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MOSES (Heb. מֹשֶׁה; lxx, Mōusēs; Vulg. Moyses), leader, prophet, and lawgiver (set in modern chronology in the first half of the 13th century b.c.e.). Commissioned to take the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses led them from his 80th year to his death at 120 during their wanderings in the wilderness until their arrival at the Plains of Moab.

This article is arranged according to the following outline:

biblical view
        early life
        flight to midian and the mission
        the return to egypt and the exodus
        crossing the sea of reeds
        covenant at sinai and the desert period
        the last days
    Critical Assessment
        birth story
        early manhood and sojourn in midian
        the commissioning and the exodus
        leader of the wanderings through the wilderness
        mediator of the covenant and lawgiver
        cult founder and priest
        death and burial
        unique status
        final considerations
in hellenistic literature
    Inventor and Civilizer, Lawgiver and Philosopher
    Antisemitic Attacks on Moses
        the biography of moses
        moses in the apocalyptic tradition
        moses as magician
rabbinic view
    In the Aggadah
in medieval jewish thought
modern interpretations
in christian tradition
in islam
    Moses' Journey
in the arts
    Literary Works by 20th-Century Non-Jewish Writers
    20th_Century Jewish Writers
    In Art
    In Music

biblical view

The individual accounts of Moses combine to make him the most important biblical figure after God. As a prophet he is incomparable (Num. 12:6–8; Deut. 34:10). In the Bible, he is not only a national leader; it is he who fashions the nation of Israel, transforming a horde of slaves into a people potentially capable of becoming "a treasured possession" and "a kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:5–6). He is portrayed as Israel's first religious teacher; he gave Israel the Torah – a law of justice, holiness, and loving-kindness. Nevertheless, Scripture portrays Moses as human (Ex. 33:21ff.) and mortal (Deut. 34:5). He had faults as well as virtues, and was punished by the very God whom he taught Israel to worship. Not till the advent of Hellenism was the lawgiver described as theos aner ("a divine man"). In the Bible he is only the "human rod" with which God performs wonders.


The primary sources for the story of Moses' life and works are contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Additional references are to be found in Joshua, Judges, i Samuel, i and ii Kings, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Malachi, Psalms, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and i and ii Chronicles. The salient references will be given in the course of the article. Because the stories of Moses originate from different times and places we cannot really reconstruct a biography of Moses. We cannot even be sure that Moses was a historical character. Even if he was, later writers wrote stories about Moses in which the ancient worthy represented their viewpoints. For example, the story in Numbers 12, in which all prophecy other than that of Moses is deemed unreliable, has the aim of elevating Scripture, the written Torah of Moses, at the expense of oral prophecy (Sperling).

early life

Moses' father and mother – Amram and Jochebed – were both of the tribe of Levi; he had an older sister, Miriam, and an older brother, Aaron (Ex. 2:1; 6:16–20; 7:7; Num. 26:59; i Chron. 23:12–14). The future redeemer of Israel was born at the height of the Egyptian persecution of the Israelites. The Pharaoh that "knew not Joseph" (Ex. 1:8) had set taskmasters over the Children of Israel to oppress them with forced labor (Ex. 1:11). In order to reduce their numbers he had also instructed the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill the Israelite boys at birth, but owing to the piety of these women the plan failed (Ex. 1:15ff.). Thereupon Pharaoh charged all his people to throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile (Ex. 1:22). Jochebed succeeded in concealing the infant Moses for three months (Ex. 2:2). Thereafter she made a wicker basket for him, caulked with bitumen and pitch, and placed it among the reeds of the river, while his unnamed sister watched from a distance. Pharaoh's daughter, spying the basket when she came down to bathe, ordered one of her maids to fetch it. The princess took pity on the crying babe and decided to adopt him. At the sister's suggestion Moses' own mother was given the task of nursing the child until he was old enough to be returned to Pharaoh's daughter. In this way Moses the Hebrew was, ironically, brought up as a prince in Pharaoh's own palace. The hand of providence is manifest in these events; Pharaoh's very plan of destruction became part of the divine design of redemption. The wondrous story is also intended to indicate the historic destiny awaiting the child. Possibly even his name Moshe is a pointer in this direction. The popular etymology (undoubtedly Moshe is an Egyptian name, probably meaning "son") "I drew him out of the water" (Ex. 2:10) should logically have required the form mashui ("one that has been drawn out"), not moshe ("one that draws out"). But the infant was one day to "draw out" his people from the Sea of Reeds and bondage. (See Isa. 63:11–12 and below.)

Although Moses was reared as an Egyptian, he remained conscious of his origin and sympathetic to his kindred. When he grew to manhood, he went out to his brethren and witnessed their tribulations. His early Egyptian upbringing seems to have been a necessary stage in the process of fitting him for his future role as Israel's liberator. His outlook was molded by a sense of freedom that his kinsfolk could not enjoy. Though "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), he was outraged by his first contact with the realities of the bondage. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and, overcome by an irresistible feeling of righteous indignation, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand, thinking his deed would not be discovered. His second experience was even sadder: he found two Hebrews fighting. His intervention drew from the aggressor the retort: "Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" To escape Pharaoh's wrath, Moses fled to Midian (Ex. 2:11–15).

flight to midian and the mission

In Midian, Moses, always the foe of unrighteousness rose again in defense of the persecuted. He saved the daughters of the priest Reuel (also called Jethro, Jether, and Hobab), who had come to water their father's flocks, from the hands of the bullying local shepherds. As a result of the incident Moses stayed with the priest and married his daughter Zipporah, by whom he had two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Ex. 2:15–22; 18:3–4; cf. Judg. 18:30; i Chron. 23:15–17). A turning point in his life came when he witnessed a theophany in the region of Horeb. He saw a bush aflame with a fire that did not consume it. On turning aside to investigate the marvelous sight, he heard the voice of a god, whose name he did not know, calling him. In the vision God bade Moses redeem Israel from Egypt, where a new king now reigned. Moses resisted the divine commission, with many new excuses. The dialogue veers in different directions. Four times Moses changes the course of his argument: he feels inadequate to the task; he inquires by what name God is to be announced to the Israelites; he doubts that the Children of Israel will listen to him; he protests that he is slow of speech. Patiently God answers each objection. He would be with Moses and the fact that the Israelites, when they left Egypt, would serve the Lord at this mountain would be a sign to him that God had sent him; he was to tell his people that "I am that I am" had spoken to him; and He who gives humans the power of speech would teach him what to say. Together with the elders he was to ask Pharaoh's permission for the Israelites to go on a three-day journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord, although the request would certainly be refused. To help him convince the Israelites, the Lord gave Moses three wondrous signs (the rod becomes a snake and is restored to its former state; his hand becomes afflicted with a skin disease (see *Leprosy) and is healed; the Nile water, poured out on the ground, turns to blood). But still, without further rational argument, Moses refuses. The Lord is angered, but promises to let Aaron be Moses' spokesman, and bids him take the rod with which to perform the signs (Ex. 3:1–4:17; 7:1).

The wonders wrought by Moses both in Egypt and in the wilderness have special quality. Moses' "signs and portents" served as evidence of God's will. Moses' "call" has no biblical parallel. Even Gideon (Judg. 6:11–24) and Jeremiah (1:4–10) in the end accepted the divine commission unconditionally.

the return to egypt and the exodus

Moses' initial efforts were frustrating. At the very beginning of his homeward journey an obscure incident occurred that almost proved fatal to Moses; he was only saved by the timely action of Zipporah in circumcising their son (Ex. 4:24–26). Pharaoh responded to the request of Moses and Aaron by augmenting the people's burdens. Henceforth they were to provide their own straw for making the bricks. Understandably the Israelites lost confidence in their would-be redeemer, who was himself discouraged (Ex. 4:27–5:23).

Events now assume a new dynamic. In a second revelation God announced: "I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai ["Almighty"], but I did not make Myself known to them by My name yhwh" (Ex. 6:2–3). The divine announcement means that according to the Priestly source, the Tetragrammaton (yhwh, the four-letter name of God) was first revealed to Moses. Names in the Bible are not merely labels but descriptive epithets. They are particularly significant when applied to God. yhwh, elaborated in the enigmatic "I am that I am," expressed the abiding providence that would sustain the people. (cf. Ex. 3:12).

Pharaoh's hardness of heart (for the statement "And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh" see *God) called for sterner measures. By means of a series of ten devastating plagues (blood, frogs, gnats, swarm of flies, pest, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn – humans and beasts), arranged schematically (see U. Cassuto, Exodus (1967), 92ff.), Pharaoh's resistance and tergiversations were gradually overcome. Before the incidence of the final and climactic plague, the Israelites were enjoined to offer up a sacrifice on the 14th of the first month (Abib = later, Nisan), and to daub the lintel and the two doorposts with its blood: "For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood… and will pass over (or: "protect") the door and not let the destroyer enter or smite your home" (Ex. 12:23). The last plague brought immediate surrender. The departure of the Israelites was now speeded by the panic-stricken Egyptians with the utmost impatience, so that the people had to take their dough before it was leavened and baked unleavened cakes (Ex.6:10–12:36).

The Israelites, accompanied by "a mixed multitude" Exodus, left Egypt on the 15th of what would later be called Nisan. Already in Egypt they had eaten the Passover/Pesaḥ sacrifice ("because He passed over/protected the houses of the Israelites"), instituted the Feast of Unleavened Bread ("for there was no time for the dough of our fathers to become leavened"), and promulgated the law of the consecration of the firstborn ("at the time that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every firstborn in Israel, human and beast, to Myself ").

crossing the sea of reeds

Pharaoh, however, soon repented his liberating act. The urgency with which the Israelites were expelled from Egypt was matched by the haste with which Pharaoh sought to recapture his slaves. The final scene was enacted by the Sea of Reeds. Hemmed in between the sea and the Egyptian cohorts, with only the pillar of cloud (of fire, by night) between the fugitives and their pursuers, the Israelites cried to the Lord, the only power that could now save them. The end came with dramatic swiftness. Moses sundered the waters with his rod; Israel crossed the seabed dry-shod, but their would-be captors were drowned by the returning waters (Ex. 14). The ode of triumph that Moses and the Children of Israel sang after their deliverance from the Egyptians (Ex. 15) is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible. Characteristically it contains no mention of Moses, just as the creedal recital in connection with the first fruits has no reference to the liberator (Deut. 26:5–9). The glory and the thanksgiving are accorded solely to the Lord.

covenant at sinai and the desert period

The ultimate goal lay ahead at Mount Horeb (Sinai), where in the third month after the Exodus the people were to witness the revelation of God, hear the Decalogue issuing forth from Sinai, and declare their eternal loyalty to the Divine Law in the words, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do and obey" (Ex. 19: 1ff.; 24:7). Israel entered into a covenant with the Lord (24:8), of which the Ten Words or *Decalogue, usually called the Ten Commandments, formed the preamble and the Torah precepts the conditions. The covenant with yhwh is depicted as the real purpose of the Exodus. Freedom was not just the negation of servitude. Even the plagues were intended not only to humble Pharaoh, but to establish divine sovereignty over Israel.

The Torah's narratives describe a descent; from the sublime heights of God's mountain Israel plunged into the abyss of the *Golden Calf. The narrative is not descriptive history but rather a polemic against the cult established by *Jeroboami. According to the calf narrative, Moses had ascended the mountain of the Lord to receive the tablets of the Decalogue and spent 40 days and nights there. Disturbed by Moses' delay in returning to the camp, the Israelites persuaded Aaron to make them a god that would go before them, since they did not know what had happened to their leader. The bovine image that Aaron produced was to serve as a surrogate for Moses, and in Aaron's view probably only represented God's visible throne. It nevertheless constituted unforgivable religious treason, for the people regarded the calf as an actual deity ("These are your gods, O Israel"), and the lawgiver, conscious of the spiritual catastrophe that had befallen Israel, shattered the tablets of the Decalogue. For the Judahite author of this anti-Northern polemic, the covenant had been broken; the calf and the Ten Words could not exist in juxtaposition.

Moses ground the idol to dust and made the Israelites drink its powdered remains. With the help of the loyal tribe of Levi he slew 3,000 of the idolators. Then, in a heartrending supplication, he interceded with the Lord for his people: "But now, if Thou will forgive their sin – and if not, blot me, i pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou has written." God forgave, in accordance with His attributes (cf. Ex. 34:7). Again Moses ascended the mountain and received a new copy of the Decalogue. He was also vouchsafed deeper insight into the divine glory and character (Ex. 34:6–7). Moses was also given credit for the establishment of – the Mishkan ("Dwelling Place"; usually called the Tabernacle). It was the sequel, as it were, of the theophany on Mount Sinai; it was the symbol of God's continuing presence. Although Moses performed certain sacerdotal functions on special occasions (Ex. 24:6; Lev. 8:6ff.), and is even called a priest in Psalm 99:6, he is never actually portrayed as such in the Torah. The Tent of Meeting, referred to in Exodus 33:7–11, is not to be identified with the Tabernacle. It was Moses' own tent, which served temporarily as a meeting place between him and God, until the time of "wrath was past." It was pitched outside the camp, which had been recently defiled by idolatry (see Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Nahmanides to Ex. 33:7; Cassuto, Exodus (1967), 429ff.).

The desert wanderings were, according to the Torah, a period of constant tension and crisis. The people lacked food and were not content with the manna; at times they demanded meat (Ex. 16:12ff.; Num. 11:4–6; 21:5). Often they were in need of drinking water (Ex. 15:23ff.; 17:2–7; Num. 20:1–13). On one occasion, when Moses struck the rock to produce water, instead of speaking to it, he was himself condemned for lack of faith (Num. 20:7–13). Repeatedly the people murmured and even threatened to leader to redirect themselves and return to Egypt (Ex. 5:21; 14:11–12; 15:24; 16:28; 17:2–7; Num. 11:4–6; 14:1–4; 20:2–5; 21:4–5). Of the 12 spies sent to investigate the nature of the Promised Land, ten brought back an unfavorable report: the land was exceedingly fertile (as evidence they showed a huge cluster of grapes), but unconquerable; moreover it devoured its inhabitants. Caleb and Joshua, who gave an encouraging account, failed to convince the people, and in consequence the entire generation (except Joshua and Caleb) were condemned to die in the wilderness and not enter the Land (Num. 13–14). The weary people were prey to all kinds of dangers. The Levite *Korah (Moses' cousin), aided by Dathan, Abiram, and On of the tribe of Reuben, accused Moses and Aaron of self-aggrandizement, and advanced a claim to the priesthood. The challenge and its implicit peril are reflected in the punishment meted out to the rebels: the earth swallowed them up and thousands of others died through plague (Num. 16–17). Even Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses on account of the Cushite woman (a black woman whose origin was Cush, modern day Sudan) whom he had married (Num. 12). Only after 40 years of wandering was Israel's goal in sight. Skirting Edom (Esau's territory), which would not permit them to pass through, and warned not to seize any Ammonite territory (Deut. 2:19), the wanderers were engaged in battle by Sihon the Amorite and Og, king of Bashan. The Israelites defeated both these kings and divided their lands among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (Num. 21:4–35; 32:1–42). While the period of the wilderness is depicted in the Pentateuch as a turbulent age, the prophets, in contrast, emphasize its positive aspects. In the desert the Children of Israel had evinced an unforgettable love of the Lord (Jer. 2:1–3).

Interestingly, though the Torah describes the priesthood as hereditary, Joshua, and not one of Moses' sons, was appointed by the lawgiver to be his successor. In regard to the judiciary, Moses accepts Jethro's advice in reorganizing the judicial system and selecting judges who can be taught the laws and expected to be honest (Ex. 18); in contrast to Numbers 11 in which judges are deemed to have prophetic vision. The numbering of the people (Num. 1:2ff.; 26:1ff.), the sending of emissaries to Edom (Num. 20:14) and to Sihon (21:21–22), and even the appointment of scouts to spy out the land (13:2ff.; 21:32; Deut. 1:22–23) are more secular than prophetic.

the last daysxs

In the Plains of Moab Moses' life began to draw to its close. Miriam and Aaron had already died (Num. 20:1, 24–29); Moses, too, was denied entry by the Lord into the land that was the lodestar of his hopes. All his pleadings were in vain (Deut. 3:25). Instead Moses was bidden to appoint Joshua as his successor (Num. 27:16–23; Deut. 1:8; 31:3, 14, 23), and on the borders of the Promised Land the aged leader delivered three hortatory addresses (Deut. 1–4; 5–28; 29–30) in which he reviewed the history of the 40-years' wandering and gave a resume of the Torah Code. After admonishing and blessing his people and viewing the land from the top of Pisgah, he died at the age of 120 by the command of the Lord, and was buried by Him in an unknown grave (Deut. 34). The tomb of Moses was not to become a cultic site, a clear indication that such claims about the site were known to the writer (see below). The valedictory song (Ha'azinu) that Moses taught the Children of Israel (Deut. 32) and the testamentary benedictions (Deut. 33) form an epilogue to the biblical account of Moses. The tribute to Moses with which the Torah concludes (Deut. 34:10–12) underscores the uniqueness of Moses' character and achievements.

[Israel Abrahams]

Critical Assessment

(Note: Although there are certain overlaps between this section and that preceding, they have been retained so as not to impair the unity of either section (Ed.)).

No primary source of information on Moses exists outside the Bible. The Pentateuch is the main repository of the traditions regarding Moses' life and work. Some biblical allusions to Moses depend on the Pentateuch, while others are independent, e.g., Hosea 12:14, Micah 6:4 and Isaiah 63:11, and genealogical notices in Judges 1:16; 4:11; 18:30; i Chronicles 23:14–15. For critical treatment, the data are collected by topics in the following paragraphs: the pentateuchal data are followed by the extra-pentateuchal, and then assessed critically. The order of appearance in the narrative is followed in the main.

birth story

Moses was born in Egypt to Levite parents – Amram son of Kohath son of Levi, and Jochebed daughter of Levi, Amram's aunt (Ex. 6:20; Num. 26:59; i Chron. 5:29; 23:13). He was their third child, after Aaron (older by three years, Ex. 7:7) and Miriam (older still, cf. 2:4). He was placed by his mother in the Nile to protect him from Pharaoh's decree against male infants of the Hebrews. Found by Pharaoh's daughter, he was returned to his mother for nursing, but later brought back to the princess who adopted him and named him Moshe, "explaining, 'I drew him out [meshitihu] of the water'" (Ex. 2:1–10).

The story contains generic elements that are discounted by historians. The infant castaway who grows up to be a hero is considered a legendary motif; it appears, for example, in the birth stories of Sargon of Akkad (Pritchard, Texts, 119) and Cyrus (Herodotus 1: 107ff.); an Egyptian myth tells of the concealment of the infant god Horus by his mother among marsh reeds to protect him from Seth (Helck). Yet, the representation of Israel's savior as being of Egyptian provenance and rearing (though, to be sure, of Hebrew stock) is singularly un-stereotypical, and is supported by the Egyptian names of other Levites – Phinehas, Merari, Hophni, and perhaps Aaron and Miriam as well (Albright). The name of Moses too is probably to be derived from the final, verbal element in such Egyptian names as Ptah-mose ("Ptah is born"), which occurs independently in names of the New Kingdom (Griffiths). Connection with Hebrew mashah, "draw out," like other such name interpretations, is based on assonance rather than etymology (e.g., the connection of Noah with the unrelated verb nhm; Gen. 5:29); as a Hebrew name, Moshe is of very rare, if not unique, formation. (The derivation of the Greek form Mōusēs from Egyptian môu, "water," and esês, "saved," given by Josephus (Ant. 2:228; cf. Apion 1:286; Philo, i Mos. 17), has no bearing on the Hebrew (Černý in Griffiths, see bibl.)).

Moses' connection with the Levites figures in the *Golden Calf story (Ex. 32:26ff.) and in Judges 18:30, where one of his Levite descendants (see below) is said to have founded the priestly line of the Danite sanctuary (cf. also the later Levitical status of Moses' descendants. i Chron. 23:14). His relationship to Aaron shares the obscurity surrounding the origins of the Aaronide priesthood. Friction between Moses and the Levites on the one hand and Aaron on the other appears in the Golden Calf story and suggests a background of rival ecclesiastical lines. But Aaron's impunity speaks for a high rank independent of Moses – in which respect he is Moses' "brother" and peer. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are linked in Numbers 12:1–2 and with the Exodus in Micah 6:4; such a family of spiritual persons is unknown in later Israel, but has numerous extra-biblical analogues.

early manhood and sojourn in midian

Forced to flee Egypt because of his fatal intervention on behalf of a Hebrew slave, Moses rescues the shepherdess daughters of a Midianite priest from other shepherds who had driven them off. Invited to join the priest's family, he marries his daughter, Zipporah – who bears him two sons, Gershom and Eliezer – and tends his flocks (Ex. 2:10–22; 18:3–4). The episodes of Moses' early manhood foreshadow his career as a savior of the oppressed; they are poetically apt but historically unverifiable. His flight to Midian recalls the story of the Egyptian official Si-nuhe who, having fallen out of favor at the court, fled to Syria, where he settled and married among Semitic tribes (Pritchard, Texts, 18ff.). The tradition of Moses' Midianite connection is unclear in details. His father-in-law is variously named Reuel (Ex. 2:18; cf. Num. 10:29), Hobab (Judg. 4:11; cf. Num. 10:29) and *Jethro-Jether (Ex. 3:1; 4:18; 18:1ff.). A wife of Moses is called a Cushite (Num. 12:1) – considered by some to be of the tribe Cushan, a synonym of Midian in Habakkuk 3:7 (cf. W.F. Albright, in: basor, 83 (1941) 34, n. 8), and thus identical with Zipporah, though the absence of cross reference is remarkable. Yet the later alliance with Israel of the nomad Kenites, descendants of Hobab (Judg. 1:16; 4:11; i Sam. 15:6ff.), coupled with the enmity between Midian and Israel that began in the pre-settlement age and continued for generations (Num. 22:4ff.; 31:1ff.; Judg. 6–7), supports the historicity of an early connection between Israel and a Midianite group – the Kenites, relatives of Moses.

the commissioning and the exodus

Once while tending the flocks deep in the wilderness at the Mountain of God, Moses was surprised by a call out of a burning bush to become God's agent in the deliverance of Israel front bondage. God's name, yhwh, was revealed and interpreted to him, and identified with the God of the Patriarchs. Returning to Egypt with (Ex. 4:20) or without (18:2) his family, Moses was rebuffed by Pharaoh, re-commissioned by God, and armed with wonders to bring Pharaoh to his knees. A climactic series of plagues forced the king to release the Israelites. After executing the protective rite of the paschal sacrifice, which saved them from the final plague of the firstborn, the Israelites marched out of Egypt. Soon, however, the Egyptians set out to retake them. Overtaken at the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites escaped through the miraculously divided sea, while the pursuing Egyptians were drowned as the waters closed back on them. Thereupon the people "believed (i.e., attributed the quality of reliability to) in yhwh and in Moses, his servant" and sang a triumphal hymn to God (Ex. 3–15).

