The Enigmatic Moses

Was there a Moses? The most likely answer is, yes ! All the Hebrew Bible sources, from the earliest onwards, while often reflecting different perspectives, are in agreement here. Since there are details in their contributions which are rather ‘awkward’, this makes it unlikely that Moses was ‘custom built’ by the writers/editors, and more likely that such details had to be accepted and ‘worked round’. 

Moses’ name was Egyptian. He’d been brought up as an Egyptian and, in Exodus 2:19, the daughters of the priest of Midian describe him as “an Egyptian man”. If he’d indeed been ‘adopted’, as a baby, by the Pharaoh’s daughter, did he know anything about his supposed ‘true’ parentage, and origin?

In Exodus 4:24, God tries to kill Moses, but his wife circumcises his son and (depending on one’s interpretation of the pronoun “him”) touched Moses’ “feet(a euphemism for his genitals) with the piece of bloody skin, making it look as though Moses also had been circumcised. God is either ‘taken in’, or satisfied, by this and Moses is saved. That he’d married a non-Israelite, and hadn’t circumcised his son, reinforces the likelihood he too was uncircumcised. When, then, did he become a Hebrew? There’s no textual record of Moses’ circumcision.

As noted in a previous blog, Moses (Exodus 4:10) is described as “heavy of mouth and tongue”. This same expression (Ezekiel 3:5-7) refers to non-Hebrew speakers and, tellingly, when the Israelite leaders are spoken to (Exodus 4:29-30) it’s the Hebrew Aaron who does the talking but, when the Pharaoh is spoken to (5:1) Moses the Egyptian finds his voice. When did Moses, brought up and educated as an Egyptian, learn to speak Hebrew? 

In Exodus 2:11, Moses sees an Egyptian attacking a Hebrew man, and “struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand”. Was this because (as suggested) he regarded the man as “one of his brothers”? In which case, when did this identification with the Hebrews come about? Or was he a ‘good and decent person’, spontaneously responding to unacceptable treatment of a fellow human being, and was his killing of the Egyptian unintentional manslaughter rather than murder?

This leads to another question. When God (Exodus 3:10) chose Moses to go to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Hebrews, Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh”? This seems a rather strange question when asked by someone who was supposedly the Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, and brought up in the royal court. Perhaps the story of the fellow Egyptian’s murder was intended to supply a ‘solution’. Exodus 2:15 tells us that “Pharaoh heard this thing and sought to kill Moses”, giving a very good reason for keeping out of Pharaoh’s way.

The Exodus story was put together over many hundreds of years, from varied oral and written sources, by lots of different writers and editors. ‘Loose ends’ are no surprise, and add to its ongoing fascination.

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