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Testament: The Story of Moses

TELEVISION | Netflix’s attempt at a documentary-style Biblical epic misses the mark concerning Moses’ importance


Netflix

<em>Testament: The Story of Moses</em>
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Rated TV-14
Netflix

THE UNEXPECTED popularity of The Chosen, Dallas Jenkins’ series about the life of Jesus, sparked the entertainment industry’s interest, causing it to pay more attention to faith-based projects over the last few years. Movies and series with religious overtones have improved in quality, and many are finding bigger audiences. But Netflix’s new docudrama Testament: The Story of Moses shows what can happen when religious entertainment is designed for the widest possible audience.

The miniseries comprises three 80-minute episodes. The first episode, “The Prophet,” begins with Moses’ life as a prince in Egypt and takes him into the land of Midian where he fled after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. “The Plagues” recounts Moses’ attempts to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go and the various calamities God unleashed on the stiff-necked ruler. The third episode, “The Promised Land,” feels misnamed, considering Moses never makes it to Canaan. The episode begins with the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea and culminates with Moses’ giving of the Ten Commandments.

Each episode dramatizes the life of Moses as he grows into becoming the liberator and lawgiver of the Hebrew people, and in many ways, the miniseries looks and feels like other dusty Bible epics. The production values are reminiscent of The Chosen, though perhaps a little better. Netflix didn’t break the bank with the budget, but it gives viewers satisfactory visual effects for the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. The script and dialogue are adequate, though the actors slip into annoying mock–Middle Eastern accents. I was also annoyed that the actor playing Moses was about 40 years too young.

Testament: The Story of Moses doesn’t merely aspire to be a dramatization; it wants to project the authority of a serious historical documentary. The showrunners include interviews with supposed experts between each scene. Tom Kang, lead pastor of a nondenominational church in Los Angeles, and liberal Bible scholar Peter Enns individually are meant to provide the Christian perspective on Moses. The series also includes Jewish rabbis and Muslim teachers who offer their own commentary.

The three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all recognize Moses as a prophet, but they don’t interpret Moses’ importance the same way. In editing these interviews, Netflix glosses over significant differences of opinion, offering a syncretic perspective on the lawgiver.

One might expect the Christian and Jewish views of Moses to be fairly compatible, but in this mini­series they diverge considerably. The Christian tradition relies exclusively on the Pentateuch for the details of Moses’ life, but the rabbis featured in this series introduce events and interpretations found in the extra-Biblical Midrash. Similarly, the Muslim teachers rely on speculative stories found in their own traditions. The series purports to offer a history of Moses, but it’s a history lacking in scholarly rigor because it grants any source that mentions Moses equal authority regardless of authorship or date of composition.

Christians firm in the faith might be interested in watching the show to learn about Jewish and Islamic teachings.

People unfamiliar with the Bible will finish this series confused about who the Moses of Scripture was, but Christians firm in the faith might be interested in watching the show to learn about Jewish and Islamic teachings. The dramatization incorporates these fanciful elements into the story. The relationship between Moses and his wife Zipporah gets more attention than the Pentateuch gives it, and we also meet Moses’ adoptive Egyptian mother Bithiah, whom you won’t find in the Bible. Bithiah forsakes her brother the Pharaoh to leave with the Hebrews during the Exodus. The emphasis on these two women adds a dash of feminism to the story.

The series commendably avoids demythologizing Moses’ life and miracles, but it fundamentally misses the mark concerning Moses’ importance. In Christian theology, Moses serves as a type of Christ. Moses rescued his people from Egypt and bondage; Jesus rescues His people from sin and death. To his credit, Pastor Kang mentions Jesus a couple of times, but on the whole this Netflix series neglects how the story of Moses points to Christ, turning the great lawgiver into a broad-minded multicultural prototype of ourselves.


Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.

@collingarbarino

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