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Born Goshen, Lower Egypt
Died Mount Nebo, Moab
Spouse(s) Zipporah
Children Gershom
Parents Amram (father)
Jochebed (mother)
Relatives Aaron (brother)
Miriam (sister)

Moses (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה‎, Modern Moshe Tiberian Mōšéh ISO 259-3 Moše ; Syriac: ܡܘܫܐ Moushe; Arabic: موسىMūsā ) was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a former Egyptian prince later turned prophet, religious leader and lawgiver, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. Also called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew (מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, Lit. "Moses our Teacher/Rabbi"), he is the most important prophet in Judaism.[1][2] He is also an important prophet in Christianity and Islam, as well as a number of other faiths.

The existence of Moses as well as the veracity of the Exodus story are disputed among archaeologists and Egyptologists, with experts in the field of biblical criticism citing logical inconsistencies, new archaeological evidence, historical evidence, and related origin myths in Canaanite culture.[3][4][5] Other historians maintain that the biographical details and Egyptian background attributed to Moses imply the existence of a historical political and religious leader who was involved in the consolidation of the Hebrew tribes in Canaan towards the end of the Bronze Age.

According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was born in a time when his people, the Children of Israel, were increasing in numbers and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might ally with Egypt's enemies.[6] Moses' Hebrew mother, Jochebed, secretly hid him when the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed upon the circulating prophecy among Egyptian priests of a messianic deliverer among the Hebrew slaves. Through the Pharaoh's sister Queen Bithia, the child was adopted as a foundling from the Nile river and grew up with the Egyptian royal family. After killing an Egyptian slavemaster, Moses fled across the Red Sea to Midian, where he encountered the God of Israel speaking to him from within a "burning bush".

God sent Moses back to Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites from slavery. Moses said that he could not speak with assurance or eloquence,[7] so God allowed Aaron, his brother, to become his spokesperson. After the Ten Plagues, Moses led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, after which they based themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses died within sight of the Promised Land.

Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BCE;[8] Jerome gives 1592 BCE,[9] and Ussher 1571 BCE as his birth year[10]

Moses and the tablets of law, by José de Ribera.


  • Name 1
  • Biblical narrative 2
    • Prophet and deliverer of Israel 2.1
    • Lawgiver of Israel 2.2
  • Sources 3
  • Moses in Hellenistic literature 4
  • Historicity 5
  • Moses in religious traditions 6
    • Judaism 6.1
    • Christianity 6.2
      • Mormonism 6.2.1
    • Islam 6.3
    • Baha'i Faith 6.4
  • Modern reception 7
    • Literature 7.1
    • In Freud 7.2
    • Criticism 7.3
    • Figurative art 7.4
    • Michelangelo's statue 7.5
    • Film and television 7.6
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Moses' name is given to him by Pharaoh's daughter: "He became her son, and she named him Moshe (Moses)." This name may be either Egyptian or Hebrew. If connected to an Egyptian root, via msy "to be born" and ms, "a son", it forms a wordplay: "he became her son, and she named him Son." There should, however, be a divine element to the name Moses (bearers of the Egyptian name are the "son of" a god, as in Thutmose, "son of Thut"), and his full name may therefore have included the name of one of the Egyptian gods. If the name is from a Hebrew root, then it is connected to the verb "to draw out": "I drew him (masha) out of the water," states Pharaoh's daughter, possibly looking forward to Moses at the well in Midian, or to his role in saving Israel at the Red Sea. Most scholars agree that the name is Egyptian, and that the Hebrew etymology is a later interpretation.[11]

Biblical narrative

Moses rescued from the Nile, 1638, by Nicolas Poussin.

Prophet and deliverer of Israel

Moses before the Pharaoh, a 6th-century miniature from the Syriac Bible of Paris.
Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca
Moses holding up his arms during the battle, assisted by Aaron and Hur. Painting by John Everett Millais
Moses surveys Canaan from West of the Jordan, 1909 illustration.

The Israelites had settled in the Land of Goshen in the time of Joseph and Jacob, but a new pharaoh arose who oppressed the children of Israel. At this time Moses was born to his father Amram, son of Kohath the Levite, who entered Egypt with Jacob's household; his mother was Jochebed (also Yocheved), who was kin to Kohath. Moses had one older (by seven years) sister, Miriam, and one older (by three years) brother, Aaron.

Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew children born be drowned in the river Nile, but Moses' mother placed him in an ark and concealed the ark in the bulrushes by the riverbank, where the baby was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. One day after Moses had reached adulthood he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Moses, afraid that Pharaoh would be angry with him for killing a slave, fled to Midian (a desert country south of Judah). There, on Mount Horeb (variant name for Mount Sinai), God revealed to Moses his name YHWH (probably pronounced Yahweh) and commanded him to return to Egypt and bring his Chosen People (Israel) out of bondage and into the Promised Land (Canaan). Moses returned to carry out God's command, but God caused Pharaoh to refuse, and only after God had subjected Egypt to ten plagues did Pharaoh relent. Moses led the Israelites to the border of Egypt, but there God hardened Pharaoh's heart once more, so that he could destroy Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea Crossing as a sign of his power to Israel and the nations.

From Egypt Moses led Israel to Mount Sinai, where God and the elders entered into a covenant, by which Israel would become the people of YHWH, obeying his laws, and YHWH would be their god. Through Moses delivered laws to Israel, instituted the priesthood under the sons of Moses' brother Aaron, and destroyed those Israelites who fell away from his worship. In his final act at Sinai God gave Moses instructions for the Tabernacle, the mobile shrine by which he would travel with Israel to the Promised Land.

