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

Moses (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה, Modern Moshe Tiberian Mōšeh; Greek: Mωϋσῆς in both the Septuagint and the New Testament; Arabic: موسىٰ, Mūsa) was, according to the Hebrew Bible, a religious leader, lawgiver, and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. Also called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew (Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ, Lit. "Moses our Teacher/Rabbi"), he is the most important prophet in Judaism,[1][2] and also considered an important prophet by Christianity,[1] Islam,[3] the Bahá'í Faith,[4] Rastafari,[1] and many other faiths. Moses has also been an important symbol in American history, from the first settlers up until the present.[5]

According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was born in a time when his people were increasing in number and the Egyptian Pharaoh was worried that they might help Egypt's enemies. Moses' Hebrew mother, Jochebed, hid him when the Pharaoh 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 across the Red Sea to Midian where he tended the flocks of Jethro, a priest of Midian on the slopes of Mt. Horeb. After the Ten Plagues were unleashed on Egypt, Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, where they based themselves at Horeb and compassed the borders of Edom. It was at this time that Moses received the Ten Commandments. Despite living to the age of 120, Moses died before reaching the Land of Israel.

Religious texts

In the Bible the narratives of Moses are in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy while the main source for Moses' life is the Book of Exodus. 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.[6] Jochebed (also Yocheved) was kin to Amram's father Kehath (Exodus 6:20). Moses had one older (by seven years) sister, Miriam, and one older (by three years) brother, Aaron.[6] According to Genesis 46:11, Amram's father Kehath immigrated to Egypt with 70 of Jacob's household, making Moses part of the second generation of Israelites born during their time in Egypt.[7]

In the Exodus account, the birth of Moses 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.[8] Jochebed, the wife of the Levite Amram, bore a son and kept him concealed for three months.[6][9][10] 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.[9]

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)[6][11] was bathing with her handmaidens. It is said that she spotted the baby in the basket and had her handmaiden fetch it for her. Miriam came forward and asked Pharaoh's daughter if she would like a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.[6] Thereafter, Jochebed was employed as the child's nurse, and he grew and was brought to Pharaoh's daughter and became her son, and a younger brother to the future Pharaoh of Egypt. Moses would not be able to become Pharaoh because he was not the 'blood' son of Bithiah, and he was the youngest.[12]

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 Rameses 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 the Moses story related by the Quran, 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.[13][14] 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 Midrash identifies Moses as one of seven biblical personalities who were called by various names.[15] 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).[16] Moses is also attributed the names Toviah (as a first name), and Levi (as a family name) (Vayikra Rabbah 1:3), Heman,[17] Mechoqeiq (lawgiver)[18] and Ehl Gav Ish (Numbers 12:3)[19]
  • 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.[20]
  • A 20th century Catholic source says that Moses is an Egyptian name, with the same root as Tuth-mose and Ramses. It means "born." Exodus 2:10 gives the etymology. Moses would be the participle of the verb masha. "to draw.[21]
  • According to Islamic tradition, his name, Mūsā, is derived from two Egyptian words: 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.[22]

Shepherd in Midian

After Moses had reached adulthood, he went to see how his brethren were faring.[9] 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.[9] The next day, seeing two Hebrews quarreling, he endeavored to separate them, whereupon the Hebrew who was wronging the other taunted Moses for slaying the Egyptian.[23] 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.[9] In Midian he stopped at a well, where he protected seven shepherdesses from a band of rude shepherds. The shepherdesses' father Hobab (also known as Raguel and Jethro,[24] and presumably Shoaib according to the Qur'an[25]), a priest of Midian[26] 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.[9][27][28] There he sojourned forty years, following the occupation of a shepherd, during which time his son Gershom was born.[9][29] 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 at Midian. While tending the flocks of Jethro at Mount Horeb, he saw a burning bush that would not be consumed.[9] When he turned aside to look more closely at the marvel, God spoke to him from the bush, revealing his name to Moses.[9]

Egypt: the Plagues and the Exodus

Moses before the Pharaoh, a 6th-century miniature from the Syriac Bible of Paris.

God commanded 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.[30][31][32] The Quran's account has emphasized Moses' mission to invite the Pharaoh to accept God's divine message[33] as well as give salvation to the Israelites.[34][35]

Moses then set off for Egypt, and 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). He 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.[36][37] It is also revealed that during Moses' absence, the Pharaoh of the Oppression had died, and been replaced by a new Pharaoh, known as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. 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[38] 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,[39][40] however they gained a second 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 third 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 fourth 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. This angered Pharaoh and he decided against letting the Israelites leave to observe the feast.[41] Eventually Pharaoh let the Hebrews depart after Moses' God sent ten plagues upon the Egyptians. The third and fourth were the plague of gnats and flies. The fifth was the invasion of diseases on the Egyptians' cattle, oxen, goats, sheep, camels, and horses. The sixth was boils on the skins of Egyptians. Seventh, fiery hail and thunder struck Egypt. The eighth plague was locusts encompassing Egypt. The ninth plague was total darkness. The tenth plague culminated in the slaying of the Egyptian male first-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.[42]

The crossing of the Red Sea

Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca

And so Moses led his people eastward, beginning the long journey to Canaan. The procession moved slowly, and found it necessary to encamp three 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.[43] 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, 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) -. The people then continued to Marsa marching for three days along the wilderness of the Shur [44] without finding water. Then they came to Elim where twelve water springs and 70 Palm trees greeted them.[45] From Elim they set out again and after 45 days they reached the wilderness of Sin[46] between Elim and Sinai.

