Biography of Messiahs and Prophets Moses Part 2

About the famous Biblical prophet Moses, biography and history of the Jewish leader.


MOSES (c. 1350-1250 B.C.)

There are other difficulties in the biblical account. Moses' adoption by the pharaoh's daughter (Exod. 1:6-2:10) resembles the tales told of other Oriental heroes. His name was probably derived from the Egyptian mose or mosu ("is born," meaning "child of somebody"), not from any Hebrew word. It is also curious that he knew nothing of God until he became a shepherd on Mt. Sinai.

Such objections ignore the most important point of all: The Bible exists. Parts of it are of very ancient origin. Just how ancient can be judged from Moses' song of victory over the Egyptian cavalry (Exod. 15:1-18); it is thought to resemble Canaanite poems that survive from the 14th century B.C.

Although neither Moses nor the Exodus is mentioned in the ancient Egyptian records, conditions were ripe in the late 14th century B.C. for the appearance of a great religious leader among the Jews of Egypt. The Pharaoh Ikhnaton (reigned c. 1375-1358 B.C.) had introduced an enlightened form of monotheism. After his death there was a conservative reaction; Egyptian culture became increasingly dominated by the various priesthoods.

The 19th Dynasty, founded by a military coup about 1335 B.C., was probably the one that "had no knowledge of Joseph" and drafted the Jews as forced labor for construction (Exod. 1:6-9). The pharaohs of this dynasty thought they had good reason to fear resident aliens, for the Egyptian Empire was breaking up under pressure from the Hittite kingdom in the north. Syria, where many of these aliens had relatives, was the principal bone of contention. In the Battle of Kadesh (about 1288 B.C.), the Hittites chased the overconfident young Pharaoh Ramses II out of Syria forever. He compensated by erecting monuments to his "victory" and carrying out a vast public works program.

Moses could have fled Egypt during the reign of Seti I, Ramses' predecessor. The extraordinary thing is that he ever returned. A compelling religious experience--one that made all personal risk appear unimportant--does not seem an unlikely motive.

Without that experience, it is hard to account for Moses the leader; it seems to have inspired everything he did. The Bible hints at its nature by saying Moses came to know God by a new name. This name was Yahweh (YHWH in Semitic writing, which has no vowels). It means "He who causes things to be," in contrast with such traditional names as El 'Elyon ("God Most High") or El Shaddai ("God of the Mountain").

Since Yahweh was everywhere, there could be no images of Him. At the same time, He was what Martin Buber, in his study of Moses, has called a "history god," that is, one who intervenes in human affairs. No other religion knew of such a god; no other pre-Christian religion has remained such a force in history.

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