Moses in the Palace

One issue that puzzles a lot of readers of Exodus is this: Why was Moses afraid that he’d be punished for killing an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-15)?  I mean, Moses was a prince of Egypt, right?  Would the Pharaoh have made a big deal about his grandson, Moses, killing an Egyptian underling—what a relative of mine calls a “Joe-Egyptian”?

It’s interesting to see how various Moses movies handle this.  In Prince of Egypt and the 2006 Ten Commandments, the Egyptians don’t make a big deal about Moses’ act of murder.  But Moses flees because he feels bad and is suffering an identity crisis.  In the Moses movie with Ben Kingsley, Moses simply kills the Egyptian and flees.  We don’t get to see the reaction of the Pharaoh or the other Egyptians to Moses’ deed.  If my memory serves me correctly, the Moses movie with Burt Lancaster has a touch of nuance: the Egyptians don’t think that Moses’ act was that big of a deal—until they learn that Moses was really a Hebrew!  Then, it becomes a big deal.  And the 1956 Ten Commandments movie presents a scenario that leans in that direction, with a few differences.  There, Moses kills the master builder of Egypt, and the Egyptians are upset at Moses when they learn that he’s actually a Hebrew; they fear that he desires to lead the slaves in a revolt.  By the time that Moses kills the Egyptian, he has left the palace to live with his Hebrew family and to work in the brick-pits as a slave.  In the brick-pits, neither the task-masters nor the other slaves recognize Moses as the prince of Egypt (though I wonder how true this is, since Moses doesn’t get beaten, plus the other slaves are telling Moses what it’s like to be a slave, as if he’s in a “Welcome to slavery” initiation seminar).

I wonder if the 1956 Ten Commandments movie has a point in its depiction.  In Exodus 2:11, Moses goes out to his brethren.  What’s this mean?  Is he going to the Hebrews’ location dressed as an Egyptian, simply to observe?  Or is he doing what’s in The Ten Commandments: he’s renouncing the pleasures of the palace to join the Hebrews in slavery?  If the former is the case, then why do the two Hebrews mouth off to him for killing the Egyptian?  I mean, would they have done so to an Egyptian royal official?  And why did the Pharaoh get mad at Moses for killing an Egyptian?  My hunch is that Moses joined his people in slavery, and those two mouthy Israelites were treating him as just another slave.  And, when the Pharaoh learned that Moses was a Hebrew and had killed an Egyptian, he was angry, for, as the IVP Bible Background Commentary states:

Egyptians maintained a substantial sense of ethnic pride that caused them to consider foreigners inferior.  For a foreigner to kill an Egyptian was a great crime. 

I found another interesting point in this commentary: maybe Moses wasn’t all that influential in the Egyptian royal palace!  Here’s what it says:

There is no reason to assume that this daughter of Pharaoh would have been in a position of power or influence.  Harem children by the score existed in every court, and daughters were considered less highly than sons.

Granted, Moses still had privileges as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter: he got an Egyptian education, he was in the royal family, and he was an Egyptian, which was of a higher status in Egypt than being a foreigner.  But was he next in line to the throne, as the 1956 Ten Commandments depicts?  Perhaps not.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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