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By David Briggs
Religion News Service

The image–Charlton Heston as Moses–has been carved into the minds of generations. Few who have seen the Cecil B. DeMille blockbuster can forget Heston’s majestic, commanding presence as he comes down from Mount Sinai and thunders to a wayward people, “Those who will not live by the law shall die by the law.”
Now there is a new Moses for a new generation.
The new, animated version of “The Ten Commandments” features a more compassionate Moses (the voice of Christian Slater) urging people to be faithful because “God loves you.”
The love story in this movie is not the romantic triangle of Rameses, Moses and Princess Nefertiri that DeMille added to widen the audience for his 1956 film. It is the love between God and God’s people, a side of the deity that often has been missing in biblical epics.
“God is not just this angry ogre,” said Brad Cummings, an executive producer. The film, Cummings said, tries to “highlight his desire for a relationship with us.”
The decision to depict the God of Exodus as a loving parent who cares for his children is a welcome addition to popular portrayals of Old Testament stories where God is shown as judgmental, legalistic and wrathful, some observers say. Those portrayals in film, television and church programming often reflected a Christian bias that Jesus, in contrast, reveals God as compassionate and loving.
The truth, which modern biblical scholars are increasingly bringing to the forefront, is that there is a lot of language of human and divine love in Hebrew Scriptures, said Ronald Brauner, a professor of Judaic studies at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Beachwood, Ohio.
The eternal, steadfast love of God is spoken of throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, from the First Book of Chronicles to the Book of Jeremiah. Even the suffering Job says to God, “You have given me love and constant care.”
What is clear throughout the texts is “the love of the divine being to those people the divine being has created,” Brauner said.
In the Book of Exodus, the covenant between God and the Israelites
— “my treasured possession among all the peoples” — described in Chapter 19 also is a “manifestation of love,” Brauner said.
A goal of the new movie is to counter the stereotype that “God is angry in the Old Testament and thank God for Jesus in the New”
Testament, Cummings said.
In the film, God speaks in the soothing tones of Elliott Gould.
Slater (Moses) avoids the stentorian speech of Heston’s character for a more casual tone, speaking at various points in the film about God’s love and desire to care for the people under His protection.
The idea of God’s love “is really there. It’s in the Bible,” said screenwriter Ed Naha. “You just have to look for it.”
The Rev. Donald Cozzens, a professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, said the new film does not promote the idea that Christians have replaced Jews as God’s chosen people.
“I did not find this supercessionist,” Cozzens said after seeing an advance screening. “I felt the movie did underscore God’s love for the chosen people.”
He and Brauner, however, worry about the narrow, literal depictions of biblical stories in popular movies such as the two versions of “The Ten Commandments.”
They encourage viewers to go back to the original text for an understanding of the Exodus story that also frees the religious imagination to grapple with the mystery of God working in human history.
Part of that mystery is a love story. In reading through Jewish Scriptures, Brauner said, “There is much love stuff going on.”

David Briggs writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland

Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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