The Biblical account of Moses' birth provides him with a folk etymology to explain the ostensible meaning of his name. He is said to have received it from the Pharaoh's daughter: "he became her son. She named him Moses (Moshe), saying, "I drew him out (meshitihu) of the water." This explanation links it to a verb mashah, meaning "to draw out", which makes the Pharaoh's daughter's declaration a play on words. The princess made a grammatical mistake which is prophetic of his future role in legend, as someone who will "draw the people of Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea."
Several etymologies have been proposed. An Egyptian root msy, 'child of', has been considered as a possible etymology, arguably an abbreviation of a theophoric name, as for example in Egyptian names like Thutmoses (Thoth created him) and Ramesses (Ra created him), with the god's name omitted. Abraham Yahuda, based on the spelling given in the Tanakh, argues that it combines 'water' or 'seed' and 'pond, expanse of water', thus yielding the sense of "child of the Nile" (mw-še).
The Hebrew etymology in the Biblical story may reflect an attempt to cancel out traces of Moses' Egyptian origins. The Egyptian character of his name was recognized as such by ancient Jewish writers like Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. Philo linked Mōēsēs (Μωησής) to the Egyptian (Coptic) word for water (mou/μῶυ), while Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, claimed that the second element, -esês, meant 'those who are saved'. The problem of how an Egyptian princess, known to Josephus as Thermutis (identified as Tharmuth) and in later Jewish tradition as Bithiah, could have known Hebrew puzzled medieval Jewish commentators like Abraham ibn Ezra and Hezekiah ben Manoah, known also as Hizkuni. Hizkuni suggested she either converted or took a tip from Jochebed.
The Israelites had settled in the Land of Goshen in the time of Joseph and Jacob, but a new pharaoh arose who oppressed the children of Israel. At this time Moses was born to his father Amram, son of Kehath the Levite, who entered Egypt with Jacob's household; his mother was Jochebed (also Yocheved), who was kin to Kehath. Moses had one older (by seven years) sister, Miriam, and one older (by three years) brother, Aaron.
The Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew children born would be drowned in the river Nile, but Moses' mother placed him in an ark and concealed the ark in the bulrushes by the riverbank, where the baby was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. One day after Moses had reached adulthood he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. Moses, in order to escape the Pharaoh's death penalty, fled to Midian (a desert country south of Judah).
There, on Mount Horeb, God revealed to Moses his name YHWH (probably pronounced Yahweh) and commanded him to return to Egypt and bring his chosen people (Israel) out of bondage and into the Promised Land (Canaan). Moses returned to carry out God's command, but God caused the Pharaoh to refuse, and only after God had subjected Egypt to ten plagues did the Pharaoh relent. Moses led the Israelites to the border of Egypt, but there God hardened the Pharaoh's heart once more, so that he could destroy the Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea Crossing as a sign of his power to Israel and the nations.
From Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to biblical Mount Sinai, where he was given the Ten Commandments from God, written on stone tablets. However, since Moses remained a long time on the mountain, some of the people feared that he might be dead, so they made a statue of a golden calf and worshiped it, thus disobeying and angering God and Moses. Moses, out of anger, broke the tablets, and later ordered the elimination of those who had worshiped the golden statue, which was melted down and fed to the idolaters. He also wrote The Ten Commandments on a new set of tablets. Later at Mount Sinai, Moses and the elders entered into a covenant, by which Israel would become the people of YHWH, obeying his laws, and YHWH would be their god. Moses delivered the laws of God to Israel, instituted the priesthood under the sons of Moses' brother Aaron, and destroyed those Israelites who fell away from his worship. In his final act at Sinai, God gave Moses instructions for the Tabernacle, the mobile shrine by which he would travel with Israel to the Promised Land.
From Sinai, Moses led the Israelites to the Desert of Paran on the border of Canaan. From there he sent twelve spies into the land. The spies returned with samples of the land's fertility, but warned that its inhabitants were giants. The people were afraid and wanted to return to Egypt, and some rebelled against Moses and against God. Moses told the Israelites that they were not worthy to inherit the land, and would wander the wilderness for forty years until the generation who had refused to enter Canaan had died, so that it would be their children who would possess the land.
