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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
1. Name The Hebrew narrator regards MÃ´sheh as a participle from the vb. mÃ¢shÃ¢h , ‘to draw’ Ex ( Exodus 2:10 ). Jos. [Note: Josephus.] and Philo derive it from the Copt, mo ‘water,’ and ushe ‘saved’; this is implied in their spelling Mouses , also found in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and NT. It is more plausible to connect the name with the Egyptian mes, mesu , ‘son.’ Perhaps it was originally coupled with the name of an Egyp. deity cf. Ra-mesu, Thoth-mes , and others which was omitted under the influence of Israelite monotheism.
(i.) The narrative of J. [Note: . Jahwist.] Moses killed an Egyptian, and rebuked one of two Israelites who were striving together, and then he fled to Midian. There he helped seven daughters of the priest of Midian to water their flocks, dwelt with him, married his daughter Zipporah, and had one son by her, named Gershom ( Exodus 2:11-22 ). The king of Egypt died ( Exodus 2:23 a), and at Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s bidding Moses returned. On the way, Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] smote him because he had not been circumcised before marriage; but Zipporah saved him by circumcising the child, and thus circumcising Moses by proxy ( Exodus 4:19; Exodus 4:24-26 . These verses must be put back to this point). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] appeared in the burning bush and spoke to Moses. Moses was to gather the elders, give them Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s message, and demand permission from Pharaoh to sacrifice in the wilderness. Moses was given two signs to persuade the Israelites, and yet a third if the two were insufficient ( Exodus 3:2-4 a, Exodus 3:6-8 a, Exodus 3:16-18 , Exodus 4:1-9 ). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] was angry at his continued diffidence. Moses spoke to the elders and they believed; and then they made their demand to Pharaoh, which led to his increased severity ( Exodus 4:10-12; Exodus 4:29-31 , Exodus 5:3; Exodus 5:6; Exodus 5:23 , Exodus 6:1 ). Plagues were sent, the death of the fish in the river ( Exodus 7:14; Exodus 7:16-17 a, Exodus 7:21 Exodus 7:21 a, Exodus 7:24 f.), frogs ( Exodus 8:1-4; Exodus 8:8-15 a), flies ( Exodus 8:20-32 ), murrain ( Exodus 9:1-7 ), hail ( Exodus 9:18; Exodus 9:17 f., Exodus 9:23 b, Exodus 9:24 b, Exodus 9:25-34 ), locusts ( Exodus 10:1 a, Exodus 10:13 Exodus 10:13 b, Exodus 10:14 b, Exodus 10:16 a, c, Exodus 10:16-19 ). See Plagues of Egypt. Pharaoh bade Israel go with their families, but refused to allow them animals for sacrifice; so Moses announced the death of the firstborn ( Exodus 10:24-26; Exodus 10:28 f., Exodus 11:4-8 ). At a later time Israelite thought connected with the Exodus certain existing institutions. The ordinances relating to them were preserved by J [Note: Jahwist.] , but their present position is due to redaction, and the result is a tangled combination in chs. 12, 13 of ordinance and narrative: the ritual of the Passover ( Exodus 12:21-23; Exodus 12:27 b), the death of the firstborn and the hurried flight of the Israelites ( Exodus 12:29-34; Exodus 12:37-39 ), commands concerning the Feast of Unleavened Cakes ( Exodus 13:3 a, Exodus 13:4 , Exodus 13:6 f., Exodus 13:10 ), and the offering of firstlings ( Exodus 13:11-13 ). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] went before the people in a pillar of cloud and fire ( Exodus 13:21 f.), the water was crossed ( Exodus 14:5 f., Exodus 14:7 b, Exodus 14:10 a, Exodus 14:18 Exodus 14:18 b, Exodus 14:21 b, Exodus 14:26 Exodus 14:26 b, Exodus 14:27 b, Exodus 14:28 b, Exodus 14:30 ), (and Moses sang praise ( Exodus 15:1 ). Moses made the water at Marah fresh ( Exodus 15:22-25 a), and thence they moved to Elim ( Exodus 15:27 ). Fragments of J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s story of Massah are preserved ( Exodus 17:3; Exodus 17:2 c, Exodus 17:7 a, c), and parts of the account of the visit of Moses’ father-in-law, which it is difficult to separate from E [Note: Elohist.] ( Exodus 18:7-11 ). The narratives attached to the delivery of the laws of Sinai are in an extraordinarily confused state, but with a few exceptions the parts which are due to J [Note: Jahwist.] can be recognized with some confidence. The theophany occurred ( Exodus 19:18 ), and Moses was bidden to ascend the mountain, where Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] gave him directions respecting precautions to be taken ( Exodus 19:20-22; Exodus 19:24; Exodus 19:11-13; Exodus 19:25 ) [ Exodus 19:23 is a redactional addition of a remarkable character; due to Exodus 19:11-13 having been misplaced]. Moses stayed forty days and nights on the mountain ( Exodus 34:28 a); Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] descended, and Moses ‘invoked the name of Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ (6). The laws given to him are fragmentarily preserved ( Exodus 34:10-26 ). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] commanded him to write them down ( Exodus 34:27 ), and he obeyed ( Exodus 34:28 b).
