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The Ten Commandments is a 1956 motion picture that dramatized the biblical story of Moses, an adopted Egyptianmarker prince-turned deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. It was released by Paramount Pictures in VistaVision on October 5, 1956. It was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starred Charlton Heston in the lead role. Co-stars included Yul Brynner as his adoptive brother, Pharaoh Ramesses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, John Derek as Joshua, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I, Vincent Price as Baka, and John Carradine as Aaron.

This was the last film that Cecil DeMille directed. He was set to direct his own remake of The Buccaneer, but his final illness forced him to relinquish the directing chores for that one to his son-in-law, Anthony Quinn. He had also planned to film the life of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, with David Niven; this project was never realized.

The Ten Commandments is partially a remake of DeMille's 1923 silent film. Some of the cast and crew of the 1956 version worked on the original. It has since been remade again as a television miniseries broadcast in April 2006.

In 1999, The Ten Commandments was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "epics" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Ten Commandments was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the epic genre.

Plot summary

The film covers the life of Moses from his birth to his prohibition from entering the land of Israelmarker after his disobedience at the waters of Meribah. The film focuses on the early adulthood of Moses as a beloved foster son of Pharaoh Seti I (brother of Bithiah) and general of his armies, his romance with Throne Princess Nefretiri and rivalry with the Pharaoh's own son, Prince Rameses II.

Shortly after Moses' birth, Rameses I (Ian Keith) responded to an astrological forecast indicating the birth of a Hebrew "Deliverer" by ordering the slaying of all firstborn male Hebrews. Moses' mother Yoshebel (Martha Scott) and young sister Miriam (Babette Bain) set him adrift in a basket on the Nile to save his life. Miriam watches from the reeds while the Egyptian princess Bithiah (Nina Foch), a childless widow, discovers the basket on the banks of the Nile, showing her servant Memnet (Judith Anderson) the baby wrapped in blankets with a Levite design. Memnet objects, but Bithiah insists on adopting the child, swearing Memnet to silence. Memnet agrees, but hides the cloth.

Decades later, as a young man and general of Egypt's armies, Moses (Charlton Heston) is victorious in a war with the Nubian people of ancient Ethiopiamarker, and is then charged with building a treasure city (probably the Biblical treasure cities of Pithommarker and Ramases (Avarismarker)) for Seti's (Cedric Hardwicke) Jubilee. Rameses (Yul Brynner) has failed to complete this work and blames the Hebrew slaves.

Moses and Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) are deeply in love; she is the "throne princess", who must marry the next Pharaoh. Rameses has ambitions for the throne, but Nefretiri hates him.

When Moses assumes control of the project, he meets stonecutter Joshua (John Derek) who tells him about the nameless God of Abraham worshipped by the slaves. Criticizing master builder Baka (Vincent Price) about the slaves' mistreatment, Moses institutes numerous reforms. Rameses, meanwhile, has been charged by his father to discover if there really is a Hebrew fitting the description of the Deliverer, and is having no luck.

Nefretiri joyously prepares for marriage, but Memnet informs her of Moses' true parentage, showing her the Levite cloth. Furious and terrified, Nefretiri kills Memnet to ensure the secret dies with her. Moses learns of this accusation and asks Bithiah, who affirms that she's his mother, and indeed Moses confirms that she's the only mother he's known and will always love her. But Bithiah panics and hurries by chariot to Yoshebel to plead with her to not to tell Moses and ruin his chance of becoming Pharaoh, and promises her freedom. Yoshebl. But Moses had secretly followed Bithiah and learns the truth, since Yoshebel had Levite cloth matching the pattern of the cloth Memnet had saved.

Declaring he is not ashamed ("Egyptian or Hebrew, I'm still Moses"), but curious, he spends time working among the slaves to learn of their hardship. Baka has the Hebrew water girl Lilia (Debra Paget) brought to him to be his mistress. Joshua tries to free her but is captured. Moses discovers Baka about to whip Joshua to death, and kills him. Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), the devious and ambitious Hebrew overseer who's been charged by Rameses to help him find the Deliverer, watches from hiding. Moses confesses to Joshua that he himself is Hebrew; Joshua excitedly proclaims Moses the Deliverer, and although Moses denies it, Dathan has all the proof he needs.

