This is the first time that I have recommended a specific movie in my Weekly article. I don’t possess any special expertise or training in film criticism, so I am only speaking from my experience!
The 1998 film The Prince of Egypt, produced by Dreamworks at the same time they were producing Shrek, was only moderately successful in the box office. However, it brought to life the story of the Exodus for a new generation of believers and non-believers alike. The story follows the life of Moses, beginning the day his mother put him adrift in a basket, only to be adopted into Pharaoh’s family. As a young man, Moses fled Egypt in fear after killing an Egyptian. However, God’s call to return to Egypt came through the burning bush in which God revealed his name as “I am who am,” a profound revelation of God’s identity as the one who is – the source of all existence.
Every year around Easter time, I try to at least listen to some of the music from this film as a way to enter into the spirit of the Triduum and Easter Sunday. Without being aware of the Jewish roots of our faith, we cannot fully understand the amazing things that God has done for us throughout history. The Passover was a foundational event in the history of the Hebrew people. God commanded his people to slaughter a lamb and put the blood on the doorpost to save their firstborn from the angel of death. The commemoration of the Passover was the very night in which Jesus gave us the greatest of all the sacraments – the Eucharist. We know that he is the new Passover Lamb, whose blood saves us from eternal death.
The Jewish people have had a long history of suffering. We often hear about this in the Old Testament. They were exiled from their land, and over the generations, their identity as a people was lost in many ways. In the year 70 AD, Israel as a nation was erased from the map, only to return after World War II and the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died. We should never forget that Jesus is a Jew, and even today, the Jewish people share a history and language with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Apostles, and countless other Christians throughout Church history. Sadly, Christians have not been exempt from the sin of anti-Semitism. Many people of Jewish descent today are atheists and do not believe in God. However, there are still many practicing Jews around the world who follow the Law and pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We hope and pray that the Jewish people will all recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament.
I have heard before that the suffering of the Jewish People is, in a way, a fulfillment of the prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. We believe that Jesus most perfectly fulfills this prophecy, but prophecies can be fulfilled in more than one way. Isaiah wrote in Chapters 52 and 53, “So marred was his look beyond that of man. There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces.” Has there been any nation that has suffered like the Israelites? In a way, they have shared the fate of our savior, Jesus; a fate of being rejected and persecuted. However, we know that God can use this in some way for the world’s salvation, by sharing in the death and suffering of Jesus.
While taking some artistic liberties, The Prince of Egypt is faithful to the story of the Exodus found in the Bible, even going so far as to directly incorporate some Hebrew words into the dialogue and lyrics. Maybe the reason I like this movie so much is that it presents faith as something to be celebrated and cherished, not made fun of, as so often happens in Hollywood. If you are looking for some family-friendly entertainment as we approach the Paschal celebrations, look up The Prince of Egypt, and you may gain some new insight into God’s plan of salvation for all his people!