Moses (Latin: Moyses, Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה, Standard Moshe Tiberian Mōšeh; Greek: Mωυσής in both the Septuagint and the New Testament; Arabic: موسىٰ, Mūsa; Ge’ez: ሙሴ, Musse) is a Biblical Hebrew religious leader, lawgiver, prophet, and military leader, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. Moses is the most important prophet in Judaism, and also an important prophet of Christianity, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, Mormonism, Rastafari, Raëlism, Chrislam and many other faiths.
According to the book of Exodus, Moses was born to a Hebrew mother, Jochebed, who hid him when a Pharaoh (Feraun, as mentioned in the Qu’ran), ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed, and he ended up being adopted into the Egyptian royal family. After killing an Egyptian slave-master, Moses fled and became a shepherd, and was later commanded by God to deliver the Hebrews from slavery. After the Ten Plagues were unleashed on Egypt, he led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, where they wandered in the desert for 40 years, during which time, according to the Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments. Despite living to 120, Moses died before reaching the Land of Israel. According to the Torah, Moses was denied entrance to that destination because he himself disobeyed God’s instructions about how to release water from a rock. According to the Qu’ran the reason for the wandering in the desert was the disobedience of his Israelite followers during the Exodus. In Islamic perspective, Moses (Hazrat Musa) and the obedient Israelites weren’t punished, but got rewards for their patience during the wandering years.
The Book of Exodus takes up the narrative many years after the close of the Book of Genesis, at the end of which the Israelites were dwelling in relative harmony with the native Egyptians in the Land of Goshen, the eastern part of the Nile Delta.
After Joseph died, a new pharaoh came to power who was hostile to the Israelites and enslaved them.
According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was a son of Amram, a member of the Levite tribe of Israel, having descended from Jacob, and his wife Jochebed. Jochebed (also Yocheved) was kin to Amram’s father Kohath. Moses had 1 older (by 7 years) sister, Miriam, and 1 older (by 3 years) brother, Aaron. According to Genesis, Amram’s father Kohath immigrated to Egypt with 70 of Jacob’s household, making Moses part of the 2nd generation of Israelites born during their time in Egypt.
In the Exodus account, the birth of Moses (dated by the Talmud to 7 Adar 2368, or 1393 BCE)occurred at a time when the current Egyptian Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew children born be killed by drowning in the river Nile. The Torah and Flavius Josephus leave the identity of this Pharaoh unstated.
Jochebed, the wife of the Levite Amram, bore a son and kept him concealed for 3 months. When she could keep him hidden no longer, rather than deliver him to be killed, she set him adrift on the Nile River in a small craft of bulrushes coated in pitch.According to Quran, she is commanded by God to place him in an ark and cast him on the waters of the Nile, thus abandoning him completely to God’s protection and demonstrating her total trust in God. In the Biblical account, Moses’ sister Miriam observed the progress of the tiny boat until it reached a place where Pharaoh’s daughter Thermuthis (Bithiah)was bathing with her handmaidens. It is said that she spotted the baby in the basket and had her handmaiden fetch it for her. After several women had unsuccessfully attempted to nurse the child, Miriam came forward and asked Pharaoh’s daughter if she would like a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. Thereafter, Jochebed was employed as the child’s nurse, and he grew and was brought to Pharaoh’s daughter and became her son, as she had no other children at the time of her adoption of Moses.
This birth legend is in many respects similar to the 7th century BCE Neo-Assyrian version of the birth of the king Sargon of Akkad in the 24th century BCE who, being born of modest means, was set in the Euphrates river in a basket of bulrushes and discovered by a member of the Akkadian royalty who reared him as their own. Professor Eric H. Cline refers to the story of the birth of Moses as a ‘foundation myth’, similar to those of Sargon, Cyrus the Great and Romulus and Remus.
Exodus and Flavius Josephus do not mention whether this daughter of Pharaoh was an only child or, if she was not an only child, whether she was an eldest child or an eldest daughter. Nor do they mention whether Thermuthis later had other natural or adopted children. If Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression as is traditionally thought, identifying her would be extremely difficult as Rameses II is thought to have fathered over a hundred children. The daughter of Pharaoh named him Mosheh, similar to the Hebrew word mashah, “to draw out”.
In Greek translation, Mosheh was Hellenized as Mωυσής (Mousēs or Moses).