From there they reached the plain of Rephidim, and the rock of Mount Horeb at Elat, completing the crossing of the Red Sea.

Delivering the Ten Commandments

Moses with the tablets of the law by Rembrandt.

In Jewish tradition, Moses is referred to as "The Lawgiver" for his singular achievement of ascending Mount Horeb and receiving the Ten Commandments directly from God, whereupon he brought it down to the Children of Israel.

Mount Horeb is the same place where Moses had talked to the burning bush; tended the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law; and later produced water by striking the rock with his staff and directed the battle with the Amalekites.

The years in the wilderness

A statue of Moses smiting the rock stands in Washington Park, Albany, New York.

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.[47][48] 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.[49][50] 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 forth.[51][52]

Moses holding up his arms during the battle, assisted by Aaron and Hur. Painting by John Everett Millais

Amalekites arrived and attacked the Israelites. In response, Moses bade 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 favor 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.[53][54]

Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came to see Moses and brought Moses' wife and two 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.[55]

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. He then went up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy 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. According to Quran the one who made for them the golden calf was another man called in Quran "Alsameri". 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.[56][57]

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 eight prayer laws that were to be carried out in regards to the Tabernacle. These laws included light, incense and sacrifice.[58]

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[59]Template:Primary source claim and about him being the only one through whom the Lord spoke. Miriam was punished with leprosy for seven days.[60]

The people left Hazeroth and pitched camp in the wilderness of Paran.[61] (Paran is a vaguely defined region in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula, just south of Canaan) Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan as scouts, including most famously Caleb and Joshua. After forty 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 two of the twelve 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 forty years until all those twenty 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.[62] 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.[63]

The Tribe of Reuben, led by Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and two hundred fifty 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 two hundred fifty 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 fourteen thousand seven hundred persons, and was only ended when Aaron went with his censer into the midst of the people.[64] To prevent further murmurings and settle the matter permanently, Moses had each of the chief princes of the non-Levitic tribes write his name on his staff and had them lay them in the sanctuary. He 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.[65]

After leaving Sinai, the Israelites camped in Kadesh. After more complaints from the Israelites, Moses struck the stone twice, and water gushed forth. 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.[66] This was the second occasion Moses struck a rock to bring forth water; however, it appears that both sites were named Meribah after these two incidents.

Moses lifts up the brass serpent, curing the Israelites from poisonous snake bites.

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 required that they pass through Edom, Moab, and Ammon. These three 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.[67] 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.[68] 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 Canaanic people who 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.[69] 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.[69]

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 two 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.[70]

Russian Orthodox icon of the prophet Moses, gesturing towards the burning bush. 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).

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 seven 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 seven 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 third 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 two 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.[71]Template:Primary source claim The Midianites sent beautiful women to the Israelite camp to seduce the young men to partake in idolatry, and the attempt proved successful.[72]

Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, put an end to the matter of the Midianite seduction by slaying two of the prominent offenders, but by that time a plague inflicted on the Israelites had already killed about twenty-four thousand 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.[73] 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 non-virgin girl, although virgin girls were shared amongst the soldiers.[74] The Israelites killed Balaam, and the five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba.[75]

Moses appointed Joshua, son of Nun, to succeed him as the leader of the Israelites.[76] Moses then died at the age of 120.[77]


Bust of Moses at Earl Hall at Columbia University in New York City

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 (Num. 20:12).[78] He therefore assembled the tribes, and delivered to them a parting address, which forms the Book of Deuteronomy.[78] In this address it is commonly accepted that he recapitulated the Law, reminding them of its most important features.[78] When Moses finished, and he had pronounced a blessing on the people (Deut. 28:1-14), 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 one hundred and twenty, on 7 Adar[79] 2488[80] (about Feb-Mar 1271 BCE).[78] God himself buried him in an unknown grave (Deut. 34:6).[10][78] Moses was thus the human instrument in the creation of the nation of Israel by communicating to it the Torah.[78] More humble than any other man (Num. 12:3), he enjoyed unique privileges, for "there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the HaShem knew face to face" (Deut. 34:10).[78] See also Jude 1:9 and Zechariah 3.

