Phil / RelS 303
If you were making a film based on the Exodus account in Exodus through Deuteronomy, what three key passages would you consider essential to include? Explain why you chose the three you chose. How do these passages capture important aspects of the Biblical Exodus account? If you refer to Tooze’s “Moses and the Reel Exodus,” be sure to cite it.
1). Were I to make a movie about the Exodus, it would be centered almost entirely on the life of Moses. His life simply dominates the story. As a result, the three scenes that I would find essential for a movie would be, first, from Pharaoh acquiescing to Moses and letting Israel go until the Crossing of the Red Sea; second, Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain; and finally, Moses’ Song and Final Blessing as he prepares to die.
2). The first one is self-explanatory. The Exodus is a “going-out," so we have to have something for them to "go out" of, and tossing in the tyrannical Pharaoh simply sweetens the plot. He makes a magnificent villain, and is just as magnificently destroyed: unwilling to weaken his empire by losing all of his unpaid laborers, he ends up nearly destroying his empire by losing not only his unpaid laborers, but his army and his life. And the catalyst in all of this is Moses.
3). Moses seems to live his entire life as an intercessor: between Israelite and Egyptian (with fatal results), between Israelite and Israelite, between Israel and Pharaoh, and all of this is merely a prequel to his epic role as the intercessor between YHVH and Israel, which is established in the delivery of Israel from the land of Egypt through the Red Sea. His victory over Pharaoh within the land of Egypt sets him up as the leader of Israel, and the Red Sea solidifies his role in granite and steel, the "horse and rider thrown into the sea."
4). But the Red Sea "battle" demonstrates far more than this. Israel (and many Egyptians with them) is following Moses out of Egypt as if they were a conquering army. They are sent forth with the spoils of the Egyptians as all Egypt mourns behind them: the devastation of Passover is most destructive, most desolate when the Angel doesn't pass over. And this is but the climax of a long list, the tenth destruction wrought by God through His chosen intermediary, Moses. The Israelites have seen the might of Egypt buffeted by blow after blow until it's finally smashed, driven to its knees sheer by the miracles of God—“the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword"—and now, standing on the edge of an ocean with an already defeated army behind them, the instant response is one of abject terror; the instant reaction, to blame Moses. This attitude of rapid forgetfulness and seemingly nescient oblivion to all that has happened in the extremely recent past characterizes Israel throughout the Exodus wandering.
5). In spite of Israel's doubt and faithlessness, God saves them through Moses' upraised arms: a surer validation of Moses' role as YHVH's chosen vessel there can be none. Then the pursuing force is slaughtered at their very heels, again through Moses' operation. So this part of the narrative demonstrates Moses as YHVH's chosen representative without any room for doubt, and as such is an absolutely essential part of any story from this narrative. Omitting it would be akin to writing a history of Islam without mentioning Mohammed.
6). The second period that I'd choose to focus upon in a film would be when YHVH descends upon the mountain, and Israel decides to send Moses to speak for them. Not only would this be one of the most breathtaking and terrifying scenes imaginable—a mountaintop glowing as if the sun itself was settling upon it, the blinding light shrouded through billowing, blackening smoke thick as flesh that battles to mask the flames within, all while seven thunders round a throne shatter the deathly silence of the desert like a Seraph war: the great and terrible "qol" of YHVH described by Ezekiel when the Glory-Cloud descends to the earth and alights upon a mountaintop—not only all of this, but it is also where the stipulations of the covenant are established, the covenant that Israel proceeds to violate for the remainder of her history; the covenant that plagues her like a bastard child through the remainder of the Exodus narrative and every narrative from that day on.
7). In a very true way, this mountain is the foundation of the nation of Israel. This mountain is their identity: they are the chosen people of YHVH, and this is where His choice is revealed. This is His covenant with them, and every judgment they receive, every time they are occupied, conquered, or beset by disease, drought or any "act of God," it is all due to their violation of this covenant, and can only be repaired by repentance and a return to their God. For, if they are faithful and obey, He will be faithful and establish them in the land that He promised to them.