The reason for the insertion of the laws so late in the book was that the compiler of JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] , finding laws in both J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] , and noticing the strong similarity between them, considered the J [Note: Jahwist.] laws to be the renewal of the covenant broken by the people’s apostasy. Hence the editorial additions in Exodus 34:1 (from ‘like unto the first’) and in Exodus 34:4 (‘like unto the first’).
A solemn ceremony sealed the covenant (Exodus 24:1 f., Exodus 24:9-11 ). Something then occurred which roused the wrath of Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.]; it is doubtful if the original narrative has been preserved; but J [Note: Jahwist.] has inserted a narrative which apparently explains the reason for the choice of Levites for Divine service ( Exodus 32:25-29 ). Moses interceded for the people (the vv. to he read in the following order, Exodus 33:1-4 a, Exodus 33:12 Exodus 33:12 f., Exodus 33:18-23 , Exodus 34:6-9 , Exodus 33:14-16 ). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] having been propitiated, Israel left the mountain, and Moses asked Hobah to accompany them ( Numbers 10:29-36 ). Being weary of manna, they were given quails, which caused a plague ( Numbers 11:4-15; Numbers 11:18-24 a, Numbers 11:31-35 ), Dathan and Ahiram rebelled (ascribed by different comm. to J [Note: Jahwist.] and to E [Note: Elohist.] , Numbers 16:1 b, Numbers 16:2 a, Numbers 16:26 Numbers 16:26 f., Numbers 16:27-32 a, Numbers 16:33 f.). Fragments of the Meribah narrative at Kadesh appear to belong to J [Note: Jahwist.] ( Numbers 20:3 a, Numbers 20:5 , Numbers 20:8 b). Moses sent spies through the S. of Palestine as far as Hebron. Caleb alone encouraged the people, and he alone was allowed to enter Canaan ( Numbers 13:17 b, Numbers 13:18 b, Numbers 13:27 Numbers 13:27 a, Numbers 13:30-31 Numbers 13:30-31 , Numbers 14:1 b, Numbers 14:8-9; Numbers 14:11-24; Numbers 14:31 ). Moses promised that Hebron should be Caleb’s possession ( Joshua 14:8-14 ). The Canaanites were defeated at Hormah (perh. a later stratum of J [Note: Jahwist.] , Numbers 21:1-3 ). Israel marched by Edom to Moab, and conquered Heshbon and other cities ( Numbers 21:16-20; Numbers 21:24 b, Numbers 21:25; Numbers 21:31-32 ). The story of Balaam (parts of Numbers 21:22-24 ). Israel sinned with the Moabite women, and Moses hanged the chiefs ( Numbers 25:1 b, Numbers 25:2-3 b, Numbers 25:4 ). Moses viewed the land from the top of Pisgah, and was buried in Moab (parts of Deuteronomy 34:1-6 ).