Religion's views of Moses


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.[81]

Jewish historians who lived at Alexandria, such as Eupolemus, attributed to Moses the feat of having taught the Phoenicians their alphabet,[82] 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.[83]

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 really Moshe Rabbenu, `Eved HaShem, Avi haNeviim zya"a.[81] He is called "Our Leader Moshe", "Servant of God", and "Father of all the Prophets".[81] In their view, Moses not only received 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).[81] He is also considered the greatest prophet.[84]

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.[81]


Mosaic of Moses at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
Prophet, Seer, Lawgiver
Born Goshen, Egypt
Died Mount Nebo, Moab, in modern Jordan
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy
Feast September 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.[81] New Testament writers often compared Jesus' words and deeds with Moses' to explain Jesus' mission.[81] In Acts 7:39–43, 51–53, for example, the rejection of Moses by the Jews that worshiped the golden calf is likened to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews that continued in traditional Judaism.[81]

Moses also figures in several of Jesus' messages.[81] When he met the Pharisees Nicodemus at night in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, he compares 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.[81] In the sixth chapter, Jesus responds to the people's claim that Moses provided them manna in the wilderness by saying that it was not Moses, but God, who provided.[81] Calling himself the "bread of life", Jesus states that he is now provided to feed God's people.[81]

He 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.[81] Such parallels, unlike those mentioned above, are not pointed out in Scripture. See the article on typology.[81]

His relevance to modern Christianity has not diminished. He is considered to be a saint by several churches;[81] and is commemorated as a prophet in the respective Calendars of Saints of the Lutheran[81] and Eastern Orthodox Churches on September 4. 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 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.[85] This book is believed to be the translated writings of Moses, and is included in the Pearl of Great Price.[86] 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."[87]


Moses (Arabic: Musa) is mentioned more in the Qur'an than any other individual and his life is narrated and recounted more than any other prophet recognized in Islam.[81][88] Moses is defined in Quran as both prophet (Nabi) and messenger (Rasul), which means he was one of the prophets who brought a scripture and law to his people. He has the status of being one of the Ulu al-azm Messengers, that is those Messengers who were endowed with special determination, constancy and forbearance in obeying the commands of God. 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.[22]

In the Qur'an, Moses is included in the following passages: 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 Quran, with a story about meeting Khidr which is not found in the Bible.[14] The Bible and Qur'an have different angles of view. The Bible has focused on Moses and the rescue of Israelites, while the Qur'an emphasized on the relation between Moses and God.[35][81]


In Mandaeism, Moses is regarded as a false prophet.

Academic view

The German scholar Martin Noth accepts that Moses may have had some connection with the preparations for the conquest of Canaan and recognizes a historical core "beneath" the Exodus and Sinai traditions. However, 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."[89]

Other scholars such as William Albright have a more favorable view towards the traditional views regarding Moses, and accept the essence of the biblical story, as narrated between Exodus 1:8 and Deuteronomy 34:12, but recognize the impact that centuries of oral and written transmission have had on the account, causing it to acquire layers of accretions.[89]


File:Lawrence Saint Moses Closeup.JPG

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

Known extra-Biblical references to Moses date from many centuries after his supposed lifetime, and contain significant departures from the Biblical account. In addition to the Judeo-Roman or Judeo-Hellenic historians Artapanus, Eupolemus, Josephus, and Philo, a few gentile historians including Hecataeus of Abdera (quoted by Diodorus Siculus), Alexander Polyhistor, Manetho, Apion, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Tacitus and Porphyry make reference to him. The extent to which any of these accounts rely on earlier sources is unknown. Moses also appears in other religious texts such as the Midrash, Mishnah and Qur'an

No other surviving written records from Egypt, Assyria, etc., indisputably referring to the stories of the Bible or its main characters before ca. 850s BCE have been found,[90][91] and there is no known physical evidence (such as pottery shards or stone tablets) to corroborate Moses' existence.[92][93]

Artapanus of Alexandria

This account is excerpted from the Hellenistic Jewish historian Artapanus of Alexandria (2nd century BCE), as reproduced by Eusebius of Caesarea.

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, the ruler of the district. Chenephres in the meantime died from elephantiasis — a disease with which he was the first to be afflicted — because he had ordered that the Jews should wear garments that would distinguish them from the Egyptians and thereby expose them to maltreatment. The sufferings of Israel then caused God to appear to Moses in a flame bursting forth from the earth, and to tell him to march against Egypt for the rescue of his people. Accordingly he went to Egypt to deliberate with his brother Aaron about the plan of warfare, but was put into prison. At night, however, the doors of the prison opened of their own accord, while the guards died or fell asleep. Going to the royal palace and finding the doors open there and the guards sunk in sleep, he went straight to the king, and when scoffingly asked by the latter for the name of the God who sent him, he whispered the Ineffable Name into his ear, whereupon the king became speechless and as one dead. Then Moses wrote the name upon a tablet and sealed it up, and a priest who made sport of it died in convulsions. After this Moses performed all the wonders, striking land and people with plagues until the king let the Jews go. In remembrance of the rod with which Moses performed his miracles every Isis temple in Egypt has preserved a rod — Isis symbolizing the earth which Moses struck with his rod... He was eighty-nine years old when he delivered the Jews; tall and ruddy, with long white hair, and dignified.


In Strabo

The following excerpt comes from the Roman historian Strabo (c. 24 AD):

34 As for Judaea, its western extremities towards Casius are occupied by the Idumaeans and by the lake. The Idumaeans are Nabataeans, but owing to a sedition they were banished from there, joined the Judeans, and shared in the same customs with them. The greater part of the region near the sea is occupied by Lake Sirbonis and by the country continuous with the lake as far as Jerusalem; for this city is also near the sea; for, as I have already said, it is visible from the seaport of Iopê. This region lies towards the north; and it is inhabited in general, as is each place in particular, by mixed stocks of people from Aegyptian and Arabian and Phoenician tribes; for such are those who occupy Galilee and Hiericus and Philadelphia and Samaria, which last Herod surnamed Sebastê. But though the inhabitants mixed up thus, the most prevalent of the accredited reports in regard to the temple at Jerusalem represents the ancestors of the present Judaeans, as they are called, as Aegyptians.

