The Prince of Egypt: between Facts and Fictions

By Yousif Al Hamadi

Prince of Egypt - The Cooper Company

Introduction

Cinema began to play a role in education and became a source of information for many people and many educational institutions. Teachers in their classes often rely on guiding their students to watch a specific film to clarify the idea of ​​the lesson, convey information, or even explain the whole lesson. Screening Films has become an essential educational tool. They are accessible to everyone. Julio Cuevas Romo (2020) presented a study on the intention and practicality of using cinema in educational institutions. He showed that this happens in two ways. First, through producing documentaries with educational goals in an objective and sincere manner. Second, fictional cinema, where films come as reinterpretations of historical periods or as autobiographical. There are films intentionally produced for scientific purposes, such as documentaries, but also fictional films can be used for educational purposes. There are good biographies were produced, such as Lincoln (Spielberg, 2012). Even fictional films can explain and give good information about a specific historical period, even if the story is fantasy, such as Pan’s Labyrinth (del Toro, 2006), which illustrates clear elements of the Spanish civil war (Romo, 2020, pp. 161-162).

The main concern of this research is The Prince of Egypt (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells, 1998), which was able to provide data and information about ancient Egypt during the reign of Seti I (r. 1290-1279 BC) and Ramesses II (r. 1279–1213 BC) during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC). The film presents several elements, including characters, their relationship with each other, the look of people, social hierarchy, clothes, ancient Egypt’s chariot, and even the hairstyle. It also provides information on their monuments, how were they built, the tools used in construction, their statues, and the hieroglyphic scripts on their temple walls. 

Research Questions:

  • What is the validity and accuracy of The Prince of Egypt archaeological information? 
  • What is the reaction of Muslims from The Prince of Egypt?

Literature Review

Figure 1: The Prince of Egypt Poster (IMDb, 1998)

Filmmakers often try to represent real stories, portray them and treat them in a way that turns them into cinematic films. Still, there is a big difference between producing a documentary for an educational purpose and commercial films (blockbuster). The first chapter in this research looks at the definition of cinema and animation. There is no clear definition of cinema because it is a mixture between art and technology as well as a medium of communication. Nowell-Smith (2017) introduced the stages cinema has gone through from being a field of specialists until films became within everyone’s reach (Nowell-Smith, 2017, pp. 1-3). In general, cinema is like other media, deals with text and genre, which helps producers and the audience define and classify films (Swanson, 2019). Historical events, such as wars, quests, and explorations, as Annette Kuhn and Guy Westwell (2012) said, are often classified as epic films, produced within specific characteristics and sittings (Kuhn & Westwell, 2012, p. 141). Since the cinema medium has invented, several films treated the story of the Prophet Moses of the Book of Exodus, but The Prince of Egypt presents it differently, as David Tollerton (2018) said. It is animated, musical, fun, provides excellent historical elements and expressions (Tollerton, 2018, p. 78).

After presenting a study of The Prince of Egypt’s genre and what distinguishes it from other films, it became necessary to analyze the facts presented in it based on Egyptologists and archaeologists. Richard Walsh (2018) says the film was mainly produced to be shown to children and families, while the production company, DreamWorks, had to take into account many aspects that might not be suitable for the target audience. This will definitely affect the film’s accuracy compared to what happened in the real story (Walsh, 2018, p. 301). However, many specialists such as Jared Krebsbach and Daniel Soliman contributed and wrote articles providing Egyptologist’s Breakdown of the film and studies of its accuracy, its fact and fictional details. Additionally, essays, journals and books were published treating the same matter, such as Reel History: The World According to the Movies (2015) by Alex Tunzelmann. It is evident through these texts that the characters’ treatment is little different from what is mentioned in the Exodus book, as Megan Hollinger’s analysis of the film, whether the main characters or the secondary characters.