When the forty years had passed, Moses led the Israelites east around the Dead Sea to the territories of Edom and Moab. There they escaped the temptation of idolatry, received God's blessing through Balaam the prophet, and massacred the Midianites, who by the end of the Exodus journey had become the enemies of the Israelites. Moses was twice given notice that he would die before entry to the Promised Land: in Numbers 27:13, once he had seen the Promised Land from a viewpoint on Mount Abarim, and again in Numbers 31:1 once battle with the Midianites had been won.
On the banks of the Jordan River, in sight of the land, Moses assembled the tribes. After recalling their wanderings he delivered God's laws by which they must live in the land, sang a song of praise and pronounced a blessing on the people, and passed his authority to Joshua, under whom they would possess the land. Moses then 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. More humble than any other man (Num. 12:3), "there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). The New Testament states that after Moses' death, Michael the Archangel and the Devil disputed over his body (Epistle of Jude 1:9).
Moses is honoured among Jews today as the "lawgiver of Israel", and he delivers several sets of laws in the course of the four books. The first is the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:19–23:33), the terms of the covenant which God offers to the Israelites at biblical Mount Sinai. Embedded in the covenant are the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1–17) and the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22–23:19). The entire Book of Leviticus constitutes a second body of law, the Book of Numbers begins with yet another set, and the Book of Deuteronomy another.
Moses has traditionally been regarded as the author of those four books and the Book of Genesis, which together comprise the Torah, the first and most revered section of the Hebrew Bible.
According to archaeologist William G. Dever, the scholarly consensus is that the figure of Moses is legendary, and not historical. However, he states that a "Moses-like figure" may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-13th century BC. Certainly no Egyptian sources mention Moses or the events of Exodus-Deuteronomy, nor has any archaeological evidence been discovered in Egypt or the Sinai wilderness to support the story in which he is the central figure. The story of his discovery picks up a familiar motif in ancient Near Eastern mythological accounts of the ruler who rises from humble origins: Thus Sargon of Akkad's Sumerian account of his origins runs;
My mother, the high priestess, conceived; in secret she bore me
She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lidShe cast me into the river which rose over me.
The tradition of Moses as a lawgiver and culture hero of the Israelites may go back to the 7th-century BCE sources of the Deuteronomist, which might conserve earlier traditions. Kenneth Kitchen, a solitary voice among British Egyptologists, argues that there is an historic core behind the Exodus, with Egyptian corvée labour exacted from Hebrews during the imperialist control exercised by the Egyptian Empire over Canaan from the time of the Thutmosides down to the revolt against Merneptah and Rameses III. William Albright believed in the essential historicity of the biblical tales of Moses and the Exodus, accepting however that the core narrative had been overlaid by legendary accretions. Biblical minimalists such as Philip R. Davies and Niels Peter Lemche regard all biblical books, and the stories of an Exodus, united monarchy, exile and return as fictions composed by a social elite in Yehud in the Persian period or even later, the purpose being to legitimize a return to indigenous roots. Many aspects of this minimalist viewpoint, however, have now been disregarded by the vast majority of scholars, and especially since the discovery of fragments of the Hebrew Bible at Ketef Hinnom, which consisted of the Priestly Blessing from the Book of Numbers and have been dated to the 7th century BC, in the pre-Exilic period.
Despite the imposing fame associated with Moses, no source mentions him until he emerges in texts associated with the Babylonian exile. A theory developed by Cornelius Tiele in 1872, which had proved influential, argued that Yahweh was a Midianite god, introduced to the Israelites by Moses, whose father-in-law Jethro was a Midianite priest. It was to such a Moses that Yahweh reveals his real name, hidden from the Patriarchs who knew him only as El Shaddai. Against this view is the modern consensus that most of the Israelites were native to Palestine. Martin Noth argued that the Pentateuch uses the figure of Moses, originally linked to legends of a Transjordan conquest, as a narrative bracket or late reductional device to weld together 4 of the 5, originally independent, themes of that work. Manfred Görg and Rolf Krauss, the latter in a somewhat sensationalist manner, have suggested that the Moses story is a distortion or transmogrification of the historical pharaoh Amenmose (ca. 1200 BCE), who was dismissed from office and whose name was later simplified to msy (Mose). Aidan Dodson regards this hypothesis as "intriguing, but beyond proof."
The name King Mesha of Moab has been linked to that of Moses. Mesha also is associated with narratives of an exodus and a conquest, and several motifs in stories about him are shared with the Exodus tale and that regarding Israel's war with Moab (2 Kings:3). Moab rebels against oppression, like Moses, leads his people out of Israel, as Moses does from Egypt, and his first-born son is slaughtered at the wall of Kir-hareseth as the firstborn of Israel are condemned to slaughter in the Exodus story, "an infernal passover that delivers Mesha while wrath burns against his enemies".