35 Moses, namely, was one of the Aegyptian priests, and held a part of Lower Aegypt, as it is called, but he went away from there to Judaea, since he was displeased with the state of affairs there, and was accompanied by many people who worshipped the Divine Being. For he says, and taught, that the Aegyptians were mistaken in representing the Divine Being by the images of beasts and cattle, as were also the Libyans; and that the Greeks were also wrong in modeling gods in human form; for, according to him, God is this one thing alone that encompasses us all and encompasses land and sea — the thing which we call heaven, or universe, or the nature of all that exists. What man, then, if he has sense, could be bold enough to fabricate an image of God resembling any creature amongst us? Nay, people should leave off all image-carving, and, setting apart a sacred precinct and a worthy sanctuary, should worship God without an image; and people who have good dreams should sleep in the sanctuary, not only themselves on their own behalf, but also others for the rest of the people; and those who live self-restrained and righteous lives should always expect some blessing or gift or sign from God, but no other should expect them.

36 Now Moses, saying things of this kind, persuaded not a few thoughtful men and led them away to this place where the settlement of Jerusalem now is; and he easily took possession of the place, since it was not a place that would be looked on with envy, nor yet one for which anyone would make a serious fight; for it is rocky, and, although it itself is well supplied with water, its surrounding territory is barren and waterless, and the part of the territory within a radius of sixty stadia is also rocky beneath the surface. At the same time Moses, instead of using arms, put forward as defense his sacrifices and his Divine Being, being resolved to seek a seat of worship for Him and promising to deliver to the people a kind of worship and a kind of ritual which would not oppress those who adopted them either with expenses or with divine obsessions or with other absurd troubles. Now Moses enjoyed fair repute with these people, and organized no ordinary kind of government, since the peoples all round, one and all, came over to him, because of his dealings with them and of the prospects he held out to them.


In Tacitus

The Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 100 AD) mentions several possible origins of the Jews that were taught by those of his time.

As I am about to relate the last days of a famous city, it seems appropriate to throw some light on its origin. Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa about the time when Saturn was driven from his throne by the power of Jupiter. Evidence of this is sought in the name. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighbouring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judaei by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighbouring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbours to seek a new dwelling-place. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name.

Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moyses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moyses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.


The Antiquities of the Jews

Josephus relates several other incidents in connection with the Biblical account of Moses:

Before the incident in which Moses slew the Egyptian, Moses had led the Egyptians in a campaign against invading Ethiopians and routed them. While Moses was besieging one of the Ethiopians' cities, Tharbis, the daughter of the Ethiopian king, fell in love with Moses and wished to marry him. He agreed to do so if she would procure the deliverance of the city into his power. She did so immediately, and Moses promptly married her.[59] This marriage is also mentioned in Numbers 12:1. The account of this expedition is also mentioned by Irenaeus,[97] and the event would explain why St. Stephen refers to Moses as "mighty in his words and in his deeds" before Moses slew the Egyptian.[98][99]

Flavius Josephus also gives significantly detailed accounts of the aftermath of Baalam's blessings and the events that lead to the slaying of Zimri.[100]Template:Primary source claim

Date of the Exodus

There is a large variety of estimates as to the supposed date of the Exodus, with suggestions ranging from the 17th to 13th centuries BCE.