Regarding the chosen chronological period, many texts and references agreed that the Pharaoh of Exodus is Ramesses II, and this is what The Prince of Egypt shows. However, there are different opinions among archaeologists, whether believers or non-believers, on this point. Nevertheless, it is impressive to see the considered details in the film, such as the hieroglyphic drawings and illustrations on the temple walls. Some of them are correct and accurate, and others are symbolic, serving the idea. Furthermore, the film considers several accurate elements, such as locations, statues, clothes, and more.

Finally, the reaction of Islamic countries regarding The Prince of Egypt was generally negative. Most Islamic countries did not allow the film to be shown in movie theatres or even sold in stores because most Muslims forbid the embodiment of God and Prophets (Mansour, 2012). Yet, some countries allowed films addressing the stories of the prophets to be produced, even with high-budget, such as The Message (Moustapha Akkad, 1977). However, there is a great challenge in the directing process of not showing the personality of the Prophet and trying to overcome it in different ways. Recently, Iran began producing some works related to the lives of the prophets, opposing the idea of not embodying them, such as the TV series of the Prophet Joseph (Farajollah Salahshoor, 2008) and The Kingdom of Solomon (Shahriar Bahrani, 2010). In general, the story of Moses mentioned in The Prince of Egypt and the story in the Quran are quite similar, but there are some differences that do not have a significant impact on the main themes. 

Methodology

This research uses different methods of gathering information. It relies on collecting data from literature, such as books and journals, as well as collecting data from sources that are not written, such as the film itself and some documentary films. The research generally depends on the qualitative method. It is a method, which stresses meanings and investigates objects of people’s perceptions (Munday & Chandler, 2011, p. 347). This method is useful for gathering historical information, definitions about cinema and filmmaking, theories, debates, in addition to comparisons between different aspects. Qualitative research can provide a worthy contribution to the research, but there are different ideas with few signs of agreement, a problem that might accrue. It is that some insights and interpretations might not be totally accurate and others might be built according to subjective judgments (Dixon-Woods, Shaw, Agarwal, & Smith, 2004), such as how films should be produced or what values are best for these types of films. Additionally, each religion and sectors in each region have different characteristics, which cannot be generalized.

This research includes a set of films that treated the story of Prophet Moses throughout history. Bonnie Brennent (2017) argues that it is essential for researchers to engage with the general history of an area of ​​interest to understand the presented topic and to be able to address interactions between media, culture and society. In addition, the topic should be narrowed down to engage the researcher with the literature (Brennen, 2017, pp. 100-103). Furthermore, the research analyses The Prince of Egypt’s genre. It is a way of classifying that has developed since the beginning of cinema. Critics found similar elements uniting films under specific categories. It also depends on the market requirements and what can be easily consumed. 

Additionally, the research shows how Moses’s story was treated in old technologies compared to the films produced during the last two decades. Additionally, it offers a comparison between what is proposed in The Prince of Egypt of historical and archaeological information and the opinion of Egyptologists and archaeologists on this proposition. John Ovretveit (1998) explains the purpose of some comparative studies, while it explains the similarities and differences and why they occur. Moreover, it is a way to summarize the characteristics of the comparable sides and interact with their context (Ovretveit, 1998, pp. 61-62).

Chapter 1: Film and Moving Picture

Cinema is a mixture of a group of several things. As Nowell-Smith (2017) said, it is a technology, an industry, an art, a way to view the world and create a world that can be viewed. Nowell-Smith added that cinema was in continuous development since it was invented at the end of the nineteenth century until today, in relation to the duration of films, the market, being a medium of entertainment, the spread of it around the world, the entry of sound, and the transformation from black and white to colours. In the 1980s, cameras and projectors started to be digitalized. With digital technology, films became able to be played on DVD and Blu-ray discs, become possible to be downloaded via the internet and watched on television with high quality not far from what can be seen in movie theatres (Nowell-Smith, 2017, pp. 1-3). 

