Reconstructionist Rabbi Featured in Netflix Moses Docudrama Series

When Rabbi Maurice Harris set out to write a book about Moses, he never could have imagined where that work would lead. 

Now, more than a decade later, Harris is heavily featured in the new Netflix docudrama, Testament: The Story of Moses. The show, which dropped on March 27, is among the streaming platform’s first forays into religion programing. The three-part hybrid-documentary series explores Moses’ story from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. It intersperses dramatic scenes with actors and interviews with scholars, academics and theologians. 

Harris, who serves as Reconstructing Judaism’s associate director for Thriving Communities and Israel Affairs specialist, is one of four rabbis featured. He first appears onscreen a few minutes into the first episode, pointing out that the Torah never reveals Moses’ original Hebrew name since it is thought to be Egyptian. Throughout the series, Harris is one of the main voices providing context to the narrative. 

How did this all happen? 

Back in 2012, Harris published Moses: A Stranger Among Us with Wipf and Stock, a small, Oregon-based publishing house focused on biblical studies and theology. From a Reconstructionist perspective, Harris examines some of Moses’ lesser-known episodes and attributes to derive ethical and spiritual guidance for our times. Ironically, he was seeking to expand people’s understanding of Moses beyond the mental images they might have from the ubiquity of films such as “The Ten Commandments” and “The Prince of Egypt.” 

In the years since, his book has sold roughly 1,000 copies. (He’s since published two other books.) Among those who read it was a producer working on a then-unnamed documentary about Moses. They first spoke about four years ago: Harris said he’d be game to participate as long as the series featured multiple religious viewpoints and featured actors who looked and sounded like they came to from the Middle East and North Africa. 

Rabbi Maurice Harris is the author of Moses: A Stranger Among Us

He was reassured on both counts, and two years later, sat for hours of interviews at a rented studio outside Philadelphia. In the week since the series debuted on Netflix, Harris has seen a jump in sales for his book.  

“Overall, I’m really pleased with how it turned out,” said the 2003 Reconstructionist Rabbinical College graduate. “They kept their word, presenting a broad range of experts from all three Abrahamic religions.” 

He hopes that the series will remind people of the intimate connections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

Charlton Heston as Moses, arms spread wide, holding his staff as the sky storms.
Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments

I think the series can help challenge prejudices people in all three faith communities sometimes have about the others. It does so by giving a platform to a group of warm, knowledgeable and friendly experts from all three religions,” he said. “I hope it will break down some of the suspicion and bad feelings that people have.”  

Read JTA’s coverage of the Netflix series.

Learn a little more of Rabbi Maurice Harris’ story, and that of other RRC grads, here.

Hear Rabbi Maurice Harris and Rabbi Deborah Waxman on a 2023 Evolve podcast interview. 

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