Moses is arrested and brought in chains before Seti, who begs him to say he is not the Deliverer. Moses does so, but avows that he would free the slaves if he could. In a short, impassioned speech, Moses says that it is evil to enslave or oppress people, "to be stripped of spirit, and hope and faith, all because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a God, He did not mean this to be so!" Heartbroken, Seti imprisons him and orders his name erased from records, from speech, and from memory—which in Egypt, amounted not only to death, but to have no life in the hereafter. Rameses banishes Moses to the desert, with only a staff, fearing to execute him lest he create a martyr.

Moses makes his way across the desert, nearly dying of hunger and thirst. At a well in the land of Midian, he passes out and is discovered by seven sisters watering their flocks. He rescues them from some bullying Amalekites, quickly overpowering them with his skill with the staff. He finds a home in Midian with the girls' father Jethro (Eduard Franz), a Bedouin sheik, who reveals that he is a follower of "He who has no name", the same God worshipped by the Hebrews. Jethro explains that he's also a descendant of Abraham, via Ishmael, and later offers Moses one of his daughters as a wife. Moses chooses the eldest daughter, the only one who is not flighty, Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo).

Back in Egypt, Seti dies heartbroken, with Moses' name on his lips, and Rameses succeeds him as Pharaoh (becoming Rameses II). Joshua finds Moses. He has escaped from hard labour in the copper mines. Moses sees the Burning Bush on the summit of Mount Sinai; climbing up to investigate, he hears the voice of God. Naming himself "I am that I am", God charges Moses to return to Egypt and free His chosen people.

At Pharaoh's court, Moses comes before Rameses to win the slaves' freedom, turning his staff into a snake, but Pharaoh responds with the famous decree that the Hebrews must make bricks without straw. Nefretiri attempts to resume their relationship, but when he reminds her he is not only on a mission from God, but is married, she becomes bitter and vindictive, saying she can soften Pharaoh's heart or harden it. Moses says God will work His purpose through Nefretiri (Exodus 7:3).

Egypt is beset by divine plagues. Rameses believes there are natural explanations for all of them, but his advisors as well as the Egyptian people are terrified and beg him to free the slaves. Several times he is on the verge of doing so, but Nefretiri talks him out of it, telling him the kings of other nations are laughing at him.

Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die, but Moses says this will unleash the final plague. He confides to Nefretiri that it is her own son who will die. In an eerily quiet scene, the Angel of Death creeps into Egyptian streets in a glowing green cloud, killing all the firstborn of Egypt. Eventually it reaches into the Palace and kills Rameses and Nefretiri's firstborn also. The Hebrews, having marked their doorposts and lintels with lamb's blood, are eating a late supper and are prepared to go. Bithiah is released to Moses.

Broken and despondent, Pharaoh orders Moses to take "your people, your cattle, your God and your pestilence" and go; the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt begins.

Behold His mighty hand!
Again goaded into rage by Nefretiri, the Pharaoh gathers his armies to chase the former slaves to the shore of the Red Seamarker. God bars the armies' way with a column of fire and parts the waters ("Behold His mighty hand!") and the Hebrews make it to the far shore just in time to witness God's closing of the waters on the Egyptian army, drowning every man and horse. Rameses returns to Nefretiri, confessing to her, "His god is God."

The former slaves camp at the foot of Sinai and wait as Moses again ascends the mountain. Some of the Hebrews lose faith and, urged on by the evil Dathan, build a golden calf as an idol to bear before them back to Egypt, hoping to win Rameses' forgiveness. Many of the people proceed to indulge their most wanton desires in an orgy of sinfulness, while others stand apart insisting that Moses will return.