(ii.) The narrative of E [Note: Elohist.] . The mid wives rescued Israelite Infants ( Exodus 1:15-20 a, Exodus 1:21 ). Moses’ birth; his discovery and adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter ( Exodus 2:1-10 ). Moses was feeding Jethro’s sheep in Midian, when God called to him from a bush at Horeb, and told him to deliver Israel. He revealed His name ‘Ehyeh,’ and promised that Israel should triumphantly leave Egypt ( Exodus 3:1; Exodus 3:4 b, Exodus 3:9-13 Exodus 3:9-13 f., Exodus 3:21 f.). Moses returned to Egypt, meeting Aaron on the way; they made their demand to Pharaoh, and were refused ( Exodus 4:17 f., Exodus 4:20 b, Exodus 4:27 f., Exodus 5:1 f., Exodus 5:4 ). Moses, by means of his Divinely given staff, brought plagues the turning of the river to blood ( Exodus 7:16-17 b, Exodus 7:20 b, Exodus 7:23 ), the hail ( Exodus 9:22-23 a, Exodus 9:24 a, Exodus 9:25 a), the locusts ( Exodus 10:12-13 a, Exodus 10:14 a, Exodus 10:16 b, Exodus 10:20 ), the darkness ( Exodus 10:21-23; Exodus 10:27 ). Moses was bidden to advise the Israelites to obtain gold, etc., from the Egyptians ( Exodus 11:1-3 ), which they did ( Exodus 12:35 f.). They departed, taking with them Joseph’s mummy ( Exodus 13:17-19 ). They crossed the water (fragments are preserved from E [Note: Elohist.] ’s account, Exodus 13:7 a, c, Exodus 13:10 b, Exodus 13:16 a, Exodus 13:16 a, Exodus 13:19 a), and Miriam sang praise ( Exodus 15:20-21 ). On emerging into the desert, they were given manna; it is possible that E [Note: Elohist.] originally connected this event with the name massah , ‘proving’ ( Exodus 15:25 b, Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:16 ) Then follows E [Note: Elohist.] ’s Meribah narrative, combined with J [Note: Jahwist.] ’s Massah narrative ( Exodus 17:1 b, Exodus 17:2 a, Exodus 17:4-7 b). Israel fought with Amalek under Joshua’s leadership, while Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands with the sacred staff ( Exodus 17:8-16 ). Jethro visited the Israelites with Moses’ wife and two sons; he arranged sacrifices, and a sacrificial feast, in which the elders of Israel took part ( Exodus 18:1 a, Exodus 18:6 f., Exodus 18:12 ). Seeing Moses overburdened with the duty of giving decisions, he advised him to delegate smaller matters to inferior officers; and Moses followed his advice. Jethro departed to his own home ( Exodus 18:12-27 ). Preparations were made for the theophany ( Exodus 19:2 b, Exodus 19:3 a, Exodus 19:8 a, Exodus 19:10-11 a, Exodus 19:14 f.), which then took place ( Exodus 19:16 f., Exodus 19:19 , Exodus 20:18-21 ). Laws preserved by E [Note: Elohist.] and later members of his school of thought are grouped together in chs, 20 23 (see Exodus, Law), in the narratives in which the laws are set, two strata, E [Note: Elohist.] and E2, are perceptible, the latter supplying the narrative portions connected with the Ten Words of Exodus 20:1-17 , E [Note: Elohist.] relates the ceremony which sealed the covenant ( Exodus 24:3-8 ); the usual practice of Moses with regard to the ‘Tent of Tryst,’ where God used to meet with any one who wished to inquire of Him ( Exodus 33:7-11 ); and the people’s act of repentance for some sin which E [Note: Elohist.] has not preserved ( Exodus 33:6 ), E2 relates as follows: Moses told the people the Ten Words, and they promised obedience ( Exodus 19:7 f.; this must follow Exodus 20:1-17 ), Moses ascended the mountain to receive the written Words, leaving the people in the charge of Aaron and Hur ( Exodus 24:13-15 a, Exodus 31:18 b), During his absence Aaron made the golden bull, and Moses, when he saw it, brake the tablets of stone and destroyed the imags; Aaron offered a feeble excuse, and Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] smote the people ( Exodus 32:1-6; Exodus 32:16 a, Exodus 32:16-24; Exodus 32:35 ), Moses’ intercession has not been preserved in E [Note: Elohist.] , but it is supplied by a late hand in Exodus 32:30-34 . We here resume the narrative of E. [Note: . Elohist.] After the departure from Horeb a fire from Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] punished the people for murmuring ( Numbers 11:1-8 ). At the ‘Tent of Tryst’ Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] took of Moses’ spirit and put it upon 70 elders who prophesied, including Eldad and Medad, who did not leave the camp; Joshua objected to the two being thus favoured, but was rebuked by Moses ( Numbers 11:18 f., Numbers 11:24-30 ). Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses for having married a foreign woman and then for claiming to have received Divine revelations; Miriam became leprous, but was healed at Moses’ intercession ( Numbers 11:12 ). On Dathan and Abiram ( Numbers 11:16 ) see above, under J. Miriam died at Kadesh ( Numbers 20:1 ). Twelve spies were sent, who brought back a large cluster of grapes, but said that the natives were numerous and powerful ( Numbers 13:13 a, c, Numbers 13:23 Numbers 13:23 f., Numbers 13:26 b, Numbers 13:27 b, Numbers 13:29; Numbers 13:33 ). The people determined to return to Egypt under another captain ( Numbers 14:1 b, Numbers 14:8 f.). [Here occurs a lacuna, which is partially supplied by Deuteronomy 1:19-46 , probably based on E. [Note: . Elohist.] ] Against Moses’ wish the people advanced towards Canaan, but were routed by the Amalekites and other natives ( Numbers 14:39-45 ). Edom refused passage through their territory ( Numbers 20:14-20 ). Aaron died at Moserah, and was succeeded by Eleazar ( Numbers 10:5 ). Serpents plagued the people for their murmuring, and Moses made the serpent of bronze ( Numbers 21:4-9 ). Israel marched by Edom to Moab, and vanquished Sihon ( Numbers 21:21-24 Numbers 21:21-24 a, Numbers 21:27-30 ); the story of Balaam (part Numbers 21:22-24 ). Israel worshipped Baal-peor, and Moses bade the judges hang the offenders ( Numbers 25:1 a, Numbers 25:8 a, Numbers 25:5 ). Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] warned Moses that he was about to die, and Moses appointed Joshua to succeed him ( Deuteronomy 31:14 f., Deuteronomy 31:23 ). Moses died in Moab, and his tomb was unknown. He was the greatest prophet in Israel ( Deuteronomy 34:5; Deuteronomy 34:8 b, Deuteronomy 34:10 ).
(iii.) The narrative of D [Note: Deuteronomist.] is based upon the earlier sources, which it treats in a hortatory manner, dwelling upon the religious meaning of history, and its bearing upon life and morals, and Israel’s attitude to God. There are a few additional details, such as are suitable to a retrospect ( e.g . Deuteronomy 1:6-8; Deuteronomy 1:16 f., Deuteronomy 1:20 f., Deuteronomy 1:29-31 , Deuteronomy 3:21 f., Deuteronomy 3:23-28 ), and there are certain points on which the tradition differs more or less widely from those of JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.]; see Driver, Deut . p. xxxv f. But D [Note: Deuteronomist.] supplies nothing of importance to our knowledge of Moses’ life and character.
(iv.) The narrative of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] . Israel was made to serve the Egyptians ‘with rigour’ ( Exodus 1:7; Exodus 1:16; Exodus 1:14 b). When the king died, Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] heard their sighing, and remembered His covenant ( Exodus 2:23-25 ). He revealed to Moses His name Jahweh, and bade him tell the Israelites that they were to be delivered ( Exodus 6:2-9 ). Moses being diffident, Aaron his brother was given to be his ‘prophet’ ( Exodus 6:10-12 , Exodus 7:1-7 ). [The genealogy of Moses and Aaron is given in a later stratum of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , Exodus 6:14-25 .] Aaron turned his staff into a ‘reptile’ before Pharaoh ( Exodus 7:8-18 ). By Aaron’s instrumentality with Moses plagues were sent all the water in Egypt turned into blood ( Exodus 7:19-20 a, Exodus 7:21 b, Exodus 7:22 ); frogs ( Exodus 8:5-7; Exodus 8:15 b); gnats or mosquitoes ( Exodus 8:16-19 ); boils ( Exodus 9:8-12 ). [As in J [Note: Jahwist.] , commands respecting religious institutions are inserted in connexion with the Exodus: Passover ( Exodus 12:1-18; Exodus 12:24; Exodus 12:28; Exodus 12:43-50 ), Unleavened cakes ( Exodus 12:14-20 ), Dedication of firstborn ( Exodus 13:1 f.).] The Israelites went to Etham ( Exodus 13:20 ) and thence to the Red Sea. The marvel of the crosslng is heightened, the waters standing up in a double wall ( Exodus 14:1-4; Exodus 14:8 f., Exodus 14:15 b, Exodus 14:13-18 , Exodus 14:21 a, c, Exodus 14:22 f., Exodus 14:26-27 a, Exodus 14:28 a). in the wilderness of Sin the people murmured, and manna was sent; embedded in the narrative are fragments of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ’s story of the quails (16, exc. Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:15 ). They moved to Rephidim ( Exodus 17:1 a), and thence to Sinai ( Exodus 19:1-2 a). After seven days Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] called Moses into the cloud ( Exodus 24:15-18 a) and gave him instructions with regard to the Tabernacle and its worship ( Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:17 ), and also gave him the Tablets of the Testimony ( Exodus 31:18 a). [Other laws ascribed to Divine communication with Moses are collected in Lev. and parts of Num.] When Moses descended, his face shone, so that he veiled it when he was not alone in Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] ’s presence ( Exodus 34:29-35 ). A census was taken of the fighting men preparatory to the march, and the writer takes occasion to enlarge upon the organization of the priestly and Levitical families ( Numbers 1:1-54; Numbers 2:1-34; Numbers 3:1-51; Numbers 4:1-49 ). The cloud which descended upon the Tabernacle was the signal for marching and camping ( Numbers 9:15-23 ), and the journey began ( Numbers 10:11-28 ). With the story of Dathan and Abiram (see above) there are entwined two versions of a priestly story of rebellion (1) Korah and 250 princes, all of them laymen, spoke against Moses and Aaron for claiming, in their capacity of Levites, a sanctity superior to that of the rest of the congregation. (2) Korah and the princes were Levites, and they attacked Aaron for exalting priests above Levites (parts of 16). The former version has its sequel in 17; Moses and Aaron were vindicated by the budding of the staff for the tribe of Levi. In the wilderness of Zin Moses struck the rock, with an angry exclamation to the murmuring people, and water flowed; Moses and Aaron were rebuked for lack of faith [the fragments of the story do not make it clear wherein this consisted], and they were forbidden to enter Canaan (parts of Numbers 20:1-13 ). Joshua, Caleb, and ten other spies were sent from the wilderness of Paran; the two former alone brought a good account of the land, and they alone were permitted to enter Canaan; the other ten died by a plague (parts of 13, 14; see above under J and E). Aaron died at Mt. Hor ( Numbers 20:22-29 ). Israel marched by Edom to Moab ( Numbers 20:22 , Numbers 21:4 a, Numbers 21:10-11 a). Phinehas was promised ‘an everlasting priesthood’ for his zeal in punishing an Israelite who had brought a Midianite woman into the camp ( Numbers 25:6-16 ). All the last generation having died except Joshua and Caleb, a second census was taken by Moses and Eleazar (26). Moses appointed Joshua to succeed hi m (27). T he Midianites were defeated and Balaam was slain (31). Moses died on Mt. Nebo, aged 120 ( Deuteronomy 34:1 a, Deuteronomy 34:7-9 ).
3. Historicity . In the OT, there are presented to us the varying fortunes of a Semitic people who found their way into Palestine, and were strong enough to settle in the country in defiance of the native population. Although the Invaders were greatly in the minority as regards numbers, they were knit together by an esprit de corps which made them formidable. And this was the outcome of a strong religious belief which was common to all the branches of the tribe the belief that every member of the tribe was under the protection of the same God, Jahweh. And when it is asked from what source they gained this united belief, the analogy of other religions suggests that it probably resulted from the influence of some strong personality. The existence and character of the Hebrew race require such a person as Moses to account for them . But while the denial that Moses was a real person is scarcely within the bounds of sober criticism, it does not follow that all the details related of him are literally true to history. What Prof. Driver says of the patriarchs in Genesis is equally true of Moses in Ex., Nu.: ‘The basis of the narratives in Genesis is in fact popular oral tradition; and that being so, we may expect them to display the characteristics which popular oral tradition does in other cases. They may well include a substantial historical nucleus; but details may be due to the involuntary action of popular invention or imagination, operating during a long period of time; characteristic anecdotes, reflecting the feelings, and explaining the relations, of a later age may thus have become attached to the patriarchs; phraseology and expression will nearly always be ascribed rightly to the narrators who cast these traditions into their present literary shape’ (art. ‘Jacob’ in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ii. 534 b ).
Moses is portrayed under three chief aspects as (i.) a Leader, (ii.) the Promoter of the religion of Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] , (iii.) Lawgiver, and ‘Prophet’ or moral teacher.
