MOSES (Gr. Μωυσῆς, Μωσῆς), the great Jewish lawgiver, prophet and mediator, and leader of the Israelites from Egypt to the eastern borders of the promised land. The records of his life and work are noticed in the articles Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, where the several sources of the narratives are described. He appears in Midian at the “Mount of God” (Horeb) dwelling with its priest Jethro (q.v.), one of whose seven daughters he married, thus becoming the father of Gershom and Eliezer. Of his earlier life it was said that he was born in Egypt of Levite parents, and when the Pharaoh commanded that every new-born male child of the Hebrews should be killed, he was put into a chest and cast upon the Nile. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, and his (step-)sister Miriam contrived that he should be nursed by his mother; on growing up he killed an Egyptian who was oppressing an Israelite, and this becoming known, he sought refuge in flight.
The story of the youth of Moses is, as is commonly the case with great heroes, of secondary origin; moreover, the circumstances of his birth as related in Exod. ii. find numerous parallels in legend elsewhere, e.g. in the story of the historical Sargon (L. W. King, Early Bab. Kings, ii. 87 sqq.), in the myths of Osiris and many others (see, at length, A. Jeremias’s Das Alte Test. im Lichte des alten Orients, 1906, pp. 408 sqq.; Bab. im N. Test. p. 30 seq.). The story of the adoption of Moses by the Egyptian princess appealed to later imagination (Josephus, Ant. ii. 9, 10; Acts vii. 20–22), and many fanciful fables grew up around this and the other biblical statements. The name Mosheh, explained by the fact that the princess “drew him” (māshāh) out of the waters, means properly “one who draws”; a derivation from Eg. mes(u), “child,” finds more favour, but is not certain.
At the holy mount, Moses received the divine revelation and was commissioned to bring the people a three-days’ journey out of Egypt to sacrifice at this spot (Exod. iii. 12, 18; v. 3; viii. 27). The deity revealed himself in a new name, Yahweh, and with signs and wonders fortified Moses for his task. On his return he experienced a remarkable incident which is obscurely associated with the rite of circumcision. The plagues with which the reluctant Pharaoh was coerced culminated in the destruction of all the first-born, and Israel escaped to the Red Sea. The pursuing Egyptians were drowned, and the miraculous preservation of the chosen people at the critical moment marks the first stage in the national history. (See Exodus, The.)
The other events need not be detailed. Kadesh (holy) was the chief centre. This was the scene of the “strife” at Meribah (striving) where Yahweh “shewed himself holy” (Num. xx. 1–13); a parallel account joins the name with Massah (trial, proof) where Yahweh “proved” the people (Exod. xvii. 1–7). These two names (Deut. ix. 22, xxxii. 51) with their significant meanings recur with varying nuances (Ps. lxxxi. 7, xcv. 8 seq.). Here also in the wilderness of Shur, and possibly at En-mishpat (well of judgment, i.e. Kadesh, Gen. xiv. 7), Yahweh made for Israel “statute and judgment” and “proved them.” This is apparently Viewed as the goal of the three-days' journey (Exod. xv. 22–25). In this district the defeat of the Amalekites is more naturally located (Exod. xvii.; cf. 1 Sam. xxvii. 8) and here, finally, for some cause, now obscured, Moses and his brother Aaron (q.v.) incurred Yahweh’s displeasure (Num. xx. 12, xxvii. 14; Deut. xxxii. 51; Ps. cvi. 3). Pisgah or Mt Nebo (the name suggests a foreign god), to the north-east of the Dead Sea became the scene of the death of Moses; his burial-place was never known (Deut. xxxiv.).