The present form of the burning bush story is a composite and elaborated account of the call of the first messenger of God to Israel. Its essence – the overpowering, unavoidable command to go on God's mission – reappears in all accounts of prophetic calls; there is little reason to doubt that it was the experience of the founder of the line (cf. the succession listed in i Sam. 12:8, 11). An allusion to this story seems to be contained in the divine epithet "Bush-Dweller" found in the (tenth-century?) Blessing of Moses (Deut. 33:16). The antiquity of the worship of yhwh and of his association with the "Mountain of God" variously named Horeb and Sinai is problematic. Pre-Mosaic worship of yhwh as a deity whose seat was in the wilderness south of Palestine is hinted at by 14th-century Egyptian references to "a land of the bedouin of yhwh" adjacent to Edom the (cf. provenance of yhwh in the old poems, Deut. 33:2; Judg. 5:4–5, and in Hab. 3:3), and the association of yhwh with Horeb-Sinai prior to Israel's coming there is suggested by Exodus 19:4 ("and brought you to me"). To be sure, Moses is depicted as ignorant of the sanctity of the place (as Jacob was of the sanctity of Beth-El, "the gate of heaven" (Gen. 18:16)) and his experience and conception of yhwh have no known antecedents, but some link with prior religious data cannot be ruled out (though the speculative association of *Kenites-*Midianites with yhwh worship has little to stand on).

The new significance of yhwh with the advent of Moses is indicated by the appearance of the first names bearing an element of the tetragrammaton in connection with Moses: Jochebed and Joshua; no such element occurs in theophoric names of the patriarchal age (on which fact light is shed by Ex. 6:3; modern criticism follows the acute suggestion of the Karaite Jeshua b. Judah (cited by Ibn Ezra, ad loc.) that occurrences of the tetragrammaton in divine communications with the Patriarchs is anachronistic, cf. *Pentateuch). The conception of the messenger or agent of yhwh, sent and equipped with wondrous signs to help Israel, has its first embodiment in Moses and is a distinctive and dominant feature of Israelite religion thereafter. That a new start was made with the God yhwh and his apostle Moses is the core of the burning bush story; the discontinuity that must be postulated at the beginning of Israel's history makes it credible. Moses plays a central role in the story of the *Plagues of Egypt and the Exodus, dramatically woven out of various strands of tradition (see *Exodus, Book of). The line of song ascribed to Miriam in Exodus 15:21 appears as the opening of a triumphal hymn to God in 15:1, which can hardly be detached from it (though verses 12–18 may be a later element), and must be allowed the same antiquity. Reflexes of these traditions, assigning a primary role to Moses, appear in Hosea 12:14 and Micah 6:4 datable to the eighth century; of indeterminate pre-Exilic date are the references in Joshua 24:5 and Psalms 105:26 to the role of Moses and Aaron in the plagues, and in i Samuel 12:6, 8 and Psalms 77:21 (where an echo of Ex. 15:13 occurs) to the brothers' part in the Exodus. Moses is linked with the parting of the sea in the post-Exilic Isaiah 63:11 (where, in the received Hebrew, a pun on Moses' name may appear (mosheh ʿammo, "who drew his people out [of the water]"); but the Septuagint lacks these words, and various manuscripts and the Syriac version read mosheh ʿavdo, "his servant Moses").

leader of the wanderings through the wilderness

Moses conducted the people into the wilderness, aiming for "the Mountain of God" (cf. Ex. 3:12). On the way he had to organize them under the headship of his aide-de-camp, Joshua, into a fighting force to fend off marauding Amalekites (Ex. 17:8ff.). At Sinai, the first threat to his new faith appeared in the Golden Calf apostasy; Moses met it with harsh resolution, executing the offenders with the help of his Levite kinsmen (Ex. 32). At Sinai, too, Moses established the administrative organs of the people: advised by Jethro, he appointed a hierarchy of deputies to govern and judge them (Ex. 18:13ff.; Deut. 1:9ff.), whose military titles ("officers of thousands, hundreds, fifties, tens") accord with the disposition of the people, after their census, as an army (Num. 1–2). (For the revelation at Sinai, see below.) After celebrating the second Passover (Num. 9), Israel made ready to march on to the Promised Land. Moses requested his father-in-law's service as guide along the way (Num. 10:29ff.); then, with the Ark in the lead, Moses invoked yhwh's victory over all his enemies, and set off (Num. 10:35–36). The post-Sinai part of the wilderness wanderings was filled with challenges to Moses' authority (see next section). Numbers 11:11–12, 16ff. tells of the appointment of 70 elders, inspired by God with some of Moses' spirit to enable them to share the burden of leadership with Moses (but Ex. 24:9ff. seems to suppose their presence already at Sinai). The worst crises came with the demoralizing report of the spies sent from Kadesh to reconnoiter Canaan, and the failure of the subsequent rash attempt to invade directly, made in defiance of Moses' prohibition (Num. 13–14). Frustration induced by the prolonged, forced stay in the wilderness bred the revolt of *Korah and 250 chief men against the authority of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16), which ended with their miraculous destruction. Moses had to crush a second apostasy, incited by Moabite-Midianite women (on the advice of Balaam (Num. 22:16)), at Shittim, in Transjordan (Num. 25). Moses' martial achievements came at the close of his career. His request for peaceful passage through Amorite Transjordan having been denied, Moses led successful campaigns against the kings *Sihon and *Og and, after a preliminary reconnaissance, against the region of Jazer (Num. 21:21ff.; Deut. 2:24–3:11). He allocated the land to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half-Manasseh after their oath to participate in the conquest of Cisjordan (Num. 32; Deut. 3:12ff.; Josh. 13:15ff.), and reserved in it three cities of refuge (Deut. 4:41ff.; but cf. Josh. 20:8, which dates this act to the time of Joshua). His last campaign was a retributive war against Midian (Num. 31). In the last year of the wanderings, Moses appointed Eleazar to succeed his father, Aaron, in the priestly duties (Num. 20:23ff.), and his aide, Joshua, to succeed him in the leadership of the people (Num. 27:15ff.; Deut. 31).

The credibility of the wilderness narratives is impaired by their inconsistency (e.g., with respect to the 70 elders; and see the next section), chronological obscurities (e.g., the events in Num. 20–21 and their relation to Deut. 1–2), apparent doublets (e.g., Num. 21:1–3 and 14:45), and divergent itineraries (especially in Num. 33:17ff., which, e.g., has no trace of a southern movement from Kadesh, contrast 14:25, and in 14:41ff. which traces a route arriving at the Plains of Moab without circling the lands of Edom and Moab; contrast Num. 21:4; Deut. 2). Moreover, the presence of Moses is not consistent throughout this material (e.g., Num. 21:1–3), so that critics have assumed that data on tribal movements other than those led by Moses have been combined in these narratives (on the supposition that the migration of the Hebrews was not the single movement into which tradition has characteristically simplified it). Finally, the trek through the Sinai desert at the necessary time period is belied by the extensive archaeological studies of the Sinai following the 1967 Israeli victory.


The stories of Israel's trials of God during their journey fall into two groups: the pre-Sinai trials, in which God's saving power is shown after Moses cries to God, or through a wonder announced by Moses (Ex. 14:15; 15:25; 16:1ff.; 17:4, 11), and the post-Sinai trials, in which the people, though answered, are punished for their faithlessness. Moses is still instrumental in supplying the people's needs, but he now must also intercede on their behalf to assuage God's anger. Moses' first intercession was his recrimination against God for allowing Israel's suffering to increase after his first audience with Pharaoh (Ex. 5:22–23). The longest is in the Golden Calf story – Moses' dramatic plea to God to rescind His decree of annihilation, then to agree to accompany Israel in their journey to the Promised Land. Banking on his favor with God, Moses cajoles Him to reveal to him His "ways," i.e., His merciful attributes (in effect a broader definition of His name; note the similarity of Ex. 33:13, 19 to 3:13–14), upon hearing which he presses God to forgive Israel (Ex. 32–34). Only less dramatic is Moses' other great confrontation with God, wrathful over Israel's disbelief in his capacity to give them victory over the Canaanites. Once again God threatens to destroy Israel, and once again Moses intercedes mightily on Israel's behalf, invoking God's revealed attribute of mercy, and calling upon him to manifest His strength through forbearance (Num. 14:11ff.). Further intercessions occur at Taberah (Num. 11), at the time of Miriam's leprosy (Num. 12), at the rebellion of Korah ("Will one man sin and you rage at the whole community?" Num. 16:22), and at the plague of serpents – to cure which Moses made a *copper serpent (Num. 21:4ff.). Tradition coupled Moses and Samuel as the archetypal intercessors on Israel's behalf (Jer. 15:1). A striking figure, taken from Ezekiel 22:30, is applied to Moses in the post-Exilic Psalm 106:23: "He would have destroyed them, had not Moses, His chosen one, stood in the breach in front of Him, to keep His wrath from destroying them." Psalm 103:7 alludes to Moses' eliciting God's attributes, and cites a few of them. The formulas of intercession in the two major narratives of Exodus 32–34 and Numbers 14 are doubtless part of a liturgical tradition (cf. Joel 2:13) whose attribution to Moses cannot be verified. The intercessory role of later prophets is firmly established; the depiction of Moses as a master of this role accords with his status as founder of Israel's prophetic line (see below), and may well be authentic. Singular authentication is given to Moses' copper serpent: down to the eighth century a copper serpent ascribed to Moses was lodged in the Jerusalem Temple; King Hezekiah ordered it cut down because the people were making burnt offerings to it (ii Kings 18:4).

mediator of the covenant and lawgiver

At Sinai, Moses negotiated Israel's acceptance of God's offer of a covenant, prepared the people for the covenant theophany, led them to God for the theophany, and strengthened them to sustain the experience (Ex. 19–20). The people heard the *Decalogue directly from God; Deuteronomy 5:5, however, insinuates Moses between the parties "to tell you what God spoke." Shattered by the experience, the people asked Moses to be their intermediary with God henceforth (Ex. 20:18–21 [15–18]; Deut. 5:20–28). Moses then received detailed stipulations of the covenant ("the *Book of the Covenant," Ex. 24:7) which he related to the people, and upon securing their assent to be bound by them, wrote down and ratified them in a solemn ceremony (Ex. 24:3–11). Later he received the written form of the Decalogue on stone tablets, which he deposited in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 24:12; 32:15–16; 34:1, 28–29; Deut. 9:9ff.; 10:1ff.). According to Deuteronomy, Moses recited all these stipulations to the generation about to enter Canaan during his last days, in the Plains of Moab. He concluded the recitation with warnings, blessings, and curses, then committed it to writing and deposited the document – "the Book of Torah" – in the Ark, alongside the tablets (Deut. 31:9, 24ff.). In between the two covenant-makings, at the beginning and at the end of the journey through the wilderness, Moses received a host of ritual, religious, and moral injunctions, in the Tent of Meeting at Sinai and in the Plains of Moab (Lev. 1:1ff.; 26:46; 27:34; Num. 36:13). In addition to these large and small collections of injunctions, issued at the initiative of God, Moses sought and received oracular decisions in difficult cases, as need arose. This role was reserved for him in the administrative organization of the camp suggested by Jethro (Ex. 18:19–20) and its performance is illustrated in the cases of the blasphemer (Lev. 24), the Sabbath breaker (Num. 15:32ff.), and the daughters of Zelophehad (Num. 27; cf. Num. 36). The figure of Moses as the mediator of God's laws and admonitions to Israel appears in biblical literature influenced by Deuteronomy and in post-Exilic writings. Thus the deuteronomistically edited Book of Joshua is haunted by Moses, the lawgiver; indeed it reads as the record of fulfillment of Moses' admonitions (e.g., 1:1ff.; 4:10ff.; 8:31ff.; 11:15ff.; 14:6, 9; 17:4; 20:2). Material in the same spirit and style is found in Kings: i Kings 2:3; 8:53, 56; ii Kings 14:6; 18:6; 21:8; 23:25. In writings of the Persian period, Moses appears exclusively as the author of the Torah and the founder of Israel's sacred institutions (Mal. 3:22; Ezra 3:2; Neh. 1:7ff.; 8:1, 14; 9:14; 10:30; i Chron. 6:34; 21:29; ii Chron. 8:13; 24:6; 35:6, 12). For a critical assessment of this representation of Moses, see the end of the next section.

cult founder and priest

Moses not only proclaimed the proper name of God, by which He was henceforth to be invoked in worship ("This shall be My name forever/This My appellation [zikhri, lit. 'call-word'] for all time," Ex. 3:15), he instructed Israel in yhwh's sacred seasons-starting with Passover and maẓẓot (Ex. 12) and the Sabbath (Ex. 16) and proceeding to the whole cultic calendar and its related prescribed sacrifices (Ex. 23:14ff.; 34:18ff.; Lev. 23; Num. 28:29; Deut. 16). The non-festival sacrificial system, too, was ordained by him (Lev. 1–7). He received the blueprint of the Tabernacle and supervised its construction (Ex. 25–31; 35–40). He inaugurated it and consecrated its clergy (Lev. 8). Moses is described as exercising specific priestly functions (e.g., handling the blood of sacrifice) both in the ceremony of covenant ratification (Ex. 24:6, 8) and during the inauguration of the Tabernacle and priesthood (Lev. 8).

Only two allusions to Moses' priestly aspect occur in extra-pentateuchal writing: Psalm 99:6 counts Moses with Aaron as a priest of yhwh (traditional exegetes refer this to his role in Lev. 8), and the priesthood of the Danite sanctuary traced their line to a descendant of Moses (Judg. 18:30 – crediting the talmudic notice that the suspended nun of "Manasseh" is a deliberate device to obscure the derivation of this ignoble priesthood from Moses; bb 109b). According to the post-Exilic record, and in line with the Aaronide monopoly of the priesthood prescribed by the Torah, the descendants of Moses were counted as Levites, not priests (I Chron. 23:14). Criticism finds the ascription to Moses of the vast corpus of rules and admonitions in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy improbable. Its arguments – from inconsistency, variant repetitions, diversity in style and viewpoint, and divergent historical presuppositions – can be found in articles on the books in question and on the *Pentateuch as a whole. Yet the origin and motive of this ascription can be described, and its poetic justice defended. The constant, stable element in the history of Israel during the biblical period is the consciousness of being a religious community, bound together by a common link to yhwh. No political change or revolution broke the continuity of this element. Under tribal rule or united monarchy, in a divided kingdom or in exile, and no less under Persian rule, the idea of a primary allegiance to the will of yhwh, prior to all political forms, defined Israelite identity. From latest to earliest times this allegiance was expressed in zeal for yhwh's exclusive claim upon Israel (i.e., hostility toward foreign cults), in iconoclasm (persecution of idolatry), in peculiar religious institutions (e.g., the Sabbath), and in moral earnestness resulting from the communal responsibility to God for violations of morality (Judg. 20; ii Sam. 4:11). Its symbol was the Ark of the Covenant (as early as the time of the Judges, i Sam. 4), and its exponents were agents and messengers of yhwh who admonished error and saved from distress (e.g., Jerubbaal, Judg. 6ff.). These elements, constitutive of Israel's identity and singularity from the very beginning of its occupation of Canaan no doubt originated in Canaan proper through circumstances not fully understood and projected backward in time. The question of their author – is solved in Israelite tradition by assigning to Moses his role of covenant mediator and cult founder. The above-mentioned features of Israelite religion are ascribed to Moses, as well as their integrating framework, the idea of the covenant with yhwh. However rudimentary the terms of the Mosaic covenant may have been (some suppose no more than the Decalogue, others include parts of the Book of the Covenant; criteria for positive ascription are wanting), they were enough to serve as the constitution of the religiopolitical community of Israel; subsequent development of these terms, their ramifications, their adjustments to changing times, was regarded as part and parcel of the original. In theory, all regulations constitutive of the religious community of Israel were covenant regulations; all were issued by God and communicated to Israel by the mediator Moses. Something of the process may be glimpsed at in Nehemiah 10:30ff. and ii Chronicles 30:16; 35:12, where rites are ascribed to the Torah of Moses that are not in fact to be found there.

death and burial

Although commissioned to bring Israel into the Promised Land (e.g., Ex. 33:1ff.), Moses died in the Plains of Moab, outside its borders. Numbers 20:2–13 accounts for this by the offense of Moses and Aaron at Kadesh, in connection with procuring water for the grumbling people – "the waters of contention" (me merivah). Wherein the brothers failed to "believe" God and "sanctify him in the sight of the Israelites" (Num. 20:12) is obscure. The interpretation in Psalms 106:32–33 is ambiguous: this much seems clear, however: that Moses is blamed for speaking rashly. In Deuteronomy, in contrast, Moses is denied entry into the Promised Land on account of the people: their display of faithlessness during the incident of the spies made God turn upon Moses as well. It was then He decreed that Moses (as well as his whole generation) would not enter the land (Deut. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21). When his time had come, Moses was commanded to ascend Mount Nebo, from which he could view the length and breadth of the Promised Land. There he died and was buried in the valley, "in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor; and no man knows his burial place, to this day" (Deut. 34; cf. Num. 27:12ff.). The various theological explanations of Moses' death in Transjordan vouch for the existence of a grave tradition. Inasmuch as grave traditions were attached to such worthies as the patriarchs and matriarchs, the surprising obliteration of his burial-place savors of a deliberate aversion toward his apotheosis, which might have grown out of veneration of his grave as a shrine. Such an apotheosis was likely in view of the singular status accorded Moses in Israelite tradition (see Houtman).

unique status

The wonders performed by Moses on behalf of Israel exceed those of any subsequent prophet (Deut. 34:11–12). He not only outdid Egypt's magicians (whose virtuosity, as displayed, e.g., in the Westcar Papyrus (A. Erman, The Ancient Egyptians, 36ff.), illuminates the issue of the first part of the plague narratives), he also prevailed over the mightiest forces of nature – splitting both the sea (Ex. 14) and the earth (Num. 16). That in so doing he no more than activated the power of God, and in God's own cause, is unfailingly noted; no room is left for regarding Moses as a magician, aggrandizing himself through native powers or occult arts. One superhuman trait, however, does pertain to him: the ability to endure, on more than one occasion, a fast of forty days (Ex. 24:18; 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18; cf. Elijah's similar feat, i Kings 19:8). Miraculous features, part of the traditional image of the "man of God," are ascribed to Moses in the highest degree as befits his heroic role. No later figure is portrayed so close to God as Moses. God spoke with him "face to face" (Ex. 33:11), and allowed him such a prolonged intimacy that as a result (after Moses' intercession in the wake of the Golden Calf apostasy) Moses' face was fearsomely radiant, so that he had to wear a mask in ordinary intercourse with people (Ex. 34:19ff.). The covenant made after this apostasy, on the basis of Moses' favor with God, specifically names Moses as an equal party with the people (Ex. 34:27; cf. 34:10, and the corresponding usage in the intercession in Ex. 33:16 ("I and your people," twice)). The equation corresponds to God's substitution of Moses for all the rest of the people in Exodus 32:10 (cf. Num. 14:12) and Moses' readiness to lay down his life on their behalf (Ex. 32:32). That Moses cannot simply be subsumed under the rubric "prophet" (naviʾ) is the lesson taught to Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12:6ff.: prophetic revelation is in the form of dream or vision; Moses, however, has the freedom of yhwh's house (i.e., may obtain audiences at will), he speaks with God "mouth to mouth," and is granted sight of yhwh (not a necessary contradiction of Ex. 33:20ff., where Moses is denied sight of God's face, but not of His back). In fact, Moses is never called a "prophet" in the Pentateuch (he is alluded to as such only in Hosea 12:14), but rather yhwh's "servant" (ʿeved) – the usual epithet in extra-pentateuchal literature as well (Num. 12:7–8; Deut. 34:5; Josh. 1:1; once he is styled God's "chosen one" (behir, Ps. 106:23), a synonym of "servant" in Isa. 42:1, 45:4; Ps. 89:4). In Deuteronomy (33:1) and later literature (Josh. 14:6; Ps. 90:1; Ezra 3:2; i Chron. 23:14; ii Chron. 30:16) Moses is occasionally called "the man of God," a prophetic epithet. His spirit inspires ecstasy (Num. 11:25), just as contact with the prophet Samuel does (i Sam. 19:20ff.). Moreover, he is compared to prophets in Numbers 12, Deuteronomy 18:18, and 34:10, and in the last passage he is represented as their unequaled archetype. But the catalog of gentile analogues to the Israelite prophet in Deuteronomy 18:10–11 suggests that the term naviʾ was too restricted to oracular, divinatory, and magic-like functions to be applied to so comprehensive a figure as Moses (though, since he performed these functions, he might justly be considered a prophetic archetype). Just in those two narratives where Moses' relation to prophecy is manifest, a point is made of his meekness and forbearance. He does not share his servant's alarm at the apparently independent prophesying of *Eldad and Medad; on the contrary, he wishes the entire people were prophets (Num. 11:26ff.). Nor will he assert himself even against rival claims of his brother and sister, for he was "the meekest man on earth" (Num. 12:3). Perhaps here, too, a distinction between Moses' character and that of later prophets is intended (contrast ii Kings 2:23–24).

final considerations

Moses is not consistently present in biblical literature. He dominates the Pentateuch and Joshua – the repository of traditions about the birth of the nation. He reappears in the revival and re-founding literature of late monarchic and post-Exilic times. But references to him in the prophetic and hymnal writings (e.g., Psalms) are negligible. Moses' slighting by prophets and psalmists is significant, but the implications of that omission are debated. All innovation in the later religion of Israel is attributable to individuals known by name: the monarchy to Samuel and David; the Temple to David and Solomon; reforms in the official religion to kings Asa, Jehu, Hezekiah, Josiah, the priests Jehoiada and Hilkiah, and the prophets Elisha, Elijah, and Huldah; new moral-historical and eschatological conceptions to Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah – and the list is not ended. Had no founder of the worship of yhwh and the covenant institutions that characterized Israel from its beginnings been recorded in tradition, analogy would have required postulating him; and that is probably what happened. The traditions of the Torah point unanimously to Moses as the founder of all the constitutional elements of the religious community of Israel (excepting the monarchy). No single figure in later Israel plays the many roles ascribed to Moses, itself an indication that whatever historical basis there might have been for the activity of Moses is beyond recovery.