An Egyptian version of the tale that crosses over with the Moses story is found in Manetho who, according to the summary in Josephus, wrote that a certain Osarseph, a Heliopolitan priest, became overseer of a band of lepers, when Amenophis, following indications by Amenhotep, son of Hapu, had all the lepers in Egypt quarantined in order to cleanse the land so that he might see the gods. The lepers are bundled into Avaris, the former capital of the Hyksos, where Osarseph prescribes for them everything forbidden in Egypt, while proscribing everything permitted in Egypt. They invite the Hyksos to reinvade Egypt, rule with them for 13 years – Osarseph then assumes the name Moses - and are then driven out.
The Exodus in traditional chronology is assigned date of 1496 BCE, considered impossible to some scholars, while others dismiss the literal value of this biblical dating. The narrative itself has resisted numerous attempts to verify it or ground it in archaeological digs which have been largely abandoned as a "fruitless pursuit," since the evidence points to an indigenous origin for Israelites. Attempts to locate the Yam Suph (Reed sea/Red Sea) as described in Exodus have failed. The figure of 600,000 adult males described in Exodus 12:37, or 603,550 at Exodus 38:26, would imply a total population of Israelites, and others who joined them, in flight through the desert for 40 years of 2 to 2.5 million people, when the total population of Egypt at the time was 3 to 4.5 million. Had such a catastrophic demographic outflow taken place, it would have been recorded in Egyptian writings.
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, in discussing their arguments for a 7th-century setting for the Exodus (which they share with Donald Redford):
The Egyptologist Donald Redford has argued that the echoes of the great events of the Hyksos occupation of Egypt and their violent expulsion from the delta resounded for centuries, to become a central, shared memory of the people of Canaan...It is impossible to say whether or not the biblical narrative was an expansion and elaboration of vague memories of the immigration of Canaanites to Egypt and their expulsion from the Delta in the second millennium BCE. Yet it seems clear that the biblical story of the Exodus drew its power not only from ancient traditions and contemporary geographical and demographic details but even more importantly from contemporary political realities.
In his Against Apion, the first-century AD historian Josephus discussed the synchronism between the Biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and two Exodus-like events that the Egyptian historian Manetho apparently mentions. It is difficult to distinguish between what Manetho himself recounted, and how Josephus or Apion interpret him. Josephus identifies the Israelite Exodus with the first exodus mentioned by Manetho, when some 480,000 Hyksos "shepherd kings" (also referred to as just 'shepherds', as 'kings' and as 'captive shepherds' in his discussion of Manetho) left Egypt for Jerusalem. The mention of "Hyksos" identifies this first exodus with the Hyksos period (16th century BC). Some geologists are now also researching a possible link between the eruption of Santorini (c. 1600 BC) and the events mentioned in the Exodus narrative in The Bible.
A 2006 documentary film by Simcha Jacobovici, The Exodus Decoded, postulates that the eruption of the Santorini Island volcano (referred to as c. 1500 BC) caused all the Plagues of Egypt. The documentary presents this date as corresponding to the time of the Biblical Moses. The film asserts that the Hyksos were the Israelites and that some of them may have originally been from Mycenae. The film also suggests that these original Mycenaean Israelites fled Egypt (which they had in fact ruled for some time) after the eruption, and went back to Mycenae. The Pharaoh of the Exodus is identified with Ahmose I. Rather than crossing the Red Sea, Jacobovici argues a marshy area in northern Egypt known as the Reed Sea would have been alternately drained and flooded by tsunamis caused by the caldera collapse, and could have been crossed during the Exodus. Jacobovici's assertions in The Exodus Decoded have been criticized by some religious and other scholars. In a 2013 book on this connection, Thera and the Exodus, engineer Riaan Booysen provides his own version of Jacobovici's theory and claims the Pharaoh of the Exodus to be Amenhotep III and the biblical Moses as Crown Prince Thutmose, Amenhotep’s first-born son and heir to his throne.
Non-biblical writings about Jews, with references to the role of Moses, first appear at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE. Shmuel notes that "a characteristic of this literature is the high honour in which it holds the peoples of the East in general and some specific groups among these peoples."
