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Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

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MattPage wrote:

: On Moses the Lawgiver, it did have a cinema run though didn't it?

It seems to have been fairly common back in the '70s and early '80s, or at least not uncommon, for TV mini-series and other shows to be released theatrically in condensed versions: Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot, heck even the original Battlestar Galactica. Moses the Lawgiver appears to have been one of these TV shows (according to the IMDB, it was broadcast in Italy in December 1974, broadcast in the USA in June 1975, and then released theatrically in March 1976).

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Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage

Fanny and Alexander as well.

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My issue is not with the artistic viability of such an idea, but rather a question of responsibility, and the care with which Christians need to present the Jesus story in a public fashion. I think Gibson's handling of the Christ narrative in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was somewhat irresponsible.

Just curious, do you find it irresponsible because it didn't contextualize the Passion narrative, or for other reasons?

I don't see Christian artists treating the Passion being subject to some sort of responsibility to provide a set amount of context to make the story religiously intelligible to a given audience. I don't know where that responsibility would come from. If it's for other reasons, then fine, no further issues as regards the present subject.

It's undoubtedly dated. But I watch it every year, without fail, and still find it a cinematic benchmark worth revisiting. We'll never get a more iconic rendering of the story on film. It's that iconic power that ultimately stands in the way of future retellings having the same power.

Okay, so a new Exodus story feels less promising to you than to me because you're a lot more attached to the De Mille film than I am. Be that as it may, I think a new film could (whether it will remains to be seen) make the story vital to a lot of people who would find De Mille's version hard to sit through; and that would be a good thing in my book.

But then again, I'm one of the guys who have seen all the TV versions that Peter threw out there not too long ago. They might not have been big screen, but they count as versions of the story, nonetheless. I've also seen the 1923 version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and PRINCE OF EGYPT.

So have I, as well as the 2000 NBC/Hallmark "In the Beginning" version and the 2007 computer-animated version. AFAICS, none of those makes the story vital for audiences today the way that, say, The Miracle Maker makes the Jesus story vital. Now there's a film that fills a gap. Wow. Our Easter season just would not be the same without it. This past year I showed it to my three (totally unchurched) nephews, and it made sense for them in a way that no other Jesus movie would.

So, yeah, I'd say this story has had more than its fair share of treatment, and while it's perhaps never received that "perfect" adaptation, I think it's been done well enough. Similarly, I don't think any of the Jesus films have been done perfectly, either, but I'm not clamoring for yet another cinematic take on Jesus' life.

See, I would always be interested in another take. If it weren't for The Miracle Maker and The Gospel According to Matthew, I would be very unsatisfied with the state of Jesus movie-dom. The Gospel of John is fine too, although on a recent rewatching I was more struck by its weaknesses than on previous viewings.

Now, what I think we can definitely use is another Christmas story alternative to The Nativity Story. I'll take it cuz we've got nothing else, but the Magi get old real fast.

Well, it's a matter of where you stand on remakes. I don't believe in remaking good films unless you have a substantially different angle on it. Cinema is such an expensive and difficult medium, and there are so few big releases made these days that I'd rather see all that effort and cash go to stories that haven't yet been told, rather than ones I've seen brought to life four or five or six different times.

So few big releases? Really?

I guess for me it depends on WHY a remake. Hollywood cranks out lots of soulless remakes every year for no other reason than that filmmakers want an established brand with a built-in audience and they lack the inspiration or daring to do something new. Lame. But I'm not against remakes per se, only soulless remakes. As a lover of mythology, I enjoy different takes on the same story. I always want to see another version. If the filmmakers' creativity is engaged by taking a different approach to a familiar story, and that's the reason for the remake, then I want to see it.

Compare Martin Campbell's adaptation-remake Casino Royale to the original story Quantum of Solace. Or Charles Sturridge's adaptation-remake Lassie to the original story G-Force. Etc.

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My issue is not with the artistic viability of such an idea, but rather a question of responsibility, and the care with which Christians need to present the Jesus story in a public fashion. I think Gibson's handling of the Christ narrative in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was somewhat irresponsible.

Just curious, do you find it irresponsible because it didn't contextualize the Passion narrative, or for other reasons?

Honestly, the main issue for me is that the death and sacrifice of Christ has little value or impact without the life. So, to me, the Passion was about as meaningful as, say, Saw, with less character...

I guess for me it depends on WHY a remake. Hollywood cranks out lots of soulless remakes every year for no other reason than that filmmakers want an established brand with a built-in audience and they lack the inspiration or daring to do something new. Lame.