On the other hand, animation also developed throughout history. Many technological, cultural, industrial, and aesthetic factors were involved in the improvement and development of animation to turn the art form into an industry. Animation and live-action films have similarities regarding moving pictures on the screen. However, the animation is more flexible and creative than live-action because there is an extensive space to exaggerate physical possibilities by speeding movement up or slowing it down in a comical or expressive style. Although animation production for children may have monopolized a large part of the field, however, many works address issues and topics for adults that was produced professionally, or for educational purposes (Halas, 1987, p. 9).

Epic Genre

Hollywood is a place that is considered as one of the most important cinema industry in the world. It has its own style of filmmaking that symbolizing the United States culture. It focuses on producing entertainment and, most importantly, a moneymaking machine (Bick, 2002, p. 111). Therefore, with the development of cinema, production, distribution and consumption, genre classification became essential. The origin of genre is derived from the Latin word ‘kind’. Since the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle used the genre theory. Subsequently, it became a useful tool for classifying all types of art (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005, p. 347). This method of classification is often for marketing reasons. Producers intentionally used genre as a mechanism to attract a particular audience that preferred a combination of known pleasures and novelty. 

Film studies divide film genres into two main aspects. First, they are divided to broad genres such as Hollywood western, musical, science fiction, and horror. These genres are selective. However, film genre is classified according to textual focus by shared characteristics of film form, film style, iconography, or content. Documentary, Avant-garde and amateur film, for example, have not attracted the same degree of attention as the recognized popular fiction genres because they do not have the same commercial attention. Second, the general theoretical inquiry turned into a genre as a system of expectations and conventions that circulates between the film industry, film texts, and filmgoers. Gathering films into similar or related grouping is not a straightforward process. Critics have noticed that a film can be classified under several genres. They also noticed that there are historical shifts in some broad genres, suggesting that a genre may evolve through stages and may generate subgenres. For example, “subgenres of the film musical might include the operetta film and the backstage musical, while romance and comedy have given the birth to romantic comedy” (Kuhn & Westwell, 2012, p. 196). 

In the narrative mode, the epic film is fictional. It illustrates significantly the best of people or a nation. Moreover, it represents a large amount of materials with the focus of a heroic theme through a central supernatural hero or a historical or legendry event in a high and coherence stylish artistic technics. (Arnott, 2016, p. 6). Historically, the Greek philosopher Aristotle divided drama into three categories: epic poetry, tragedy, and comedy (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2005, p. 347). There are early epics such as the American silent film Intolerance (Griffith, 1916) and the Italian Quo Vadis? (Guazzoni, 1913). Out of epic, subgenres produced such as biblical epic, historical epic, or national epics. The Price of Egypt is a biblical epic film, likewise, The Ten Commandments (DeMille, 1956) and Exodus: Gods And Kings (Scott, 2014), which all treat the same story of Moses liberating Israelites. Epic films depend on costuming and arrangement of sceneries, Mise-en-scène, in most of their effect. Epic raises elements, such as “costumes, buildings, armaments, cultural symbols, and archaically crafted language all serve to distinguish films set in the past” to a scale that is designed deliberately and costly to impress its audience through the number of presented details (Darby, 2009, p. 201). 

Figure 2: A shot of an Egyptian overseer lashing a Hebrew
Figure 3: Wide shot showing Hebrew slaves, with an Egyptian overseer in the middle with a whip over a hill

As mentioned previously, commercial films and blockbusters are generally produced to be categorized in a way that suits the audience to choose and follow what they like, whether the film is comedic, romantic, or epic. However, In the case of The Prince of Egypt, the film critic Michael O’Sullivan (1998) is wondering, “Whom is this picture intended for?” (O’Sullivan, 1998). The film is produced to be consumed by kids and families, while it is rated as PG (Parental Guidance), which means, “film should not disturb a child aged around eight. There may be mild bad language … and violence is only acceptable in a historical or fantasy setting” (Smartt, 2011, p. 443). The film contains scenes of pain and suffering, especially the plagues, the river water turns into blood, and a cloud takes children’s lives. All of these scenes seem heavy for children, even if the film is animation. Walsh (2018) says, “After all, a reason for a children adaptation of Exodus, like The Prince of Egypt, is the recognition that Exodus is, in some way, not quite “right” for children. The film must then necessarily differ from Exodus (Walsh, 2018, p. 301). This assumption is not necessarily correct because religious scholars reviewed the film, archaeologists and researchers to ensure its authenticity. However, the next chapter sees how accurate is the content.