In addition to the Judeo-Roman or Judeo-Hellenic historians Artapanus, Eupolemus, Josephus, and Philo, a few non-Jewish historians including Hecataeus of Abdera (quoted by Diodorus Siculus), Alexander Polyhistor, Manetho, Apion, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Tacitus and Porphyry also 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 Mishnah (c. 200 CE), Midrash (200–1200 CE), and the Quran (c. 610–53).
The figure of Osarseph in Hellenistic historiography is a renegade Egyptian priest who leads an army of lepers against the pharaoh and is finally expelled from Egypt, changing his name to Moses.
The earliest existing reference to Moses in Greek literature occurs in the Egyptian history of Hecataeus of Abdera (4th century BCE). All that remains of his description of Moses are two references made by Diodorus Siculus, wherein, writes historian Arthur Droge, "he describes Moses as a wise and courageous leader who left Egypt and colonized Judaea." Among the many accomplishments described by Hecataeus, Moses had founded cities, established a temple and religious cult, and issued laws:
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.
Droge also points out that this statement by Hecataeus was similar to statements made subsequently by Eupolemus.
The Jewish historian Artapanus of Alexandria (2nd century BCE), portrayed Moses as a cultural hero, alien to the Pharaonic court. According to theologian John Barclay, the Moses of Artapanus "clearly bears the destiny of the Jews, and in his personal, cultural and military splendor, brings credit to the whole Jewish people."
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 [Jethro], the ruler of the district.
Artapanus goes on to relate how Moses returns to Egypt with Aaron, and is imprisoned, but miraculously escapes through the name of YHWH in order to lead the Exodus. This account further testifies that all Egyptian temples of Isis thereafter contained a rod, in remembrance of that used for Moses' miracles. He describes Moses as 80 years old, "tall and ruddy, with long white hair, and dignified."
Some historians, however, point out the "apologetic nature of much of Artapanus' work," with his addition of extra-biblical details, such as his references to Jethro: the non-Jewish Jethro expresses admiration for Moses' gallantry in helping his daughters, and chooses to adopt Moses as his son.
Strabo, a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher, in his Geographica (c. 24 CE), wrote in detail about Moses, whom he considered to be an Egyptian who deplored the situation in his homeland, and thereby attracted many followers who respected the deity. He writes, for example, that Moses opposed the picturing of the deity in the form of man or animal, and was convinced that the deity was an entity which encompassed everything – land and sea:
35. 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....
36. By such doctrine Moses persuaded a large body of right-minded persons to accompany him to the place where Jerusalem now stands....
In Strabo's writings of the history of Judaism as he understood it, he describes various stages in its development: from the first stage, including Moses and his direct heirs; to the final stage where "the Temple of Jerusalem continued to be surrounded by an aura of sanctity." Strabo's "positive and unequivocal appreciation of Moses' personality is among the most sympathetic in all ancient literature." His portrayal of Moses is said to be similar to the writing of Hecataeus who "described Moses as a man who excelled in wisdom and courage."
Egyptologist Jan Assmann concludes that Strabo was the historian "who came closest to a construction of Moses' religion as monotheistic and as a pronounced counter-religion." It recognized "only one divine being whom no image can represent... [and] the only way to approach this god is to live in virtue and in justice."
The Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56–120 CE) refers to Moses by noting that the Jewish religion was monotheistic and without a clear image. His primary work, wherein he describes Jewish philosophy, is his Histories (c. 100), where, according to Arthur Murphy, as a result of the Jewish worship of one God, "pagan mythology fell into contempt." Tacitus states that, despite various opinions current in his day regarding the Jews' ethnicity, most of his sources are in agreement that there was an Exodus from Egypt. By his account, the Pharaoh Bocchoris, suffering from a plague, banished the Jews in response to an oracle of the god Zeus-Amun.
A motley crowd was thus collected and abandoned in the desert. While all the other outcasts lay idly lamenting, one of them, named Moses, advised them not to look for help to gods or men, since both had deserted them, but to trust rather in themselves, and accept as divine the guidance of the first being, by whose aid they should get out of their present plight.
In this version, Moses and the Jews wander through the desert for only six days, capturing the Holy Land on the seventh.
The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, influenced Longinus, who may have been the author of the great book of literary criticism, On the Sublime. The date of composition is unknown, but it is commonly assigned to the late Ist century C.E.
