Who Was Moses? Was He More than an Exodus Hero?

Discovering the Biblical Moses

Read Peter Machinist’s article “The Man Moses” as it originally appeared in Bible Review, April 2000. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in February 2012.—Ed.

Who Was Moses? Was He More than an Exodus Hero?

In this 1928 pastel by Lesser Ury, heavenly light illuminates the promised land that Moses, the Exodus hero, has sought almost all his life but will never enter. Biblical Moses dies a strange and solitary death, part of the story of a strangely solitary man. Who was Moses, an Exodus hero? Possibly a representative of the Israelites—a people themselves apart. His character also encourages biblical readers to concentrate more on the law he gave than on the life he lived. Photo: Hans-Joachim Bartsch/Collection Jüdisches Museum Berlin.

Moses’ story is told in the Book of Exodus, but it starts in Genesis with the story of Abraham and his family with whom God makes a covenant. Generations later the Biblical Moses draws the extended family together in the form of a nation with a structure and code of law, given to him on Mount Sinai. Below, Peter Machinist explores the story of Moses, the Exodus hero, in “The Man Moses.”

Some might say that God himself was the Exodus hero, but in human terms the Biblical Moses takes center stage throughout the whole Pentateuch. Who was Moses? A rather solitary leader, one with his people but set apart, even in his childhood, when he was raised by the pharaoh’s daughter as if he were an Egyptian prince. Set apart also in that he married an alien wife—Midianite or possibly Ethiopian. Even his physical characteristics—a speech defect—set him apart from others and is accommodated by God who arranges a leadership duo with Moses and his priestly brother Aaron. His role was unique—even to receiving the Law and seeing God, as evidenced by Moses’ blinding countenance.

Was He More than an Exodus Hero?

The Exodus hero Moses. The Biblical Moses, portrayed here as a shepherd in a print by contemporary Israeli artist Mordechai Beck, protectively clasps a sheep in his arms. Photo: Mordechai Beck.


The Biblical Moses also has an unusual death. God says he must die alone on a mountaintop outside the promised land. Who was Moses? We might say he was a man who was a son of Abraham who led the people but was not typical of them. In “The Man Moses” below, Peter Machinist proposes that our Exodus hero is a type of anti-hero, outside the stereotype of a tribal or national leader. He might represent the people of Israel themselves, biblically portrayed as being outsiders. Further, Moses’ otherness might also serve to turn the spotlight not on himself but on the message he delivers to the people: the Law. Who was Moses—the Biblical Moses? The man chosen to meet God on Sinai and receive the Law on behalf of God’s chosen people.

Below, Peter Machinist explores the character of the Exodus hero, the Biblical Moses, in “The Man Moses.”



The Man Moses

by Peter Machinist

The introduction of Moses in the first chapters of Exodus marks a new, a second beginning in the Bible’s account of the history of Israel. The first beginning had been in the Book of Genesis with Abraham and the patriarchs that followed him. There the focus was on Israel as a family bound in relationship or covenant to its God. Moses’ beginning marks the extension of the group from family to nation, though a nation still with a strong sense of kinship. Here the emphasis is on the development of a common administration, as well as on the re-presentation of the covenant as a code of law that gives the nation its structure, without which it cannot survive.

The Moses who shepherds in this second beginning dominates the biblical narrative through the remainder of the Book of Exodus, indeed through the rest of the Pentateuch; his only rival, and ultimate superior, in narrative attention, as, of course, in other spheres, is God Himself. But this Moses comes to us as a strange and difficult person. Running throughout the narrative of Exodus, and of the Pentateuch as a whole, is the depiction of a unique individual: one with little or no precedent, solitary, not easily approachable, set apart from the very community he is born to lead.

This quality apart emerges in a variety of ways. For one thing, Moses’ origins may be in the community of Israel, yet they are not of it. The text of Exodus 2 (verses 1 and following) is at pains to assign him a genealogy within the family of Israel—at pains, perhaps, because it then has to recognize that he was adopted into the court of the Pharaoh, given his name by the Pharaoh’s daughter, and raised as Egyptian royalty. It is well known what Sigmund Freud did with this portrait,1 arguing that the Israelite genealogy was, in fact, a later, pious construction that tried to mask Moses’ true roots as an Egyptian who only subsequently took on the cause of the Israelite slaves as his own. Whether Freud’s thesis—and, as he made clear, he was not the originator of it—is correct or not, it does underscore the ambiguity of Moses’ connection with Israel in the biblical portrayal.

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That ambiguity is fortified by other features of Moses’ family life. His wife, Zipporah, is not from Israel, but from the Midianites of the region of Sinai (e.g., Exodus 2:15–22), and her foreignness is later criticized by none other than Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, in the context of a challenge to Moses’ own legitimacy and leadership (Numbers 12). (Incidentally, the label that Aaron and Miriam pin on Moses’ wife, “Cushite,” has the effect of making her even stranger to an Israelite settled in Palestine, since it normally refers to the Ethiopians, a people much farther away from Palestine than the Midianites.) There is also the son Moses has with Zipporah: he is named Gershom, according to the biblical text, precisely because this is to memorialize Moses as outsider (Exodus 2:22).a Gershom has as well a curious genealogical niche. For while he has descendants, they are not arranged in a line of divine promise and authority such as is found with Abraham and his family (e.g., Genesis 26:2–5). Indeed, in Judges 18:30–31 (following here the textual tradition that reads the ancestor’s name as Moses, not Manasseh), we learn that Gershom’s descendants were priests to an idolatrous cult in the Israelite tribe of Dan.