(i.) Moses as Leader . Some writers think that there is evidence which shows that the Israelites who went to Egypt at the time of the famine did not comprise the whole nation. Whether this be so or not, however, there is no sufficient reason for doubting the Hebrew tradition of an emigration to Egypt. Again, if Israelites obtained permission as foreign tribes are known to have done to occupy pasture land within the Egyptian frontier, there could be nothing surprising if some of them were pressed into compulsory building labour; for it was a common practice to employ foreigners and prisoners in this manner. But in order to rouse them, and knit them together, and persuade them to escape, a leader was necessary. If, therefore, it is an historical fact that they were in Egypt, and partially enslaved, it is more likely than not that the account of their deliverance by Moses also has an historical basis. It is impossible, in a short article, to discuss the evidence in detail. It is in the last degree unsafe to dogmatize on the extent to which the narratives of Moses’ life are historically accurate. In each particular the decision resolves itself into a balance of probabilities. But that Moses was not an individual, but stands for a tribe or group of tribes, and that the narratives which centre round him are entirely legendary, are to the present writer pure assumptions, unscientific and uncritical. The minuteness of personal details, the picturesqueness of the scenes described, the true touches of character, and the necessity of accounting for the emergence of Israel from a state of scattered nomads into that of an organized tribal community, are all on the side of those who maintain that in its broad outlines the account of Moses’ leadership is based upon fact.
(ii.) Moses as the Promoter of the religion of Jahweh . Throughout the OT, with the exception of Ezekiel 40:1-49; Ezekiel 41:1-26; Ezekiel 42:1-20; Ezekiel 43:1-27; Ezekiel 44:1-31; Ezekiel 45:1-25; Ezekiel 46:1-24; Ezekiel 47:1-23; Ezekiel 48:1-35 , the forms and ceremonies of Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] worship observed in every age are attributed to the teaching of Moses. It is to be noticed that the earliest writer (J [Note: Jahwist.] ) uses the name ‘Jahweh’ from his very first sentence ( Genesis 2:4 b) and onwards, and assumes that Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] was known and worshipped by the ancestors of the race; and in Ex. he frequently employs the expression ‘Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] the God of the Hebrews’ ( Genesis 3:18 , Genesis 5:3 , Genesis 7:16 , Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:13 , Genesis 10:3 ). But, in agreement with E [Note: Elohist.] and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , he ascribes to Moses a new departure in Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] worship inaugurated at Sinai. E [Note: Elohist.] and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] relate that the Name was a new revelation to Moses when he was exiled in Midian, and that he taught it to the Israelites in Egypt. And yet in Genesis 3:6 E [Note: Elohist.] represents Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] as saying to Moses, ‘I am the God of thy father’ [the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (unless this clause is a later insertion, as in Genesis 3:15 f., Genesis 4:5 )]. And in Genesis 6:3 P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] states categorically that God appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He was not known to them by His name ‘Jahweh.’ All the sources, therefore, imply that Moses did not teach a totally new religion; but he put before the Israelites a new aspect of their religion; he defined more clearly the relation in which they were to stand to God: they were to think of Him in a peculiar sense as their God. When we go further and inquire whence Moses derived the name ‘ Jahweh ,’ we are landed in the region of conjectures. Two points, however, are clear: (1) that the God whose name was ‘Jahweh’ had, before Moses’ time, been conceived of as dwelling on the sacred mountain Horeb or Sinai ( Genesis 3:1-5; Genesis 3:12; Genesis 19:4 ); (2) that He was worshipped by a branch of the Midianites named Kenites ( Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11 ), of whom Jethro was a priest ( Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1 ). From these facts two conjectures have been made. Some have supposed that Moses learned the name ‘Jahweh’ from the Midianites; that He was therefore a foreign God as far as the Israelites were concerned; and that, after hearing His name for the first time from Moses in Egypt, they journeyed to the sacred mountain and were there admitted by Jethro into the Kenite worship by a sacrificial feast at which Jethro officiated. But it is hardly likely that the Israelites, enslaved in Egypt, could have been so rapidly roused and convinced by Moses’ proclamation of an entirely new and foreign deity. The action taken by Jethro in organizing the sacrifice might easily arise from the fact that he was in his own territory, and naturally acted as host towards the strangers. The other conjecture, which can claim a certain plausibility, is that Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] was a God recognized by Moses’ own tribe of Levi. From Exodus 4:24; Exodus 4:27 it is possible to suppose that Aaron was not in Egypt, but in the vicinity of Horeb, which he already knew as the ‘mountain of God.’ If Moses’ family, or the tribe of Levi, and perhaps (as some conjecture) the Rachel tribes, together with the Midianite branch of Semites, were already worshippers of Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] , Moses’ work would consist in proclaiming as the God of the whole body of Israelites Him whose help and guidance a small portion of them had already experienced. If either of these conjectures is valid, it only puts back a stage the question as to the ultimate origin of the name ‘Jahweh.’ But whatever the origin may have been, it is difficult to deny to Moses the glory of having united the whole body of Israelites in the single cult which excluded all other deities.
