No one in their right mind expects a Hollywood film to be accurate. Everything will be made more dramatic, more shocking, more exciting in order to be seen as a better fit for the silver screen. This is true even when it comes to stories that are already thrilling. Even some of the most exhilarating and dramatic stories in human history need some doctoring in Hollywood’s collective eyes. This is true even for the story of the Exodus. The tale already has the feel of a sprawling epic and is set against the backdrop of one of the most iconic and powerful empires in the ancient world. There are dark family secrets, political intrigue, murder, unexpected love, disasters on an unforeseen scale and even a series of wizards duels as the Egyptian priests try to match Moses and Aaron in power. Somehow, however, the 10 plagues and parting of the Red Sea are not dramatic enough for Hollywood. Exodus still needs something more. Interestingly, every movie based on Moses seems to make the same mistakes, and so many faith-based film fans have become convinced that these elements were actually part of the original story. Here are seven facts about Moses that movies always seem to get wrong.
Moses and Pharaoh did not grow up together.Many movies about Moses seem to feel that there needs to be more drama in Moses’ life. So, they set up a sibling rivalry between Moses and a son of Pharaoh who, in the interest of yet more drama, becomes the pharaoh that Moses must battle. This has become so entrenched that many people assume that Moses did have a brotherly relationship with one of the sons, or perhaps even the only son, of the pharaoh who ordered that the Hebrews be killed. While this certainly makes the confrontations between Pharaoh and Moses more emotionally rife, there is no evidence in the Bible or Torah that Moses was close with any of Pharaoh’s sons. Given that Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and had no part in the line of succession, it is perfectly plausible for Moses to have had little to no interaction with any prince of Egypt.
Moses knew he was a Hebrew.There is always a moment in movies about the Exodus when Moses discovers that he is not actually a member of Pharaoh’s family. In fact, he is actually a Hebrew. The realization is shocking, stunning, staggering and completely false. According to the Book of Exodus, the infant Moses was nursed by a wet-nurse who was none other than his own mother. As Pharaoh’s daughter did not take Moses “as her son” until after he “grew up,” Moses would have known his mother and siblings. The knowledge that he was a Hebrew would explain why he was so quick to kill the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, a slave Exodus states that Moses recognized as “one of his kinsfolk.”
Moses had a speech impediment.Most movies about Moses portray him as a gifted speaker. He argues eloquently with Pharaoh, rallies the Israelites and commands, in authoritative tones, “let my people go!” The Book of Exodus, however, paints a very different picture. Moses states that he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue.” In fact, Moses works with Aaron in large part because Aaron was the talented speaker that Moses was not. Exodus states that “[Moses would] speak to [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth” that God gave to Moses. As much as everyone loves to see Moses rally the Israelites or face down Pharaoh with a speech that could move even the sternest hearts, Moses was not actually the one giving the moving speeches.
The Pharaoh in Exodus is never named.In most Exodus movies, the pharaoh that Moses ends up facing off with and tossing into the Red Sea is identified as Ramses. In fact, this is one reason why Ramses is one of the two pharaohs of Egypt that is a household name. The other, of course, is the famous King Tut, the boy Tutankhamen.
Despite Ramses often acting as the antagonist in Exodus movies, the original story never names the king of Egypt. Both the king who ordered the original murder of the Hebrew boys and the king that faces the famous 10 plagues are identified only by the title of “pharaoh.” It is possible that the infamous Pharaoh of Exodus was Ramses, but the original tale neither confirms nor denies it.
Moses and Aaron both enacted God’s Will.In most portrayals of the Exodus story, Moses alone is the prophet of God. Moses is the one who hears God. Moses is the one who speaks to Pharaoh. Moses is the one who performs God’s wonders. Moses is the one who leads the Israelites out of Egypt. In reality, however, Moses did not do it all alone. His brother Aaron was heavily involved. Moses was not a skilled orator, so Aaron did much of the talking. He also performed a number of signs himself. In most movie portrayals, though, Aaron’s involvement is one of the facts about Moses that is swept under the rug.
Parting the Red Sea took all night.One of the most exciting and most anticipated moments of any portrayal of Exodus is the iconic scene where the Red Sea parts in order to allow the Israelites to pass safely. In almost every depiction of that miraculous event, the sea parts at once. Moses brings his staff down, or gestures dramatically, and the Red Sea rushes apart to form the path for the Israelites. In the Book of Exodus, however, the parting of the Red Sea did not happen in an instant. In Exodus, God “drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land.” Far from clearing a path in moments, it took hours for the Red Sea to move. The image of the Israelites camping out and waiting for the water to finish moving, however, is not nearly as dramatic as a single gesture from Moses leading to one of the most iconic miracles of all time.
Pharaoh died in the Red Sea.In most portrayals of the Exodus story, Pharaoh helps lead the charge of the Egyptian army against the Israelites, but is one of the few, if not the only, survivor of the army. Given that most Hollywood portrayals of Moses show him as being close friends or surrogate brothers with Pharaoh, filmmakers apparently found it a bit too dark to have Moses be responsible for the death of his brother or friend. As such, Pharaoh is normally allowed to survive until the end of the film.
The Book of Exodus does not allow for the same leniency. Pharaoh is never explicitly stated to have been heading his army personally, but the original story says clearly that “the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The water returned and covered…the entire army of Pharaoh…[and] not one of them remained.” Furthermore, Psalm 136 states that God “overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,” implying that Pharaoh was killed when the waters of the Red Sea rushed back in.
Anyone who is expecting Hollywood movies to be accurate to their source material has apparently never watched movies, but it does seem odd that Tinsel Town would think that the story of the Exodus needs more drama and excitement. In their zeal to create such things, they end up distorting the facts about Moses and his life. Still, many films end up doing a reasonable job of depicting Moses’ life and his role in one of the most incredible stories in human history.