The writer quotes Genesis in a "style which presents the nature of the deity in a manner suitable to his pure and great being," however he does not mention Moses by name, calling him 'no chance person' (οὐχ ὁ τυχὼν ἀνήρ) but "the Lawgiver" (θεσμοθέτης, thesmothete) of the Jews," a term that puts him on a par with Lycurgus and Minos. Aside from a reference to Cicero, Moses is the only non-Greek writer quoted in the work, contextually he is put on a par with Homer, and he is described "with far more admiration than even Greek writers who treated Moses with respect, such as Hecataeus and Strabo.
In Josephus' (37 – c. 100 CE) Antiquities of the Jews, Moses is mentioned throughout. For example Book VIII Ch. IV, describes Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, at the time the Ark of the Covenant was first moved into the newly built temple:
When King Solomon had finished these works, these large and beautiful buildings, and had laid up his donations in the temple, and all this in the interval of seven years, and had given a demonstration of his riches and alacrity therein; ...he also wrote to the rulers and elders of the Hebrews, and ordered all the people to gather themselves together to Jerusalem, both to see the temple which he had built, and to remove the ark of God into it; and when this invitation of the whole body of the people to come to Jerusalem was everywhere carried abroad, ...The Feast of Tabernacles happened to fall at the same time, which was kept by the Hebrews as a most holy and most eminent Feast. So they carried the ark and the tabernacle which Moses had pitched, and all the vessels that were for ministration to the sacrifices of God, and removed them to the temple. ...Now the ark contained nothing else but those two tables of stone that preserved The Ten Commandments, which God spake to Moses in Mount Sinai, and which were engraved upon them...
According to Feldman, Josephus also attaches particular significance to Moses' possession of the "cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice." He also includes piety as an added fifth virtue. In addition, he "stresses Moses' willingness to undergo toil and his careful avoidance of bribery. Like Plato's philosopher-king, Moses excels as an educator."
Numenius, a Greek philosopher who was a native of Apamea, in Syria, wrote during the latter half of the 2nd century CE. Historian Kennieth Guthrie writes that "Numenius is perhaps the only recognized Greek philosopher who explicitly studied Moses, the prophets, and the life of Jesus..." He describes his background:
Numenius was a man of the world; he was not limited to Greek and Egyptian mysteries, but talked familiarly of the myths of Brahmins and Magi. It is however his knowledge and use of the Hebrew scriptures which distinguished him from other Greek philosophers. He refers to Moses simply as "the prophet", exactly as for him Homer is the poet. Plato is described as a Greek Moses.
The Christian saint and religious philosopher Justin Martyr (103–165 CE) drew the same conclusion as Numenius, according to other experts. Theologian Paul Blackham notes that Justin considered Moses to be "more trustworthy, profound and truthful because he is older than the Greek philosophers." He quotes him:
I will begin, then, with our first prophet and lawgiver, Moses... that you may know that, of all your teachers, whether sages, poets, historians, philosophers, or lawgivers, by far the oldest, as the Greek histories show us, was Moses, who was our first religious teacher.
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. Moses is also given a number of bynames in Jewish tradition. The Midrash identifies Moses as one of seven biblical personalities who were called by various names. 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). Moses is also attributed the names Toviah (as a first name), and Levi (as a family name) (Vayikra Rabbah 1:3), Heman, Mechoqeiq (lawgiver) and Ehl Gav Ish (Numbers 12:3).
Jewish historians who lived at Alexandria, such as Eupolemus, attributed to Moses the feat of having taught the Phoenicians their alphabet, 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 called "the teacher of Orpheus"), and ascribed to him the division of Egypt into 36 districts, each with its own liturgy. He named the princess who adopted Moses as Merris, wife of Pharaoh Chenephres.
To Orthodox Jews, Moses is called Moshe Rabbenu, `Eved HaShem, Avi haNeviim zya"a: "Our Leader Moshe, Servant of God, Father of all the Prophets (may his merit shield us, amen)". In the orthodox view, Moses received not only 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). He is also considered the greatest prophet.
"Moses was one hundred and twenty (120) years old when he died" (Deut. 34:7), and no one knows his burial place to this day (Deut. 34:6).
Arising in part from his age and that "his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished," the phrase "may you live to 120" has become a common blessing among Jews, especially since 120 is elsewhere stated as the maximum age for Noah's descendants (one interpretation of Genesis 6:3).
