Moses, a Jew?

I get a word a day. It’s fun, though Anu Garg’s jabs against religion and the idea of god get tiresome at times.

Anyhow, that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually about a quotation that I found in yesterday’s post.

“If we can discern anything from interviews with auteur Mel Gibson, however, The Passion looms as possibly one of the most presumptuous, intelligence-insulting biblical adaptations since The Ten Commandments, a film that managed to depict the exodus of the Jews without ever once referring to them as ‘Jews’.”
Lynn Coady; The Dolorous Passion of Mad Max; Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); Aug 19, 2003.

Innocuous enough, right? It’s just taking shots at Mel Gibson for being pretentious (spot on), right? But hey, what about the Ten Commandments? It criticizes the film for not using the word “Jew.”

But wait. The term is newer than they think. “Y’hudi,” the term from which the English language derives “Jew” didn’t come into currency until centuries after the Exodus, as a term to refer to the residents of the southern of the two Israelite kingdoms: Judah (which is the name of one out of the twelve tribes of Israel). This was to distinguish them from the people of the northern nation of Israel, and has since (as of the Captivity or so) come to be applied to all Israelites.

Therefore, whatever faults The Ten Commandments has as a film (it assuredly has them), a failure to refer to the Hebrews as Jews is not one of those. This is especially significant since Moses, Aaron and Miriam (the main Hebrew characters) were all of the tribe of Levi, not Judah. Joshua, meanwhile, was an Ephraimite. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but I don’t actually remember any significant characters in the film being from the tribe of Judah at all. Feel free to correct me on that last one – as I said it’s been ages and I can’t be bothered to look up the details of the cast right now.


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