[Moshe Greenberg /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

in hellenistic literature

Inventor and Civilizer, Lawgiver and Philosopher

The Jewish-Hellenistic tendency to adopt the sages of ancient culture entailed a whole series of farfetched identifications (e.g., Isis-Eve; Serapis-Joseph; Atlas-Enoch; Bel Kronos-Nimrod; Orpheus-David; Musaeos-Moses; Zoroaster-Ezekiel) and culminated in the attribution of the most important contributions of civilization to Jewish cultural hero-figures. Thus, Moses became for Eupolemus (whose chronology placed him more than 500 years before the Trojan War) the first wise man, and the first to invent writing for the Jews (from whom it was taken over by the Phoenicians, and from the Phoenicians, by the Greeks; Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9:26). According to Artapanos, Moses (who is identified with Musaeos and also with Hermes-Thot) was the teacher of Orpheus, discovered the art of writing, was the first philosopher, and invented a variety of machines for peace and war. He was also responsible for the political organization of Egypt (having divided the land into 36 nomes), and was the originator of the animal cults of the Egyptians, which were seen as the only practical means available to overcome the unstable character of the Egyptian masses (Eusebius, op. cit. 9:27). The earliest philosophical exegete of the Pentateuch, Aristobulus, claimed that Homer and Hesiod drew much of their material from the Books of Moses, which, according to him, had been translated long before the Septuagint (Eusebius, op. cit. 13:12). Philo maintains that Heraclitus snatched his theory of opposites from Moses "like a thief " (Quaestiones et Solutiones in Genesin 4:152). Similarly, he says that the Greek legislators "copied" various laws from the laws of Moses (Spec. 4:61). Philo even states that Moses anticipated Plato's doctrine of creation from preexistent matter, by teaching in Genesis that there was water, darkness, and chaos before the world came into being (De Providentia, ed. J.B. Aucher (1822), 111; cf. Justin Martyr, Apologia, 1:59). According to Josephus, Moses was the most ancient of all legislators in the records of the world. Indeed, he maintains that the very word "law" was unknown in ancient Greece (Jos., Apion 2:154). Moreover, "in two points in particular, Plato followed the example of our legislator [Moses]. He prescribed as the primary duty of the citizens a study of their laws, which they must all learn word for word by heart, and he took precautions to prevent foreigners from mixing with them at random" (ibid. 257). "Our earliest imitators," concludes Josephus, "were the Greek philosophers, who, though ostensibly observing the laws of their own countries, yet in their conduct and philosophy were Moses' disciples" (ibid. 281). The only analogue in the pagan world to these ascriptions of priority to Moses is the famous statement of Numenius of Apamea (second century c.e.), who introduced allegorical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible to the pagan world (fragments 19 and 32, L), that Plato was just a Moses who spoke Greek (fragment 10, L). Philo also asserts that Moses was "the best of all lawgivers in all countries," and that his laws are most excellent and truly come from God. This is proved by the fact that while other law codes have been upset for innumerable reasons, the laws of Moses have remained firm and immovable, and "we may hope that they will remain for all future ages… so long as thesun and moon and the whole heaven and universe exist" (ii Mos. 12). Furthermore, not only Jews but almost every other people have attained enough holiness to value and honor these laws. In fact, says Philo, "it is only natural that when people are not flourishing, their belongings to some degree are under a cloud, but if a fresh start should be made to brighter prospects… each nation would… throw overboard its ancestral customs and turn to honoring our laws alone" (ibid. 44). In spite of the declining political fortunes of the Jews during the period of the Roman Empire, an occasional note of admiration for Moses is still found in writers like Pseudo-Longinus, who speaks glowingly of the great legislator's lofty genius (On the Sublime 9:9), but Numenius, Tacitus, Galen, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, on the other hand, are highly critical of, and even hostile to, Moses.

Antisemitic Attacks on Moses

The earliest Greek references to Moses were quite favorable. Hecataeus of Abdera presented Moses as the founder of the Jewish state, ascribing to him the conquest of Palestine and the building of Jerusalem and the Temple. He explained, in the Platonic manner, that Moses divided his people into 12 tribes, because 12 is a perfect number, corresponding to the number of months in the year (cf. Plato, Laws, 745b–d; Republic, 546b). He also discovered a solicitude for military training in Moses' endeavor to train the youth in moral restraint and heroic endurance (Diodorus 40:3; in: Th. Reinach, Textes d'auteurs Grecs et Romains relatifs au Judaisme (1895), 14ff.). More important, he emphasized that Moses instituted no images in the worship of God, so that God should not be conceived of anthropomorphically, since the all-encompassing heavens alone (i.e., the cosmos) are to be identified as God. Posidonius of Apamea similarly emphasized that Moses worshiped no idols, and identified God with nature (Strabo 16:35). Soon, however, a reaction set in, and Moses became the butt of a venomous antisemitic literature. Hecataeus had earlier observed that Moses had initiated a form of life encouraging seclusion from man and a hatred of aliens. According to the Egyptian priest Manetho (third century), Moses was a rebellious priest of Heliopolis, called Osarsiph (cf. Chaeremon and Jos., Apion 1:32), who commanded the Jews to slaughter the sacred animals of Egypt, and established, with the aid of the Hyksos, a 13-year reign of cruelty over the Egyptians, until he was finally expelled by Pharaoh Amenophis (Jos., Apion 1:228ff.; Reinach, ibid., 11). Lysimachus wrote that he instructed the Jews to show goodwill to no man, to always offer the worst advice, and to overthrow any temples and altars of the gods which they found (Jos., Apion 1:309; Reinach, ibid., 59). Apollonius Molon accused Moses of being a charlatan and impostor, who gave the Jews bad laws. Posidonius says that upon entering the Holy of Holies, Antiochus Epiphanes saw the statue of a bearded man riding on an ass (cf. Tacitus, Histories, 5:3) and holding a book. This was Moses, who gave the Jews laws of hatred toward all mankind (Diodorus 34:1, 3; Reinach, ibid. 57–58). Finally, Nicarchus (cf. Ptolemy Chennos of Alexandria, and Helladius) writes that Moses was called Alpha (an honorific title for members of the Museum at Alexandria, and possibly applied to Moses in Jewish-Hellenistic literature), because he had leprous spots (alphous) all over his body (Reinach, ibid., 122, 361–62).

the biography of moses

The sparse biographical details of the biblical narrative concerning Moses are considerably elaborated and expanded in the characteristic style of Jewish-Hellenistic literature. Demetrius (end of third century), in his "On the Kings in Judea," identified the Cushite woman whom Moses married (Num. 12:1) with Zipporah, by arguing that as far as one can infer from the names (the lxx lists among the sons of Dedan, Abraham's grandson from the family of Keturah, also Raguel, who, according to Demetrius, was Jethro's father), Zipporah was a sixth-generation descendant of Abraham's family. According to the Bible, Abraham sent the sons of Keturah away "eastward, to the land of the East" (Gen. 25:6), which Demetrius identified as the land of Cush. "It was on this account," concluded Demetrius, "that Aaron and Miriam declared that Moses took a Cushite woman" (Eusebius, op. cit. 9:29). The first elaborate account of Moses' life is to be found in Artapanus' "On the Jews." According to Artapanus, Pharaoh's daughter, Merris (Jos., Ant., 2:224 gives her name as Thermuthis), was barren, and therefore adopted a Jewish child whom she named Moshe. Merris' husband, Chenephres, king of Memphis, grew jealous of Moses, and tried to dispose of him by sending him into battle against the Ethiopians with inadequate forces. After a ten-year campaign, the Ethiopians so admired Moses that, under his influence, they adopted the rite of circumcision. Artapanus knew nothing, however, of Moses' romance with the Ethiopian king's daughter and her betrayal of the capital city to him (Jos., Ant., 2:252), and it must be assumed that, like Demetrius and Ezekiel the Poet, he identified the Cushite woman whom Moses married with Zipporah. Artapanus' version of the biblical story of Moses' slaying of the Egyptian emphasizes the latter's plotting against Moses' life. Indeed, it was in a last resort to defend his life, that Moses slew the Egyptian Chanethothes. Moses' efforts to free his people land him in jail, but the irons binding him miraculously fall off, and the jail doors open of themselves (cf. the experiences of the imprisoned god Dionysus in Euripides' The Bacchanals, 600ff.). Moses' rod, according to Artapanus, was found in every Egyptian temple and was similar to the seistron or "rattle" used in the worship of Isis. It was by means of the seistron that Isis raised the waters of the Nile, and thus she was called in the Isis hymns Seistrophóros. Artapanus mentions two traditions concerning the Red Sea, that of Memphis and that of Heliopolis. That of Heliopolis follows the Bible, while that of Memphis explains the event by saying that Moses knew the area well and waited for the ebb tide (cf. Jos., Ant. 2:341–49). Finally, the reason given for the Egyptians' pursuit of the Israelites was their desire to retrieve the property borrowed from them (cf. Philo, i Mos. 1:141). A similar explanation is given by Trogus Pompeius, who says, however, that the Jews stole the holy utensils of the Egyptians (Justin 36:2, 13). Artapanus' account closes with a description of Moses: "Moses, they say, was tall and ruddy, with long white hair, and dignified" (Eusebius, op. cit. 9:27). The 269 lines preserved from the tragedy of Ezekiel the Poet on Exodus include a long soliloquy by Moses recounting his career down to his flight to Midian; a dialogue which recounts a dream in which a royal personage enthrones Moses on a throne which reaches heavenward, whereupon Moses surveys the heavenly host who fall on their knees before him, and then pass by as he counts them; and a detailed description of a remarkable bird, apparently the phoenix, at Elim (cf. Herodotus 2:73; Pliny, Natural History, 10:3–5; Job. 29:18; Gen. R. 19:5; Sanh. 108b; ii En. 6:6; 8:6; ii Bar. 6–7; Eusebius, op. cit., 9:16–37). In his De vita Mosis, Philo depicts Moses in his fourfold role as king, legislator, priest, and prophet. Whereas the fame of Moses' law, writes Philo, has traveled throughout the civilized world, the man himself, as he really was, was known to few. Greek men of letters, perhaps through envy, have refused to treat him as worthy of memory. Although there is no attempt in this treatise to refute the antisemitic literature on Moses, Philo does refer in his Hypothetica (355) to the charge that Moses was "an impostor and prating mountebank." He also strangely explains the Exodus there as due partly to Jewish overpopulation in Egypt (cf. Tacitus, Histories, 5:4) and also to the revelations of God in dreams and visions bidding them to go forth. Moreover, he points out that the Israelites' admiration for the man who gave them their laws was so great, that anything which seemed good to him also seemed good to them. Therefore, whether what he told them came from his own reasoning or from some supernatural source, they referred it all to God (ibid., 357). In the De vita Mosis, Philo explains how the child Moses happened to be found by Pharaoh's daughter. In a state of constant depression over not having a child who could succeed her father she finally broke down on one occasion, and, though she had hitherto always remained in her quarters, she set off with her maids to the river where Moses was exposed. Since he had been taken up from the waters, she called him Moses, mou being the Egyptian word for water. As he grew in beauty and nobility, she decided to claim him as her own son, having at an earlier time artificially enlarged the figure of her womb to make him pass as her real child. Teachers arrived from different parts of Egypt and even from Greece. In a short time, however, he advanced beyond their capacities. Moses thus acquired the best of both Greek and Egyptian education. In his desire to live for the soul alone and not for the body, he lived frugally, scorning all luxury. Moses' career as a shepherd served as good training and a preliminary exercise in kingship for one destined to command the herd of mankind. Since Moses abjured the accumulation of wealth, God rewarded him by placing the whole world in his hands. Therefore each element obeyed him as its master, and submitted to his command (cf. ii Mos., 201; Wisd. 19:6). His partnership with God also entitled him to bear the same title: "For he was named god and the king of the whole nation, and entered into the darkness where God was, that is, into the unseen, invisible, incorporeal, and archetypal essence of existing things."

A few further details may be added from Josephus' account of Moses (Ant. 2: 201ff.). Pharaoh decreed that all male infants of the Hebrews be drowned on the advice of a sacred scribe who had divined the birth of one who, if allowed to live, would abase Egypt and exalt Israel. Moses' easy birth spared his mother violent pangs and discovery by the watchful Egyptian midwives. His size and beauty enchanted princess Thermuthis, who found him on the Nile. Because he refused to take the breast of any Egyptian wet nurse, his mother was engaged to suckle him. Moses' precocity was displayed in his very games. Moreover, when the princess laid the babe in her father's arms, and the latter, to please his daughter, placed his diadem upon the child's head, Moses tore it off, flung it to the ground, and trampled it underfoot. This was taken as an ill omen, and the sacred scribe who had foretold his birth rushed forward to kill him. Thermuthis, however, was too quick for him and snatched the child away. Carried away by his Hellenistic ambience, Josephus says that, after crossing the Red Sea, Moses composed a song to God in hexameter verse.

Some last points of interest may be gleaned from Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (first century c.e.). According to this work, Moses was born circumcised (cf. Sot. 12a, Ex. R. 1:20). Pharaoh's daughter comes down to bathe in the Nile at this particular time because she had had a dream. Before Moses smashes the tablets, he looks upon them and sees that there is no writing on them. The reason given for his not entering the Promised Land was that he should be spared the sight of the idols that were to mislead his people. Moses dies at the hands of God, who buries him personally (cf. Deut. R. 11:10), and on the day of his death the heavenly praise of God was omitted, something which never occurred before and was never to occur again.

moses in the apocalyptic tradition

According to the Assumption of Moses (c. 7–30 c.e.), Moses was prepared from before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of God's covenant with his people (1:14; 3:12). No single place was worthy to mark the site of his burial, for his sepulcher was from the rising to the setting sun (11:8). Moses' relation to Israel did not cease with his death, for he was appointed by God to be their intercessor in the spiritual world. This work also includes the debate between Michael and Satan over the burial of Moses. Satan opposes Michael's commission to bury Moses, on the ground that he is the lord of matter. To this claim Michael rejoins: "The Lord rebuke thee, for it was God's spirit that created the world and all mankind." In other words, Satan grants God Moses' soul, but claims his body as belonging to his exclusive domain. The author, speaking through Michael, rejects this gnostic dualism by insisting that God is Lord of both spirit and flesh, since he is the creator of all (R.H. Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1897), 105–7). It may be well to allude here to the apocalyptic tradition connected with the name of Moses and also with Ezra, the "second Moses." In the Assumption of Moses, Moses gives Joshua secret books which are to be preserved and hidden "until the day of repentance in the visitation wherewith the Lord shall visit thee in the consummation of the end of days" (1:18). In Jubilees, too, the account is given of a secret tradition revealed to Moses on Sinai in which he is shown all the events of history both past and future (1:26). With this may be compared ii Esdras 14, where Ezra, the "second Moses," receives by divine revelation the 24 books of canonical Scripture which he has to publish openly and the 70 books representing the apocalyptic tradition which he has to keep secret.

moses as magician

In pagan literature, Moses was, naturally enough, sometimes represented as a great magician. Numenius of Apamea, for example, presents him as a magician greater than his rivals Iannes and Iambres because his prayers were more powerful than theirs (fragments 18 and 19, L; cf. Pliny, Natural History, 30:1, 11; Reinach, op. cit. 282; Trogus Pompeius = Justin Epitome 36:2; Reinach, op. cit., 253). Moreover, in some of the magic papyri, Moses appears as the possessor of mysteries given to him by God (K. Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2, 87f.). Finally, it may be noted that in some of the Qumran fragments, secret astrological teachings were ascribed to Moses (J.T. Milik, in: rb, 63 (1956), 61).

[David Winston]

rabbinic view

A marked ambivalence is to be observed in the Jewish tradition with regard to the personality of Moses. On the one hand, Moses is the greatest of all the Jewish teachers, a powerfully numinous figure, the man with whom God speaks "face to face," the intermediary between God and man, the master of the prophets, and the recipient of God's law for mankind. On the other hand, the utmost care is taken to avoid the ascription of divine or semi-divine powers to Moses. Moses is a man, with human faults and failings. Strenuous attempts are made to reject any "personality cult," even when the personality in question is as towering as Moses. Judaism is not "Mosaism" but the religion of the Jewish people. God, not Moses, gives His Torah to His people Israel. There are to be found Jewish thinkers, evidently in response to the claims made for Jesus by Christianity and for Muhammad by Islam, who elevate the role of Moses so that the religion is made to center around him. However, the opposite tendency is equally notable. Precisely because Christianity and Islam center on a person, Jewish thinkers declared that Judaism, on the contrary, singles out no one person, not even a Moses, as belonging to the heart of the faith. The stresses in this matter vary in proportion to the particular strength of the challenge in the period during which the role of Moses is considered. The need is keenly felt to affirm the supremacy of Moses and yet, at the same time, to deny him any divine honors.

Rav and Samuel said that 50 gates of understanding were created in the world, and all but one were given to Moses, for it is said (Ps. 8:6): "For Thou hast made him [Moses] but a little lower than the angels" (Ned. 38a). All the prophets saw God as one looks into a dim glass, but Moses as one who looks through a clear glass (Yev. 49b). When Moses was born the whole house was filled with light (Sot. 12a). Moses was so kind, gentle, and considerate to his sheep when tending the flock of Jethro that God made him the shepherd of Israel (Ex. R. 2:2). For Moses such a great thing as the fear of God was very easy of attainment (Ber. 33b). R. Johanan said: "The Holy One, blessed be He, causes His Divine Presence to rest only upon him who is strong, wealthy, wise, and meek and Moses had all these qualifications" (Ned. 38a). According to one opinion, Moses did not really die but still stands and ministers to God as he did while on Mount Sinai (Sot. 13b). Moses was righteous from the beginning of his life to the end of it, as was Aaron (Meg. 11a). Here, and frequently in the rabbinic literature, the praise of Moses is coupled with that of Aaron. The humility of Moses and Aaron was greater than that of Abraham since Abraham spoke of himself as dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27) whereas Moses and Aaron declared that they were nothing at all (Ex. 16:8). The whole world exists only on account of the merit of Moses and Aaron (Ḥul. 89a). These and similar sayings are typical of the rabbinic determination to go to the utmost lengths in lauding Moses; yet sayings of a not too different nature are found lauding other biblical heroes, and in some of the passages Aaron is made to share Moses' glory.

For the rabbis generally Moses is Moshe Rabbenu ("Moses our master," i.e., teacher), the teacher of the Torah par excellence. Neumark (Toledot ha-Ikkarim (19192), 85f.) has, however, conjectured that the absence of this title from the whole of the Mishnah is a conscious anti-Christian reaction in which the character of Moses is played down somewhat by avoiding the giving to him of a title given to Jesus (Acts. 2:36). It is also suggested in the Mishnah (rh 3:8) that the hands of Moses did not in themselves have any effect on the fortunes of Israel in the battle with Amalek. It was only when Israel lifted up their eyes to God in response to Moses' uplifted hands that God helped them. R. Eleazar, commenting on the verse "Go down" (Ex. 32:7), remarks: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: 'Moses, descend from thy greatness. Have I given to thee greatness except for the sake of Israel? And now Israel have sinned; then why do I want thee?'" (Ber. 32a). R. Yose said that if Moses had not preceded him, Ezra would have been worthy of receiving the Torah for Israel (Sanh. 21b). Nor were the rabbis averse on occasion to criticizing Moses for his quick temper (Pes. 66b; Sot. 13b) and to stating that he erred, though ready to acknowledge his mistake (Zev. 101a).

In the rabbinic tradition Moses was not only given the Written Law but the Oral Law, including the "laws given to Moses at Sinai" (*Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai), and whatever new interpretation of the law is ever brought before his teacher by a keen student of the Torah was already given to Moses at Sinai (tj, Pe'ah 2:6, 17a). The idea that new teachings were truly new and yet were implied in the Torah given to Moses is conveyed in the story of Moses being transported through time to the academy of Akiva and feeling disturbed at his inability to comprehend Akiva's teachings until he heard Akiva declare that he had received them as a tradition from Moses at Sinai (Men. 29b). The idea that the foremost Jewish teachers who produced innovations – Hillel, Johanan b. Zakkai, and Akiva – are to be identified with Moses, whose work they continued, is expressed in the statement that they, like Moses, also lived for 120 years, divided into three periods of 40 years (Sif. Deut. 327). According to one interpretation, widely accepted in the Middle Ages, the name "Moses" was, in fact, sometimes given to scholars as a title of honor (Bezah 38b).

[Louis Jacobs]

In the Aggadah

Heaven and earth were only created for the sake of Moses (Lev. R. 36:4). The account of the creation of water on the second day does not close with the customary formula "and God saw that it was good" since Moses was destined to be punished through water (Gen. R. 4:6). Noah was only rescued from the Flood because Moses was destined to descend from him (Gen. R. 26:6). The ascending and descending angels seen by Jacob in his nocturnal vision (Gen. 28:12) were in reality Moses and Aaron (Gen. R. 68:12).

His parents' house was filled with light on the day of his birth. He was born circumcised (Sot. 12a) on Adar 7th (Meg. 13b). He spoke with his parents on the day of his birth, and prophesied at the age of three (Mid. Petirat Moshe, in: Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1:128). Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe since she was afflicted with leprosy, but as soon as she touched the ark of Moses she was healed. She therefore took pity upon the child and saved him, despite the protests of her maidens. When she opened the ark she saw the Shekhinah next to Moses, and heard his cry, which sounded like that of a mature youngster (Ex. R. 1:23, 24). Pharaoh's astrologers had previously predicted that the savior of Israel would shortly be born and that he would be punished through water. After Moses was placed in the Nile, they told Pharaoh that the redeemer had already been cast into the water, whereupon Pharaoh rescinded his decree that the male children should be put to death (Ex. R. 1:24). Not only were all the future children saved, but even the 600,000 children cast into the Nile together with Moses were also rescued (Gen. R. 97:3). Moses refused to suck at the breast of Egyptian foster-mothers because the mouth which was destined to speak with the Shekhinah would not take unclean milk (Sot. 12b). His unique beauty captivated the royal household and he was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, who constantly displayed her affection for him. Even Pharaoh played with the baby, who often took his crown and placed it upon his own head. The king's advisers were frightened by this behavior and they counseled Pharaoh to put him to death. However, Jethro, who was among the royal counselors, insisted on first testing the youngster. A gold vessel and a live coal were brought before Moses, and he was about to reach for the gold when the angel Gabriel came and deflected his hand to the hot coal. The baby placed a live coal into his mouth, burning his tongue, and as a result he acquired the impediment in his speech (Ex. R. 1:26).

