It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage.
During the rule of Rameses I in Ancient Egypt, the pharaoh is informed that the Hebrew slaves believe that a recently seen star portends the arrival of a deliverer who will free them. Wanting to subvert the deliverer, yet unwilling to kill all the Hebrew slaves, Rameses I theorizes that the deliverer must be newly born and so orders the death of every male, Hebrew infant. Jewish slave Yochabel, along with her young daughter Miriam, prepares an ark of bulrushes and places her infant son in it. Pushing the ark into the Nile, Yochabel instructs Miriam to follow it, and the girl watches as it is found by Bithiah, the pharaoh’s daughter. The recently widowed Bithiah believes that the baby was sent by her deceased husband and, naming him Moses, dismisses the concern of her servant Memnet, who warns her that the child’s swaddling cloth was made by Levite Hebrews. Declaring that her son will be a prince of Egypt, Bithiah makes Memnet vow never to reveal his origins, although the servant secretly keeps the cloth.
Thirty years later, Bithiah’s brother Sethi is pharaoh, and Moses is much loved by the Egyptians, even more than Sethi’s own son, Rameses II. Rameses is deeply jealous of Moses, who has returned from Ethiopia after conquering it in Sethi’s name. Sethi chides Rameses for not completing the treasure city for his upcoming jubilee, and Rameses blames his failure on the stubbornness of the Hebrew slaves. At Rameses’ urging, Sethi sends Moses to oversee the new city’s construction, much to the chagrin of Nefretiri, the princess who must marry Sethi’s heir. Nefretiri is in love with Moses, who shares her passion, even though Sethi has not announced whether Moses or Rameses will succeed him. In Goshen, where the new city is being built, Moses supervises Baka, the cold-hearted master builder. Also driving the slaves is Dathan, a ruthless Hebrew who has become an overseer. Dathan and Baka both desire Lilia, a Hebrew slave who is in love with the stone cutter Joshua.
One day, Yochabel, now an old woman, is almost crushed by the enormous stones being used to build the city. Joshua is condemned to death for attempting to save her, and Lilia then races through the crowd to find Moses and plead for his mercy. Upon examining the scene, Moses frees Yochabel and Joshua, then decrees that not only should the exhausted, starving slaves have a day of rest, they should be fed from the temple granaries. Soon the city is almost completed, and although Rameses and the greedy priests attempt to prejudice Sethi against Moses, Sethi is pleased by Moses’ progress. Sethi announces his intention to name Moses his successor, but Memnet, determined not to let a Hebrew sit on Egypt’s throne, reveals the truth of his birth to Nefretiri. Desperate to protect her beloved, Nefretiri kills Memnet, then tries to cover her actions. She confesses all to Moses, however, when he finds the swaddling cloth. Astonished by the news, Moses seeks out Yochabel, whom Nefretiri reveals is his mother. Moses finds Yochabel just as Bithiah is pleading with her to leave Egypt before Moses learns the truth, but when Yochabel cannot deny that he is her son, Moses accepts his heritage.
After being welcomed by Miriam and his brother Aaron, Moses begins working in the mud pits making bricks alongside the slaves he once commanded. Although Yochabel is convinced that Moses is the deliverer, he remains doubtful about the god of the Hebrews. Later, Nefretiri pleads with Moses to return to the palace before Sethi learns of his situation. Nefretiri’s argument that he can better help his people after he is pharaoh seems to sway Moses, but he states that first he must see Baka, who has taken Lilia to be his house slave. Moses arrives as Baka is about to whip Joshua, who had come to rescue Lilia. Infuriated by Baka’s callousness, Moses kills him, then reveals his heritage to Joshua. The amazed stone cutter declares that Moses is the deliverer, and his words are overheard by Dathan, who informs Rameses. On the day of Sethi’s jubilee, Rameses announces that he has captured the Hebrew deliverer, and the courtiers are stunned when Moses, bound in chains, is led in. Shaken, Sethi asks Moses if he would lead the slaves in revolt against him, and Moses confesses that he would free them if he could. The heartbroken Sethi then announces that Rameses will succeed him and marry Nefretiri, and leaves Moses’ fate for Rameses to determine. Rameses then escorts Moses to the edge of the vast desert and, giving him the pole to which he was bound as a staff, tells him to go forth into his kingdom.
