3 min read

Movie lovers, especially those who liked the classic Biblical movies or are fans of Charlton Heston, might have noticed a similarity between the colours in the attire used by Eurovision Song Contest Winner Netta Barzilai and Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments and Ben Hur.

There are some who claim that the choice of the colour of Charlton Heston’s robe was coordinated with the desert. Apparently DeMille chose the colour because he knew darker colours would prevent the actors from blending into the sandy background.

However further research has indicated that the Middrash (Jewish telling) indicate that the colour-code is linked to the suggestion by the Middrash that the tribe of Levite’s colours were red, black and white, based on the corresponding gem worn on the High Priest’s breastplate.

In the famous Cecil B. DeMille motion picture The Ten Commandments, the actor Charlton Heston, portraying Moses, appears in the second half of the film wearing a red robe with black and white stripes, similar to the Levite tribal standard as described in the Midrash.

There is probably no Scriptural warrant for the Levites marching in the center of the first rank during the actual Exodus, as this film portrays. This, of course, was not the Levites’ eventual place in the marching order.

heston ten comandments

Ben Hur

netta junilant

Who were the Levites?

Dr. Mark Leuchter is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Religion at Temple University explains that the Torah describes the Levites as a landless Israelite tribe who inherited their position by responding to the call of their most illustrious member, Moses, to take vengeance against sinning Israelites, but this account masks a more complicated historical process.

When reading the Torah as a single narrative of Israel’s distant origins, the Levites appear alongside the other Israelite tribes who leave Egypt and wander in the wilderness with Moses before their return to the Promised Land of Canaan. Like those other tribes, they descend from one the sons of Jacob – Levi – described in the book of Genesis (Gen 29:34). Unlike those other tribes, however, they are destined to have no permanent tribal territory once Israel crosses the Jordan and enters Canaan (Num 18:20-21; Deut 10:9; 18:1). Instead, they are set aside as God’s “portion,” dedicated to ritual service and sacral duties throughout Israel’s tribal holdings, and especially at the Tabernacle (P’s precursor of the Jerusalem temple).

According to the biblical narrative, God chose the Levites to be cultic officials during the wilderness period. The exact reason for this is unclear. Deuteronomy states that the choice was made at Mount Horeb, seemingly after the Golden Calf incident.

According to the Bible, the golden calf (עֵגֶּל הַזָהָב ‘ēggel hazāhāv) was an idol made by the Israelites during Moses’ absence, when he went up to Mount Sinai. In Hebrew, the incident is known as ḥēṭ’ ha‘ēggel (חֵטְא הַעֵגֶּל) or “The Sin of the Calf”. It is first mentioned in Exodus 32:4.

Bull worship was common in many cultures. In Egypt, whence according to the Exodus narrative the Hebrews had recently come, the Apis Bull was a comparable object of worship, which some believe the Hebrews were reviving in the wilderness;[1]alternatively, some believe the God of Israel was associated with or pictured as a calf/bull deity through the process of religious assimilation and syncretism.