Meanwhile, high atop the mountain, Moses witnesses God's creation of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When he finally climbs down, Moses beholds his people's iniquity. Dathan proclaims that he and his followers will not live by his commandments. Moses calls to those who still believe in God to come to his side and all of his followers do so. Dathan tries to sway some of them back to his side, but they refuse to listen. Moses condemns Dathan and the others, telling them that "Those who will not live by the law...shall die by the law!" and hurls the tablets at the idol in a rage. The idol explodes, and a fiery chasm opens beneath Dathan and his followers, killing them all. God forces them to endure forty years' exile in the desert wandering lost to prove their loyalty. Finally as the Hebrews are on the eve of arriving in the land of Canaan, an elderly Moses appoints Joshua to succeed him as leader, says a final goodbye to Sephora, and goes forth to his destiny.

Production and art design

The screenplay was the creation of a committee of writers, headed by J. H. Ingraham (actually a novelist who wrote Pillar of Fire) and A. E. Southon (author of the novel On Eagle's Wings), who were listed as reverends to add credibility to the script. Dorothy Clarke Wilson (writer of Prince of Egypt), Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank also contributed to the adaptation of the three books.

In the commentary for the DVD edition, Katherine Orrison (a protege and biographer of Henry Wilcoxon), describes the historical research that DeMille and associates did at the time. Orrison says that many details of Moses' life which were left out of the Bible are present in the Koran, which was sometimes used as a source. She also describes some coincidences in production; the man who designed Moses' distinctive rust-white-black striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive, and only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi. Arnold Friberg would later state that he was the one who designed Moses' costume. As a gift, after the production, DeMille gave Moses' robe to Mr. Friberg who still has it in his possession. Moses' robe as worn by Charlton Heston was hand woven by Dorothea Hulse (1903-1963), one of the worlds finest handweavers. Among her other film work she also wove the robe and other textiles for The Robe, as well as textiles and costume fabrics for Samson and Delilah, "David and Bathsheba" and others.

Charlton Heston's newborn son Fraser appeared as the infant Moses. According to Orrison in the DVD commentary, DeMille deliberately timed the filming of his scenes for when Fraser Heston was about three months old. This, and other stories about the making of the film, were related to her by producer/actor Henry Wilcoxon and his wife, Joan Woodbury. Orrison later wrote the book Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments.

Jesse Lasky Jr., a co-writer on The Ten Commandments, described how DeMille would customarily spread out prints of Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) paintings to indicate to his set designers the look he wanted to achieve. Artist Arnold Friberg, in addition to designing sets and costumes, also contributed the manner of Moses ordaining Joshua to his mission at the end of the film: hands on Joshua's head. Friberg, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrated the LDS manner of performing such ordinations, and DeMille liked it.

Pharaoh is usually shown wearing the red-and-white crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. For his pursuit of the Israelites, however, he wears the blue Uraeus helmet-crown, which the Pharaohs wore for battle.

For the original theatrical release of the film, DeMille filmed an onscreen introduction, which was included in home video editions of the film but not the telecasts. In some of his earlier films, DeMille had provided narration, especially at the beginning of the film. This was the only time he was seen as well as heard. He also narrated portions of this film, to provide some continuity between scenes.

Heston, who previously worked for DeMille on The Greatest Show on Earth, won the part after the former impressed DeMille (at an audition) with a knowledge of ancient Egypt. Interestingly enough, though Moses lived sometime in the New Kingdom, it was Old Kingdom Egyptian facts Heston sprouted off at his audition that won him his legendary role.

Academy Award win and nominations

The film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. DeMille was reluctant to discuss technical details of how the film was made, especially the optical tricks used in the parting of the Red Sea. It was eventually revealed that footage of the Red Seamarker was spliced with film footage (run in reverse) of water pouring from large U-shaped trip-tanks set up in the studio back lot. In the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments produced by Cecil B. DeMille, the visual effect of keeping the walls of water apart while the Israelites walked through was accomplished with a slab of Jell-O that was sliced in two and filmed close up as it jiggled. This shot was then combined with live-action footage of Israelites walking into the distance, creating a near-perfect illusion.

