Testament: The Story of Moses Has Some Major Flaws

Avi Azulay as Moses in Testament: The Story of Moses. Courtesy of Netflix.

Testament: The Story of Moses does its best to give a thrilling recreation of the Exodus from Egypt but the docudrama has its flaws.

What do The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, and Testament: The Story of Moses all have in common? No matter how much research or care goes into the project, they all end up with their own flaws. All things considered, it could be much worse because it isn’t the awful Exodus: Gods and Kings. Or the 2006 ABC miniseries remake of The Ten Commandments. Anyway, this week is an interesting time to launch the film as Jews just celebrated Purim/Shushan Purim. It’s weird to watch a documentary about a figure I tend to associate with Passover and Shavuot…before Purim even comes to a conclusion. I’m not ready to start thinking about matzah, okay!

The three-part docudrama series runs close to four hours combined. It’s not a bad length when you consider the run times of the aforementioned Cecil B. DeMille epic drama. Ridley Scott’s terrible film was only two and a half hours long for what it’s worth. They certainly put their share into the production budget especially sets, wardrobe, and visual effects. If anything, it doesn’t feel like we really got a sense of just how many Israelites left Egypt during the Exodus. Other films–cough DeMille cough–show a bigger sense of scale because the population never feels so huge when we see them camping at the sea. We know that there were 600,000 men plus a mixed multitude and livestock according to Exodus 12: 37-38. This is just one of many areas needing improvements.

I noticed a number of flaws here without even having to double-check the text itself. Regardless, I will still link to the necessary text and commentary. I almost wish they made the decision to go full drama rather than documentary. Going this route can either help or take away from the story. Obviously, the filmmakers want us to get a sense of how the various religions feel about Moses. Every time they went back to interviews, it just felt distracting. If you’re going to go the documentary route, you should probably be more like History Channel’s Moses and the Ten Commandments. The previous doc was not as focused on recreating the Exodus. This docudrama really plays more into the whole dramatic recreation of the Exodus. I certainly get it. If you’re going to build the Egyptian sets, you may as well put some use into them!

The parting of the sea in Testament: The Story of Moses.
The parting of the sea in Testament: The Story of Moses. Courtesy of Netflix.

Let’s dive right into all of my nitpicks while watching the docudrama:

  • If Moses is of slow tongue, why is he presented without having any speech impediments? All the major films to come before seemingly ignore this part. Testament: The Story of Moses is no exception.
  • Unlike what we see in the docudrama, Zipporah never went down to Egypt. She starts out making the journey but heads back to Midian at some point. Ultimately, Zipporah and their children reunite with Moses after the Israelites beat back against the Amalekites. Rabbi Menachem Posner, a historical consultant on the docudrama, cites Rashi ‘s commentary to Exodus 18:2 in explaining why Zipporah does not journey down to Egypt despite what it says in Exodus 4. There’s more about Zipporah’s story here.
  • Aaron, not Moses, was the one who struck the Nile according to Exodus 7:19-20. Nobody strikes the Nile in this documentary series but Moses just says something else while waving his staff instead. Next thing you know, the Nile turns into blood.
  • Pharaoh follows Moses into the sea. Exodus Chapter 14 discusses the parting of the sea. There are mixed opinions regarding Pharaoh and his survival. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Posner cites a few midrashim that offer differing opinions on what happened to the Pharaoh after the parting of the sea.
  • We see Miriam, not Moses, singing the Song at the Sea from Exodus 15. I give filmmakers credit for using the original language here rather than English. But if we’re going to be accurate here, Moses led the men in singing while Miriam led the women (Rashi’s commentary in Exodus 15:21). Regardless, they break up the Song at the Sea rather then all of it. Also, Miriam starts singing directly from the very beginning of Exodus 15:1 rather than a few words. Jews traditionally sing the Song or read through it during Shacharis services starting at the beginning but one would think that “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying,” would not be included while the Israelites sang. It makes more sense to start from “I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.”
  • When it comes to the Ten Commandments, it does not happen according to Exodus 1920. Instead, we see Moses chiseling the first set of tablets before smashing them to the ground upon seeing the Golden Calf. G-d was the one who initially wrote the first set of tablets (Exodus 31:18) and ordered Moses to ascend the mountain in Exodus 24. Of course, this came after giving Moses the instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, Mishkan, altar, Tent of Meeting, Priestly garments, incense. What we know according to the Torah is that Moses only hews the second set of tablets but G-d inscribes the words per Exodus 31:1.
  • When Moses is carrying the Ten Commandments, one of the tablets is upside down. It is not only an issue in the docudrama but in the key artwork as well. Props people, you had one job!
  • There is a Joshua in the cast but he does not have as prominent of a role as one would think.

Testament: The Story of Moses offers more drama than documentary but the flaws may prove to be too much for religious viewers.

DIRECTOR: Benjamin Ross
WRITERS: Benjamin Ross, Kieron Quirke (1), Kieron Quirke, Lindsay Shapero (2), Lindsay Shapero, Benjamin Ross (3)
NARRATOR: Charles Dance
FEATURING: Rabbi Rachel Adelman, Nick Brown, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Dr. Peter Enns, Dr. Monica Hanna, Rabbi Maurice Harris, Dr. Celene Ibrahim, Tom Kang, Jonathan Kirsch, Bishop Andy Lewter, Dr. Carol Meyers, Dr. Shady Nasser
CAST: Avi Azulay, Dominique Tipper, Mehmet Kurtuluş, Ishai Golan, Reymonde Amsellem, Tülay Günal, Melis Ulaş, Oberon K. A. Adjepong, Emre Alp Törün, Cem Emüler, Clarke Peters

Netflix will release Testament: The Story of Moses on March 27, 2024. Grade: 3/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.