As for the character of Moses’ leadership, here too there is difference. He is assigned, for example, a traditional title in Israel, that of prophet—a title first given to Abraham (Genesis 20)—but he is unlike Abraham and the others, for as Deuteronomy comments: “There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10; cf. Numbers 12:6–8). To be sure, in another biblical encounter, Moses is not allowed to see God’s face, but only His back (Exodus 33:20–23); still that encounter leaves Moses a preternatural, even divine sheen, which once more sets him apart: “When Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, his face was all aglow with radiance (qaµran), and they were afraid to come near to him” (Exodus 34:30)—just as, one may add, they had been afraid to go near to God and His quaking mountain of Sinai (Exodus 19).

Even apparent defects or negatives in the character of Moses become occasions on the part of the biblical authors to find superlatives of uniqueness. Thus, in the confrontation with Aaron and Miriam, the sinful effrontery of their challenge to Moses emerges all the more clearly in the description of Moses at the opposite extreme: “The man Moses was very meek, more than all humanity that was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). And when God commands Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt, and Moses protests his competence to challenge the Pharaoh because of a speech defect—a “heaviness of mouth and heaviness of tongue” as the text says (Exodus 4:10)—this defect is turned, by God, into the basis of a new arrangement, wherein Aaron shall do the speaking, and Moses will direct him as though he were God Himself (Exodus 4:16).

Finally, there is the matter of Moses’ death, at the end of the Pentateuch in Deuteronomy 34. It flatly contradicts the pattern of expectation that the biblical narrative had accustomed us to, namely, that promises would be fulfilled and lives would reach closure. For Moses is not allowed to die in, let alone enter, the land promised to Israel already in patriarchal days—the land that he had been divinely commanded to return Israel to, without any indication, initially, that he would be barred from it (so Exodus 3, 6:2–9). Indeed, at the end Moses cannot even be buried in the promised land, as key patriarchal figures had been, including Jacob and Joseph, who had died outside of Israel (Genesis 49:29–50:14, 24–26; Joshua 24:32–33). Rather, Moses dies and is buried outside of the land, across the Jordan River in Moab, a region otherwise often at odds with Israel; and he is buried in a spot unknown, placed there not even by human hands, but by God alone. Now the Bible, it has to be noted, tries to explain this end; yet it succeeds in doing so only by a series of incomplete and obscure reasons (Numbers 20, esp. 6–13; 27:12–14; Deuteronomy 3:26; 4:21; 32:50–52)—a situation that later Jewish commentaries, in turn, made desperate efforts to fill out and discuss, if not to clarify.2 All of this, thus, only serves to underscore what an extraordinary fate Moses is given in the biblical text, and how well it echoes and rounds out the equally strange picture of his origins in, but not of, Israel.

For the Bible, in sum, Moses is indeed a man apart—apart not only from the people he guides and the land to which he directs them, but apart also, in many fundamental ways, from the kinds of leaders the previous generations of patriarchal figures had been. He remains the permanent outsider, a unique and towering figure.

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The question that remains is why should this be so, and what does it mean. Three possibilities, at least, come to mind. First, one might say that, considered from a broader historical perspective, Moses’ characterization is not completely surprising. The stories circulating in many societies often picture their founders as different from the rest, even as distant—in short, as heroes. Yet if Moses in some sense belongs to this common type, in other ways he is an unusual, perhaps rare mutation of it, since, in his excessive modesty, distance, inexplicable fate, and strangeness, he is a kind of anti-hero: someone who does not easily serve in the native tradition as a role model, someone who cannot really be emulated.

Moses’ strangeness in the Bible may also be understood as a mirror of Israel as a whole, for Israel, too, is portrayed as the quintessential outsider, without easy parallel or precedent, to the other nations around it and to the religions and cultures they represent. Indeed, Israel is an outsider to the very land which its God promises it and which it then has to make its own in a continual struggle. Or, as the prophet Balaam exclaims, “Behold a people dwelling alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).

Thirdly, and lastly, by focusing on Moses as outsider, and especially as remote, inimitable outsider, the Bible ends up by shifting the emphasis away from who Moses is to what he communicates, namely, to the Law and to God as its source. We face, then, the paradox that the towering character of Moses may be stressed in the Bible, at least in part, precisely to efface him, so that his message may emerge more clearly and sharply. In other words, there is no cult of personality here—that is, no cult of human personality—and this comports with a more general strain of ambivalence in the biblical corpus toward human leaders and the limits of human authority (e.g., Judges 8:22–24; 1 Samuel 8–10; Hosea 8:4, 13:9–11). If the ultimate emphasis, therefore, is on Moses’ message, on the laws he mediates from a totally nonhuman source, we must observe, as a final point, that this is a message which, against the person Moses, is not remote or inimitable. For the laws it offers are laws designed for the human community: laws that, however difficult, all can carry out (e.g., Deuteronomy 29:10–14; 30:11–14), and must carry out if they are to complete the process by which “God created humanity in His image” (Genesis 1:27).

