Ridley Scott’s motion picture Exodus: Gods and Kings is in cinemas now. It has sparked a storm of controversy in some Middle Eastern countries, where many have banned it for both historical and religious inaccuracies. I wrote a blog a couple of days ago looking at the historical side of the Exodus story, specifically whether there is any evidence that Pharaoh Ramses II was the Pharaoh of the Oppression / Exodus as depicted in popular culture.
It is problematic to write an opinion-piece about religious inaccuracies for fear of causing offence. There has always been debate about the extent to which the Old Testament and other religious books, such as the Torah, are historical or literary works. As such, I guess the question is whether they should be taken literally or whether some poetic licence is allowable. I daresay even the most ardent Biblical scholar would accept the Old Testament stories were handed down orally through generations before they were written down. So some embellishment and distortion is likely, which is perhaps how all the best myths grow up in the popular imagination.
So to call something inaccurate religiously-speaking, one would have to take the Bible stories at face value and expect them to be faithfully retold without deviation or dramatic licence. Perhaps that’s a bit much to ask of a movie-maker.
To my way of looking at it, the Bible and other religious works are books of faith. I personally don’t consider faith is at odds with having an enquiring mind. I don’t see how seeking the historical genesis (no pun intended) of the Bible stories undermines any theological beliefs we may hold. Put simply, whether or not I believe in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a ‘historical’ event or as a parable to reference good and evil and the consequences of our choices and actions… it makes no difference to the ‘faith’ I may have in a higher being, whom we might call God.
And so, I turn to the Exodus story and feel free to ask questions and form opinions as, I suspect, did Ridley Scott and Cecil B DeMille and other film-makers. I do so because I am a fiction-writer. My latest novel, Seti’s Secret (Book 6 in a series following Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt) also explores the Exodus story, although from a different angle. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something could be found in Egypt to cast light on the Exodus from the historical / archaeological perspective?
The ten plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea by Moses are apocryphal. We can choose to see the hand of God at play or we can seek an explanation in the natural world. Much has been written about the possibility of a series of ecological disasters causing the plagues. The volcanic explosion of Santorini in antiquity is also cited as possibly being linked to both the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But was it the Red Sea? The literal translation of Yam Suph is ‘Sea of Reeds’. This might make a more likely location for the crossing of the fleeing Israelites in bitter lakes near the Delta region, not far from Suez (perhaps not quite so exciting for the special effects team of a movie-maker).
Morocco halted screenings of Ridley Scott’s epic because the film contains a “representation of God”, which is forbidden under Islamic Law. Scott depicts the vengeful God of the Old Testament as a young boy who comes across as a bloodthirsty little chap, for all his public schoolboy way of speaking.
This vengeful God has always seemed to me somewhat at odds with the author of the Ten Commandments. But then, as others have pointed out, these appear to be a re-phrasing of Spell 125 of ancient Egyptian Book of The Dead.
Similarly, Psalm 104 is a virtual mirror image of ‘the heretic’ Pharaoh Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Aten. So to my way of looking at it, and at the risk of offending those of a more orthodox religious view, the origins of many of the world’s leading religions today can be found in ancient Egypt.
Moses is credited as being the father of Judaism and forefather of Christianity and Islam. Many writers and historians have sought out the identity of Biblical Moses among the royal families of ancient Egypt. The Bible makes it clear he grew up in the royal household. Sigmund Freud, the Jewish father of psychoanalysis, was the first to suggest a link between the apparently monotheistic beliefs of the pharaoh Akhenaten and the great monotheistic religions of the world today. In his book Moses and Monotheism, published in English in 1939, he suggested Moses may have been a follower of Akhenaten, and perhaps served at his court. This seems to me an inherently more likely scenario than growing up as a ‘brother’ of Ramses II, and helps explain so much more …
If you’re interested in finding out more, and you like a relatively light escapist read, you might want to give my fictional series a try. The Moses story is explored in Akhenaten’s Alibi and Seti’s Secret.
The series starts with Carter’s Conundrums. All six books in the series are set in present-day Egypt. Each is a modern adventure that also sets out to explore an ancient mystery. They are available to download or in paperback on all Amazon sites.
Happy New Year to all.
Author of Meredith Pink’s Adventures in Egypt