The Classical Rabbis in the Midrash identify Moses as 1 of 7 biblical characters who were called by various names. Moses’ other names were: Jekuthiel (by his mother), Heber (by his father), Jered (by Miriam), Avi Zanoah (by Aaron), Kehath, Avi Soco (his wet-nurse), Shemaiah ben Nethanel (by people of Israel). Moses is also attributed the names Toviah (as a first name), and Levi (as a family name), Heman, Mechoqeiq (lawgiver) and Ehl Gav Ish.
According to the Torah, the name “Moses” comes from the (Hebrew) verb meaning “to pull/draw out” [of water], so named by Pharaoh’s daughter (identified by the Midrash as Bithiah from I Chr; or (Thermuthis) ) after she had pulled the infant from the banks of the river. Further, Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea, which would also shows deliverance out of water. Josephus also cites this etymology.
Some medieval Jewish scholars had suggested that Moses’ actual name was the Egyptian translation of “to draw out”, and that it was translated into Hebrew, either by the Bible, or by Moses himself later in his lifetime.
Some modern scholars had suggested that the daughter of the pharaoh might have derived his name from the Egyptian word moses, which means “son” or “formed of” or “has provided”; for example, “Thutmose” means “son of Thoth”, and Rameses means “Ra has provided (a son)”.
According to Islamic tradition, his name, Mūsā, is derived from two Egyptian words: Mū which means water and shā meaning tree (or reeds), in reference to the fact that the basket in which the infant Moses floated came to rest by trees close to Pharaoh’s residence.
A growing number of critical scholars believe that Moses actually had a full Egyptian name, consisting of the root word moses and the name of a god (similar to Rameses), but the name of the god was later dropped, either when he assimilated into Hebrew culture or by later scribes who were dismayed that their greatest prophet had such an Egyptian name.
Amongst the Aramaeans and Neo-Hittites of the northern Sam’al Yaudi state there is mention of an ancestral culture hero Moschos, linked to the Greek hero Mopsus (whose name means “calf”), who has certain similarities to parts of the Moses these similarities are only being in a similar location and having a similar name.
After Moses had reached adulthood, he went to see how his brethren who were enslaved to the Egyptians were faring. Seeing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian and buried the body in the sand, supposing that no one who knew about the incident would be disposed to talk about it. The next day, seeing 2 Hebrews quarreling, he endeavored to separate them, whereupon the Hebrew who was wronging the other taunted Moses for slaying the Egyptian. Moses soon discovered from a higher source that the affair was known, and that Pharaoh was likely to put him to death for it; he therefore made his escape over the Sinai Peninsula. Moses stopped at a well, where he protected 7 shepherdesses from a band of rude shepherds. The shepherdesses’ father Hobab (also known as Raguel and Jethro, and Shoaib according to Qur’an, a priest of Midian was immensely grateful for this assistance Moses had given his daughters, and adopted him as his son, gave his daughter Zipporah to him in marriage, and made him the superintendent of his herds. There he sojourned 40 years, following the occupation of a shepherd, during which time his son Gershom was born. One day, Moses led his flock to Mount Horeb (Exodus 3), usually identified with Mount Sinai — a mountain that was thought in the Middle Ages to be located on the Sinai Peninsula, but that many scholars now believe was further east, towards Moses’ home of Midian. At Mount Horeb, he saw a burning bush that would not be consumed. When he turned aside to look more closely at the marvel, God spoke to him from the bush, revealing his name to Moses.
God commissioned Moses to go to Egypt and deliver his fellow Hebrews from bondage. God had Moses practice transforming his rod into a serpent and inflicting and healing leprosy, and told him that he could also pour river water on dry land to change the water to blood. Quran’s account has emphasized Moses’ mission to invite the Pharaoh to accept God’s divine message as well as give salvation to the Israelites.
