Monday, January 18, 2021

From Moses to Moses, None Like Unto Moses: Moses ( the First) as Seen by Others and Ourselves

 Jan 16, 2021;

Follow this link to the recorded session:

You Tube Link here


Michelangelo’s favorite work: This is how an Italian would depict him: Moses,  serious and firm. The horns come from a mistranslation into Latin of the Hebrew for a ray of light.   


1)   The ancient Greeks, even before the time of Alexander, were fascinated by the ancient Jews. 

The first mention in Greek records,c 4th century,  Hecateus of Abdera:

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


Strabo, a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher, in his Geography (c. 24 CE) was noted for this explanation of the formation of islands, continents and oceans by movement of the earth. He traveled widely and collected information form local sources. Note that this account is also positive and he also gives a summary account of the history of ancient Israel to the founding of the Temple,

the Temple of Jerusalem continued to be surrounded by an aura of sanctity"

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

Rembrandt-Moses,as seen by the Dutch artist, furious yet sad as he breaks the tablets upon seeing the Golden Calf.


2) It was quite the opposite when it came to the major Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56–120 CE). He lived at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and detested both Jews and their beliefs.


"Most authorities, however, agree on the following account. The whole of Egypt was once plagued by a wasting disease which caused bodily disfigurement. So pharaoh Bocchoris went to the oracle of Hammon to ask for a cure, and was told to purify his kingdom by expelling the victims to other lands, as they lay under a divine curse. Thus a multitude of sufferers was rounded up, herded together, and abandoned in the wilderness. Here the exiles tearfully resigned themselves to their fate. But one of them, who was called Moses, urged his companions not to wait passively for help from god or man, for both had deserted them: they should trust to their own initiative and to whatever guidance first helped them to extricate themselves from their present plight.  . . .They traveled on for six days without a break, and on the seventh they expelled the previous inhabitants of Canaan, took over their lands and in them built a holy city and temple. . . .[4] In order to secure the allegiance of his people in the future, Moses prescribed for them a novel religion quite different from those of the rest of mankind. Among the Jews all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral."[Idols of their gods are forbidden, but sparing of deformed infants and resting on the Sabbath is immoral, in Roman eyes]

Moses as seen by Chagall, the Jewish artist. A take on Michelangelo's painting of Adam, God's  arms are seen here, extending the tablets to Moses, who is floating upwards.

3 There is an old Egyptian version, by Manetho, which has been preserved by  Josephus quoting Apion, also of Egypt, who is quoting Manetho. Manetho was an Egyptian priest who wrote a history of the Egyptians in the 3rd century. Josephus is recording his account four centuries later, based on Apion, who is a dedicated enemy of the Jews:

 “These people, whom we have before named kings, and called shepherds also, and their descendants . . . kept possession of Egypt five hundred and eleven years.”“. . . the kings of Thebes and the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the shepherds, and that there a terrible and long war was made between them.”. . . under a king, whose name was Alisphragmuthosis, the shepherds were subdued by him, and were indeed driven out of other parts of Egypt, but were shut up in a place that contained ten thousand acres; this place was named Avaris.”

“Thummosis the son of Alisphragmuthosis made an attempt to take them by force and by siege, with four hundred and eighty thousand men to lie rotund about them, but that, upon his despair of taking the place by that siege, they came to a composition with them, that they should leave Egypt, and go, without any harm to be done to them, whithersoever they would;and that, after this composition was made, they went away with their whole families and effects, not fewer in number than two hundred and forty thousand, and took their journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, for Syria;but that as they were in fear of the Assyrians, who had then the dominion over Asia, they built a city in that country which is now called Judea, and that large enough to contain this great number of men, and called it Jerusalem. "

Manetho has yet another version:

 " [King] Amenophis … was desirous to see the gods . . . he also communicated his desire to his namesake the sage Amenophis . . . told him that he might see the gods, if he would clear the whole country of the lepers and of the other impure people; . . . the king was pleased with this injunction, and got together all that had any defect in their bodies out of Egypt; and that their number was eighty thousand; whom he sent to those quarries which are on the east side of the Nile, that they might work in them, and might be separated from the rest of the Egyptians.”

. . . they appointed themselves a ruler out of the priests of Heliopolis, whose name was Osarsiph, and they took their oaths that they would be obedient to him in all things.He then, in the first place, made this law for them,That they should neither worship the Egyptian gods, nor should abstain from any one of those sacred animals which they have in the highest esteem, but kill and destroy them all;that they should join themselves to nobody but to those that were of this confederacy.

It was also reported that the priest, who ordained their polity and their laws, was by birth of Heliopolls, and his name Osarsiph, from Osiris,who was the god of Heliopolls; but that when he was gone over to these people, his name was changed, and he was called Moses.“

Moses at the Burning Bush-William Blake, English engraver and poet, has a mystic vision of Moses, a very English fellow with blond beard and locks.

4) In the Christian Scriptures

When the early Christian community began to split from the Jewish community, they used Moses against the Jews:


 Stephen before the Sanhedrin-using Moses against us in the early polemics:

35 “This is the same Moses they had rejected with the words, ‘Who made you ruler and judge?’ He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself, through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He led them out of Egypt and performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea and for forty years in the wilderness.37 “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’[h. . .39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt. . . .But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. . . ."


