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A Moses for all

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WORLD Radio - A Moses for all

Netflix blends Scripture and legend in the syncretistic series about the life of Moses


A scene from “Testament: The Story of Moses” Netflix

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, March 29th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new drama based on the Bible.

Fans of The Chosen are a little disappointed at the moment. The fourth season of the popular TV series about the life of Jesus was supposed to be available to stream for free by now. But show runner Dallas Jenkins is attempting to distance himself from Mormon-owned Angel Studios, and it’s led to a legal tussle that’s delayed release.

EICHER: But a different Bible drama debuted on Netflix this week, just in time for Easter. It’s called Testament: The Story of Moses. Is it faithful to the Scriptures? Arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino will tell us.

GOD: I am what I am. And what I will be.

COLLIN GARBARINO: In the last few years, we’ve seen the entertainment industry start to pay more attention to faith-based projects. Movies and series with religious themes have improved in quality, and many are finding bigger audiences. But Netflix’s new miniseries Testament: The Story of Moses shows that designing religious entertainment for the widest possible audience can have its risks.

MOSES: I beg you, let us go to the desert to worship our God.

The series consists of three 80-minute episodes. The first 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 second recounts Moses’ attempts to convince pharaoh to let the Hebrews go and the various calamities God unleashed on the stiffnecked ruler. The third episode begins with the final plague and culminates with Moses’ giving the Ten Commandments.

MOSES: You should not have another God before me.

Each episode dramatizes the life of Moses as he grows into becoming the liberator and lawgiver of the Hebrew people. In many ways, the miniseries looks and feels like other dusty Bible epics, and the production values are reminiscent of The Chosen, though perhaps a little better.

Netflix didn’t break the bank with the budget, but the visual effects of the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea are satisfactory. The script and dialogue aren’t bad, but the actors slip into annoying mock–Middle Eastern accents. I was also annoyed that the actor playing Moses was about 40 years too young.

MOSES: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Honor your father and mother.

But Testament: The Life of Moses isn’t merely a dramatization. It also pretends to be a serious historical documentary, interspersing expert interviews between each scene. Tom Kang is the lead pastor of a nondenominational church in Los Angeles. And he’s the only commentator who offers explanations that are consistently faithful to the Bible.

TOM KANG: Everything that you might know about the Bible in some way, shape, or form can be drawn back to Moses, his life and his ministry.

Liberal Bible scholar Peter Enns is also meant to offer a Christian perspective on the life of Moses. But the series also includes Jewish rabbis and Muslim teachers who offer their own commentary.

CELENE IBRAHIM: The prophet Moses is mentioned in the Qur’an upwards of a hundred times. And so it’s very unique in the sense that very few prophets have their entire life story told in the Qur’an.

The three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all recognize Moses as a prophet, but they don’t interpret Moses’ importance the same way. This Netflix series 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 extra-Biblical midrash. Similarly, the Muslim teachers rely on speculative stories found in their own traditions.

SHADY NASSER: In the Qur’an, there’s a funny story where Zippora—in Arabic it would be Sephora—she was walking in front of him and then the wind blows…

The series purports to offer a history of Moses, but it lacks scholarly rigor because it grants any source that mentions Moses equal authority regardless of authorship or date of composition.

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 get a glimpse of how other faiths view Moses.

For example, this series spends a lot of time investigating the relationship between Moses and his adoptive Egyptian mother Bathiah, whom you won’t find in the Bible. Just like Moses, Bathiah forsakes her brother the Pharaoh to leave with the Hebrews during the Exodus.

BATHIAH: Moses, listen to me. My brother had a dream, a premonition. Hundreds of arrests have been made. Those arrested are tortured!

I was glad the series didn’t try to debunk the miracles that surrounded Moses’ life, but it fundamentally misses the mark concerning Moses’ importance. To his credit Pastor Kang mentions Jesus in relation to Passover, but for a show that’s debuting the week before Easter, you might expect a more thorough explanation of the relationship between Passover and Christ’s crucifixion.

TOM KANG: For the Christianity, this is a foreshadowing of the New Testament and Jesus Christ. Blood of the lamb. Sacrifice of the lamb. And it’s only by His blood that you’re gonna be saved.

Apart from this brief mention, this Netflix series neglects how the story of Moses points to Christ. Much of the commentary seems to read the life of Moses through the lens of 21st-century concerns. Instead of being a type of Christ, or even a Hebrew lawgiver, this Netflix version of Moses comes across as a broad-minded multicultural prototype of ourselves.

I’m Collin Garbarino.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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