Who, then, is Moses, as the biblical authors see him? Despite the complexities of their portrayal, he is at the core the appointed one who brings Israel to “serve God on this mountain [Sinai]” (Exodus 3:12), and so to receive the Law for their lives.

This essay is a revised version of one originally published in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin 27:2/3 (1998); copyright the president and fellows of Harvard College.


“The Man Moses” by Peter Machinist originally appeared in Bible Review, April 2000.



1 Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (1939; New York: Vintage Books, 1955; German original: Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion [1939]).

2 See James L. Kugel, The Traditions of the Bible (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1998), pp. 856–859, 885–887; S.E. Loewenstamm, “The Death of Moses,” in G.W.E. Nickelsburg, Jr., ed., Studies on the Testament of Abraham (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1976), pp. 185–217.


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  1. Paul says

    Loved the essay and it makes an interesting point, only there was no Midian in the Sinai…


  2. D says

    Excellent article on the strangeness and uniqueness of Moses.

    Midian is in NW Arabia, not Sinai. Arabia is the probable location of Mount Sinai, not the peninsula, which was named much later.

  3. Dan says

    Why is Moses not mentioned in Egyptian history? Well, it’s quite possible that Moses is indirectly indicated in the historical records of the eighteenth dynasty, and that he has been overlooked because historians and Bible scholars have not been using a correct Bible chronology for that period.

    Using a corrected Bible-based chronology, Moses was born in the second year of Thutmose I, the first Egyptian king to have the nomen (birth name) Thutmose (meaning “born of Thoth”). Some have associated the name Moses with the last two hieroglyphs in the pharaoh’s name, ms, which mean “bear” as in “bear a child.” Shown below is an expansion of Timeline B of Appendix Two from my book Sacred Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, which reveals some interesting chronological correlations.

    High Chronology (all dates BCE)*
    ca. 1536–b. Thutmose II (born at about the same time as Hatshepsut, see below).
    ca. 1535–b. Hatshepsut, daughter of the future Thutmose I (her birth can be estimated from her estimated age of about 52 years old at her death in 1482 BCE).
    1524–Thutmose I became pharaoh, decreed death for all Hebrew male infants.
    1523–b. Moses, Exodus 2; found by pharaoh’s daughter Hatshepsut (about 12 years old).
    1518–d. Thutmose I.
    1518–Thutmose II became pharaoh, with his sister Hatshepsut as his wife-consort.
    1516–Hatshepsut recognized as pharaoh in the second year of Thutmose II’s reign, according to an inscription in the Chapelle Rouge, block 287, that describes a festival of Amen during which Hatshepsut is made a pharaoh unified with the Ka in the presence of an unnamed king (possibly her father Thutmose I or her husband Thutmose II).
    ca. 1506–b.Thutmose III, son of Thutmose II and a secondary wife, Iset.
    1504–d.Thutmose II.
    1504–Thutmose III became king as an infant (less than 2 years old).
    1504–Hatshepsut continued as pharaoh, coreigning with her step-son, Thutmose II, who, at less than 2 years old, was too young to rule as king.
    1498–Hatshepsut assumes male pharaonic identity, ruling as primary king.
    1486–Hatshepsut celebrated her “sed year” (her 30th year as a pharaoh).
    1483–Hatshepsut’s great steward Senenmut disappeared from history (inscriptions place his disappearance in Hatshepsut’s sixteenth year as king).
    1483–Moses (40 years old) fled to Midian, Exodus 2.
    1482–Thutmose III became sole ruler when Hatshepsut died.

    Hypothesis: Thutmose I became pharaoh in the year 1,524 BCE. The new king decreed that all male Hebrew infants be killed. The following year, in 1,523 BCE, his twelve-year-old daughter Hatshepsut rescued the infant Moses from the Nile River with the intention of raising him as a member of her household. When Thutmose I died in 1,518 BCE, his son Thutmose II became pharaoh and his half-sister Hatshepsut became his wife and queen. In the second year of his reign, according to inscriptions on block 287 from the Chapelle Rouge, Thutmose II presided over a festival of Amen during which Hatshepsut was recognized as a pharaoh, circa 1516 BCE. During their coreign, Hatshepsut produced no male heir with Thutmose II, but he did sire a son, Thutmose III, with a secondary wife. When Thutmose II died in 1,504 BCE, Hatshepsut continued ruling as pharaoh, at first sharing her reign with her step-son Thutmose III, who, being less than two years old, was too young to rule. Seven years later, in 1,498 BCE, Hatshepsut assumed a masculine public identity and began to reign as king of Egypt for the next seventeen years, with Thutmose III serving in a subordinate role as commander of the army. Sometime after her recognition as pharaoh, Hatshepsut elevated Senenmut to be her chief steward (top official), and he became extremely powerful in the kingdom. However, Senenmut disappeared from history in 1,483 BCE (the reason is unknown), about a year before Hatshepsut’s death, and his disappearance occurred at precisely the same time that the biblical Moses fled to Midian after murdering an Egyptian. Did Moses kill Senenmut and then have to flee from Hatshepsut’s wrath before returning to Egypt forty years later as the prophet Moses? The chronological correlations and historical details do allow such a question.

