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Moses (c. He is claimed by the religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai as an important prophet of God and the founder of monotheistic belief. The story of Moses is told in the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers but he continues to be referenced throughout the Bible and is the prophet most often cited in the New Testament. In the Quran he also plays an important role and, again, is the most often cited religious figure who is mentioned 115 times as opposed to Muhammed who is referred to by name only four times in the text. As in the Bible, in the Quran Moses is a figure who alternately stands for divine or human understanding.

Moses is best known from the story in the biblical Book of Exodus and Quran as the lawgiver who met God face-to-face on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments after leading his people, the Hebrews, out of bondage in Egypt and to the "promised land" of Canaan. The story of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt is only found in the Penteteuch, the first five books of the Bible, and in the Quran which was written later. No other ancient sources corroborate the story and no archaeological evidence supports it. This has led many scholars to conclude that Moses was a legendary figure and the Exodus story a cultural myth.

The Egyptian historian Manetho (3rd century BCE), however, tells the story of an Egyptian priest named Osarsiph who led a group of lepers in rebellion against the wishes of the king who wanted them banished. Osarsiph, Manetho claims, rejected the polytheism of Egyptian religion in favor of a monotheistic understanding and changed his name to Moses meaning "child of..." and usually used in conjunction with a god's name (Ramesses would be Ra-Moses, son of Ra, for example). Osarsiph would have attached no god's name to his own, it would seem, since he believed himself a son of a living god who had no name human beings could - or should - utter.

Moses could have been a mythological character who took on a life of his own as his story was told over & over again or could have been a real person to whom magical or supernatural events were ascribed or could have been precisely as he is depicted in the early books of the Bible & in the Quran.

Manetho's story of Osarsiph/Moses is related by the historian Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 CE) who cited Manetho's story at length in his own work. The Roman historian Tacitus (c. 56-117 CE) tells a similar story of a man named Moses who becomes the leader of a colony of Egyptian lepers. This has led a number of writers and scholars (Sigmund Freud and Joseph Campbell among them) to assert that the Moses of the Bible was not a Hebrew who was raised in an Egyptian palace but an Egyptian priest who led a religious revolution to establish monotheism. This theory links Moses closely with the pharaoh Akhenaten (1353-1336 BCE) who established his own monotheistic belief in the god Aten, unlike any other god and more powerful than all, in the fifth year of his reign. Akhenaten's monotheism may have been born of a genuine religious impulse or could have been a reaction against the priests of the god Amun who had grown almost as wealthy and powerful as the throne. In establishing monotheism and banning all the old gods of Egypt, Akhenaten effectively eliminated any threat to the crown from the priesthood. The theory advanced by Campbell and others (following Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism in this) is that Moses was a priest of Akhenaten who led like-minded followers out of Egypt after Akhenaten's death when his son, Tutankhamun (c. 1336-1327 BCE), restored the old gods and practices. Still other scholars equate Moses with Akhenaten himself and see the Exodus story as a mythological rendering of Akhenaten's honest attempt at religious reform.

Moses is mentioned by a number of classical writers all drawing on the stories known in the Bible or by earlier writers. He could have been a mythological character who took on a life of his own as his story was told over and over again or could have been a real person to whom magical or supernatural events were ascribed or could have been precisely as he is depicted in the early books of the Bible and in the Quran. Dating Moses' life and the precise date of the Exodus is difficult and is always based on interpretations of the Book of Exodus in conjunction with other books of the Bible and so are always speculative. It is entirely possible that the Exodus story was written by a Hebrew scribe living in Canaan who wished to make a clear distinction between his people and the older settlements of the Amorites in the region. The story of God's Chosen People led by his servant Moses to a land their God had promised them would have served this purpose well.

Moses in the Bible

The Book of Exodus (written c. 600 BCE) picks up from the narrative in the Book of Genesis (chapters 37-50) of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his jealous half-brothers and rose to prominence in Egypt. Joseph was adept at understanding dreams and interpreted the king's dream accurately predicting a coming famine. He was placed in charge of preparing Egypt for the famine, succeeded brilliantly, and brought his family to Egypt. The Book of Exodus opens with the Hebrew descendants of Joseph becoming more numerous in the land of Egypt so that the pharaoh, fearing they might seize power, enslaves them.

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Moses enters the story in the second chapter of the book after the unnamed pharaoh, still worried about the growing population of the Israelites, decrees that every male child must be killed. Moses' mother hides him for three months but then, afraid he will be discovered and killed, sets him adrift in a papyrus basket on the Nile where he floats down to where the pharaoh's daughter and her attendants are bathing. The child is taken from the river by the princess who calls him "Moses" claiming she chose the name because she "drew him out of the water" (Exodus 2:10) which is making the assertion that "Moses" means "to draw out". This etymology of the name has been contested since, as noted, "Moses" in Egyptian meant "child of".

