Say you’ve begun a new religion. Congratulations! Now you need followers. You could stand on a street corner and shout at people. You could serve the poor and provide for those in need, attracting people with your kindness and generosity. If you’re powerful, you could compel them by law to convert. But those aren’t very effective ways of getting your religion to spread far and wide and really stick. I know what you need: a religious text! Yes, a holy book is exactly what you need to reach people out of shouting range and to make sure people don’t garble your message in our great divine game of telephone.
Most actual, real-world religions have some kind of holy text, but it’d be a mistake to think that they all treat their text the same way, or that members of the same faith treat their same book the same way. Scholars call the way people interpret a text a “hermeneutic” (her-man-OO-tic). If you’re going to understand a religion that has a text, you’ve got to understand the different kinds of hermeneutics you might run into. To do that, I’m going to show you how similar hermeneutics pop up in our geeky fiction.
There are certain things that I just really cannot stand when it comes to retelling stories from the Bible. One of these things is the casting of white actors to play Biblical figures who lived in Africa or in the Middle East. Another is the attempt to “amp up” Biblical stories and make them more “action-packed”. That said, I have no problem with people taking creative liberties with Biblical stories as long as they remain true to the spirit of the original. Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to have committed all of the above atrocities on what would otherwise be a good Biblical story. But I don’t want to talk about the racist trainwreck that is Exodus: Gods and Kings (at least not much); rather, I want to talk about one movie that did it all right and explain why future movies about the Bible should follow its example. So without further ado, let’s talk about why The Prince of Egypt is one of the best damn retellings of a Biblical story pretty much ever.