(iii.) Moses as Prophet and Lawgiver . If Moses taught the Israelites to worship Jâ€³ [Note: Jahweh.] , it may safely be assumed that he laid down some rules as to the method and ritual of His worship. But there is abundant justification for the belief that he also gave them injunctions which were not merely ritual. It is quite arbitrary to assume that the prophets of the 8th cent. and onwards, who preached an ethical standard of religion, preached something entirely new, though it is probable enough that their own ethical feeling was purer and deeper than any to which the nation had hitherto attained. The prophets always held up a lofty ideal as something which the nation had failed to reach , and proclaimed that for this failure the sinful people were answerable to a holy God. And since human nature is alike in all ages, there must have been at least isolated individuals, more high-souled than the masses around them, who strove to live up to the light they possessed. And as the national history of Israel postulates a leader, and their religion postulates a great personality who drew them, as a body, into the acceptance of it, so the ethical morality which appears in the laws of Exodus, and in a deeper and intenser form in the prophets, postulates a teacher who instilled into the nucleus of the nation the germs of social justice, purity, and honour. Moses would have been below the standard of an ordinary sheik if he had not given decisions on social matters, and Exodus 18:1-27 pictures him as so doing, and Exodus 33:7-11 shows that it was usual for the people to go to him for oracular answers from God. It is in itself probable that the man who founded the nation and taught them their religion, would plant in them the seeds of social morality. But the question whether any of the codified laws, as we have them, were directly due to Moses is quite another matter. In the life of a nomad tribe the controlling factor is not a corpus of specific prescriptions, but the power of custom. An immoral act is condemned because ‘it is not wont so to be done’ ( Genesis 34:7 , 2 Samuel 13:12 ). The stereotyping of custom in written codes is the product of a comparatively late stage in national life. And a study of the history and development of the Hebrew laws leads unavoidably to the conclusion that while some few elements in them are very ancient, it is impossible to say of any particular detail that it is certainly derived from Moses himself; and it is further clear that many are certainly later than his time.
4. Moses in the NT . (i.) All Jews and Christians in Apostolic times (including our Lord Himself) held that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. Besides such expressions as ‘The law of Moses’ ( Luke 2:22 ), ‘Moses enjoined’ ( Matthew 8:4 ), ‘Moses commanded’ ( Matthew 19:7 ), ‘Moses wrote’ ( Mark 12:19 ), ‘Moses said’ ( Mark 7:10 ), and so on, his name could be used alone as synonymous with that which he wrote ( Luke 16:20; Luke 16:31; Luke 24:27 ).
(ii.) But because Moses was the representative of the Old Dispensation, Jesus and the NT writers thought of him as something more. He was an historical personage of such unique prominence in Israel’s history, that his whole career appeared to them to afford parallels to spiritual factors in the New Covenant. The following form an interesting study, as illustrating points which cover a wide range of Christian truth: The ‘glory’ on Moses’ face (2 Corinthians 3:7-18 ), the brazen serpent ( John 3:14 ), the Passover ( John 19:36 , Heb 11:28 , 1 Corinthians 5:7 f.), the covenant sacrifice at Horeb ( Matthew 26:28 , Mark 14:24 , Luke 22:20 , 1 Corinthians 11:25; see also Hebrews 9:18-20 , 1 Peter 1:2 with Hort’s note), the terrors of the Sinai covenant ( Hebrews 12:18-24 ), the crossing of the sea ( 1 Corinthians 10:2 ), the manna ( John 6:30-35; John 6:41-58 ), the water from the rock ( 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 ), Moses as a prophet ( Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37 , John 1:21-23; and see John 6:14; John 7:40 [ Luke 7:39 ]), the magicians of Egypt ( 2 Timothy 3:8 ), the plagues ( Revelation 8:5; Revelation 8:7-8; Revelation 9:2-4; Revelation 15:6-8; Revelation 16:2-4; Revelation 16:10; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 16:18; Revelation 16:21 ), and ‘the song of Moses the servant of God’ ( Revelation 15:3 ).
A. H. M‘Neile.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Moses'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/m/moses.html. 1909.
the Fifth Week after Epiphany