  • Some historiographers[who?] have suggested the Hyksos era (1648–1540 BCE), as mentioned above;[101]
  • Others[who?] suggest 1444 BCE in the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, extrapolated from the Biblical assertion that King Solomon commenced work on the temple in the fourth year of his reign 480 years after the Exodus took place.
  • Yet others[who?] place it around 1400s BCE, since the Amarna letters, written ca. forty years later to Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) indicate that Canaan was being invaded by the "Habiru" — whom some scholars in the 1950s to 1970s interpret to mean "Hebrews". However, the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are also recorded as having conducted military activities in Canaan some centuries before the Exodus.
  • A frequent suggestion is the Egyptian Empire period, in particular the 13th century BCE, as the pharaoh of that time, Ramesses II, is commonly considered to be the pharaoh with whom Moses squabbled — either as the 'Pharaoh of the Exodus' himself, or the preceding 'Pharaoh of the Oppression', who is said to have commissioned the Hebrews to "(build) for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses." These cities are known to have been built under both Seti I and Rameses II, thus possibly making his successor Merneptah the 'Pharaoh of the Exodus.' This is considered plausible by those[who?] who view the famous claim of the Year 5 Merneptah Stele (ca. 1208 BCE) that "Israel is wasted, bare of seed," as propaganda to cover up this king's own loss of an army in the Red Sea. Taken at face value, however, the primary intent of the stela was clearly to commemorate Merneptah's victory over the Libyans and their Sea People allies. The reference to Canaan occurs only in the final lines of the document where Israel is mentioned after the city states of Ashkelon, Gezer and Yanoam perhaps to signal Merneptah's disdain or contempt for this new entity. In Exodus, the Pharaoh of the Exodus did not cross into Canaan since his Army was destroyed at the Red Sea. Hence, the traditional view that Ramesses II was the Pharaoh of either the Oppression or the Exodus is affirmed by the basic contents of the Merneptah Stele. Under this scenario, the Israelites would have been a nation without a state of their own who existed on the fringes of Canaan in Year 5 of Merneptah. This is suggested by the determinative sign written in the stela for Israel — "a throw stick plus a man and a woman over the three vertical plural lines" — which was "typically used by the Egyptians to signify nomadic groups or peoples without a fixed city-state,"[102] such as the Hebrew's previous life in Goshen.
  • An unverified theory places the birth and/or adoption of Moses during a minor oppression in the reign of Amenhotep III, which was soon lifted, and claims that the more well-known oppression occurred during the reign of Horemheb, followed by the Exodus itself during the reign of Ramesses I. This is supported by the Haggadah of Pesach, which suggests that they were oppressed and then re-oppressed quite a few years later by Pharaoh. The Bible and Haggada suggest that the Pharaoh of the Exodus died in year 2 of his reign, matching Ramses I. The fact that Pi-Tum and Raamses were built during the reign of Ramses I also supports this view. Seti I records that during his reign the Shasu warred with each other, which some see as a reference to the Midyan and Moab wars. Seti's campaigns with the Shasu have also been compared with Balaam's exploits.[103]
  • A more recent and non-Biblical view places Moses as a noble in the court of the Pharaoh Akhenaten (See below). A significant number of scholars, from Sigmund Freud to Joseph Campbell, suggest that Moses may have fled Egypt after Akhenaten's death (ca. 1334 BCE) when many of the pharaoh's monotheistic reforms were being violently reversed. The principal ideas behind this theory are: the monotheistic religion of Akhenaten being a possible predecessor to Moses' monotheism, and the "Amarna letters", written by nobles to Akhenaten, which describe raiding bands of "Habiru" attacking the Egyptian territories in Mesopotamia.[104]
  • David Rohl, a British historian and archaeologist, author of the book "A Test of Time", places the birth of Moses during the reign of Pharaoh Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV of the 13th Egyptian Dynasty, and the Exodus during the reign of Pharaoh Dudimose (accession to the throne around 1457–1444), when according to Manetho "a blast from God smote the Egyptians".[105]


Although there have been various attempts at placing Moses in a historical context of the Late Bronze Age or the Bronze Age collapse, his historicity cannot be established. Archaeological surveys of ancient settlements in Sinai do not show a great influx of people around the time of the Exodus (given variously as between 1500–1200 BCE), as would be expected from the arrival of Joshua and the Israelites in Canaan. According to Prof. Ze'ev Herzog, Director of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, "This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.... The many Egyptian documents that we have make no mention of the Israelites' presence in Egypt and are also silent about the events of the exodus.[38]

The views of the mainstream archaeological community can be represented by Israel Finkelstein and William Dever. Finkelstein points to the appearance of settlements in the central hill country around 1200 as the earliest of the known settlements of the Israelites.[106] 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.[107] 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.[108] 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. Hector Avalos, in "The End of Biblical Studies," states that the Exodus, as depicted in the Bible, is an idea that most biblical historians no longer support.[109]

Symbol in American history

The symbolism of Moses has inspired generations of American leaders from the Puritans up to recent presidents. The story of Moses gave meaning and hope to the lives of Pilgrims seeking religious and personal freedom, and later inspired America's founding fathers during the American Revolution and when they created the Declaration of Independence and soon after, the Constitution. The story of Moses was quoted by Abraham Lincoln to help justify the Civil War, and in modern times has helped unify the civil rights movement.[5] Author Bruce Feiler concludes, "For four hundred years, one figure inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses."[5]

During the 20th century up until the present, American presidents such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, have used the story of Moses to help explain their ideologies and present their messages, Obama calling voters the "Moses generation."[110] In earlier periods, leaders such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, have even been called a "Moses of their people," with the story of Moses used as a "metaphor for liberation."[111] Prior to the election of Barack Obama as president, some of his black supporters stated that "Obama is our Moses."[112]

Swedish historian Hugo Valentin writes that Moses "was the first to proclaim the rights of man." [113]:35 The founding fathers inscribed the words of Moses on the Liberty Bell, and both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted the official seal of the United States to depict Moses leading the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt.

