Let’s Play The Bible: Book of Exodus
I have continued my use of the “YouVersion” app and the “Canonical” whole-bible plan that it provides. I missed a few days here and there and severed the ties of a serial fate, but made sure to catch up when I next opened the app. As such, here we are - Exodus is completed. Well, as a whole the “Exodus” section of this broader endeavour will only really be complete once I do some tertiary reading and typing to generate the rest of this post, so now I might begin.
Unfortunately as I’m writing this I have torn through the book of “Leviticus” also, and in being reluctant to take an expedited and peaceful approach to web log posts making, I am currently stood at the foot of a great horrible and ugly mountain of my own making. I am certain I can complete this pair of very important-to-me posts though. The main detriment of these two arms of the task becoming out of phase is that I am all too aware that I will be enjoying artful thought for the exciting book of Exodus, and subsequently rather dull and historicity based small-analysis of the much more “Terms & Conditions” form of “Leviticus”, in short the added excitement of discovery and ad-hocness is lost.
Where the book of Genesis was highly faceted and rather disparate, the book of Exodus follows a stricter more serial narrative. In turn it’s less necessary to try and conceive a hierarchy to map out the book (speaking for myself and my lack of working memory here) but I think it would be nice to split the story into a chronology of important events. In macroscopic gestalt the book follows a man named Moses, a descendant of the Patriarchs met in the previous book, who is born to an Egyptian slave but by fate is adopted as prince. Amplifying the “Zion” and “Chosen People” murmurs from the previous book into a deafening chant, God ordains Moses as a powerful proxy so that he might free the Israelites from slavery under Egyptians and then enlighten them as to the way the world ought to be via the famed “commandments”.
From curtain-jerker to main event it plays out in the following sequence:
- Egyptian king interrupts the prosperity of and enslaves the Israelites descended from Jacob.
- Moses is born and secretly discarded, as Egyptians are killing all Israelite boys.
- Discovered by the sympathetic pharaoh’s daughter, Moses is adopted and grows into a prince.
- Moses takes pity on how the Israelite slaves are treated, his resolve to help them is fortified via direct communication from God.
- In a sequence of escalating demonstrations from transmogrification to plagues, Moses/God tries to intimidate and persuade the Pharaoh to free the Israelites.
- A daring escape and punishment utilizing the Red Sea occurs.
- After reconvening at Mt. Sinai following their crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites are given by moses “The Ten Commandments”.
- Further sacramental happenings including the construction of a “Tabernacle” as Israel prospers anew.
Looking back over the book now, it’s a little surprising just how much of this book is dedicated to borderline autistic detailing of the “Tabernacle” and other sacramental things. I think after wading through Leviticus (before scribbling about Exodus), which is almost entirely comprised of such writings, I had assumed this swathe of Exodus was actually within Leviticus. Nonetheless this is a very exciting chapter of the pentateuch, highly cinematic & dramatic even in its antique form.
So with the story condensed and its itinerary consummated, what more is there to say outside of moral derivations best sourced elsewhere? I have collected a few angles of attack that might make for unique textures while materially converting the tale into a personal memory enmeshment, so follow myself.
Vivid Displays of Power
In the book we see some continuing usage of special-men as God’s buffer for power invocation in the worldly realm, arguably more explicit in some respects here. Where Joseph had dreams that lead to eerily exacting predictions of agricultural yield and lack thereof, Moses can turn his staff into a snake, causes water to become blood and warns of terrible plagues which indeed follow. He also famously parts the Red Sea and, helping to clear up the matter of power source and purpose, is constantly communing with God.
Amidst, aside or apart from the readily acknowledged Elohist and Yahwist textual forensics, there’s people who speak about Moses as potentially being a recombined form of a more scattered series of God injunctions, perhaps even derived from other cultures or religions of the time and locale. Alongside such big-scope speculation, there are a few more tangible points of intrigue pointed out by some, relating to specific nuances. For instance, the miraculous transmogrification of stave into snake providing symbolism against the pharaoh’s headdress and even how it mirrors (that is to say appears as reverse of) an apparent magic trick of the day performed by “snake charmers”, where a snake would be pinched so as to paralyze and stiffen it into a staff-analog.
It is interesting to consider the displays of power in Exodus as an attempt to subordinate Egyptian power beyond a simple physical realm. The Bible is often said to be very symbolic, at least laced with clever allusion if the content is largely “by the book”. While some of us do not know the Bible very well, I think you will struggle to find a single person on earth who doesn’t attribute an aura of mysticism to ancient Egypt even today - thus would it not be fitting that the events or story of Exodus do their work on multiple levels, harnessing this? I will continue referring to the document last linked to explore this.
“May your words occur; may your magic shine.” - Book of Amduat
Egyptologist Dr. Robert Ritner works to illuminate some of the Egyptian mysticism in his book “The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice”, which allows for more proper cross-referencing of the actions of Moses with those of Egyptian “magicians”. Building on the reversal of snake-staff trickery, the prominent lack of Moses’ ability to communicate verbally can be juxtaposed with the eloquence of Egyptian “magicians” - Moses’ actions speak louder than his words, he’s a man of few effectual ones as it is. Beyond the eloquence of these mages it is worth noting that, as is often the case with the magician class characters of history, magic can be brought forth through recital of spells. Very interesting.
We Were Possibly Kings and Things
In an interesting facet of the material that tethers much further into historical Egyptian context, there’s the matter of Moses’ potentially sensationalized characterization and narrative path construction being drawn from, or even a direct retelling of, a story originally belonging to Egypt and its religion at the time. Not to mention that perhaps the Egyptian records may be obfuscating and misdirecting, confusing things further.