  4. Daniel says

    I believe I’ve come up with a very good candidate for Moses. Anyone who is interested can please check out my book at http://www.amazon.com/REAL-MOSES-THEORY-ATLANTIS-ebook/dp/B005992PL4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1365538249&sr=1-1&keywords=the+real+moses+and+his+god. This is a .99 Kindle ebook, although the same title is also available in paperback through Amazon. Thanks for reading my post.

  5. Joseph says

    Moses remains the most revered human in history, by period of time, impact and census:
    14 M Jews, 1.5 B Muslims, 2.2 B Christians revere and wholly depend on the laws and premises introduced via Moses. The world’s judiciary and other institutions turn by the laws from Moses exclusively, to the extent those who do not abide these laws are regarded outside the law.
    Science also emerged from Moses, with the first declaration the universe is finite [with a BEGINNING] and the first listing of life form groups [species]. The first separation of Medicine from occultism [ID of incurable plagues] also comes via Moses. Monotheism & Creationism, Liberty, Inalienable Human Rights, all Animal Rights laws, the oldest recorded speech endowed human’s name and the oldest calendar [5773 years] also come from this source.

  6. Joseph says

    Moses gave us the first alphabetical book, namely a multi-page continuing narrative made with abstract letters.

  7. Paul says

    In reference to Dan’s comment I get the sense that he’s correct by explaining the historical character of Moses in the context of Egyptian royalty, since we find the names of the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom ending with “Moses” (Ahmose, Thothmose, Ramesses).
    However, I’m hesitant to go as far as to explain the story of Moses being found on the river literally, because we have an account of the founder of the Akkadian Empire, Sargon the Great, being found in similar circumstances:
    “My changeling mother concieved me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me in the river which rose not over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water … Akki, the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener” (ANET, p.119).
    In Exodus 2:2,3, it was an ark of papyrus coated with bitumen and pitch that was placed among the reeds. Symbolically, since papyrus and reeds were utilized for writing materials, Dan’s interpretation is an effort in the right direction; ancient records. Whether it holds water is beyond my ability to determine, but I can at least pinpoint one source that was written during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut on a temple inscription:
    “I have restored that which was ruins, I have raised up that which was unfinished since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the Northland, and the Barbarians were in the midst of them, overthrowing which was made, while they ruled in ignorance of Re” (Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 2, by James Breasted, p,126,127).
    In Job 8:8-13, it states, “Ask the generations past” as we have just done with Hatshepsut’s description of the Hyksos, or rulers of foreign lands who settled in the delta region where the Israelites were thought to have settled. Apparently the actions of some of the settlers (barbarians) had repercussions by the Egyptians towards all foreignors. “Can papyrus grow without marsh? Can rushes grow without water?” Apparently The Egyptian god Seth (Satan, Job 1:6) would fall into unpopularity, having the same attributes as the foreign gods of the Asiatics, such as the storm gods Baal, Teshub and Haddad. Which is why Hatshepsut’s statement that they were ignorant of the sun god Re is similar the writer of Job describing the withering fate of “those who forget God.”

  8. Jacob says

    Most scholars place Sinai in Midian because of the itinerary stopover stations and the terrible biblical geography that really makes no sense at all. If you understand though that these itinerary routes and the Sinai theophany are independent traditions, then there is no need to rely on them and they become a moot point. Midian was not in Sinai; perhaps some Midianites wandered there, but Midian-proper was located in NW Saudi Arabia with its epicenter near al Qurayyah, where a pottery making facility, fortified citadel, and extensive irrigation works have been discovered. At Qurayyah and Tema, Midianite (or “Qurayyah”) pottery has been discovered, and none has ever been discovered on the Sinai Peninsula, suggesting that the Midianites really didn’t wander much (if at all) in Sinai. Moses had connections with Midian, and this is where he takes the people after the exodus––back to Midian, to the holy mountain where he was originally leading his Midianite father-in-law’s sheep to graze in Exodus 3.

  9. Jacob says

    Correction… “Most scholars place Midian in Sinai” … not the other way around…

  10. Paul says

    Moses had the stature of an Egyptian like in the Tale of Sinuhu, who also flees into the desert and is recieved by a tribal chief, but who differs from Moses in that he is given land that is described in stylistic fashion like the biblical “land of milk and honey” that Moses would never enter.
    “The Prince of Tonu or of Lotanu gives the Egyptian hero a district, Aaa, or rather Aia, the name of which designates a species of plant, the Arundo-Isiaca, according to Loret ” (Popular Stories of Ancient Egypt, by Sir Gaston Maspero, p.60).
    “But when he came to the fire, a voice was heard from the right bank of the valley, from a tree in hallowed ground: ‘O Moses! Verily I am God, the Lord of the Worlds’ ” (Koran 28:30).
    “In both the Quran and the Bible God is manifesting himself to Moses in the fire. Both the Quran and the Bible seem to imply that the site of the burning bush was already sacred (footnote: In support of this, we may cite the epithet of God ‘(He) that dwelt in the bush’ found in the 10th century BCE ‘Blessing of Moses’, Deut, 3316).
    Indeed, we probably have here another example of a shrine associated with a tree (footnote: (Cf. the Oak of Shechem, Gen. 35:4; the Palm of Deborah, Jgs 4:5; the Oak of Mamre, Gen.13:19),” (The Bible, An Islamic Perspective; Moses, by Jay R. Crook, pp. 78,79).

