The Prophet Moses, His Story
Part of the history of the Holy Land is the incredible story of Moses that tells us that Moses is one of the most important Biblical prophets venerated by all Abrahamic religions, such as Islam and Christianity. But he plays a far greater in Jewish mythology and is often popularly celebrated as the founder of Judaism.
It was Moses who saved the entire Hebrew race from Egyptian oppression and set a complete way of life based on revelations from God. The story of Moses is closely related to that of his brother, Aaron, who served as his second hand after his prophetic life began.
The Birth of Moses
Moses was born at a time of great crisis for his nation. Traditionally, he is thought to have belonged to a Semitic people living in Egypt, but modern scholars have speculated that his name is probably more Coptic than Semitic.
That is to say, it may be etymologically related to the well-known Coptic root m-s-y, widely used in names such as Ramesses. It is believed that the grandson of Abraham, Jacob, immigrated with his sons to Egypt, where one of his younger sons Joseph held a high administrative position, about four centuries before Moses was born.
Moses in the Basket
The story of Moses already started shortly before he was born, a Pharaoh of Egypt is said to have enacted strongly anti-Semitic policies during his long reign. Eventually, the measures meant to curb Semitic influence in Egypt even came to include explicit genocide, when the Pharaoh is said to have ordered to
“Kill the boys”
of the Israelis and
“Let their girls live”.
(Quran, 40:25, also see: Exodus, 1:22)
In these circumstances, Moses was hidden from the authorities by his mother, known as Jochebed in the Jewish tradition, for three months after his birth. However, when it became clear that the young kid will eventually be found by the authorities and executed, Jochebed prepared a small basket, put her child in it and threw it in the Nile, asking one of her daughters to follow the basket and ensure it is safely picked up by someone.
Fate had it that the basket was actually discovered by a member of the Pharaoh’s family, who took pity on the child and adopted it despite knowing his Hebrew origins.
The child miraculously refused to feed on the milk of any non-Semitic nurse, upon which Jochebed herself was hired for the job, a great Divine intervention. (Exodus, 2:2-10, Quran, 20:37-40)
Moses Flees Egypt – Exile to Arabia
In this way, Moses was brought up by the royal family and grew up to be an exceptionally strong young man. This strength, however, soon resulted in a terrible misfortune. One day, Moses got himself involved in a fight between a Copt and an Israelite, during which he punched the Copt, accidentally resulting in his death. (Quran, 28:15, Exodus, 2:11-12)
Moses tried his best to hide the tragedy, but the incident was apparently witnessed and reported by someone. Already mistrusted by the Pharaoh due to his heritage, Moses felt his life in severe danger and immediately left Egypt. After wandering for a while, he eventually settled in the semi-arid south-western coastal region of the Syrian Desert known as Midian.
Life in Midian
In Midian, Moses soon met an elderly man with seven daughters named Jethro. Impressed by his strength and sense of righteousness, Jethro of Midian hired Moses to attend to his livestock and eventually gave one of his daughters in marriage to him. During this time, Moses experienced his first Divine revelation in a famous event recounted in detail in both the Bible and the Quran. (Exodus, 3-4, Quran, 27:7-12 & 28:29-35)
Moses and the Burning Bush
The story of Moses goes that one day, he was herding his stock near Mount Sinai when he suddenly noticed a bush burning in the distance. However, he noticed that the Bush was not actually being consumed by the fire. Curious, Moses approached the bush, only to be met with an unrecognisable voice.
It was the voice of the Lord, who spoke directly to Moses, an unprecedented feat of honour for a Prophet. Moses was asked to take off his shoes to show respect, which he did. The matter was urgent indeed. God essentially designated Moses as the saviour of his people. He was ordered to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, a task which he found quite arduous to complete alone.
Eventually, he was given two forms of aid to achieve his goal; one was the ability to miraculously convert his sceptre into a snake and back into the wood at his will, which could be used as evidence to prove the veracity of his claim to prophesy.
Other religious traditions ascribe several other miracles to Moses as well. Secondly, Moses’ elder brother, Aaron, also received his own revelation and was to serve as his assistant, not only in the difficult task to convince the Pharaoh, but also the Israelite’s themselves to leave Egypt and resettle in their ancestral lands in Palestine instead.
