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

4. The Death of the First-Born with a Greenish Smoke - During "Passover"

During Moses' third appearance before Rameses, the scornful ruler denied Moses' entreaties and refused to "humble" himself. Instead, he proclaimed: "I know not his god! Neither will I let his people go." He then threatened to bring violence by his own hand:

If you bring another plague upon us, it is not your god but I who will turn the Nile red with blood.

Moses stipulated that the terrible and final plague described by Rameses II would be summoned from the Pharaoh's own lips and words - and turned back against himself:

As your father's father turned the streets of Goshen red with the blood of our male children! If there is one more plague on Egypt, it is by your word that God will bring it. And there shall be so great a cry throughout the land that you will surely let the people go.

Once Moses left, the enraged Rameses carried through on his threat by ordering that on the following day at dawn, his soldiers would kill all first-born Israelites:

There shall be one more plague, only it will come upon the slaves of Goshen! First-born of each house shall die, beginning with the son of Moses.

Meanwhile, fearing that the Pharaoh's decree would cause the murder of Moses' son Gershom, Queen Nefretiri visited with Moses' "shepherd girl" wife Sephora in Goshen, where they both admitted that they had lost Moses under different circumstances. As Queen, she offered protection to save her son from Pharaoh's decree ("the first-born of Israel must die") by helping them to join a passing caravan to Midian.

When Moses returned and found his home empty, Nefretiri appeared from the shadows to reveal her desire to re-establish herself with Moses: ("I belong to you, Moses"). When she explained how his family members were on their way to Midian, she was also forced to explain Rameses' specific murderous orders and warn him in advance: "Rameses is massing the Libyan axmen, the chariots, the Sardinian swordsmen...To destroy the first-born of Israel." Moses informed her that she was sadly mistaken, and that her son would be the one to die - and that he could not intervene with God and save him:

My God! Out of his own mouth comes thy judgment!...It is not my son who will die! It is the first-born of Egypt! It is your son, Nefretiri!...In the hardness of his heart, Pharaoh has mocked God and brings death to his own son!...By myself, I am nothing. It is the power of God which uses me to work his will... I cannot save yours (referring to her son)....About midnight, the Destroyer will come into the midst of Egypt and all the first-born shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh to the first-born of his servants....It is the Lord who executes judgment, Nefretiri. Go back to your son.

Before departing, Nefretiri expressed her confidence that Moses would help protect her son from God's harm. In frustration, Moses vainly begged for God to not show his wrath: "Turn from thy fierce wrath, O Lord!"

The Hebrews knew that if they painted their doorposts and lintel with the blood of lambs, they could prevent the spreading greenish and glowing 'cloud of death' that night from killing their first-born inside. To protect Lilia (a first-born adult), Joshua offered to paint the door at Governor Dathan's house where she was being held. He begged Dathan: "Dathan, it will save her life!", but Dathan refused.

[Note: During the 10th plague, the moon should have been depicted as full, rather than as crescent-shaped. As the Passover is now celebrated, it begins on the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox.]

In a very effective sequence, a slowly-creeping terrifying "Angel of Death" approached through the Egyptian streets. Meanwhile, Bithiah was released (with some of her bearers) ("In fear of your god, they have set me free"), and was welcomed into Moses' home in Goshen. Although Bithiah was accused of being an "idol-worshipper" from the house of the Pharaoh, Moses greeted her openly: "This woman drew me from the Nile and set my feet upon the path of knowledge." She joined their celebration of the Passover -- recounted during the plague when "the breath of pestilence" passed-over the homes of the Hebrews, many of whom were sequestered inside and feasting on unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The ritual was explained to Eleazar (Paul De Rolf as child):

The herbs remind us of the bitterness of our captivity, Eleazar. But it shall not come nigh thee. This is the bread of haste, that you will remember this night from generation to generation forever...It passes those who have believed the Lord. Always remember, Eleazar, he passed over your house.

The 10th plague was devastating - it extinguished the lives of all first-born Egyptians, including the adult son of the Pharaoh's top general (in Rameses II's presence), and then the Pharaoh's own son and heir.

The Defeated and Despairing Pharaoh:

The Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses to his presence, to announce that his will had been broken, and that the slaves were now to be freed. The despairing, defeated and grief-stricken Pharaoh finally relented, and gave up on his plan to murder the Israelites' first-born. He submitted to Moses and his powerful God and ordered Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt:

Pharaoh: You have conquered, Moses. The foot of a slave is on the neck of Egypt. You were saved from the Nile to be a curse upon me. Your shadow fell between me and my father, between me and my fame, between me and my Queen. Your shadow now fills all things with death. Go out from among us, you and your people. I set you free.
Moses: It is not by your word, nor by my hand that we are free, Pharaoh. The power of God has freed us.
Pharaoh: Enough of your words! Take your people, your cattle, your god and your pestilence. Take what spoils from Egypt you will, but go!