From Sinai Moses led the Israelites to Paran on the border of Canaan. There he sent twelve spies into the land. The spies returned with samples of the land's fertility, but warned that its inhabitants were giants. The people were afraid and wanted to return to Egypt, and some rebelled against Moses and against God. Moses told the Israelites that they were not worthy to inherit the land, and would wander the wilderness for forty years until the generation who had refused to enter Canaan had died, so that it would be their children who would possess the land.

When the forty years had passed Moses led the Israelites east around the Dead Sea to the territories of Edom and Moab. There they escaped the temptation of idolatry, received God's blessing through Balaam the prophet, and massacred the Midianites, who were God's enemies. On the banks of the Jordan, in sight of the land, Moses assembled the tribes. After recalling their wanderings he delivered God's laws by which they must live in the land, sang a song of praise and pronounced a blessing on the people, and passed his authority to Joshua, under whom they would possess the land. Moses then went up Mount Nebo to the top of Pisgah, looked over the promised land of Israel spread out before him, and died, at the age of one hundred and twenty. More humble than any other man (Num. 12:3), "there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face" (Deuteronomy. 34:10).

A Russian Orthodox icon of the prophet Moses, gesturing towards the burning bush. 18th-century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).
Moses lifts up the brass serpent, curing the Israelites from poisonous snake bites in a painting by Benjamin West.

Lawgiver of Israel

William Blake's "Moses Receiving the Law"

Moses is honoured among Jews today as the "lawgiver of Israel", and he delivers several sets of laws in the course of the four books. The first is the Covenant code, Exodus 19-24, the terms of the covenant which God offers to Israel at the foot of Sinai. Embedded in the covenant are the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-17) and the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:19).[12] The entire book of Leviticus constitutes a second body of law, the book of Numbers begins with yet another set, and Deuteronomy another.

Moses has traditionally been regarded as the author of the four books plus Genesis, which together make up the Torah, the first and most revered section of the Jewish bible.


Apart from a few scattered references elsewhere in the Jewish scriptures, all that is known about Moses comes from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.[13] The majority of scholars date these four books to the Persian period, 538-332 BCE.[14]

No Egyptian sources mention Moses or the events of Exodus-Deuteronomy, nor has any archeological evidence been discovered in Egypt or the Sinai wilderness to support the story in which he is the central figure.[15]

Moses in Hellenistic literature

The Moses Window at the Washington National Cathedral depicts the three stages in Moses' life.

Non-biblical writings about Jews, with references to the role of Moses, first appear at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE. Shmuel notes that "a characteristic of this literature is the high honour in which it holds the peoples of the East in general and some specific groups among these peoples."[16]:1102

In addition to the Judeo-Roman or Judeo-Hellenic historians Artapanus, Eupolemus, Josephus, and Philo, a few non-Jewish historians including Hecataeus of Abdera (quoted by Diodorus Siculus), Alexander Polyhistor, Manetho, Apion, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Tacitus and Porphyry also make reference to him. The extent to which any of these accounts rely on earlier sources is unknown.[16]:1103 Moses also appears in other religious texts such as the Mishnah (c. 200 AD), Midrash (AD 200–1200),[17] and the Qur'an (c. 610—653).

The figure of Osarseph in Hellenistic historiography is a renegade Egyptian priest who leads an army of lepers against the pharaoh and is finally expelled from Egypt, changing his name to Moses.

In Hecataeus

The earliest existing reference to Moses in Greek literature occurs in the Egyptian history of Hecataeus of Abdera (4th century BC). All that remains of his description of Moses are two references made by Diodorus Siculus, wherein, writes historian Arthur Droge, "he describes Moses as a wise and courageous leader who left Egypt and colonized Judaea."[18]:18 Among the many accomplishments described by Hecataeus, Moses had founded cities, established a temple and religious cult, and issued laws:

After the establishment of settled life in Egypt in early times, which took place, according to the mythical account, in the period of the gods and heroes, the first . . . to persuade the multitudes to use written laws was Mneves [Moses], a man not only great of soul but also in his life the most public-spirited of all lawgivers whose names are recorded.[18]:18

Droge also points out that this statement by Hecataeus was similar to statements made subsequently by Eupolemus.[18]:18

In Artapanus

The Jewish historian Artapanus of Alexandria (2nd century BCE), portrayed Moses as a cultural hero, alien to the Pharaonic court. According to theologian John Barclay, the Moses of Artapanus "clearly bears the destiny of the Jews, and in his personal, cultural and military splendor, brings credit to the whole Jewish people."[19]

Jealousy of Moses' excellent qualities induced Chenephres to send him with unskilled troops on a military expedition to Ethiopia, where he won great victories. After having built the city of Hermopolis, he taught the people the value of the ibis as a protection against the serpents, making the bird the sacred guardian spirit of the city; then he introduced circumcision. After his return to Memphis, Moses taught the people the value of oxen for agriculture, and the consecration of the same by Moses gave rise to the cult of Apis. Finally, after having escaped another plot by killing the assailant sent by the king, Moses fled to Arabia, where he married the daughter of Raguel [Jethro], the ruler of the district." [20]

Artapanus goes on to relate how Moses returns to Egypt with Aaron, and is imprisoned, but miraculously escapes through the name of YHWH in order to lead the Exodus. This account further testifies that all Egyptian temples of Isis thereafter contained a rod, in remembrance of that used for Moses' miracles. He describes Moses as 80 years old, "tall and ruddy, with long white hair, and dignified."

