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Who Was Moses?

About the Biblical Figure

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Moses and the Burning Bush and Aaron's Staff Swallows the Magicians.

Moses + Burning Bush. Aaron's Staff Swallows Magicians.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Moses Statue

Moses Statue

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Moses in the Wilderness

Moses in the Wilderness

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Who Was Moses?:

Moses was an early leader of the Hebrews and probably the most important figure in Judaism. He was raised in the court of the Pharaoh in Egypt, but then led the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Moses is said to have talked with God. His story is told in the Bible in the book of Exodus.

Birth & Early Childhood:

The story of Moses' childhood comes from Exodus. In it, the pharaoh of Egypt (probably Ramses II) decreed that all the Hebrew boy babies were to be drowned at birth, in a story similar to that of the founder of Rome, Romulus and his twin Remus, and the Sumerian king Sargon I. Yocheved, Moses' mother, hid her newborn for 3 months and then placed her baby in a wicker basket in the Nile River reeds. The baby cried and was rescued by one of the pharaoh's daughters who kept the baby.

Moses and His Mother:

Moses' sister Miriam was watching when the daughter of the pharaoh took the baby. Miriam came forward to ask the princess if she would like a Hebrew wet nurse for the infant. When the princess agreed, Miriam fetched Yocheved.

His Crime:

Moses grew up in the palace as an adopted son of the pharaoh's daughter, but he went to see his own people when he grew up. When he witnessed an overseer beating a Hebrew, he struck the Egyptian and killed him, with the beaten Hebrew as a witness. The pharaoh learned that Moses was the murderer and ordered his execution.

Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he married Tzipporah, daughter of Jethro. Their son was Gershom.

Moses Returns to Egypt:

Moses returned to Egypt to seek the release of the Hebrews and to bring them to Canaan, as a result of God speaking to him in a burning bush. When the pharaoh wouldn't release the Hebrews, Egypt was afflicted with 10 plagues, the last being the killing the firstborn. After this, the pharaoh told Moses he could take the Hebrews. He then reversed his decision and had his men follow Moses into the Red or Reed Sea, which is the scene of one of Moses' miracles - the parting of the Red Sea.

 

The Biblical Exodus:

During the 40-year journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to Canaan, Moses received the 10 Commandments from God at Mt. Sinai. While Moses communed with God for 40 days, his followers built a golden calf. Angry, God wanted to kill them, but Moses dissuaded him. However, when Moses saw the actual shenanigans he was so angry he hurled and shattered the 2 tablets holding the 10 Commandments.

 

Moses is Punished and Dies at 120:

It is not clear what exactly Moses did to receive punishment (see Comment From Reader), but God tells Moses that he failed to trust Him sufficiently and for that reason Moses would never enter Canaan. Moses climbed Mt. Abarim to see Canaan, but that was about as close as he came. Moses chose Joshua as successor. At the ripe old age of 120, Moses climbed Mt. Nebo and died after the Hebrews entered the promised land.

Historicity?:

The Ptolemaic-era Egyptian historian Manetho mentions Moses. There are other late historical references in Josephus, Philo, Apion, Strabo, Tacitus, and Porphyry. These do not constitute scientific proof that Moses ever existed or the Exodus ever occurred.

Horns:

Moses is sometimes shown with horns coming out of his head. A knowledge of Hebrew would help here since the word "horned" appears to be an alternate translation of the "shiny" appearance Moses exhibited after he came down Mt. Sinai following his tete-a-tete with God in Exodus 34.

Comments From Reader:

As an Internet article, this profile of Moses has undergone many changes since its original appearance in 1999. The following comments refer to various versions; some of the suggestions have been attended to.

  • On the Punishment of Moses

    "I was just going to let you know that it is in fact clear why Moses received punishment. It is in Numbers 20:6-11. God tells Moses to speak to the rock, and water will come from it. Instead, Moses goes beyond what the Lord actually asks him to do. (Verses 10-11) In addition to speaking to the rock Moses 1) chastises the people, 2) drew attention to himself – "we" – rather than God, and 3) struck the rock, rather than merely speaking to it. And Moses did fail to trust completely and it is suggested that Moses did not think a mere word was sufficient to produce the water. He felt he must also do something; strike the rock." - Rachel Davison
  • On Referring to Moses as a Jew

    "Arbitrary identification to any descendant of Abraham as a Jew before a date of 735 B.C.E., the establishment of a Divided Monarchy, or, biblically speaking, prior to 2nd Kings, 16:6, is simply wrong and inappropriate...."
    "Hebrews are the children of Israel; the twelve-tribe confederation - the descendants of Abraham. All Jews are Hebrews, but not all Hebrews are Jews. Initially, Jews are those tribal factions of Judah and Benjamin [and a smattering of Levitical Priests] who nationalized themselves, during the Divided Monarchy, as "The Yehudim" [the Jews], while the ten tribal factions of Israel which seceded from the twelve, and resided in and about Samaria, retained their Hebrew identities until their dissolution in the Syro-Ephraimite conflicts of 735-721 B.C.E. and the Assyrian Diaspora."
  • On the Faith of Moses

    "At conclusion of an excellent synopsis of the life of Moses, the article states that Moses "lost faith." In the modern context, to "lose faith" usually means that we no longer believe in God, have left our religion, become an agnostic, atheist, and so forth.... That lack of steadfastness showed he was no longer fit to lead the people as God's emissary."
    Rabbi Mordecai Finley

Moses is on the list of Most Important People to Know in Ancient History.

 

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