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Life Of Moses & What “Really Happened”

With Exodus: Gods and Kings to be released shortly, we may expect a deluge of Christian commentary on whether the makers of the film were true to the Biblical text. In the last two hundred years, the Enlightenment and German higher critics have been frequently blamed for a loss in Christian confidence that the Scriptures are “without error,” and it is often assumed that before Diderot, everyone knew the events of the Bible “really happened.”

The student of patristic literature will know that all manner of anachronisms have made their way into such belief, but if some proof-texting of this claim is required, I would highly commend St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses. In fact, those Christians who wish to comment on the faithfulness of the film to the Biblical narrative might wish to acquaint themselves first with a fourth century approach to Exodus.

“How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s apple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries, “The man who has sinned is the man who must die” and “A son is not to suffer for the sins of his father”? How can the history so contradict reason?

Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said. The teaching is this: when through virtue one comes to grips with any evil, he must completely destroy the first beginning of evil.”

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