Moses not only sympathized with the sufferings of his brethren, but he also aided them in their tasks by himself preparing the clay for the bricks. He also assigned them responsibilities in accordance with their abilities so that the strong carried greater burdens while the weak discharged lesser tasks (Ex. R. 1:27). He slew the cruel Egyptian taskmaster only after the angels decreed his death since he had previously defiled the wife of one of the Hebrew slaves in his charge and subsequently sought to slay the husband. Moses killed the Egyptian either by means of the Divine Name or by his own physical strength. After Dathan and Abiram informed on Moses to Pharaoh, he was condemned to death, but the executioner's sword had no effect on him, since his neck became like a pillar of ivory (Ex. R. 1: 28–31). Moses saved the daughters of Jethro after the shepherds had cast them into the well, and he also protected them from their immoral designs. Moses drew out only one bucketful and with this watered all the flock there assembled, since the water was blessed at his hands (Ex. R. 1:32). According to one tradition, Moses could marry Zipporah only after he agreed to Jethro's condition that one of their children be raised in Jethro's faith while the rest could be trained in the Hebraic tradition. Because of this agreement, Gershom was not circumcised, and on the way to Egypt Moses almost met his death because of this neglect (Ex. 4:24–26; Mekh., Amalek), but in the opinion of other sages (Mekh. ibid.; tj, Ned. 3:14, 38b) Moses could not circumcise his second son Eliezer, because he had been born just prior to his departure for Egypt, and his only fault was that he did not do so immediately on reaching the resting place.

Before God confers greatness on a man he is first tested through small matters and then promoted to importance. Moses displayed his trustworthiness by leading the sheep into the wilderness in order to keep them from despoiling the fields of others. He then showed his mercy by carrying a young kid on his shoulders after it had exhausted itself by running to a pool of water (Ex. R. 2:2–3). God appeared to him in a burning bush to illustrate that the Jews were as indestructible as the bush which was not consumed by the flames (Ex. R. 2:5). Many reasons are given for Moses' initial hesitancy in accepting the mission of redeeming his brethren: he recoiled from the honor and prestige which would accrue to him for successfully completing the task (Tanḥ. va-Yikra, 3); he feared to trespass upon the domain of his elder brother whom he felt should be the redeemer (Ex. R. 3: 16); he desired the redeemer to be God Himself rather than a mortal so that the redemption would be eternal (Ex. R. 3:4); he was angry because God had already deserted the children of Israel for 210 years and permitted many pious individuals to be slain by their Egyptian taskmasters (Mekh. Sb-Y to 6:2).

The sages likewise were perplexed by Moses' seemingly disrespectful reply to God that since he had spoken to Pharaoh the lot of his people had not improved (Ex. 5:22–23). Various explanations are given for the tone of Moses' lament: the taunts of Dathan and Abiram regarding his lack of success provoked Moses' anger (Ex. R. 6:2); Moses mistakenly thought that the redemption would entirely come about through the attribute of mercy and would therefore be instantaneous (Ex. R. 6:3); he felt that his generation of Israelites did not deserve the severe punishment of bondage; and he did not doubt that God would ultimately redeem His people, but he was grieved for those children who were being daily immured in the new buildings and would not be redeemed. The attribute of justice sought to strike Moses, but God protected him since He knew that Moses only spoke out of his love for his brethren (Ex. R. 5:22). The elders started to accompany Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh's palace (Ex. 3:18) but gradually stole away furtively, singly or in pairs, so that by the time the palace was reached only Moses and Aaron were left (Ex. R. 5:14). Despite the harsh messages which Moses delivered to Pharaoh, he constantly accorded him the respect due to royalty (Ex. R. 5:15; Zev. 102a). Moses executed all the plagues except for those connected with water and dust, since he had been saved through water and the dust had concealed the body of the Egyptian he slew (Ex. 2:12; Ex. R. 9:10; 10:7). When Moses announced the final plague, he did not state the exact time of its incidence, saying only that "about midnight" (Ex. 11:4) because he feared that Pharaoh's astrologers might miscalculate and declare him a liar (Ber. 4a). During the Exodus, while the masses thought only of taking the gold and silver of the Egyptians, Moses went and retrieved the coffin of Joseph which subsequently accompanied the Israelites in the desert (Mekh. 2, Proem. Sot. 13a).

Moses went up to Mount Sinai, enveloped by a cloud which sanctified him for receiving the Torah (Yoma 4a). After he ascended on high, the ministering angels contested the right of "one born of woman to receive the treasures of the Torah." Encouraged by the Almighty, Moses demonstrated to the angels that only mortals were subject to the Torah's regulations and therefore it was rightfully theirs. The angels thereupon became friendly with Moses, and each one revealed its secret to him (Shab. 89a). In abstaining from food during the 40 days on Mt. Sinai Moses acted as do the angels (bm 86b). He received instruction from God by day and reviewed the teachings at night (Ex. R. 47:8). Not only were the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and aggadah taught to Moses, but all interpretations that were destined to be propounded by future students were also revealed to him (Ex. R. 47:1). Before Moses ascended the mountain, he promised to return by midday of the 41st day. On that day Satan confused the world so that to the Israelites it appeared to be afternoon when it was actually still morning. Satan told them that Moses had died and would never return, whereupon the people made the Golden Calf (Shab. 89a). Moses broke the tablets, and made it appear that the Torah had not been given, to prevent the sinners from being punished (ARN2 2:5–6). God approved of this action (Shab. 87a) and when Moses realized that Israel's fate depended upon him and his prayers, he began to defend them (Ber. 32a). He argued that God had not enjoined the prohibition against idolatry upon the children of Israel since the singular and not the plural is used in the command (Ex. 20:3–5), and it applied only to him (Ex. R. 47:9; for the additional justifications set forth by Moses see *Golden Calf). Moses refused God's offer to make him the ancestor of a great nation since he feared that he would be accused of seeking only his glory and not that of the people (Ber. 32a).

God would not grant Moses' wish to behold all His glory since Moses had refused to look at him through the burning bush (Ber. 7a). He was hidden in the same cave which was later occupied by Elijah (i Kings 19:9–14). If there had been an aperture even as minute as the point of a needle, Moses would have been consumed by the passing divine light (Meg. 19b). Moses received only the reflection of this light, and from its radiance his face subsequently shone (Ex. R. 47:6). During this revelation, Moses was granted profound insight into the problem of theodicy (Ber. 7a). Afterward he was known as the master of Torah, wisdom, and prophecy (Meg. 13a) since he possessed 49 of the 50 divisions of wisdom (rh 21b). He was the greatest prophet among the Israelites (Deut. 34:10) although, according to one view, Balaam was almost his equal so that the heathen nations could not attribute their wickedness to the lack of the prophetic spirit (Sif. Deut. 357; ser 26:141–2; but cf. tj, Sot. 5:8, 20d; Lev. R. 1:12–14). Moses insisted on giving a complete account of the materials collected for the Tabernacle since he overheard scoffers claiming that he had embezzled a portion of the gold and silver (Ex. R. 51:6). During the seven days of the dedication of the sanctuary, Moses officiated as the high priest. He was also considered the king of Israel during the 40-year sojourn in the desert. When Moses requested these two offices for a permanent heritage, he was told that the priesthood was already assigned to Aaron, while royalty was designated for David (Ex. R. 2:6).

Moses insisted that his sin of striking the rock be recorded in the Torah (Num. 20:11) so that future generations would not mistakenly ascribe other transgressions or faults to him (Sif. Deut. 26; Num. R. 19:12). The impatience of the people and the jeers of the scoffers were the cause of his smiting the rock in anger (Num. R. 19:9). In reality, God had long before decreed that Moses should not enter the Promised Land and Moses' offense in Kadesh was only a pretext so that He might not appear unjust. God explained to Moses that if he were not buried in the desert with the generation that left Egypt, people would mistakenly declare that the generation of the wilderness had no share in the world to come (Num. R. 19:13). Moses immediately obeyed God's command to avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites (Num. 31:2), although he knew that after it was fulfilled he would die (Num. R. 22:22). Before his death, Moses pleaded for the appointment of a successor who would successfully cope with the dissimilar temperaments of the people (Num. R. 21:2). Moses also requested that his successor lead his people into war, and not remain behind the troops as was the customary practice of gentile kings (Sif. Num. 139). Moses pleaded that the decree against his entering the Holy Land be rescinded so that he could share in the joy of his people after experiencing their sorrow (Deut. R. 11:10). However, God refused his repeated requests since the leader of the generation should remain with his followers, and the generation of Moses was buried in the wilderness (Num. R. 19: 13); and because the time had come for Joshua to exercise his leadership (Deut. R., ed. S. Lieberman, pp. 48, 124).

Moses died at the kiss of God (Deut. R. 11:10; bb 17a) on the anniversary of his birth, Adar 7th (Tosef., Sof. 11:2). God himself buried Moses (Sot. 14a) in a grave which had been prepared for him since the eve of the Sabbath of creation (Pes. 54a). His tomb is opposite Beth-Peor to atone for the sin of the Israelites in worshiping the idol Peor (Num. 25:3). Nevertheless, his grave cannot be discovered, since to a person standing in the valley it looks as though it is on a mountain peak, whereas from the mountain peak it looks as though it is in the valley (Sot. 14a).

[Aaron Rothkoff]

in medieval jewish thought

All Jewish philosophers agree that the prophetic revelation of Moses was different from, and superior to, the prophecy (see *Prophets and Prophecy) of all other prophets. *Judah Halevi writes that Moses' prophecy came directly from God: He did not receive his prophecy while asleep or in a state between sleeping and waking, nor did he arrive at it through union with the active intellect (Kuzari, 1:87). The term "prophet" when applied to Moses and other prophets is, according to *Maimonides, amphibolous. In his discussion of prophecy in the Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides states that he will allude to the prophecy of Moses only in order to contrast it with prophecy in general (Guide, 2:35). He spells out four distinctions between the prophecy of Moses and that of other prophets (Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 7:6; Comm. on Sanh, 10, 7th principle). The revelations of all the prophets, except for Moses, took place in dreams and visions (Num. 12:6); through the medium of an angel, and hence they prophesied in riddles and symbolic language (Num. 12:18); in a trancelike state (Gen. 15:12); and at intervals of varying duration according to God's choice. Moses, by contrast, received his prophetic message while fully awake; in nonsymbolic language; directly from God, rather than through the medium of an angel; and at the time of his own choosing (Num. 12:6–8; Ex. 33:11). It seems that these differences between the prophecy of Moses and that of other prophets can be reduced to one basic difference, namely, that imaginative faculty played no role in Moses' prophetic experience, while it played a major role in the case of the other prophets, prophecy being, according to Maimonides, "an overflow from God, through the intermediation of the active intellect, toward the rational faculty in the first place, and thereafter the imaginative faculty" (Guide, 2:36, see Abrabanel's commentary on this passage). He writes that whileother prophets "can hear only in a dream of prophecy that God has spoken to him… Moses… heard Him from above the ark cover, from between the two cherubim, without action on the part of the imaginative faculty" (Guide, 2:45). Moses' prophetic experience, then, seems to have been dependent on the superior development of his rational faculty, and it is probable that according to Maimonides – although he does not say so explicitly – Moses attained union with the active intellect (see S. Pines (tr.), Guide of the Perplexed (1963), translator's introduction, lxxvii–xcii). J. Guttmann has suggested that according to Maimonides, Moses' prophecy differed from that of the other prophets insofar as it transcended "the natural order and was wholly due to a supernatural action of God," while the prophecies of the other prophets resulted from the development of their rational and imaginative faculties. In this way, Guttmann maintains, Maimonides "safeguards the uniqueness of biblical religion which Moses transmitted against the danger inherent in a naturalistic interpretation of prophecy" (Guttmann, Philosophies, 172). S. Atlas, on the other hand, interprets Maimonides as asserting that while Moses' prophetic experience did not depend on his imaginative faculty, it did depend to a large extent on the superior development of his rational faculty, and was hence not totally dependent on the supernatural action of God. However, he too maintains that in Maimonides' view there was an important element in Moses' prophetic experience – an element not common to the experiences of the other prophets – which was the result of God's creative will, namely, the giving of laws (Atlas, in huca, 25 (1954), 369–400). Medieval philosophers considered Moses' qualities of courage, modesty, and justice to be prerequisites for prophetic experience (see for example Guide, 2:38–40).

[David Kadosh]

For Judah Loew b. Bazalel (the Maharal) of Prague (Tiferet Yisrael (1955), 64–67), Moses is a superhuman being occupying a midway position between the supernatural beings and humans. This is why he was able to be equally at home in heaven and on earth and this is hinted at in his name since the letter mem of Moshe is the middle letter of the alphabet. Samson Raphael Hirsch (Comm. to Ex. 24:1), on the other hand, denies any qualitative superiority to Moses. Very curious is the legend recorded by Israel Lipschuetz b. Gedaliah (Tiferet Yisrael to Kid. end, n. 77). A certain king, having heard of Moses' fame, sent a renowned painter to portray Moses' features. On the painter's return with the portrait the king showed it to his sages, who unanimously proclaimed that the features portrayed were those of a degenerate. The astonished king journeyed to the camp of Moses and observed for himself that the portrait did not lie. Moses admitted that the sages were right and that he had been given from birth many evil traits of character but that he had held them under control and succeeded in conquering them. This, the narrative concludes, was Moses' greatness, that, in spite of his tremendous handicaps, he managed to become the man of God. Various attempts have, in fact, been made by some rabbis to ban the further publication of this legend as a denigration of Moses' character.

The biblical commentators discuss why God arranged for Moses to be brought up by the daughter of Pharaoh. Abraham ibn Ezra (Comm. to Ex. 2:3) suggests that this was first to teach Moses courage and leadership, faculties he would not have been able to achieve if he had grown up among a slave people, and, secondly, so that Moses might have the respect of his people which he would not have had if he had grown up with them from infancy. Isaac Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 43) understands the matter to belong to God's purpose that the tyrant king be defeated through a member of his own household. Nahmanides (Comm. to Ex. 2:11) argues that Moses was brought up in Pharaoh's palace to accustom him to being in the royal presence, since it was his destiny to stand before Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites.

In the Kabbalah, too, there is great elevation of the character of Moses. On the verse: "And Moses went up to God" (Ex. 19:3), the Zohar (ii, 79b) remarks: "See the difference between Moses and all other human beings. When other human beings ascend it is to wealth or honor or power, but when Moses ascends what does Scripture say? 'And Moses went up to God.' Happy is his portion." The section of the Zohar known as Ra'aya Meheimna, "Faithful Shepherd," is in the form of mystical discourses conveyed to Simeon b. Yaḥai by Moses in heaven. Moses and Aaron on earth are, for the Zohar, the counterparts of the *sefirot Neẓaḥ and Hod (i, 21b–22a). The high mystical state of Moses is described in the Zohar as Moses having "intercourse" with the *Shekhinah, whose "husband" he was. Moses was a reincarnation of Abel (Sha'ar ha-Pesukim, Exodus, beg.). Hence, like Abel, the first shepherd, he was a shepherd (Avodat Yisrael by Israel of Koznice, Exodus beg.). Godly men chose the occupation of shepherd because it kept them far from the cities where men are prone to sin and because it afforded them the opportunities of communing with God (Baḥya ibn Asher, Comm. to Ex. 3:1).

modern interpretations

*Aḥad Ha-Am begins his essay on Moses (Al Parashat Derakhim3 210–21) by stating that he remains unmoved by the speculations of scholars as to whether Moses really existed since the true hero is not the historical figure but the man who is portrayed in the Jewish tradition as the embodiment of the Jewish spirit. This Moses is neither a great military strategist nor an astute politician. Nor is his role primarily that of lawgiver in the accepted sense since the laws he gives are for the future ideal state still to be realized. Moses is rather the "master of the prophets," the highest example of the prophetic ideal as expressed in a human life. The prophet is ruthless in his pursuit of justice which is, for him, a categorical imperative brooking no opposition. Moses' vision is of the perfect society, of what ought to be rather than what is. Moses embarks on his prophetic career with a protest against injustice and oppression and devotes the rest of his life to his ideal. He hears the voice of God speaking to him in his heart urging him to become the deliverer of his downtrodden people. This God who speaks to him and to the people is not a tribal god but the God of all men, every one of whom is created in His image. Because his vision is unqualified Moses must die without entering the Promised Land. The prophet is too uncompromising to be the leader of the people in the stark realities of the actual human situation. The leadership must pass to another more capable of coming to terms with life as it is, even though this involves a diminution of the dream. Thus Moses is the symbol of Israel's divine discontent with the present. Like Moses, Israel learned to live only in the past and the future, its life a pilgrimage from past to future. For Israel as for Moses the present, as it falls short of the ideal, has no real existence.

Sigmund *Freud's Moses and Monotheism (1939) is an interpretation of Moses' work and character which has been widely discussed, though the majority of scholars reject Freud's anthropology and his views on biblical scholarship. According to Freud, Moses was not an Israelite but an Egyptian. The monotheism he taught was derived from a period of pure monotheism established during the reign of Ikhnaton. Following a hint thrown out by Sellin based on an obscure passage in the Book of Hosea, Freud believed that the Israelites, unable to accept Moses' new ideas, eventually murdered him. But Moses' monotheistic teachings lived on in the racial unconscious of the Israelites to reappear hundreds of years later in the monotheism of the prophets. The slaying of Moses repeated what, for Freud, was the sin of primitive man, the slaying of the primal father by his jealous sons. Because of this, monotheistic religion is haunted by guilt feelings and the need for atonement. Freud admits the speculative nature of his theory but feels that it is in accord with his ideas on how religion began and on man's needs for a father figure.

Martin *Buber in his book Moses accepts the basic historicity of Moses but makes a distinction between saga and history. The saga is not history but neither is it fiction. It follows in the footsteps of the historical events and describes the impact they had. Creative memory is at work in the saga. But the saga is not simply a matter of group psychology. We can get behind it to the actual historical events which made such an impact on the people that they could only explain these events as of divine power at work in them. It is not a case of "historization of myth" but of "mythization of history." At the same time, in the Moses saga, the "mythical" element is not a myth of the gods. The human figure is not transfigured, so that the element of sober historical recording is still present. Describing the God of Moses, Buber writes: "He is the One who brings His own out, He is their leader and advance guard; prince of the people, legislator and the sender of a great message. He acts on the level of history on the peoples and between the peoples. What He aims at and cares for is a people. He makes His demand that the people shall be entirely 'His' people, a 'holy' people; that means, a people whose entire life is hallowed by justice and loyalty, a people for God and for the world… That Moses experiences Him in this fashion and serves Him accordingly is what has set that man apart as a living and effective force at all times; and that is what places him thus apart in our own day, which possibly requires him more than any earlier day has ever done."

[Louis Jacobs]

in christian tradition

Moses is mentioned more often than any other biblical figure in the New Testament, which emphasizes the parallel between the ministries of Moses and Jesus (Matt. 8:4; 17:1–8; Mark 7:10; 9:2–8; 10:2–9). As Israel's lawgiver and liberator, Moses – according to Christian tradition – prefigures the ministry of Jesus and prophesies the coming of the Savior and the mediator of the new covenant. Moses is an example of deep faith in God (Heb. 11:23–29), and like Jesus, he encounters the people's incomprehension and hostility (Acts 7:17–44). Jesus, however, surpasses Moses in all respects. Unlike the face of Moses, that of Jesus is unveiled and his superior glory is spiritual (ii Cor. 3:6–18). Moses appears as God's faithful servant, but Jesus is God's son (Heb. 3:5–6). Moses seals the covenant with the blood of animals, but the Messiah's covenant, which for Christians definitely supersedes the Mosaic Law, is sealed by his own sacrifice (Heb. 9:11–22). In addition, the events of the Exodus appear to the Church Fathers as typological events of Jesus' life; the passage through the Red Sea is the type of Salvation through baptism; and the water gushing out of the rock that Moses struck is a symbol of the Eucharist.

in islam

The personality and deeds of Mūsā (Moses) occupy an important place in the Koran. The events of his life, from the moment of his birth, are related at length. Indeed Nūh (*Noah), Ibrāhīm (*Abraham), and Moses were the first believers, and it was Moses who prophesied the coming of Muhammad, whose faith was that of Moses (Sura 7:140, 156; 42:11). At the same time of the decree of Firʿawn (Pharaoh) and his counselors, Hāmām and Qārūn (Korah), Moses' life was endangered when he was placed in the ark. However, Āsiya (see *Pharaoh), the wife (!) of Firʿawn, pitied Moses, saved him, and brought him up in her house (26:17; 28:6–10). Muhammad adapts the biblical tale of Jacob's labor for Laban inserting its years as those of Moses' employment by Shuʿayb (Jethro) in order to gain the hand of his daughter (28:27). He also adds details from the aggadah: Moses refused to suckle at the breasts of Egyptian women (28:11); one of the believers at the court of Pharaoh attempted to save Moses (40:29); Allah hung the mountain over the people of Israel like a pail in order that they would accept the Torah (2:60, 87; 7:170); on the sending of the spies (see *Joshua b. Nun = Yūshaʿ); on Korah (Qārūn) and his treasures; and many similar details. The Koran also contains themes and figures which are unknown in the ancient literature, such as the tale of al-Sāmirī, who casts the Golden Calf, and the journey of Moses and his servant to the end of the world (18:59–81; see below). Some of the tales about Moses are also mentioned in the poetry of *Umayya ibn Abi al-Ṣalt, and are embellished by Muslim legend, and interwoven with new legends. The biblical ʿImrān (Amram), husband of Yukhābid (Jochebed) and father of Moses and Aaron, is only mentioned in post-koranic literature. ʿImrān (Amram) of the Koran is the husband of Hannah (her name is not mentioned in the Koran, but in later works) and the father of Miriam (Maryam), the mother of Jesus (Sura 3, "The House of ʿImrān"). ʿImrān, the father of Moses, was one of Pharaoh's bodyguards; after the decree against the male children was issued, he did not leave the palace and did not have marital relations with his wife. A great bird, however, brought his wife Yukhābid to him, to the bedroom of Pharaoh, without drawing the attention of the bodyguards; she became pregnant and gave birth to Moses (al-Kisāʾī, 201). The ark of Moses had marvelous healing powers from which Pharaoh's daughter benefited. The infant Moses was saved from the fiery furnace just as Abraham had been; Pharaoh examined the child by placing a plate of coals and a plate full of gold in front of him. Moses wished to touch the gold, but an angel diverted his hand and put a burning coal in his mouth, which caused him later to stammer. The sheep of Jethro gave birth to spotted and speckled lambs. The staff of Moses came from a tree which had grown in the Garden of Eden, and which he inherited from the prophets, from Adam via Jacob. The death of Moses is described as an event unparalleled in world history, particularly in the tales of ʿUmāra (Ms., fol. 23v). The number of pages devoted to Moses in the "Legends of the Prophets" emphasizes the many legends which have been circulated.

