Do you remember how I said that The Ten Commandments should have ended at the parting of the Sea of Reeds, but it doesn’t, and as a result the ending is anticlimactic and a downer? You don’t? Is it because that was ages ago, or because I have no readership?
Anyway, the movie basically ends with this chapter plus an epilogue from Deuteronomy, and man does it take liberties with the plot, ones that massively effect the tone of the piece.
You see, in the movie, all that Moses gets while he’s up on the mountain is the Ten Commandments. Rather than getting a very long series of instructions which would have taken considerable time to inscribe, as depicted in the Bible, God burns the commandments into stone tablets veeeeerrrrry slowly. It’s supposed to be dramatic, but honestly, it gets dull after a while.
Meanwhile, this means that God didn’t announce the commandments from the mountain where everyone could hear them. Therefore it’s hard to fault the people for wanting a graven image in the movie, whereas in Exodus they’d already been told that God wasn’t keen on those.
The movie also tries to shift blame on whose idea it was to make the calf. Edward G. Robinson plays this complete slimeball of an Israelite who sold out to the Egyptians and is implied to be taking sexual advantage of Joshua’s beloved Lilia. It’s his idea to make a golden calf, and he and the crowd pressure Aaron into making it.
But the Biblical account doesn’t have any of that. The Israelites ask for gods, and Aaron completely on his own comes up with the idea to collect gold and make a calf. His excuse to Moses is absolutely pathetic: “So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” (v 24) “I mean, it’s not my fault, this calf just appeared out of nowhere after I put the gold in!” Great guy that God picked to be his chief priest, huh?
Setting aside the Hollywood midrash here, the far more interesting idea in this is of God changing his mind. The NRSV says that Moses “implored” God (v 11), but the NCT says that he “calmed God down.” God’s ready to destroy the Israelites and start over with just Moses’ children, but Moses is able to convince him otherwise: “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.” (v 12)
Just as I was thinking over the theological implications of people being able to convince God to change his mind, it hit me. Moses goes on and on about God cooling his divine head and not getting angry at his people…. and then goes and gets massively angry at the people! In fact, it’s described in the same terms. God says his “wrath burn[s] hot against them” (v 10), and then later “Moses’ anger burned hot.” (v 19) Aaron even slips into Moses’ role, begging his brother not to “let the anger of my lord burn hot” (v 22). Then, after begging God not to inflict a disaster on people, Moses has a group of Levites go kill a ton of them, then goes back and begs God to forgive everyone.
But here’s the thing – God already had. Moses already talked God out of wiping out the people. What is Moses afraid of? Why does he think he has to offer himself up in the Israelites’ place? Does he not believe that he changed God’s mind? Or is he projecting his own anger onto God? God does say that he’s going to blot out the people who committed sins against him someday (a vague “day of punishment” in verse 34), and there’s a very brief mention of some plague or other (v 35), without any mention of death tolls. Yet it feels like, to me at least, the violent, angry one in this is Moses, not God, who’s ready to cool his jets with just a bit of persuasion.
And I know, Exodus 22:20, “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.” Moses is just following the law. But like I said, God seemed ready to forgive. Moses didn’t.
The Japanese: …ni sakidatte “before, ahead of” (v 1), chuuzou “a cast image” (v 4), sengen suru “to declare, to proclaim” (v 5), tawamureru “to frolic” (v 6), daraku shita “corrupted, rotten” (v 7), soreru “to stray, to veer off” (v 8), katakuna “stubborn” (v 9), nadameru “to soothe, calm down” (v 11), hirugaesu “to reverse, to change one’s mind” (v 15), hisseki “handwriting” (v 16), doyomeku “to ring (voices, laughter, etc.)” (v 17), haisen “defeat” (v 18), azakeri “scorn, derision” (v 25).