Popular Culture: Prince of Egypt

How Prince of Egypt is historically and religiously portrayed through today’s entertainment?

The story of Moses is a fable that has been told for thousands of years now. The movie Prince of Egypt is one of the most well-known movies which has existed for over a decade that tells the fable.The reason it is so well known is due to the religion story it tells. The movie tells a tale about a young man named Moses who discovers he has a dark past due to what took place when he was just an infant. The Prince of Egypt is very well known because it is the story of Moses and how he tried to save the Hebrews from the brutal clutches of the Pharaoh. This movie is based off of the story from The Book of Exodus.

The story begins (in the movie) when Moses was adopted into the royal family of the Egyptians by the wife of the Pharaoh Seti, Queen Tuya. Prior to this, Seti had ordered all of the Hebrew male infants to be slaughtered and fed to the crocodiles. Moses’ mother desperately took infant Moses – along with her other two children, Miriam and Aaron – and snuck over to the Nile River. She placed Moses in a basket, hoping that this will save Moses from the fate of the other infants. She sings him a lullaby as she says farewell to him, hoping that God will use the Nile River to take him to a better and faraway place. As the basket moves through trials of missing ships and crocodiles, the basket floats inside the palace where Queen Tuya discovers it. She opens the basket and immediately adopts him into the royal family.

Throughout his growing up years, he lives as a prince with a pampered life style until he eventually comes across his biological sister, Miriam. She tells him that she is his sister and that God has sent him to finally free the Hebrews from slavery by the Egyptians. Moses rejects the idea that he is a Hebrew himself and runs off to find out the truth, which is that all of the male infants were killed just to make sure that none of them rise to the occasion of taking over the kingdom. Moses, detests the idea, runs off and lives his life was a Hebrew, reuniting with his sister and brother. Moses eventually encounters God himself, telling him that he is the one to free the Hebrews.

Many people watching the movie, may get a sense of what ancient Egypt was like without any background knowledge and not just the religion aspect to it. While the movie may seem accurate to some degree, many of the things shown in the movie did not necessarily happen in the actual historical context. Many people may hold the view that ancient Egypt was using their own slaves for building pyramids and tombs. That is actually not true. From what I learned in class – Religion of the Pharaohs – they were paid for their work. However, some Egyptians did hold slaves but the owners were regular people. Even so, The Prince of Egypt – I believe – has one of the most accurate portrayals of how ancient Egypt may have been with my background knowledge. When one analyzes the movie, after taking an Egyptian course, one can see how much effort and research the people behind the movie they put into making the film. One great example I’d like to drawn to your attention is the two priests in the movie. In Emily’s Teeter’s book, Religion and Rituals in Ancient Egypt, she brought up some historical explanations on how priests used magic as part of their religion. In the movie, the priests were magicians by demonstrating the power of the Egyptian deities to counter Moses’s power – God’s power – in front of his ex-adopted brother, Rameses. I would also like to point out how Pharaoh Rameses’ identifies himself as “the morning and evening star.” Once again from what I have learned from class is that Pharaohs identify themselves with the god Horus (the true king of Egypt).

The ruins of ancient Egypt that are well known. The pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx

Teeter also points out that Egyptians were highly known for using magic as well. Magic was used to protect oneself as well as a way of harming others.  One may want to compare this to other religions as some may use magic as well. Christianity is actually one that may be looked upon as using magic. Egyptians that are chanting a spell is known as using magic. A Christian saying a prayer is seen as way of getting a message to God but it could also be acknowledged as magic to some degree.  This is due to wanting, and often times expecting, a certain outcome to emerge. An example of this is that Egyptians may wear an amulet to protect oneself from harm. A Christian may wear a cross necklace as a way of having the Lord with them, perhaps as a way of protection too.  Another topic discussed in class is what race were the ancient Egyptians.

A magical wand that ancient Egyptians used to draw a circle around a mother and her child for protection.

The race of the Egyptians seems to be a very ambiguous topic. However, if you watch any other Egyptian based movies like Gods of Egypt, many of the characters are portrayed as very Caucasian looking. In Prince of Egypt, people are seen as having darker skin. This would make sense for Egyptians to have dark skin due to the climate and the heat. The dark skin would keep the Egyptians from getting sunburned. In our discussion and the reading Ethnic Diversity in Ancient Egypt by Anthony Leahy, we find that there are different ethnicities that may have been mixed into the Egyptian race between Nubian and Libyan. The two counties Nubia and Libya surrounded Egypt. Nubia was towards the south while Libya was to the west. I believe this would make the most sense due to the two countries being close to Egypt in proximity. We may not know exactly what race made up the Egyptian race. The notion of what race the ancient Egyptians were has been highly been debated, even to this day. We may never know for sure. However, it is interesting to note that in paintings, males are painted with red skin and females with yellow skin.

An example of an ancient Egyptian painting. Women’s skin painted in yellow and men’s skin painted in red

As we continue to study and find more Egyptian clues and artifacts collected throughout the years, there are many secrets that still need to be discovered. We may have great information of what ancient Egypt was like at the time, but we are only speculating from the information we are given from hieroglyphics, drawings, temples, pyramids and artifacts. Ancient Egypt still remains a mystery, but movies and films, also contribute in the sharing of information in an entertaining way.

I also found this very awesome, well drawn and put together, video on YouTube that is about the Passover (as in the movie of Prince of Egypt):

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