In estimating the work of one who stands at the head of the religious and legal institutions of Israel, it is necessary to refrain from interpreting the traditions from a modern legal standpoint or in the light of subsequent ideas and beliefs for which the sources themselves give no authority. Much confusion has been caused by attributing to Moses more than the Pentateuch itself claims, and by misunderstanding the meaning of later references (Mat. xix. 8; Mark vii. 10, x. 5; xii. 26; Luke xx. 37; John vii. 22). Moreover, it is necessary to allow that the.traditions relating to both Moses and Aaron underwent change. The priesthoods of Shiloh and Dan could boast of an illustrious origin (1 Sam. ii. 27 seq., Judges xviii. 30), but the religious practices associated with the former especially were not those of the purest type. When Aaron himself is connected with the worship of the golden calf, and when to Moses is attributed a brazen serpent which the reforming king Hezekiah was the first to destroy, it is evident that religious conceptions developed in the course of ages. Although Moses was venerated as a prophet (Hos. xii. 13), a mediator (Jer. xv. 1) and a leader (Mic. vi. 4; Isa. lxiii. 11), much of the legal procedure ascribed to him must belong on internal grounds (religious, ethical and sociological evidence) to a post-Mosaic age. Many of the Mosaic laws find parallels and analogies in all ages outside the sphere of Israelite influence, notably in the laws codified several centuries previously by the Babylonian king Khammurabi (see Babylonian Law). The practice of finding in ancient authority a precedent for institutions new and old (cf. the law of booty, 1 Sam. xxx. 25, with that ascribed to Moses in Num. xxxi. 25 sqq.) is quite in accordance with Oriental custom and explains the growth of the present extremely complex sources. But this very development of Mosaism implies the existence of an original nucleus or substratum, although the recovery of its precise extent is very difficult. The legislation on Mt Sinai (Horeb) which apparently occupies a very important place in tradition (Exod. xx. sqq.) is really secondary (cf. W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, p. 111); more prominence is evidently to be ascribed to the influence of the half-Arabian Jethro or Hobab, and this must be taken into consideration with what is known of Kenite and kindred clans (Exod. xviii.; Num. x. 29–33; see Jethro; Kenites). Yahweh appears to have been known to them before he revealed himself to Moses, and the ancestors of the Israelites are recognized as worshippers of Yahweh, but are on another level (Exod. vi. 3). The traditions would seem to point to the institution of new principles in the religion of Yahweh, and would associate with it not merely Moses but those foreign elements which are subsequently found in Israel and Judah. See Jews, §§ 5, 14, 20.
Bibliography.—See further articles, Aaron; Decalogue; Hebrew Religion; Levites. For the introductory questions, W. Robertson Smith’s Old Test. in Jewish Church and Prophets of Israel are most helpful; see also J.-M. Lagrange, Hist. Crit. and the Old Testament (Eng., E. Myers, 1905), pp. 148–179; Wellhausen’s Prolegomena is a conclusive elaboration of the initial stages of criticism. All subsequent studies vary according to the writer’s standpoint; W. R. Harper, Amos and Hosea (Internat. Critical Commentary), pp. 84 sqq., gives a convenient summary. Among particular discussions may be named Cheyne, Ency. Bib. s.v., E. Meyer, Israeliten, pp. 1–103; and the mythological treatment by H. Winckler, Gesch. Isr., ii. 86–95; A. Jeremias, Alte Test., loc. cit.; and Ed. Stucken, Astralmythen d. Hebräer, &c., p. 431 sqq. For Jewish and other legends (to which Jude 9 alludes), see Beer, Leben Moses (1863), M. Grünbaum, Neue Beiträge z. sem. Sagenkunde (1893), pp. 152 sqq.; the Assumption of Moses, ed. R. H. Charles (1897); W. Tisdall, Sources of the Qur’an (1905); and Ency. Bib. col. 3218, § 21 (with references). For the stories of Manetho, &c., Ewald, Hist. Isr., ii. 76 sqq.; Kittel, Hist. i. 26 seq., may be supplemented by Willrich, Juden u. Griechen vor d. makkab. Erhebung (1895), pp. 55 sqq.; G. Maspero, Rec. de travaux (1905), xxvii. I3 sqq., 22 seq. (S. A. C.)
- Exod. iv. 24–26; it possibly explains the transference of the rite from the bridegroom to the new-born son. For a recent discussion, see H. P. Smith, Journ. Bib. Lit. (1906), pp. 14–24; and the article Circumcision (with J. G. Frazer’s essay in the Independent Review 1904, pp. 204–218).
- The plagues appear to have been amplified. In Exod. iv. three signs are given: the hand of Moses is stricken with leprosy and restored (the sign for Moses); his rod becomes a serpent (cf. vii. 8–13, the sign for Pharaoh); and the water is turned into blood (cf. vii. 17 sqq.). If Pharaoh still remains obdurate his first-born is threatened (iv. 21 sqq.). As regards the crossing of the Red Sea, a perfectly rationalizing explanation can be found: with a strong east wind its waters could temporarily recede and permit a passage (see Journ. Vict. Inst. xxvi. 28; xxviii. 268, 277). To the Israelites, however, it was a miracle, an unexpected intervention on the part of Yahweh, and the first of many marvels which he performed on behalf of the people of his choice. To rationalize this or any of the series misses the whole point of the religious history.
- See K. Budde, Religion of Israel to the Exile, ch. i. According to Gen. iv. 26, so far from the name Yahweh having been made known to Israel by Moses (Exod. iii. 13 sqq., vi. 2 sqq.), the worship goes back to the earliest ages.