Moses is mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament figure. For Christians, Moses 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. In Acts 7:39–43, 51–53, for example, the rejection of Moses by the Jews who 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 the third chapter of the Gospel of John, he compared 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. In the sixth chapter, Jesus responded 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 stated that He was provided to feed God's people.
Moses, 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. Jesus refers to the scribes and the Pharisees of the Temple as "seated in the chair of Moses" (Greek: επι της μωυσεως καθεδρας, epi tēs Mōuseōs kathedras)
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. Such parallels, unlike those mentioned above, are not pointed out in Scripture. See the article on typology.
His relevance to modern Christianity has not diminished. Moses is considered to be a saint by several churches; and is commemorated as a prophet in the respective Calendars of Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Lutheran churches on September 4. In Eastern Orthodox liturgics for September 4, Moses is commemorated as the "Holy Prophet and God-seer Moses, on Mount Nebo". The Orthodox Church also commemorates him on the Sunday of the Forefathers, two Sundays before the Nativity.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates him as one of the Holy Forefathers in their Calendar of Saints on July 30.
Members of 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. This book is believed to be the translated writings of Moses, and is included in the Pearl of Great Price.
Latter-day Saints are also unique in believing that Moses was taken to heaven without having tasted death (translated). In addition, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery stated that on April 3, 1836, Moses appeared to them in the Kirtland Temple (located in Kirtland, Ohio) 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."
Moses is mentioned more in the Quran than any other individual and his life is narrated and recounted more than that of any other Islamic prophet. In general, Moses is described in ways which parallel the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and "his character exhibits some of the main themes of Islamic theology," including the "moral injunction that we are to submit ourselves to God."
Moses is defined in the Quran as both prophet (nabi) and messenger (rasul), the latter term indicating that he was one of those prophets who brought a scripture and law to his people.
Huston Smith describes an account in the Quran of meetings in heaven between Moses and Muhammad, which Huston states were "one of the crucial events in Muhammad's life," and resulted in Muslims observing 5 daily prayers.
Moses is mentioned 502 times in the Quran; passages mentioning Moses include 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 the Quran, with a story about meeting Khidr which is not found in the Bible.
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. The Pharaoh's wife Asiya, not his daughter, found Moses floating in the waters of the Nile. She convinced the Pharaoh to keep him as their son because they were not blessed with any children.
The Quran's account has emphasized Moses' mission to invite the Pharaoh to accept God's divine message as well as give salvation to the Israelites. 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. After which the Israelites are made to wander for 40 years.
According to Islamic tradition, Moses is buried at Maqam El-Nabi Musa, Jericho.
Moses is one of the most important prophets in the Bahá'í Faith. He is considered to be a messenger from God who is equally authentic as those sent in other eras. An epithet of Moses in Baha'i scriptures is Interlocutor of God, or alternatively the One Who Conversed with God.
Important figures in the Baha’i religion, such as Abdul’l-Baha, have highlighted the fact that Moses, like Abraham, had none of the makings of a great man of history, but through God's assistance he was able achieve many great things. He is described as having been "for a long time a shepherd in the wilderness," of having had a stammer, and of being "much hated and detested" by the Pharaoh and the ancient Egyptians of his time. He is said to have been raised in an oppressive household, and to have been known, in Egypt, as a man who had committed murder – though he had done so in order to prevent an act of cruelty.
Nevertheless, like Abraham, through the assistance of God, he achieved great things and gained renown even beyond the Levant. Chief among these achievements was the freeing of his people, the Hebrews, from bondage in Egypt and leading "them to the Holy Land." He is viewed as the one who bestowed on Israel 'the religious and the civil law' which gave them "honour among all nations," and which spread their fame to different parts of the world.
Furthermore, through the law, Moses is believed to have led the Hebrews 'to the highest possible degree of civilization at that period.’ Abdul’l-Baha asserts that the ancient Greek philosophers regarded "the illustrious men of Israel as models of perfection." Chief among these philosophers, he says, was Socrates who "visited Syria, and took from the children of Israel the teachings of the Unity of God and of the immortality of the soul."
Moses is further described as paving the way for Baha'ullah and his ultimate revelation, and as a teacher of truth, whose teachings were in line with the customs of his time.
In a metaphorical sense in the Christian tradition, a "Moses" has been referred to as the leader who delivers the people from a terrible situation. Among the Presidents of the United States known to have used the symbolism of Moses were Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who referred to his supporters as "the Moses generation."
