God gave this land to them

Pat Boone wrote the words to “Exodus.”
December 1, 2014

Pat Boone wrote the words to “Exodus.”

If you’re below a certain age, Pat Boone is some random dude you need Google to ID, and “Exodus” is the new Ridley Scott 3D with Christian Bale as Moses and a wicked cool CGI Red Sea. 

To Boomers, Pat Boone was the un-Elvis in white bucks, Charlton Heston owns Moses and the real Moses movie is “The Ten Commandments.”  “Exodus” was Otto Preminger’s Zionist epic based on the 1958 Leon Uris novel, whose score won Ernest Gold an Academy Award.   It had a big theme — Buum BUUM. BUUM BUUM – but no words, because Preminger and Gold “>put it, “the second Jewish national anthem,” and recently Boone “>Nina Paley’s 2012 animation of Andy Williams’ pipes shows a succession of conquering Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Jews, Babylonians, Macedonians, Seleucids, Romans, Caliphs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, Palestinians and others who also said this land is theirs, and also in the name of God, gods, divine rulers, divine prophets and holy texts.   

Eleven years old is the same age as the British actor Isaac Andrew, whom Ridley Scott has “>contested by a generation and more of Israeli historians, journalists, military leaders, political figures and artists.  This openness to historical reality doesn’t diminish the idealism and right to self-determination of that nation’s founders, doesn’t mitigate the horror of the Holocaust that impelled its establishment, doesn’t accept the tragic spiral of terror and counterterror visited on its inhabitants.  But it does make it harder to hold fast to origin stories in which right always battles wrong and never battles right. 

“God gave this land to them” is a sentiment I don’t think I’ve ever encountered in history, let alone in song.  Historical revisionism doesn’t displace one god with another.  It replaces divine narratives with secular ones that are less flattering and less thrilling.  It’s uncomfortable to think about Thanksgiving’s origin in gratitude to a Christian God for enabling the “>manifest destiny allotted to white people by Providence.  It may be a heretical thought, but the founding of modern Israel had more to do with mortal men and women than with the coming of Moshiach or the second coming of Christ. 

Earlier this year, Pat Boone “>living in the End Times.  People believe stories, whether they’re true or not.  They have undeniable explanatory appeal. “The Exodus Song” tells one helluva powerful origin story.  That’s why the 11-year-old in me wants to keep singing it.  But a fable is not a fix. 

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com. 

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