But then they go and make something like the recent Friday the 13-oh wait, that backs up your first point... ;)

But I agree that I don't have an inherent opposition to remakes...which is why i get more tired of blanket condemnations of remakes than I do of remakes themselves. Plus, I do not buy that the "remake syndrome" is new or worse than it has ever been. Cinema-worldwide, not just Hollywood- has gotten by on re-makes and rip offs pretty much since the inception of the medium.

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Honestly, the main issue for me is that the death and sacrifice of Christ has little value or impact without the life. So, to me, the Passion was about as meaningful as, say, Saw, with less character...

Which, I think, may itself reflect cultural differences as much as anything. TPOTC speaks from a milieu that finds the whole Gospel in the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and even a lone crucifix. (I say "speaks from," not "speaks to"; clearly the movie was well received by a great many people who have no use for rosaries and crucifixes. A movie can speak from a particular milieu without being limited to speaking only to those who share that milieu; Into Great Silence is another example of that phenomenon. Neither film, of course, speaks to everyone ... but I don't think it constitutes a flaw in the works themselves.)

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Just curious, do you find it irresponsible because it didn't contextualize the Passion narrative, or for other reasons?

Well, I have other concerns, but I think Gibson would have done better to contextualize it.

I don't see Christian artists treating the Passion being subject to some sort of responsibility to provide a set amount of context to make the story religiously intelligible to a given audience.

Depends on the forum/medium for the art, and the audience considering it. The movie theater is not a stained glass window or a church altar.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Depends on the forum for their art, and the audience considering it. The movie theater is not a stained glass window.

True, but I wouldn't have a problem with displaying a stained glass window in a museum, or for that matter with doing a movie documentary on stained glass. To bring the analogy closer, a wordless documentary on the art of the Passion could carry significant Good Friday spirituality, and while it might well be decontextualized from Jesus' life, I wouldn't find it problematic for that reason.

TPOTC is essentially a dramatic interpretation of Catholic Good Friday spirituality. An interpretation made of course via the lens of Gibson's aesthetic and sensibilities, and I have no quarrel in principle with objecting to particular aspects of Gibson's aesthetic and sensibilities. But I can't see a persuasive in-principle objection to the enterprise of offering a dramatic interpretation of Catholic Good Friday spirituality -- any more than I can imagine objecting to the enterprise of offering a dramatic interpretation of anything else where the topic isn't inherently objectionable or otherwise unfit for exhibition.

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But I can't see a persuasive in-principle objection to the enterprise of offering a dramatic interpretation of Catholic Good Friday spirituality -- any more than I can imagine objecting to the enterprise of offering a dramatic interpretation of anything else where the topic isn't inherently objectionable or otherwise unfit for exhibition.

Naturally. And if you recall, I said my gripe didn't lie with the artistic legitimacy of such an enterprise.

My gripe comes from my uniquely Christian concerns. As Christians, we should take great care with how we present the Christian narrative in a public format, no matter what form or medium we're dealing with. Art in and for the Church and art produced by Christians for the world (which encompasses both Christians and non-Christians), should look different from one another, just as a conversation a believer holds in quiet with another believer will be qualitatively different from a lecture by a Christian believer to an audience that isn't Christian. I personally believe that Gibson didn't show adequate care in readying his film for the public sphere.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I'm not sure how "public" The Passion was supposed to be, really. Gibson had no reason to expect it to be all that successful, commercially -- I think it's pretty clear he made the movie simply because he felt a need to make it, for whatever personal reasons, and he happened to have the money to make it on his own, without any studio interference whatsoever -- and I'm quite happy to consider it as a deeply religious work that was co-opted (for lack of a better word) into the public sphere, just as religious icons and paintings are frequently co-opted (for lack of a better word) for display in secular museums.

This Moses movie, of course, has no such personal basis; it seems very clearly to be a commercially-driven studio product. What's more, the Moses story belongs to more than one faith, and so there are different ways to contextualize it religiously, even before we consider the possibility that the film may de-religiofy it. And that would be okay, too, really. It's kind of like Christmas: I would rather live in a society that had a secularized Christmas, and be able to tell people "Well hey here's what Christmas is REALLY all about," than live in a society that had no popular understanding of Christmas at all.

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De-religofy?