Despite his lack of water and food, Moses crosses the desert to reach Midian, where he collapses at a well tended by the daughters of Bedouin shepherd Jethro. As time passes, Moses is accepted by the Bedouins and marries Jethro’s oldest daughter, Sephora, although he confesses that he is still tormented by the thought of Nefretiri. Several years later, Moses and Sephora have a son, Gershom, and happily tend their flocks, while in Egypt, Rameses, made pharaoh after the Sethi’s death, has a son with Nefretiri. One day, Moses sees a burning bush on Mt. Sinai, the holy mountain of God. Climbing up the mountain, upon which no mortal man has set foot before, Moses finds the burning bush and hears the voice of God, who orders him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites to Sinai, where they will receive God’s laws. Although he still doubts his ability to serve God, Moses is touched by the “light of the eternal mind,” and Joshua, who escaped from Egypt, swears to accompany him, as does Sephora.
Upon reaching Egypt, Moses confronts Rameses, demanding that his people be freed. Rameses laughs at Moses’ proclamation that he brings the word of God, although Nefretiri is thrilled to see that Moses is alive. When Moses turns his staff into a serpent that swallows up the serpents produced by the Egyptian priests, Rameses dismisses his actions as a magician’s tricks, then continues to ignore Moses’ pleas to free his people, even though God sets loose nine plagues upon Egypt. Finally, after Moses turns the Nile into blood for seven days, Rameses’ advisors urge him to acquiesce, but the pharaoh insists that there must be a natural explanation for the phenomenon. When Rameses again denies Moses, Moses asserts that one final, terrible plague will be brought upon the Egyptians by Rameses’ own words. Scornful, Rameses declares that the next day, his soldiers will kill all the firstborn Hebrew children. Rameses’ words are turned back upon him, however, when the Hebrews protect their children by painting their doors with lambs’ blood, and a spreading pestilence kills every other firstborn child, including Rameses’ own son. Grief-stricken, Rameses grants the slaves their freedom, but after the exodus has begun, the vengeful Nefretiri taunts Rameses until he orders his charioteers to chase the freed slaves. Soon the Egyptian forces find the Hebrews by the Red Sea, and Dathan foments a call for Moses’ death for leading them to certain doom.
To demonstrate the power of the Lord, Moses uses his staff to part the Red Sea and clear a path for the Hebrews, while God’s pillar of fire holds back the chariots. When the fire dissipates, Rameses orders his soldiers to cross the Red Sea, but before they can reach the Hebrews, Moses restores the sea and the Egyptians are drowned. Defeated, Rameses returns to the palace and there declares to Nefretiri that the god of Moses cannot be defied. Soon after, Moses leads his people to the base of Mt. Sinai and ascends the mountain to receive God’s laws. As forty days pass, the people grow anxious, with Dathan proclaiming that because Moses must be dead, the people should return to Egypt, where at least they can find food. Dathan assures the people that if they follow an Egyptian idol, they will be safe from the pharaoh’s wrath, and Aaron is ordered to craft a large, golden calf.
Meanwhile, on the mountain, Moses witnesses God’s finger carve His ten commandments on two stone tablets. When Moses comes down from the mountain to share the laws, he is horrified to see the people worshipping the calf. Dathan attempts to defy Moses, but Moses throws the tablets on the ground, causing an immense earthquake that swallows the nonbelievers. Although they are forced by God’s anger to wander the wilderness for forty years, Moses and his people remain strong in their faith, until one day, they come to the River Jordan, across which lays their promised land. Moses informs his family that God has told him that he shall not pass the river, however, and gives his staff and robe to Joshua, thereby anointing him the new leader. With the restored tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, Moses urges his people to proclaim liberty throughout the land, then waves farewell as he ascends Mt. Nebo.
- 4 hours | G