Aside from winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (John P. Fulton), it was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler, Albert Nozaki, Samuel M. Comer, Ray Moyer), Best Cinematography, Color, Best Costume Design, Color (Edith Head, Ralph Jester, John Jensen, Dorothy Jeakins and Arnold Friberg), Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Sound, Recording.


Critics have argued that considerable liberties were taken with the Biblical story, affecting the film's claim to authenticity, but this has had little effect on its popularity. For decades, a showing of The Ten Commandments was a popular fund-raiser among revivalist Christian churches, while the film was equally treasured among film buffs for DeMille's "cast of thousands" approach and the heroic but antiquated silent-screen-type acting. In the United States, the movie has traditionally been shown on television annually since 1973 on ABC around Palm Sunday, Easter, or Passover.

Box office performance

This film was the #1 moneymaker of 1957, earning a net profit of $18,500,000.

Adjusted for inflation, it is the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. and Canada, with collections of $838,400,000. In non-adjusted dollars, it held the record as the highest-grossing film with a religious theme until the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.


Due to its fame and popularity the film has been often parodied.

  • Heston's version of Moses was spoofed twice in History of the World, Part I (1981):
    • First, Mel Brooks, playing Moses (historically), brings out fifteen commandments written on three tablets. He fumbles, drops, and breaks one tablet: "The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen... *smash* ... Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!"
    • Second, he is shown parting the Red Sea (on the same backlot as the original) as Comicus (Mel again) and company are trying to escape the Roman pursuit; afterwards, Moses is shown with his arms up, but he's being robbed: "People aren't safe anymore! You can't even breathe without being robbed in the street!"
  • In The Simpsons the film's setting was spoofed at the beginning of the episode Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment. It was spoofed again in the second segment of The Simpsons Bible Stories, where Millhouse plays the part of Moses, and also briefly in the third segment where Bart Simpson plays David. When Bart is imprisoned, Chief Wiggum mockingly says: "Where's your Messiah now?", a famous line from the Ten Commandments, said by Edward G. Robinson, on whose voice Chief Wiggum's voice is based. In both segments Wiggum has the same outfit as Robinson in the film.
  • This Simpson's parody may have been more correctly attributed to part of comedian Billy Crystal's stand-up act from the 1980s which included both the voices of Yul Brynner and Edward G. Robinson from the film to question the decision to cast Mr. Robinson, well-known for his success playing gangsters, in the part of Dathan.
  • In one scene from Caddyshack (1980) during a thunderstorm, the music that represents Moses from The Ten Commandments is played. When the golfer, Bishop Pickering played by De Mille protege Henry Wilcoxon, is struck by lightning, the music from the end of the film is played.


Other well-known talent in the film's "cast of thousands" included Herb Alpert as a Hebrew drummer, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as a slave, Michael Ansara as an Egyptian taskmaster, Robert Vaughn as a spearman and a Hebrew, Clint Walker as a Sardinian captain and DeMille himself as the film's narrator, all uncredited. In the film's release to theaters (and its subsequent release on home video), DeMille also appeared on screen to introduce the film.

Sets, costumes and props from the film The Egyptian were bought and re-used for this. As the events in The Egyptian take place 70 years before the reign of Rameses II, an unintentional sense of continuity is created. DeMille did not want to cast anyone who had been in The Egyptian, but did accept Michael Ansara (who'd played the Hittite Commander), Mimi Gibson (who'd played Ankhsenpaaten) and John Carradine (who had a cameo as a tomb robber). In addition, the white-clad girl attendants in the court of Pharaoh are played by the same actresses who had these roles in The Egyptian.

An Egyptian wall painting was also the source for the lively dance performed by a circle of young women at Seti's birthday gala. Their movements and costumes are based on art from the Tomb of the Sixth Dynasty Grand Vizier Mehu. The expression "the son of your body" for a biological offspring is based on inscriptions found in Mehu's tomb.