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I'm not sure how "public" The Passion was supposed to be, really. Gibson had no reason to expect it to be all that successful, commercially -- I think it's pretty clear he made the movie simply because he felt a need to make it, for whatever personal reasons, and he happened to have the money to make it on his own, without any studio interference whatsoever -- and I'm quite happy to consider it as a deeply religious work that was co-opted (for lack of a better word) into the public sphere, just as religious icons and paintings are frequently co-opted (for lack of a better word) for display in secular museums.

Fair enough.

This Moses movie, of course, has no such personal basis; it seems very clearly to be a commercially-driven studio product. What's more, the Moses story belongs to more than one faith, and so there are different ways to contextualize it religiously, even before we consider the possibility that the film may de-religiofy it. And that would be okay, too, really. It's kind of like Christmas: I would rather live in a society that had a secularized Christmas, and be able to tell people "Well hey here's what Christmas is REALLY all about," than live in a society that had no popular understanding of Christmas at all.

I'll quote Walker Percy's The Message in the Bottle:

The Christian novelist today is like a man who has found a treasure hidden in the attic of an old house, but he is writing for people who have moved out to the suburbs and who are bloody sick of the old house and everything in it.

The Christian novelist is like a starving Confederate soldier who finds a hundred-dollar bill on the streets of Atlanta, only to discover that everyone is a millionaire and the grocers won't take the money.

The Christian novelist is like a man who goes to a wild lonely place to discover the truth within himself and there after much ordeal and suffering meets an apostle who has the authority to tell him a great piece of news and so tells the news with authority. He, the novelist, believes the news and runs back to the city to tell his countrymen, only to discover the news has already been broadcast, that this news is in fact the weariest canned spot advertisement on radio-TV, more commonplace than the Exxon commercial, that in fact he might as well just be shouting Exxon! Exxon! for all anyone pays attention to him.

The Christian novelist is like a man who finds a treasure buried in a field and sells all he has to buy that field, only to discover that everyone else has the same treasure in his field and that in any case real estate values have gone so high that all field owners have forgotten the treasure and plan to subdivide.

Suffice to say, I'd rather speak to a culture that was not so familiar with Christianity, its narratives, and its symbolic vocabulary than one that is.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Suffice to say, I'd rather speak to a culture that was not so familiar with Christianity, its narratives, and its symbolic vocabulary than one that is.

I don't follow. For one thing, the Moses narrative is central to two major world religions, one of which is not Christianity. Much like Jesus, Moses always belongs to a much bigger group of "us" than we think he does. For another thing, in that section of Message in a Bottle, Percy is talking about fiction writers writing to Christians and non-Christians. Percy was always clear that authors should not write differently to these audiences as if they were distinct entities. Percy loved this kind of secularized use of biblical images. It was the cornerstone of his very modernist Southern bent.

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My gripe comes from my uniquely Christian concerns. As Christians, we should take great care with how we present the Christian narrative in a public format, no matter what form or medium we're dealing with. Art in and for the Church and art produced by Christians for the world (which encompasses both Christians and non-Christians), should look different from one another, just as a conversation a believer holds in quiet with another believer will be qualitatively different from a lecture by a Christian believer to an audience that isn't Christian. I personally believe that Gibson didn't show adequate care in readying his film for the public sphere.

This is very unique, and I am not even sure it is very Christian. Just as my conversations with non-Christian friends are not at all qualitatively different from my conversations with brothers and sisters, I don't think Christian artwork is anything different than... artwork. As a bookbinder, I seldom push aesthetics very hard in ways that would be discernable to non-specialists, but I make the same books for "the just and the unjust."

Not sure if I am reading you incorrectly or not, but this seems to be a pretty idiosyncratic view.

And from another direction, other than Muslim piety, I can't think of a spirituality that has been more public in the West for centuries than Catholic spirituality, of which Gibson's film is one of the greatest cinema documents.

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My gripe comes from my uniquely Christian concerns. As Christians, we should take great care with how we present the Christian narrative in a public format, no matter what form or medium we're dealing with. Art in and for the Church and art produced by Christians for the world (which encompasses both Christians and non-Christians), should look different from one another, just as a conversation a believer holds in quiet with another believer will be qualitatively different from a lecture by a Christian believer to an audience that isn't Christian. I personally believe that Gibson didn't show adequate care in readying his film for the public sphere.

I don't have a problem with this type of objection in principle, only insofar as you attach it to presenting the Passion devoid of the "context" of Jesus' life. Whether as an artistic concern or a spiritual one, I can't see the merit of that specific objection.

