December 11, 2014
Those complaining about the boy Yahweh in Exodus: Gods and Kings are overlooking both the Biblical text and the movie's New Testament touch.
This concern reminds me a bit of Alan Dershowitz's interesting book "The Genesis of Justice," where he looks at the way the Biblical concept o justice developed through Genesis. His training is in law, not theology, so take that for what it's worth, but he makes the case quite strongly that in the earlier stories God seems to be learning what it means to be just. That the God we see in those earliest stories maybe doesn't know quite how to interact justly with human beings. And I wonder whether people uncomfortale with the child-God are reacting to that same kind of incompleteness.
The idea that God is dynamic isn't exactly new in Christian philosophy and theology (and of course Dershowitz is approaching the stories as a Jew), and a lot of the philosophers I studied dealt with this idea that God seems to change or at least be convinceable. And the idea that God could actually change is disquieting, isn't it? Because that means that either what God did back in early Genesis wasn't as good as what he would do now or else that he's less perfect than He is now. There's another way to approach this kind of impression, though: htat it's the reflection we see of God that's changing and being perfected as the people of God become more "fluent" in understanding his ways. Maybe it's us looking back on the way God related to humanity when they were less able to understand God as purely as we can today, because they lacked the exposure. So that early understanding of God seems infantile, even as the God casting that shadow remains the same.
Or something like that. There's a reason this kind of situation is so debated in philosophy, because it's both important and doesn't seem to have an easy answer. God in Genesis barters, he seems to overreact and be surprised and generally seem a bit immature at points. And it doesn't surprise me that some moderns find that disquieting, that the God we worship could be the same God capable of seeming to have a fit - because it's the same question Christian philosophers have been struggling against for ages now.
Thanks for bringing these different takes into the discussion, Marta. I do think there's something to the thought that our perception of God changes as we come to know Him better. And bringing historical context into this - understanding that this is the story of Israelites who had begun to forget who God was while they were slaves in Egypt - explains why the Biblical depiction of Him at this point in their relationship would be distant and harsh, even as He acts to save them. For all its faults, Exodus: Gods and Kings is true to that.
The Gospel Coalition (unsurprisingly, perhaps) had a similar reaction to the WND article (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-to-ruin-a-moses-movie). The fourth way to ruin a Moses movie is "Make God look silly. Did I mention God is portrayed by an 11-year-old British boy? Yes, God is portrayed by an 11-year-old British boy who may or may not be a figment of Moses's imagination."
I don't exactly plan to see the movie (maybe when it comes out on video?) - the discussions of race in the casting were enough to deter me. But I have to agree more with you, Josh, on the portrayal of God. TGC's criticism of the portrayal of God rests largely on a lack of gravitas and reverence - but after just completing a sermon series on Exodus, I rather like the line you quote - "I want to see them on their knees begging for it to stop."
I suspect that there is much in the book of Exodus that should make us uncomfortable - it indeed raises serious questions about God's anger, God's judgment, and, of course, that all-too-common phrase, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart." As Bast suggests, we cannot miss the idea of the power struggle with the Egyptian gods - the plagues take down the Egyptian pantheon from top to bottom. The tenth plague is more than just an emotional loss for Pharaoh, the death of Pharaoh's son is the death of the very son of Ra, an attack on the political-social-economical-theological world of Egypt. To put this in the hands of a small child is less about making God look silly to me and more about finding a unique way to demonstrate the shocking nature of God's accomplishments against Egypt.
Since the Senate Torture Report our ambivalence about the justice and violence of God reveals our duplicity. God can't be trusted with violence but we can, or at least those we imagine to be "the good guys". This illuminates our natural suspicion of God inherited from our parents who found reasons to believe serpent speech.
We have always wanted power as a tool and therefore God in our hand. We cheer when we think he gets things right. We are deeply disturbed when we imagine his judgments might differ from our own. This is the ultimate source and reason for hell.
American evangelicals reveal their fundamentalist roots (Read Molly Worthen's book) when we cry about Hollywood wandering from the script. I get it. Read the preceding paragraph. The script we derive from scripture becomes our divine power and with it we fight one another. Yes, I know, we'd rather have an authorized version of the story shape the story in the minds of the masses and shape it it will, yet for those who already know the story we can and should ponder the art, argue the points, and engage the subject.
Part of the glory of the Bible is raw material it offers and invites us to engage with. Should we who bear 4 tellings of Jesus' story really be petty? Thanks for engaging the film as it is.
I appreciate your comments, Paul and Kory. When you say Exodus should make us uncomfortable Kory, that makes me realize how easy it is for us to glide over those uncomfortable parts when reading Scripture and focus on those we feel we have a better handle on. If nothing else, Exodus: Gods and Kings makes us reckon with certain elements of the text we might otherwise ignore.
Paul, I wonder what an "authorized version" of the story would look like. Something like History's recent Bible miniseries? Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments? It seems like any adaptation of a Biblical text is going to be fraught with human perspective/bias. Maybe we're best off regarding the Bible itself as the "authorized version" and looking at these sorts of movies as nothing more than varied responses to that.
Why do you think God should not be angry when a million Jewish babies are killed by Pharoh and the Egyptians? Are you not angry when you hear of Christian children being slaughtered by the same Jihadists who murder Jews, only because they are following a different religion?
In Reply to Hila (comment #27527)
Just checking, Hila - is this a rhetorical question or meant to be addressed to someone in the comment thread?
I saw this movie and saw 3 things that are not biblical to my thoughts.
1)I AM being played as a kid.
2)Moses scribing the ten commandments into the stone
3)Moses did not part the sea.
So my point/question is could this be misleading to unbelievers who see the movie?
Add your comment to join the discussion!