Moses (c. 13th century BC) (Mosheh, drawn from water) was of the tribe of LeviLevites, the son of Amram and Jochebed; his brother was Aaron, and sister, Miriam. He was speared death from the Pharaoh’s decree that all Jewish male infants were to be killed when his parents hid him in the reeds near a river Nile. The daughter of the Pharaoh found and rescued him, (Exodus 2:10) «From the water I drew him,» meshitihu, hence his name Mosheh, or Moses.

He lived in the royal palace and was educated as an Egyptian. Probably he was, as a young man, initiated into some priesthood order (Acts 7:22), or cult, and took the name of Osarsiph, or Tisithen (Starbo, Ant. II, 9, 7) . Also, it is probable that he became knowledgeable of Greek, Chaldean, and Assyrian literature.

His choosing of his own race over the Egyptian may be traceable to some memories he had of his mother as an infant. Although he was raised Egyptian, as the adopted son of the Pharaoh, he was always sympathetic toward the Hebrew people of his own race. This compassion caused him to kill a task-master who he saw abusing a Hebrew. Knowing the Pharaoh would sentence him to death for the murder Moses fled to Midian.

When in Midian, one of his first acts was to defend the daughters of Reuel (Jethro), a priest of Midian against the shepherds who oppressing them. Moses became one of Jethro’s shepherds, and married his daughter Zipporah who bore him two sons, Gerrshom and Eliezer. It was during the isolated periods that he spent as a shepherd, in the valley of Shoaby (or Hobab), that Moses received the message from God to lead his people Israel from Egyptian bondage.

At the same time the divine name Jehovah (Hebrew, YEHEVEH, self-existence) was explained to him, accompanied by three miracles of the burning bush, the serpent rod, and the leprous hand as a confirmation of his mission. He was supported by his brother Aaron, sustained in a wondrous way by the miracles of the ten plagues, the last of which was the most terrible. In the time of the death of the first-born of all of Egypt’s children, Moses led his people, the Israelites, to the east side of the Red Sea where they were blessed with freedom, and later paid a great tribute by their former oppressors.

At the time Moses was eighty; during the next forty years he guided the Israelites through the wilderness. During this time he received the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai. Before his death at 120 he appointed Joshua as his successor. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

In the Jewish religion, Judaism, Moses retains a privileged position. He is said to have spoken to God «face to face» (Exodus 33:11) and is described as «God’s servant» (Numbers 12:7-8). Moses also is perceived as a prophet (Deuteronomy 33:1), founder of the religion, a law giver, a political leader, and is said to have been «the meekest man on earth» (Numbers 12:3).

Rabbinical writings teach that the whole exists only because of the merits of Moses and Aaron (B. Hul. 89a), and he is generally referred to as Mosheh Rabbenu (Moses, our master). He was given not only the written law, but the entire oval law in the encounter on Mount Sinai (TJ Pe’ah-2. 6). At the same time, the rabbis were concerned that there should be no personality cult, his faults, such as his quick temper, were recognized (B. Pes. 66b). Such praise of him continued into medieval Jewry as illustrated in aggadic stories. He is praised in Christianity as the receiver of the Ten Commandments and appears as one of the figures with Jesus in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). In the Quran he is Mesa, and prophesized the coming of Muhammad, 7. 140. His personality and role in the Jewish religion have inspired works from such diverse writers as Ahad Ha’Am, Martin Buber, and Sigmund Freud. A.G.H.


Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Philadelphia, A. J. Holman, Co., Revised Ed., pp. 208-209
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 656