Some historians, however, point out the "apologetic nature of much of Artapanus' work,"[21]:40 with his addition extra-biblical details, as with references to Jethro: The non-Jewish Jethro expresses admiration for Moses' gallantry in helping his daughters, and chooses to adopt Moses as his son.[21]:133

In Strabo

Strabo, a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher, in his Geography (c. AD 24), wrote in detail about Moses, whom he considered to be an Egyptian who deplored the situation in his homeland, and thereby attracted many followers who respected the deity. He writes, for example, that Moses opposed the picturing of the deity in the form of man or animal, and was convinced that the deity was an entity which encompassed everything – land and sea:[16]:1132

35. An Egyptian priest named Moses, who possessed a portion of the country called the Lower Egypt, being dissatisfied with the established institutions there, left it and came to Judaea with a large body of people who worshipped the Divinity. He declared and taught that the Egyptians and Africans entertained erroneous sentiments, in representing the Divinity under the likeness of wild beasts and cattle of the field; that the Greeks also were in error in making images of their gods after the human form. For God [said he] may be this one thing which encompasses us all, land and sea, which we call heaven, or the universe, or the nature of things. . . .
36. By such doctrine Moses persuaded a large body of right-minded persons to accompany him to the place where Jerusalem now stands. . . . ''[22]

In Strabo’s writings of the history of Judaism as he understood it, he describes various stages in its development: from the first stage, including Moses and his direct heirs; to the final stage where "the Temple of Jerusalem continued to be surrounded by an aura of sanctity." Strabo’s "positive and unequivocal appreciation of Moses’ personality is among the most sympathetic in all ancient literature." [16]:1133 His portrayal of Moses is said to be similar to the writing of Hecataeus who "described Moses as a man who excelled in wisdom and courage."[16]:1133

Egyptologist Jan Assmann concludes that Strabo was the historian "who came closest to a construction of Moses' religion as monotheism and as a pronounced counter-religion." It recognized "only one divine being whom no image can represent. . . [and] the only way to approach this god is to live in virtue and in justice."[23]:38

In Tacitus

The Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56—120 AD) refers to Moses by noting that the Jewish religion was monotheistic and without a clear image. His primary work, wherein he describes Jewish philosophy, is his Histories (ca. 100), where, according to Murphy, as a result of the Jewish worship of one God, "pagan mythology fell into contempt."[24] Tacitus states that, despite various opinions current in his day regarding the Jews' ethnicity, most of his sources are in agreement that there was an Exodus from Egypt. By his account, the Pharaoh Bocchoris, suffering from a plague, banished the Jews in response to an oracle of the god Zeus-Amun.

A motley crowd was thus collected and abandoned in the desert. While all the other outcasts lay idly lamenting, one of them, named Moses, advised them not to look for help to gods or men, since both had deserted them, but to trust rather in themselves, and accept as divine the guidance of the first being, by whose aid they should get out of their present plight.[25]

In this version, Moses and the Jews wander through the desert for only six days, capturing the Holy Land on the seventh.[25]

In Longinus

The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, influenced Longinus, who may have been the author of the great book of literary criticism, On the Sublime, although the true author is still unknown for certain. However, most scholars agree that the author lived in the time of Augustus or Tiberius, the first and second Roman Emperors.

The writer quotes Genesis in a "style which presents the nature of the deity in a manner suitable to his pure and great being," however he does not mention Moses by name, but instead calls him "the Lawgiver of the Jews." Besides its mention of Cicero, Moses is the only non-Greek writer quoted in the work, and he is described "with far more admiration than even Greek writers who treated Moses with respect, such as Hecataeus and Strabo.[16]:1140

In Josephus

In Josephus' (37 – c. 100 AD) Antiquities of the Jews, Moses is mentioned throughout. For example Book VIII Ch. IV, describes Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, at the time the Ark of the Covenant was first moved into the newly built temple:

When King Solomon had finished these works, these large and beautiful buildings, and had laid up his donations in the temple, and all this in the interval of seven years, and had given a demonstration of his riches and alacrity therein; ... he also wrote to the rulers and elders of the Hebrews, and ordered all the people to gather themselves together to Jerusalem, both to see the temple which he had built, and to remove the ark of God into it; and when this invitation of the whole body of the people to come to Jerusalem was everywhere carried abroad, ... The Feast of Tabernacles happened to fall at the same time, which was kept by the Hebrews as a most holy and most eminent feast. So they carried the ark and the tabernacle which Moses had pitched, and all the vessels that were for ministration to the sacrifices of God, and removed them to the temple... Now the ark contained nothing else but those two tables of stone that preserved the ten commandments, which God spake to Moses in Mount Sinai, and which were engraved upon them...[26]

According to Feldman, Josephus also attaches particular significance to Moses' possession of the "cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice." He also includes piety as an added fifth virtue. In addition, he "stresses Moses' willingness to undergo toil and his careful avoidance of bribery. Like Plato's philosopher-king, Moses excels as an educator."[21]:130

In Numenius

Numenius, a Greek philosopher who was a native of Apamea, in Syria, wrote during the latter half of the 2nd century AD. Historian Kennieth Guthrie writes that "Numenius is perhaps the only recognized Greek philosopher who explicitly studied Moses, the prophets, and the life of Jesus . . . "[27]:194 He describes his background:

Numenius was a man of the world; he was not limited to Greek and Egyptian mysteries, but talked familiarly of the myths of Brahmins and Magi. It is however his knowledge and use of the Hebrew scriptures which distinguished him from other Greek philosophers. He refers to Moses simply as "the prophet", exactly as for him Homer is the poet. Plato is described as a Greek Moses.[27]:101
In Justin Martyr

The Christian saint and religious philosopher Justin Martyr (103–165 AD) drew the same conclusion as Numenius, according to other experts. Theologian Paul Blackham notes that Justin considered Moses to be "more trustworthy, profound and truthful because he is older than the Greek philosophers."[28] He quotes him:

I will begin, then, with our first prophet and lawgiver, Moses . . . that you may know that, of all your teachers, whether sages, poets, historians, philosophers, or lawgivers, by far the oldest, as the Greek histories show us, was Moses, who was our first religious teacher.[28]


Memorial of Moses, Mount Nebo, Jordan

The tradition of Moses as a lawgiver and culture hero of the Israelites can be traced to the Deuteronomist source, corresponding to the 7th-century Kingdom of Judah. Moses is a central figure in the Deuteronomist account of the origins of the Israelites, cast in a literary style of elegant flashbacks told by Moses. The mainstream view is that the Deuteronomist relies on earlier material that may date to the United Monarchy, so that the biblical narrative would be based on traditions that can be traced roughly to the 10th century, or about four centuries after the supposed lifetime of Moses. By contrast, Biblical minimalists such as Philip Davies and Niels Peter Lemche regard the Exodus as a fiction composed in the Persian period or even later, without even the memory of a historical Moses.[29][30]

The question of the historicity of the Exodus (specifically, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, identification of whom would connect the biblical narrative to Egyptological chronology) has long been debated, without conclusive result. Manetho for instance in a distorted account reported in Josephus, states that Moses was originally Osarseph, a renegade priest, who led a band of lepers out of Avaris (referred to as Raamses in the Bible).(Exodus 1:11)

Some biblical scholars suggest that there may be a historical core beneath the Exodus and Sinai traditions, even if the biblical narrative dramatizes by portraying as a single event what was more likely a gradual process of migration and conquest. Thus, the motif of "slavery in Egypt" reflects the historical situation of imperialist control of the Egyptian Empire over Canaan after the conquests of Ramesses II, which declined gradually during the 12th century under the pressure from the Sea Peoples and the general Bronze Age collapse: Israel Finkelstein points to the appearance of settlements in the central hill country around 1200 as the earliest of the known settlements of the Israelites.[31]

A cyclical pattern to these highland settlements, corresponding to the state of the surrounding cultures, suggests that the local Canaanites combined an agricultural and nomadic lifestyles. When Egyptian rule collapsed after the invasion of the Sea Peoples, the central hill country could no longer sustain a large nomadic population, so they went from nomadism to sedentism.[32]

However, Finkelstein states in the same book that at the time proposed by most scientists for the Exodus, Egypt was at the peak of its glory, with a series of fortresses guarding the borders and checkpoints watching the roads to Canaan. That means an exodus of the scale described in the Torah would have been impossible.[33]

While the general narrative of the Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land may be remotely rooted in historical events, the figure of Moses as a leader of the Israelites in these events cannot be substantiated.[34][35][36][37] William Dever agrees with the Canaanite origin of the Israelites but allows for the possibility of some immigrants from Egypt among the early hilltop settlers, leaving open the possibility of a Moses-like figure in Transjordan ca 1250-1200.[38]

Martin Noth holds that two different groups experienced the Exodus and Sinai events, and each group transmitted its own stories independently of the other one, writing that "The biblical story tracing the Hebrews from Egypt to Canaan resulted from an editor's weaving separate themes and traditions around a main character Moses, actually an obscure person from Moab."[39]

The "Kenite hypothesis", originally suggested by Cornelius Tiele in 1872, supposes that the figure of Moses is a reflection of a historical Midianite priest of Yahweh, whose cult was introduced to Israel from southern Canaan (Edom, Moab, Midian) by the Kenites. This idea is based on an old tradition (recorded in Judges 1:16, 4:11) that Moses' father-in-law was a Midianite priest of Yahweh, as it were preserving a memory of the Midianite origin of the deity. While the role of the Kenites in the transmission of the cult is widely accepted, Tiele's view on the historical role of Moses finds less support in modern scholarship.[40]

William Albright held a more favorable view towards the traditional views regarding Moses, and accepted the essence of the biblical story, as narrated between Exodus 1:8 and Deuteronomy 34:12, but recognized the impact that centuries of oral and written transmission have had on the account, causing it to acquire layers of accretions.[39]

Moses in religious traditions


There is a wealth of stories and additional information about Moses in the Jewish apocrypha and in the genre of rabbinical exegesis known as Midrash, as well as in the primary works of the Jewish oral law, the Mishnah and the Talmud. Moses is also given a number of bynames in Jewish tradition. The Midrash identifies Moses as one of seven biblical personalities who were called by various names.[41] Moses' other names were: Jekuthiel (by his mother), Heber (by his father), Jered (by Miriam), Avi Zanoah (by Aaron), Avi Gedor (by Kohath), Avi Soco (by his wet-nurse), Shemaiah ben Nethanel (by people of Israel).[42] Moses is also attributed the names Toviah (as a first name), and Levi (as a family name) (Vayikra Rabbah 1:3), Heman,[43] Mechoqeiq (lawgiver)[44] and Ehl Gav Ish (Numbers 12:3).[45]

Jewish historians who lived at Alexandria, such as Eupolemus, attributed to Moses the feat of having taught the Phoenicians their alphabet,[46] similar to legends of Thoth. Artapanus of Alexandria explicitly identified Moses not only with Thoth / Hermes, but also with the Greek figure Musaeus (whom he calls "the teacher of Orpheus"), and ascribed to him the division of Egypt into 36 districts, each with its own liturgy. He names the princess who adopted Moses as Merris, wife of Pharaoh Chenephres.[47]

Ancient sources mention an Assumption of Moses and a Testimony of Moses. A Latin text was found in Milan in the 19th century by Antonio Ceriani who called it the Assumption of Moses, even though it does not refer to an assumption of Moses or contain portions of the Assumption which are cited by ancient authors, and it is apparently actually the Testimony. The incident which the ancient authors cite is also mentioned in the Epistle of Jude.