8). Very telling is the fact that Israel demands that Moses go between God and them: they fear that the Presence of God will destroy them (a fear that we see repeated almost every time the Angel of The Lord appears). No great surprise when we think of the sight that greeted them. But the requisite corollary is that they don't have this same fear of Moses. Indeed, as the mere mouthpiece of YHVH, they don't seem to fear him at all: is he not a man? Here is the saying proven true that a prophet is only without honor in his own country, for Moses is hailed as a savior of Israel in every age save his own. In his own he is opposed time and time again; attempts to replace him as a leader are endless, while on God's end, there are threats to replace Israel with some more prescient (or at least polite) followers. It is only Moses' intercession for those that seek to destroy him that preserves the line of Israel.
9). After the destruction of Pharaoh and the theophany of Mount Horeb, the Song of Moses seems a bit anti-climactic: no great storm, no ocean divided by wind, just a poem. But it is this poem that foreshadows the cyclical nature of judgment, repentance, restoration, fall and judgment that constitutes the remainder of Israel’s history. As the Jewish Publication Society’s commentary on Deuteronomy puts it:
In recent years, under the impact of studies of Near Eastern treaties and biblical covenants, scholars have proposed that the poem belongs to a genre that they call the "covenant lawsuit." This genre is supposedly based on the literary form that a suzerain would use in appealing to the gods to condemn a vassal for violating the terms of a treaty that they had witnessed; the suzerain would do so prior to declaring war on the vassal to punish that violation.1
10). The quotation goes on to assert that this interpretation seems to be too limited, though noted Old Testament scholar Meredith Kline, in his Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy spends a great deal of time defending it quite adequately. But whether or not the poem is a covenant lawsuit, the poem definitely affixes curses for obedience and blessings for obedience to the covenant, and it is these blessings and curses (further enumerated in Leviticus 26) that haunt Israel’s history at least until the end of old Jerusalem in AD 70.
11). The reason for these blessings and curses is put forward in the poem quite simply. As Israel is the chosen nation of YHVH, their obedience and disobedience reflect upon Him. They either honor Him or dishonor Him, but they cannot, as His people, fail to reflect back to Him. In the words of The Torah, a Modern Commentary:
In Moses' song, it is not compassion that motivates God; rather, it is the divine honor that must be protected. Israel is both endangered and saved because it is close to the Divine and is thereby involved in God's needs as well. God must be seen to be God, and if Israel endangers that majesty it must suffer the consequences. At the same time, it will be rescued from perdition because God cannot allow Israel to be destroyed. The fate of the covenant people is thus forever hammered out on the anvil of history, for the ambivalence of the divine Partner makes Israel the object both of love and of anger. The nations are the tools of divine action, but God's goal is to create an evermore loyal and observant Israel. Thus does the song explain the relationship, and in the mouth of Moses it becomes a statement of fundamental belief.2
12). The Song of Moses threatens Israel with the consequences of her status. She is an example to the nations; she is the child at the chalkboard: her failure to keep the covenant of YHVH will be punished with a terrible and public punishment, and her obedience will be blessed, to the wonder of the corners of the world. This is the legacy established by Moses, and this is a fitting end to the Exodus.
1. Page 509, Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.
2. Page 1403, Plaut, W. Gunther, and David E. S. Stein. Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006.
• Three fundamental aspects of a film narrative include: Pharaoh acquiescing to Moses and letting Israel go to the Crossing of the Red Sea; Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain; and Moses’ Song and Final Blessing are the three most essential aspects of the Exodus narrative for a film to include
o Pharaoh’s decision through the Red Sea Crossing
Foundation of the entire Exodus narrative
Sets Moses up as the leader of Israel
Demonstrates YHVH’s faithfulness and Israel’s disbelief and forgetfulness
• YHVH had already performed miraculous signs to affect the freedom of Israel
o Israel at Mount Sinai sending Moses up the Mountain
Again, a veritable visual assault
Demonstrates the overall relationship between Israel, Moses and God
• Israel’s fright and Moses’ intercession
• The Fear of the Lord is only present when He Is Present
• Moses as the intercessor receives the commands from YHVH and the blame from the people.
Further demonstrates Israel’s forgetfulness
Establishes the covenant of the law that Israel later continually violates
o Moses’ Song and Final Blessing
A promise and a threat
• Covenant lawsuit
Israel as a chosen nation
• Her sins and her failures reflect on YHVH
Plaut, W. Gunther, and David E. S. Stein. Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2006.
Tigay, Jeffrey H. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.