Supporting cast and characters

Actor Character
Julia Faye Elisheba
Henry Wilcoxon Pentaur
Lawrence Dobkin Hur Ben Caleb
Fraser Clarke Heston Infant Moses
H. B. Warner Amminadab (his final role)
Woody Strode King of Ethiopia/Bithiah's litter carrier-slave
Rushdy Abaza Rushti Abaza
Henry Brandon Commander of the Host
Dorothy Adams Slave Woman/Hebrew at Golden Calf/Hebrew at Ramesses' Gate
Maude Fealy Slave Woman/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor
Gail Kobe Pretty Slave Girl
Henry Corden Sheik of Sinai
Onslow Stevens Lugal
Frank Dekova Abiram
Ian Keith Ramesses I
Eugene Mazzola Ramesses' son
Paula Morgan Hebrew Woman/Slave Woman
Kenneth MacDonald Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Slave
Dorothy Neumann Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Slave/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent
Diane Gump slave
Donald Curtis Mered
Eduard Franz Jethro
Lisa Mitchell Jethro's Daughter
Noelle Williams Jethro's Daughter
Patricia Richard Jethro's Daughter
Joyce Vanderveen Jethro's Daughter
Joanna Merlin Jethro's Daughter
Abbas El Boughdadly Rameses' Charioteer
John Miljan The Blind One
Francis McDonald Simon
Tommy Duran Gershom, Moses' son
Ramsay Hill Korah
Joan Woodbury Korah's wife
Paul De Rolf Eleazar
Robert Carson Eleazar as an Adult
Esther Brown Princess Tarbis, sister of the Ethiopian King
E.J. André Sheik of Hazerath
Eric Alden High Ranking Officer/Taskmaster/Slave/officer
Kay Bell Taskmaster/Red Bearded slave
Baynes Barron Taskmaster
Mary Benoit Guardian of the Prince/Court Woman/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Mother
Rus Conklin Whip Scarred Brick Carrier/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent
Babette Bain Little Miriam
Bobby Clark Little boy in Exodus, grandson of the Blind One
Mimi Gibson Little Egyptian Girl, granddaughter of the Blind One
Kem Dibbs Corporal
Edna Mae Cooper Woman of the Women
Nancy Hale Court Lady in Pool
June Jocelyn Court lady/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Wife of Overseer
Irene Martin Tuya, one of the court ladies at the pool
Richard Kean Old Hebrew at Moses Houses/Hebrew Toward Corridor
Fred Kohler Jr Foreman
Peter Mamakos Chief Driver
George Melford Hebrew at Golden Calf/Nobleman
John Merton Architect Assistant
Amena Mohamed Architect Assistant
John Parrish Sheik of Rephidim
Amanda Webb Hebrew at Golden Calf/Young Woman/Hebrew in Exodus
Jeane Wood Slave/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Rod Redwing Taskmaster/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Frank Wilcox Wazir
Addison Richards Fan Bearer
Keith Richards Hebrew at Golden Calf/Courtier/Slave/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Overseer
Marcoreta Starr Slave/Hebrew at Golden Calf

Uncredited cast

Actor Character
Clint Walker Sardinian captain
Luis Alberni Old Hebrew
Delos Jewkes Jehovah (voice)
Herb Alpert Drummer Boy
Peter Baldwin Courtier
Dehl Berti Pharaoh's Man Servant/Architects Assistant
Gorgen Raymond Aghayan Hebrew at Golden Calf
Lillian Albertson Slave
Clare Andre Slave
Dorothy Andre Slave
Maria Elena Aza Dancing Girl
Bart Antinora Slave
Alan Aric Hebrew at Golden Calf
Joel Ashley Taskmaster
William Bagdad Slave
Judith Barrett Hebrew at Golden Calf
Norman Bartold Signalman
Betty Bassett Court Woman
Ahmed Salah Sayed Ahmed Slave
Ted Allan Hebrew at Rameses' Gate
Vicki Bakken Egyptian Courtesan
Patti Balloon Hebrew girl at Rameses' Gate
George Baxter 2nd Wazir
Steven Benson Kid in massive march
Abdullah Abbas Taskmaster
Arthur Batanides Hebrew at Rameses' Gate/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Prudence Beers Hebrew at Crag and Corridor/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Jack Baston Fan Bearer
Polly Burson Slave
Herbert Butterfield Royal Physician
Lesley-Marie Colburn Slave Child
Charles Stevens Slave
Michael Ansara Taskmaster