Moses offered a prayer of thanks for the peoples' deliverance:

O Lord God, with a strong hand thou dost bring us out of bitter bondage. Tomorrow we go forth a free nation, where every man shall reap what he has sown and bow no knee except in prayer. We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go, for I know that the Lord is great and that our Lord is above all gods.

Nefretiri carried in the dead body of their son, prompting Rameses II to place his son's limp body into the arms of an idol - the Falcon deity Sokar, to beg, pray and restore his young son's life:

Sokar, great lord of the lower world, I, who have denied the gods of Egypt, bow before you now. Show that you have power above the god of Moses, and restore the life he has taken from my son. Guide back his soul across the lake of death to the place of living men, and I will raise a temple to you mightier than the pyramids. Hear me, dread lord of darkness....

The Exodus From Egypt:

The major Exodus from Egypt commenced the next day at dawn ("Arose, O Israel! Behold the dawn of freedom!") - prefacing a journey to a Promised Land "flowing with milk and honey":

(voice-over) And it came to pass, after the stifling night of terror, came a day such as the world had never seen. From east and west, from north and south, they came with all they had, driving their flocks and their herds and their camels before them. By tens, by hundreds, by thousands, unending streams of man and beast and burden, and even very much cattle, poured into the Avenue of Sphinxes. Beneath the stone feet of the four colossal images of Rameses, which their own sweat and blood and sinew had hewn from solid rock, a nation arose and freedom was born into the world.

Meanwhile, at Governor Dathan's home in Goshen, Egyptian guard soldiers arrived after reports that lamb's blood had been painted on the sides of his door-frame. Dathan denied he had any part in it, but he was still blamed and despised for his cowardly hypocrisy, and thrown out of his house. (Earlier, although Dathan forbid Joshua to paint the doorframe with blood, the stonecutter had insured that Lilia would live by protecting the dwelling.) Lilia rebuked her master: "All your gold cannot wipe that mark from your door, Dathan, or from my heart." Dathan was reluctantly forced to join the hordes of Israelites leaving Egypt.

(voice-over) Like Dathan, they did not know where they were going, and they cared no more than the flocks and herds they drove. Now they used the brick yokes to carry a very different burden. And there went forth among them planters of vineyards and sowers of seeds, each hoping to sit under his own vine and fig tree. Out of this glorious chaos, it is Joshua who brings order and purpose.

The masses of people were organized into tribes (each with a standard) by Joshua ("Levites in the center, Judah to the right, Hephron to the left"). The bones and shrouded remains of Joseph were also carried along by Aaron and the elders, to be buried at their destination. From "treasure wagons," the "spoils of Egypt" (golden calf idol statues with horns - a foreshadowing) were tossed to onlookers.

Although joyous preparations were being made to vacate from Egypt, Dathan grumbled as he predicted that the freed Israelites would soon be complaining about new "taskmasters" who would lead them to their doom, causing the people to wish to return to their previous lives of servitude:

That rabble may follow Moses into the desert today, but when their eyes are seared red by the sun, when their cracked lips bleed with thirst, when their stomachs cramp with hunger, they will curse the name of Moses and his god. Then I, Dathan, will lead them back to Pharaoh and the brick pits.

With trumpets sounding at the start of their momentous journey to Mt. Sinai ("the mountain of God") where they were to receive God's commandments (in their minds and hearts), Moses was overwhelmed by the sight of so many multitudes of Hebrews, who were being led by "the strong hand of the Lord" out of bondage:

There are so many, so many. How shall I find thy road through the wilderness, Lord? How shall I find water in the desert for this multitude?

Confident that they were ready to leave, Moses extended his arms to beseech the people to leave Egypt after enduring 400 years of slavery: "Remember this day, when the strong hand of the Lord leads you out of bondage!"

(voice-over) And he brought forth the people with joy and gladness. He bore them out of Egypt as an eagle bears its young upon its wings.

Rameses' Second-Thoughts About the Exodus:

Shortly later, however, Rameses II began to have second-thoughts about releasing the Hebrew slaves to Moses.

(voice-over) But again, Pharaoh's heart was hardened.

