Filmsite Movie Review
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)

Plot Synopsis (continued)

At The Construction Site in Goshen - Moses' Superb Management of the Treasure City Building Project:

In Goshen, the site of Pharaoh Sethi's proposed treasure city project, new characters were introduced: cruel master builder Baka (Vincent Price), and slave taskmaster and overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson). The nasty Dathan was lustful for Lilia (Debra Paget), one of the pretty Hebrew water-girl slaves, who was in love with handsome Hebrew stonecutter Joshua (John Derek). Joshua vowed to defend Lilia from Dathan's unwanted attention, even though it meant punishment by death: "Dathan is a vulture feeding on the flesh of his own people....If he touches you, I'll strangle him with his own whip....Is life in bondage better than death?" She was hopeful that a deliverer would soon rescue them from enslavement.

Baka had recommended that Rameses speak to Dathan, known for his hard-hearted reputation, and the two briefly spoke about how he could possibly ferret out the identity of the Hebrews' would-be Deliverer. Rameses knew that Dathan would even sell out his mother: ("Rely on you to sell your own mother for a price"), and had "rat's ears and a ferret's nose" as well as "the eyes of a weasel." Dathan offered that it was possible to find out: "It is possible to learn."

While Moses was supervising and surveying the work at the construction site, one of the grease-women for the enormous granite stone blocks being moved - named Yochabel (Moses' mother) - became caught under the stone by her garment and was about to be crushed. One of the task-masters (Eric Alden) with a whip refused to halt the work: "We don't stop a moving block for an old woman." Joshua bravely struck the Egyptian with a whip in an attempt to save the elderly woman, knowing that resistance was punishable by death. Lilia rushed through the crowds of people to alert Prince Moses on the pavilion and ask for mercy for Joshua. Moses turned and unexpectedly reprimanded the heartless Baka who would have let her die: ("If they are killed, it is no loss"):

Blood makes poor mortar.

At the site of the incident, Moses freed Yochabel by cutting her garment, and then again scolded the cruel Baka who claimed the old woman's death would be no loss: ("If they are killed, it is no loss") - "Are you a master builder or a master butcher?" Moses briefly conversed with Joshua and was immediately impressed and amazed by his courage, bravery and selflessness to save an unknown woman, while aware that striking an Egyptian meant certain death for himself. He also realized that Joshua boldly spoke to him unlike a typical slave, when he proudly told Moses about his God and his longings for freedom:

Joshua: God made men. Men made slaves.
Moses: Which god?
Joshua: The God of Abraham, the Almighty God.
Moses: If your god is almighty, why does he leave you in bondage?
Joshua: He will choose the hour of our freedom and the man who will deliver us.

Moses' Instiitution of Slave Reforms:

As a result of the incident, Moses decided to release Joshua, and then immediately instituted a number of reforms to improve the working conditions of the Hebrew slaves:

  • "a ration of grain" -- a raid on the full temple granaries in Goshen to feed the starving workers
  • "a day of rest" -- one day of rest for the slaves - later known as "the day of Moses"

When cautioned by Rameses that the grain belonged to the temple's gods, Moses refused to change his mind: "What the gods can digest will not sour in the belly of a slave."

The Arousal of Rameses' Suspicions - and Jealousy:

Sethi was pleased with the construction work coming to an end, so he disregarded complaints from his high priest for emptying the temple granaries: "The city's being built and I'm winning this game, so don't interrupt us with trifles." Due to Moses' unusual support and regard for the Hebrews that hastened work on the project due to increased productivity, Rameses brought unfounded complaints and petitions to his father Sethi, to prejudice his opinion about Moses: "The slaves do not need a deliverer now. They have Moses." He alleged that his rival was planning to usurp his placement as the next Pharaoh, and might be planning some kind of revolt with his slave followers. Rameses and the greedy priests sensed a conspiracy and thought that Moses was turning out to be the "deliverer" that would free the slaves, although Sethi dismissed thoughts of betrayal

Princess Nefretiri: Are you afraid of Moses?
Rameses: Yes. He holds Ethiopia in his left hand, Goshen in his right, and you, my Pharaoh, are in between them.
Sethi: Do you imply that he would raise the slaves against me? I've been his father.