Chapter 2: Archeologist’s Breakdown

The Prince of Egypt is a biblical epic animated musical drama. It is produced by film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, the famous director Steven Spielberg, and the musical David Geffen. They together founded DreamWorks in 1994. Katzenberg had the idea of The Prince of Egypt five years before it was released, and he proposed its concept to the chief executive officer of Disney, Michael Eisner. Even though the success of several animated films, such as The Little Mermaid (Clements and Musker, 1989), Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale and Wise, 1991), Aladdin (Clements and Musker, 1992), and The Lion King (Minkoff and Allers, 1994), which were due to Katzenberg, Eisner refused it. Typically, he thought animation should have fictional characters dancing, cute animals, cheerful musical numbers, and this kind of seriousness cannot be shown in the animation (Weinraub, 1998). In fact, Katzenberg proof that it is possible and The Prince of Egypt has taken animated films to a new level” (IMDb, 2005).

Plot

The film begins with Hebrews working as slaves to the ancient Egyptians. Then Moses appears as an infant in the hands of his mother Yocheved, who runs cautiously with her two children, Aaron and Miriam, heading toward the river. Then Yocheved puts the infant in a basket and pushes him into the river to save him from the soldiers of Pharaoh Seti, who was killing the Hebrews because their numbers increased. Miriam runs after him until the basket reaches the palace of the Pharaoh, where the queen notices him and takes him to be adopted and raised in the palace with her son Ramesses as brothers. 

The relationship between the two brothers Moses and Ramesses, is developing. They become close to each other. Moses titled the Prince of Egypt, and Ramesses titled as the Prince Regent. Ramesses appears as if he is the one who will succeed his father. In a banquet, a gipsy girl from Median, Tzipporah, appears as, who was captured to serve in the palace, but Moses eventually helps her escape. Meanwhile, Moses leaves the palace and, by chance, meets Miriam and Aaron, who tell him that they are his siblings, he is a Hebrew, not an Egyptian, and he is the deliverer. At that time, Moses began to seek to understand the truth. During the identity crisis he is experiencing, it became difficult for him to endure the brutal treatment of the Hebrews, which prompted him to kill an Egyptian overseer. After this incident, Moses felt guilt and not bearing his false Egyptian identity, so he fled to the desert until he reached Median.

In Median, Musa meets the High Priest, Jethro, and his daughter Tzipporah again. There Moses works as a shepherd and marries Tzipporah. One day, a sheep goes astray and heads towards a nearby mountain, actually, to guide him to the Burning Bush. Moses spoke to God in this place, who commanded him to return to Egypt to free the Hebrews from slavery. Moses hesitated a little, but God made him feel comfortable and strong. Immediately, Moses took his wife and headed towards Egypt.

Moses arrives in Egypt to meet the Pharaoh, who becomes Ramesses. Moses asks him to let the Hebrews go, but Ramesses refuses. Then the conflict started between both of them. Moses performs many signs to prove to Pharaoh the existence of God, including the transformation of the stick into a snake, the conversion of river water into blood, and other plagues such as frogs, lice, locusts, drought, lack of fruits, and finally the death of all Egyptian firstborn. God protected the Hebrews by putting blood on the doors of their homes. Once the Pharaoh’s son died, he allowed the Hebrews to leave Egypt.