Moses then set off for Egypt, was nearly killed by God because his son was not circumcised (The meaning of this latter obscure passage is debatable, because of the ambiguous nature of the Hebrew and its abrupt presence in the narrative. Several interpretations are therefore possible.), was met on the way by his elder brother, Aaron, and gained a hearing with his oppressed kindred after they returned to Egypt, who believed Moses and Aaron after they saw the signs that were performed in the midst of the Israelite assembly. It is also revealed that during Moses’ absence, the Pharaoh of the Oppression (sometimes identified with Ramesses II) had died, and been replaced by a new Pharaoh, known as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. If Rameses II is the Pharaoh of the Oppression, then this new Pharaoh would be Merneptah. Because the story the book of Exodus describes is catastrophic for the Egyptians — involving horrible plagues, the loss of thousands of slaves, and many deaths (possibly including the death of Pharaoh himself, although that matter is unclear in Exodus) — it is conspicuous that no Egyptian records speaking of Israelites in Egypt have ever been found. However, Merneptah, is indeed, historically known to have been a mediocre ruler, and certainly one weaker than Rameses II. Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and told him that the Lord God of Israel wanted Pharaoh to permit the Israelites to celebrate a feast in the wilderness. Pharaoh replied that he did not know their God and would not permit them to go celebrate the feast. Pharaoh upbraided Moses and Aaron and made the Israelites find their own straw besides meeting the same daily quota of bricks. Moses and Aaron gained a 2nd hearing with Pharaoh and changed Moses’ rod into a serpent, but Pharaoh’s magicians did the same with their rods. Moses and Aaron had a 3rd opportunity when they went to meet the Pharaoh at the Nile riverbank, and Moses had Aaron turn the river to blood, but Pharaoh’s magicians could do the same. Moses obtained a 4th meeting, and had Aaron bring frogs from the Nile to overrun Egypt, but Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing. Apparently Pharaoh eventually got annoyed by the frogs and asked Moses to remove the frogs and promised to let the Israelites go observe their feast in the wilderness in return. The next day all the frogs died leaving a horrible stench and an enormous mess, which angered Pharaoh and decide against letting the Israelites leave to observe the feast. Eventually Pharaoh let the Hebrews depart after Moses’s God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. The 3rd was lice, gnats, and flies. The 4th was attacking of wild beasts. The 5th was the invasion of diseases on the Egyptians’ cattle, oxen, goats, sheep, camels, and horses. 6th were boils on the skins of Egyptians. 7th, fiery hail and thunder struck Egypt. The 8th plague was locusts encompassing Egypt. The 9th plague was total darkness. The 10th plague culminated in the slaying of the Egyptian male 1st-borns, whereupon such terror seized the Egyptians that they ordered the Hebrews to leave in the Exodus. The events are commemorated as Passover, referring to how the plague “passed over” the houses of the Israelites while smiting the Egyptians.
Moses lead his people Eastward, beginning the long journey to Canaan. The procession moved slowly, and found it necessary to encamp 3 times before passing the Egyptian frontier — some believe at the Great Bitter Lake, while others propose sites as far south as the northern tip of the Red Sea. Meanwhile, Pharaoh had a change of heart, and was in pursuit of them with a large army. Shut in between this army and the sea, the Israelites despaired, but Exodus records that God divided the waters so that they passed safely across on dry ground. There is some contention about this passage, since an earlier incorrect translation of Yam Suph to Red Sea was later found to have meant Reed Sea. When the Egyptian army attempted to follow, God permitted the waters to return upon them and drown them.
According to the Quran the Pharaoh was leading the Egyptian army himself, and drowned along with his army, and in his last words before drowning he asks God for forgiveness – (قَالَ آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لا إِلِـهَ إِلاَّ الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ وَأَنَاْ مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ) – , however God made him die with his body in perfect shape, so he would be an example for every tyrant who defies the prophets – surat Yunis:92 (يونس:92) -.
When the people arrived at Marah, the water was bitter, causing the people to murmur against Moses. Moses cast a tree into the water, and the water became sweet. Later in the journey the people began running low on supplies and again murmured against Moses and Aaron and said they would have preferred to die in Egypt, but God’s provision of manna from the sky in the morning and quail in the evening took care of the situation. When the people camped in Rephidim, there was no water, so the people complained again and said, “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” Moses struck a rock with his staff, and water came 4th.
In response, Moses bid Joshua lead the men to fight while he stood on a hill with the rod of God in his hand. As long as Moses held the rod up, Israel dominated the fighting, but if Moses let down his hands, the tide of the battle turned in favour of the Amalekites. Because Moses was getting tired, Aaron and Hur had Moses sit on a rock. Aaron held up one arm, Hur held up the other arm, and the Israelites routed the Amalekites.
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to see Moses and brought Moses’ wife and 2 sons with him. After Moses had told Jethro how the Israelites had escaped Egypt, Jethro went to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and then ate bread with the elders. The next day Jethro observed how Moses sat from morning to night giving judgement for the people. Jethro suggested that Moses appoint judges for lesser matters, a suggestion Moses heeded.
