When Hollywood Cared about God—but Not Too Much

In the years after World War II, America saw a flood of films based on biblical themes—most prominently Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959). The first, of course, takes as its subject the book of Exodus, and while the second is inspired by the New Testament, it is in a sense a very Jewish story set in Roman Judea. Matthew Franck examines the rise and fall of this genre, and its underlying religious message.

DeMille, who had earlier bridged the silent-to-talkies era with his trio of religious films The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), and The Sign of the Cross (1932), brought the genre roaring back with Samson and Delilah [based on Vladimir Jabotinsky’s novelization of the biblical tale], which was released in December 1949 and became the highest-grossing film of 1950. Elaborating the Bible’s brief story of Samson into more than two hours, DeMille gave moviegoers a Technicolor extravaganza of scantily dressed beefcake (Victor Mature as Samson) and cheesecake (Hedy Lamarr as Delilah).

As for the piety, it came in small, easily digestible doses. The Hebrews of the Old Testament stories were presented chiefly as lovers of the freedom to worship their one God—freedom from the Egyptians or the Philistines, as the case may be. One could hardly miss the cold war message in the prologue to DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments, in which the director himself appeared on screen and called it “the story of the birth of freedom,” going on to say, “The theme of this picture is whether men are to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today.” An important message, to be sure, but hardly all there is to say about the relationship of the chosen people to the Almighty.

In short, the Hollywood religious-epic genre of this period was all about uplift, and toleration, and offending exactly no one. And if scripture, or the life of the early Church, did not seem to provide enough excitement to sustain a feature-length film, then a little sexual tension, or some heroic action scenes (battles, gladiatorial combat, chariot races) would serve the turn.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: American Religion, Bible, Civil religion, Hollywood

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security