As soon as the Hebrews reaches the Red Sea, they found that Ramesses had changed his mind and decide to follow them. Then God sent fire from the sky, which is like a wall in the face of the Egyptians, and it stopped them. Then God revealed to Moses to hit the sea with his stick. It splits apart, and a path between two walls of seawater is created miraculously. The Hebrews cross through this path, and as soon as they reach the middle of it, God removes the fire in front of the Egyptians. Ramesses then orders his army to follow the Hebrews and kill them, but the sea returns as it was and drown them. None of the Egyptian armies survives except Ramesses. However, God rescues the Hebrews and make it to the other side of the river safely and cheerfully. The film ends with a wide shot from behind Moses carrying the Ten Commandments tablets, looking from above a mountain to his people at the bottom. 

Facts

The Prince of Egypt appears to have been faithful to the biblical text. Walsh says, “DreamWorks hired six hundred experts: historians, scholars, archaeologists, and religious leaders of different faiths” (Walsh, 2018, p. 302). The events of the film take place in the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC), and it shows that the story of the Hebrews exodus from Egypt took place during the reign of Ramesses II, the third king in the nineteenth dynasty. This consideration is based on Exodus (1:11) “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses”. Jared Krebsbach says, “Although there were eleven kings named Ramesses, only one, Ramesses II, had a city named after him, so, therefore, the events must have taken place during his reign” (Krebsbach, 2019). Accordingly, all the settings, elements, symbols, tools, backgrounds, and many other details were drawn, illustrated, modelled, and animated considering that the story happened in the New Kingdom period.   

Figure 4: Seti I in the film resembling exactly his mummified body (commons.wikimedia.org, 2010)
Figure 5: A shot of men playing Hounds and Jackals board game

The film may take into account many details and attempt to capture them accurately. For example, it is remarkable that Ramesses’ father’s facial features, Seti I, resemble his preserved mummified body. Another noteworthy detail is men playing a board game. This game was actually found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians and Palestine and East Persia. Modern archaeologists call it Hounds and Jackals, and it appears that it was invented in the Middle Kingdom period (2040– 1750 BC). It is similar to Parcheesi, which can be understood as playing pieces from Reny-sonbe’s tomb at Thebes. It is dated to the reign of King Amenemhat IV. Its shape is like an axe head of wood covered with ivory and ebony supported by four ivory legs. Its surface has twenty-nine holes. There are two sets, one set carved looks like the hounds. The other set looks like the jackals, which can be seen as the sacred animal of God Anubis. They might be divided into two players (Hayes, 1978, p. 250). 

Figure 6: Chiel and mallet (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2020)

When it comes to pyramids, construction methods, and equipment used, anyone would think about how the pyramids were built. There are many theories, and The Prince of Egypt adopts the sand theory, which can be seen when Moses was racing Ramesses. A documentary produced by Pioneer Productions for the National Geography channel discusses how and when the pyramids were built. It suggests that the workers dragged stones with ropes and sledges over wet erected sand ramps to reduce friction. The archaeologists in the film are not sure how they erected the sand. They may be made a straight ramp on the side, a zigzag, or spiralling around the pyramid. However, ancient wall paintings support and document the sledges idea, but the ramps method is still not totally acceptable because sand ramps need so much time until they are constructed (Sampson, 2006). Even the reference of the tools used in construction is accurate, such as the chisel and mallet Aaron, Moses brother, uses in the film. It is similar to what was found in a tomb dated 2051-2000 BC, which might be made and used during Mentuhotep II’s reign (Oppenheim, Dorothea, Arnold, & Yamamoto, 2015 p. 156). 

Similarly, the clothes, garments, and dress code in general of the characters have been carefully chosen. The clothes of the Egyptians mainly were white linen, as this was clear in the clothes of Moses, Ramesses, Seti, and the queen. The Egyptians were proud of fine white linen, which meant purity, which was also important in the Egyptain army. They believed that those who wear white and fight for God and were killed in a battle, their clothes replaced with other white clothes in the hereafter (Pippy, 2011, p. 110). At the end of the film, when the Egyptians are chasing the Hebrews, Ramesses is wearing a blue crown known as Khepresh. It is “adorned with solar disks and Uraeus at top. This was worn in the New Kingdom period and is depicted on war reliefs showing the Pharaoh upon his royal chariot battle” (Ford, 2013, p. 67). 

