1902 Encyclopedia > Moses

Hebrew leader and lawgiver
(c. 14th-13th centuries B.C.)

MOSES. Of the life Moses we have few certain details, though the history of Israel bears witness to the importance of his work. To what has been said under ISRAEL there will here be added a brief summary of what has been handed down about him. His origin and the history of his childhood can be read in Exod. i., ii. (comp. vi. 16 sq.); the statements there given are enlarged and modified in the Jewish Midrash, particularly as we find it in Josephus and Philo1.The daughter of Pharaoh, we are told, was called Thermuits (Ant., ii. 9,5), or Merris (Euseb., Praep. Ev., ix. 27); she named the boy ____, not because she used the Hebrew verb ____ to express the fact that he was drawn out of the water, nut because the Egyptian word for water was ____, and ____ applies to those who have been delivered from it (Ant., ii. 9, 6; comp, Philo. Ed., Mangey, ii. 83; Euseb., l.c., ix. 28) She took care to have him trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts vii. 22 and in that of the Greeks, Assyrians, and Chaldaeans as well (Philo, ii. 84). To his great intellectual endowments corresponded his personal beauty, of which Josephus speaks in extravagant terms (Ant., ii. 9, 6-7). It was on account of this beauty that, when on one occasion, as a young man, he led an Egyptian army against Meroe, the Ethiopian princes Tharbis opened the gates of the capital to him in order to make him her husband (Ant., ii. 10; comp. Numb.xii.1).

For reasons explained in Exod. ii. 11 sq. Moses left the land of Pharaoh and came to Midian to the Kenite priest Jethro (also called Hobab Ben Raguel and Raquel), whose daughter Zipporah he married, becoming by her the fathers of two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (Exod. ii. 21 sq.; xviii. 2 sq.). During his stay in Midian he received, at the foot of Sinai (Horeb), the divine revelation at the burning bush whereby he was called to become the liberator of Israel from Egyptian bondage. With much reluctance he last accepted this vocation, and, already expected by his brother Aaron and the elders, returned to his people.1 Arrived in Egypt, he associated Aaron with him as his interpreter, being himself no orator, but a man of counsel and action, and appeared before Pharaoh to demand of the king in Jehovah’s name permission for the people to go with flocks and herds into the wilderness to celebrate there a festival (the spring festival of the Passover) in honour of their God. Jehovah gave emphasis to the demand by great signs and wonders,—the plagues of Egypt, which have their explanation for the most part in evils to which Egypt is periodically liable, but are treated by Israelite tradition as the weapons of Jehovah in his ever-intensifying conflict with the king and the gods of Egypt. At length, by the slaying of the first-born, the stubbornness of Pharaoh was broken, so that he consented to, and even urged, the departure of the Hebrews. By and by, however, he changed his mind and setting out in pursuit of the Hebrews, overtook them at the Red Sea; but Jehovah fought for them, and annihilated Pharaoh’s chariots and all his host. In order to present themselves in proper festal array at the celebration for the sake of which they where going into the wilderness, the Hebrew women had borrowed dresses and ornaments from those of Egypt; the Egyptians could now only blame themselves and their hostile conduct if those articles were not returned.2

By the miracle wrought at the Red Sea Moses was pointed out to the Hebrews as the man of God, to whom accordingly they now committed the task of caring for their outward life as well as their spiritual guidance. He led them first to Sinai, where the law was revealed and the worship in connexion with the ark of the covenant instituted. When he hand communed face to face with the Godhead for forty days on the holy mountain, the skin of his face shone so that he had to wear a veil (hence the horns, properly rays, on his forehead). Driven from Sinai in consequence of their worship of the golden calf, the Israelites removed to Kadesh with the view of entering Palestine. But this plan was defeated by their unbelief and faintheartedness, and, as a punishment, they were compelled to sojourn forty years in the wilderness of Kadesh (Paran, Sin). It was here and now that the people went to school with Moses; here, at the sanctuary of the camp, he declared law and judgment; and here, according to the view of the oldest tradition, the foundations of the view of the oldest tradition, the foundations of the Torah were laid (Exod. xviii.). The region of Kadesh was also the scene of almost all the miracles and other circumstances we read about Moses. Here he showed himself to be at once the father and mother of the people, their judge priest and seer. It was not till towards the very close of his life that he led the Israelites from Kadesh into northern Moab, which he wrested from the Amorite king. Sibon of Heshbon. Here he died on Mount Pisgah or Nebo, after taking leave of the people in the great legislative address of Deuteronomy. According to Deuteronomy xxxiv. 6, he "was buried in a valley in the land of Moab,… but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day."3 As his successor in the leadership, Moses had named Joshua ben Nun, but the real heirs to his position and influence were the priest at the sanctuary of the ark of the covenant. Of his personal character the Bible tells us nothing (for ____ in Numb. xii. 3 means only "heavily burdened"); but later Judaism is all the more at liberty on this account to expatiate upon it (see especially Josephus, Ant., iv. 8. 49).

Such in brief résumé are the accounts of Moses given in the Bible4 and the Medrash. In addition to these we have also the statements of Hellenistic writers, preserved chiefly in the Contra Apionem of Josephus. These are all of an Egyptian complexion, and probably embody no ancient and independent tradition, but, in all that relates to the Hebrews, where they do not rest upon pure conjecture, merely go back upon obscure rumours of Jewish origin and dress them up after the manner of the Midrash—only in a contrary sense, with hatred and not with love—and then seek to fit them as well as may be into the Egyptian history and chronology as known from other sources. The great number of new proper names of places and persons which occur in the writings of Manetho and his like cannot be urged this view, for the Midrash also is full of them. The very name Osarsiph, given to Moses himself, moreover, suggests a suspicion of dependence on the Asaphsuph, "mixed multitude" of Numb. xi. 4 (comp. Exod. xii. 38); what is said in these places is known to have played a great part in the rise of the idle Egyptian tales about the origin of the Jews and of their lawgiver.

For literature, see the various commentaries on the Pentateuch, and especially Dillmann on Exodus. (J. WE.)


FOOTNOTES (page. 860)

1 In still more fantastic form in the Palestinian Targum on Exodus, the details of which need not be repeated here.

FOOTNOTES (page. 861)

(1) On the road occurred the remarkable incident which, in the view of the narrator, led to the circumcision of infants being substituted for that of the bridegroom (Exod. iv. 24, 25; ____, to mark the substitution—compare the euphemism in Isa. Vii. 20).

(2) Quite contrary to the sense of the Biblical narrative, Justin (xxxvi. 2, 13) says, "Sacra Aegyptiorum furto abstulit;" and still more perverse is the gloss which Ewald, proceeding upon this expression of Justin, gives.

(3) The legend of his assumption is of later growth; see the apocryphal Assumptio Moysis (APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, vol. ii. p. 177), and compare Luke ix. 30, 33; Jude 9.

(4) Outside of the Hexateuch, however, he is almost never mentioned.

The above article was written by: Julius Wellhausen, D.D.; Professor of Semitic Languages, University of Göttingen; formerly Professor at Greifswald, Halle, Marburg; author of Der Text der Buucher Samuelis, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, Die kleinen Propheten, Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte, Das Arabische Reich und sein Sturz, and other works of Biblical criticism and ancient history.

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