How to Watch (and Respond to) “Exodus: Gods and Kings

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm

The movie Exouds: Gods and Kings will soon attract all kinds of interest. For Jews and Christians, the story of God rescuing Israelite slaves from bondage is central to their theology. For Jews, it is the foundation story of their people. In the Christian tradition, the gospels do not fail to point out that much of Jesus story, both before and shortly after his birth, follow, quite markedly, an Exodus-motif. Jesus himself gave Pesach (Passover) a makeover in the Last Supper. The narrative even played a prominent role in the dismantling of American slavery. The point is: the story of Exodus has influenced individuals and communities in powerful ways throughout history. With great importance, comes heavy emotional investment.

No doubt, many will line up to watch Ridley Scott’s rendition of the Exodus story. Among these multitudes, some Christians will come to the fore with scathing criticism. Chief among these outcries, the complaint will arise that something was not “like it was in the book.” With all due respect to sacred status of Scripture, any film adaptation of a book will apply artistic interpretation. The HobbitGame of ThronesHarry Potter, and a host of other books adapted for the screen, failed to maintain absolute integrity of the original texts. If they had, they would have likely been rather boring. By definition, a film adaptation will change elements and present a unique interpretation of the narrative. This should be understood when watching any film based on pre-existing literature.

Along with the disdain for maintaining the absolute integrity of the Exodus story, others will protest that certain scenes are offensive or belittling of divine elements. Based on a little research, not having seen the film yet, God will be portrayed in one aspect as an impetuous, jealous child. The miracle of the dividing of the sea will be explained as a rare tsunami. For people of faith, the portrayal of their God and the miraculous deliverance of Israel are tantamount in the story. I guarantee your Facebook news feeds will soon be rife with protests saying, “Don’t see the movie! It doesn’t stick to the book! Ridley Scott doesn’t believe in miracles!” It is because of these anticipated postings that I am writing this piece. So I want to give some guidelines for watching the movie and talking about it after seeing it (whether in person or via social media).

  1. Read the Exodus story. Many Christians are home-blind to elements within the story. We’ve all heard the children’s version of the story, but we don’t really get into the adult content. Don’t assume you fully understand or remember every aspect of the narrative. Study it. Ask questions. Discuss it in a communal setting. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t reduce the story to: Egypt is bad, God called Moses, God sent plagues, God killed Egyptians and rescued Israel through the Red Sea. There are all kinds of whacky and disturbing scenes within the text which don’t usually get featured in cool sermon series. For instance, did you know that God tried to kill Moses before he even went to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26)? Have you ever thought it strange that the Israelites are told to remain indoors while the Angel of Death kills the firstborn at night (Exodus 12:22), and yet the account has Moses and Aaron going to Pharaoh Familiarity often breeds unfamiliarity. Go read the actual text before you criticize someone’s retelling of it.
  2. Watch and Discuss in Community. Don’t isolate yourself. Go see the movie with friends and family. Watch the movie with people who don’t share your beliefs. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t uphold the theological content of the Bible. How would you feel about a God who kills babies (whether they are Egyptian or not is beside the point), destroys economies, and gets really, really angry sometimes? You may read the story a certain way because you have a certain set of beliefs and approaches going in; not everyone possesses that worldview. Create space for dialogue with those people in a non-judgmental, open atmosphere. It will be far more productive than social media polemics which alienate and shut down (productive) conversation.
  3. Guard Social Media. Do not post inflammatory statements — especially if you have not and will not seen the film! The number one thing people don’t like about Christianity are the Christians. If you have a criticism about the movie, articulate based on the text, research, and reflection. Do not just rant about how Hollywood hates God and doesn’t believe in miracles. A better way of addressing something you think was not representative of the biblical account is by asking open, non-threatening questions to open a dialogue. Better yet, turn off your computer and get a cup of coffee. Conversations of the religious and intellectual nature are always best had in person over a fine beverage and/or meal. Finally, hold your friends accountable in regard to disrespectful posts. Gently make them aware of what image they are casting for Christians in general when they update their status with ungracious words. Jesus has bad enough PR and doesn’t need people who claim to follow him making it worse over a movie.

If you aren’t sure you can do these things, maybe you should reconsider why you would even want to see the movie in the first place. Are you looking for an argument? Do you really think that a movie is going to make or break the Christian faith? In the big picture, what will your comments regarding the movie have on human history, or even more accessible, in the lives of those in your neighborhoods, workplaces, and community? Like momma always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wise words.


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