The Ten Commandments, which Moses received from God, along with the Five Books of Moses, have been described by theologian William Barclay as "the law without which nationhood is impossible." Others have credited the Ten Commandments as the basis of America's Constitution, with Barclay noting that "From Israel we Christian peoples inherit that wise and holy code of laws. Our society is founded upon it." John Adams, America's 2nd president, compared Moses to the Greek philosophers: "As much as I love, esteem, and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers."[114]:40

In Freud's historical psychoanalysis

There is also a psychoanalytical interpretation of Moses' life, put forward by Sigmund Freud in his last book, Moses and Monotheism, in 1937. Freud postulated that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Akhenaten. Following a theory proposed by a contemporary biblical critic, Freud, a committed atheist, 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.[115] Opponents of this view observe that the religion of the Torah seems different to Atenism in everything except the central feature of devotion to a single god,[116] although this has been countered by a variety of arguments, e.g. pointing out the similarities between the Hymn to Aten and Psalm 104.[117][118] Freud's interpretation of the historical Moses is not a prominent theory among historians, and is considered pseudohistory by most.[119]


According to the Torah, Moses prescribed the death penalty for a huge range of offences, and for defeated enemies. As he is considered a holy figure, however, by Jews, Christians and Muslims, most criticism of those passages of the Hebrew Bible has been left to others.

In the late eighteenth century, for example, 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",[120] giving the story at Numbers 31:13-18 as an example. In the nineteenth 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'".[121] 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."[122]


Bas-relief of Moses in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber.

Moses is depicted in several U.S. government buildings because of his legacy as a lawgiver. 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.[123] An image of Moses holding two tablets written in Hebrew representing the Ten Commandments (and a partially visible list of commandments six through ten, the more "secular" commandments, behind his beard) is depicted on the frieze on the south wall of the U.S. Supreme Court building.[124]

Moses with horns, by Michelangelo

Moses on 1518 baptismal font by Christoph von Urach

Horned Moses

Exodus 34:29-35, according to most translations, tells that after meeting with God the skin of Moses' face became radiant, frightening the Israelites and leading Moses to wear a veil. Jonathan Kirsch, in his book Moses: A Life, thought that, since Moses subsequently had to wear a veil to hide it, Moses' face was disfigured by a sort of "divine radiation burn".

This Exodus passage has led to one longstanding tradition that Moses grew horns. This is derived from an alternative interpretation of the Hebrew phrase qâran ‘ôr pânâw (קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו). The root קרן Q-R-N (qoph, resh, nun) may be read as either "horn" or "ray of light", depending on context. As a noun, this word turns up some ninety times within the Hebrew Bible, and always means "horn". The alternative meaning, "ray of light", turns up only in the post-Biblical Hebrew literature. As a verb, the three verses describing Moses' appearance are the only three examples in the Biblical and post-Biblical literature of this verb ever being translated as "shine". Aside from the references to Moses, the verb is always understood to mean "have horns" (cf: Ps 69:32, for the one other Biblical occurrence). ‘ôr pânâw (עוֹר פָּנָיו) translates to "the skin of his face".[125]

Traditionally interpreted, these two words form an expression meaning that Moses was enlightened, literally that "the skin of his face shone" (as with a gloriole), as the KJV has it.[125]

The Septuagint translates the Hebrew phrase as δεδόξασται ἡ ὄψις, "his face was glorified"; but Jerome translated the phrase into Latin as cornuta esset facies sua "his face was horned".[125]

With apparent Biblical authority, and the added convenience of giving Moses a unique and easily identifiable visual attribute (something the other Old Testament prophets notably lacked), it remained standard in Western art to depict Moses with small horns until well after the Renaissance. Michelangelo's Moses, is probably the best-known example.

Not all the Renaissance Italian painters gave horns to Moses. The Venetian artist Tintoretto depicts Moses' face as radiating light, in his series about the life of the prophet in the San Rocco, Venice.

Popular artist renditions of saints include radiant light (a halo) behind the head, or over the crown of the head. Other traditions outside of religion include an aura to show an element of the supernatural, or possible energy field of the body.

Portrayals in popular culture

Dramatic portrayals

  • Moses appears as the central character in the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille movie, The Ten Commandments. He is portrayed by Charlton Heston. DeMille got the casting idea from the statue of Moses shown on this page as the director felt the famous statue actually looked like Heston.[126] Moses had earlier been portrayed by Theodore Roberts in DeMille's 1923 silent film of the same name. A Ten Commandments television remake was produced in 2006.
    File:309 big mo.gif

    Moses as depicted in South Park episode Jewbilee.

  • Moses appears as the central character in the 1998 DreamWorks Pictures animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. He is voiced by Val Kilmer.[127]
  • Ben Kingsley played Moses, in the film of the same name
  • 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.[128]
  • The webcomic Jesus and Mo occasionally features a character called Moses.
  • Moses appears in the form of the Master Control Program from Tron in Season 3, Episode 9 of the cartoon series South Park, which first aired on 28 July 1999 in the U.S.