Deep in mourning for the loss of his heir-son, the Pharaoh had been fruitlessly praying to his "Dread Lord of Darkness," the falcon-headed god Sokar, but was not receiving any response. His calculating, vengeful wife Nefretiri taunted Rameses about how he had not properly punished Moses, who had come back to haunt both of them. The God of Moses had proven himself to be powerful than the Egyptian idol: "He cannot hear you. He's nothing but a piece of stone with the head of a bird." She claimed that he was weak and impotent as Egypt's ruler, and that the freed Hebrews were laughing at him:

Nefretiri: You are nothing. You let Moses kill my son. No god can bring him back. What have you done to Moses? How did he die? Did he cry for mercy when you tortured him? Bring me to his body! I want to see it, Rameses! I want to see it!
Rameses II: This is my son. He would have been Pharaoh. He would have ruled the world. Who mourns him now? Not even you. All you can think of is Moses. You will not see his body. I drove him out of Egypt. I cannot fight the power of his God.
Nefretiri: His God? The priests say that Pharaoh is a god, but you are not a god, you are even less than a man....Do you hear laughter, Pharaoh? Not the laughter of kings, but the laughter of slaves on the desert!

Spurred on to revenge, Rameses II ordered his charioteers to be assembled at the city gate, to pursue the freed slaves - and to avenge the death of his son: "My son, I shall build your tomb upon their crushed bodies! If any escape me, their seed shall be scattered and accursed forever! My armor. War crown. Laughter? I will turn the laughter of these slaves into wails of torment! They shall remember the name of Moses, only that he died under my chariot wheels!"

As he was dressed in armor and prepared for his chariot pursuit, Neferetiri urged Rameses II to personally punish Moses, and to rid him once and for all for the two of them: "Kill him with your own hands." She presented him with a sword and a request: "Bring it back to me stained with his blood." Rameses II angrily replied: "I will - to mingle with your own."

The Egyptians vs. the Israelites - The Parting of the Red Sea:

Mounted on a chariot and wearing a bright-blue helmet, Rameses II exhorted his military forces to overtake the Hebrews and conquer them: "Remember your first-born! Death to the slaves!...Death to their god!" The Egyptian forces (heard as "the thunder of horses") caught up to the Hebrews as they were camped by the shore of the Red Sea.

[Note: Many scholars and theorists proposed the idea that the "Red Sea" in the Biblical account did not refer to the very expansive, long and narrow, north-to-south strip of deep water known today as the Red Sea. Instead, the Israelites probably crossed the "Sea of Reeds" - a marshy area of heavy papyrus growth, located in the Eastern Nile Delta region, just south of the Mediterranean Sea, and north of the modern day Red Sea. In Exodus 14:2, the Bible quoted where the Israelites were seemingly trapped - "in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon." The 'Sea of Reeds' might then have referred to the Lake of Tanis, a shallow, brackish lagoon where strong winds blew back the water enough to create a dry seabed.]

Joshua immediately feared that they were "trapped" against the sea's edge. Dathan spurred dissent and division as he observed the approach of the Pharaoh's armed military might, and some cried out that Moses should be punished to death by stoning:

Hear me! Can mattocks stop arrows? Will your little carts stop Pharaoh's Chariots? You women, do you want to see your men killed?...Look, look! Blame Moses for this! Deliver him to Pharaoh!

Joshua attempted to assemble some of the men to form a barrier to block the approach of the Egyptians at the pass, while the women and children were directed toward the water. Moses overruled Joshua's orders and instead called upon the "hand of God" to deliver the people from harm. Pharaoh Rameses II also observed how the people were trapped, and criticized Moses' God for leaving the people no exit route:

The god of Moses is a poor general, to leave him no retreat.

Moses questioned why the people wouldn't trust in God: "Ten times you have seen the miracles of the Lord! And still you have no faith." Dathan became accusatory toward Moses' leadership: "He's a false prophet who delivers you to death!...Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the wilderness?"

With dramatic flourish, Moses called upon the power of the Lord: ("Fear not! Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord!") to establish a pillar of fire to hold back and stall the Egyptian army's approach.

Then, in one of the most miraculous visual effects scenes in film history (in the pre-digital and CGI-era), with a backdrop of dark churning clouds, Moses used his staff to part the Red Sea by creating huge walls of water on either side, with a dry and clear path for the people to walk on.

The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us! Behold his mighty hand!