One legacy of the movie are scores of public displays or monuments of the Ten Commandments that DeMille paid to be erected around the country as a publicity stunt. Known as decalogues, the displays were set up by the group Fraternal Order of Eagles, sometimes in or near government buildings. Several have been involved in court battles over whether their presence is said to violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Another "legacy" of the film's version of the Decalogue is that it may portray it inaccurately. The film shows the LORD inscribing five Commandments on each of the two tablets. In fact, for the most part, Hebrew texts state that the two tablets were identical copies, with all ten of the Commandments inscribed upon each. Some texts, however, do state that each tablet was inscribed with five commandments, while others indicate that the decalogue was inscribed on both the front and back of both tablets.

Problematic Pharaoh identifications

Some variances in the film are simply factual errors. In the scene in which Moses refers to the monumental stele commemorating "Seti's victory over the Hittites at Kadesh", the obvious error is that it was Ramses II, not his father, Seti (I), who fought the Hittites at Kadesh. This does several things to the movie's narrative. Most obviously, it means that Yul Brynner, billed as "Ramses", is in fact playing Merenptah, Ramses II's heir, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, billed as "Seti" (I) is actually portraying Ramses II. This is further confirmed by "Seti" dying at an advanced age after a long reign; Seti (I) reigned for only 11 years, while Ramses II's reign lasted 67 years, prior to his death at age 90. (See Seti I and Ramses II.) This error also moves the Exodus forward in time, by approximately six decades.Additionally, the Battle of Kadesh is believed to have ended in a draw, which led to a peace treaty, rather than a decisive victory for the Egyptians, as depicted in the film.

Differences from the Bible

There are many differences between the movie's story line and the Exodus story as traditionally understood from the Bible. According to the commentary in the DVD, some details are taken from sources such as Josephus, the Sepher ha-Yashar, and the Chronicle of Moses, as well as the Qur'an. Some are fictional inventions.

Egyptian characters

In the film, the kings of Egypt are all named: Ramesses I, Seti I, Ramesses II. In the Bible, they are given no names but simply called "Pharaoh." See article Pharaoh of the Exodus, and the section above on problematic Pharaoh identifications.

In the Bible, the wives of the Pharaohs are not even mentioned. In the film, we see a great deal of Queen Nefretiri. Her name is a variant of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II.Egyptian records show that Rameses loved Nefertari, while in the film Nefretiri hates him. The Bible says "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart", but the film avers that Nefretiri's schemes are the means through which God does this. (Do not confuse with Nefertiti.)

While Pharaoh's daughter is no longer mentioned again after the rescuing story in the Bible, the film follows Bithiah's life well into her later years. The story of her following the Israelites out of Egypt is taken from the Midrash. In the Bible, Moses was 80 during the Exodus, so Bithiah must have been older still, yet in the film she is portrayed as relatively young and healthy enough to carry a child in the trek away.

Baka (as played by Vincent Price) is never mentioned by name in the Bible, and he is not specifically mistreating Joshua when Moses kills him. In the Bible, Dathan is not mentioned as having been a witness to the killing (though, the Bible does mention that, in another incident after Moses kills an Egyptian, he confronts two quarreling Israelites, one of whom accuses Moses of having killed an Egyptian. The Midrash identifies the Israelites as Dathan and his brother Aviram, which may have been the inspiration for this part of the story).

Exodus 15:19 does not specifically say Pharaoh drowned with his army but, Psalm 136:15 says "but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever (NIV). (If so, he was not Ramesses II). In the movie, he prudently stays in the rear and witnesses the parting of the waters.