It was clear to the Princess that Rameses was trying to turn Sethi against Moses, although he counter-accused her of turning Sethi against him. Rameses was attempting to possess Princess Nefretiri as his own, although she despised him:

Rameses: Remember, my sweet, that you must be wife to the next Pharaoh, that you're going to be mine, all mine, like my dog or my horse or my falcon. Only I will love you more, and trust you less. You will never do the things to me you would have done to Moses. (They kissed) I know you, my sweet. You're a sharp-clawed, treacherous little peacock. But you're food for the gods, and I'm going to have all of you.
Princess: None of me. Did you think my kiss was a promise of what you'll have? No, my pompous one, it was to let you know what you will not have. I could never love you.
Rameses (imperiously): Does that matter? You will be my wife. You will come to me whenever I call you. And I will enjoy that very much. Whether you enjoy it or not is your own affair. But I think you will.

Sethi's Decision to Announce Moses as His Successor:

To observe progress for himself, Pharaoh Sethi (accompanied by Rameses) visited the construction site just as Moses was in the middle of supervising the uprighting of a giant obelisk stone to be positioned into place, requiring the precise work of 2,000 slaves on the ropes and 1,000 slaves removing sand from the stone's base. When Sethi was finally able to question the pre-occupied Moses about accusations made against him and his slave reforms: ("Did you do all of this to gain their favor?"), Moses wisely replied:

A city is built of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The starving make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations. Now, judge the results.

To please Sethi, Moses congratulated him for his military victory against the Amorites at Kadesh, to be commemorated by tall pylons. [Note: This was historically inaccurate. Rameses was Pharaoh when the victory occurred, and the battle at Kadesh was against the Hittites.] Rameses' alleged accusations appeared to fall by the wayside, as Moses presented his tremendous and impressive progress to Sethi, who softened and was very pleased with Moses' accomplishments. He was convinced that Rameses had falsely slandered his foster brother by calling him treasonous:

Moses: The pylons commemorate your victory at Kadesh, where you broke the Amorites.
Sethi: Are there any higher in Egypt?
Moses: There are none higher in the world.
Sethi: With so many slaves, you could build an army.
Moses: I have built a city. Sixteen of these lions of Pharaoh will guard its gates. And it shall be the city of Sethi's glory.
Sethi: Are these slaves loyal to Sethi's glory, or to you, Moses?
Moses: The slaves worship their god and I serve only you. Let your own image proclaim my loyalty for a thousand years.
Sethi: Superb! (summoning Rameses) Rameses! And this you call treason? Who would take a throne by force that he has earned by deeds? (To Moses) With this and Ethiopia, your name shall be carved beside mine on every pylon. (To Rameses) Yours, Rameses, will be nowhere. In my judgment book, you have accused your brother falsely.

With the completion of the treasure city imminent, Sethi decided that Moses would receive all the credit, and would be announced as his successor (deposing his natural son Rameses), and he would be marrying the Princess. Afterwards with Baka, Rameses expressed his seething anger at the thought of losing everything - and he threatened to change Moses' destiny:

The city that he builds shall bear my name. The woman that he loves shall bear my child. So it shall be written. So it shall be done.

Memnet's Treachery and Death at the Hands of Princess Nefretiri:

During Princess Nefretiri's joyful preparations for an imminent marriage to Moses, Memnet told her that she would never wear her wedding garment or marry Moses: ("You prepare for a marriage that will never be"). To prove her point, she spoke about the distinctive Levite cloth used to wrap baby Moses in the basket that she had secreted away: ("I have brought you a cloth more revealing"); Memnet shared her determined motivation to expose the truth of Moses' birth as a Hebrew - the son of slaves:

I shall not let the Pharaoh and Rameses be betrayed....For 30 years, I have been silent. Now, all the kings of Egypt cry out to me from their tombs: 'Let no Hebrew sit upon our throne.'...Rameses has the blood of many kings....(Moses) is lower than the dust. Not one drop of royal blood flows through his veins. He is the son of Hebrew slaves.

Nefretiri was astounded and furious about the accusations against her beloved Prince: "I'll have you torn into so many pieces, even the vultures won't find them. Who hatched this lie? Rameses?" Memnet went on to reveal how the slave-child Moses was drawn from the Nile by Bithiah (due to her "pain of an empty womb"), who then falsely declared Moses as her son and the future Prince of Egypt. She then described how she followed a little girl to the dwelling of a Hebrew woman named Yochabel, Moses' true biological mother, who then breast-fed the young child. When Nefretiri refused to believe the preposterous tale that slandered her love Moses, Memnet sarcastically suggested that after the Princess had borne a child with Moses, that she wrap their first-born child in the Levite cloth that she then produced. Furious at the thought, Nefretiri projected her frustrated anger at the "old frog" with "croakings of doom" by threatening that the cloth would be her "shroud." Off-screen, Memnet was pushed to her death over the balcony. She hoped that Memnet's death would silence the disturbing news and prevent it from reaching the ears of Rameses: ("You won't live to tell him").

