References: Moses

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FERN: Hester! You shouldn’t have acted like that!
HESTER: Why not? I’ve been meek as Moses too long with that woman.

“And when she could hide him no longer she took for him a basket made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river’s brink. And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children. … And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:3-6,10 RSV)

The Person

Moses is one of the best-known people of The Bible. He played a key role in the Exodus, and later he received The Ten Commandments from God (twice – he smashed the first set when he discovered the Israelites running wild at the foot of Mount Sinai). He directed the construction of The Tabernacle and The Ark Of The Covenant. He is also the author of The Pentateuch, the first 5 Books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Moses was a Levite born in Egypt, in the region of Goshen in The Nile Delta, where, even under brutal slavery, the Israelites had grown to a great multitude that the Egyptians eventually viewed as a national security threat.

To escape the Egyptian king’s edict to kill all male Hebrew infants, Moses’ mother Jochebed and sister Miriam (Mary is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam, an interesting coincidence since Moses was the deliverer of God’s physical people, just as Jesus Christ is the Deliverer of God’s spiritual people – and both spent their infancy in Egypt) put him a waterproof basket, and set it adrift in The Nile River. The basket was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted the infant. She named him Moses, because, “I drew him out of the water”. Moses sounds like the Hebrew for draw out, in Moses’ case, saved from the water.

Moses was raised in the palace of the Pharaoh where he was educated in “all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” After he had grown up, Moses killed an Egyptian who had been abusing a Hebrew. When Pharaoh learned of the killing, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled for his life into the desert of Sinai. There he met Jethro, a priest of Midian. Moses married one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah.

When his time of training was completed, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him his mission – the Exodus. Moses was 80 years old at the time of the Exodus. He had spent 40 years in the palace of Pharaoh (learning how to govern), and 40 years in the Sinai (learning how to live in the Sinai wilderness) – all in preparation for his third 40 years, which would be spent on The Wilderness Journey.


For Christians, Moses — mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament figure — is often a symbol of God’s law, as reinforced and expounded on in the teachings of Jesus. New Testament writers often compared Jesus’ words and deeds with Moses’ to explain Jesus’ mission. 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.

Moses also figures in several of Jesus’ messages. When he met the Pharisee Nicodemus at night in, 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. Jesus also 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. Calling himself the “bread of life”, Jesus states that he is now provided to feed God’s people.

Christians found numerous other parallels between the life of Moses and Jesus to the extent that Jesus was likened to a “second Moses.” For instance, Jesus’ escape from the slaughter by Herod in Bethlehem is compared to Moses’ escape from Pharaoh’s designs to kill Hebrew infants. Such parallels, unlike those mentioned above, are not pointed out in Scripture.

His relevance to modern Christianity has not diminished. He is considered to be a saint by several churches; and is commemorated as a prophet in the respective Calendars of Saints of the Lutheran 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.

Moses’ name

According to the Hebrew Bible, the name Moses comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to pull out of water”. While few scholars still consider this to be the case, it shows significance as the word “water” in the Bible is often a metaphor referring to evil (an understandable belief for desert nomads), gentiles or the world. Thus, Moses’ name symbolized a special deliverance of evil by God as he led them to the promised land. Moses also led the Israelites across the Red Sea, which would also show deliverance out of water.

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)”.

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.

In ancient Egyptian language, the word “Mo” meant “water” while the word “Sa” meant “son”. His complete name “Mosa” would mean “the son of water” as he was found in a basket in water.


Horned Moses

Exodus tells that after meeting with God the skin of Moses’ face became radiant, frightening the Israelites and leading Moses to wear a veil. Supposedly, Moses’ face was disfigured by a sort of “divine radiation burn”. This was for some time misinterpreted as him having horns and it remained standard in Western art to depict Moses with small horns until well after the mistranslation was realized by 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 Scuola di San Rocco.

In the U.S.

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. 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.


Among the most popular and widely-recognized portrayals are:


One Response

  1. Where did you get the art of Moses and the Princess from?

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