Season 1: The Purpose of Israel? (Adapting Exodus)
When I began working on my theoretical TV adaptation of the Book of Exodus, I made the decision to take the anti-Moses outlooks that eventually surface on the road out of Egypt and to embody them in specific characters/factions. The tension between these outlooks propels a great deal of the plot in season one - particularly any of the events that are original to the adaptation and not already found in the biblical source. Ultimately, out of this conflict arises the central thematic question of the season: what is the purpose of Israel? As a capstone to my posts on season one of Adapting Exodus, I'll explore the various ways this central thematic question is answered throughout the season.
God refuses to leave Israel in service to Egypt. He is committed to dismantling the oppressive system that holds them in bondage, even if it means tearing apart his creation apart bit by bit.
Israel's Purpose is to Serve Egypt
When we begin the season, Israel has already been in slavery for decades. Pharaoh and the Egyptian Court take it for granted that Israel exists to serve them and their war effort. Working under this assumption, Pharaoh doesn't think twice about heaping brutal conditions on the Israelites in order to further Egypt's war efforts against the Foreign Nation. When the assumption that Israel exists to serve Egypt is challenged by the Rebel's attempts to ally with the Foreign Nation, this sends Pharaoh over the edge. In his mind, an Israelite that doesn't exist to serve him doesn't deserve to exist.
The assumption that Israel exists to serve Egypt is also embraced from within by the Appeaser who leads Israel. Instead of seeking to challenge their role as slaves to Egypt, the Appeaser spends most of the season trying to manage the relationship between Egypt and Israel, keeping Israel content with the status quo and keeping Egypt appeased with their performance as slaves. He (and later his son) can't imagine a secure existence for Israel that doesn't involve Egyptian servitude and so he's even willing to fight to hold onto that reality.
The Prince [Pharaoh-2] has an interesting character arc in relation to his view of Israel. The Egyptian Prince begins his career as a more humane Egyptian with qualms about the harsh and violent measures implemented by his father, the Pharaoh. What we discover over the course of the season, however, is that he shares his father's same basic assumption about Israel's purpose: they exist to serve Egypt. Far from respecting the Israelite's inherent dignity as humans, the Prince's gentler measures are simply a tool to make Israel into a more compliant and effective workforce. After he ascends to the throne, when push comes to shove, Pharaoh-2 ultimately ends up becoming just as harsh and oppressive as his father, doubling down stubbornly even in the face of the destruction of his own kingdom by the ten plagues.
Israel's Purpose is to Play Politics
The inciting incident of season one is the arrival of emissaries from the Foreign Nation, seeking an alliance with the Israelites. This provides the Israelites with a potential new purpose that before would have been unimaginable for them: they can compete in the same political game as their Egyptian masters but become their own independent player. This is what the Rebel character is all about - conniving and scheming and doing whatever it takes to get Israel engaged as a political power in opposition to Egypt. Unfortunately for the Israelites, these efforts don't deliver the freedom and agency expected. Instead, the Egyptians clamp down and the Israelite end up becoming even more tightly controlled and even more violently oppressed.
God follows a reliable truism: what you win people through, you win them to. Just as reliance on worldly power inevitably leads to the service and worship of worldly power, so too will Israel's reliance on God's supernatural power will lead them to serve and worship God alone.
Part of the development of Moses' character is tied in here. Whereas many adaptations frame Moses' murder of the Egyptian slave driver as solely a personal crime of passion, I have created a context that gives it a more political significance. The young Moses wants to do something about the abuse of his people and he considers using his murder as a launching point for an Israelite rebellion under his own leadership. When this initial idea fails, he ends up fleeing into exile. Deep down, perhaps Moses' failure at politics makes him fall back under the assumption that Israel exists to serve Egypt. Under the influence of this assumption, he distances himself from his Israelite identity. It takes God showing up to give Moses a new sense of personal purpose and, along with that, a new sense of Israel's purpose.
Israel's Purpose is to Trust and Serve the Lord
The hinge of season one comes in episode eight, during the Burning Bush Theophany at Sinai. Up until this point, we've had only the slightest hints at Israel's true purpose as the people of God - little moments of worship, prayer, and communal reflections on the stories of the patriarchs. But when God shows up, these seeds of faith come to fruition. Moses is converted from a disillusioned rebel leader to a humble prophet entrusted with the supernatural signs that will ultimately set Israel free. In doing so, God provides a new purpose that cuts across the grain of the two "worldly" visions that dominate the front end of the season.
On the one hand, God refuses to leave Israel in service to Egypt. He is committed to dismantling the oppressive system that holds them in bondage, even if it means tearing apart his creation apart bit by bit. On the other hand, God chooses a means of liberation that is radically different from the political schemes and alliances used by the Rebel. In light of Israel's later history, we know that such alliances ultimately wouldn't set Israel free anyway; they would merely enslave her to a different master. God chooses to set his people free more directly, asserting his own supernatural power through his prophet, Moses. In doing so, God follows a reliable truism: what you win people through, you win them to. Just as reliance on worldly power inevitably leads to the service and worship of worldly power, so too will Israel's reliance on God's supernatural power will lead them to serve and worship God alone.
Other Themes in Season 1
Although Israel's purpose is the primary thematic focus of the season, there are several other issues that I wanted to briefly mention:
The transfer of wisdom, faith, and responsibility from one generation to another (Moses' parents to their children, Pharaoh-1 to Prince, Appeaser to his son, and the Passover).
Ruling through violence and an iron will vs. peacefulness and leniency (Pharaoh-1 & advisors vs. Prince, leading to his new outlook as Pharaoh-2)
Hiding and running from the past vs. accepting and dealing with it (Moses dealing with his murder and also his Israelite past in Midian)
Pragmatic Relativism vs. Stubborn Hard Heartedness vs. Faith (the Appeaser and the Magician don't adhere to core beliefs but shift around according to the situation; Pharaoh-1 and later Pharaoh-2 have fundamental beliefs that they are unwilling to question, even in the face of counter-evidence; Moses initially doesn't have faith to serve God but has it built through God's theophany)
God's faithfulness to his people throughout history (the inclusion of stories from Israel's past reinforces the idea that God is committed to his people, even if he seems absent up until when he arrives at Sinai)