Moses' Journey

The tale of the journey of Moses and his servant (Sura 18:59–81) is a departure from the framework of the biblical tales and legends. Moses set out to find the confluence of the two seas. On the way the servant forgot the roasted fish which was to serve as their provisions. They encountered the prophet of Allah and Moses asked him for a sign which would teach him wisdom and lead him along the proper course. The prophet consented on the condition that he would not question the meaning of the events which would occur en route. They boarded a ship and the prophet drilled a hole in it. Moses wondered about this act, forgot his promise, and asked the prophet whether it was his intention to drown them. Continuing on their way, the prophet killed a youth; and when they reached a town whose inhabitants refused them hospitality, the prophet held up a fence which was about to collapse. The prophet then explained to Moses the meaning of his surprising actions. The ship, which was the property of poor men, was about to fall into the hands of a pirate king. The youth would have caused his upright parents to sin; in his place, an upright son was born. Under the fence there was a treasure, the property of orphans, which was discovered after a while.

Since this tale does not belong to the legends of Moses which were widespread in the Orient, some of the Muslim commentators attempted to explain that it did not refer to Moses son of ʿImrān, but to another Moses. Most of the commentators, however, uphold the traditional explanation; they also explain that the servant was Yūsha' b. Nūn. The name of the prophet whom Moses asked for guidance is al-Khaḍir (al-Khiḍr, "the Green One"). However, other names are also mentioned. Thaʿlabī (p. 188) reports in the name of *Wahb b. Munabbih that it was Irmiyā b. Ḥilfiyā (!). The principal outlines of the tale of the journey can be found in the epic Gilgamesh (see *Flood) and in the romance of Alexander the Great, as related in the Syrian sources. It closely corresponds to the Jewish legend about R. Joshua b. Levi who set out on a journey with the prophet Elijah. The Jewish tale is found in two almost identical versions, though with a change in the order of events. One was published by A. Jellinek (Bet ha-Midrash, 5 (1877)) and the other in Ḥibbur Yafeh min ha-Yeshu'ah by R. Nissim b. Jacob. The introduction to the Jewish tale is identical to that of the Koran, except that Moses is replaced by R. Joshua b. Levi and the prophet (al-Khaḍir) by the prophet Elijah. The details of the story also differ: Elijah kills the cow of poor men who had received him and his companion with hospitality. They later stay with a wealthy man who neither pays attention to them nor gives them anything to eat. Elijah, however, prayed and rebuilt the wall of his house, which was about to collapse. Elijah and R. Joshua again came to a place of wealthy men who were indifferent toward them. Nevertheless, Elijah blessed them that they all might become leaders. When, however, they came to a place of the poor who were hospitable to them, the blessing was that they should have one leader. Elijah explained that all his actions and words had been favorable to the poor. With the exception of the story of the wall which was about to collapse, the Jewish tale differs from the Muslim account in its details.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

in the arts

Of all the major biblical figures, not excepting David, Jacob, Joseph, and Solomon, Moses has inspired the largest amount of creative endeavor in literature, art, and music. Treatment of this figure also involves several associated themes, such as the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, and the Revelation on Sinai. By far the earliest literary work on the subject was Exagoge ("The Exodus from Egypt"), a drama by the second-century b.c.e. Alexandrian writer *Ezekiel (Ezekielos) the Poet, preserved as a fragment by the Church Father *Eusebius of Caesarea (modern editions by E.H. Gifford, 1903; and by J. Bloch, 1929). The first play known to have been written by a Jew, this was also the first recorded biblical drama. The characters who appear in it include Moses, Zipporah, Jethro, and an invented Chum. The Exagoge, an interesting example of late classical Greek theater, anticipates the miracle and mystery plays of the Middle Ages. In medieval drama, Moses figures in the Ordo Prophetarum, the French Mistère du Viel Testament, and in some of the English cycles: the Ludus Coventriae of Lincoln (Moses andthe Two Tablets), the Towneley plays (Pharaoh), and the York series (The Departure of the Israelites from Egypt). Interest in the theme thereafter waned for a time. In the 16th century there were only a few works of note, such as a play by Diego Sanchez (c. 1530), and the Meistersinger Hans Sach's Die Kintheit Mosi (1553). Although Moses was one of the Old Testament heroes that appealed to Protestant writers of the 17th century, most of the works about him were of Catholic inspiration: one of the English Stonyhurst Pageants (c. 1625); Exodus, a neo-Latin sacred tragedy by Balthasar Crusius (1605); Moïse sauvé (1653), a tedious epic by Marc-Antoine de Gérard Saint-Amant; and Pascha, of tede verlossingte Israëls uit Egypten (1612), a five-act play by Joost van den Vondel.

In the 18th century, treatment was at first light, but more serious attention was given by writers of the last decades, particularly with the rise of the oratorio and musical drama. The Plagues of Egypt (London, 1708), an anonymous English poem, was followed by Poisson's one-act comedy, La Déroute de Pharaon (1718), and by texts for many musical compositions; notably Joannes Theodorus' neo-Latin drama Aaron a Moyse fratre sacerdos inauguratus (1730); Charles Jennens' Israel in Egypt (c. 1738), which served as libretto for Handel's well-known oratorio; and Benjamin Stillingfleet's Moses and Zipporah (1765). Three works of greater significance, all written at about the same time, were Hannah More's Moses in the Bulrushes, one of her Sacred Dramas (1782); Friedrich *Schiller's youthful epic, Die Sendung Mosis (1783); and Naphtali (Hartwig) *Wessely's 18-canto Hebrew epic, Shirei Tiferet (1782–1829). Wessely's poem, an account of the Exodus culminating in the giving of the Law at Sinai, betrays the influence of F.G. Klopstock's Der Messias (1748–73) and, in the spirit of the *Haskalah, presents Moses as a devout philosopher battling against fanaticism and ignorance. Shirei Tiferet was later translated into German (Die Moseide, 1795) and part into French (1815).

A dramatic revival of literary interest in the theme took place from the first decade of the 19th century, possibly as a result of the political and social upheavals of the age. Among the earlier works were August Klingmann's five-act drama, Moses (1812); David Lyndsay's The Plague of Darkness and The Last Plague (in Drama of the Ancient World, 1822); and Antonio Maria Robiola's Italian verse epic, Il Mosè (1823). Moses was the hero of several poetic compositions by French writers, beginning with Les bergères de Madian, ou La jeunesse de Moise (1779–80) by Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de Saint-Aubin, countess de Genlis, which was translated into Hebrew (1834). In Alfred de Vigny's "Moïse" (Poèmes antiques et modernes, 1826), the Lawgiver is a tragic, weary figure, pleading with God on Nebo for release from his consuming task. He is also the central character in three other French works: François René de Chateaubriand's verse tragedy, Moïse (1836); a 24-canto poem of the same title (1850) by Ambroise Anatole de Montesquiou-Fézensac; and Victor Hugo's brief poem, "Le Temple" (in La Legende des Siecles, 18591), which is based on Exodus 31:1–6. Elsewhere, Imre Madách wrote the drama, Mózes (1860), where the Hebrew Exodus was reinterpreted in terms of the Hungarian struggle for liberation. During the 19th century, Jewish authors also found inspiration in the biblical and rabbinic accounts of the life of Moses. Solomon Ludwig *Steinheim wrote the story Sinai (1823); Isaac Candia published the Hebrew play, Toledot Moshe (1829); and Moritz Rappaport was the author of a German epic poem, Mose (1842). The U.S. dramatist Samuel B.H. *Judah wrote The Maid of Midian, a biblical tragedy that was never staged because of the writer's sacrilegious treatment of the slaying of the Midianite captives (Num. 31:2–18). Contrasting sharply with this approach was the reverence expressed by *Heine in his late Gestaendnisse ("Confessions," 1854) – "How small Sinai appears when Moses stands upon it!" According to Heine the Lawgiver was an artist on a colossal scale, who built "human pyramids and human obelisks" and fashioned "a great, holy, and eternal people" out of a poor shepherd clan that would serve as a model for all other nations.

Literary Works by 20th-Century Non-Jewish Writers

Verse inspired by the life and career of Moses includes S.D. Polevaya's Russian biblical poem Iskhod (1913), Rainer Maria Rilke's Der Tod Moses, and Moysey (1922; Eng. 1938), a poem in Ukrainian by Ivan Franko. The yield has been richer in fiction, especially from the years following World War i when a number of novels were written on the theme. During World War ii Zora Neale Hurston published The Man of the Mountain (1941; U.S. ed., Moses) and the U.S. novelist William George Hardy produced All the Trumpets Sounded (1942). Among novels that appeared during the postwar era were Dorothy Clarke Wildon's Prince of Egypt (1949); the Polish Catholic Dobraczyński's Pustynia (1957; German ed. Die Wueste, 1957); and the Hungarian writer János Kodolányi's Az égő csipkebokor ("The Burning Bush," 1957). Moses was also the hero of a Danish trilogy by Poul Hoffmann: Den braendende tornebusk (1961; The Burning Bush, 1961); Den evige ild (1961; The Eternal Fire, 1962); and Kobberslangen (1958; The Brazen Serpent, 1963). There are several treatments of Moses in modern drama. Earlier plays of the 20th century include Henry R.C. Dobbs' Korah (1903); five-act dramas, both entitled Moses, by Karl Hauptmann (1906) and Viktor Hahn (1907); and Oskar Kokoschka's Der brennende Dornbusch (1911); the Czech author Stanislav Lom wrote the drama Vudce (1916; The Leader, 1917). The Nietzschean idea of the superman which had inspired Isaac *Rosenberg's remarkable short drama Moses (1916) inspired first a play by Lawrence Langner (1924), who treated the story as a myth on which to develop modern theories, and later Christopher Fry's The Firstborn (1946), in which Moses is again divested of his biblical qualities. Fry transforms his central character into an Egyptian military hero torn between idealism and reality, who finds himself providing the impetus for the Hebrews' liberation movement.

20th_Century Jewish Writers

Some of the most powerful and significant literary treatments of Moses in the 20th century have, understandably, been written by Jews. Max Donkhim published the five-act Russian drama, Moysey (1901), and Israel *Zangwill's "Moses and Jesus" (in Blind Children, 1903) records the imaginary encounter and bitter dialogue of the protagonists. Angiolo*Orvieto's dramatic poem Mosè (1905) was later set to music by his fellow-Italian G. Orefice; and Naomi Nunes Carvalho wrote three dialogues involving Moses (in Vox Humana, 1912). Other literary treatments include the Czech play Mojzis (1919), by Eduard *Leda, and Markus Gottfried's Hebrew epic, Moshe, published in the same year. After World War i, the subject was treated by a number of eminent Jewish authors in various genres. Midrashic legends were reworked by Rudolf *Kayser (Moses Tod, 1921) and Edmond *Fleg (Moise reconté par les Sages, 1925; Eng. The Life of Moses, 1928); and there were narrative works in Hebrew by David *Frischmann ("Sinai," in Ba-Midbar, 1923) and Ḥayyim *Hazaz – who showed a modern approach in Ḥatan Damim (1925; Eng. tr. by I.M. Lask, Bridegroom of Blood). Three other novels of the interwar years were Lina Eckenstein's Tutankh-Aten; a Story of the Past (1924), a fictionalized history; Louis *Untermeyer's Moses (1928); and Fertzig Yohr in Midbor (1934), a Yiddish work by Saul Saphire. The U.S. poet Robert Nathan's "Moses on Nebo" (in A Winter Tide, 1940) presented the sad vision of Israel's millennial wanderings; Károly *Pap's Mózes was staged by the Budapest Jewish Theater just before the author's deportation in 1944. Konrad Bercovici's The Exodus (1947) was probably the first postwar attempt to recreate the Bible story in U.S. fiction. It was followed by many new treatments, including Moyshe (1951; Moses, 1951), one of the best-known Yiddish novels of Sholem *Asch, and two Hebrew novels by Israel writers: Ben-Zion Firer's Moshe (1959) and Y. Shurun's Ḥalom Leil Setav ("Dream of an Autumn Night," 1960). Other works in the same genre have been written by Howard *Fast (Moses, Prince of Egypt, 1958) and the Dutch author Manuel van *Loggem (Mozes, dewording van een volk, 1947, 19602).

In Art

Together with David, Jacob, and Samson, Moses is one of the most popular Old Testament figures in art. The medieval church considered him both a type of the Messiah and one of the prophets who foretold his coming. In early Christian art until the end of the Carolingian period, Moses was often represented as a beardless youth holding a rod. He was later conceived in the form in which he still lives in popular imagination: as a patriarchal figure with a flowing, double-pointed beard, clasping the Tablets of the Law. Two horns were shown protruding from his head, because the Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Bible used during the Middle Ages mistranslated the verb "sent forth beams" as "horns" (karan, קרן) in Exodus 34:35. There are medieval sculptures of Moses at Chartres and elsewhere, and a Renaissance figure by Donatello in the Campanile at Florence. The most striking examples are the horned figure by Claus Sluter (1406) for the Well of the Prophets (or Well of Moses) at Dijon, France, and the horned statue by Michelangelo at San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. This work, the most famous portrayal of Moses in art, was originally intended for the mausoleum of Pope Julius ii. Many art cycles relate the various episodes in the life of Moses. Among the earliest is a Jewish source, the third-century frescoes from the synagogue at *Dura-Europos. Fuller cycles appear in Italy after the fifth century, such as the mosaics at Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. There is a portrayal of the early life of Moses carved in ivory relief (Lipsanotheca, Brescia). A modern cycle of paintings, "Moses" (1924), was executed by the artist Uriel *Birnbaum.

Scenes from the life of Moses figure in many famous manuscripts, such as the sixth-century Vienna Genesis, the seventh-century Ashburnham Pentateuch, the ninth-century Bible of Charles the Bald, the 12th-century Hortus Deliciarum and Admont Bible, the 13th-century St. Louis Psalter, and the 14th-century Queen Mary Psalter. They are also found in medieval Hebrew manuscripts. Illustrations of the Exodus played a major part in the adornment of Passover *Haggadot. There are also illuminations in German maḥzorim and other manuscripts. The Haggadot also include illustrations to a number of midrashic legends, such as the tale of the infant Moses who took Pharaoh's crown from his head and placed it on his own (Ex. R. 1:26). An episode from the same legend is treated in paintings by Giorgione (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) and Nicolas Poussin (Paris, Louvre). Other legends depicted include the petrification of Moses' neck when he was sentenced to be executed for killing the Egyptian (Ex. R. 1:28–31) and Pharaoh bathing in the blood of Israelite children as a cure for leprosy (Ex. R. 1:34). Scenes from the life of Moses also appear in mosaics at St. Mark's, Venice. Two scenes from the Exodus appear on the wings to the triptych of the Last Supper by Dirk Bouts (St. Pierre, Louvain): the paschal feast eaten by the Israelites before their departure from Egypt (a prefiguration of the Last Supper), and the gathering of the manna. The life of Moses inspired many frescoes of the Italian Renaissance. Benozzo Gozzoli dealt with the subject in frescoes at the Campo Santo, Pisa, and there are frescoes in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican by Botticelli, Pinturicio, and Signorelli. The Exodus was also treated in the Vatican frescoes of the school of Raphael. In the Brera Gallery, Milan, there is a series of paintings by Bernardino Luini that depict scenes from the Exodus, including the crossing of the Red Sea. In his murals for the School of San Rocco, Venice, Tintoretto painted "The Rain of Manna," "Moses Striking the Rock," and "The Raising of the Serpent in the Wilderness" with his usual boldness and employment of violent contrasts of light and darkness. More than any other painter, Nicolas Poussin was haunted by the figure of Moses. He painted a larger number of canvases, forming an almost complete cycle of the lawgiver's life. Among them are "Moses and the Burning Bush" (Copenhagen Museum), "The Rain of Manna," "Moses Striking the Rock" (a subject he treated seven times), "The Spies Carrying the Cluster of Grapes" (Louvre), and "The Dance Around the Golden Calf " (National Gallery, London). In the 20th century, the figure of Moses has interested *Chagall and Ben-Zion who have both painted scenes from his life.

Some individual episodes call for more detailed consideration. The finding of Moses, Moses and the burning bush, Moses striking the rock, and the giving of the Law are the subjects which have most interested artists. The finding of Moses (Ex. 2:5–10) was painted with elegance by the Venetian artist Paolo Veronese (two versions in the Hermitage and Prado). There is also a painting of this subject by *Rembrandt (Johnson Collection, Philadelphia). Jochebed, the mother of Moses, and her infant son are the subject of a tender family group by the English artist Simeon *Solomon. Moses and the burning bush (Ex. 3:1–14) occasionally appeared in early Christian art, but this subject is particularly associated with the popularity of the Marial cult in the Middle Ages. The burning bush was held to symbolize virgin birth, in that the virgin was penetrated but not consumed by the flames of the Holy Spirit. In medieval art Mary is therefore represented as rising out of the bush which burns at her feet. An example of the Marial interpretation is a major work of the 15th-century Provençal school, "The Coronation of the Virgin" by Enguerrand Charenton (Hospice of Villeneuve-les-Avignon). There is a more traditional representation of the burning bush episode in an engraving by Hans Holbein the younger. The ten plagues of Egypt (Ex. 7–12) are sometimes represented by the last plague, the slaying of the firstborn. There is a treatment of this subject by the English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner in the National Gallery, London. In one of the many illustrations to the Bible executed by Paul Gustave Doré, Pharaoh, overwhelmed by the disaster, implores Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The crossing of the Red Sea (Ex. 12–15) often appears in Byzantine manuscripts. There is a painting of this subject by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach (Pinakothek, Munich), who also depicted Miriam's dance of triumph (Ex. 15:20–21; Augsburg Gallery). Moses striking the rock (Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 10:1–3) was one of the most popular subjects in early Christian art, where it is found in the murals of the catacombs, on Roman sarcophagi, and on gilded glass. Another Holbein engraving shows the Israelites gathering the manna; while Moses is seen with his hands supported by Aaron and Hur in a painting of the battle with Amalek (Ex. 17:8–16) by the English artist Sir John Millais. The giving of the Law (Ex. 20:1–18) appears on early Christian sarcophagi and in medieval art. Apart from the above-mentioned statue by Michelangelo, the most famous treatment of this episode is the painting by Rembrandt (Berlin Museum) of Moses breaking the tablets (Ex. 32:19). The raising of the serpent in the wilderness (Num. 21:6–9) was a popular subject in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, being understood as a prefiguration of the raising of the cross. The subject also lent itself to the dramatic, convoluted compositions of baroque artists. There is a painting by Rubens in the National Gallery, London, and one by his pupil, Anthony Van Dyck in the Prado. The death of Moses (Deut. 34) is depicted in a watercolor by William *Blake in accordance with a legend that, when Moses died, Satan tried to snatch his soul but was warded off by St. Michael's lance.

The lawgiver's brother Aaron is shown clad in the long robes of a high priest, a stone-studded breastplate on his chest and a turban or tiara on his head. He carries his flowering rod or censer, signifying priesthood. The revolt of Korah against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16) and the tragic fate that overtakes the rebels form the subject of an illustration by Jean Fouquet to the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). The medieval Church thought of the rebels as heretics; on the other hand, the papacy associated Aaron with itself and for this reason Botticelli was commissioned to include the episode in his frescoes for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

In Music

The story of Moses, interwoven with that of the Israelites, has also inspired many musical compositions from the Renaissance era onward, as well as Jewish and other folk songs. The following survey lists selected settings of texts and episodes from the Pentateuch, including even the relatively few which do not mention Moses himself.

