In the modern world, there are lots of common phrases that have become popularised through their common usage. Some of these go back for hundreds of years, such as the Bard’s “Forever and a day” and “It’s Greek to me”. Others have come about more recently thanks to pop culture such as “It’s on like Donkey Kong”, or “Jump the shark”.
But one phrase that’s been around since the 50s, but rarely heard is this one.
“So let it be written, so let it be done”. The meaning is: “I have given you an instruction which must be written down and then performed”. The origin of the phrase was in the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments” when it was said by the pharaoh Ramses II.
Today’s article, will be looking at the origin of the phrase and exploring the literal meaning as well as it’s implied meanings. We’ll also be trying to figure out why it hasn’t caught on and why it should.
During the 1950s, the cold war was underway. Across the globe, there was an idealogical battle between the religion and capitalism loving ideology of America, and the Atheist socialist loving ideology of Russia.
Because of America’s newfound love for religion, Biblical thrillers became a common genre of films. Stories from the Bible were acted out with ground breaking special effects.
The phrase “So let it be written, so let it be done” comes from the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments”.
The quote was said by the film’s version of Ramses II. This was a character who was not directly mentioned in the Bible, however, many historians believe that this was the Pharaoh who was in charge when the plagues hit Egypt.
Regardless as to how true this is, he is the one who the film makers chose.
The real Ramses II ruled Egypt for 66 years, and in that time established himself as formidable army leader, and even managed to create history’s first peace treaty between Egypt and the Hittite Empire.
Film Vs Bible
Whilst the basic plot of the film was inspired by the story in Exodus, there are a few notable differences between what’s written in the Bible, and what’s seen on screen.
Of course, the actual story in the Bible is simply a small part of the whole chapter, and a film which is an accurate portrayal of the Bible wouldn’t last much longer than 10 minutes.
To fill out the time, the script writers added in some extra characters and some extra dialogue. Whilst this did make it more different from the source material, it also made it more entertaining and fun to watch.
Before we look into the implied meaning of the phrase, we should at first look at the literal meaning. When Ramses II first says it, he has just given an instruction, and he’s saying that he wants his scribe to write it down, and then for it to be acted upon.
The literal interpretation of this phrase is “I have given an instruction. I want this instruction to be written down and then carried out”.
Just to be clear, this phrase is not written in the Bible, nor was it said by Ramses II, the 1956 film was the first time it was ever recorded being said.
As with most common phrases, the literal interpretation is not what the writer intended it to mean.
The thing to remember about Pharaohs is that they were highly power dictators. In ancient Egypt there was no democracy and the Pharaohs orders were law.
The phrase “So let it be written, so let it be done” means “What I have just instructed is going to happen. It doesn’t matter who does or doesn’t like it. It will happen”.
When something is written into law, that means it cannot be changed without a lot of effort.
Whilst the exact phrase “So let it be written, so let it be done” might not have caught on, alternatives that have similar meanings have.
For example, we might describe somebody’s future as being “set in stone”. Which means that there is little that they can do change their fate.
You might also have been told by your parents to “Do as you are told”. Whilst this phrase does not involve anything being written, it still implies that their instruction is to be followed through without question.
Why it hasn’t caught one
It’s interesting to think about why this phrase hasn’t become more common.
One explanation is that it’s so recent it hasn’t had time to become a historically established phrase. However, other phrases such as “It’s on like Donkey Kong” or “Jump the shark” have been around for even less time.
Because it’s a modern film, in an ancient setting, the language used was already outdated when it was first created.
Another possible explanation is that because of other phrases such as “set in stone” we already have ways of saying “this must be carried out”.
Why it should’ve
It’s not caught on. But it should.
The issue with “set in stone” is that whilst it’s dictating the future, it doesn’t necessarily say that this future is being dictated by someone’s instruction.
Today, we don’t have a metaphorical way of saying “The instruction I have just given WILL be carried out”.
“So let it be written, so let it be done” is short, and simple, and gets right to the point. If we started using this phrase in more conversations, then more people would learn what it means.
The great thing about quotes like these is that their implied meaning can be learnt without having to know what it literally means or the context it comes from.
The phrase came about in the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments” when it was said by the pharaoh Ramses II. Whilst he meant it to mean “My instruction is to be written down, then done” a deeper look at his power suggests what he really meant was “This instruction is to be followed, no matter who does or doesn’t like it”.
Whilst it is yet to catch on in casual conversation, it’s a phrase that could find it’s way into our vocabulary.