Figure 7: Moses, Ramesses, Seti wear white linen
Figure 8: Ramesses wears the Khepresh blue crown
Figure 9: Moses wears a wig and Ramesses has a sidelock of youth

The hair was also an essential sign that signifies position, gender, and age. In The Prince of Egypt, Moses wears a wig over his hair, whereas during the period of the New Kingdom, both men and women were wearing wigs during life and after death. It was a daily routine to wear wigs. The bodies found in Necropolis at Deir Medina showed that women were adding extensions to their hair or wearing wigs that reach below the shoulders to chest level, while men were keeping their hair short or shaving it. This is applied on both elite and non-elite men. If they were not wearing wigs, their heads should be shaved (Meskell, 2018, p. 158). This is how the film showed Ramesses when he became a king with a shaved head, but Ramesses’s hairstyle when he was a child, and likewise his son, was the style known as the sidelock of youth. Throughout Egyptian history, children’s heads of both genders were shaved except for a lock of hair that allowed growing as a plait. Herodotus offered an interesting observation that there was a custom followed in ancient Egypt regarding sacred animals, which were considered guardians look after children. They used to make vows to their Gods, represented as animals, by shaving heads and weighing the hair against a sum of silver. Then they were presenting it to the sacred animals’ guardian who gives food to these Gods (Sety, Hansen, Weeks, & Fairservis, 2008). 

Figure 10: Moses carries the sickle sword (Khopesh)

Indeed, The Prince of Egypt takes into account not to focus on war affairs, as it was mentioned because it targets children and families. Still, it accurately displays tools and weapons that were used in ancient Egypt. The sickle sword (Khopesh) is one of the details that appeared along with the film, and it is related to the New Kingdom period. It is characterized by its curved semicircular blade, cutting edge on the concave side, and originally from Mesopotamia, which appeared about 1300 BC (Lenk-Chevitch, 1941, pp. 81-82). Since the film deals with the presentation of soldiers, it definitely shows their means of transportation, which was the chariot. It is seen in the beginning of the film when Moses was racing Ramesses, and later at the end when the army follows the Hebrews. While the chariot is mentioned in several verses in the Book of Exodus in chapter 14, such in verse 7: “He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them”. Chariots introduced to Egypt by the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period (1750–1550 BC) (Goldschmidt, 2008, pp. 23-24). It is originally Syrian. By the New Kingdom, they become means of transportation for the Egyptian army. Thutmose II (r. 1493–1479 BC), the fourth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, had more than a thousand charioteers in his army. The Egyptian chariots were light and fast. They were also used to carry the Egyptian archers into battle (Hill, 2010).

Most of what was previously mentioned are related to the New Kingdom, whether entirely or partially, and specifically showing that the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt happened during the reign of Ramesses II. Many archaeologists and Egyptologists who believe in God believe that the story took place at this time, but others suggest different chronological periods. For example, a member of the French Society of Egyptology and a medical doctor, Maurice Bucaille, combined the Egyptological data, the biblical and the Quranic data, and some medical examinations and found that Merneptah was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Bucaille reached this conclusion by counting the dates and the years mentioned in the Bible, from the entry to Egypt, to the birth of Moses, to the period Moses spent in Median, to the Exodus, to the building of Solomon’s Temple. He also looked at all the assumptions presented by various Egyptologists. He also considered what is mentioned in the Quran, which provides information about how the Pharaoh died, clarifies that the Pharaoh died by drowning. Upon examining the mummy of Mirnibeth in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Bucaille found that he died by drowning around 1450 BC, and he is Exodus’s Pharaoh (Bucaille, 1990, pp. 139-160). Another Egyptologist, David Rohl, came with another conclusion. He suggested that the whole story happened earlier, and the Egyptian chronology needs to be shifted backwards according to several archaeological facts that match the Bible. Rohl claimed that the Exodus occurred during the Middle Kingdom (Klein, 2020).