(1) Oratorios, Operas, Cantatas, and Choral Works: Jachet van Berchem, Locutus est Dominus ad Moysen; Stetit Moyses coram Pharaone (motets, printed 1538–59); Claudio Monteverdi, Audi coelum (motets, added to the Vesperae of 1610); Giovanni Paolo Colonna, Mosé legato di Dio e liberatore del popolo ebreo (oratorio, 1686); Giovanni Battista Bassani, Mosérisorto dalle acque (oratorio, 1694); Antonio Vivaldi, Moyses Deus Pharaonis (oratorio, 1714; libretto only preserved); Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783), Serpentes in deserto (oratorio; the authenticity of another oratorio, Mosé, is doubtful); Nicolo Porpora (1686–1768), Israel ab Aegyptiis liberatus (oratorio); Georg Friedrich Handel, Israel in Egypt (oratorio) – text compiled by Charles Jennens, first performed in London at the King's Theatre, April, 4, 1739. This is one of Handel's major compositions and ranks among the outstanding works in the genre. Built mainly on the expression of the chorus, symbolizing the people of Israel, it reaches its climax with its description of the crossing of the Red Sea and in the "Song of Triumph"; Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Die Israeli ten in der Wueste (oratorio, text by Schiebeler, printed by the composer in Hamburg, 1775, and first performed in Breslau, 1798); François Giroust, Le Mont-Sinai ou Le Décalogue (oratorio, Latin text, 1785); Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Mosis Mutter und ihre Tochter (duodrama, 1788); Giovanni Paisello (1740–1816), Mosé in Egitto (cantata for three voices); Konradin Kreutzer, Die Sendung Mosis (oratorio, 1814); Gioacchino Rossini, Mosé in Egitto (opera, text by Léon Tottola, premiere in Italian at Naples, 1818) – The revised version in French, Moïse, first performed in Paris (1827), included the famous "Prayer of Moses" which was one of the favorite subjects for fantasias, variations, and arrangements throughout the 19th century. The plot is that of a typical grand opera, with an interwoven dramatic love story not found in the biblical text; Franz Schubert, Miriams Siegesgesang (for soprano solo, mixed choir, and piano, opus 136; text by Franz Grillparzer, 1828); Karl Loewe, Die eherne Schlange (cantata for men's choir a capella, 1834); Adolf Bernhard *Marx, Moses (oratorio, 1841); Félicien David, Moïse au Sinai ("ode symphonique," i.e., oratorio, 1846); Camille Saint-Saëns, Moïse sauvé des eaux (cantata, text by Victor Hugo, c. 1851); Anton *Berlijn, Moses auf Nebo (oratorio) Anton *Rubinstein, Moses (oratorio, 1892); Marcus *Hast, The Death of Moses (oratorio, 1897); Jules Massenet, La terre promise (oratorio, 1900); Bernard Rogers, The Exodus (cantata, 1932); Arnold *Schoenberg, Moses und Aaron (opera, text by the composer, two acts completed in 1932; composition resumed in 1951; unfinished) – Moses und Aaron was first performed, in concert form, as a radio broadcast from Hamburg (first two acts, 1954); and was first staged in Zurich (June 6, 1957). In this highly philosophical work, the composer expresses the conflict between the Lawgiver, who cannot communicate his vision to the people (Moses = Schoenberg himself?), the weak and wavering people, and the glib mediator (Aaron = the critics, conventional composers?). See K. Woerner, Gotteswort und Magie: die Oper Moses und Aron [sic] (1959); D. Newlin, Yuval I (1968), 204–20; Darius Milhaud, Opus Americanum 2, op. 219 (orchestral suite, originally composed as a ballet, The Man of Midian, for the Ballet Theater (1940, not produced) and first performed as an orchestral suite, 1940); Wadi'a Sabrá (1876–1952), Lebanese Maronite composer, Le chant de Moïse (oratorio); Roger Vuataz, Moïse (oratorio for five reciters, soprano, choir, and orchestra, 1947); Jacob *Weinberg, The Life of Moses (oratorio, 1955); Josef Tal, Exodus (first version, for piano and drums, as "choreagraphic poem" for the dancer Deborah Bertonoff; second version ("Exodus i"), for baritone and orchestra (1945/46); third version ("Exodus ii"), electronic composition, including processed human voices (1958/59); the first electronic work produced in Israel).

(2) Jewish Folk Tradition. Among the musical notations made by *Obadiah the (Norman) Proselyte (11th–12th centuries) there is a setting of a piyyut in honor of Moses, Mi al Har Ḥorev ha-Amidi (see illus. in col. 1307–8). Jewish folk-song tradition contains a large number of songs about Moses, such as Yismah Moshe, found in almost all communities; the religious Ladino songs, e.g., Cantar vos quiero un mahase (on the birth of Moses) and A catorce era del mes (on the Exodus); and the epic Aramaic songs of the Jews of *Kurdistan about Moses and Pharaoh's daughter, the battle between Israel and Amalek, and the death of Moses. Many of these songs are sung on Shavuot or Simhat Torah. Among modern Israel folk songs are Yedidyah *Admon's U-Moshe Hikkah al Ẓur, and two children's songs, Benei Yisrael Po Kullanu (Joel *Engel, after a Yemenite melody) and Dumam Shatah Tevah Ketannah (K.Y. Silman, after an East Ashkenazi melody). Yehuda *Sharett's setting of the *Haggadah ("Nusaḥ Yagur") is both a functional "liturgy" for kibbutz use and an oratorio.

(3) Other Folk-Song Traditions. While a few songs about Moses and the Exodus exist in older Christian music, the most prominent examples can be found in the Afro-American spirituals – notably the powerful Go Down Moses ("When Israel was in Egypt land – let my people go!"), which has become an international favorite. The Palestinian Arab tradition of mass pilgrimage to the legendary tomb of Moses on the festival of Nebi Musa has given rise to its own repertory of mass chants. One of these, Ya ḥalili ya ḥabibi, ya ḥawaja Musa, has become an Israel Hora-song.

[Bathja Bayer]


H. Gressmann, Mose und seine Zeit (1913); P. Volz, Mose und seine Werk (19322); F. James, Personalities of the Old Testament (1939), 1–44; M. Buber, Moses (Eng., 1947); Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 2 (1947); Kaufmann Y., Religion, 212–44; J. Griffiths, in jnes, 12 (1953), 225ff.; G. van Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1 (1962), 289ff.; E. Osswald, Das Bild des Mose (1962); H.H. Rowley, Men of God (1963), 1ff.; W. Helck, in: vt, 15 (1965), 48; H. Schmid, Mose, Überlieferung und Geschichte (1968); S. Loewenstamm, in: EM, 5 (1968), 482–95; W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968); A. Cody, A History of the Old Testament Priesthood (1969), 39ff. additional bibliography: J. van Seters, The Life of Moses (1994); W. Dever, in: abd, 3:545–58; D. Beegle, in: abd, 4:909–18 (with bibliography); C. Houtman, in: DDD: 593–98 (with bibliography); K. van der Toorn, ibid., 910–19 (with bibliography); W. Propp, in: uf, 31 (1999), 537–75; S.D. Sperling, in: huca, 70–71 (1990–2000), 39–55. in hellenistic literature: J. Freudenthal, Hellenistische Studien, 1–2 (1878); F. Reinach, Textes d'auteurs grecs et romains relatifs au judaisme (1895); I. Lévy, La Légende de Pythagore de Grèce en Palestine (1927), 137–53; K. Preisendanz (ed.), Papyri Graecae Magicae, 2 vols. (1928–31); E.R. Goodenough, By Light, Light… (1935), 181–234, 289–91; M. Braun, History and Romance in Graeco-Oriental Literature (1938); G. Vermés, Moïse, L'Homme de l'Alliance (1955); Alon, Meḥkarim, 1 (1957), 196–7; I. Guttman, Ha-Sifrut ha-Yehudit ha-Hellenistit, 2 vols. (1958–63); E.R. Dodds, in: Entretiens sur l'Antiquité classique (1966), 1–32; B.Z. Wacholder, Nicolaus of Damascus (1962), 57–58; R. Le Deaut, in: Biblica, 45 (1964), 198–219; M. Hengel, Judentum und Hellenismus (1969); J.G. Gayer, in: jts, 20 (1969), 245–8; M. Stern, in: S. Safrai et al. (eds.), Sefer… G. Alon (1970), 169–91; R. Williamson, Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (1970). in the aggadah: R. Bloch, in: Cahiers Sioniens, 8 (1954), 211–85; S.E. Loewenstamm, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1958), 142–57; G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (1961), 178–90. medieval jewish thought: Y. Levinger, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Papers, 2 (1968), 335–9 (Heb.), 20 (Eng. summ.); A. Reines, in: huca, 33 (1962), 221–53; 34 (1963), 195–215. in christian tradition: J. Daniélou, Sacramentum futuri (1950), 129–200; P. Demann, in: Cahiers Sioniens, 8 (1954), 189–244; dbi, Supplement, 5 (1957), 1335–37. in islam: Ṭabarī, Ta'arīkh, 1 (1357 a.h.), 270–312; ʿUmara, Ms. fol. 15v.–24v.; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 140–210; Kisāī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 194–240; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran (1961), 225–363; J.W. Hirschberg, Jüdische und christliche Lehren im vor-und frühislamischen Arabien (1939), 129–34; add. bibliography: "Mūsa," in: eis2, 7 (1993), 638–40 (includes bibliography). moses' journey: Ṭabarī, Ta'arīkh, 1 (1357 a.h.), 256–64; Tabarī, Tafsīr, 15 (1328 a.h.), 171–6, 16 (1328 a.h.), 2–7; ʿUmara Ms. fol. 3v–18v; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 183–94; Kisāʾi, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 230–3; Zamakhsharī, 1 (1343 a.h.), 574–6; A. Jellinek (ed.), Bet ha-Midrash, 5 (1877), 133–5; J. Obermann, Studies in Islam and Judaism (1933), 10–13; H.Z. Hirschberg (ed. and tr.), Ḥibbur Yafe me-ha-Yeshuʿah (19692), introd. 51, 61–62, tr. 6–8; eis, s.v.Khaḍir. in arts: M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), index; E. Becker, Das Quellwunder des Moses in der altchristlichen Kunst (1909); L. Réau, Iconographie de l'Art chrétien, 2 pt., 1 (1957), 175–216; R. Mellinkoff, The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought (1971).


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MOSES (c. thirteenth century bce, but date uncertain), or, in Hebrew, Mosheh, was the leader of the Hebrews in the Exodus from Egypt and giver of the Law at Sinai. Tradition regards Moses as the founder of Israel's religionthe mediator of its covenant with God (Yahveh) and its cultic institutions.

Historicity of Moses

Any discussion about the historicity of Moses is entirely dependent upon an evaluation of the biblical account of his life and activity. There are no extant records from Egypt that make any reference to him or to the Exodus. Yet most scholars believe that a person named Moses existed and had a connection with the events of the Exodus and the wilderness journey as described in the four biblical books from Exodus to Deuteronomy. But there is little agreement about how much can be known about Moses or what role he played in the events, because the biblical accounts have been modified and embellished, and Moses' place in some of the traditions may be secondary.

The one point that seems to argue for regarding Moses as historical is his Egyptian name. An explanation of the name Moses that few would dispute is that it derives from the Egyptian verb msy ("to give birth"), a very common element in Egyptian names. This verb is usually combined with the name of a god (e.g., Re, as in Remesses, i.e., Ramses ), and the shortened form, Moses, is in the nature of a nickname. But whether in the long or short form, the name is common in Egypt from the mid-second millennium onward. None of the persons in Egyptian historical records bearing the name Moses can justifiably be identified with the biblical Moses, and to do so is quite arbitrary. The only argument for historicity to be derived from Moses' Egyptian name is its appropriateness to the background of Israel's sojourn in Egypt. Other examples of Egyptian names occur among the Israelites, particularly within the ranks of the priests and Levites. Such names may have survived in Canaan at sanctuaries and urban centers from the time of Egyptian control of the region in the Late Bronze Age.

A name by itself, however appropriate to the time and events described, does not make a historical personality. The various elements of the Exodus story do not correspond with known Egyptian history, and historians have usually set about reconstructing the events to make a better fit between the Bible and contemporary records. For instance, the presence of numerous Asiatic slaves in Egypt during the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties (15501200 bce) was not the result of an enslavement, out of fear and hatred, of a specific people already resident in Egypt, as pictured in Exodus. Slaves were brought into Egypt in large numbers as prisoners of war from many different peoples and social classes and were dispersed throughout Egypt to serve in many different capacities. Many Asiatics became free persons within Egyptian society and were found at various levels of rank and status. The nineteenth dynasty in particular was one of great assimilation of Asiatic religion and culture in Egypt. Furthermore, while bedouin were allowed certain grazing rights in the eastern Delta, there is no suggestion that they were enslaved or made to do menial labor. Nothing in the Egyptian records suggests any acts of genocide or any distinct group of state slaves resident in the eastern Delta.

None of the pharaohs in Exodus is named, but the reference in Exodus 1:11 to the Israelites' building the store cities of Pithom and Ramses is enough evidence for many to date the events to the nineteenth dynasty. Yet Pithom (Tell el-Maskhuta), in the Wadi Tumilat, was not built until the end of the seventh century bce, and the reference to Ramses and the "land of Ramses" hardly suggests the royal residence. The name Goshen, as the region where the Israelites were said to reside, is known only from the latest geographic texts. The few specific names and details, therefore, do not point to a particular period of Egyptian history, and scholars differ on the dating and background of the Exodus precisely because so many details must be radically redrawn to make any connection possible. The quest for the historical Moses is a futile exercise. He now belongs only to legend.

Literary Tradition

The traditions about Moses are contained in the Pentateuch from Exodus to Deuteronomy, and all other biblical references to Moses are probably dependent upon these. The view of most critical scholars for the past century has been that the Pentateuch's presentation of Moses is not the result of a single author but the combination of at least four sources, known as the Yahvist (J), the Elohist (E), Deuteronomy (D), and the Priestly writer (P), and composed in that order. The existence of E as a separate work from J has long been disputed; at best it is very fragmentary. It is best to treat J and E as a single corpus, JE, as will be done below. The usual dating for these sources places them in a range from the tenth to the fifth century bce, although there is a strong tendency, which the author of this article supports, to view D (from the seventh century) as the earliest work, JE (from the sixth century) as exilic, and P (from the fifth century) as postexilic. This would account for the fact that so little is made of the Moses tradition outside of the Pentateuch.

Whether one adopts the older scheme or the later date for the Pentateuchal sources, a long period of time separates any historical figure from the written presentation of Moses in the Bible. To bridge this gap one is faced with evaluating the diversity of traditions within the Moses legend and with tracing their history of transmission prior to their use by the later authors, as well as with considering the shape and color the authors themselves gave to the Moses tradition as a reflection of their own times and concerns. The history of the preliterary tradition has occupied a lot of attention but with few convincing results because it is so difficult to control any reconstruction of the various stages of oral tradition. One is therefore left with an examination of the traditions about Moses in their present literary forms within the larger context of the Hebrew scriptures.

Moses as deliverer from Egypt

The general background for the deliverance of the people through Moses is the theme of the oppression and enslavement in Egypt. This theme of Israel's oppression is often mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures as the condition of the people from which God "redeemed" them, often without any reference to Moses (note, e.g., Ez. 20). The Pentateuch continues to stress God as deliverer but now makes Moses the human agent.

Within the tradition of enslavement the JE writer introduces a special theme of attempted genocide (Ex. 1:822), which provides the context for the story of Moses' birth and his rescue from the Nile by the Egyptian princess (Ex. 2:110). But once this story is told, the theme of genocide disappears, and the issue becomes again that of enslavement and hard labor. The story of Moses as a threatened child rescued from the basket of reeds and reared under the very nose of Pharaoh to become the deliverer of his people corresponds to a very common folkloric motif of antiquity. Similar stories were told about Sargon of Akkad and Cyrus the Persian. However, Moses' initial attempt at deliverance (Ex. 2:1115), whereby he kills an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew, is antiheroic because it ends in failure and leads only to his flight to the land of Midian, where he becomes a shepherd (Ex. 2:1622, 3:1). This prepares the way for the author (JE) to present Moses as a most unheroic leader, totally dependent on the divine word from Yahveh for each action he takes.

The story of Moses' experience of the burning bush theophany at Sinai/Horeb, in the land of Midian (Ex. 34), has all the marks of a new beginning. It resembles that of the prophetic-call narratives in which the prophet experiences a theophany and then is given his commission (Is. 6, Ez. 13). Moses' protest is similar to that of Jeremiah in his call (Jer. 1:610), but the author in Exodus develops it into an elaborate motif. At the same time Moses' call bears some resemblance to the commissioning of a military leader whose task it is to deliver his people from oppression (Jgs. 6, 1 Sm. 9). But Moses is not given the task of being a military leader, nor are the signs he receives meant to give him confidence of victory. The primary concern in the dialogue between Moses and Yahveh is in Moses' role as a spokesman whom the people will believe and who can speak on behalf of the people to the foreign ruler. The author (JE) has drawn upon both the tradition of classical prophecy and the literary history of Gideon and Saul to fashion his rather composite presentation of Moses' call and commission as Israel's deliverer.

The plague stories (Ex. 7:1411:10) carry out the image of Moses as deliverer through the prophetic word of judgment and salvation. But they also add the element of the prophet as a wonder-worker similar to Elijah and Elisha. Yet in the plagues tradition the wonders are all carefully circumscribed by divine commands so that Moses and Aaronaside from a slight gestureare almost completely passive and unconnected to them (see also Ps. 78:4351, 105:2636). The notion of the man of God as miracle worker has been largely absorbed by the view of the prophet as messenger and spokesman. The P writer, however, introduces the notion of a contest between Aaron and the magicians of Egypt (7:812). The plague stories as a whole are intended to emphasize the greatness and power of Yahveh and add very little to the Moses tradition.

The climax of Israel's deliverance is at the Red Sea (Ex. 13:1714:31), and here again Moses' role is to announce judgment on the Egyptians and salvation for Israel. In the JE account Moses and Israel do nothing but witness the divine rescue, while in the P version Moses, at God's command, splits the sea with his rod to create a path for the Israelites and, again at divine command, makes the sea come back upon their pursuers. The effect is that the people fear Yahveh and believe in him and in his servant Moses. It is remarkable that except for one late addition to Deuteronomy (11:4) there are no references to the Red Sea event in this source even though the Exodus is mentioned many times. This suggests that the Red Sea episode is really secondary to the Exodus tradition. In its present form it constitutes a transition to the wilderness themes and to Moses' direct leadership of his people.

Moses as leader

Apart from an initial contact with Israel's elders in Egypt, which did not turn out very well (Ex. 5), Moses' direct leadership of the people begins only when they depart from Egypt. As their leader he is the one to whom the people complain about their hardships in the wilderness. But it is always God who meets their needs, with manna from heaven, or quails, or water from a rock. In the case of the people's complaints or rebellions, sometimes directed at Moses (and Aaron), God answers with judgment, and Moses must act as intercessor to mitigate the severity of the punishment. In all of this Moses is primarily a spiritual leader, a kind of prophetic mediator between the people and God with no other form of authority or legitimation.

Moses is also the supreme judge and head of the administrative functions of the wilderness community. In these capacities the tradition tells of two occasions in which Moses sets up civil institutions, one a system of courts for the purpose of sharing the judicial responsibility of the people (Ex. 18, Dt. 1:918) and the other a council of seventy elders for a sharing of the governance (Nm. 11:1630). But these stories merely represent etiologies of later Israelite institutions. Moses' authority is his endowment of the prophetic spirit and the means by which God speaks and directs the people in every decision.

On a few occasions the Israelites are involved in military encounters, but Moses' role in these is very limited. In their fight against the Amalekites (Ex. 17:816) Joshua is the military captain, while Moses raises his hands as if to receive divine aid. When Moses sends spies to survey the land of Canaan, it is Joshua and Caleb who play the major role in support of a military campaign and against the negative report of the other spies. When the people finally attempt a southern assault, Moses does not go with them, and they are defeated. In the campaign against the Midianites (Nm. 31 [P]) it is Phinehas the priest who takes charge of the army while Moses remains in the camp. In the campaign against Sihon and Og (Nm. 21:2135, Dt. 2:243:11) Moses appears to lead the forces in the D account, but in JE he recedes into the background. Moses is not a military hero in these traditions.

Moses as lawgiver

The theme of Moses as lawgiver is more closely associated with the theophany at Sinai/Horeb (Ex. 1920, Dt. 45), and with the prolonged stay at the mountain of God, during which the Law was given to Israel through Moses. Many scholars have argued that the giving of the Law at Sinai originated as a separate tradition. In many respects it represents a detour on the way from Egypt to Canaan and is parallel to another law-giving tradition, which is reflected in Exodus 15:2526. But the matter is hotly debated and still unresolved.

Within the corpus of laws in the Pentateuch there is great variation of type and function reflecting different social settings and historical perspectives. Some of these laws represent the casuistic style of civil law used in the settled life of Israelite society in the land of Canaan. Others are apodictic commands that express universal principles of ethics and religion. There are also laws regarding cultic observances and regulations. Each category of law contains examples of parallel versions among the various Pentateuchal sources, and the law codes of the various sources can be correlated with certain periods of Israelite history. Thus the comparative study of the laws of the Pentateuch has become an important aspect of the study of Israel's social and religious history far removed from the wilderness period, which is their present narrative setting.

Nevertheless Moses has often been viewed as the author of the Ten Commandments. But the two forms, in Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20, are in the sources D and P respectively, and their language is so characteristic of D that there seems little reason to believe that they are any older than the seventh century bce. Even in these two sources the "ten words" are said to have been given to the people directly without the mediation of Moses and only later written by the finger of God upon the two tables of stone. Furthermore, the JE corpus does not regard the Ten Commandments as a distinct series and has quite a different set of laws and instructions written on the two tables of stone (Ex. 34).

The JE corpus of laws in Exodus 20:2223:33, usually designated as the Book of the Covenant (24:7), is a mixture of all types of law, religious and civil regulations, absolute principles of religion and ethics, and paraenesis. These are all given through Moses at one time on Sinai and constitute the basis of the covenant between the people and their God (Ex. 24:38). Portions of the civil laws are generally regarded as quite old in origin and perhaps taken over from the earlier Canaanite society, but this corpus of laws in its present form derives from the exilic period. The Deuteronomic code (Dt. 1226) is the body of instructions given to Moses after the Ten Commandments were proclaimed. The D code was delivered to the people in written form in the land of Moab as preparation for their entry into the promised land. In actual fact the code represents a cultic reform movement of purification and centralization of worship in the time of Josiah (c. 625 bce). The Priestly code is primarily concerned with setting out an elaborate program of cultic regulations to form the basis for the cult of the Second Temple during the restoration. Its view of Judean society is strongly theocratic, with the high priest as the real head of statehence the elevation of Aaron alongside of Moses. The P writer has much of this code revealed to Moses at Sinai (Ex. 2531, 3540; Lv.; Nm. 110), but some instructions are given during the remaining part of the wilderness journey. In P, Moses' role as the revealer and instructor in divine law is the most dominant.

For all the biblical writers the wilderness period was the constitutional age, the time of Israel's beginning. Whatever was most fundamental to Israelite society was deemed to have arisen in this period. And Moses as the leader, the prophet, the founder, was regarded as the one through whom all this came about. Modern historical criticism, however, has made the Moses tradition problematic by identifying its anachronisms and by dating its materials to later ages. While some scholars have tried to find some elements of the tradition, particularly within the Decalogue, that may go back to Moses, there are others who dispute that any of the laws and customs of the Pentateuch derive from Moses or the wilderness period.

