Moses

 

Prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, of whom there is no form of historical evidence. Calculated from references to contemporary rulers of Egypt (who are unnamed in the Bible) and to other contemporary kingdoms, Moses is believed to have been born around the middle of the 14th century, and died sometime in the 13th century BCE.

 

Moses is an important figure in Judaism through being the leader of the exodus from Egypt, and thereby founder of Israel, and being the person receiving the law of the Jewish people. His level of importance in Christianity is less so than in Judaism, as Jesus introduced a second covenant for the Christians. Still, the rules of the Ten Commandments has been central to Christianity throughout its existence.

 

Even if the two religions share the same stories, they emphasize slightly different aspects of him. In Judaism he is the one leading the Hebrews to the promised land, he is the greatest prophet and teacher. In Christianity, the march to the promised land is of relatively little importance compared to the Ten Commandments.

 

Moses is also important to Islam as being one of Mohammed's forerunners, bringing the same message as Mohammed brought many years later. Hence, Muslims consider Moses as a confirmation of the authenticity of the revelations received by and transmitted from Mohammed. But theologically, Moses is not important, as there is no specific learning ascribed to him alone.

 

Historical or Legendary?

 

The task of reconstructing the life of Moses according to modern historical science is not easy. Apart from partial Hebrew Scriptures we have no evidence that Moses, the leader of Israel's “Exodus,” ever lived. A self-serving cult document is not the best possible source for historical proof.

 

There is however nothing in religious sources that specifically contradict a historical Moses, but the time between his life and the first written versions on his life is several centuries and over such a time span, there is ample space for creation of legends, an amalgamation of myths and a distortion of facts. There are clear examples that these things have happened to the stories of Moses. Before they were written on sheepskin, biblical accounts about Moses were filtered through several centuries of oral tradition. They were trickled through creative minds of many generations of storytellers. The present shape of these stories was not finalized until seven or eight centuries after the supposed events.

 

As pointed out time and time again at our web site very little in Judeo/Christian/Muslim dogma is original. Most of it is borrowed - as a small sampling just dealing with the Ten Commandments:

 

 

One well known mythical element is clearly imported: the story about him being in a basket and put on the river Nile by his mother and saved by Pharaoh's daughter (this story is found in both the Bible and in the Koran). This myth is parallel to older myths in Mesopotamian religions.

 

Sargon of Akkad?   Or Moses?

 

Another part of the story that is best understood as mainly mythological, are the plagues that Yahweh inflicted upon Egypt when Pharaoh denied the Israelis the right to leave the country. There is no independent historical evidence of this (and the plagues were so hard that they never would have gone unrecorded).

 

Another fact to consider is that the history of Egypt in this period is well documented, there is no evidence from the records of Egypt itself that the events of Exodus ever occurred, nor is there one iota of archaeological evidence whatsoever.

 

Additionally, in reality, if a series of plagues had been visited upon Egypt, if thousands of slaves escaped in a mass runaway, if the army of the Pharaoh were swallowed up by the Red Sea, such events would doubtless have made it into the Egyptian records. There isn't a single word or hieroglyph describing any of these events. In fact there is much evidence to indicate otherwise:

 

The accounts of Moses fill four of the books that often are referred to as the “Five Books of Moses:” Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, filing up as much as 15% of the entire Christian Bible, and 20% of the Old Testament.

 

In presenting the history of the exodus, the transmitters of the story seemingly invented a character to whom many of the roles of other, and forgotten, characters have been attributed. The individual hero character is a better and clearer figure of the complexity of the will of the people and the different leaders, as well as the complexity of economical, political and sociological factors.

It has been proven archaeologically that these writers of the Bible, writing in the 9th through 6th centuries BCE, committed these words to paper centuries after the events they were describing.  Many of the places that they describe and write about did not exist in the 9th century BCE but came to prominence sometime between the 9th and 6th centuries. These writers are describing events, which allegedly occurred anywhere from 1400 - 1200 BCE.

 

The book of Deuteronomy and the following books Joshua, 1st and 2nd Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, and 1st and 2nd Kings are so closely related linguistically and theologically that they are considered by scholars to be the second great literary work on the history of Israel in the Bible.  Many scholars agree that the “Deuteronomistic History” was written in the days of King Josiah to serve his religious ideology and territorial ambitions of a united Hebrew Kingdom.

 

A further example of this is that in 622 BCE during the reign of King Josiah the High Priest Hilkiah discovered an ancient and mysterious and theretofore unheard of, “Book of the Law” attributed to Moses, this document became the inspiration for a religious reform of unprecedented severity.  This has to be the single most audacious thing that the Hebrew priests perpetrated on their own people.
 

From Exodus and Deuteronomy, we hear that Moses was from the tribe of Levi born in Goshen, in Ancient Egypt. Around the time of Moses' birth, Pharaoh ordered that all Hebrew boy children should be killed. Moses (we hear nothing about his original Hebrew name) was saved by his mother, when she put him into a basket on the river Nile. The infant child was rescued by the then Pharaoh's daughter, who named him Moses, or more probably a name combined of a god's name and -mose.

