'The Ten Commandments' is Hollywood's version of biblical story

Published: Saturday, March 27 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Charlton Heston as Moses in the classic 1956 film "The Ten Commandments," which blends biblical accounts with fanciful fiction.

Courtesy Amc, Deseret News Archives

If you've ever watched the classic movie "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. DeMille, it is so engaging it may have become your definitive version of Moses.

But the 1956 film, starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner (which will be broadcast next Saturday, April 3, from 6-10 p.m. on KTVX Ch. 4), sprinkles more than a little fancy among its facts.

From a romance that never existed and concocted characters to an instant parting of the Red Sea, the movie is riddled with fiction.

It is, in fact, a cinematic masterpiece in everything except accuracy. It won an Oscar, three other major movie awards and was nominated for another seven awards.

No later movies about Moses come close.

In Hollywood's defense, perhaps making an almost three-hour movie out of a few dozen Bible chapters requires some invention just to fill the time and keep viewers engaged.

Historically, ABC-TV airs the classic movie, the highest grossing film of the 1950s, each year during Easter weekend. (The one year ABC didn't air the movie — 1999 — it received a browbeating.)

So, in an effort to shed some light on what's Holy Bible and what's Hollywood, here is a sampling of differences.

 According to the commentary on the 2004 DVD release of the film, the movie's script was enhanced by non-biblical sources, such as: Josephus, the Sepher-ha-Yashar, the Chronicle of Moses and the Quran. Also, some parts in the script are mere inventions.

 The movie refers to all the kings of Egypt with specific names, while the Bible refers to each one only as "Pharaoh."

 No wives of any kings are mentioned by name in the Bible, while a star in the movie is "Queen Nefretiri," obviously a variation of "Nefertari," the wife of Rameses II, according to Egyptian history. The Bible mentions no extra romance of Moses with anyone, though Nefretiri's love of Moses is one of the dominant components of the DeMille movie.

 Moses' mother is said to be Yoshebel in the movie, while Exodus 6:20 states it was Jochebed.

 The daughter of Pharaoh is only mentioned in the Bible when she rescues baby Moses from the river. In the movie, she eventually goes with the Israelites out of Egypt.

 There is also no biblical mention of Moses having any early relationship with any of the Pharaoh's sons.

 Moses apparently didn't have the choice to marry any of Midian's seven daughters; he was given the offer of a specific wife. Exodus 2:21 states: "… and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter."

 In the movie, Moses is said to be a successful military commander, but that reference comes from Josephus, not the Bible.

 The movie shows Moses openly fighting an Egyptian, killing him and then being arrested and exiled. Yet Exodus 2:11-15 says that Moses saw no one else when he killed the Egyptian and that Moses fled afterward, since the Pharaoh sought to kill him.

 Some characters, like Baka (portrayed by Vincent Price), are not mentioned in the Bible.

 Joshua never came to the land of Midian to persuade Moses to return to Egypt. God sent Moses back to Egypt (Exodus 3:10).

 The movie doesn't accurately portray Moses as being "not eloquent" in speaking (Exodus 4:10).

 The movie only shows four of the 10 plagues of Egypt. Not only were there time constraints, but Hollywood at the time could not re-create some of the special effects needed to show some of the plagues.

 Moses doesn't tell Pharaoh that his word will bring the last plague or that Pharaoh decreed that all firstborn of Israel would die. God alone executes the final plague (Exodus 12). Furthermore, the Bible offers little beyond saying the firstborn of Pharaoh died, while the movie focuses extensively on this son's death.

 The movie shows an instant parting of the Red Sea. However, the Bible states that the strong east wind took all night to part the waters (Exodus 14:21). (That means the Lord kept the Pharaoh and his army at bay a really long time.)

 The Pharaoh is not shown as drowning with his army in the movie. Even though Exodus does not state that Pharaoh did drown, Psalm 136:15 implies that Pharaoh did drown with his army.

 Israel sang and danced to celebrate the defeat of Pharaoh and his armies (Exodus 15), but the movie portrays them as simply standing in silent amazement.

 The movie also does not show Israel's battle with Amalek or of God supplying Israel with manna, water and quail.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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