There are midrashic sources that state that God singled him out to be the sole Egyptian survivor so that he serve as witness to the entire saga,(the same reason given to Pharaoh's escape from perishing during the death of all firstborn,) and a midrash commenting on the Book Of Jonah tells that he eventually became the king of Nineveh. There, he does heed the words of a prophet sent by God who exhorts him and his nation to repent:

"Rabbi Nehuniah HaKaneh says, You can learn about repentance from Pharaoh, who rebelled flagrantly against God... but later repented, saying, 'Who is like You among the gods, HaShem?' (Ex. 15:11). God saved Pharaoh from death to tell the power of His might, as it says, 'However, on account of this I have caused you to stand' (Ex. 9:16), and he became the ruler of Nineveh." (Job 24:12; Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer).

Hebrew characters

The story of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-21) has been omitted in the film. Some Talmudic commentaries identify them as none other than Yokheved and Miriam.

The name of the birth mother of Moses in the Bible is Yokheved (Hebrew) or Jochebed (English). In the movie, this is changed to "Yoshebel." She is shown as a very oppressed and endangered slave working on a construction project under hazardous conditions. This may be problematic, since a strong case can be made that the tribe of Levi was not actually enslaved. Perhaps because of this, at one point Yoshebel states: "We are Levites, appointed shepherds of Israel."


In the film, the young Moses is a successful military commander who defeats a Nubian army and makes the Ethiopians allies of Egypt. This is sourced in Josephus, but is not in the Bible. It is also mentioned in Seder Olam, a sort of midrashic history book.

In Exodus 2:11-12, Moses "looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." No such caution in the film: Moses jumps right in to fight the Egyptian. Instead of sensibly fleeing to Midian immediately, as he does in the Bible, he stays in Egypt and is arrested and exiled.

The movie adds a subplot about Joshua coming to Moses to beseech him to return to Egypt to free the Israelites.

In the Bible, Moses complains to the LORD that he is slow of speech, and of a slow tongue; in the film he only says "what words can I speak that they will heed?" DeMille considered having Moses stammer slightly, but Heston could not do it, and settled for speaking very slowly. Modern midrash asserts the relevance of the phrase "divine apostasia", which rehabilitates the term "apostasia" from its heretical or pejorative sense by defining it as an inability to articulate given the tools (or limitations rather) of language. This sense of the term apostasia asserts the moral humility and/or wisdom of silence or hesitance applied to speech and writing.

The Midianites are depicted as Arab Ishmaelites in the film; in the Bible the Midianites were descended from Midian, Abraham's son by his second wife Keturah, and not from Ishmael.

The story of Zipporah performing an emergency circumcision on her son by Moses (Exodus 4:24-26) is missing in the film.

The plagues

The film shows four of the Plagues of Egypt: Blood, Hail, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn, omitting the rest. DeMille could not figure out a way to enact the plagues of frogs, locusts and so on, without it coming out as unintentionally humorous. It is mentioned in the dialogue between Pharaoh and his advisers.

In the Bible, Moses did not say, "If there is one more plague on Egypt, it will be by your word that God will bring it" as he did in the movie, and Pharaoh did not decree that the firstborn of each house of Israel would die, beginning with the son of Moses. This is taken from a Midrash that expands the Biblical narrative in order to explain the origin of the tenth plague.

In the Bible, God executes the tenth plague alone, not by sending the Angel of Death. In the film, on the first Passover night, the Destroyer is seen with a crescent moon in the sky. But Passover always begins in the middle of the Hebrew month of Nissan, during a full moon.

The commandments

In the Bible, the reception of the Ten Commandments began as a national revelation, as opposed to the private one depicted in the film. The story of Moses and seventy Elders of Israel eating and drinking in the presence of God (Exodus 24:9-11) is not found in the film.

The story of Korah and his rebellion, which occurs much later in the Bible narrative, is conflated with that of the Golden Calf in the film. Korah himself plays only an assistant to the ringleader Dathan. Further, in the Bible, Dathan does not die during the Sin of the Golden Calf (nor do his brother Aviram or Korah), but during Korah's rebellion.