 

Another recent theory based upon valid scholarship is that the Hebrew “Moses” was in fact the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten who tried to change the official religion of Egypt to a monotheistic one, when his efforts failed he was exiled and later returned to sue the current Pharaoh to release his followers and the people he had converted to his “One God” religion.  Though not as grand a scale as the purported Hebrew Exodus this was historically the most likely event that is documented that can be called an “Exodus” of the believers of the “One God Religion”.

 

The only other event in Egyptian history that could possibly be (mis-) construed as an Exodus may be the Expulsion of the Hyksos ca. 1540 BCE by Pharaoh Ahmose I.

 

In the royal court Moses was raised by his birth mother (who coincidentally was a slave of the very same Pharaoh's daughter).

 

As a young man Moses kills an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave. Moses believed that nobody saw him, and hides the body in the sand, but there were witnesses after all. He has to flee from justice, and settles in the land of Midian.

 

Here he marries Zipporah, daughter of Jethro the Midianite.

 

Midianite influence?

 

The Midianites were also descended from the patriarch, Abraham, through the sons of his wife, Keturah (said by Islamics to be Hagar).  They however, had not suffered oppression in the land of Egypt, having split off from the Abrahamic tribe and settled in northwestern Arabia (Genesis 25:1-6). 


It was only after Moses came into contact with the Midianite priest, Jethro (who became his father-in-law), that the highly Egyptian-ized Israelite learned of a much earlier history for his people, their origins in the land of Eden, their descent into Shinar (Sumer) and the name of their primeval God.

 

The Midianites apparently had not lost their cultural and religious identity through slavery to a civilization with different beliefs and traditions. It is likely that the Midianites would have been culturally closer to their origins than the Israelites.  They too had a rich oral tradition stretching back to ancestral Mesopotamia.  Or perhaps they carried with them original cuneiform tablets relating the different myths and epics of their ancestors from Sumer.

 

It would appear that Moses, influenced as he was both by Egyptian religious beliefs and those of the neighboring Canaanite states, elaborated greatly upon the ancestral god of Midian and Israel.

 

The implications are clear: the Israelites did not know the name of their God and so it follows that they had little or no idea of their ancestral heritage.  All this had to be taught them by Moses. This required a book of `origins' - a book that the Jewish scholars of Alexandria called `Genesis'.

Moses employed those same ancient stories or tablets, held by Jethro, to construct the story of the epic origins of the Israelite nation.

 

Moses and Jethro the Midianite Holy Man certainly met up once again at the foot of the sacred mountain of the Ten Commandments following the Israelite Exodus from Egypt.

Then Jethro, Moses father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness where he encamped at the Mount of God. Exodus 18:5

It is also of interest to note that at this meeting it is Jethro the Midianite priest and not Moses who makes the sacrifice to Yahweh.

Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, then offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came and ate with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God. Exodus 18:12

His position as the officiating lead player in the sacrificial rites would make much more sense if Jethro was, in fact, already a priest of the long-time god of the Midianites and only the recently rediscovered ancestral god of the Israelites.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Jethro advised Moses on the establishment of judges, their duties, character and how they should go about their tasks (Exodus 18:16-26).

 

Understandably Moses owed the man a certain degree of respect by virtue of the fact that he was his father in law, but it seems that during his stay with the Isreralites, Jethro played the role not only of advisor, but as a religious superior to Moses.

 

Moses returned to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of their hard life of bondage. Though sent on this mission by Yahweh Moses is also informed by his God that he would make Pharaoh's heart hard so that he wouldn't let the Israelites leave (Exodus 4:21).

 

Exodus 4 contains one more strange account, where Yahweh tried to kill Moses' son, but was saved when Zipporah cut off his foreskin.

 

The next stage in the story of Moses fills Exodus 5 to 12, and deals with Moses and Aaron's unsuccessful attempts to make Pharaoh let the Israelis go, and the plagues Yahweh puts on Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.

 

Yahweh concluded the punishments with killing of all firstborn Egyptians, including Pharaoh's son.

 

The moral about these plagues and killings is ambiguous to say the least, as we learn from Exodus 11:10 that it was Yahweh who directed the sentiments of the Pharaoh.

 

The outcome of the punishments was that the Jews could leave. It appears from Exodus 13:17 that Pharaoh let them leave, but this could also be interpreted that the Jews were able to escape in the situation of weakness with the Pharaoh.

 

How many were allowed to leave Egypt is a question of speculation. Some Jewish traditions run as high up as 2 million, while modern interpretations put the number as low as 15,000.

 

But Pharaoh soon changed his mind about letting the Jews leave (by the will of Yahweh (Exodus 12:4 and 12:8)), and sent his forces after the Israelis, and cornered them at the Sea of Reeds.


 

In the following period, Yahweh made sure that the Israelis didn't lack what they needed, and he gives them water and food. It is important to note that these provisions were given only after the Israelis murmured against Moses expressing their needs.