Winston Churchill, in his essay called "Moses—the Leader of a People", published in 1931, used the story of Moses to convince the British population of its need for strong leadership, and that "human success depends on the favor of God." He saw Moses as more than a metaphor, however, rejecting as "myth" the assertions that Moses was only a legendary figure.
He described him as "the supreme law-giver, who received from God that remarkable code upon which the religious, moral, and social life of the nation was so securely founded… [and] one of the greatest human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernable in the human story." Churchill also noted the relevance of the story of Moses to modern Britain: "We may believe that they happened to a people not so very different from ourselves..."
In his essay, Churchill implied that the Ten Commandments were a primary set of laws, "Here [Mount Sinai] Moses received from [God] the tables of those fundamental laws which were henceforth to be followed, with occasional lapses, by the highest forms of human society."
In subsequent years, theologians linked the Ten Commandments with the formation of early democracy. Scottish theologian William Barclay described them as "the universal foundation of all things… the law without which nationhood is impossible. …Our society is founded upon it. Pope Francis addressed the United States Congress in 2015 stating that all people need to "keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation... [and] the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being.
References to Moses were used by the Puritans, who relied on the story of Moses to give meaning and hope to the lives of Pilgrims seeking religious and personal freedom in America. John Carver was the first governor of Plymouth colony and first signer of the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote in 1620 during the ship Mayflower's three-month voyage. He inspired the Pilgrims with a "sense of earthly grandeur and divine purpose," notes historian Jon Meacham, and was called the "Moses of the Pilgrims." Early American writer James Russell Lowell noted the similarity of the founding of America by the Pilgrims to that of ancient Israel by Moses:
Next to the fugitives whom Moses led out of Egypt, the little shipload of outcasts who landed at Plymouth are destined to influence the future of the world.
Following Carver's death the following year, William Bradford was made governor. He feared that the remaining Pilgrims would not survive the hardships of the new land, with half their people having already died within months of arriving. Bradford evoked the symbol of Moses to the weakened and desperate Pilgrims to help calm them and give them hope: "Violence will break all. Where is the meek and humble spirit of Moses?" William G. Dever explains the attitude of the Pilgrims: "We considered ourselves the 'New Israel,' particularly we in America. And for that reason we knew who we were, what we believed in and valued, and what our 'manifest destiny' was."
On July 4, 1776, immediately after the Declaration of Independence was officially passed, the Continental Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to design a seal that would clearly represent a symbol for the new United States. They chose the symbol of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom. The Founding Fathers of the United States inscribed the words of Moses on the Liberty Bell: "Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the Inhabitants thereof." (Levit. 25)
Upon the death of George Washington in 1799, two thirds of his eulogies referred to him as "America's Moses," with one orator saying that "Washington has been the same to us as Moses was to the Children of Israel."
Benjamin Franklin, in 1788, saw the difficulties that some of the newly independent American states were having in forming a government, and proposed that until a new code of laws could be agreed to, they should be governed by "the laws of Moses," as contained in the Old Testament. He justified his proposal by explaining that the laws had worked in biblical times: "The Supreme Being… having rescued them from bondage by many miracles, performed by his servant Moses, he personally delivered to that chosen servant, in the presence of the whole nation, a constitution and code of laws for their observance.
John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, stated why he relied on the laws of Moses over Greek philosophy for establishing the United States Constitution: "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. Swedish historian Hugo Valentin credited Moses as the "first to proclaim the rights of man."
Historian Gladys L. Knight describes how leaders who emerged during slavery time and after often personified the Moses symbol. "The symbol of Moses was empowering in that it served to amplify a need for freedom." Therefore, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 after freeing the slaves, Black Americans said they had lost "their Moses". Lincoln biographer Charles Carleton Coffin writes, "The millions whom Abraham Lincoln delivered from slavery will ever liken him to Moses, the deliverer of Israel." Similarly, Harriet Tubman, who rescued approximately seventy enslaved family and friends, was also described as the "Moses" of her people.
In the 1960s, a leading figure in the civil rights movement was Martin Luther King, Jr., who was called "a modern Moses," and often referred to Moses in his speeches: "The struggle of Moses, the struggle of his devoted followers as they sought to get out of Egypt. This is something of the story of every people struggling for freedom."
Thomas Mann's novella The Tables of the Law (1944) is a retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, with Moses as its main character.