To Orthodox Jews, Moses is called Moshe Rabbenu, `Eved HaShem, Avi haNeviim zya"a. He is defined "Our Leader Moshe", "Servant of God", and "Father of all the Prophets". In their view, Moses received not only the Torah, but also the revealed (written and oral) and the hidden (the `hokhmat nistar teachings, which gave Judaism the Zohar of the Rashbi, the Torah of the Ari haQadosh and all that is discussed in the Heavenly Yeshiva between the Ramhal and his masters). He is also considered the greatest prophet.[48]

Arising in part from his age, but also because 120 is elsewhere stated as the maximum age for Noah's descendants (one interpretation of Genesis 6:3), "may you live to 120" has become a common blessing among Jews.


Prophet Moses
Moses striking the rock
Prophet, Saint, Seer, Lawgiver, Apostle to Pharaoh, Reformer, 'One to Whom God Spoke',[49] 'Our Leader Moses',[50] Leader of the Exodus, Holy Forefather[51]
Born Goshen, Lower Egypt
Died Mount Nebo, Moab
Honored in
Feast Orthodox Church & Catholic Church: Sept 4
Attributes Tablets of the Law

For Christians, Moses — mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament figure — is often a symbol of God's law, as reinforced and expounded on in the teachings of Jesus. New Testament writers often compared Jesus' words and deeds with Moses' to explain Jesus' mission. In Acts 7:39–43, 51–53, for example, the rejection of Moses by the Jews who worshiped the golden calf is likened to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews that continued in traditional Judaism.

Moses also figures in several of Jesus' messages. When he met the Pharisee Nicodemus at night in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, he compared Moses' lifting up of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, which any Israelite could look at and be healed, to his own lifting up (by his death and resurrection) for the people to look at and be healed. In the sixth chapter, Jesus responded to the people's claim that Moses provided them manna in the wilderness by saying that it was not Moses, but God, who provided. Calling himself the "bread of life", Jesus stated that He was provided to feed God's people.

Moses, along with Elijah, is presented as meeting with Jesus in all three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9, respectively. Later Christians found numerous other parallels between the life of Moses and Jesus to the extent that Jesus was likened to a "second Moses." For instance, Jesus' escape from the slaughter by Herod in Bethlehem is compared to Moses' escape from Pharaoh's designs to kill Hebrew infants. Such parallels, unlike those mentioned above, are not pointed out in Scripture. See the article on typology.

His relevance to modern Christianity has not diminished. Moses is considered to be a saint by several churches; and is commemorated as a prophet in the respective Calendars of Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, and Lutheran churches on September 4.[52] He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30.


Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (colloquially called Mormons) generally view Moses in the same way that other Christians do. However, in addition to accepting the biblical account of Moses, Mormons include Selections from the Book of Moses as part of their scriptural canon.[53] This book is believed to be the translated writings of Moses, and is included in the Pearl of Great Price.[54]

Latter-day Saints are also unique in believing that Moses was taken to heaven without having tasted death (translated). In addition, Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery stated that on April 3, 1836, Moses appeared to them in the Kirtland Temple in a glorified, immortal, physical form and bestowed upon them the "keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north."[55]


Moses is mentioned more in the Quran than any other individual and his life is narrated and recounted more than that of any other prophet.[56] In general, Moses is described in ways which parallel the Islamic prophet Muhammad,[57] and "his character exhibits some of the main themes of Islamic theology," including the "moral injunction that we are to submit ourselves to God."

Moses is defined in the Qur'an as both prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasul), the latter term indicating that he was one of those prophets who brought a scripture and law to his people.

Huston Smith (1991) describes an account in the Qur'an of meetings in heaven between Moses and Muhammad, which Huston states were "one of the crucial events in Muhammad's life," and resulted in Muslims observing 5 daily prayers.[58]

Moses is mentioned 502 times in the Qur'an; passages mentioning Moses include 2.49-61, 7.103-160, 10.75-93, 17.101-104, 20.9-97, 26.10-66, 27.7-14, 28.3-46, 40.23-30, 43.46-55, 44.17-31, and 79.15-25. and many others. Most of the key events in Moses' life which are narrated in the Bible are to be found dispersed through the different Surahs of Qur'an, with a story about meeting Khidr which is not found in the Bible.[56]

In the Moses story related by the Qur'an, Jochebed is commanded by God to place Moses in an ark and cast him on the waters of the Nile, thus abandoning him completely to God's protection.[56][59] Pharaoh's wife Asiya, not his daughter, found Moses floating in the waters of the Nile. She convinced Pharaoh to keep him as their son because they were not blessed with any children.