Realizing that she had committed a heinous murder, and must now cover up the revelation and somehow protect Moses, the desperate Nefretiri was interrupted by the arrival of Moses, who sought her romantic attention: "You closed your doors to make a beggar of a prince?" She vowed to love him forever as the Pharaoh's wife who would subjugate herself to him:

Moses: You're a conqueror, and I am your captive for life.
Nefretiri: One lifetime will not be half enough. You will be King of Egypt. And I will be your footstool.

When news came of Memnet's death nearby, Nefretiri attempted to ignore concerns about the old woman's suspicious demise: ("I will not hear unhappy things tonight. Go away!"), and Moses thought it odd that she was so uncaring and pitiless for her long-time "faithful servant." She attempted to convince Moses that nothing could change their destinies as the future rulers of Egypt: "One who loves you and will not lose you. One who will be your wife. Nothing in the world can change that. Nothing. Neither Rameses' princely plots nor Memnet's evil lies....let her threats be buried with her."

Moses' Learning of His True Heritage and Destiny:

Nefretiri was forced to confess what had happened after Moses found the piece of Levite cloth ("A piece of Hebrew cloth!"). She reluctantly told him that she had killed Memnet to keep her damning secrets quiet, and to protect him. When Moses insistently questioned to know why she had killed for him, she divulged his true heritage based upon the evidence - the piece of cloth:

She was taking it to Rameses - to destroy you...A child was wrapped in it...Bithiah took him from the river. Memnet was with her...You were not born Prince of Egypt, Moses, but the son of Hebrew slaves.

He realized that she had risked murdering Memnet to hide the truth: ("Love cannot drown truth, Nefretiri. You do believe it, or you would not have killed Memnet"). She also revealed that his real mother's name was Yochabel.

Moses first sought out Bithiah, his foster mother, who wanted Moses to give up his pursuit for more information: ("Put away any fears or suspicions that may remain with you, my son. Why, your will will be law in Egypt when you are crowned and sceptered as her king"), but Moses didn't stop there. He vowed that he would love her forever as the only mother he had never known, no matter what happened: ("Wherever I am led or whatever I must do, I will always love you").

Bithiah immediately hurried to Goshen to arrive before Moses at the home of Yochabel. Bithiah pleaded with Yochabel to deny that Moses was her son. However, Yochabel responded how she couldn't hide the truth: "My lips might deny him, great one, but my eyes never could." Bithiah urged her to leave Egypt immediately with her family: ("You shall leave Goshen, you and your family, tonight"), but Yochabel refused: "We are Levites, appointed shepherds of Israel. We cannot leave our people." Yochabel explained how as Moses' true mother, who had given him life, she had longed for Moses for 30 years after giving him up:

My heart ached for him. And my arms ached to hold him, but I dared not even touch the hem of his garment. His heritage from me could only have been misery, poverty and the lash.

Yochabel also vowed to not do anything to destroy the "glory and riches" that were offered to Moses as a royal Prince. Thankful, Bithiah promised that Yochabel and her family would have all their wants and needs cared for - and would be given their freedom from slavery if they immediately departed. Yochabel added that whatever happened to Moses, he would undoubtedly seek his own true destiny: "If the God of Abraham has a purpose for my son, he will come to know it and fulfill it."

Moses' Visit with His True Mother and Family in Goshen:

Suddenly, Moses arrived by chariot, entered, and after hearing Bithiah's promise, he reminded her that her words were untrue: "Only a Pharaoh can free a slave." He immediately realized that Yochabel was "the woman who was caught between the stones." Moses was also 'caught' between two mothers and future life choices - and he asked Bithiah and then Yochabel: "Am I your son? Or yours?":

  • his foster mother Bithiah who had raised him
  • his biological mother Yochabel

Yochabel answered Moses' question - and explained how her real son would be a slave who hoped for deliverance and loved the Almighty God:

No, you are not my son. If you believe that men and women are cattle to be driven under the lash, if you can bow before idols of stone and golden images of beasts, you are not my son. My son would be a slave. His hands would be gnarled and broken from the brick pits, his back scarred from the taskmaster's whip, but in his heart would burn the spirit of the living God.

