Director Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings has reaped its share of harsh judgments, but what many critics have overlooked is a far greater outrage than choosing a principally all-white cast to portray a story originating in the Middle East.
I recently saw the trailer for Exodus on TV and almost tumbled off my couch in shock. At the end of the ad the narrator proclaimed the film to be about “one of the most iconic figures in history.”
What threw me was that not only do archaeological excavations fail to substantiate the exodus, they actually disprove it.
One book outlining these conclusions is The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (The Free Press, 2001) by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. In their book, which spent many weeks on bestseller lists, the Jewish archaeologists show how—contrary to their expectations—the exodus, as well as the other three foundational stories of the Bible (the patriarchs, conquest of Canaan, and the United Monarchy) never occurred.
In the Book of Exodus, God chose Moses to liberate 600,000-plus Israelis from enslavement in Egypt, and they proceeded to wander around the desert for forty years.
However, there was no record of masses of Israelites being in Egypt at that time, and so many slaves trekking the desert would likely not have been allowed by Egypt, which tightly controlled the area and kept records of crossings. There is also no evidence such an extensive group camped there.
Some will point to a 2010 master’s thesis alluding to the supposed parting the Red Sea as proof of the exodus, published in the online journal PLOS ONE (where authors pay to get published and which employs a “publish first, judge later” methodology).
However, study author and “theistic evolutionist” Carl Drew’s computer modeling study is not based on the Red Sea but on a two-meter deep portion of a lake to the north. The computer simulation also does not depict water rising up on both sides but only on one side due to 100 km winds. And even if the simulation accurately matched the exodus story, it still wouldn’t be proof of it.
So, even if the exodus is disproved, who cares? Exodus the movie is bombing at the box office, atheists and moderate Christians alike might say.
But passing off stories that violate the tenets of chemistry, physics, biology, and geology as fact is anything but benign.
It can cripple children’s critical thinking skills, which will work against them when they compete for spots in careers and at universities. In sixty-three aggregate studies, researchers found the more religious tend to score lower on IQ tests than the secular. Also, two newly released studies of five- and six-year-olds found secular kids were more likely than those religious to differentiate fact from fiction.
Portraying biblical tall tales as history might also be a reason many people don’t see a big problem with taxpayer funding of religious schools through voucher systems—even though children from public schools consistently outperform those from private schools in math and reading.
But even the religious have their issues with the movie. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco have banned the film over so-called historical inaccuracies, religious mistakes, or for its representation of God, which Islam forbids. Closer to home, right-wing radio host Glenn Beck said he was “deeply offended” by the portrayal of God as a “petulant child” and reminisced about the days when Charlton Heston played Moses in The Ten Commandments. But what does Beck expect? This Iron-Age tome was, after all, created in a time when capricious, ill-tempered gods were in vogue.
Actor Christian Bale, who portrays Moses in the new film, did his part to fan the flames of fundamentalist ire. In an interview with Fox News Bale said his character was seen as a “freedom fighter” by the Hebrews and as a “terrorist” by the Egyptians. If Moses lived in these times, Bale said, he’d probably have a drone sent after him. Needless to say these comments didn’t sit well with the right-slanting network.
The movie’s trailer apparently also found its detractors, albeit for different reasons. Because it was flagrantly deceitful, perhaps other people noticed it too and gave Scott so much flak he pulled it. I never saw that particular commercial air again.
Other pleasant thoughts flocked around the realization that the movie itself is clearly not your standard sanitized—or “Christian lite”—version of the Bible. It does indeed expose an all-powerful God’s temper tantrum resulting in the torture of multitudes of Egyptians, and the subsequent murder of their children simply because he didn’t get his way.
This probably helped educate Fox and its viewership on what it actually says in their Bible, so maybe we should do more such movies, suggests The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur.
And so if Beck is offended by what it says in his “Good Book,” perhaps he and his radical Christian Right brethren might consider updating their beliefs to an ideology more rational, loving, and peaceful. And speaking of secular humanism, perhaps this is finally the one fundamentalist flick to which the atheist can say, “Let my people go.”