When the Israelites came to Sinai, they pitched camp near the mountain. Moses commanded the people not to touch the mountain. Moses received the Ten Commandments orally (but not yet in tablet form) and other moral laws. Moses then went up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 of the elders to see the God of Israel. Before Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets, he told the elders to direct any questions that arose to Aaron or Hur. While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving instruction on the laws for the Israelite community, the Israelites went to Aaron and asked him to make gods for them. After Aaron had received golden earrings from the people, he made a golden calf and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” A “solemnity of the Lord” was proclaimed for the following day, which began in the morning with sacrifices and was followed by revelry. After Moses had persuaded the Lord not to destroy the people of Israel, he went down from the mountain and was met by Joshua. Moses destroyed the calf and rebuked Aaron for the sin he had brought upon the people. Seeing that the people were uncontrollable, Moses went to the entry of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” All the sons of Levi rallied around Moses, who ordered them to go from gate to gate slaying the idolators.
Following this, according to the last chapters of Exodus, the Tabernacle was constructed, the priestly law ordained, the plan of encampment arranged both for the Levites and the non-priestly tribes, and the Tabernacle consecrated. Moses was given 8 prayer laws that were to be carried out in regards to the Tabernacle. These laws included light, incense and sacrifice.
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses on account of his marriage to an Ethiopian, Josephus explains the marriage of Moses to this Ethiopian in the Antiquities of the Jews and about him being the only one through whom the Lord spoke. Miriam was punished with leprosy for 7 days.
The people left Hazeroth and pitched camp in the wilderness of Paran. (Paran is a vaguely defined region in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula, just south of Canaan) Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan as scouts, including most famously Caleb and Joshua. After 40 days, they returned to the Israelite camp, bringing back grapes and other produce as samples of the regions fertility. Although all the spies agreed that the land’s resources were spectacular, only 2 of the 12 spies (Joshua and Caleb) were willing to try to conquer it, and are nearly stoned for their unpopular opinion. The people began weeping and wanted to return to Egypt. Moses turned down the opportunity to have the Israelites completely destroyed and a great nation made from his own offspring, and instead he told the people that they would wander the wilderness for 40 years until all those 20 years or older who had refused to enter Canaan had died, and that their children would then enter and possess Canaan. Early the next morning, the Israelites said they had sinned and now wanted to take possession of Canaan. Moses told them not to attempt it, but the Israelites chose to disobey Moses and invade Canaan, but were repulsed by the Amalekites and Canaanites. According to the Quran, 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.
The Tribe of Reuben, led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 Israelite princes accused Moses and Aaron of raising themselves over the rest of the people. Moses told them to come the next morning with a censer for every man. Dathan and Abiram refused to come when summoned by Moses. Moses went to the place of Dathan and Abiram’s tents. After Moses spoke the ground opened up and engulfed Dathan and Abiram’s tents, after which it closed again. Fire consumed the 250 men with the censers. Moses had the censers taken and made into plates to cover the altar. The following day, the Israelites came and accused Moses and Aaron of having killed his fellow Israelites. The people were struck with a plague that killed 14,700 persons, and was only ended when Aaron went with his censer into the midst of the people. To prevent further murmurings and settle the matter permanently, Moses had the chief prince of the non-Levitic tribes write his name on his staff and had them lay them in the sanctuary. Moses also had Aaron write his name on his staff and had it placed in the tabernacle. The next day, when Moses went into the tabernacle, Aaron’s staff had budded, blossomed, and yielded almonds.
After leaving Sinai, the Israelites camped in Kadesh. After more complaints from the Israelites, Moses struck the stone twice, and water gushed 4th. However, because Moses and Aaron had not shown the Lord’s holiness, they were not permitted to enter the land to be given to the Israelites. This was the 2nd occasion Moses struck a rock to bring 4th water; however, it appears that both sites were named Meribah after these 2 incidents.
Now ready to enter Canaan, the Israelites abandon the idea of attacking the Canaanites head-on in Hebron, a city in the southern part of Canaan, having been informed by spies that they were too strong, it is decided that they will flank Hebron by going further East, around the Dead Sea. This requires that they pass through Edom, Moab, and Ammon. These 3 tribes are considered Hebrews by the Israelites as descendants of Lot, and therefore cannot be attacked. However they are also rivals, and are therefore not permissive in allowing the Israelites to openly pass through their territory. So Moses leads his people carefully along the eastern border of Edom, the southernmost of these territories. While the Israelites were making their journey around Edom, they complained about the manna. After many of the people had been bitten by serpents and died, Moses made the brass serpent and mounted it on a pole, and if those who were bitten looked at it, they did not die.