The Qur'an's account has emphasized Moses' mission to invite the Pharaoh to accept God's divine message[60] as well as give salvation to the Israelites.[56][61] According to the Qur'an, Moses encourages the Israelites to enter Canaan, but they are unwilling to fight the Canaanites, fearing certain defeat. Moses responds by pleading to Allah that he and his brother Aaron be separated from the rebellious Israelites.[62]

According to Islamic tradition, Moses is buried at Maqam El-Nabi Musa, Jericho.

Baha'i Faith

In the Baha'i Faith, Moses is considered a messenger from God who is considered equally authentic as those sent in other eras.[63] An epithet of Moses in Baha'i scriptures is Interlocutor of God.[64] Moses is further described as paving the way for Baha'ullah and his ultimate revelation, and a teacher of truth, whose teachings were in line with the customs of his time.[65]

Modern reception


Thomas Mann's novella The Tables of the Law is a retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, with Moses as its main character.

In Freud

Sigmund Freud, in his last book, Moses and Monotheism in 1939, postulated that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Akhenaten. Following a theory proposed by a contemporary biblical critic, Freud believed that Moses was murdered in the wilderness, producing a collective sense of patricidal guilt that has been at the heart of Judaism ever since. "Judaism had been a religion of the father, Christianity became a religion of the son", he wrote. The possible Egyptian origin of Moses and of his message has received significant scholarly attention.[23]

Opponents of this view observe that the religion of the Torah seems different from Atenism in everything except the central feature of devotion to a single god,[66] although this has been countered by a variety of arguments, e.g. pointing out the similarities between the Hymn to Aten and Psalm 104.[67][68] Freud's interpretation of the historical Moses is not well accepted among historians, and is considered pseudohistory by many.[69]


In the late 18th century the deist Thomas Paine commented at length on Moses' Laws in The Age of Reason, and gave his view that "the character of Moses, as stated in the Bible, is the most horrid that can be imagined",[70] giving the story at Numbers 31:13-18 as an example. In the 19th century the agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll wrote "...that all the ignorant, infamous, heartless, hideous things recorded in the 'inspired' Pentateuch are not the words of God, but simply 'Some Mistakes of Moses'".[71] In the 2000s, the atheist Richard Dawkins referring, like Paine, to the incident at Numbers 31:13-18, concluded, "No, Moses was not a great role model for modern moralists."[72]

Figurative art

Sculpture in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Moses is depicted in several U.S. government buildings because of his legacy as a lawgiver. In the Library of Congress stands a large statue of Moses alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul. Moses is one of the 23 lawgivers depicted in marble bas-reliefs in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives in the United States Capitol. The other twenty-two figures have their profiles turned to Moses, which is the only forward-facing bas-relief.[73][74]

Statue by Michelangelo Buonarotti — in Basilica San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Moses appears eight times in carvings that ring the Supreme Court Great Hall ceiling. His face is presented along with other ancient figures such as Solomon, the Greek god Zeus and the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The Supreme Court building's east pediment depicts Moses holding two tablets. Tablets representing the Ten Commandments can be found carved in the oak courtroom doors, on the support frame of the courtroom's bronze gates and in the library woodwork. A controversial image is one that sits directly above the chief justice's head. In the center of the 40-foot-long Spanish marble carving is a tablet displaying Roman numerals I through X, with some numbers partially hidden.[75]

Michelangelo's statue

Michelangelo's statue of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, is one of the most familiar masterpieces in the world. The horns the sculptor included on Moses' head are the result of a mistranslation of the Hebrew Bible into the Latin Vulgate Bible with which he was familiar. The Hebrew word taken from Exodus means either a "horn" or an "irradiation." Experts at the Archaeological Institute of America show that the term was used when Moses "returned to his people after seeing as much of the Glory of the Lord as human eye could stand," and his face "reflected radiance."[76] In early Jewish art, moreover, Moses is often "shown with rays coming out of his head."[77]

Another author explains, "When Saint Jerome translated the Old Testament into Latin, he thought no one but Christ should glow with rays of light — so he advanced the secondary translation.[78][79] However, writer J. Stephen Lang points out that Jerome's version actually described Moses as "giving off hornlike rays," and he "rather clumsily translated it to mean 'having horns.'"[80] It has also been noted that he had Moses seated on a throne, yet Moses was neither a King nor ever sat on such thrones.[81]

Film and television

Moses was portrayed by Theodore Roberts in DeMille's 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments. Moses appears as the central character in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille movie, also called The Ten Commandments, in which he is portrayed by Charlton Heston. A television remake was produced in 2006.

Burt Lancaster played Moses in the 1975 television miniseries Moses the Lawgiver. In the 1981 film History of the World, Part I, Moses is portrayed by Mel Brooks.[82] Sir Ben Kingsley is the narrator of the 2007 animated film, The Ten Commandments.