Moses grows up in the Egyptian palace until one day he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and kills him, burying his body in the sand. The next day, when he is again out among the people, he sees two Hebrews fighting and pulls them apart asking what the problem is. One of them answers by asking if he plans to kill them as he did the Egyptian. Moses then realizes his crime has become known and flees Egypt for Midian.

In the land of Midian he rescues the daughters of a high priest (named Reuel in Exodus 2 and Jethro afterwards) who gives him his daughter Zipporah as a wife. Moses lives in Midian as a shepherd until he one day encounters a bush which burns with fire but is not consumed. The fire is the angel of God who brings Moses a message that he should return to Egypt to free his people. Moses is not interested and bluntly tells God, "Please send someone else" (Exodus 4:13). God is in no mood to be questioned on his choice and makes it clear that Moses will be returning to Egypt. He assures him all will be well and that he will have his brother, Aaron, to help him speak and supernatural powers which will enable him to convince pharaoh that he speaks for God. He also tells Moses, in a passage which has long troubled interpreters of the book, that he will "harden pharaoh's heart" against receiving the message and letting the people go at the same time that he wants pharaoh to accept the message and release his people.

Moses returns to Egypt and, as God had promised, pharaoh's heart is hardened against him. Moses and Aaron compete with the Egyptian priests in an effort to show whose god is greater but pharaoh is unimpressed. After a series of ten plagues destroys the land, finally killing the first-born of the Egyptians, the Hebrews are allowed to leave and, as God directed, they take a vast amount of treasure out of Egypt with them. Pharaoh changes his mind after they have gone, however, and sends his army of chariots in pursuit. In one of the best-known passages from the Bible, Moses parts the Red Sea so his people can cross and then closes the waters over the pursuing Egyptian army, drowning them. He leads his people on, following two signs God provides: a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. At Mount Sinai, Moses leaves his people below to ascend and meet God face to face; here he receives the Ten Commandments, God's laws for his people.

On the mountain, Moses receives the law and also instructions for the ark of the covenant and tabernacle which will house God's presence among the people. Down below, his followers have begun to fear him dead and, feeling hopeless, ask Aaron to make them an idol they can worship and ask for help. Aaron melts the treasures they took from Egypt in a fire to create a golden calf. On the mountain, God sees what the Hebrews are doing and tells Moses to return and deal with his people. When he comes back down the mountain and sees his people worshipping the idol he becomes enraged and destroys the tablets of the Ten Commandments. He calls all who remained faithful to God to his side, including Aaron, and commands they kill their neighbors, friends, and brothers who forced Aaron to make the idol for them. Exodus 32:27-28 describes the scene and claims "about three thousand people" were killed by Moses' Levites. Afterwards, God tells Moses he will not accompany the people anymore because they are "stiff-necked people" and, should he travel further with them, he would wind up killing them out of frustration.

Moses and the elders then enter into a covenant with God by which he will be their only god and they will be his chosen people. He will travel with them personally as a divine presence to direct and comfort them. God writes the Ten Commandments on new tablets which Moses cuts for him and these are placed in the ark of the covenant and the ark is housed in the tabernacle, an elaborate tent. God further commands that a lampstand of pure gold and a table of acacia wood be made and placed before his presence in the tabernacle for receiving offerings, specifies a courtyard to be created for the tabernacle, and outlines acceptable offerings and various sins one must avoid and atone for. No longer will the people have to question his existence or wonder what he wants because, between the Ten Commandments and the other instructions, everything is quite clear and, further, they will know he is among them in the tabernacle.

Even with God in their midst, however, the people still doubt and still fear and still question and so it is decreed that this generation will wander in the desert until they die; the next generation will be the one to see the promised land. Moses then leads his people through the desert for forty years until this is accomplished and the younger generation reaches the promised land of Canaan. Moses himself is not allowed to enter, only to look upon it from across the River Jordan. He dies and is buried in an unmarked grave on Mount Nebo and leadership is assumed by his second-in-command, Joshua son of Nun.

Moses' trials and challenges mediating between his people and God, as well as his laws, are given in the books of Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy which, taken with Genesis and Exodus, make up the first five books of the Bible, which traditionally are ascribed to Moses himself as author.

The Exodus story resonates as it does because it touches on universal themes & symbols regarding personal identity, purpose in life, & the involvement of the divine in human affairs.

