Exodus: Gods and Kings: What to do when Hollywood gets the story “wrong”?

The new film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will be released December 12, 2014 (watch the trailer below).

I obviously, haven’t seen it, but I know what’s going to happen (spoiler alert: the Israelites are freed). But I also can predict what Christians will say. Based on responses to numerous previous screen portrayals of Scripture, most notably to the recent Noah film (2014), there will two reactions among the Christian community.

1) Some will say, “Hollywood is making a movie about the Bible. That’s awesome! I can’t wait to see how big they make the walls of water of the Red Sea. I’ll definitely see it.”

2) Others will say, “Hollywood never gets the Bible right. Look what happened to the Noah movie. I’ve already heard bad things about the new Exodus film. They change the story. I definitely won’t see it.”

I personally identify more naturally with the first group, but I understand the second group.

I am frequently in situations where people don’t get the biblical story right (perhaps some of those times I was listening to some of you). But before I jump into biblical scholar mode, I recall it’s not my job to correct every minor detail. Christians who say, “Hollywood got the story wrong” come across like the person in high school that corrected everyone else’s grammar. You don’t want to be that person (like you don’t want to be the creepy Rob Lowe).

I would hope that both groups would remember that this film is just an interpretation of the story (like Renaissance art portrayals of biblical scenes). The Bible reinterprets the story of the Exodus in different ways, emphasizing different things.  Some of these interpretations seem contradictory.

Check out these two versions in the Psalms of the complaining in the wilderness (Exo. 16-17):

“They asked, and he brought quails,
and gave them food in abundance.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out” (Psalm 105:40-41a).

“But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert” (Psalm 106:14).

Psalm 105 frames their complaining positively.  They asked, he gave.

Psalm 106 describes it a bit more negatively (“wanton craving”, testing God).

If Scripture itself can retell the story it such divergent ways, perhaps we should cut some slack to these screen interpretations.

The story of the Exodus is an amazing story, re-told more than any other story in Scripture. I’m glad Hollywood is retelling the story. I’ll see the film and tell you what I think about it next month (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Maybe I’ll see you at the theater (save me the aisle seat).

Who killed more people, God or Satan? Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we referred to an article that mentioned that God “kiled” (see comments) a lot more people than Satan in the Bible.  Thanks for sharing your wisdom in the comments to Part 1: Ben, Noah, Jeremiah, Danny, David and Fr. Gregory.

If someone asked me about God’s killing in the Bible, my answer would depend upon who is asking me.  A theist, or an atheist?  A child or an adult?  Someone who’s been a victim of violent crime or someone who hasn’t?  Context is everything.

If someone doesn’t believe the Bible is true asks about God killing in the Bible, they are being silly.  It’s like arguing who’s prettier Snow White or Cinderella.  (Spoiler…neither are real.)  The topic of God killing people is only a real problem for people who believe the Bible really records what happened.  Atheists may want to point out the ridiculousness of believing a story where God acts violently, but a better starting point for that interaction would be the reliability of God’s word.

I’ll assume I’m interacting with someone who believes God is real and the Bible records what happened.

The biggest problem with the article (even bigger than the misspelling of “kiled”) is that the author is not interested in why people are killed.  In order to tabulate divine death statistics for the Bible, the author of the article has little interest in examining the context.  There’s no time for that.  It’s a bit like a preacher who jumps around the Bible to proof-text their point.  But context is everything.

Let’s look at two examples the author of the article uses  First, the flood (Gen. 6-9).  Why does God wipe out humanity?  As punishment for their excessive violence.  The Noah narrative does not go into detail, but it gives enough: “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:6).  A skeptic might say, the text is exaggerating the evilness of the humans.  I’ll grant that’s a possibility, but would the same skeptic say the text is exaggerating the destruction of the flood?  I doubt it.  I’m troubled by the severity of the story of the flood, but it’s clear that people are being punished for a reason.  Context is everything. 

Second, the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35).  I discuss this incident in God Behaving Badly (p. 102-104), so I’ll be brief here.  The Assyrians were bad neighbors.  You think your neighbors are bad?  If your neighbors don’t pilage, exile and decapitate like the Assyrians did consider yourself lucky.  Most recently the Assyrian army had been destroying Judah and starving its citizens–men, women and children.  God miraculously delivered Judah by wiping out Sennacherib’s army.  I’m a pacifist, but I still think that it was good that God protected his people.  Context is everything. 

It’s fun to make a point with statistics, but as anyone who works with statistics knows, they can also deceive.

How is ignoring the context of a Bible passage deceptive? 

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You Shall Not Eat the Cake in the Middle of the Kitchen

My son Noah’s birthday was Friday (he’s 15).  Instead of hanging out as a family, Shannon and I decided to attend a weekend seminar entitled, “Loving Your Teen.”  We told the boys, “We’re going to celebrate Noah’s birthday by ignoring you, so we can learn how to love you better.”

At the break I called Noah to tell him about all the things we were learning about how to be better parents.  Noah said, “Hey, Dad, there’s a cake here.  Is this my birthday cake?”  I suspected that it was, but wasn’t sure.  Shannon was in the restroom and the break was almost over.  I said, “Noah, there’s a lot of deserts there.  Ice cream.  Cookies.  Brownies.  (Shannon bakes a lot.  This is why I need to run.)  Just eat one of those.”

Noah responds, “So you’re saying I can eat freely of every desert in the kitchen, but of the cake in the middle of the kitchen, I shall not eat, for the day I eat of it I shall die.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”  So, what did Noah do?

He ate the cake.  Some things never change.

What would you have done? 

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