Sigmund Freud, in his last book, Moses and monotheism in 1939, postulated that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Akhenaten. Following a theory proposed by a contemporary biblical critic, Freud 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.
Opponents of this view observe that the religion of the Torah seems different from Atenism in everything except the central feature of devotion to a single god, although this has been countered by a variety of arguments, e.g. pointing out the similarities between the Hymn to Aten and Psalm 104. Freud's interpretation of the historical Moses is not well accepted among historians, and is considered pseudohistory by many.
In the late eighteenth century, the deist Thomas Paine commented at length on Moses' Laws in The Age of Reason (1794, 1795, and 1807). Paine considered Moses to be a "detestable villain", and cited Numbers 31:13–18 as an example of his "unexampled atrocities". In the passage, the Jewish army had returned from conquering the Midianites, and Moses has gone down to meet it:
And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp; and Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle; and Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now, therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him; but all the women-children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
The prominent atheist Richard Dawkins also made reference to these verses in his 2006 book, The God Delusion, concluding that Moses was "not a great role model for modern moralists".
However, some Jewish sources defend Moses' role. The Chasam Sofer emphasizes that this war was not fought at Moses' behest, but was commanded by God as an act of revenge against the Midianite women, who, according to the Biblical account, had seduced the Israelites and led them to sin. Rabbi Joel Grossman argued that the story is a "powerful fable of lust and betrayal", and that Moses' execution of the women was a symbolic condemnation of those who seek to turn sex and desire to evil purposes. Alan Levin, an educational specialist with the Reform movement, has similarly suggested that the story should be taken as a cautionary tale, to "warn successive generations of Jews to watch their own idolatrous behavior".
Moses is depicted in several U.S. government buildings because of his legacy as a lawgiver. In the Library of Congress stands a large statue of Moses alongside a statue of the Paul the Apostle. 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 plaque's overview states: "Moses (c. 1350–1250 B.C.) Hebrew prophet and lawgiver; transformed a wandering people into a nation; received the Ten Commandments."
The other twenty-two figures have their profiles turned to Moses, which is the only forward-facing bas-relief.
Moses appears eight times in carvings that ring the Supreme Court Great Hall ceiling. His face is presented along with other ancient figures such as Solomon, the Greek god Zeus and the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. The Supreme Court Building's east pediment depicts Moses holding two tablets. Tablets representing the Ten Commandments can be found carved in the oak courtroom doors, on the support frame of the courtroom's bronze gates and in the library woodwork. A controversial image is one that sits directly above the Chief Justice of the United States' head. In the center of the 40-foot-long Spanish marble carving is a tablet displaying Roman numerals I through X, with some numbers partially hidden.
Michelangelo's statue of Moses in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, is one of the most familiar masterpieces in the world. The horns the sculptor included on Moses' head are the result of a mistranslation of the Hebrew Bible into the Latin Vulgate Bible with which Michelangelo was familiar. The Hebrew word taken from Exodus means either a "horn" or an "irradiation." Experts at the Archaeological Institute of America show that the term was used when Moses "returned to his people after seeing as much of the Glory of the Lord as human eye could stand," and his face "reflected radiance." In early Jewish art, moreover, Moses is often "shown with rays coming out of his head."
Another author explains, "When Saint Jerome translated the Old Testament into Latin, he thought no one but Christ should glow with rays of light — so he advanced the secondary translation. However, writer J. Stephen Lang points out that Jerome's version actually described Moses as "giving off hornlike rays," and he "rather clumsily translated it to mean 'having horns.'" It has also been noted that he had Moses seated on a throne, yet Moses was never given the title of a King nor ever sat on such thrones.
Moses was portrayed by Theodore Roberts in Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments. Moses appeared as the central character in the 1956 DeMille movie, also called The Ten Commandments, in which he was portrayed by Charlton Heston. A television remake was produced in 2006.
Burt Lancaster played Moses in the 1975 television miniseries Moses the Lawgiver.
In the 1981 comedy film History of the World, Part I, Moses was portrayed by Mel Brooks.
Sir Ben Kingsley was the narrator of the 2007 animated film, The Ten Commandments.
Moses appeared as the central character in the 1998 DreamWorks Pictures' animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. He was voiced by Val Kilmer.
Christian Bale portrayed Moses in Ridley Scott's 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings which portrayed Moses and Rameses II as being raised by Seti I as cousins.