For instance, the story of Exodus has some pretty striking similarities to the story of pharaoh “Amenmesse”. From the wikipedia page on this historical man, even in spite of the biblical similarity not being drawn into its content, we can see that he was a rebellious pharaoh who interfered with the rule of his brother. Consequently their intertwined story is believed to have inspired a contemporary story “the tale of two brothers” which physical evidence of exists to this day.
Trudging through various search engine results for some more raw takes while bypassing rambling Quora replies left by ossified brain militant boomer atheists we can discover some further interesting analysis of Exodus story in this regard. A pdf featuring writing by one “Gerald Wheeler” speaks to the Egyptian “silence about the exodus” by drawing on the nature their military records. He quotes another, seemingly biblically aligned, man:
Recognizing the propagandist nature of Egyptian records, Kenneth Kitchen commented that “the lack of any explicit Egyptian mention of an Exodus is of no historical import, given its unfavorable role in Egypt, and the near total loss of all relevant records in any case.”
Beyond the power and influence of the written word in an ancient world and historicity though, what of the content of Egyptian religion and how it might have connected downstream into the Bible either in reference or in subsumption? Learned man John Spencer has a lot to say on this. Is this heresy?
Spencer’s Moses,however,did not simply return to his people, but brought and taught them what he had learned in the Egyptian mysteries. His legislation amounts to a translation of Egyptian ‘hieroglyphical’ wisdom into Hebrew Law.
Positing both the Biblical and egyptian religious thought as being mysterious, relying ultimately on esoteric truths, and pointing out some interesting, and once again inverted, connections between the two, our man Spencer builds an interesting hypothesis. One where Moses left the Israelites and gained knowledge with Egyptians before returning to Israel with his newfound treasure and applying it as he saw fit. rees and things
In their temples they consecrate a statue of a donkey and sacrifice a ram in contumeliam Ammonis ‘in order to ridicule the god Amun.’ For the same reason, ‘they sacrifice a bull because the Egyptians worship Apis.’
Something which was repeated multiple times, presumably in the final stretch of tabernacle specifications, and thus was scrawled down in my notes is the phrase “Shittim Wood”. I have never heard of this type of wood before. Why have they used this wood so much? According to sources but not without dispute it would seem to refer to the wood of Cedar trees perhaps sourced from the biblically important Sinai region.
Now something that is extra interesting is that when searching for Cedar trees from the region of biblical “Sinai”, we’re offered results referring to a “non-profit” hospital in Los Angeles. It’s of very elegant modern design, with pale sheet/plate extrusions wrapping up a dark smoked glass exterior. I like this a lot, I will save pictures of it. Very cool, however definitely not created with special woods.
I’m anticipating having to spread my mind thin in further writing on the continued specifying communications of Moses further down the line, so I’m going to cut any analysis of wood types short at current. The usage of a peculiar and particular terminology with regard to simple materials will hopefully pay further dividend in quick-time intrigues.
The Dreamworks Adaptation
What would a 21st century reading of the book of Exodus be without the enjoyment of the Dreamworks adaptation “The Prince of Egypt”? Well, I did it. I have to say it is very impressive how well they pack the story of Exodus, the depictions are quite true-to-text and the more extreme and shocking elements (the plages) are hemmed in well alongside musical numbers in anticipation of an all-ages audience. The movie really shines in its depiction of the brotherhood and further relationship aspects (loyalty, rivalry, humor) between Ramses II (a historically agreeable delegation for the otherwise unspecified pharaoh in Exodus) and Moses.
I was kind of surprised to see so many 3D elements, I thought I was remembering correctly that it was strictly 2D animation. Not to say this figures prominently, but it’s clearly a useful asset when depicting rolling dunes of sand and a weighty depiction of large bodies of vertical water and their contents through translucency. Very great work they have done with this movie. There is a nice degree of stylization to the characters, that makes them expressive and kinetic as need be, that is tempered to allow it to mesh well with the more realistic background work. It feels rare to see this kind of a nuanced presentation, too often we’ll find work with every layer thrown into cubism levels of abstract figure/form with lackadaisical re-interpolation of details, which is, perhaps counter-intuitively, an easier paradigm to work in. Lucky for us in the 21st century technology is advanced enough to enable more acceptable and attainable play in multiple modes of realism and combinations thereof.
Dr. Ted Baehr brought in several Christian theologians early in the production process and their advice was usually incorporated in the movie. Dr. Baehr also helped DreamWorks develop a strategy to reach out to the Christian audience and recommended many of the Christian leaders who eventually came to view the work in process.
Looking past the films ultimate success across-the-board, you must give credit to the Dreamworks squad that had the gumption to take on such high-stake film and its potential controversies/other risk. Supposedly the idea of turning the story of Exodus into an animated film had been kicked around for a while in the form of adapting “The Ten Commandments”, but ultimately came to fruition with the comes-with-risk-anyway founding of Dreamworks and the imploring suggestion of one Steven Spielberg.
Great work my friends. Especially you, Whitney.
Closing the Book
I would have liked to be more granular, explore a little bit about the false idol element of the book for instance, especially in relation to the previous topic of Egyptian culture and how it parlays into the teaching/direction of Moses/God. Too bad I’m tired of writing now, and I am becoming demoralized with every deep wrinkle I uncover with my shallow lantern. This is a very awesome story however. Everyone knows this, I loved it - really this post only tackles a handful of the vast amount of cool-aspects the book has to offer (details of the plagues comes to mind as well as spies).
Next up I will invariably be considering the tabernacle (the God tent) and other things somewhat trivial and obsolete from the comparably liberal Christian goggles. We will uncover something though, I believe - we are aiming to be like but are not children. We do not need a traditional narrative to let the brain flex into all kinds of very good shapes. Most of the artworks treated and dropped into this post are from the book’s wikimedia page, similar to the preceding post.