Hollywood’s Holy Relics: Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments Are Up for Bid

By Milo Jones | Posted March 11, 2024

In the 1956 blockbuster The Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh and Charlton Heston’s Moses engage in a war of wills. After losing his army in the Red Sea, Pharoah finally admits defeat in Brynner’s last line: “His god—is God.”

At the time, The Ten Commandments was the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of $13 million. Yet it was also one of the most financially successful. In its initial run at the box office, it grossed about $122.7 million—about $1.3 billion today. The film also won an Oscar for Best Special Effects after being nominated for seven Academy Awards.

In fact, this Paramount Pictures classic made such an impact on American culture that Heston’s Ten Commandments prop is now up for auction. The two tablets, carried by the actor in the golden calf scene, are estimated to sell for up to $80,000.

Idolatry in Disguise

If you think $80,000 is ridiculous for a fiberglass prop that hardly resembles the real thing, consider two other items from the movie that sold in previous auctions. The robe Heston wore when playing the bearded Moses sold for $447,000, and his Red Sea staff sold for $448,000. The sales of these props far exceeded their original estimates, which means the Ten Commandments could potentially sell for a similar price.

The irony here can hardly be missed. While popular culture cheapens God’s law, it idolizes a prop in its place. 

A similar thing happened with Gideon’s ephod. The high priestly ephod was an outer garment that held the breastplate containing “the Urim and the Thummim” (Exodus 28:30), the stones through which God indicated His will (Number 27:21; 1 Samuel 23:9–12; 28:6). When Gideon made an ephod of gold for the men of Israel, he appeared to be directing their attention away from his rulership to God’s (Judges 8:23). But Gideon’s version was not according to God’s design. “It became a snare”—a cheap substitute for true worship—“and all Israel played the harlot with it” (v. 27).

But even an object of divine origin can become an idol—like the bronze serpent Moses was directed to make. After the prophet set it on a pole, whoever looked at it would live after being bitten by “fiery serpents” (Numbers 21:6, 8). This object pointed to Christ taking the sinner’s place on the cross. Yet during King Hezekiah’s reign, we find the Israelites worshiping the object instead of Him to whom the object pointed. Thus, the king “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it” (2 Kings 18:4).

The danger of worshiping the type in place of the antitype is perhaps best illustrated in how the Jews revered their temple. Instead of seeing in its services “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), they destroyed Him who was their antitypical temple (John 2:19), even while swearing “by the gold” of the typical (Matthew 23:16). When Stephen told the Sanhedrin that “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48), “they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth” (v. 54). How dare he accuse them of idolatry!

Biblical Fiction

Stephen’s accusation applies to every culture that claims to be Christian today. If God doesn’t dwell in objects that appropriately point to Him—objects whose purpose is to illustrate His dwelling in us (1 Corinthians 3:16)—He certainly doesn’t inhabit dramas that pervert His sacred Word.

Many so-called “Christian” films are nothing but historical fiction—like The Ten Commandments. We could spend hours fussing over this blockbuster’s inaccuracies, but that would be a waste of time, so we’ll just analyze the prop currently for sale. According to one biblical archaeologist, “There are no recognizable words spelled out on the tablets. It is not the Ten Commandments written upon them.”

So, why would bidders pay $80,000 (and potentially a lot more) for a version of God’s law whose ancient paleo-Hebrew letters spell only gibberish? Because they’re buying a piece of Hollywood, not Scripture.

To resemble the red granite at Mount Sinai, the “fiberglass tablets were hand-painted with slightly different red and black-speckled patinas … and intentionally molded with slight irregularities to further resemble chiseled stone.” This might accurately resemble the second pair of tablets that Moses had to cut (Exodus 34:1). But the first pair, which he broke, was crafted by God Himself (24:12) and thus had no irregularities. Moreover, verse 10 indicates these first tablets were made “of sapphire stone, … like the very heavens in its clarity.”

By ignoring such details, Scripture becomes perverted. But the greater perversion lies in mixing the holy narrative with elements that appeal to the average cinema junkie. At its core, The Ten Commandments is a romance drama—a love triangle between Moses (Heston), Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), and Rameses II (Brynner). The queen loves one, but she is stuck with the other. “Oh Moses, Moses,” she says before throwing herself into the prophet’s arms. “Why, of all men, did I fall in love with a prince of fools?”

Since 1956, the lesson for Christians hasn’t changed: When it comes to the Bible, nothing Hollywood touches remains uncorrupted. 

One thing we can appreciate, however, is Heston’s line while holding the Ten Commandments before the golden calf worshipers: “There is no freedom without the law.” Indeed, freedom is what makes God’s law more valuable than a movie prop—more desirable “than gold, yes, than fine gold!” (Psalm 119:127).

To learn more about the value of this freedom, watch Pastor Doug’s presentation “Laws of Love and Liberty.” 

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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