10 Exodus

In this chapter you will

  • encounter side by side some settings of a text the musical treatments of which have been mentioned separately in thematic chapters of this book
  • discover how the cinematic depiction of the exodus inspired a famous heavy metal song

The exodus comes up in a number of chapters in this book, as do many other texts. The chapter divisions allow us to explore the intersection of the Bible and music through a focus on texts, composers, genres, and other things. Each grouping inevitably separates some things from others. We will not repeat the discussion of Miriam’s musical response to the exodus in the first chapter of this book, nor our exploration of exodus themes in spirituals, nor Schoenberg’s treatment. Centuries-old and recent cinematic treatments of the story appear in chapter 27 on musicals and oratorios. Yet even so, there are many other musical explorations of the exodus story. Here is R. Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses.[1]

There is also Elmer Bernstein’s film score for The Ten Commandments. Here is a suite of music from the film courtesy of the Makris Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Predrag Gosta (who shared this 2021 performance on the orchestra’s YouTube channel).

One of the famous songs by the band Metallica, “Creeping Death,” was inspired not just by the exodus story in general but specifically by the depiction of the angel of death in the movie The Ten Commandments. This video conveys this very well by using scenes from the movie to accompany the song.[2]

For a very different film score treatment, have a listen to Ennio Morricone’s music for the 1974 film Moses the Lawgiver. The story receives operatic treatment in Gioachino Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto, which premiered in 1818. The religious subject matter allowed the composer to circumvent a ban on opera during Lent, when his new work would be performed.[3]

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed the oratorio “Die Israeliten in der Wüste” (The Israelites in the Desert).[4]

The ongoing celebration of the exodus during the Passover holiday has in turn inspired a great deal of additional music. Events and legends related to national origins gave rise to music that gave rise to biblical narratives that gave rise to annual celebrations that gave rise to music—and on and on it goes!

For Further Reading

Callahan, Allen Dwight. The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. Accessed September 26, 2022. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npzb4.

Corbett, George, ed. Annunciations: Sacred Music for the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Open Book, 2019.

National Endowment for the Arts and Chorus America. American Masterpieces: Choral Music. National Endowment for the Arts and Chorus America, 2006. https://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/LPS76484.

Simpson, Anne Key. Follow Me: The Life and Music of R. Nathaniel Dett. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993.


  1. This 1968 recording of Dett’s 1937 work The Ordering of Moses, performed by Jeanette Walters, soprano; Carol Brice, contralto; John Miles, tenor; and John Work, baritone with the Talladega College Choir is directed by Frank Harrison and the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William Levi Dawson.
  2. Uploaded to the Savage Mister YouTube channel. Audio licensed to YouTube by Tangible Medium Recordings (on behalf of EMV) et al.
  3. Christian Vásquez here conducts Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto in this performance by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and Simon Bolivar Choir of Venezuela. The recording was uploaded by Christian Vásquez to his own YouTube channel.
  4. C. P. E. Bach’s “Die Israeliten in der Wüste,” performed by the Harvard University Choir, Harvard Baroque Chamber Orchestra, and Grand Harmonie, conducted by Edward Elwyn Jones and featuring Amanda Forsythe and Jessica Petrus, sopranos; Jonas Budris, tenor; and David McFerrin, baritone, was recorded in 2014 at Harvard Memorial Church and uploaded by them to the church’s YouTube channel.


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The Bible and Music by James F. McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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