascertained historically with any medical specificity.

Can I just say this?

Let’s not take Bale so seriously.  Have you ever heard him speak in an interview?  He only sounds smart because he has an accent.  He’s not really smart.  And he is prone to verbal outbursts.  YouTube/Google his Terminator outburst caught anonymously on mic and you’ll see what I mean.

The word schizophrenic is overused in our culture.  Everyone who knows nothing about psychology but thinks they know psychology uses this term wrongly in order to sound smart, but really its making most people that use it just sound dumb.

This is a buzz word that grabs attention, especially when said about a divine biblical figure.

Could Moses have been schizophrenic?

Well, who knows?  We do not have access to his mental state, but I would not doubt he had delusions or was prone to them given the monumental tasks set before him.  And if we take the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness seriously, I’m sure everyone was seeing an Oasis from time to time.

Have you ever been into the Sinai Desert?  It’s basically a giant death trap with a lot of sand, a lot of rocks and not much else.

Not sure that being lost in this death trap would make a person schizophrenic, but one can certainly understand why Moses is prone to angry outbursts and a whole host of other unseemly human behavior that is, and is not, recorded in the Bible.

Did Bale overstate the character of Moses?  Maybe.  Maybe not, but if he’s like other biblical characters I’d say there’s more unsanctified behavior in Moses than we care to admit.

And let’s not even talk about the hierarchical, patriarchal and Levitical priorities Moses seems to affirm and help establish in the Pentateuchal tradition.  He was such a swell guy by modern standards.

Plus, Bale is trying to create Buzz.  He has a movie to promote and a blogosphere (ehem) to fill up.  And it worked. The only thing he could have said to create more buzz was accuse Moses of being a bi-sexual that was tempted with bestiality…since you know, the two go hand in hand.

Moving right along, Bale also commented that Moses was “Barbaric.”

Ok, that just sounds bad.  It sounds bad because we are modern people.  It’s an easy label to use.  But by our standards today most ancient people would probably seem barbaric, from the way they live, to how they killed food, treated one another, and engaged their enemies.  But contextually, that’s just how it was.  Go do some homework folks.  Barbarism is relative to context.

But if you call killing an Egyptian out of anger domesticated, go right ahead and give Moses that pass.

I happen to think that murder is and always will be barbaric.

And let’s not mention that Moses curses the land in order to punish Pharaoh and kill all the newborns that were not Hebrews as a final plague, because you know, it’s totally Christian and not barbaric to desire that innocent children of the enemy should just have their heart stopped by the Angel of death.

Blame it on God, Blame it on Moses, or Blame it on Pharaoh for the collusion of God and Moses in this atrocious scene.  Regardless, it’ still barbaric and your Christian eyes on God’s perfection allow you to see nothing abnormal in a deity being so petty as to kill a human.  As if it was ever any contest?  Really?

So Nothing Barbaric here…moving right along, because God did it, I believe it, He’s God, I’m not, and that settles it and God’s not barbaric.  Another small caveat: Moses doesn’t even show an ounce of compassion for the children that will die.   BUT, he’s a stand up guy.

I can definitely see Jesus in heaven waving his pom poms as the lead cheerleader of this event.

Holiness unto the Lord is our watchword and Song even if it means we collude with sanctified barbarism to make a point.

I guess the same Christians that think this is a good thing would also be the first to push the nuclear button that would obliterate the Middle East, since God uses violence in non barbaric ways against people that don’t follow HIM.

Funny how for those of us who believe in God everything is permissible, even the things we think are abhorrent we excuse in the name of our faith.

So was Moses Barbaric?

For many of us, probably so.  Go read all of Exodus and Numbers and you tell me if Moses was Mother Theresa, but I’m not going do all that homework for you since you obviously know Moses better than even the historians and editors who wrote about him in the Bible.

Perhaps eventually we can free ourselves from our own ideas enough to actually see these characters for who they really are: flawed but holy.  Communicators of a divine word, but not embodiments of it at every turn.

So were Bale’s comments baseless and ill-spoken.  Somewhat.  The lack of nuance certainly shows he’s not an intellectual giant.  But he at least brings up the topic of the humanity of Moses rather than the idol that he and a myriad of other biblical characters have become for those of us that think Christianity and religion is about saving us from out of ourselves, rather than freeing us to be ourselves in the first place.

I’m just glad Bale didn’t comment on the humanity of Jesus.

*Part Two on Ridley Scott’s comments coming soon