Did Moses Exist?

God disrupts lives to build heroes.

Modern skeptics sometimes question whether Moses really existed. They cite a lack of much archaeological evidence for the Exodus and disputes among scholars on its timing and which Pharaoh was in power. The oldest piece of extra-Biblical evidence we have is the Merenptah Stele, which places Israel in Canaan around 1230 B.C.:  https://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/merneptah-stele-faq.htm.  The intention of the present essay is to offer support for the historicity of Moses’ account by focusing on his character and the traditions and laws he initiated.

The character of Moses meets the criterion of embarrassment. If authors of the Bible were trying to dupe their audiences with grand stories and majestic claims of Divine inspiration, including weak “heroes” with multiple flaws would seem absurd. Yet just about every character in the Bible is weak in some way. Moses killed a man and buried his body before fleeing out of Egypt (Exodus 2:12-13). King David sent the husband of a woman he slept with into the front lines of battle to have him killed (2 Samuel 11-12). King Solomon began worshipping other gods in his old age after being blessed by God to lead (1 Kings 11).

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, the apostle Paul laments the thorn in his flesh, which he states is a messenger of Satan that has been tormenting him. But the Lord responds to him by saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul replies “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 10).

Moses did not seem to have that sort of insight. After killing an Egyptian and fleeing to Midian, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to return to Egypt to rescue the Israelite slaves. Rather than dutifully obeying the Lord, Moses questioned Him. First, he said, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God said “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 2:13-14). God proceeded to instruct Moses that he was to go to the king of Egypt and ask for the Israelites’ freedom.

Again, Moses questioned the Lord. “What if they do not believe me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” (Exodus 4:1). So the Lord responded by performing two miracles: He turned Moses’ staff into a snake and He turned his hand into leprous flesh before restoring it. The Lord then told Moses that the water from the river would become blood, as another sign.

These signs were not enough for Moses. “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). The Lord responded “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

“But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

But the Lord instructed Moses that he was to go to Pharaoh and that his brother Aaron could speak for him. “Now when the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt, he said to him, ‘I am the LORD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.’ But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?’”

Moses eventually gave in and led the Israelites out of Egypt. During his forty years of wandering, Moses built the Ark of the Covenant and set up the Tabernacle to shield it, by following the Lord’s detailed instructions. There he made many offerings to the Lord and worshipped Him continuously.

Moses gave the Israelites the Lord’s Ten Commandments, along with numerous laws for the Israelites to live by, which are evidenced in orthodox Jews today. Circumcision on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3) is one example, which happens to be the most ideal and healthy time to circumcise infant males (https://www.premier.org.uk/Topics/Church/Bible/How-circumcision-shows-God-exists). A second example is Yom Kippur. Moses instructed God’s people to atone for their sins one day each year, on Yom Kippur, which falls on the tenth day of the seventh month of each year, falling in early October (Leviticus 16:29; 23:27). Jews are to fast from sunrise to sunset. October is an ideal time for this day, since there is no place on the globe that has either 24 hours of daylight or 24 hours of no sunlight during that time of the year. Contrast that with the Ramadan, which falls in the summer. During the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset, yet in some places of the world, such as in Northern Sweden, the sun shines all day and night. Following Ramadan as instructed by Mohammad is therefore not possible in all places on the globe.

The traditions and laws still practiced by some in the present day from the Biblical narrative of Moses supports its historical validity. Moses initiated the Passover tradition and eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt, yet it took forty years of wandering before the Israelites entered Canaan, the promised land of milk and honey, without Moses. He dishonored the Lord once, so the Lord forbade Moses from crossing the Jordan into the promised land. Other Israelites who had disobeyed Him did not enter either.

“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3). He is regarded by many Jews as the greatest prophet of Scripture. Though he did not enter the promised land, we know he is in heaven. He appeared with Elijah in front of James, John and Peter in Jesus’ transfiguration, which was reported in Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36; and 2 Peter 1:16-18. Jesus further spoke of Moses, indicating that Moses wrote about Him (John 5:46).

We can be thankful for the prophet Moses, who influenced so much in Jewish traditions and laws and history. Through his weakness, God made him strong.

Thank you for your time.

 

 

4 Replies to “Did Moses Exist?”

  1. Great insight. This is so true: “If authors of the Bible were trying to dupe their audiences with grand stories and majestic claims of Divine inspiration, including weak “heroes” with multiple flaws would seem absurd. Yet just about every character in the Bible is weak in some way.”

    Thanks for getting the good news out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Ipuwer papyrus, an Egyptian document dating to the late Middle Bronze Age, contains vivid descriptions eerily similar to Exodus. It describes the Nile turning to blood, darkness covering the land, even mass death from a plague. It also contains the passage: “He who pours water on the ground has seized the mighty in misery.” There’s also references to slaves raiding Egyptians’ jewelry and treasures.

    There was a real adopted prince of Egypt named Mio who led military victories and was in line to become Pharaoh who suddenly disappeared and was never mentioned again. This could be historical Moses but the dating is slightly off about (49 years before the Exodus).

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    1. The Ipuwer Papyrus provides an account of the Hyskos Uprising. It’s hardly a description of the Exodus. There is a massive *influx* of foreigners, not an Exodus, and the wealth is seized by force.

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  3. An argument from criteria of embarrassment and that Mosaic customs still exist is hardly enough to overcome the problems with a historical Moses and, in fact, misunderstand the arguments against a historical Moses in the first place.

    For one, criteria of embarrassment is thrown around as if it’s a catch all for determining historicity. That is hardly the case. Moses follows in the cycle of mistakes, failings, and fallings common in ANE literature concerning heroes and their epics. It’s actually *expected* within the ancient world that Moses would act this way as a mythological character. “Epic of the Patriarch: The Jacob Cycle and the Narrative Traditions of Canaan and Israel” by Ronald Hendel is an excellent work detailing these sorts of the traditions in the ANE.

    Second, part of the argument against Moses is that the practices of circumcision, passover, etc actually originate separately from the second temple cult worship. Similar apotropaic practices are found outside of Yahwistic cult worship in Israel, associated with broader folk religion and polytheism, such as in Elephantine Papyri. Moses is supposed to have been a story created to explain these practices, not the other way around.

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