  11. Matt says

    @Paul The Tale of Sinuhu has nothing to do with Moses. All it says is that Sinuhu flees to Caanan, Becomes a son in law to a chief, and then gets invited back to Egypt to, then be buried in a Beautiful Tomb.

    There is no link to show that the Biblical account of Judaism in Israel was forged or copied from other religions. Only in the Judeo-Christian worldview do you see a complete revelation of God, not man made but God choosing Israel.

    Third The Quran copied the bible, because it was written way after the OT, and it changes the stories of the OT with false information. Jesus fulfilled the OT because he is the Son Of God promised to save the world.

  12. Mary says

    I just want to send a resounding “Amen” to the poster “Joseph” (May 16, 2013, 4:25 & 4:28am)! And I’d love to know if you have any blogs, books, manuscripts or other writings that I could learn from!!! Good, sound teaching and understanding resonates with me, and I’d love to know more of your understanding of the Bible.

    If you are so inclined to share more, my email address is: thelioness51@yahoo.com.


  13. aris says

    Moses was a murder fugitive, not a stutterer. He needed a lawyer (eloquent) his brother.
    He also was married to a Cushite, Tharbis, whose dark skin irked Miriam, who therefore was struck with extreeme whiteness as punishemnt.
    Moses was also extremely noteable to the Egyptians, and was detailed in the Twelfth Dynasty literature. Please see my site arismhobeth.com for the discovery.

  14. Rose says

    Moses is a fictional character loosely based on all Pharaohs of the XVIII Dynasty. It was Ahmosis who drove the Hyksos out of Egypt beginning the XVIII Dynasty. Ah = Moon Mosis = Born, and it was Moses who instituted the Hebrew Lunar Calendar with its New Moons and Passovers.

    It was the first born in the royal family (the father and brother of Ahmosis) who were first born killed that literally started the Exodus. Ahmosis is the one who hired the merceneries such as the Shasu of Yehweh (Jehoshua) to flatten Jericho and all other Hyscos held cities.

    It was the XVIII Dynasty that began to control the flooding of the Nile Delta connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and blocking the passage from Bubastis through Pelesium and on into the Siani.

    It was the XVIII Dynasty that produced magnificent breastplates of gold with lattice and purple. Twelve rows of stones of three different types in a pattern of four rows repeating three times. A breastplate that still today 4000 years later is still the Icon of the World.


    Petra was a rock from which water sprung beginning in the XVIII Dynasty. And Aaron much like Akhenaton broke away from the congregation to worship the Solar Calf.

  15. Paul says

    Thank you Rose. It was the diversion of the river away from the Hyksos city of Avaris that is cryptically refered to in Job 8:11, “Can papyrus thrive without marsh?” The historian Josephus, in quoting the historian Manetho, mentions the city of Avaris as being founded on the nome of Saite (Seth) and which “lay upon the Bubastic channel” (Against Apion 1:78). Manetho mentions Avaris as being the last stronghold of the Hyksos who “built a wall round all this place, which was a large and strong wall” (1:87).

  16. Paul says

    The Israelites are mentioned as being the source of forced labor in the city of Raamses (Exodus 1:12) which was the site of the Hyksos capitol Avaris, and was a strategic port that probably became vital in the campaigns of Ramses II against the rival influence of the Hittite Empire. “In Praise of the City of Ramses” (ANET pp.170,171), is a poem describing the city; “The reed-thicket (Sea of Reeds, also in Exodus 13:18) comes to it with papyrus; the Shi-Hor (Waters of Horus, also in Isaiah 23:3) with rushes … The young men of ‘Great of Victories’ are dressed up every day, with sweet oil upon their heads and newly dressed hair, They stand beside their doors, their hands bowed down with flowers, with greenery of the House of Hat-Hor…”
    The goddess Hathor posessed the attributes of many goddesses in ancient Egypt and “she is sometimes represented in the form of a cow standing in a boat surrounded by papyrus plants which are growing up to a considerable height above her body” (The Gods of the Egyptians, vol.1, by E.A. Wallis Budge, p.130).

  17. Gary says

    WOW, what an extensive parade of egoists and book marketers in many of the comments above.

    If you folks are so much smarter than the author, why didn’t BAS ask one of you to write this article?

  18. Rose says

    >> If you folks are so much smarter than the author, why didn’t BAS ask one of you to write this article?

    Rose> It’s simply correlating recorded history with Biblical history, the framework then builds itself.
    The questions we should be asking are;
    where exactly was the border of ‘Egypt’ in 1500 BCE?
    Were the people of the Nile Delta always ‘Egyptians’?
    Why were there 12 rows of stones on the Pharaohs breastplate? Because it represented the twelve tribes of Egypt according to Herodotus.

    Herodotus Book II, 147…..Being set free after the reign of the priest of Hephaistos, the Egyptians, since they could not live any time without a king, set up over them twelve kings, having divided all Egypt into twelve parts. ……..

