Bible and Western Culture
Mr. Sean Ross
Week 5, Class 1: Moses in the Imagination
Theme of liberation in exodus
Negative connotations with interpretation of modes in culture
General representation of the bible in mainstream hollywood (the 10 commandments movie)
Theme of liberation in exodus
• Israelites have to leave Egypt
• Used as a Symbolic for Intellectual, political and social exodus.
o Escape from oppression into a new found state of freedom
3 basic groups used the theme of exodus:
• Colonists in the USA and other parts of North America (Puritains)
• Descendants of Colonists and efforts in the Revolutionary War
• Used in time of slavery and civil rights movements
• Religious people who sought out a new land where they could practice their own religion
• John Winthrop compared his Puritan group to the Israelites.
• North America / New England are equated with Canaan, the promise land.
When a group feels oppressed, it becomes easy for them to relate with the Israelites.
• The oppressors are blamed and associated with Egypt and the Pharaoh/
• As long as you stay true to the covenant, you are blessed by god
• Politicians draw a parallel between revolutionary liberation and the liberation of the
• George the 3 r becomes the new Pharaoh, oppressing Americans as Pharaoh oppressed the
• A seal represents the red sea falling on the Egyptians
o Reads: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God
o Colonies overcome the British as the Israelites overcome their oppressors in the red
• Liberty Bell:
o Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land
o Example of an exodus.
Not Literal, occurs in one place.
Fought on a social and political plane
Both Puritans and American revolutionaries interpret the Bible in a way to benefit their current
• The experience of the exodus did not just belong to Israelites.
o It is relevant to people today
• It is not just a symbol, but a theological reality that is enacted when people resist their own
African Americans during slavery, in civil rights movement and abolition efforts:
• The Exodus is the most important biblical text in the black community.
o Americans become the Egyptians, not the Israelites.
o “The exodus...still has not been concluded. It is our task to continue the exodus,
because it was not a happening for the Hebrews alone but a manifestation of a
liberating plan of God for all nations.”
‐‐Jose Croatto, 1987
African Americans hope that god will work on behalf of the slaves in America.
o “I do not wish to make you angry, but excite attention to consider how hateful
slavery is, in the sight of that God who hath destroyed kings and princes, for their
oppression of the poor slaves... We wish you to consider, that God himself was the
first pleader of the cause of slaves,...If you love your children, if you love your
country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves, burden not your
children or your country with them...”
‐‐Rev. Richard Allen, 1797
• You saw what happened to Pharaoh,you know how god responds to
• The same fate awaits you.
• Songs were used by the black community to draw parallels between the Exodus and their
o Frequently seen in gospel songs
We see a Christianising of the story.
o Let my people Go
Straightforward telling of the story
Calling for freedom for those who are seeking it.
• Martin Luther King Speech – “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore”
o “As we look back we see segregation caught in the rushing waters of historical
necessity. Evil in the form of injustice cannot survive. There is a Red Sea in history
that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red
Sea closes in to bring doom to the forces of Evil.”
o Ocean crashing in on Pharaoh’s Army is associated with future fate of those who
o Death of evil upon the seashore is a line from Exodus.
If you are an oppressor, you should be afraid of being taken down by god.
o Hopes that freedom will come, will be earned, but knows that he might not live to see
the freedom he is working for.
The importance is that it will come
Moses didn’t get to enter the Land of Canaan.
• However, God showed him the future land of the Israelites, and that
The figure of Moses:
• It goes unquestioned that Moses is a hero
o He was the first to converse with god face‐to‐face
Michelangelo's Sculpture of Moses has horns! Why?
• This was a common ways of representing Moses in Art until the VERY modern period: ~1920s
o Why is he represented as such?
• Jerome, Vulgate:
Moses came down from the mountain and his face was horned
He puts on a veil
o Latter, this is fixed
Moses puts on a veil because his face shone.
How is the Horned Moses interpreted?
• Propagandistic effect:
o Moses was a War leader
o He was a tough warrior, and had the horns to prove it!
o Horns are devilish, evil.
o Peasants saw Moses with horns in visual medium….
Draws connotation of Satan, devil, evil.
Is the veil symbol of Moses’ greatness/holiness?
o It is a symbol of persistence of Jews who reject the Christian gospel
o “Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same
veil is still there, since only in Christ is it aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever
Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is
Jews blinded themselves, the veil is a symbol of Jewish ignorance
Moses becomes a symbol for the Jewish people
• Not a very good connotation during medieval times
• Common symbolism: Ecclesia and Synagoga
o Lady church and Lady Synagogue
Synagogue is portrayed as blindfolded, looking down, holding Moses’s tablets
• Moses law is associated with defeat and blindness
• Sometimes Moses himself will take the place of lady synagogue, holding a broken staph.
o There was a time when the 10 commandments were seen as something very
The Horned devil becomes associated with Jews
• One thing becomes just like the other thing
• An anti‐Semitic painting accuses Jews or ritual murder and bestiality
o They are portrayed with Satan.
John Singer Sargent was commissioned to create a painting for the Boston Public Library.
• His painting “Synagogue” created a rush of protests he was not expecting.
• For a very long time, Moses could be represented in very negative ways publically
Moses in the Movies:
How to portray characters?
• What kind of emotions, speech patterns do you assign?
• Exodus says Moses has stutter. No movie has ever portrayed him with one!
A form of interpretation:
• You can make the Biblical story an allegory for the lives of people of current times.
• You can use it to make new theological points
Analyzing a movie:
• What is added?
• What is taken away?
• How are characters portrayed?
• Is there an added moral?
Bible movies commonly draw their inspiration from art.
• Use art/common cultural portrayals to illustrate characters.
• Bible movies won't "shake the boat"
o Movie Jesus looks like the people's idea of Jesus from art.
o People are used to famous artistic representations of characters.
• A movie version can "replace" the biblical version, as people associate characters with how
they are portrayed in movie
o Ex: The Pharaoh Ramses is never named in the Biblical Text
• The movie ddds in new characters, fleshes out old stuff
• Relationships are emphasized:
o Emotion from brotherly strife, from Moses’s relationship with his mother, his
relationship with his Egyptian Mother.
o Joshua shows up with a love interest
Added romance/drama spectacle
This is done to spark the interest of viewers
DeMille saw his movie as the closest representation of Bible
• We see a desire of filmmakers to create a Bible movie exactly like original bible text
o However, they also need to add in detail to captivate the public
• As publicity, a statue/Plates of the 10 commandments are inaugurated
• De Mille states, “Are men the property of the state or are they free souls under God?”
o Speaks of current political climate: struggle between US and Soviet Union.
Struggle between democracy and communism.
o Sets the Soviet Union as enemies.
We see a Global trend to harness religion/religious imagery for use in political battles.
• Ramses – evokes the common stereotypical image of communist.
o Accuses his own priests of cheating
o Scientifically explains plagues
An atheistic tyrant communist
• Moses liberating the Israelites should foreshadow America in liberating the world from
o Moses becomes a patriotic figure
Language in the movie quotes the beginning of Gospel of John.
• Moses is