Moses as the Founder of Israelite Religion

Many scholars believe that Moses is the founder of Israel's religion, at least in the form of a worship of Yahveh alone and, ultimately, in the form of monotheism. This position is based upon a number of arguments. First, the P source explicitly states (Ex. 6:23) that the name of Yahveh was not known before the time of Moses and that the forefathers worshiped God as El Shaddai. In Genesis there are also frequent references to forms of El worship among the patriarchs. Yet the JE corpus clearly regards the patriarchs as worshipers of Yahveh and the El epithets as merely titles for Yahveh. It is the P writer who has created a periodization of revelation out of the El references. The use of El as a designation for Yahveh becomes particularly frequent in the exilic period (see Is. 4055) and says nothing about early Israelite forms of worship.

Second, in the call narrative of Exodus 3:13 Moses inquires about God's name and is given an answer that seeks to explain the name Yahveh (actually YHVH in the unvocalized Hebrew text) in terms of its supposed etymology from the verb hyh ("to be"). This could be interpreted as signifying that Moses introduced a new understanding of the name and character of Yahveh and Yahveh's relations with his people. Yet this piece of dialogue is unrelated to anything else that follows in the tradition and has the character of theological speculation and interests in the author's own time. It tells nothing about Moses.

Third, the first and second commandments of the Decalogue emphasize the exclusive worship of Yahveh and an imageless cult. Those who attribute the Decalogue to Moses also use it as a basis for their view that Moses was the founder of monotheism. But it is unlikely that these laws predate the seventh century bce. Archaeological evidence confirms the fact that as late as the eighth century bce Yahveh was regarded by some Israelites as having a divine consort. At Kuntillat ʿAjrud, a Judean sanctuary in eastern Sinai, two inscriptions were found containing blessings "by Yahveh and his Asherah" (a female deity). One of these inscriptions was accompanied by a drawing of a seated female deity alongside two male divinities(?). At Khirbet el Qôm in western Judah a similar inscription referring to Yahveh and his consort Asherah was also found. The first commandment of the Decalogue may be understood as a direct protest against such a consort being placed or named "beside" Yahveh.

Fourth, there are those who would see in the Sinai covenant Moses' achievement in creating a unique politico-religious union centered upon commitment to Yahveh and a new social order among his fellow Israelites. These scholars point to the Hittite suzerainty treaty model of the Late Bronze Age, which emphasizes absolute loyalty to the great king based upon past favors and complete obedience to a series of stipulations regulating relations between king and vassal as well as between vassal states. The force of the argument lies in the attempt to establish parallels between this model and the giving of the law and covenant ratification at Sinai in Exodus 1924, as well as in the fact that the time of Moses and the time of the Hittite empire are relatively close. The theory, however, has come under criticism because the parallels are too forced to be convincing, the treaty form is not so restricted in time, and the greatest correspondences to such a treaty-covenant form is to be found in Deuteronomy very likely written shortly after Judah had experienced such vassalage to Assyria. In fact, it has been strongly argued that the notion of such a Sinai/Horeb covenant between Yahveh and his people is no older than D and cannot be traced back to Moses.

While the critical scholar may doubt that a historical figure, Moses, living in the thirteenth century bce was the founder of Israelite religion in anything like the form reflected in the Pentateuch, the tradition itself has clearly regarded him as such, and thus he remained in all the subsequent developments of that tradition in later times.

Moses in Postbiblical Judaism

The great diversity within Jewish piety and religion in the centuries that followed the Hebrew scriptures does not allow for a simple statement about the development of the Moses tradition in this period. Nor is it possible to do justice to all the sources or varying viewpoints. Yet a few common features are shared by most of them and may be listed as follows. (1) The Law of Moses, the Torah, becomes understood as the whole of the Pentateuch and not just the laws within it. This means that God revealed to Moses past history as well as future events, in addition to law. (2) The legend of Moses, especially details about his birth and youth, was greatly expanded. (3) Moses is consistently viewed as the greatest prophet of Israel, although the understanding of this "office" and the nature of the revelation he received were not always the same. (4) Moses is the great intercessor and defender on Israel's behalf and the one responsible for mitigating God's punishment for the people's sins. This article now considers some of the special developments of the Moses tradition.

Moses in Hellenistic Judaism

One of the characteristics of Hellenistic Judaism in the period from 200 bce to 100 ce was its strong apologetic character. A number of pagan writings represented Judaism and its history in a bad light and included Moses in this vilification. In order to counteract this, Jewish writers presented their history in a way that would have special appeal for Gentile audiences and win support for their religion and way of life. Thus Moses was portrayed as a great culture hero and inventor of the arts of civilization, including writing, philosophy, statesmanship, and religion. Moses' early life was modeled after the Hellenistic biography of the divine man, with prophecies about his birth and greatness, accounts of his beauty and royal upbringing, and his great military exploits on behalf of the pharoah. In all these embellishments of the tradition the authors were responding to criticisms of Moses.

Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian writing at the end of the first century ce, stands in this stream of Hellenistic historiography. Moses is both the Hellenistic "divine man" and the Hebrew "man of God." As lawgiver he is presented in Greek terms as legislator and founder of the ideal constitutiona theocracy (Jewish Antiquities 2.624, 3.180, 4.13, 150, 156; Against Apion 2.75, 145, 154ff.). At the same time Moses is the greatest of the prophets as the "apostle" of God and interpreter of the words of God (Antiquities 4.165, 329; 3.8587).

Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, who also lived in the first century ce, stands in the tradition of Judeo-Greek philosophy and mystical religion. He identifies Moses as the ideal king of Hellenistic ideology and combines in this role most of Moses' task (Life of Moses 1). Moses, with his special qualities as divine man, his royal upbringing, and his life as a shepherd, is prepared to become the king of Israel in the wilderness period. To his role as king is related his function as legislator, because the king is the embodiment of law (2.8ff.). The priesthood is also part of the royal office, and Moses is priest, according to Philo, in his establishment of the cult and in his role as intercessor (2.66ff.). Moses is also the prophet for Philo but in the special sense of the ecstatic who gains direct intuition of the truth through the mystical experience (2.187ff.). The theophany of Sinai was such an experience for Moses whereby he ascended to heaven itself and became a divine king through divinization. In some of Philo's writings he describes Moses as a hierophant, and the Torah is interpreted as a guide into the mysteries of God (On the Decalogue 18; Allegorical Interpretation 3.173).

The apocalyptic tradition

In two apocalyptic works, the Assumption of Moses and Jubilees, Moses receives special and secret knowledge about both past and future as well as the unseen worlds of heaven and hell (Jub. 1.26; Asm. Mos. 1.1618). The apocalyptic literature reveals this information with special emphasis on the events of the end of time. Great emphasis is also placed upon Moses as intercessor, but this is not restricted to the wilderness period. Because Moses' death is understood as an assumption into heaven, his role as defender of Israel continues throughout Israel's history up to the Last Judgment (Jub. 1.1821; Asm. Mos. 11.17).

The Essenes living at Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea in the first centuries bce and ce were a community dedicated to living by the Torah. They regarded themselves as the true Israel, who withdrew to the desert "to prepare the way of the Lord" for the last days (1 Qumran Scrolls 8.14f.). The biblical wilderness period was a model for their own experience, and a study of the Law was intended to yield an eschatological revelation for their own times. Moses was the great prophet whose words were the primary revelation for this apocalyptic community (1 QS 1.3, 8.15; Code of Damascus 5.21).

Rabbinic view of Moses

The rabbinic tradition represents a vast array of sources from the second century to the Middle Ages, containing a wide spectrum of belief and opinion. At the same time it fell heir to many of those traditions and impulses in the Moses tradition that has already been noted above.

In the legal tradition (halakhah ) Moses represents the great "teacher" by which Israel was instructed in the Torah. This includes not only the laws of the Pentateuch but all the subsequent oral Torah, which was handed down from Moses to Joshua and in succession to the rabbis. All students of the law were really disciples of Moses.

The homiletic tradition (aggadah ) brought to the fore those other aspects of the Moses tradition that were a part of Jewish piety. It continued to embellish the biography of Moses as the "man of God," but more central is his role as the servant of God. As such he was God's agent for bringing about the rescue from Egypt, for mediating the covenant and the laws to Israel at Sinai, and for leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. The role of servant emphasized Moses' function as intercessor for his people and as one who suffered and died on their behalf. Through his death in the wilderness instead of in Canaan Moses was identified with the sinful generation of the wilderness and thus ensured its salvation in the resurrection.

Moses was the supreme prophet as revealer of the words of God and the one to inaugurate the succession of prophets. The traditions about Moses as king and priest were viewed in a more limited fashion, for while he may have been king during the wilderness period and priest in the dedication of the Tabernacle rites, he was not able to pass on this succession to his heirs, and it remained for David as king and Aaron as high priest to found these lines of succession.

There is also a tradition within the aggadah about Moses' heavenly ascent at Sinai that elaborates on his vision of God and his struggles with the angels to acquire the Torah for Israel. These stories have much in common with the ascension materials called heikhalot, which Gershom Scholem has seen as reflecting ecstatic mystical experiences. There was a certain reticence expressed by some rabbis toward this form of piety and the rather speculative character of its traditions.

Moses in the New Testament

The New Testament accepts Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (Mt. 8:4, Mk. 7:10, Jn. 1:17), but the real significance of the Pentateuch is as a prophecy that discloses the origins of Christianity (Lk. 24:2527). Yet the whole of the institutional and ritual forms of Judaism as well as the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition is associated with Moses, so that Moses reflects the ambivalent feelings of Christianity's continuity and discontinuity with Judaism.

In the Gospels, elements in the life of Jesus are parallel to those in the expanded legend of Moses. The infancy narrative in Matthew (chap. 2), with its predictions and warnings to king and father, its slaughter of the innocents, its recognition of Jesus' royalty, and the flight into exile until the king's death, is modeled on the Moses biographies. The scene on the mount of transfiguration where Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah has many allusions to the Sinai theophany (Mt. 17:18, Mk. 9:28, Lk. 9:2836); Jesus' feeding of the five thousand (Mt. 14:1321, Mk. 6:3244, Lk. 9:1017, Jn. 6:114) is directly associated in John's gospel with Moses giving the manna in the wilderness (6:2534); and his forty days of fasting in the wilderness parallel Moses' fast at Sinai (Mt. 4:12, Lk. 4:13; cf. Dt. 9:9). The story of Jesus' ascension in Luke and Acts has similarities to the traditions of Moses' assumption (Lk. 24:51, Acts 1:911).

The ministry of Jesus is also compared with that of Moses. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus' teachings are given a settingthat of the Sermon on the Mountthat is parallel to the receiving of the law at Sinai. In Luke, Jesus as prophet is a second Moses who has come to redeem his people. In John, the comparison with Moses is especially pronounced: "The law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (1:17). John's message to Jewish believers is that Jesus is superior to Moses and supplants him so that one must make a choice between Moses and Jesus.

The apostle Paul, using the methods of Hellenistic Jewish exegesis, interprets the time of Moses typologically as a reference to Christianity (1 Cor. 10:111). But for Paul generally Moses represents a religion of the law, to which he compares his religion of grace.

The Letter to the Hebrews draws parallels between Jesus and Moses in order to demonstrate that Jesus is superior. Moses as the servant of God is inferior to Jesus, who is the son of God. Moses instituted the earthly sanctuary, which is only a copy and a shadow of the heavenly, and in this earthly sanctuary the Levitical priesthood ministers according to the law. But Jesus is the eternal high priest who ministers in the heavenly sanctuary by interceding for the faithful (Heb. 8:16). In the same way Moses is the author of the old covenant, but this was only a preparation for and a foreshadowing of the new covenant through Jesus (Heb. 8:710:18).

Moses in Islam

Moses is highly regarded in Islam as the great prophet who foretold the coming of Muammad, his successor. Details about Moses' life from the aggadah are to be found in the Qurʾān, but there are additional details with parallels from folklore as well as borrowed from other biblical stories and applied to Moses (see especially sūrah 28:443; also 7:104158, 20:1098, 26:1169). Apart from explicit references there is much in the life of Muammad that is implicitly reminiscent of the Moses tradition. This is particularly true of the notions about a dictated revelation received through angels and the experience of an ascent to heaven, in Muammad's case, from Jerusalem.

See Also

Israelite Law.


The vast literature on the figure of Moses makes any selection difficult. The following list is an attempt to provide a fairly broad range of scholarly opinion on this subject. Some general treatments of the life and work of Moses, based upon a critical appraisal of the biblical traditions, are Elias Auerbach's Moses (Amsterdam, 1953), translated from the German and edited by Robert A. Barclay and Israel O. Lehman as Moses (Detroit, 1975); Fred V. Winnett's The Mosaic Tradition (Toronto, 1949); Martin Buber's Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (Oxford, 1946); and a more technical monograph by Herbert Schmid, Mose: Überlieferung und Geschichte, "Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft," no. 110 (Berlin, 1968). A classical and still very influential study of the biblical traditions is the one by Hugo Gressmann, Mose und seine Zeit: Ein Kommentar zu den Mose-sagen (Göttingen, 1913).

The history of modern research on Moses is treated in Eva Osswald's Das Bild des Moses in der kritischen alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft seit Julius Wellhausen, "Theologische Arbeiten," vol. 18 (Berlin, 1962); and R. J. Thompson's Moses and the Law in a Century of Criticism since Graf, "Supplements to Vetus Testamentum," vol. 19 (Leiden, 1970).

On the question of Moses' place in history see Roland de Vaux's Historie ancienne d'Israël (Paris, 1971), which has been translated by David Smith as The Early History of Israel (Philadelphia, 1978); John Bright's A History of Israel, 3d ed. (Philadelphia, 1981); and Siegfried Herrmann's Israels Aufenhalt in Ägypten (Stuttgart, 1970), translated by Margaret Kohl as Israel in Egypt (London, 1973).

Two works that deal with the way in which Moses is used as a paradigm for certain religious and political roles are Gerhard von Rad's Moses (New York, 1960) and J. R. Porter's Moses and Monarchy: A Study in the Biblical Tradition of Moses (Oxford, 1963). A book that is especially helpful for the treatment of Moses in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is a collection of essays published under the title Moïse, l'homme de l'alliance (Paris, 1955). On the aggadah, see especially Louis Ginzberg's The Legends of the Bible (New York, 1956), pp. 277506. This book is an abridgment of the earlier work The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols., translated by Henrietta Szold et al. (19091938). On Moses in the New Testament and early Judaism, see also Wayne A. Meeks's The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology (Leiden, 1967).

John Van Seters (1987)


views updated May 23 2018


BORN: c. 1392 bce

DIED: c. 1272 bce

prophet; religious leader

Moses ranks as one of the major leaders, prophets (divine messengers), and lawgivers in the Jewish and Christian traditions. He is best remembered for leading the Israelites, or the Jewish people, out of slavery from Egypt in about the thirteenth century bce. The account of this journey is detailed in the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Exodus. The Hebrew Scriptures, or sacred texts, are often referred to by Christians as the Old Testament of the Bible. They are called the Tanakh by Jews. Jews refer to the first five books of the Tanakh, which are Exodus, Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as the Torah. Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians traditionally believe that these five books were written by Moses himself, although many modern biblical scholars dispute this notion. They believe the Torah was written by a number of authors over time.

"May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew …/ For I will proclaim the name of the Lord. / Ascribe greatness to our God."

As a lawgiver among the Israelites, Moses handed down many of the beliefs, traditions, and institutions that would become part of the foundations of Western government, law, and religion. He was one of the earliest supporters of monotheism, or the belief in one supreme God. The official religions of most of the empires in the region at the time were polytheistic, meaning they worshipped many gods, and large numbers of people practiced idol worship, or the worship of physical objects as gods. Due to this monotheistic view, Islam also reveres Moses as a great prophet, one of the earliest in a line of prophets ending with Muhammad (c. 570–632; see entry), the founder of Islam, who likewise preached belief in one God.

Biographical information on Moses

Virtually everything known about Moses and his life comes from the Torah. No other historical or biographical records exist. Confirming the events narrated in these books is difficult, if not impossible. Jewish rabbinical scholars have primarily been responsible for reconstructing Moses's life, although many others have also contributed to the effort. Rabbinical scholars are those studying to be rabbis, or people trained in Jewish ritual, law, and tradition. Along with the Tanakh, these scholars have drawn on various sources of biblical interpretation and detailed, critical examinations of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud, the authoritative body of Jewish tradition, contains many such examinations. The Talmud has two parts: the Mishnah, which consists of oral interpretations of the Torah compiled about the second century, and the Gemara, which consists of comments on the Mishnah.

Rather than simply believing the biblical accounts of Moses's life to be true or not true, rabbinical scholars analyze the text in various ways to form a more educated opinion. They take into account the geography described in scripture; the general cultural atmosphere during Moses's lifetime; the histories of other religious systems that emerged before, during, and after Moses's lifetime; and the findings of archaeologists (people who study the remains of past cultures), who have located ruins, artifacts, and other objects that can be connected to the biblical account. Despite all this, factual evidence is scarce, and separating the true stories of Moses's life from the legends is a highly difficult task.

Moses's birth and early life

Moses was born around 1392 bce to Amram and his wife, Jochebed. According to legend, Moses lived to be 120 years old, dying in the year 2488 of the Hebrew calendar, or 1272 bce. The story of his birth and infancy is one of the most widely known tales from the Hebrew Scriptures. During this period Egypt was a powerful nation. Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt had been united under a new line of pharaohs, or kings. Throughout much of the thirteenth century bce Egypt was ruled by Ramses II (c. 1304–c. 1237 bce), and many historian believe that Ramses is the pharaoh referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures.

During his reign Ramses undertook a major building program in the delta region, where the Nile River flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Prior to this, the Israelites had found refuge from a severe food shortage in Egypt along the Nile River. The river's annual floods watered the nearby land and nourished it with rich silt, creating a 4,000—mile-long area of agricultural land surrounded by harsh desert. The Egyptians considered the Israelites to be gypsies, homeless wanderers who were nuisances and disgraced their nation. Ramses did not know what to do with the Israelites until the building program began. Since he needed large numbers of laborers to dig mud and make bricks for new buildings, he enslaved the Israelites and forced them to perform the manual labor. Part of his intention was to work as many of them as possible to death, so as to shrink their numbers. Despite his efforts, the Israelite population continued to increase. Frustrated, Ramses ordered that all sons born to Israelite couples be thrown into the Nile River and drowned.

Amram and Jochebed were Israelites living in Egypt. They were members of the Levite tribe, which had traditionally been the source of the Israelites' priestly class. To save her baby, Jochebed hid him, but after three months, when she could hide him no more, she set him adrift on the Nile in a waterproof basket made of reeds, a tall grass that grows in wet areas. The pharaoh's daughter happened to discover the basket and the baby, still alive. She rescued the infant, named him Moses, which means "to draw out," and raised him as her own son. Moses's sister, Miriam, followed the basket as it traveled down the river. When the pharaoh's daughter found the baby, Miriam offered to find an Israelite woman to nurse the child; in this way, Jochebed, Moses's actual mother, became his nurse.

The pharaoh's daughter was most likely not a princess of the royal bloodline but rather the daughter of one of the concubines (women who have sexual relations with a man they are not married to) in the pharaoh's harem, or the group of women he claimed as his own. The young woman probably took Moses back to the harem, where he was raised under the supervision of all the women. There he learned to read and write Egyptian hieroglyphics (ancient pictoral script) and probably received training in other social, administrative, and military skills. Foreign children were commonly raised in this way, enabling them to enter careers in the military or the civil service.

In this way, Moses grew to manhood. One day he reportedly witnessed an Egyptian abusing an Israelite slave. Angered, he killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand, thinking that no one would discover it. Later, however, as he tried to break up a fight between two Israelites, one taunted him about the Egyptian he had killed. Moses then feared for his life, particularly after he discovered that the pharaoh had also learned of his murderous act. He fled to the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula, where he lived for forty years with the Midianites, who were descendants of the prophet Abraham (c. 2050–c. 1950 bce; see entry). Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midian priest, and lived the life of a shepherd, learning how to survive in the harsh deserts. His son, Gershom, was born of this union.

Moses's commission from God

One day Moses was tending his flock on Egypt's Mount Horeb, the precise location of which is uncertain but may be modern-day Mount Sinai. He observed a bush that was on fire but not being destroyed. When Moses neared the burning bush, God announced his presence and commanded Moses to serve as his messenger to the pharaoh and to lead the Jews out of slavery from Egypt. This astonished the humble shepherd, and Moses expressed great reluctance. He told God that he would be unable to explain God's identity to the people, that the people would not believe him, and that he would be unable to carry out such a huge task. God answered each of Moses's objections, and Moses eventually relented.

Moses then returned to Egypt. When he arrived he met his older brother, Aaron, whom God had already informed of Moses's coming return. The two met with the elders of the Israelites and, with Aaron doing most of the talking, informed them of God's intentions. Aaron would later become Moses's chief general.

The Plagues of Egypt and Other Miracles

In claiming that a miracle has taken place, one suggests that God has chosen to involve Himself in the affairs of humans. Belief in miracles requires strong religious faith. Many people find it difficult to accept the idea that God has ever intervened in human affairs, such as with the plagues of Egypt and other events recorded in scripture.

In studying biblical history, many scholars look for natural ways to explain apparently miraculous events. In the case of the plagues, some claim that usually high flooding of the Nile River could have pulled red-tinted earth into the water, creating the impression that the water had turned to blood. Further, this flooding could have polluted the water, perhaps with microorganisms that killed the fish. In turn, the high flood tides could have swept frogs and insects into communities, where they could have multiplied rapidly, spreading disease (especially skin disease, because of the excessive moisture) and ruining crops. In addition, the sun sometimes disappears behind clouds of dust during sandstorms, which could explain the three days when the sun was not visible in the story about the plague in Egypt recounted in the Tanakh, or the Old Testament.

Several events occurred when the Israelites were fleeing the Egyptian army that again raise the issue of God's possible miraculous intervention on behalf of the Jews. According to the book of Exodus, God parted the Red Sea, allowed the Jews to escape on foot, then released the walls of water so they rushed down onto the pursuing Egyptians. Again, potential natural explanations exist. One holds that the events did not take place at the Red Sea but at the Isthmus of Suez, an arm of water that extends inland from the Mediterranean Sea. An earthquake could have caused a tsunami, a massive wave of water that engulfed the Egyptians after the Israelites passed by safely. An alternative explanation claims that the "Red Sea" as specified in Exodus was in actuality a large marsh that was thick with reeds. On foot, the Israelites would have been able to make their way through the marsh, but the Egyptians' horse-drawn chariots would have become stuck in the soggy ground, and, as the horses struggled, the Egyptians might have lost their lives.

