When Hollywood Cared about God—but Not Too Much

April 26 2022

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.

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Read more at Public Discourse

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

 

Iran’s Responsibility for West Bank Terror

On Friday, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli police officer and was then shot by another officer after trying to grab his rifle. Commenting on the many similar instances of West Bank-based terror during the past several months, Amit Saar, a senior IDF intelligence officer, predicted that the violence will likely grow worse in the coming year. Yoni Ben Menachem explains the Islamic Republic’s role in fueling this wave of terrorism:

The escape of six terrorists from Gilboa prison in September 2021 was the catalyst for the establishment of new terrorist groups in the northern West Bank, according to senior Islamic Jihad officials. The initiative to establish new armed groups was undertaken by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in coordination with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, implementing the strategy of Qassem Suleimani—the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards who was assassinated in Iraq by the U.S.—of using proxies to achieve the goals of expansion of the Iranian regime.

After arming Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Iran moved in the last year to support the new terrorist groups in the northern West Bank. Iran has been pouring money into the Islamic Jihad organization, which began to establish new armed groups under the name of “Battalions,” which also include terrorists from other organizations such as Fatah, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. First, the “Jenin Battalion” was established in the city of Jenin, followed the “Nablus Battalion.”

Despite large-scale arrest operation by the IDF and the Shin Bet in the West Bank, Islamic Jihad continues to form new terrorist groups, including the “Tulkarem Battalion,” the “Tubas Battalion,” and the “Balata Battalion” in the Balata refugee camp.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Palestinian terror, West Bank