In late David Gemmell's Troy series, Moses is exiled Egyptian (Gyppto) prince Ahmose. He joins Helikaon's crew under the name Gershom and becomes one of his closest friends after the death of Zidantas/Ox. He considers his grandfather, the pharaoh, a very wise man. Priam's daughter Kassandra shows him the truth: He was taken from his parents to replace pharaoh's stillborn son. He then goes to Egypt to free his people. When Thera volcano erupts, the sun is blotted out and because it happens right after Ramesses refuses to let them go, Jews believe that Moses did that.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Deuteronomy 34:10
  2. Maimonides, 13 principles of faith, 7th principle
  3. Qur'an 19:51–51
  4. Juan R.I. Cole (7/10/98). "Baha'u'llah on the Life of Jesus". Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Feiler, Bruce. America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story, William Morrow (2009) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Feiler" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Easton, Matthew George (1897). Illustrated Bible Dictionary. London ; New York: T. Nelson. "Moses". 
  7. Genesis 46
  8. see Reference Halley's Bible Handbook
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 "Biblical data on Moses". 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Moses". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  11. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 9, Paragraph 5". 
  12. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 8, Paragraph 7". 
  13. Qur'an 28:7
  14. 14.0 14.1 Keeler (2006), p.56
  15. Midrash Rabbah, Ki Thissa, XL. 3-3, Lehrman, P.463
  16. Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 166 to Chronicles I 4:18, 24:6; also see Vayikra Rabbah 1:3; Chasidah p.345
  17. Rashi to Bava Batra 15s, Chasidah p.345
  18. Bava Batra 15a on Deuteronomy 33:21, Chasidah p.345
  19. Rashi to Berachot 54a), Chasidah p.345
  20. "Meaning, origin and etymology of the name Moses". 
  21. New World Dictionary-Concordance to the New American Bible. World Publishing. 1970. pp. 461. ISBN 0-529-04540-0. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Keeler (2006) p.55
  23. Flavius Josephus does not mention this incident in his account, so it is uncertain as to its chronological relationship to Moses' expedition against the Ethiopians.
  24. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 12, Paragraph 1". 
  25. Mukarram Ahmed (2005), p.100
  26. A region just East of the gulf of Aqaba
  27. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 11, Paragraph 2". 
  28. No further mention is made of Moses' first wife Tharbis in either Exodus or Flavius Josephus except in the case where Aaron and Miriam taunted Moses about it.
  29. "Exodus 2:16–22".;&version=9;. 
  30. "Exodus 4:2–9".;&version=9;. 
  31. Flavius Josephus mentions that Moses also practiced the pouring of the river water in Antiquities of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 12, Paragraph 3, but it appears that this might be a mistake on Josephus' part
  32. Mordechai Kamenetzky. "Project Genesis: Parshas Shemos - Pushing the Envelope". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  33. Qur'an 79:17–19
  34. Qur'an 20:47–48
  35. 35.0 35.1 Keeler (2006), pp.56 and 57
  36. "Exodus 4:20–31".;&version=9;. 
  37. Mordechai Kamenetzky. "Project Genesis: Parshas Shemos - Balance of Power". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 - Deconstructing the walls of Jericho
  39. "Exodus 5:1–9".;&version=9;. 
  40. Mordechai Kamenetzky. "Project Genesis: Parshas Vaera - Guts and Glory". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  41. "Exodus 8:13-15".;&version=9;. 
  42. "Judaism 101: Pesach; Passover". 
  43. [1]
  44. Shore
  45. Elim and Elat are plurals of the word El in Phoenician and again associated with Asherah worship. The words Elim and Elat refer to the power of the high and mighty terebinth trees that the Phoenicians used for masts and Asherah poles. William Albright has associated Asherah groves with the incense trade spices and perfumes such as frankincense and myrrh.
  46. Sin is the Sumerian name for the moon god whom the people of Egypt, the Sinai, and Negev worshipped as Iah.
  47. "Exodus 15:23–25".;&version=9;. 
  48. Chaim Dovid Green. "Project Genesis: Parshas B'Shalach - Rough Beginnings". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  49. "Ex. 16".;&version=9;. 
  50. Eliyahu Hoffmann. "Project Genesis: Parshas Beshalach - Man or Mon?". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  51. "Ex. 17:1–7".;&version=9;. 
  52. Pinchas Avruch. "Project Genesis: Parshas Beshalach - Never Forget". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  53. "Ex. 17:8–13".;&version=9;. 
  54. Dovid Rosenfeld. "Project Genesis: Pirkei Avos – Exhilarating Fear". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  55. "Ex. 18". 
  56. "Exodus 32".;&version=9;. 
  57. Mordechai Kamenetzky. "Project Genesis: Parshas Ki Sisa - Masked Emotions". Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  58. "The Tabernacle of Israel; Court". 
  59. 59.0 59.1 "Antiquities of the Jews page 61". 
  60. "Numbers 12:1–15".;&version=9;. 
  61. "Numbers 12:16".;&version=9;. 
  62. "Numbers 13–14".;&version=9;. 
  63. Qur'an 5:20
  64. "Numbers 16". 
  65. "Numbers 17:1–8".;&version=9;. 
  66. "Num. 20:1–13".;&version=9;. 
  67. "Num. 21:4–9".;&version=31;. 
  68. "2 Kings 18:1–4".;&version=31;. 
  69. 69.0 69.1 Tromp, Johnannes (1993). The Assumption of Moses: A Critical Edition with Commentary. Brill. 
  70. "The Story of Balaam". 
  71. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraph 6". 