Bithiah presented a different perspective about the Hebrew God, the hopelessness of slaves, and how Moses was instead destined to royal greatness:

Moses: Does this God demand a scarred back and broken hands as the price of his favor?
Bithiah: This desert god is the hope of the hopeless. Your place is in the palace halls. You have mounted to the sun on golden wings. You belong to me, to Nefretiri, to Sethi, to all those who love you.
Moses: Do they love less who have no hope?

Moses challenged Yochabel to deny that she was his mother: ("Will you swear in the name of this god that you are not my mother?...Look into my eyes and tell me you are not my mother"), but she couldn't lie: ("Oh, Moses, Moses! I cannot, I cannot"). Moses was introduced to Yochabel's adult children: Moses' grown sister Miriam (Olive Deering) and his brother Aaron (John Carradine). He refused to feel "shame" for being a Hebrew.

The Prince of Egypt now realized that in only a few moments' time, his whole identity, heritage, and destiny had been transformed - and it was a major turning point in his life. He vowed to stay with his true family and follow his Hebrew heritage, and learn of their hardships and way of life:

Moses: What change is there in me? Egyptian or Hebrew, I am still Moses. These are the same hands, the same arms, the same face that were mine a moment ago.
Yochabel: A moment ago, you were her son, the strength of Egypt. Now, you are mine, a slave of Egypt. You find no shame in this?
Moses: There is no shame in me. How can I feel shame for the woman who bore me? Or the race that bred me?
Yochabel: God of my fathers.
Moses: (as he handled his Levite cloth) This is the binding tie. Here I will stay, to find the meaning of what I am. Why a Hebrew, or any man, must be a slave.

Moses ordered his family to not pack or leave Goshen. As Bithiah departed, she questioned whether Moses would be fulfilled by adopting his slavery status:

Bithiah: Has she done more for you than I? Will the life she gave you be more useful in the black pits of slavery? Cannot justice and truth be served better upon a throne where all men may benefit from your goodness and strength?
Moses: I do not know what power shapes my way, but my feet are set upon a road that I must follow. Forgive me, Bithiah.

Convinced that Moses was the Hebrew people's Deliverer, Yochabel prayed to God for an end to their bondage through Moses:

God of our fathers, who has appointed an end to the bondage of Israel, blessed am I among all mothers in the land, for my eyes have beheld thy deliverer.

Moses' Search For His Identity With the Slaves:

The voice-over narrator described the life of endless toil by the slaves ("children of misery") in the mud-pits to make bricks, where Moses worked side-by-side with the slaves that he had once ruled over and commanded:

(voice-over) Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the com, making straw for the bricks of Egypt, nor spare the arms that endlessly winnow the grain in the wind to separate the wheat from the chaff, wheat borne stolidly on the backs of countless slaves from the heavy-laden Nile boats to the teeming shore. Endlessly they plod beneath the sheaves of wheat and endlessly return for more. A golden harvest to the threshers, a grain safe to feed the masters, bitterness to feed the slaves, and to feed the brick pits, straw, carried on the bowed backs of women down into the never-ending valley of toil and agony, stretching mile after mile. An inferno of mud-soaked bodies, where the treaders' feet churn clay and straw into the mixture for the Pharaoh 's bricks. And everywhere the lash of watchful taskmasters ready to sting the backs of the weary. Blades chopping straw. Mattocks chopping clay. A ceaseless cycle of unending drudgery. From the mixing feet of treaders to the pouring hands of brick molders moves the constant stream of mud, the lowly seed of tall cities, day after day, year after year, century after century. Bondage without rest, toil without reward. These are the children of misery, the afflicted, the hopeless, the oppressed. And he went out unto his brethren and looked on their burdens.

Moses (with an "unscarred back") watched, participated and observed the daily struggles of the Hebrew slaves, including seeing those he had encountered earlier: water-girl Lilia (who remained in love with the stone-cutter Joshua) and master-builder Baka and overseer Dathan who wished to take Lilia ("The lotus flower blooms in the Nile's gray mud") from the mud-pits and make her his house-slave, although she resisted: ("Do not take me from my people!"), and threatened "danger" (a reference to Joshua's protection). However, Baka ordered "the girl" to be taken to his home.

