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Biblical tales deserving of the big screen
01/06/2015

Fade to black hats photo 2

So Hollywood went and made the “gritty reboot” of the Moses story after doing one for the Noah story, with mega-budgets, A-list actors, name directors and CGI miracles. Meanwhile, The Red Tent — about Dinah and her female elders — got a TV movie … on cable.

First of all, there are plenty of great stories from the Torah that never seem to make it to the screen. Elijah confronts Jezebel, calls flame down from the sky, and ascends to Heaven in a Chariot of Fire (yes, this is where that other movie got its title), but where’s his green-screen glory?

Based on a Torah Story photo

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Or there’s Jonah, the original whale-rider; Joshua’s demolition-by-shofar; Lot’s hometown Sodom being “turned upside down” while his wife morphs into salt. Then there is Gideon’s war, Phineas’ zealotry and Samuel’s prophecies. Daniel has the writing on the wall and the lion’s den in his story.

Joseph did get a musical, but his big brother Judah has a real arc to his development. Moses gets the spotlight, but Aaron braves Pharaoh’s wrath with him, calls down the first three plagues, makes the Golden Calf, and loses two of his sons while becoming the first High Priest. Both Abraham’s and David’s and Solomon’s lives might require a trilogy each. Saul’s tale of ambition and tragedy is epic. Samson’s story has been told again and again and again, but where’s his gritty reboot?

And all of those aside, what about the women? The Torah has many more women with great stories than could fit in one red tent. Here’s the pitch for these movie-ready matriarchs:

Sarah is the mother to a whole tribe. She rules alongside her husband. Childless her whole life, she finally has Isaac, only to see him bullied by his older half-brother and then taken to be sacrificed. She dies before he returns, unharmed, giving everything for her faith.

Tamar loses one husband. She marries his brother, only to have him die, too. Judah has one more son, but he is too young to marry and even if he weren’t, would Judah allow a third son under her chuppah? Desperate, she takes matters — and some of Judah’s possessions — into her own hands.

Miriam’s side of the Exodus story … why haven’t we seen that? She ensures her baby brother’s survival. She leads the women in song after the Splitting of the Sea. She brings forth a well in the wilderness. She contracts leprosy. She’s one of the major figures in the Torah altogether.

Ruth marries into a Jewish family only to see her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law die. She clings to her mother-in-law through loss, poverty, famine and shame. Then her dedication catches the admiration of a wealthy landowner. Could this be the answer to both their prayers?  

Deborah is a mighty judge and ruler of the whole tribe. Even the general will not go to battle without her. But when the enemy invades, it is up to Yael to use her powers of … persuasion to help her deal the fatal blow and rout the attackers.

Esther is an orphan, raised by her wise, kindly uncle. A series of events having nothing to do with her suddenly thrust her into the heart of palace intrigue and she must face a capricious emperor and his venomous vizier — and her only weapon is the truth. (Yes, this was a recent movie, but have you ever heard of it?)

Basemat and Taphat, daughters of Solomon, were princesses! And princess movies sell tickets. It’s the law.

Before we get yet another Exodus or Flood story, can we please consider making new movies about these other great Torah figures? One of these stories has to appeal to Christopher Nolan, right? Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Kenneth Branagh, Ang Lee? Or even (dare we think it) Scorsese?            

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