  72. Deuteronomy 23:3–6 summarises these incidents, and further states that the Ammonites were associated with the Moabites. Joshua, in his farewell speech, also makes reference to it. Nehemiah, Micah, and Joshua continue in the historical account of Balaam, who next advises the Midianites how to bring disaster on the Israelites by seducing the people with idols and beautiful women, which proves partly successful.
  73. "Num. 25:1–13".;&version=9;. 
  74. "Num. 31:17-18".;&version=50;. 
  75. "Num. 31:8".;&version=9;. 
  76. "Num. 27:15–23".;&version=9;. 
  77. Deuteronomy 34 7
  78. 78.0 78.1 78.2 78.3 78.4 78.5 78.6 "Death of Moses". 
  79. Talmud Bavli, Megilah 13b, Sotah 12b, Kidushin 38a
  80. Seder Olam. The Seder Olam's calendar starts two years later than the one currently used by Jews.
  81. 81.00 81.01 81.02 81.03 81.04 81.05 81.06 81.07 81.08 81.09 81.10 81.11 81.12 81.13 81.14 81.15 81.16 81.17 "Religious views of Moses". 
  82. Eusebius, Præparatio Evangelica ix. 26
  83. Eusebius, l.c. ix. 27
  84. "Judaism 101: Moses, Aaron and Miriam". 
  85. "About Mormons". 
  86. "The Book of Moses". 
  87. the Doctrine and Covenants 110:11
  88. Jewish Quran
  89. 89.0 89.1 "Moses." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  90. Who Were the Early Israelites? by William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003
  91. The Bible Unearthed by Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001
  92. False Testamentby Daniel Lazare (Harper's Magazine, New York, May 2002)
  93. "Archaeology and the Hebrew Scriptures". 
  94. " - Moses". 
  95. The Geography, Book XVI, Chapter 2, Paragraphs 34–36
  96. Histories, Book 5, Paragraphs 2 & 3
  97. "Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, XXXII". 
  98. Acts 7:22
  99. "The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus". 
  100. "Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Paragraphs 6–12". 
  101. "Bible and Science: Dating the Exodus". [unreliable source?]
  102. Carol Redmount, 'Bitter Lives: Israel in and out of Egypt' in "The Oxford History of the Biblical World", ed: Michael D. Coogan, (Oxford University Press: 1999), paperback, p.97
  103. "Hidden Things of God's Revelation chapter 2". 
  104. Transformations of Myth Through Time, Joseph Campbell, p. 87–90, Harper & Row
  105. Rohl, David (1995, 2001). A Test of Time. London: Arrow. ISBN 0099416565. 
  106. I Finkelstein and N. Na'aman, eds., From Nomadism to Monarchy (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994)
  107. Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86912-8. 
  108. Dever, William G. (2002). What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-2126-X. 
  109. Avalos, Hector (2007). The End of Biblical Studies. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1591025362. 
  110. "How Moses Shaped America", Time Magazine, Oct. 12, 2009
  111. Dever, William G. Who Were the Early Israelites, and Where Did They Come From?, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. (2003) p. 234
  112. "Grandson of slaves: Obama is our Moses" CNN, Jan. 12, 2009
  113. Shuldiner, David Philip. Of Moses and Marx, Greenwood Publishing (1999)
  114. Meacham, Jon. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, Random House (2006)
  115. Jan Assmann. "Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism". Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-674-58738-3 See also Y. Yerushalmi's monograph on Freud's Moses. The biblical critic had recanted his original theory around the same time as Freud's book, but either the latter was unaware of this or decided to uphold it nevertheless.
  116. "Order of the Aten Temple". 
  117. Jan Assmann, op. cit.
  118. James E. Atwell, "An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1" , The Journal of Theological Studies 2000 51(2), 441–477.
  119. 'Freud and the Legacy of Moses by Richard J. Bernstein
  120. Thomas Paine The Age of Reason part II, 1796
  121. Robert G. Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses chapter XXIX
  122. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2006, chapter 7
  123. "Relief Portraits of Lawgivers: Moses." Architect of the Capitol
  124. "Courtroom Friezes: North and South Walls: Information Sheet." Supreme Court of the United States. [2]
  125. 125.0 125.1 125.2 "Moses horns". 
  126. "Christian News Report for May 2004". 
  127. "Prince of Egypt". 
  128. "History of the World: Part I". 

Further reading

  • Asch, Sholem. Moses. New York: Putnam, 1958. ISBN 0742691373
  • Assmann, Jan. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-674-58738-3.
  • 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, Encyclopaedia of Biblical personalities: anthologized from the Talmud, Midrash and rabbinic writings, Shaar Press, Brooklyn, 2000
  • Cohen, Joel. Moses: A Memoir. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8091-0558-6.
  • 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.
  • Gjerman, Corey. Moses: The Father I Never Knew. Portland: Biblical Fantasticals, 2007. ISBN 978-1424171132.
  • Halter, Marek. Zipporah, Wife of Moses. New York: Crown, 2005. ISBN 1400052793.
  • 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 1425564917.
  • 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., rabbi Dr., (translator), Freedman, H., rabbi Dr., (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.
  • Salibi, Kamal [1985] The Bible Came from Arabia London: Jonathan Cape
  • Sandmel, Samuel. Alone Atop the Mountain. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973. ISBN 0-385-03877-1.
  • Southon, Arthur E. On Eagles' Wings. London: Cassell and Co., 1937. Reprinted New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954.
  • 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

External links

This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Moses", a publication now in the public domain.

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Moses. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.