 

When the people came to Sinai, Yahweh descends to a mountain, and meets with Moses. From the text we learn that God appears in a manner that could be seen by man, but nothing about what particular shape or manifestation.

 

God then gives Moses the Ten Commandments. This part of the story has been frequently discussed: Did the Israelis receive these regulations while on the journey between Egypt and Canaan, or did they get it in Canaan? Both theories have their followers, but there is no crucial evidence from the content of, or the language of the commandments themselves pointing in either direction.

The Start of Monotheism?

 

Were the commandments the start of a true monotheism of Judaism or not? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” from Exodus 20:2 indicates that the Israeli's religion accepted that it existed in a world of other beliefs and gods. These other gods however, were not to be followed by the Israelis, and in this sense the Israelis had a practical monotheism, if not the absolute monotheism we see in later theology.

 

Upon leaving Sinai, Moses and his followers were not welcomed by local rulers, and ended up fighting the Amorites and Bashan, giving room for some of the Israelis.

 

The last we hear about Moses is that he walks off to a mountain in Jordan with a grand view of Canaan, but never returns.

 

IN ISLAM

 

In Islam, Moses is named Mūsā (for simplicity, Musa is referred to as Moses even in a Muslim context), and is clearly a prophet selected by God. In 20:13 this is stated directly by God.

 

Moses was the messenger of “a Koran”, in the Arabic tongue (a piece of information which is strange considering that the his people did not understand Arabic, and in the Jewish traditions there are no indications of a holy book written in a language nobody could read or understand).

 

All in all the Koranic presentation of Moses' life is similar to the Biblical one. There are differences, but these are limited to less important details. The Biblical stories are more detailed, and contain far more regulations for the society and religious rituals.

 

The Koran tells that Moses was put into a casket and placed on the river by direct command of God to his mother. The intent was to bring him into the house of God's enemies. There he is suckled by his birth mother, as the infant Moses refuses any other nurse.

 

Also in the Koran we learn that he kills an Egyptian, an act which in the Koran is represented as unjust, Moses was misguided by Satan, and repents. And just like as in the Bible stories, Moses seeks refuge in Midian. He is first called upon by God through the burning bush in Tuwa, and he is ordered to take God's message to Pharaoh.

 

Facing the Pharaoh and his sorcerers, Moses proves with the help of God, that he possesses the strongest power. The sorcerers are converted on the spot, but not Pharaoh. All in all, Moses performs 9 miracles: 1. The rod and the snake. 2. The white hand. 3. Deluge. 4. Locusts. 5. Lice. 6. Frogs. 7. Blood. 8. Darkness. 9. Dividing of the sea (after the start of the Exodus from Egypt).

 

Following the first 8 miracles, and by the will of God, Moses then sets out with his people, called Israelites. Equal to the Bible the Pharaoh tries to prevent this, and sends out his army which is overwhelmed by the ocean, which became the 9th miracle.

 

Soon, disagreements occur among the Israelites. Equal to the Bible, they melt their golden jewelry, in order to create a golden calf - apparently representing the main god of the people before God. This act was instigated either by a Samaritan, it is believed, the Arabic word used in the Koran is “sāmarī” (which also simply could be a proper name). This happens at the same time as Moses receives instructions and admonition on tablets from God. At his return to the Israelis, Moses reacts with anger over their infidelity, and commands them to change their ways immediately. The Israelis end up with wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years.

 

All in all the Koran simply re-hashes the biblical story and as Mohammed had the bible to draw upon this makes sense in a historic scenario but neither lends any credibility to the biblical version.

 

In Conclusion

 

Despite the apparent early date for Moses and his commandments, it is really only in the post-Babylonian period that we can speak of ‘Mosaic’ Judaism, when the priestly caste and a history of race origins are in place. It is only after the Babylonian experience that the Jews adopted a monotheistic religion, with Yahweh as sole god, not merely as chief god.

 

Historic evidence for Moses is not only lacking it is non-existent!

 

The famed ‘Ten Commandments’ – even today erroneously accepted in the popular mind, as absolute and universal rules to live by, are nothing other than a codification of Jewish male property rights. In their original full versions, two of the commandments endorse slavery; the taboo on adultery was an attempt to stop polygamous Jewish males taking each others wives (‘foreign’ concubines and wives had no rights); the ‘honor’ to be accorded parents merely endorsed a draconian patriarchal social structure; even the taboo on murder was open to interpretation, since the slaying of enemies and wrong-doers would not be ‘murder’ but the Lord’s will!

 

Here was intolerance writ large. No spirit of ‘live and let live.’ In essentials, these barbarous ‘Laws’ ratified the correctness of annihilating enemies, the subjugation of women, the enslavement of conquered tribes, the suppression of dissent and the curtailment of any liberality.

 

The priests of other cults were to be murdered, their ‘altars, images and groves’ to be destroyed (Exodus 34.13).

 

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