Nearby, an elderly mud-pit worker objected to the back-breaking struggle to live and the defilement of his people:

You rot our bodies, steal hope from our souls. Must you also shame and defile our women?...We are not animals, we are men, made in the image of God.

The slave was mercilessly whipped, and then for his continuing criticisms, he was lethally wounded by a sword thrown into his abdomen. As the dying slave collapsed in the mud, Moses came to his aid: "I'll not leave a man to die in the mud." As the old man died in Moses' arms, he ironically claimed that he had not seen his deliverer before his death:

Thank you, my son. But death is better than bondage, for my days are ended and my prayer unanswered...That before death closed my eyes, I might behold the deliverer who will lead all men to freedom.

Moses Retrieved From the Mud-Pits and Again With Nefretiri:

Meanwhile, Nefretiri arrived with the excuse that she needed a strong slave to serve as another oarsman on her barge. She selected Moses from the mud-pit. Later back in the palace with him, she chastised Moses (still muddy and only with a loin-cloth) for his decision to lower himself to the slave-level:

First friend of the Pharaoh, keeper of the royal seal, Prince of On, Prince of Memphis, Prince of Thebes, beloved of the Nile god, conqueror of Ethiopia, general of generals, commander of the Egyptian Host, a man of mud! Is that what you want? To be a slave? Then why aren't you kneeling at the feet of a princess?

Then, when Moses resisted, Nefretiri evaluated her once-princely lover as foolish - but still loveable:

Oh, Moses! Moses! You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!

She claimed that she had been worried about him, and asked why he had to wallow in the mudpits and be away from her arms. He responded that his mission was to help his people and save them from the stains of stenches of slavery and injustice. She persuasively believed that the best way for Moses to aid his people was to become the ruling Pharaoh: ("If you want to help your people, come back to the palace"). Moses knew that he would have to deceive Sethi in order to return: ("And hide the truth from Sethi? That I am Hebrew and a slave?").

She also urged him to consider the consequences if Rameses became the new ruler in his place:

Nefretiri: Think of us and stop hearing the cries of your people.
Moses: Their god does not hear their cry.
Nefretiri: Will Rameses hear it if he is Pharaoh? No. He would grind them into the clay they mold, double their labors. What about me? Think of me as his wife. Do you want to see me in Rameses' arms?
Moses: No!
Nefretiri: Then come back with me. Oh, Moses! The gods have fashioned you for greatness. The splendor of your name will last beyond the pyramids. When you are Pharaoh, you can free your people, worship whatever gods you please, so long as I can worship you.

Moses agreed that he would return to the palace on Sethi's Jubilee day, but first had "a call to make on the master builder" - on Baka, who had seized Lilia to be his house slave.

Moses' Deadly Assault on Baka - and Joshua's Reaction to Moses - That He Was Possibly the Hebrew People's 'Deliverer':

In the next sequence, Lilia was being adorned with an elegant golden gown by Baka, who then dismissed Dathan to take Lilia's muddy slave clothes away. Baka attempted to force Lilia to loosen up by drinking "the blood of Thracian grapes, the wine of love," but she refused: "No wine can change my love." Alerts came that the chariot house was on fire, as a distraction set by Joshua who had come to rescue Lilia. She ran off during the confusion, as Dathan was ordered to take charge. Joshua was seized and ordered by the callous Baka to be bound between two columns, where Baka prepared to personally whip him to death. Baka bragged about his whipping skills: "You've seen me drive my chariot. I can flick a fly from my horse's ear without breaking the rhythm of his stride. You've seen me use my whip....It's a pity to kill so strong a stonecutter."

Moses interrupted and confronted Baka for threatening death to Joshua: "Death will bring death, Baka." Moses killed Baka with his bare hands, causing an astonished Joshua to ask why he had killed a fellow Egyptian. Moses confessed that he was Hebrew, but denied that he was the Hebrew people's Deliverer:

Joshua: Why have you done this?...Why are you dressed as a slave? Why does a prince of Egypt kill the Pharaoh's master builder to save a Hebrew?
Moses: I am Hebrew.
Joshua (excitedly): God of Abraham. Four hundred years we've waited.
Moses: The Pharaoh's soldiers won't wait so long.
Joshua: The Almighty has heard our cries from bondage. You are the chosen one.
Moses: I know nothing of your god.
Joshua: He knows you, Moses. He has brought you to us. You cannot turn your back upon us. You will deliver us. The finger of God points the way to you.

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