One more analogy and then I'm done. Suppose a group of Christians holds a large, public Good Friday procession, complete with a mock scourging in the town square, a bloodied Jesus carrying his cross down Main Street while bystanders jeer at him, and a mock crucifixion on the outskirts of town. No other context. Everyone in town sees it -- believers, nonbelievers, residents, people passing through.

To me, the lack of context is not something that warrants a spiritual critique. Same goes for TPOTC, though again it can be critiqued on other grounds.

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For one thing, the Moses narrative is central to two major world religions, one of which is not Christianity.

I was unclear in my quotation of Peter's post; I was referring more to the idea that Peter expressed that he'd rather have some kind of common ground to have the discussion--he used Christmas--regardless of whether it had been secularized or not. I'd rather preach to a culture where Christianity and its symbols were very new, than one where they're familiar and the symbolic language has been secularized. In other words, I'd rather explain Christmas to someone who has never even heard of it than try to explain "well hey here's what Christmas is REALLY all about" to someone who's celebrated it every year of their life and has no idea of the attached Christian meaning.

Much like Jesus, Moses always belongs to a much bigger group of "us" than we think he does. For another thing, in that section of Message in a Bottle, Percy is talking about fiction writers writing to Christians and non-Christians.

In that passage, in particular, he's dealing with the devaluation of Christian vocabulary, that it is "worn out." As he says before that discourse, "The old words of grace are worn smooth as poker chips and a certain devaluation has occurred, like a poker chip after it is cashed in."

Percy was always clear that authors should not write differently to these audiences as if they were distinct entities.

Perhaps, but a quotation of one passage of Percy's expressing a particular idea should not indicate that I thereby hold all of his beliefs.

This is very unique, and I am not even sure it is very Christian. Just as my conversations with non-Christian friends are not at all qualitatively different from my conversations with brothers and sisters, I don't think Christian artwork is anything different than... artwork. As a bookbinder, I seldom push aesthetics very hard in ways that would be discernible to non-specialists, but I make the same books for "the just and the unjust."

Not sure if I am reading you incorrectly or not, but this seems to be a pretty idiosyncratic view.

I may have been confusing in my reference to "art." What I mean, more specifically, is that art should tend to look different inside and outside of the Church when it references particularly Christian things, as a conversation between believers about Jesus will look very different from a conversation about Jesus between a believer an an unbeliever. There are, of course, exceptions to this idea, but I don't think it's somehow strange to suggest that the consideration of audience should shape the form that work eventually takes.

And from another direction, other than Muslim piety, I can't think of a spirituality that has been more public in the West for centuries than Catholic spirituality, of which Gibson's film is one of the greatest cinema documents.

Public, yes, but it is still mysterious for many, many people.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Paul's witness to the Gentiles was not grounded in a proclamation of Old Testament narratives and history. Of course the Mosaic narrative is important, but it's more important that it's preached within the Church than to culture as a whole, since without context, the Moses story won't have much to say to the culture. And I have a hard time imagining a film version providing that context without seeming hamfisted or awkward.

Sorry, couldn't let this go. It isn't? Romans 9-11? The entirety of the Corinthian correspondence? It has always been standard in New Testament studies, even among the Europeans of the mid-20th century, to start with Paul as Jew and work forward to Paul as missionary. And then, there are entire schools of thought with scores of monographs and articles describing how the gospels posit Jesus as a second Moses (which, coincidentally is also a very Rabbinic idea in reference to Messiah), which provides credible explanation for the shape of early Pauline witness as it is recorded in both Acts and the epistles.

If Moses doesn't have anything to say to culture, neither does Jesus. That is at the root of Paul's theology.

There are, of course, exceptions to this idea, but I don't think it's somehow strange to suggest that the consideration of audience should shape the form that work eventually takes.

It is strange, as what you are describing is propoganda. Who is the Christian artist making art for? God? The Church? Themselves? All good art is a form of witness, and I think there is a big Benjamian difference between witness and propoganda.

What does it mean that I became a believer through a combination of a Lewis book and an installation by a very non-Christian artist?

Edited by MLeary

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It isn't? Romans 9-11? The entirety of the Corinthian correspondence?

I distinguished between Paul's words to the Gentiles, and then Paul's words to believers. The Epistles are (generally) the latter.

If Moses doesn't have anything to say to culture, neither does Jesus. That is at the root of Paul's theology.

Broad theological generalizations follow:

Moses has plenty to say to Gentile culture, but through the person of Jesus Christ, who opens up the salvation to Israel to the rest of the world. Naturally, Jesus is grounded in the same theological arc that includes Moses, but the "entry point" for Gentiles is Jesus, not Moses. It's the Jews who are able to look forward from Moses to Jesus. Gentiles look backwards, from Jesus to Moses.