These elders attempted to persuade the pharaoh to release the Israelites, but he refused. To show his support for the Israelites, God unleashed a series of plagues on Egypt over the course of a year. The water in the Nile turned to blood, killing the fish; frogs were driven from the river and invaded homes; gnats and flies blanketed the land; skin infections broke out on both people and their livestock; hail and storms destroyed crops; the wind carried in swarms of locusts; and the sun was blotted out for three days. The pharaoh and his magicians were not able to stop these plagues, which ended with the death of all firstborn sons of the Egyptians. (The Jewish feast of Passover honors this event, when God "passed over" the homes of the Israelites and spared their sons.) The Egyptians became so terrified that they not only released the Israelites but ordered them to leave Egypt.

The Exodus

The story that dominates the book of Exodus is that of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert after their escape from Egypt. According to Exodus, the Israelite men numbered some six hundred thousand; adding in women and children would bring the total number of travelers to perhaps two million. Under the leadership of Moses the Israelites followed a route southeast to the town of Succoth, then northeast to the Isthmus of Suez, southeast again along the Sinai Peninsula to Mount Sinai, and finally northeast to Hebron, in Palestine. This journey took place over a period of forty years.

Early on in the flight of the Israelites, referred to as the Exodus, the pharaoh apparently changed his mind about ordering the Israelites out and sent his army in pursuit. The Israelites achieved a great victory at the Red Sea, which is said to have miraculously parted, allowing them to walk across safely and then swamping the pursuing Egyptian army. Another key event concerned the hunger and thirst of the people in the desert. They began to grumble and question Moses, but God met their needs by providing water and food. The source of the water was probably porous (having pores, or holes, that allow liquid through) limestone rock. No satisfactory explanation has been offered for the source of the food, called manna, though it has been speculated that it was the juice of a plant or perhaps a lichen, a kind of moss.

God's covenant with the Israelites

After the Israelites crossed the Egyptian frontier, Moses became their chief lawgiver. At Mount Sinai he climbed the slopes and met God. God then gave Moses the Ten Commandments, written on two stone tablets. In a section of Exodus called the "book of the covenant," God, through Moses, outlined his covenant, or agreement, with the Israelites and established a basic code of law. This code provided instructions regarding worship and a number of other matters. The code included many civil laws, such as those relating to the rights of slaves; to manslaughter and other injury to human life; to theft and damage of property; to social and religious duties; and to justice and human rights. It also included laws regarding major feasts, such as the requirement that Jews eat unleavened bread, or bread made without yeast, to celebrate the feast of Passover and the Jews' Exodus from Egypt. (Presumably, they left too quickly to be able to bring leaven for their bread.) The book after Exodus, Leviticus, lists in further detail God's laws for his people. These laws governed most aspects of life as it would have been lived in an agricultural society, covering such matters as rules for priests; the treatment of food; hygiene; medicine; sexual behavior; and other topics. While Leviticus is the chief law book, the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy outline additional Jewish laws.

The Israelites remained at Sinai for about a year. During that time Moses communicated with God frequently. As a sign of his covenant with his people, God gave Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle, a elaborate tent that served as a shrine and signified that God lived among them.

The last chapters of the book of Exodus detail the continued wanderings of the Israelites. From Sinai, Moses led the people to Kadesh in modern-day northern Lebanon. From there, at the urging of the people, he sent scouts ahead to the promised land of Canaan, on the other side of the river Jordan, which was the Israelites' ultimate goal. The promised land was the land that God had promised to Abraham would belong to his people, the Jews. The scouts, however, returned with terrifying tales about what they observed, such as that Canaan was a land of giants who devoured their own people, and the Israelites refused to move on. The Israelites then remained in the area around Kadesh for thirty-eight years. During these years Moses faced challenges to his leadership, including one from his own brother, Aaron, and one from his sister, Miriam. He survived these challenges until his people resumed their journey. They detoured around the kingdom of the Edomites and the land of Moab, both of which refused to allow the Israelites passage. When they encountered the land of the Amorites, they fought, conquering the Amorites and seizing their territory.

Moses had been warned by God that he would never be able to lead his people on the final stage of their journey, when they would cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. As the people approached the end of their travels, Moses assembled the tribes of Israelites and delivered a parting address, recorded in Deuteronomy, chapter 32, verses 1-3, which begins as follows:

    Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak:
    and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
    May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as the gentle rain upon the tender grass,
    and as the showers upon the herb.
    For I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Ascribe greatness to our God.

Moses then climbed Mount Nebo, where he looked out over the country before him and died.

For More Information


Kirsch, Jonathan. Moses: A Life. New York, NY: Ballantine, 1999.

Swindoll, Charles R. Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1999.

Wildavsky, Aaron, and Yoram Hazony. Moses as Political Leader. Lanham, MD: Shalem Press, 2005.


Hirsch, Emil G., Benno Jacob, and S. R. Driver. "Exodus, Book of." (accessed on June 2, 2005).

Moberly, R. W. L. "More about Moses: Biography." The Good Book. (accessed on June 2, 2006).


The Story of Moses. Directed by James L. Conway. Worcester, PA: Vision Video, 1998.


views updated May 17 2018


Leader of the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt and their mediator in their covenant with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai. Little is known with historical exactitude about this key figure in the history of Israel through whose efforts the motley Hebrews became a tribal confederacy and, ultimately, a monarchy. Although his existence is no longer denied by scholars, arriving at the historical substance of Moses has been made complex by authors and editors of the Pentateuch. Factual details have long been obscured in the oral and written traditions of the cult epic celebrating the historical deeds of Yahweh.

Life. The name Moses (Heb. mōšeh ) is of Egyptian origin (mes, mesu, born), perhaps originally connected with the name of an Egyptian god (as in the names Thutmose, Ahmose, etc.) that was later omitted under the influence of Israelite monotheism. A popular Hebrew etymology is offered in Ex 2.10 connecting mōšeh with māšâ [to draw forth (out of water)]. Moses was born apparently at the beginning of the 13th century b.c., the son (Ex 2.14; 7.7; Nm 26.59) of Hebrew parents Amram and Jochabed (Ex 6.20), with an older sister Miriam and a younger (?) brother aaron. The account of his birth parallels the legendary story of King Sargon I of Akkad, who, deposited in a basket boat and rescued, achieved great prominence. As a ward of the Pharaoh's daughter, Moses doubtless pursued the academic program of an Egyptian scribe (cf. Acts 7.22). The Biblical narrative, a composite of oral and perhaps even written traditions, portrays Moses as fleeing to Midian after killing an Egyptian in defense of a countryman (Ex 2.1115). There he again exercised his role of champion in the cause of the seven daughters of the Kenite Jethro, a Midian priest, in whose household he then resided (2.1621). Moses married Zipporah, a daughter of Jethro, who bore him two children, Gershom (2.22) and Eliezer (18.4). On Mt. sinai (horeb) Moses the shepherd experienced a theophany in the event of the burning bush. Commissioning Moses to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt, Yahweh entrusted him with the credentials of the revelation of His identity as Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3.6), together with the power to perform miraculous signs (4.19). In a scene somewhat inconsistent with his personality and education, Moses pleaded his ineptness for the task. Yahweh assigned a coadjutor role to Aaron (4.1416). Before Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron presented in vain the case for the Hebrews, so that Yahweh punished Pharaoh with the ten plagues of egypt (7.1412.30). Finally Moses led the Hebrews from Egypt after the ceremonial of a Passover meal. The journey to freedom became a flight from captors as Pharaoh's army attempted to recover his laborers. Moses was forced to lead the people through the only avenue of escape, the red sea, into the desert. Arriving at Mt. Sinai, the people through Moses entered formally into the covenant relationship with Yahweh (Ex 19 and 24; Dt 5), the terms of which are codified in the Decalogue (Ex 20.117; Dt5.621) and the book of the covenant (Ex 2123). At Cades Moses guided the Israelite tribes through the difficult period of development. His mission accomplished, he died at Mt. Nebo without entering the promised land of Canaan (Nm 20).

Though the name of Moses has always been connected with the Pentateuch, his personal contribution to Israel was long overlooked. Outside the Pentateuch the oldest references to the Exodus make no mention of Moses. Reference is seldom made to him among the Prophets. Perhaps this is due to the Israelite mentality of eliminating instrumental causes and attributing events to the direct intervention of Yahweh. The picture that Israelite tradition created is reflected in his subordinate characterization by later authors as the servant of God (2 Kgs 21.8; Ps 105.26; Mal 3.22; Bar 2.28), God's chosen one (Ps 106.23), priest (Ps 98[99].6), prophet (Hos 23.13; Wis 11.1), and man of God (1Chr 23.14). In the NT, where he is the most frequently mentioned OT personality, he appears primarily as the lawgiver (Mt 8.4; Mk 7.10; Jn1.17) who communicates God's law to man. For this reason Jesus met opposition in attempting to bring the law of Moses to final realization. As Moses proclaimed the Old Law from Mt. Sinai, the Gospel writers similarly situated Jesus on a mountain for the revelation of the New Law. The typological prefigurement of Jesus by Moses in the Exodus events is solidly founded. Jesus used him to witness His approaching suffering and death (Mt 17.18; Mk 9.18; Lk 9.2836). Moses is a model of faith for all Christians (Heb 11.2329).

Iconography. Although Moses is portrayed as the father type in the Sistine Chapel, elsewhere he is more often represented in the role of savior and legislator. The striking of the rock and the revelation of the Law were the two predominant scenes until the 5th century, when other themes were introduced. The Christian community

forged detailed comparisons between the activities of Moses and those of Jesus, some founded in Scripture, others in the creative imagination: e.g., between the burning bush and the virginal birth of Jesus, between the crossing of the Red Sea and Baptism (1 Cor 10.12), between the brazen serpent and the Crucified (Jn 3.1415), between the manna and the Eucharist (1 Cor 10.34), between the striking of the rock and the piercing of the side of Christ. As a result of a misunderstanding of Ex 34.2935 Moses was often portrayed with two horns (instead of rays) on his forehead (cf. 2 Cor 3.7).

Bibliography: m. buber, Moses, the Revelation and the Covenant (Oxford 1946; Torchbooks, New York 1958). r. mellinkoff, The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought (Berkeley, Calif. 1970). d. daiches, Moses: The Man and His Vision (New York 1975). j. cohen, The Origins and Evolution of the Moses Nativity Story (Leiden 1993). g. w. coats, The Moses Tradition (Sheffield, Eng. 1993). j. van seters, The Life of Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers (Louisville, Ky. 1994).

[e. roessler/eds.]


views updated May 17 2018


Born: c. 1392 b.c.e.
Died: c. 1272 b.c.e.
Moab, Syria

Egyptian prophet

The Old Testament prophet Moses was chosen to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery. He created Israel's nationhood and delivered the Ten Commandments.

Childhood years

Moses was the son of Amram and Yochebed of the tribe of Levi. Miriam and Aaron were his brother and sister. He was born in Egypt during the period in which the Israelites (Hebrews) had become a threat to the Egyptians simply because of their large population. The Pharaoh had ordered that all newborn male Hebrew children be cast into the Nile to drown. Amram and Yochebed took their newborn son and placed him in a waterproof basket and hid him in the tall grasses of the Nile. Meanwhile, his sister Miriam hid and watched over the baby from a distance. A group of women and servants were bathing nearby. The Pharaoh's daughter, hearing the baby cry, found and rescued him. She named him "Moses," meaning "drawn from the water." Her desire for a son fulfilled, she made certain that he had the best of everything, including education.

Moses was brought up in the splendor of the Egyptian court as the Pharaoh's daughter's adopted son. Grown to manhood, he was aware of his Hebraic roots and shared a deep compassion for his confined kinsmen. He became furious while witnessing an Egyptian master brutally beating a Hebrew slave, and he impulsively killed the Egyptian. Fearing the Pharaoh's punishment, he fled into the desert of Midian, becoming a shepherd for Jethro, a Midianite priest whose daughter Zipporah he later married. While tending the flocks on Horeb Mountain in the wilderness, he saw a bush burning yet not turning to ash. He heard a voice from within the bush telling him that he had been chosen to serve as one to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He was also told to declare the unity of God to his people. At that time most Israelites were worshipping many gods. Moses was to tell them that there was only one God.

The tremendous responsibility of Moses's task, his shyness, and his own feeling of unworthiness brought forth a hesitancy and lack of confidence. The Divine answer was "Who made your tongue?" He was then assured that Aaron, his more talkative brother, would serve as his spokesman both to the children of Israel and to the Pharaoh. The promised destination for the Israelites' journey was a "land rich with milk and honey."

Moses returned to Egypt and persuaded the Hebrews to organize for a quick trip from their Egyptian slave drivers. With Aaron, Moses informed the Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews demanded that Pharaoh free God's people. The Pharaoh refused to obey, bringing upon himself and his people nine terrible plagues (diseases that spread rapidly and can cause death) that Moses produced upon Egypt by using the miraculous staff he had received from God as a sign of his authority. The Egyptians suffered under the plagues of water turned into blood, frogs, gnats, flies, disease to their cattle, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Each plague was severe to the Egyptians but left the Israelites untouched. The tenth plague is now the Hebrew story of Passover. God sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptiansa proof of His immense strength and power. The Israelites protected their households by putting lamb's blood on their doorway, so that the Angel of Death would know to pass over their homes. This last plague broke the Pharaoh's resistance and moved him to grant the Hebrews permission to leave immediately. Moses thus found himself the leader of an undisciplined collection of slaves, Hebrew as well as non-Hebrew, escaping from Egyptian territory toward freedom.


Moses' immediate goal was Mt. Horeb, called Mt. Sinai, where God had first revealed Himself to Moses. The Hebrews came to the sacred mountain encouraged by the power they sensed in Moses. Summoned by God, Moses ascended the mountain and received the tablets of stone while the children of Israel heard the thundering forth of the Ten Commandments. Inspired, the people agreed to the conditions of the Covenant (agreement made between people and God).

Through forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, overcoming many obstacles, Moses led the horde of former slaves, shaping them into a nation. Many miracles happened along the way. When the Israelites stopped in front of the Red Sea with the Egyptian soldiers at their heels, it was Moses' raised staff that parted the Red Sea so that they could cross. Once they had safely crossed, the sea crashed down, drowning many of their pursuers. When food supplies ran out, God sent down what was called "manna" (spiritual food) everyday for the nourishment of the Israelites. Moses had to hear the Israelites complain about the food, the climate, and the slowness of their progress. Moses even had to hear the Israelites claim that Egypt had been better than this wilderness trip. When the people were in need of water, God told Moses to speak to a rock and water would spring from it. Moses' character was apparently worn down because, instead of following directions, he struck the rock with his staff. That was to have lasting impact on Moses's final days.


With the help of his brother Aaron, Moses was able to hold together his ragtag band of exslaves for forty years. Only a man with tremendous will, patience, compassion, humility, and great faith could have forged the bickering and scheming groups who constantly challenged his wisdom and authority into a nation. Throughout the forty years Moses was in constant communication with his Lord, the God of Israel. This God added to the Ten Commandments through Moses by giving a code of law regulating the social and religious lives of the people. This collection of instructions, read to and confirmed by the people, was called the Book of the Covenant. These were protected in a specially designed box called the Ark of the Covenant. All of the specific details were spoken through Moses by the God of the Israelites.

Under Moses's leadership, most of the land east of the Jordan was conquered and given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and to half of the tribe of Menashe. Moses, however, was not permitted to lead the children of Israel into Canaan, the Promised Land, because he had been disobedient to God during the period of wandering in the desert. His regular meetings with God had fulfilled him in ways that even his fellow Israelites could detect. His face was always radiant when he exited any interview with his Almighty. Moses, 120 years old, died in the land of Moab and was buried opposite Bet Peor.

For More Information

Hodges, Margaret. Moses. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Kirsch, Jonathan. Moses: A Life. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.

Meier, Levi. Mosesthe Prince, the Prophet: His Life, Legend, and Message for Our Lives. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishers, 1998.

Roshwald, Mordecai, and Miriam Roshwald. Moses: Leader, Prophet, Man. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1969.


views updated Jun 08 2018


The Old Testament prophet Moses (ca. 1392-ca. 1272 B.C.) was the emancipator of Israel. He created Israel's nationhood and founded its religion.

Moses was the son of Amram and Yochebed of the tribe of Levi. He was born in Egypt during the period in which the Pharaoh had ordered that all newborn male Hebrew children be cast into the Nile. Rescued by the daughter of the Pharaoh, he was brought up in the splendor of the Egyptian court as her adopted son. Grown to manhood, aware of his Hebraic origin, and with deep compassion for his enslaved brethren, he became enraged while witnessing an Egyptian taskmaster brutally beating a Hebrew slave. Impulsively he killed the Egyptian. Fearing the Pharaoh's wrath and punishment, he fled into the desert of Midian, becoming a shepherd for Jethro, a Midianite priest whose daughter Zipporah he later married. While tending the flocks on Mt. Horeb far in the wilderness, he beheld a bush burning that was not consumed. In the revelation that followed, he was informed that he had been chosen to serve as the liberator of the children of Israel. He was also told to proclaim the unity of God to his entire people, which doctrine heretofore had been known only to certain individuals.

The tremendous responsibility of his task, his innate humility, and his own feeling of unworthiness evoked a hesitancy and lack of confidence in Moses. He was assured, however, that Aaron, his more fluent brother, would serve as his spokesman both to the children of Israel and to the Pharaoh.

Moses returned to Egypt and persuaded the Hebrews to organize for a hasty departure from the land of bondage. Together with Aaron, he informed the Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews demanded that he free His people. The Pharaoh refused to obey, bringing upon himself and his people nine terrible plagues that Moses wrought upon Egypt by using the miraculous staff he had received as a sign of his authority. The tenth plague, the killing of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, broke the Pharaoh's resistance and compelled him to grant the Hebrews permission to depart immediately. Moses thus found himself the leader of an undisciplined collection of slaves, Hebrew as well as non-Hebrew, escaping from Egyptian territory to freedom.

Moses' immediate goal was Mt. Horeb, called Mt. Sinai, where God had first revealed Himself to him. The Hebrews came to the sacred mountain fired by the inspiration of their prophetic leader. Summoned by God, Moses ascended the mountain and received the tablets of stone while the children of Israel heard the thundering forth of the Ten Commandments. Inspired, the people agreed to the conditions of the Covenant.

Through 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai, overcoming tremendous obstacles, Moses led the horde of former slaves, shaping them into a nation. He selected and set them apart for a divine purpose and consecrated them to the highest ethical and moral laws. Only a man with tremendous will, patience, compassion, humility, and great faith could have forged the bickering and scheming factions who constantly challenged his wisdom and authority into an entity.

Moses supplemented the Ten Commandments by a code of law regulating the social and religious life of the people. This collection of instructions, read to and ratified by the people, was called the Book of the Covenant.

Under his leadership, most of the land east of the Jordan was conquered and given to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and to half of the tribe of Menashe. Moses, however, was not permitted to lead the children of Israel into Canaan, the Promised Land, because he had been disobedient to God during the period of wandering in the desert. When the people were in need of water, God told Moses to speak to a rock and water would spring from it. Instead he had struck the rock with his staff. From the heights of Nebo he surveyed the land promised to his forefathers, which would be given to their children. Moses, 120 years old, died in the land of Moab and was buried opposite Bet Peor.

Further Reading

No single work on Moses is satisfactory. One full study is Martin Buber, Moses (1946; new ed. 1958). Mordecai Roshwald and Miriam Roshwald, Moses: Leader, Prophet, Man (1969), draws from legend, fiction, drama, and poetry as well as from the Bible. The best short essays on Moses are in Rudolph Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (1929), and Fleming James, Personalities of the Old Testament (1939). For archeological and historical background consult Max L. Margolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People (1927); Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (1941; rev. ed. 1948); William F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949; rev. ed. 1956); Harry M. Orlinsky, Ancient Israel (1954); and Martin Noth, The History of Israel (1958; rev. ed. 1960). □


views updated Jun 11 2018

Moses (c.13th cent. BCE). Jewish leader and lawgiver. According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was born in Egypt to Amram and Jochabel, who hid him in the reeds of the river Nile to escape Pharaoh's order to slaughter all Jewish male babies. He was rescued by Pharaoh's daughter: ‘From the water I drew him’ (Exodus 2. 10), meshitihu, hence the name Mosheh (Eng. Moses). While keeping his father-in-law's sheep on Mount Horeb, he encountered God in a burning bush. He was commanded to liberate the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. He guided them for forty years in the wilderness, and, on Mount Sinai, he received God's revelation of Torah, including the Ten Commandments. Before his death, he appointed Joshua as his successor. In the Jewish tradition, Moses has a unique status. In Christianity, he appears with Jesus at his transfiguration (Mark 9. 2–8) and, according to the Qurʾān, where he is known as Mūsā, he prophesied the coming of Muḥammad (7. 140).


views updated May 09 2018

Moses (fl. c.14th–13th centuries bc), Hebrew prophet and lawgiver, brother of Aaron. According to the biblical account, he was born in Egypt, and to escape a massacre was hidden by his mother in a basket among the bulrushes; found there by Pharaoh's daughter, he was adopted and brought up by her. Grown to manhood, he led the Israelites away from servitude in Egypt, across the desert towards the Promised Land. During the journey he was inspired by God on Mount Sinai to write down the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 20). In allusive use, the name may be used to denote someone held to resemble Moses, especially in his character of lawgiver or leader.
Law of Moses (or Mosaic Law) the system of moral and ceremonial precepts contained in the Pentateuch; the ceremonial portion of the system considered separately.
Moses basket a carrycot or small portable cot made of wickerwork, with allusion to the biblical story of Moses, left in a basket among the bulrushes (Exodus 2:3).

See also horns of Moses.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Moses (active c.13th century bc) Biblical hero who, as a prophet and leader of the ancient Hebrews, was the central figure in their liberation from bondage in Egypt and a formative influence in the founding of their nation-state, Israel. His story is recounted in the Old Testament books of Exodus and Numbers. An abandoned Hebrew child, Moses was brought up in the Pharaoh's court. As a man, Moses sought to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, and eventually was permitted to lead the exodus. God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, but made the Israelites wander in the desert for a further 40 years before they entered the promised land of Canaan.