Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BBR 16:2 (2006) p. 355
Brian Britt. Rewriting Moses: The Narrative Eclipse of the Text. JSOTSup 402. Gender, Culture, Theory 14. London: T. & T. Clark, 2004. Pp. xii + 208. ISBN 0-5670-8087-0. $49.95 paper.
This- fascinating book analyzes portrayals of Moses, both ancient and contemporary, both popular and scholarly, including novels, painting, biographies, novels, drama, and film. Extrabiblical portrayals run the gamut from Philo and Joseph us, who at the beginning of the Christian era used the Hellenistic conventions of biography and philosophy to defend Moses against Greek and Roman critics, to the rabbinic midrashim in the Middle Ages, to Sigmund Freud’s book Moses and Monotheism, Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Misses and Aaron, Cecil B DeMille’s movie The Ten Commandments, and the animated cartoon Moses in The Prince of Egypt in the 20th century. Britt argues that “post-biblical models of biography have eclipsed the biblical portrait of Moses, casting him as a hero, engaging him in ideological polemics, and minimizing the biblical elements of mystery and textuality” (p. 2).
In ch, 2 Brit lists some 34 literary works of fiction in a number of modern languages since 1850 that retell the story of Moses, including some 17 full-length Moses novels. Most portray Moses as handsome, heroic, and a humane lawgiver. Some embellish the story by adding elements discovered by modern Egyptology. The ones by devout Jews and Christians (Southon, Asch, Leibert) tend to stick closely to the biblical story and retell that story to communicate a message of Christian or Jewish piety. DeMille’s two versions of Ten Commandments (1923, 1956} are essentially morality tales that exalt the ethical advancement represented by the Law. Friedrich Schiller in 1791 portrayed a Moses who was a pro to-Enlightenment figure. Lincoln Steffens (Moses in Red, 1926) portrays a Marxist Moses and uses the Moses story to defend the necessity of violence in revolutions. Thomas Mann (Tables of the Law, 1943; The Ten Commandments, 1943) created a Moses who was a romantic hero and creative genius but was also given to outbursts of anger, fanaticism, and cruelty, making him ironically a parody of Adolf Hitler. Zola Neale Hurston (Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939), herself a Black American, introduced African-American and Haitian magical elements into the Moses story, making Moses into a Negro hoodoo man rather than a romantic hero. One is reminded of the observation by Albert Schweitzer concerning the “quest of the historical Jesus” that authors typically saw in Jesus a reflection of themselves and their own views. So it is with fictional portrayals of Moses.
In ch. 3 Britt becomes a film critic of three films about Moses: The Ten Commandments<...
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