The Hero's Story

Biblical scholarship, however, discounts Moses' authorship and maintains that the first five books were written by different scribes at different time periods. The story of Moses as related in Exodus is the hero's story as elaborated by Joseph Campbell in works such as The Hero with a Thousand Faces or Transformations of Myth Through Time. Although Moses is born a Hebrew he is separated from his people shortly after birth and denied his cultural heritage. Upon discovering who he is he must leave the life of comfort he has grown used to and embarks on a journey which leads to his recognition of his purpose in life. He is afraid to accept what he knows he must do but does it anyway and succeeds. The Exodus story resonates as it does because it touches on universal themes and symbols regarding personal identity, purpose in life, and the involvement of the divine in human affairs.

Moses' entrance to the story purposefully employs the motif of the infant born of humble parents who becomes (or is unknowingly) a prince. At the time of the writing of Exodus this story had been known in the Middle and Near East for almost 2,000 years through the Legend of Sargon of Akkad. Sargon (2334-2279 BCE) was the founder of the Akkadian empire, the first multi-national empire in the world. His famous legend, which he made great use of in his lifetime to achieve his aims, relates how his mother was a priestess who "set me in a basket of rushes and sealed my lid with bitumen/ She cast me into the river which rose over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki/the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener" (Pritchard, 85-86). Sargon grows up to overthrow the king and unite the region of Mesopotamia under his rule.

Scholar Paul Kriwaczek, writing on Sargon's story, mentions the International Babylon Festival of 1990 CE at which Saddam Hussein celebrated his birthday. Kriwaczek writes:

The festivities came to a climax when a wooden cabin was wheeled out and large crowds dressed in ancient Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian costume prostrated themselves in front of it. The doors opened to reveal a palm tree from which fifty-three white doves flew up into the sky. Beneath them a baby Saddam, reposing in a basket, came floating down a marsh-bordered stream. Time magazine's reporter was particularly struck by the baby-in-the-basket theme, describing it as "Moses redux". But why on earth would Saddam Hussein wish to compare himself to a leader of the Jews? The journalist was missing the point. The motif was a Mesopotamian invention long before the Hebrews took it up and applied it to Moses. The Iraqi dictator was alluding to a much more ancient and, to him, far more glorious precedent. He was associating himself with Sargon (112).

The writer of Exodus also wanted his hero associated with Sargon: a true hero who would rise from inauspicious beginnings to achieve greatness. Those who believe the Exodus story is a cultural myth point to Moses' beginnings, along with many other facets of the story, to prove their claim. Other scholars, such as Rosalie David or Susan Wise Bauer, accept the Exodus story as authentic history and ascribe to the characters in the story a knowledge of Sargon's legend which the author of Exodus faithfully set down. Bauer writes:

Sargon's birth story served as a seal of chosenness, a proof of his divinity. Surely the mother of the Hebrew baby knew it, and made use of it in a desperate (and successful) attempt to place her own baby in the line of the divinely chosen (235-236).

To these scholars the fact that there are no records of the Exodus and no archaeological evidence to support it can be explained by the embarrassment the departure of the Israelites would have caused the pharaoh of Egypt. Bauer writes:

The exodus of the Hebrews was a nose-thumbing directed not just at the power of the pharaoh and his court but at the power of the Egyptian gods themselves. The plagues were designed to ram home the impotence of the Egyptian pantheon. The Nile, the bloodstream of Osiris and the lifeblood of Egypt, was turned to blood and became foul and poisonous; frogs, sacred to Osiris, appeared in numbers so great that they were transformed into a pestilence; the sun-disk was blotted out by darkness. Ra and Aten both made helpless. These are not the kinds of events that appear in the celebratory inscriptions of any pharaoh (236).

Exodus as History Theory

A simpler explanation, however, is that the events described in the Book of Exodus did not take place - or, at least, not as described - and so no inscriptions were made relating to them. The Egyptians are famous for their record-keeping and yet no records have been found which make the slightest reference to the departure of a segment of the population of the land which, according to the Book of Exodus, numbered "six hundred thousand men on foot besides women and children" (12:37) or, as given in Exodus 38:26, "everyone who had crossed over to those counted, twenty years old or more, a total of 603,550 men" again not counting women or children. Even if the Egyptians decided the embarrassment of their gods and king was too great a shame to set down, some record would exist of such a huge movement of so vast a population even if that record were simply a dramatic change in the physical evidence of the region. There are seasonal camps from the Paleolithic Age in Scotland and other areas dating to c. 12,000 BCE (such as Howburn Farm) and these sites were not in use anywhere near the amount of time of the forty years of campsites the Hebrews would have made use of in their trip to the promised land.