Moses appears as the central character in the 1998 DreamWorks Pictures animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. He is voiced by Val Kilmer.[83]

In 2014 Ridley Scott directed the live action film Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Christian Bale portrays the central character Moses.[84]

See also


  1. ^ Deuteronomy 34:10
  2. ^ Maimonides, 13 principles of faith, 7th principle
  3. ^ "Princeton University Press Press Reviews, retrieved 6th June 2009". 2011-11-06. Retrieved 2012-04-03. 
  4. ^ The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archeology and the History of Early Israel, 2007, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, ISBN 978-1-58983-277-0.
  5. ^ John Van Seters, "The life of Moses", ISBN 90-390-0112-X
  6. ^ Exod. 1:10
  7. ^ Exod. 4:10
  8. ^ Seder Olam Rabbah
  9. ^ Jerome's Chronicon (4th century) gives 1592 for the birth of Moses
  10. ^ the 17th-century Ussher chronology calculates 1571 BC (Annals of the World, 1658 paragraph 164)
  11. ^ Dozeman 2009, p. 81-82.
  12. ^ Hamilton 2011, p. xxv.
  13. ^ Van Seters 2004, p. 194.
  14. ^ Ska 2009, p. 260.
  15. ^ Meyers 2005, p. 5-6.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Shmuel, Safrai, M. Stern (ed) The Jewish People in the First Century, Van Gorcum Fortress Press (1976)
  17. ^ Hammer, Reuven. The Classic Midrash: Tannaitic Commentaries on the Bible, Paulist Press (1995) p. 15
  18. ^ a b c Droge, Arthur J. Homer or Moses?: Early Christian Interpretations of the History of Culture, Mohr Siebeck (1989)
  19. ^ Barclay, John M. G. Jews in the Mediterranean diaspora: from Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE - 117 CE), University of California Press (1996) p. 130
  20. ^ "Moses". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  21. ^ a b c Feldman, Louis H. Josephus's Interpretation of the Bible, University of California Press (1998)
  22. ^ Strabo. The Geography of Strabo, XVI 35, 36, Translated by H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, pp. 177-178,
  23. ^ a b Assmann, Jan (1997). Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism.   See also Y. Yerushalmi's monograph on Freud's Moses.
  24. ^ Tacitus, Cornelius. The works of Cornelius Tacitus: With an essay on his life and genius by Arthur Murphy, Thomas Wardle Publ. (1842) p. 499
  25. ^ a b Tacitus, Cornelius. Tacitus, The Histories, Volume 2, Book V. Chapters 5, 6 p. 208.
  26. ^ Josephus, Flavius. The works of Flavius Josephus: Comprising the Antiquities of the Jews, trans. by William Whiston, (1854) Book VIII, Ch. IV, pp. 254-255
  27. ^ a b Guthrie, Kenneth Sylvan. Numenius of Apamea: The Father of Neo-Platonism, George Bell & Sons (1917)
  28. ^ a b Blackham, Paul; ed. Paul Louis Metzger. Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology, in essay: "The Trinity in the Hebrew Scriptures", Continuum International Publ. Group (2005) p. 39
  29. ^ Stead, Michael R.; John W. Raine (2009). The Intertextuality of Zechariah 1-8: Ideals and Realities. T.& T.Clark Ltd. p. 42.  
  30. ^ Meyers, Carol (2005). Exodus. Cambridge University Press. p. 3.  
  31. ^ I Finkelstein and N. Na'aman, eds., From Nomadism to Monarchy (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994)
  32. ^ Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed. New York: Free Press.  
  33. ^ Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86912-8.
  34. ^ Who Were the Early Israelites? by William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003)
  35. ^ The Bible Unearthed by Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001)
  36. ^ 'False Testament''by Daniel Lazare (Harper's Magazine, New York, May 2002)"'". Retrieved 2010-10-11. 
  37. ^ "Archaeology and the Hebrew Scriptures". 
  38. ^ Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.  
  39. ^ a b "Moses." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  40. ^ DDD (1999:911).
  41. ^ Midrash Rabbah, Ki Thissa, XL. 3-3, Lehrman, P.463
  42. ^ Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 166 to Chronicles I 4:18, 24:6; also see Vayikra Rabbah 1:3; Chasidah p.345
  43. ^ Rashi to Bava Batra 15s, Chasidah p.345
  44. ^ Bava Batra 15a on Deuteronomy 33:21, Chasidah p.345
  45. ^ Rashi to Berachot 54a, Chasidah p.345
  46. ^ Eusebius, Præparatio Evangelica ix. 26
  47. ^ Eusebius, l.c. ix. 27
  48. ^ "Judaism 101: Moses, Aaron and Miriam". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  49. ^ This title is held specifically in Islam.
  50. ^ This is a specifically Jewish title
  51. ^ Moses is commemorated as a forefather, along with the patriarchs, in the Armenian Apostolic Church
  52. ^ Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Ὁ Προφήτης Μωϋσῆς. 4 Σεπτεμβρίου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
  53. ^  
  54. ^ Taylor, Bruce T. (1992), "Book of Moses", in  
  55. ^ The Doctrine and Covenants 110:11
  56. ^ a b c d Annabel Keeler, "Moses from a Muslim Perspective", in: Solomon, Norman; Harries, Richard; Winter, Tim (eds.), Abraham's children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in conversation, by . T&T Clark Publ. (2005), pp. 55 - 66.
  57. ^ Keeler (2005) describes Moses from the Muslim perspective:
    ”Among prophets, Moses has been described as the one ‘whose career as a messenger of God, lawgiver and leader of his community most closely parallels and foreshadows that of Muhammad’, and as ‘the figure that in the Koran was presented to Muhammad above all others as the supreme model of saviour and ruler of a community, the man chosen to present both knowledge of the one God, and a divinely revealed system of law’. We find him clearly in this role of Muhammad’s forebear in a well-known tradition of the miraculous ascension of the Prophet, where Moses advises Muhammad from his own experience as messenger and lawgiver.”
  58. ^ Smith, Huston. The world's religions HarperCollins, (1991) p. 245
  59. ^ Quran 28:7
  60. ^ Quran 79:17–19
  61. ^ Quran 20:47–48
  62. ^ Quran 5:20
  63. ^ Historical Context of the Bábi and Bahá'í Faiths
  64. ^ Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baháí̕ Faith, Christopher Buck - 1999
  65. ^ The Bahá'í: The Religious Construction of a Global Identity - Page 256, Michael McMullen - 2000
  66. ^ "Order of the Aten Temple". 
  67. ^ Jan Assmann, op. cit.
  68. ^ Atwell, James E. (2000). "An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1".  
  69. ^  
  70. ^ Thomas Paine The Age of Reason part II, 1796
  71. ^ Robert G. Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses chapter XXIX
  72. ^ Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006, chapter 7
  73. ^ "Relief Portraits of Lawgivers: Moses. Architect of the Capitol". 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  74. ^ "Courtroom Friezes: North and South Walls: Information Sheet." Supreme Court of the United States. [1]
  75. ^ "In the Supreme Court itself, Moses and his law on display" Religion News Service
  76. ^ MacLean, Margaret. (ed) Art and Archaeology, Vol. VI, Archaeological Institute of America (1917) p. 97
  77. ^ Devore, Gary M. (2008). Walking Tours of Ancient Rome: A Secular Guidebook to the Eternal City. Mercury Guides. p. 126.  
  78. ^ Thomason, Dustin; Caldwell, Ian (2005). The Rule of Four. New York: Random House. p. 151.  
  79. ^ Gross, Kenneth (2005). The Dream of the Moving Statue. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press. p. 245.  
  80. ^ Lang, J. Stephen (2003). What the Good Book Didn't Say: Popular Myths and Misconceptions About the Bible. New York: Citadel Press. p. 114.  
  81. ^ Boitani, Piero (1999). The Bible and its Rewritings. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 126.  
  82. ^ "History of the World: Part I". 
  83. ^ "Prince of Egypt". 
  84. ^ "Exodus: Gods and Kings". IMDB. 

