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Biblical films make use of several different images and related perceptions of kingship that are found throughout both Testaments: 1) king as absolute tyrant, 2) king as disapproved servant of God, 3) king as ideal head of the nation, 4) king as ironically subversive clown, and 5) God (or Christ) as ultimate king of kings in the universe. Films have been quick to adopt and depict these five images following biblical accounts and through creative imagination.

First and foremost, the concept of a king as an absolute tyrant is the earliest overture image of king in the OT/HB, particularly in Exodus. The Pharaoh as king of Egypt, self-declared god-king, appears as the ruthless oppressor of Israelites and stiff-necked opponent of YHWH God (Exod 1–14). When his kingship is threatened by the high birth rate among enslaved Israelites, the Pharaoh is quick to kill all newborn boys among them. The Ten Commandments (dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1956, US) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (dir. Ridley Scott, 2014, US) adroitly project this dual conception of king as violent tyrant and opponent of God onto their depictions of the Pharaoh. In the latter, the Pharaoh’s arrogance culminates when pitted against Moses, who represents God. He declares, “I’m a god, I’m a god!” This image of human kings as absolute tyrants sets up the ultimate negative background against which the Bible’s other images of kingship are better understood.


Originally published in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Encyclopedia Series Vol. XV (Berlin; New York: Walter De Gruyter Inc., 2017), 247-249

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