Moslems of Central Asian ( Persia-Afghanistan) depict Moses in Islamic style, at the Red Sea, the Egyptians drowning in the waters. The figures are, understandably, very central Asian in their looks.( Figurative art, prohibited in Islam generally, was permitted in those areas).


5)   In the Quran

XII. Moses Receives the Law

“And We appointed with Musa a time of thirty nights and completed them with ten more. So the appointed time of his Lord was complete forty nights. . . .. And when Musa came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said: My Lord! Show me Thyself, so that I may look upon Thee. He said: Thou canst not bear to see Me. But look at the mountain, if it remains firm in its place, than will thou see Me. But when his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain, He made it crumble and Musa fell down in swoon. Then, when he recovered he said: Glory be to Thee: I turn to Thee and I am the first of believers. He said: O Musa! Surely I have chosen thee above the people with My messages and with My words; therefore, take hold of what I give to thee and be of the grateful ones. And We ordained for him in the tablets admonition of every kind and clear explanation of all things. Take hold of them with firmness and enjoin the people to take hold of what is best thereof.” (7:142-145)


A modern view by a secular Jew who made Moses fit his theory of psychoanalysis. Freud perhaps saw himself as the new Moses or the Messiah of humanity :

6) Freud in  Moses and Monotheism

In Part I of this book I have tried to strengthen by a new argument the suggestion that the man Moses, the liberator and law-giver of the Jewish people, was not a Jew, but an Egyptian. That his name derived from the Egyptian vocabulary had long been observed, though not duly appreciated. . .

…Let’s agree that the great man influences contemporaries in two ways: through his personality, and through his ideas. He may lay stress on an old group of wishes of the masses, define a new purpose for their wishes, or lure them by other means. Sometimes and this is surely primitive, his personality alone exerts an influence and his ideas play a subordinate role. Why the great man rises to significance gives us no doubt. We all long for the father of our childhood days, for the father whom the hero of legend boasts of having overcome. All the features with which we furnish the great man are traits of the father, and in that similarity lies the essence which so far has eluded us -- of the great man.

His decisiveness, strength of will, forcefulness in deeds, belong to his picture as father; above all, however, stands the self-reliance and independence of the great man: his conviction that he is doing the right thing, even when it turns into ruthlessness.

A tremendous father image in the person of Moses stooped to tell the poor Jewish laborers that they were his dear children. And the concept of a unique, eternal, omnipotent God could not have been less overwhelming for them; He who thought them worthy to bond with Him, promised to take care of them, if only they remained faithful to His worship. Probably they found it hard to separate the image of Moses from that of God, and their instinct was right insofar as Moses might have incorporated his own irascibility and implacability into the character of his God. When they killed this great man, they only repeated an evil deed, which in primeval times was a law directed against the divine king, which derives from a still older prototype.[ Freud is invoking an account of early tribal history in ancient Europe, in which the king is deposed and beheaded after seven years, and reflects his theory of the Oedipal complex.]

 In children, adult neurotics and primitive people, we find the mental phenomenon called belief in the "omnipotence of thoughts." Magic, the forerunner of science, is founded on that premise. Magic incantations are at home here, as is the conviction of the power connected with the knowledge of, and pronouncing, a name. The new realm of spirituality where concepts, memories, and deductions became decisively important, in contrast to the lower psychical activity which concerned itself with the immediate perceptions of the sense organs, was one of the most important stages on the way to becoming human.


Through Mosaic prohibition, God was raised to a higher level of spirituality; the door was opened to further changes in the idea of God of which we shall speak later. All progress in spirituality results in increasing self-confidence, in making people proud, so they feel superior to those who have remained in the bondage of the senses. Moses gave the Jews the proud feeling of being God's chosen people; by de-materializing God a new, valuable gift was made to the secret treasure of the people. The Jews preserved their inclination towards spiritual interests. The political misfortune of the nation taught them to appreciate the only possession they kept, their written records, at its true value. Immediately after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Titus, Rabbi Jochanaan ben Sakkai asked for permission to open at Yabneh the first school for the study of the Torah. From now on it was the Holy Book, and the study of it, that kept the scattered people together.




Give credit to Hollywood, DeMille, and Charlton Heston, for giving us this powerful and confident Moses.


7) What about us?

From Louis Ginzberg Legends of the Jews on the death of Moses

." God replied: "I have heard thy prayer. I Myself shall attend to thee and bury thee….” deliver me not into the hands of the Angel of Death." A heavenly voice sounded and said: "Moses, be not afraid. 'Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.'"

Moses activity did not, however, cease with his death, for in heaven he is one of the servants of the Lord. . . .

But Moses not only surpassed all other human beings, he surpassed also the entire creation that God had brought forth in six days…. When, therefore, God laid all the objects of creation on one side of the scales, and Moses upon the other, Moses outweighed them. Moses was justly called, "the man of God," for he was half man and half God.

But not in this world alone was Moses the great leader and teacher of his people, he shall be the same in the future world, in accordance with the promise God made him shortly before his death. God said: "Thou that didst lead My children in this world, shalt also lead them in the future world."



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