Further reading

  • Asch, Sholem. Moses. New York: Putnam, 1958. ISBN 0-7426-9137-3.
  • Assmann, Jan. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-674-58738-3.
  • Barenboim, Peter. Biblical Roots of Separation of Power, Moscow : Letny Sad, 2005, ISBN 5-94381-123-0,
  • Barzel, Hillel. "Moses: Tragedy and Sublimity." In Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives. Edited by Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis, with James S. Ackerman & Thayer S. Warshaw, 120–40. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1974. ISBN 0-687-22131-5.
  • Buber, Martin. Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant. New York: Harper, 1958.
  • Card, Orson Scott. Stone Tables. Deseret Book Co., 1998. ISBN 1-57345-115-0.
  • Chasidah, Yishai. "Moses." In Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities: Anthologized from the Talmud, Midrash and Rabbinic Writings, 340–99. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 1994.
  • Cohen, Joel. Moses: A Memoir. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8091-0558-6.
  • Dozeman, Thomas B. (2009). Commentary on Exodus. Eerdmans. 
  • Daiches, David. Moses: The Man and his Vision. New York: Praeger, 1975. ISBN 0-275-33740-5.
  • Fast, Howard. Moses, Prince of Egypt. New York: Crown Pubs., 1958.
  • Freud, Sigmund. Moses and Monotheism. New York: Vintage, 1967. ISBN 0-394-70014-7.
  • Halter, Marek. Zipporah, Wife of Moses. New York: Crown, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-5279-3.
  • Hoffmeier, James K. 'Moses and the Exodus.' In: Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition, pp. 135–63. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Hamilton, Victor (2011). Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary. Baker Books. 
  • Ingraham, J. H.. The Pillar of Fire: Or Israel in Bondage. New York: A.L. Burt, 1859. Reprinted Ann Arbor, Mich.: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2006. ISBN 1-4255-6491-7.
  • Kirsch, Jonathan. Moses: A Life. New York: Ballantine, 1998. ISBN 0-345-41269-9.
  • Kohn, Rebecca. Seven Days to the Sea: An Epic Novel of the Exodus. New York: Rugged Land, 2006. ISBN 1-59071-049-5.
  • Lehman, S.M. (translator), Freedman, H. (ed.), Midrash Rabbah, 10 volumes, The Soncino Press, London, 1983.
  • Mann, Thomas. "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me." In The Ten Commandments, 3–70. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1943.
  • Murdock, D.M. Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver. Seattle: Stellar House Publishing, 2014. ISBN 0-9799631-8-4.
  • Salibi, Kamal. The Bible Came from Arabia. London: Jonathan Cape, 1985.
  • Sandmel, Samuel. Alone Atop the Mountain. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973. ISBN 0-385-03877-1.
  • Ska, Jean Louis (2009). The Exegesis of the Pentateuch: Exegetical Studies and Basic Questions. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 30–31,260.  
  • Southon, Arthur E. On Eagles' Wings. London: Cassell and Co., 1937. Reprinted New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954.
  • Van Seters, John (2004). "Moses". In Barton, John. The Biblical World. Taylor & Francis. 
  • Wiesel, Elie. “Moses: Portrait of a Leader.” In Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits & Legends, 174–210. New York: Random House, 1976. ISBN 0-394-49740-6.
  • Wildavsky, Aaron. Moses as Political Leader. Jerusalem: Shalem Press, 2005. ISBN 965-7052-31-9.
  • Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Prince of Egypt. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1949.
  • Van Seters, John: Life of Moses Peeters Publishers, 1994
  • K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst: Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible

External links

Preceded by
Lawgiver Succeeded by
  • , Book XVI, Chapter IIThe Geography The entire context of the cited chapter of Strabo's work


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