Fiction

Figure 11: Akhenaten’s inscription

As shown earlier, The Prince of Egypt considers many aspects related to the life of the ancient Egyptians and tries to show many elements as it is in reality. However, the film also introduces fictional features far from reality, which were added for purely artistic purposes, were taken into account by the target audience, just because of the spirit of animation, or for symbolic goals that serve the general idea. For example, The Colossal statues were placed facing each other while they are facing the same side in reality. Another example, the way how the film deals with the inscriptions. Some hieroglyphic inscriptions appear on the palace walls, or the temple, which is in shape, is correct but has no meaning. It is added for a technical purpose and to keep the composition of the frame accurate. Generally, not all inscriptions have no sense, while some of them mean the name of Seti I on one of the walls or the name of Ramesses II on some doors. The most interesting inscription is Akhenaten’s inscription, copied from the stela of Akhenaten and his family. (D’Alleva, 2006, p. 128). Probably, it was added as a monotheism symbol, and it is impossible for the Seti to leave it because Akhenaten was considered a rebel king. Some scenes show some consideration for the target audience or give the animation a sense of humour, such as the race scene between Moses and Ramesses. They are having fun, and by mistake, they drop the nose of the Great Sphinx of Giza, which appears to be under construction. While in fact, some studies indicate that the nose fell after Moses by around a millennium (Tunzelmann, 2009).

Chapter3: The Islamic Perspective

Muslims value the Prophet Moses and consider him one of the possessors of determination, awlo alazm. He is the only Prophet whom God spoke to, and in Quran, it is mentioned, “And to Moses Allah spoke directly” (4:164). Moreover, Moses is the most mentioned Prophet in the Quran, as he is mentioned 136 times (Hogan & Lehrke, 2009, p. 107). Many details of his life are divided all over it. The story of Moses mentioned in the Quran does not differ from the story mentioned in the Bible except in some minor matters that do not affect the general structure. However, his story was treated in several types of art and literature. Muslim scholars and recognized authorities in several Islamic countries had a consensus on depicting the representation of God, angels, and prophets, and they created general rules and guides that explain how to do so. These rules made The Prince of Egypt unsuitable for a large group of Islamic countries and made it unacceptable to a large segment of the Muslim audience. For example, in Malaysia, the film was banned. Lukeman Saaid, the chairman of the film censorship board, said, “We found it insensitive for religious and moral reasons. Because of the many races in Malaysia, religion is a very sensitive issue”. Likewise, in the Maldives, “its portrayal of Moses was offensive to Islam” (BBC, 1999). The film was also banned in Egypt because it depicts and impersonates Moses, saying it is “against Islamic teachings” (Mansour, 2012, p. 11). The film went further than personating the Prophet Moses. It created a voice of God. It used the voice of Val Kilmer, who also did Moses’s voice, that it sounded as it is inside his own head (Walsh, 2018, p. 303). 

Figure 12: The message poster (Wikipedia, 2017)

    There are successful films produced by Muslims treating the stories of the Prophets and Messengers and took into account the issue of not embodying the prophets’ characters. For example, The Message (Moustapha Akkad, 1976) tells the story of the Prophet Muhammad. Although there are many film-directing challenges in not showing the main character, but the film got a positive response. Akkad made some point of view shots of the Prophet, which had disapproval between Muslims (Gruber & Shalem, 2014, p. 1). In Iran, television series were produced treating stories of prophets and messengers, but they embodied the personalities of the messengers. For example, Prophet Joseph (Farajollah Salahshoor, 2008) and The Kingdom of Solomon (Shahriar Bahrani, 2010), which were based on Quranic and Jewish texts (Reinhartz, 2013, p. 49). Perhaps because the Shi’ism beliefs in Iran allowed to do so, which has different consideration and censorship system than the one in Egypt and Malaysia.