    Rose> It was the people of the Nile Delta who thought swine an abomination, and who had a yearly sacrifice to the Full Moon (just like the Passover). The ritual itself is very close to the ritual in Numbers.

    Herodotus, book II, 47. The pig is accounted by the Egyptians an abominable animal; and first, if any of them in passing by touch a pig, he goes into the river and dips himself forthwith in the water together with his garments; and then too swineherds, though they be native Egyptians, unlike all others do not enter any of the temples in Egypt, nor is anyone willing to give his daughter in marriage to one of them or to take a wife from among them; but the swineherds both give in marriage to one another and take from one another. Now to the other gods the Egyptians do not think it right to sacrifice swine; but to the Moon and to Dionysos alone at the same time and on the same full-moon they sacrifice swine, and then eat their flesh: and as to the reason why, when they abominate swine at all their other feasts, they sacrifice them at this, there is a story told by the Egyptians; and this story I know, but it is not a seemly one for me to tell. Now the sacrifice of the swine to the Moon is performed as follows:–when the priest has slain the victim, he puts together the end of the tail and the spleen and the caul, and covers them up with the whole of the fat of the animal which is about the paunch, and then he offers them with fire; and the rest of the flesh they eat on that day of full moon upon which they have held the sacrifice, but on any day after this they will not taste of it: the poor however among them by reason of the scantiness of their means shape pigs of dough and having baked them they offer these as a sacrifice.

  19. Eburk says

    Rose, you keep referring to the breast-piece of Aaron as being one in the same as the breast-piece of the Egyptians. I have looked at pictures and recreations of the breast-piece of the Egyptians to which you are referring and , besides the number of stones being twelve , can find no comparisons to the breast-piece described as belonging to Aaron Exodus 28:15-28 describes the exact way Aaron’s piece was to be made, namely “square when doubled, a span long and a span wide” (or 22.2cm/8.75in) can you give the exact dimensions of the Egyptian piece you are referring to, I would love to compare the two pieces.

  20. Rose says

    The Breastplate of Aaron was contemporary with the Breastplates of the XVIII Dynasty. Tut’s is just one example of what was produced in that time and only about 200 miles or so south west of Canaan. If we go by the Greek, Latin and English translations of the Hebrew text, then we get the translators image of the Breastplate. However if we read the actual Hebrew text (link below) we see a different picture. If we were to go farther and remove the vowel points as is in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we see even more.

    For example ‘chains’ were invented about 225 BCE, the Hebrew word translated as ‘chains’ is actually ‘lattice’.


    Also if we look at other breastplates such as the “Vulture shaped gold breastplate” from Tanis, we see that they do have the same breadth and width even if round. But consider Moses and Aaron, men from …. Egypt. Do you really think they would hold up the breastplate designed by the Bible translators as something comparable to the breastplate of Tut?



    Tut’s may not be the exact breastplate written about in Exodus, however it does have gold, scarlet, blue and purple with lattice work. It does have 12 rows of stones that represent the 12 kingdoms and the stones are arranged in a pattern of 4×3. And the breastplate part is symmetrical.

    Then look at the Hebrew words behind the names of the so-called twelve stones in Exodus 28. They aren’t names of stones, they are regular Hebrew words and names of leaders like Adam and Barak, just translated as stones.

    OK maybe the god of Israel was just a bad artist.

  21. Eburk says

    Rose> Thank you for replying to my question. I looked at the original text and see a flaw in your argument that the stones were not in fact stones but names of leaders, I.E. Adam. The original Hebrew word which you refer to as Adam (adm) is actually the Hebrew word for Odem this word can translate into Ruby and signifies the color red. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odem) That is why the direct English translation in the interlinear text uses the word Carnelian for the Hebrew Adm or Odem. Carnelian is often times used to describe the similar semi-precious stone Sard, or Sardius as the two are similar in appearance. This was most likely the translators intent in this situation. This is relevant because according to Wikipedia “The Hebrew Odem (Translated Sardius) was a red stone, probably Sard but perhaps red Jasper.” Obviously the translator was more familiar with Carnelian.
    Could it be then that the similarities between the Pharaoh breastplate(s) and the Aaronic breastplate are simply a matter of the two being made with similar materials that were available to the population at the time and in that region. Considering the fact that Exodus 12:35,36 tells us that the Isrealites upon departing Egypt received “articles of silver, articles of gold, as well as clothing” from the Egyptians and actually went so far in receiving gifts as actually “Plundering” the Egyptians, it would be easy for one to see where the materials for the Aaronic breastplate came from, Egyptians. And therefore why they would be similar. But one cannot discredit the fact of the specific details given as to how the breastplate was to be made and worn by the priest. This, and a correct rendering of the original Hebrew lends authenticity to the account of the Aaronic breastplate.

  22. David says

    There was no “breastplate” in the ornaments of the high priest. It was a “breast piece”, and made mostly of cloth. The stones were attached in some way, but the concept of stones set in some metal plate is foreign to the description of the Bible.

  23. Eburk says

    Yes David you are correct. I referred to it as breastpiece in my orginal post, and breastpiece in reply to Rose I should have remained consistent.

  24. Eburk says

    Breastplate in reply to Rose. Sorry autocorrect.