The people marveled, including a young boy and an old blind man (John Miljan):

  • The wind opens the sea!
  • God opens the sea with the blast of his nostrils

The masses of Hebrews escaped by being led into the midst of the waters, but were kept dry on the sea-bed between the two massive walls of water, and were able to make it to safety on the other side. Although Rameses II was warned by one of his generals to give up the pursuit: ("He opens the waters before them, and he bars our way with fire. Let us go from this place. Men cannot fight against a god!"), Rameses decided to remain in place behind the Pillar of Fire: ("Better to die in battle with a god, than live in shame").

When the Pillar of Fire suddenly died, the Pharaoh ordered his pursuit to recommence: "Sound the pursuit!...Destroy them all! But bring Moses to me alive." Seeing the continuation of the pursuit behind them, Dathan again exhorted the people to lose faith: "Better to serve the Egyptians than to die here!" The Pharaoh watched in horror as his charioteers were caught mid-way across after Moses ordered the Red Sea to be restored: ("Who shall withstand the power of God? Thou didst blow with Thy winds, and the sea covered them!"). The Egyptians were drowned as the waves of waters came back together over them. Moses gave thanks for their deliverance: "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord? From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God!"

[Note: In the Biblical account (Psalm 136:15), it was implied that the Pharaoh drowned with his army.]

The defeated Rameses II finally understood that he was overpowered and decided to give up the pursuit. Devastated, he returned to his deserted palace where - although he wanted to strike Nefretiri with his sword - he admitted that Moses' God had defied him and was victorious:

His god - is God.

The Disgruntled Hebrew People at the Foot of Mt. Sinai Awaiting Moses' Return:

The Hebrews crossed the wilderness and camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, where the people awaited Moses' return ("for 40 days and 40 nights") after he had ascended to the top of the mountain, to receive God's word and laws, according to the narrator:

(voice-over) And Moses led Israel from the Red Sea into the wilderness of Sinai. And they camped before the holy mountain. And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mountain, they gathered themselves together.

The leaderless people, who thought they would be arriving at a "land flowing with milk and honey," were beginning to become anxious and lose hope and faith. They were becoming easily swayed by Dathan's grumblings. Some were doubtful that Moses would ever return, and that he possibly died on the "forbidden ground." Sephora tried to calm the restless people, "Moses went up into the forbidden ground to receive God's law!" And Bithiah tried to reinforce her: " Would a God who's shown you such wonders let Moses die before his work is done?"

An impatient demagogue, Dathan began to stir up division and rebellion, and he questioned Aaron's leadership:

You, Aaron? Can you lead us to this land of promise? Do you know where it is?

Dathan proposed returning to Egypt where at least they would have food: "Where could I bring you, except to Egypt?"

The Creation of the Golden Calf, and The Issuance of the Ten Commandments:

Dathan proposed that the people construct an Egyptian idol - a large golden calf - that would go before them and lead them back to Egypt, where the Pharaoh would take them back, forgive them, and feed them. He appointed co-conspirator Korah (Ramsay Hill) as the Golden Calf's High Priest.

You could make one for us, Aaron....You will make a god for us! A god of gold! A golden calf! Korah shall be the high priest! Bring baskets! Buckets! Shawls! Anything you have! Break off your earrings, your bracelets, your necklaces! We will make of them a golden calf! The golden spoils we took from Egypt!

A reluctant Aaron was forcibly prodded by the people to manufacture the idol. The voice-over narrator described how the people constructed the calf (from molden gold) and sinfully engaged in idolatry. They also began to behave wantonly and decadently by worshipping the golden calf, and by participating in a perverse orgy of selfishness, drinking, nakedness violence and indulgence - by adorning themselves with rich clothing as they danced around the idol. Dathan even ordered Lilia to be sacrificed to the idol:

(voice-over) And they overlaid the image with pure gold. And Aaron fashioned it and smoothed it with the hammer, ready to be graven by cunning art and man's device. And he fastened it with nails that it should not move. And he that smote the anvil did beat the molten gold into thin plates. For they had gathered their treasure into the midst of the furnace, and did blow the fire upon it to melt it. And they adorned themselves in rich apparel and costly array, with veils of blue and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen wrought in Egypt. And the women tread grapes from Midian into new wine....

And the people sinned a great sin, for they had made them a god of gold. And they bore him upon their shoulders and rejoiced, saying, 'This be our god, O Israel.'... They were as children who had lost their faith. They were perverse and crooked and rebellious against God. They did eat the bread of wickedness, and drank the wine of violence, and they did evil in the eyes of the Lord. And the people cried, 'The graven image hath brought us joy,' and they worshipped the golden calf and sacrificed unto it....