Regarding the information mentioned in the film about Moses’s life, Muslims would doubt some of them. For example, the idea that Moses found out accidentally that He is Hebrew and Miriam and Aaron are his siblings might be confusing for Muslims. According to the interpretations and stories, Moses’s mother breastfed him and he adapted by Pharaoh’s Hebrew wife, Asiya, who was infertile. In Quran, God said, “This is how we returned him to his mother so that her heart would be put at ease, and not grieve, and that she would know that Allah’s promise is ˹always˺ true. But most people do not know” (28:13). Another example, the way how Moses killed the Egyptian person before he escaped to Midian is shown in the film that Moses pushed an Egyptian overseer from the top of a scaffold. Muslims believe that he was defending a Hebrew who was fighting with an Egyptian, so Moses punched him, and the Egyptian died. The film also showed that the incident happened publicly, but in Quran, God said, “One day he [Moses] entered the city unnoticed by its people. There he found two men fighting, one of his own people, and the other of his enemies. The man from his people called to him for help against his foe. So Moses punched him, causing his death.” (28:15). The film also shows that the magicians of Pharaoh insisted on showing Moses wrong, while according to Quran they believed in Moses immediately after the miracle of the stick, which turned into a snake. God said, “But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration, Saying we believe in the Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Moses and Aaron” (7:120-122).

Additionally, the wife who Moses married is true that she was the daughter of Jethro, as the film showed, but he did not know her before, and Moses chose between his two daughters. From a technical perspective, it was necessary to introduce the woman who the main character is going to marry at an earlier stage. This can let the story develop smoothly, linearly and make more sense for the viewer. However, this incident described differently in the Quran. God said, “The man proposed, I wish to marry one of these two daughters of mine to you, provided that you stay in my service for eight years. If you complete ten, it will be a favor from you” (28:27). Furthermore, Aaron treated Moses aggressively after Moses preached the Pharaoh, while Aaron was another messenger supporting Moses in his preaching. God said, “Verily We granted Moses the Book and appointed his brother Aaron with him as an assistant” (25:35). There are other differences, but there is no room to mention them all. Generally, the stories of the Prophets and Messengers are an essential and primary reference for Muslims. These stories, as Souaiaia said, teach, guide, inspire, and give a higher purpose for Muslim’s actions (Souaiaia, 2010, p. 17).

Conclusion

Through what is presented in this research, it was found that The Prince of Egypt provided a lot of information. Despite the differences between what is mentioned in the Quran and Muslim references and the Bible and what archaeologists discovered, the film has valuable facts about the New Kingdom, and many details about the lifestyle of people at that time, their culture, traditions and customs. The film also presents the life of the Prophet Moses from his birth until he liberated the Israelites from the tyranny of the Pharaoh, in addition to the message of monotheism, which was addressed by Moses and was the main message of all the messengers of God. Nevertheless, it is important that the viewer be careful and verify the presented information in the film. It is not a documentary but a way of entertainment. As shown through the research, the film industry follows the rules and guides that force the producer to adapt the story to suit the targeted audience, fit the genre, and develop the plot throughout the film. After all, It is a commercial film seeking to make money.

There is often an argument regarding media theories revolving around the two major categories of passive audience and active audience. Politician Bernard Cohen defined a theory which was called the Agenda Sitting Theory. He said the press might not be successful in telling people what to think, but it can successfully tell its readers what to think about. Most social scientists accept this theory as an accurate description of the role of the press (Genest, 1995, p. 13). This theory is applied to the press and all other mainstream media, such as television, radio, and cinema. Perhaps the Islamic countries, which have banned the film from being shown, have the right to what they did. Commercial cinema is the most popular type of cinema. It is watched by educated and uneducated, intellectual and unintellectual as many people may rely on what they received of information as a reference, without critical thinking and without verifying what is shown in it. Films affect viewers, whether politically, ideologically, or doctrinally. The Prince of Egypt is an exciting representation, but to a certain level, that does not allow teachers in universities and schools to refer to or ask their students to watch it.

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