  25. Rose says

    Nobody is saying the death mask of king tut was the exact breastplate described in Exodus. However it’s from the same time and place (Moses and Aaron were familiar with Egypt). It has 12 rows of stones symbolizing the 12 tribes. Maybe Pharaoh wore a cloth breastplate day to day and Tut’s death mask is just a stylized version of the entire outfit. It still doesn’t change who made breastplates with 12 rows of stones symbolizing the 12 kingdoms. And the traditional breast piece of Aaron is lame in the artist’s conceptions.

    Much of Exodus 28 is in the Dead Sea Scroll Bible. The Hebrews words are not vowel pointed as that came into being much later. Also these passages were meant to be read aloud. What words would the common illiterate Hebrew hear?
    Vowel points were added to the Hebrew alphabet about 300 CE or so and only pollute the text. Jesus didn’t read with vowel points. Here’s the first six stones.

    אדם = Adam
    פטדה = topaz
    ברקת = you glittered, Barak
    נפך = emerald, glittering object
    ספיר = sapphire, may be declared
    יהלם = break or smite as in Psalms 74:6 and 141:5

  26. Rose says

    One could easily translate/transliterate the first three stones as;
    “The human Ptah and you shine”

    אדם = Adam, human

    פטדה = pit-daw
    Ptah is the patron of craftsmanship, metalworking, carpenters, shipbuilders, and sculpture. From the Middle Kingdom onwards, ~Wiki

    וברקת = bareqeth, and you glimmer (shine)

  27. Daniel says

    Shine on you crazy diamond.
    Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
    Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!

  28. Paul says

    Daniel is correct in that the stones of the ephod were used in oracles much in the same way we would use a song in whose mineral composition emits a distinct frequency. Don’t ask me how I know because they’ll think I’m crazy. This concept can be found in the film, “Cloud Atlas” where a song called “Cloud Atlas” is bound up in a cosmic struggle of liberation from slavery.

  29. Paul says

    Also in Ezekiel 28:13, it describes the king of Tyre as a cherub in the garden of God adorned with precious stones and music that comes from within his breast, as I remember from the interpretation in “Artscroll Mini-Series; Ezekiel.” To avoid the fate of the king of Tyre, one must be careful not to resort to violence lest they end up in prison where “they will draw a sword against your fine wisdom” (Ezekiel 28:7). Which is why I prefer satire:

  30. Paul says

    I don’t know why I refered to Artscroll as a “mini-series,” but since I’m on the subject of mini-series, there was a mini-series on ABC called “Life on Mars” based on a song of the same name by David Bowie. The main character gets stuck in the past, in 1973, and he seemed to have his priorities straight when he enters a record store (remember those?) and the first thing that pops into his mind is to bring all those records back with him into the future. Much music from the late ’60s and early ’70s was inspired by psychoactive substances so this is not rocket science.

  31. Rose says

    Ezekiel mentions the so-called gemstones as well, but in a slightly different order. If one just does a straight up translation/transliteration of the Hebrew text it reads like this;

    Exodus 28 “My Translation”
    17 And consecrate stone, four rows of stone, “human Ptah you radiate”, row one.
    18 And the second row, “your jewel Noph (Memphis) will prevail.”
    19 And the third row, “To the name Sheba, I will magnify her.”
    20 And the fourth row, “those of Tarshish will say from the land of Sheba, ‘gold shall be your consecration’”.

    I guess this proves the Biblical Tarshish and Sheba were the same place (probably Kush or Nubia)

    Exodus 28:17
    ומלאת = and consecrate
    בו = a modifier that means something like, “of their kind” ,or, “of its kind”
    מלאת = consecrate
    אבן = stone
    ארבעה = four
    טורים = rows
    אבן = stone
    טור = row
    אדם = Adam
    פטדה = pit-daw, Ptah
    וברקת = and you shine
    הטור = the row
    האחד = the one

    Exodus 28:18
    והטור = and the row
    השני = the second
    נפך = Your Noph or Your Memphis
    ספיר = sapphire, jewell
    ויהלם = and will smite (overcome)

    Exodus 28:19
    והטור = and the row
    השלישי = the third
    לשם = unto the name
    שבו = Sheba, Saba
    ואחלמה = and I will magnify her

    Exodus 28:20
    והטור = and the row
    הרביעי = the fourth
    תרשיש = Tarshish
    ושהם = and those
    וישפה = and they will speak
    משבצים = from the land of Sheba
    זהב = gold
    יהיו = shall be
    במלואתם = your consecration

  32. Paul says

    Good detective work, Rose. This interpretation, with its geographical references, may be why the book of Zohar (2:24b) describes the four rows of stones as corresponding to the four directions of the world, like the twelve bronze oxen under the bronze sea that face toward the four cardinal points of the world (1 Kings 7:25).

