In Cecil B. DeMille's classic 1956 movie "The Ten Commandments", there is a scene where Moses is wandering through the desert. Demille provides the following narration:

Into the blistering wilderness, the man who walked with kings now walks alone. Torn from the pinnacle of royal power, stripped of all rank and earthly wealth, a forsaken man without a country and without a hope, his soul in turmoil. Like the hot winds and raging sands that lash him with the fury of a taskmaster’s whip, he is driven forward, always forward, by a God unknown for a land unseen into the molten wilderness, where granite sentinels stand as towers of living death to bar his way. Each night brings the black embrace of loneliness. In the mocking whisper of the wind, he hears the echoing voices of the dark. His tortured mind wonders if they call the memory of past triumphs or wail forebodings of disasters yet to come, or whether the desert’s hot breath has melted his reason into madness. He cannot cool the burning kiss of thirst upon his lips, or shade the scorching fury of the sun. All about is desolation. He can neither bless nor curse the Power that moves him, for he does not know from where it comes. Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward, through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose. Until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker’s Hand.

My question is, is this narration a paraphrase from the book of Exodus, or is it just something DeMille made up whole cloth?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You in Advance.

2 Answers 2



This is simply dramatic prose to summarize what what assumes Moses was feeling. It is completely made up by DeMille.

The full extent of Moses' flight to Midian is a few verses in Exodus 2

15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. ... (an interlude about Moses' father-in-law) ... 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. 22 And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.

The closest thing to getting to the text is that the interlude has Moses drawing water for Jethro's livestock and talking to his daughters. And that's just about it. Perhaps also, one could surmise Moses' state from knowing what God was concerned about:

23 And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

The 10 Commandments takes much liberty with the text - naming Pharoah as Ramses, creating a love affair with a royal courtier, and the like. This dramatic insertion is no different.

<snark> All that said, however, Charelton Heston matches every picture of Moses we were given in the Bible to a T. The inspired illustrations of Heston parting the Red Sea and starting the plagues matches the film precisely. </snark>

In all seriousness, whenever I preach Moses, I know half the congregation has his picture in their minds.

  • great sermon title
    – wax eagle
    Mar 5, 2014 at 13:40
  • I wonder if any stories were "dramatically" enhanced when they went from the Jewish oral tradition to the written gospels. Maybe Cecil was/is inspired or invested with further information! But I'd bet not if I were a betting man. Mar 5, 2014 at 14:17
  • The stuff at the end of the narration seemed as if it wasn't just speaking about Moses' state of mind, but weighing in on religious matters: "through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God’s great purpose. Until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker’s Hand." Even if those specific words were DeMille's, does the content reflect some existing sentiment in Jewish or Christian thought? Mar 5, 2014 at 20:47
  • @TheFreemason DeMille did rely on sources other than the Bible in making the movie, like Josephus. Mar 5, 2014 at 20:49
  • @KeshavSrinivasan If you are asking about 2000 years of accumulated wisdom from ascetic monks, yeah - it is pretty common to understand that suffering draws people closer to God, and that "God can't use a man til he breaks him' - but it's just that accumulated wisdom, not anything particularly biblical. Grant you, a full up question along the lines of "From whence do ascetics get the idea that God must break a man before he can use him?" would probably get a good answer, and it would be related, but this question asks about Moses. Mar 5, 2014 at 21:14

The overall film work is predominately a partial remake of DeMille's own 1923 silent film of the same title, plus 3 novels:

  1. 'Prince of Egypt' by Dorothy Clarke Wilson
  2. 'Pillar of Fire' by J.H. Ingraha

  3. 'On Eagle's Wings' by A.E. Southon,

  4. and the Book of Exodus.

The Ten Commandments greatly dramatizes the Biblical story of the life of Moses. The epic-saga stars Charlton Heston in the lead role (& making his film debut as the infant Moses was Heston's & wife Lydia's own 3-month-old son Fraser Clarke Heston (born 2/12/1955) who would also go on to become an American film director, film producer, screenwriter, and actor in his own right).

Yul Brynner was cast to play Rameses. Yul just happened to also be a 'patient' of the infamous Max Jacobson (7/3/1900-12/1-1979)a German-born New York physician, (nicknamed "Miracle Max" and "Dr.Feelgood") at the time & Yul was often known to be under the influence of amphetamines in many scenes.

In a particular scene where DeMille needed Brynner to circle the chariot & stop on a designated 'X', the actor was unable to perform, & the scene was shot with DeMille himself as the chariot driver!

DeMille casts Anne Baxter as "Nefretiri," but Moses spent some 40 yrs in Midian, so he was 80 when he returned to Egypt. The Bible does not provide any account of Moses ever having net Nefretiri!

Yvonne De Carlo is cast as "Sephora"(yes, spelled the sam as the cosmetic giant,) but the actual Biblical name is given as 'Zipporah;' a Midian name meaning “a little bird,” or “sparrow.”

Filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai, and the Sinai Peninsula, the film was DeMille's last and most successful work, featuring one of the largest sets ever created for a film. The story, adapted with a generous license from the book of Exodus, has been recast in a decidedly Christian and American light; with DeMille deciding to take advantage of his opportunity to spread an anti-communist message within the film, & in a bold gesture (omitted from the TV version) when the curtains part, DeMille himself appears on the screen stating: “The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? The same battle continues throughout the world today.”

  • 1
    Citation to support your assertion that the film was explicitly anti communist, rather than anti dictator (Hitler, Papa Doc, Stalin, etc) would improve your answer. (which covers a lot of ground). I have cleaned up some of your bad formatting, and the Wall of Text format, which (if is isn't officially) ought to be considered a venial sin. ( grin ) Also, All Caps is shouting, and rude, so I cleaned that up as well. Please review the edit again to make sure nothing of substance was lost. (and also learn how to us italics and bold in this format). Thanks for the answer, it was a fun read. Oct 1, 2017 at 23:26

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