Struggle for Independence
After receiving the revelation, Moses was soon joined by Aaron, as promised, and left for Egypt along with his immediate family. He would never return to Midian again, although he would be joined by Jethro after the Exodus.
At reaching Egypt, Moses managed to persuade the Israelites to believe in his revelation, but not the Pharaoh. Nevertheless, he was allowed to stay with his people without punishment for the previous killing of a Copt.
The Ten Plagues
In his frequent visits to the court, Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh that if he does not allow the Israelite s to seek their freedom in foreign lands, he will be met with Divine retribution. Moses even showed the snake miracle to the Egyptian king and beat his official sorcerers (who eventually converted, impressed by this demonstration), but to no avail. (See: Exodus, 7:10-3, Quran, 7:106-26 & 26:30-51)
Although Pharaoh did ignore the warning initially, he could not put up with this attitude for long. Soon, his arrogance ended up causing an era of great calamities for his people, known as the Ten Plagues. These Plagues included both natural and supernatural disasters such as an unprecedented rise in locust populations and a brief conversion of the Nile into blood.
In the middle of this struggle for independence, eventually God’s help came in the month of Nisan. On the evening of 15th, all the Hebrews were ordered to have a feast, in which one lamb was to be slaughtered and eaten by each family, and if any was left, it was to be immediately donated to the neighbours until nothing was left before the next morning.
This was the Passover Feast, an event celebrated by the worldwide Jewish community to this day, as a form of thanksgiving for the emancipation of the enslaved Semites in Egypt. (See: Exodus: 12-13)
God Saves the Day
Miraculously, that same night, the Pharaoh finally allowed Moses’ people to migrate out of Egypt, having been afflicted by the Ten Plagues ever since Moses had demanded the permission to do so. However, when the Plagues suddenly subsided along with the departure of the Israelites, Pharaoh changed his mind and decided to re-enslave them.
He caught up with the fleeing Twelve Tribes at the shores of the Red Sea. It is believed that the sea allowed the Israelite’s a way to pass, but started flowing again with full force when the Pharaoh’s army tried to cross it, drowning him and all of his soldiers. (Exodus: 14, Quran: 20:77-8 & 26:52-66)
Modern historians and archaeologists have yet to find evidence of such an event, which is traditionally dated to around mid-fifteenth century B.C. The expulsion of the Semitic-speaking Hyksos from Egypt about a hundred years earlier, which is very well-documented, is thought to be the primary inspiration for the Biblical account.
At Sinai Crossing the Red Sea
At crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites found themselves in the barren land of the Sinai Peninsula. By the grace of God, they started receiving two kinds of food from heaven, known as Manna and Salwa (the second one translated as “Quails”, see: Exodus: 16, Quran: 2:57, 7:160 & 20:80), which were so abundant that the whole community subsisted on them for quite some time (“Forty years” in the Biblical account).
During this time, the Israelite’s were also once attacked by a local people called Amalekites, who were defeated in the subsequent battle. (Exodus: 17:8-16) Meanwhile, Moses father-in-law, living in the nearby Midian, also heard of the migration and came to reunite with him.
In every story of Moses one of the most memorable events during the Hebrews’ stay in the area was Moses’ visit to Mount Sinai.
Moses left for Mount Sinai almost three months after the Exodus, in compliance with Divine orders, and stayed there for forty days.
When Moses returned, he brought the famous Ten Commandments with him, written on a tablet; they would go on to become the central document of Judaism.
However, Moses was disappointed to find out that some of his men had engaged in idolatry during his absence and ordered them executed. (Exodus: 32, Quran: 2:51-4)
Demise and Legacy
Moses passed away just as the forty years of the stay in the desert ended and the Israelites were about to start their conquest of the Levant. Traditionally, his death is placed at Mount Nebo near the eastern bank of River Jordan.
Moses is recognized as a central figure in the mythology of all Abrahamic religions, accounting for over half of the world population today. Due to his rescue of the Hebrews from Egypt and his establishment of a central religious dogma based on the Ten Commandments, Moses is considered to be the founder of modern Judaism and is referred to as “Our Teacher” by the Orthodox Jews to this day.
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