  33. Paul says

    The four rows of the breastpiece stones with their symbolic alignment with the four directions was also infered by the comparison with Numbers chapter 2 and the encampment of the tribes of Israel in alignment with the four cardinal points. “They shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance” (Num. 2:2). It is a long shot, but perhaps Pharaoah Akhenaton’s new city he built (modern Amarna) exclusively for the sun god Aton, called Akhetaton, which means “Horizon of the Aton,” can serve as a prototype.
    In the cliffs surrounding Akhetaton were large stelae carved into the rock which served as boundary markers. At least fourteen were found, and on one inscription you can see the similarity to Numbers 2; “As for these [6 landmarks] which I have set up at the boundaries of Akhetaton, the 3 landmarks upon the eastern mountain of Akhetaton, together with the 3 landmarks opposite them” (Ancient Records of Egypt, by James Breasted, p.399).

  34. Rose says

    Great info Paul.
    I actually believe they aren’t ‘stones’ being spoken of but words or more properly hieroglyphs in Exodus 28:17-21
    They are the individual hieroglyphs in the consecration.

    Many places including the genealogies where there are lots of strange Hebrew words are in reality untranslated passages or passages thinly disguised as genealogies. However these passages come alive with a different meaning when read aloud in their original languages. Anytime you read Zorubbel or Shieteil, you can be sure it’s not a genealogy.

  35. Paul says

    Yes, I’ve found this useful, like your interpretation of Zorobabel son of Salathiel as “born in Babylon, of the sons held prisoner.”

  36. jill says

    Im barely learning everything about moses,israel,monotheism and all of that cant wait to find out bout more!!!!!!!!! :)

  37. www.everytrail.com says

    Good day! Do you know if they make any plugins to
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  38. Empire says

    Touche. Great arguments. Keep up the good work.

  39. Moses says

    Does moses have a last name? I need to find out quick!

  40. chakhchoukh says

    all that you raised is completely false.refering to coran.moses is from joseph sold by his brothers to the egyptian.baby his mother put him in a box in the nile .the waters lead him to the palace of the pharon.pharon’s wife considered him as a gift frrom the sky.later on he was ordered from god to save the hebreux from slavery to freedom

  41. Stelio says

    Sigmund Freud was off by only a generation, or so! http://ggreenberg.tripod.com/Moses/tmm-about.htm

  42. Kurt says

    Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. His writership has been acknowledged by the Jews throughout their history, this section of the Bible being known by them as the Torah, or Law. Jesus and the Christian writers frequently speak of Moses as giving the Law. He is generally credited with writing the book of Job, also Psalm 90 and, possibly, 91.—Mt 8:4; Lu 16:29; 24:27; Ro 10:5; 1Co 9:9; 2Co 3:15; Heb 10:28.

  43. David says

    @ Rose. excellant privilege to contrast your study of the cryptic message of the names of the 12 stones in Ex.16-20 with the crytic message in the names of the 12 tribes inscribed on/around each stone/word in Ex.28:20, two distinct messages occure together that complement each other. The names in order of brith reveal a prophecy of Christ when translated.

  44. David says

    @Rose excuse me I am a different David than than previously in replies on the subject of the ephod also forgive typos cryptic* and birth*

  45. nyasha says

    moses rily was a prophet par excellence and al this helped in makin us understand mre of thi

  46. Faith says


  47. Jeff says

    Rose, Paul & others…thanks…got a question about the time period based on 2 verses Ex 1:8 states “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (ESV). The second is Isaiah 52:4, “My people went down at first into Egypt to sojourn there.”… (Ask when & what event is the LORD referencing here?, see vs 6)…”and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing.” I’m not a Hebrew scholar by any means, but the term “Assyrian” appears to be a title to a particular individual, a ruler / king from present day Syria…Cannon? Any thoughts on these 2 verses and how they might fit into the historical setting of the Exodus lead by Moses?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. The Man Moses | Max Doubt linked to this post on February 26, 2012

    [...] and raised as Egyptian royalty. It is well known what Sigmund Freud did with this portrait,1 arguing that the Israelite genealogy was, in fact, a later, pious construction that tried to mask [...]

  2. Exodus: A trop ménager la chèvre et le chou, Hollywood mécontente tout le monde et perd l’essentiel (Worst of both worlds: Ridley Scott goes for the fake science and misses the real theology) | jcdurbant linked to this post on December 25, 2014

    […] [16] Was Moses more than an Exodus hero? Discovering the Biblical Moses in “The Man Moses” by Peter Machinist, originally published in Bible Review and now available for free in Bible History Daily.: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/who-was-moses-was-he-more-than-an-ex… […]

  3. Exodus: A trop ménager la chèvre et le chou, Hollywood finit par perdre l’essentiel (Worst of both worlds: Ridley Scott goes for the fake science and misses the real theology) | jcdurbant linked to this post on December 25, 2014

    […] [16] Was Moses more than an Exodus hero? Discovering the Biblical Moses in “The Man Moses” by Peter Machinist, originally published in Bible Review and now available for free in Bible History Daily.: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/who-was-moses-was-he-more-than-an-ex… […]

  4. Exodus: A trop ménager la chèvre et le chou, Hollywood perd l’essentiel (Worst of both worlds: Ridley Scott goes for the fake science and misses the real theology) | jcdurbant linked to this post on December 26, 2014

    […] [16] Was Moses more than an Exodus hero? Discovering the Biblical Moses in “The Man Moses” by Peter Machinist, originally published in Bible Review and now available for free in Bible History Daily.: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/who-was-moses-was-he-more-than-an-ex… […]

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