by W.R. Marshall
American Reporter Correspondent
June 1, 2006
THE MOSES MANDATE
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A few weeks ago my brother, the old school pinko from New York, was watching that C.B. DeMille classic, "The Ten Commandments" - the 1956 iteration, the one with the past president of the NRA in it: and if it wasn't for Pharaoh's pantywaist gun control laws, the Israelites could've busted out of Egypt without divine intervention.
Anyway, he thought I might like to take a look at it; not for C.B's ham-fisted directing, but for some interesting, very current, parallels.
And he was right.
Even though the film plays fast and loose with the Bible - the real Moses had a speech impediment, burned his hard palate as a lad, and had he tried to say "Let my people go" it would have come out as "Not tacos again" - it did bring to mind George Santayana's (the American philosopher, not the guy who killed Davey Crockett) much-abused sentiments about history and not learning from its lessons and how it catches up to you because you just didn't pay attention.
With that in mind, Ramses II finally gets his shot at running the empire, and even though he's not the favorite son, he feels he's got a mandate and he's going to show the people he's a better Pharaoh then that other Ramses ever was.
Things go smoothly at first, lots of civic improvements, there's a good tax base - then, trouble:
Ramses II has a bit of an insurgency problem.
This is where Moses tries to negotiate, and he really doesn't want much. Doesn't want his IMF debt forgiven, isn't interested in future foreign aid, doesn't even want his bread to rise - just wants Ramses to let his people go.
But Pharaoh has a vision of the way the world should look, and he's not interested in negotiation.
Moses, who's got way more going for him than Ramses wants to admit, or has been told - Sethi seems to be massaging intel - turns a stick into a snake. Ramses is unimpressed. Water turns to blood; Ramses gets a report from Sethi's people up around Niger that while there may not be any yellowcake, there's lots of red mud and that's what turned the Nile red. And on it goes; frogs, boils, fire from the sky, darkness. Ramses still ain't budging - no one is going anywhere.
When his own children die, he gets the message - for a moment - and he lets Moses' people go.
But once again, one of his trusted inner circle whispers in his ear, "You don't want to be a wimp like that other guy with your name. Stick on some armor, go stand on an aircraft carrier - sorry, chariot. The press'll eat it up."
He sends his army into the desert after the insurgents, who just want to be left alone to find their own land and run their own lives. Pharaoh's vastly superior army traps the ill-equipped enemy at the shore of the Red Sea, and the order is given to put down this uprising once and for all.
Then the IED of choice in the Old Testament, the Pillar of Fire, appears, blocking Pharaoh's way. At the same time the Red Sea parts and the insurgents scoot.
Why wasn't any of this in the intel?
Flaming roadblocks, a way for the locals to disappear into the landscape - this is turning out to be tougher than anyone thought. Now Pharaoh's generals are having second thoughts.
Maybe it's time to get out, cut our loses and head back to the palace.
But Ramses II has history to consider. "The city that he builds shall bear my name, the woman that he loves shall bear my child. So let it be written, so let it be done." (There were so many writers on the film; it's hard to know who's to blame for that turkey of a line.)
He sends his army after the enemy and as soon as they set foot on the sea floor, surf's up and they're sleeping with the fishes.
The insurgents have it tough for the next 40 years - and things don't get a whole lot easier after that - but they are governing themselves.
Ramses goes home and looks like a schmuck.
Historians continue to debate whether Ramses II was actually the Pharaoh of the Exodus and whether the events of the Bible actually occurred, but C.B. DeMille didn't really care that much about history; he just wanted to tell a good story - me, too.