According to the Biblical Book of Kings this brass serpent remained in existence until the days of King Hezekiah, who destroyed it after persons began treating it as an idol. When they reach Moab, it is revealed that Moab has been attacked and defeated by the Amorites led by a king named Sihon. The Amorites were a non-Hebrew Canannic people that once held power in the Fertile Crescent. When Moses asks the Amorites for passage and it is refused, Moses attacks the Amorites (as non-Hebrews, the Israelites have no reservations in attacking them), presumably weakened by conflict with the Moabites, and defeats them. The Israelites now holding the territory of the Amorites just north of Moab, desire to expand their holdings by acquiring Bashan, a fertile territory north of Ammon famous for its oak trees and cattle. It is led by a king named Og. Later rabbinical legends made Og a survivor of the flood, suggesting the he had sat on the ark and was fed by Noah. The Israelites fight with Og’s forces at Edrei, on the southern border of Bashan, where the Israelites are victorious and slay every man, woman, and child of his cities and take the spoil for their bounty.
Balak, king of Moab, having heard of the Israelites conquests, fears that his territory might be next. Therefore he sends elders of Moab, and of Midian, to Balaam (apparently a powerful and respected prophet), son of Beor (Bible), to induce him to come and curse the Israelites. Balaam’s location is unclear. Balaam sends back word that he can only do what God commands, and God has, via a dream, told him not to go. Moab consequently sends higher ranking priests and offers Balaam honours, and so God tells Balaam to go with them. Balaam thus sets out with 2 servants to go to Balak, but an Angel tries to prevent him. At first the Angel is seen only by the ass Balaam is riding. After Balaam starts punishing the ass for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak to Balaam, and it complains about Balaam’s treatment. At this point, Balaam is allowed to see the angel, who informs him that the ass is the only reason the Angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repents, but is told to go on.
Balak meets with Balaam at Kirjath-huzoth, and they go to the high places of Baal, and offer sacrifices at seven altars, leading to Balaam being given a prophecy by God, which Balaam relates to Balak. However, the prophecy blesses Israel; Balak remonstrates, but Balaam reminds him that he can only speak the words put in his mouth, so Balak takes him to another high place at Pisgah, to try again. Building another 7 altars here, and making sacrifices on each, Balaam provides another prophecy blessing Israel. Balaam finally gets taken by a now very frustrated Balak to Peor, and, after the 7 sacrifices there, decides not to seek enchantments but instead looks on the Israelites from the peak. The spirit of God comes upon Balaam and he delivers a 3rd positive prophecy concerning Israel. Balak’s anger rises to the point where he threatens Balaam, but Balaam merely offers a prediction of fate. Balaam then looks on the Kenites, and Amalekites and offers 2 more predictions of fate. Balak and Balaam then simply go to their respective homes. Later, Balaam informed Balak and the Midianites that, if they wished to overcome the Israelites for a short interval, they needed to seduce the Israelites to engage in idolatry. The Midianites sent beautiful women to the Israelite camp to seduce the young men to partake in idolatry, and the attempt proved successful.
Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, put an end to the matter of the Midianite seduction by slaying 2 of the prominent offenders, but by that time a plague inflicted on the Israelites had already killed about 24000 persons. Moses was then told that because Phinehas had averted the wrath of God from the Israelites, Phinehas and his descendents were given the pledge of an everlasting priesthood. After Moses had taken a census of the people, he sent an army to avenge the perceived evil brought on the Israelites by the Midianites. Numbers 31 says Moses instructed the Israelite soldiers to kill every Midianite woman, boy and the non-virgin girl, although virgin girls were shared amongst the soldiers. The Israelites killed Balaam, and the 5 kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba.
Moses appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as the leader of the Israelites. Moses then died at the age of 20.
After all this was accomplished, Moses was warned that he would not be permitted to lead the nation of Israel across the Jordan river, but would die on its eastern shores. Moses therefore assembled the tribes, and delivered to them a parting address, which forms the Book of Deuteronomy. In this address it is commonly accepted that he recapitulated the Law, reminding them of its most important features. When Moses finished, and he had pronounced a blessing on the people, he 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 120(dated by the Talmud to 7th of Adar 2488, or 1273 BCE). God Himself buried him in an unknown grave. Moses was thus the human instrument in the creation of the nation of Israel by communicating to it the Torah. More humble than any other man, he enjoyed unique privileges, for “there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the HaShem knew face to face”.
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