The Hebrew term generally translated as Ten Commandments is more accurately Ten Pronouncements, and Jewish tradition considers that Moses received not only those but all the 613 Commandments contained in the Five Books of Moses.

Other changes

In Exodus, the Israelites, led by Miriam, sing and dance to celebrate the death of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, and their own liberation. In the film, they stand still in stunned silence.

The Biblical story of the attack by the Amalekites and the Battle of Rephidim has been omitted in the film.

The Biblical accounts of God supplying the Israelites with water, manna and quail are missing in the movie.

In the movie they instantly walk thru the parted Red Sea path on dry land.The Biblical account of the Red Sea parting is that the winds blew them open overnight in order for them to walk on dry land, which makes it even more incredible for God to hold Pharaoh's army at bay that long. Exodus 14:21 "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided."

In the movie, God ordered the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as punishment for the Golden Calf incident. In the Bible, the 40 years of wandering was punishment for their unwillingness to believe God would deliver the promised land to the Hebrews despite the apparent physical superiority of the natives.

DVD releases

The artist's rendering of Charlton Heston as Moses was bulked up to modern physique standards when the DVD was released
The Ten Commandments has been released to DVD on three occasions:

First Edition released on March 30, 1999 as a two disc set, with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras
  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Second Edition released on March 9, 2004 as a two disc set (Special Collector's Edition), with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras
  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • 6-Part Documentary: (Approximately 37 minutes)
    • Moses
    • The Chosen People
    • Land of the Pharaohs
    • The Paramount Lot
    • The Score
    • Mr. DeMille
  • Vintage Newsreel: The Ten Commandments - Premiere in New York
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Third Edition released on March 21, 2006 as a three disc set (50th Anniversary Collection), with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras
  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • 6-Part Documentary: (Approximately 37 minutes)
    • Moses
    • The Chosen People
    • Land of the Pharaohs
    • The Paramount Lot
    • The Score
    • Mr. DeMille
  • Vintage Newsreel: The Ten Commandments - Premiere in New York
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Disc Three: The Movie (1923 Version, 136 minutes)
  • 1.37:1 Academy Ratio (4:3 Standard)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Stereo 2.0)
  • Subtitles: French
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence


The movie has been broadcast on the ABC network on the Saturday before Easter, most recently on April 11, 2009, with the movie leading in views for that night, with approximately 6.81 million viewers.


  • Although Rameses II and Seti I were historical figures, Rameses' wife's name was Nefertari, not "Nefretiri", as in the film. This queen, though well-known, is not to be confused with the even more famous queen Nefertiti, who lived 75 years earlier. Both names mean "Beautiful."

  • The place of the "Throne Princess" was real, and was designed to ensure legitimacy as well as symbolizing the presence of the Goddess Isis in the royal lineage. Ancient Egyptians traced heritage through the maternal, not the paternal line; the royal line of succession was through the women.

  • The voice of God at the burning bush scene is Charlton Heston's, slightly slowed down and deepened. Heston's voice was recorded for the film in the marble chapel at Fairhaven Mausoleum in Santa Ana, CA. The voice of God at the giving of the Ten Commandments is a chorus of several male voices including, principally, Heston's and DeMille's - recorded separately with one track laid on top of the other and tinkered with electronically. It is said that this was a very time-consuming and difficult process (it would be less so today). The other voices of this chorus were those of actor and singer Delos Jewkes and DeMille's publicist and biographer Donald Hayne.

  • Martha Scott, who plays Yoshebel (Moses' biological mother) also played Charlton Heston's mother in 1959 Ben-Hur. Scott and Heston had also played lovers on the stage before these two projects. She was only ten years older than Heston.

  • The Paramount mountain at the beginning of the movie is replaced with Mount Sinaimarker and the sky is red.



  • Charlton Heston: An Incredible Life: Revised Edition" by Michelle Bernier; Published by Createspace, 2009

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