And the people rose up to play, and did eat and drink. They were as the children of fools and cast off their clothes. The wicked were like a troubled sea whose waters cast up mire and dirt. They sank from evil to evil and were viler than the earth. And there was rioting and drunkenness, for they had become servants of sin. There was manifest all manner of ungodliness and works of the flesh. Even adultery and lasciviousness, uncleanness, idolatry and rioting, vanity and wrath. And they were filled with iniquity and vile affections. And Aaron knew that he had brought them to shame.

Meanwhile, atop the mountain, interspersed with the narrator's comments about how the people were disobeying God ("I am the Lord thy God"), Moses listened as God delivered the 10 Commandments to him. He watched as the fiery "finger of God" carved out, engraved and created the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets - all of which were being demonstrated by the disobedient and corrupt Hebrews.

  • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  • Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
  • Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honor thy father and thy mother.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor's.

At the conclusion of the sequence, Moses took the two tablets from the wall of rock, and was ordered to return to his debauched people and share God's laws with them: "Go! Get thee down, for thy people have corrupted themselves."

Moses' Return to His Idolatrous People:

During Moses' climb down the mountain, Joshua (who was awaiting his return part-way up) noticed the "light of God" in Moses' face. Moses announced to him that he had just been given God's commandments on tablets of stone: "The writing of God. His Ten Commandments." They both noticed that there were ominous sounds coming from the camp as they approached: "There is a noise of war in the camp. It is not the noise of war. It is the noise of song and revelry."

After Moses and Joshua arrived, they were horrified and enraged to see the decadence, sin and iniquity of their people worshipping the idol, and Moses chastised them: "Woe unto thee, O Israel. You have sinned a great sin in the sight of God! You are not worthy to receive these Ten Commandments." Dathan rebuked Moses:

We are gathered against you, Moses! You take too much upon yourself! We will not live by your commandments. We are free!...Whose law, Moses? Yours? Did you carve those tablets to become a prince over us?

Moses ordered those who were "on the Lord's side" to join him, as Aaron attempted to put the blame on the defiant Dathan for leading the people astray ("The people made me do it"). Lilia ran up the hillside into Joshua's arms. Dathan continued his attempt at rebellion:

He showed you no land flowing with milk and honey! I show you a god of gold! Come with me! Follow me!

Just before Moses heaved the stone tablets directly at the Golden Calf idol, he prophesized that due to God's anger, the unworthy and disloyal people would have to endure 40 years of exile, wandering in the desert as a punishment.

Blasphemers! Idolaters! For this you shall drink bitter waters! God has set before you this day his laws of life and good and death and evil. Those who will not live by the law, shall die by the law!

The tablets exploded as they struck the idol, creating a fiery earthquake, and a gaping crevasse that swallowed Dathan, his evil revelers and followers, and all of the disbelievers.

The Fate of the Hebrew People - Moses' Farewell:

The film concluded with the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness for at least one generation (40 years) before heading toward Canaan and arriving in their Promised Land (the land of Israel) and the Jordan River:

(voice-over) And the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel. And to prove whether they would keep his commandments or no, he made them wander in the wilderness 40 years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was consumed. But Moses' eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. And he went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, and the Lord showed him all the land that was beyond the river Jordan.

The elderly, white-bearded Moses realized that God would not allow him to cross over the River Jordan to enter into the Promised Land, due to his previous disobedience to the Lord God:

The Lord was angry with me because I disobeyed him by the waters of strife. And he said unto me, 'Behold the new land with thine eyes. For thou shalt not cross over this river Jordan.'

When Moses bid his wife Sephora goodbye at the foot of Mount Nebo, she reminded him of the great deeds he had done: "The people have come to the river Jordan. In the Ark, they carry the law you brought them. You taught them not to live by bread alone. You are God's torch, that lights the way to freedom."

As his last official act, Moses symbolically passed on the leadership of the people to Joshua, by giving him his staff and robe: "I charge you and strengthen you, for you shall go over Jordan to lead the people." A restored set of Ten Commandments' tablets were to be placed within the Ark of the Covenant, next to the Pentateuch (or Torah), to be carried into Israel.

Moses proclaimed one final message before he made his solo ascent of Mount Nebo, for the people to proclaim liberty everywhere - the words were an exhortation similar to DeMille's opening political statement in the film about the "the birth of freedom," and the support of "free souls" and liberty:

Go. Proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, unto all the inhabitants thereof.

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