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I distinguished between Paul's words to the Gentiles, and then Paul's words to believers. The Epistles are (generally) the latter.

As the product of a decidedly Jewish individual. Paul was a Jew in the same way that earliest Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, so you won't find much agreement on the point you are trying to make in New Testament Studies. Most standard books on Paul have a good chapter on how this all works out.

:Moses has plenty to say to Gentile culture, but through the person of Jesus Christ.

Moses also has much to say to Gentile culture through Torah, hence the focus in the prophets on the way in which the Gentile world would be affected by an Israel that was faithful to the Law. These are the same prophets that bore witness to the coming Christ.

For the sake of the thread, it will probably be best if we drop this until the actual film comes out. In the meantime, I would be happy to send you a list of good books/articles on Paul, Moses, and Judaism if you are interested.

Edited by MLeary

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It is strange, as what you are describing is propoganda.

How so?

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Paul was a Jew in the same way that earliest Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, so you won't find much agreement on the point you are trying to make in New Testament Studies.

I'm not arguing that Judaism was somehow "unessential" to early Christianity (which, as you point out, was a Jewish sect), but that Paul--when making the introduction between Gentiles and Christianity--tended not to go through Jewish history to do it, at least as far as we have it recorded in the Scriptural accounts (excluding the Epistles, which are not a testimony to such an "introductory" moment), and that, theologically speaking, without Christ, Paul has no real reason to be speaking to the Gentiles at all, nor do the Gentiles have any real reason to listen.

For the sake of the thread, it will probably be best if we drop this until the actual film comes out.

Of course. I suggested I do as much a great many posts ago. I have no interest in hijacking a thread for an increasingly tangential discussion, no matter how interesting it might be.

In the meantime, I would be happy to send you a list of good books/articles on Paul, Moses, and Judaism if you are interested.

I certainly am. I'm always looking to expand my reading list, and I'll willingly grant that my ideas may be hopelessly naive (even if I'm not willing to take back what I've said just yet). That said, I have dipped my feet into such waters before; I've done some academic study regarding such topics, even if it hasn't been extensive.

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Which, I think, may itself reflect cultural differences as much as anything. TPOTC speaks from a milieu that finds the whole Gospel in the Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and even a lone crucifix. (I say "speaks from," not "speaks to"; clearly the movie was well received by a great many people who have no use for rosaries and crucifixes. A movie can speak from a particular milieu without being limited to speaking only to those who share that milieu; Into Great Silence is another example of that phenomenon. Neither film, of course, speaks to everyone ... but I don't think it constitutes a flaw in the works themselves.)

I can see this point. Afterall, Bill Maher is a fan of the POtC (and has defended it on his HBO show more than once when a guest might be referring to it negatively) which I would say is someone outside that milieu who saw somthing of worth in the film.

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Moses has plenty to say to Gentile culture, but through the person of Jesus Christ, who opens up the salvation to Israel to the rest of the world.

I am sure I don't agree with this. The African slaves in America, for example, definitely got a great deal from the story of Moses that wasn't mediated by Jesus Christ (not that they didn't also didn't get something of Moses mediated by Christ as well). I think the Moses story would have said something to the owners of those slaves as well, if they had been willing to hear it. The Moses story isn't just about freedom and oppression in an allegorical sense, it is also about freedom and oppression in a literal sense. By reading it ONLY as an allegory for Jesus, we tame it and make it safe. But it shouldn't be tame and it shouldn't be safe. We are the Israelites but we are also the Egyptians.

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I'd offer a response, Bowen (and I do think you have a good point, and it has caused me to reconsider some of my thoughts, which have been considered and written in haste), but for the sake of the thread, I'm going to cut off this particular thread of conversation right there.

So, back to the topic at hand: there's a "300-style" Moses flick coming from Fox. Any suggestions for director?

Edited by Ryan H.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: So, back to the topic at hand: there's a "300-style" Moses flick coming from Fox. Any suggestions for director?

Y'know, if it weren't for the fact that the name Braveheart has been thrown around too, I wouldn't be inclined to make too much of this 300 reference. It COULD be just a reference to the fact that the film will be shot against greenscreens. And there aren't many directors who have done that, so I don't know who to recommend.

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Bit late, but Ryan, I'm with you on Paul, and on TPOTC, but am always interested in new films versions of Bible stories as there's usually something that gives me a new angle on things or a new perspective on the original stories.

Matt

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