Arguments by Egyptologists such as David Rohl, that evidence of the Exodus does exist, are not widely accepted by scholars, historians, or other Egyptologists. Rohl's claim is that one can find no physical or literary evidence of the Exodus only because one is looking in the wrong era. The Exodus has traditionally been placed in the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE) but Rohl claims the events actually took place much earlier in the reign of the king Dudimose I (c. 1650 BCE). If one examines the evidence from that time, Rohl claims, the biblical narrative matches up with Egyptian history.

The problems with Rohl's theory are that it the evidence from the period of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) and Second Intermediate Period (c. 1782-c. 1570 BCE) does not actually substantiate the Exodus story. The Ipuwer Papyrus, which Rohl claims is an Egyptian account of the Ten Plagues, is dated to the Middle Kingdom, long before Dudimose I's reign and, further, is quite clearly Egyptian literature of a known genre, not history. The Semites Rohl asserts lived in great numbers at Avaris cannot be identified with the Israelites. In every instance where Rohl makes his claims linking the Book of Exodus with Egyptian history he either ignores details which prove him wrong or twists evidence to fit with his theory. In spite of Rohl's claims, and those of others who have seized on them, there is no archaeological or literary evidence of Moses leading the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The only source for the story is the biblical narrative.

The Egyptian Priest Theory

Still, there is an Egyptian record of an event which, some claim, inspired the Exodus story in Manetho's account of the Egyptian priest Osarsiph and his leadership of the community of lepers. Manetho's account has been lost but is quoted at length by Josephus and later by the Roman historian Tacitus. According to Josephus, the king Amenophis of Egypt (who is equated with Amenhotep III, c. 1386-1353 BCE) wished to "see the gods" but was told by an oracle that he could not - unless he cleansed Egypt of lepers. He therefore banished the lepers to the city of Avaris where they were united under the leadership of a monotheistic priest named Osarsiph. Osarsiph rebelled against the rule of Amenophis, instituted monotheism, and invited the Hyksos back into Egypt. In Tacitus' version, the Egyptian king is named Bocchoris (the Greek name for the king Bakenranef, c. 725-720 BCE) and he exiles a segment of his population afflicted with leprosy to the desert. The exiles remain in the desert "in a stupour of grief" until one of them, Moses, rallies and leads them to another land. Tacitus goes on to say how Moses then taught the people a new belief in one supreme god and "gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practiced by other men" (1).

As with the Exodus story, there are no records which corroborate this version of events and the reign of Amenhotep III was not marked by any rebellions by lepers or anyone else. Tacitus' account of Moses coming to power during the reign of Bakenranef is equally unsupported. Further, Manetho's account explicitly states that Osarsiph "invited the Hyksos back into Egypt" where they ruled for thirteen years but the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt in c. 1570 BCE by Ahmose I of Thebes and no records indicate they ever returned.

Historian Marc van de Mieroop comments on this, writing, "Scholars have different opinions about exactly what historical events Josephus's account recalls, but many see a lingering memory of Akhenaten and his unpopular rule in the tale" (210). Akhenaten famously introduced monotheism to Egypt through the worship of the one god Aten and proscribed the worship of all other gods. According to the theory most famously expounded by Freud, the Osarsiph story is actually an account of Akhenaten's reign and one of his priests, Moses, who carried on his reform. Freud is openly bewildered by the fact that no one seems to have noticed that this allegedly Hebrew leader of the Exodus from Egypt had an Egyptian name, writing, "It might have been expected that one of the many authors who recognized Moses to be an Egyptian name would have drawn the conclusion, or at least considered the possibility, that the bearer of an Egyptian name was himself an Egyptian" (5-6). Freud further states:

I venture now to draw the following conclusion: if Moses was an Egyptian and if he transmitted to the Jews his own religion, then it was that of Ikhnaton [Akhenaten), the Aten religion (27).

According to Freud, Moses was murdered by his people and the memory of this act created a communal guilt which infused the religion of Judaism and characterizes that belief system as well as those monotheistic faiths which came after it. As interesting as the theory may be, like many of Freud's theories, it is based on an assumption which Freud never proves but continues to build an argument on anyway. Susan Wise Bauer writes:

For at least a century, the theory that Akhenaten trained Moses in monotheism and then set him loose in the desert has floated around; it still pops up occasionally on History Channel specials and PBS fund raisers. This has absolutely no historical basis and in fact is incredibly difficult to square with any of the more respectable dates of the Exodus. It seems to have originated with Freud who was certainly not an unbiased scholar in his desire to explain the origins of monotheism while denying Judaism as much uniqueness as possible (237).

Although his name certainly suggests an Egyptian origin, the first text which introduces the character of Moses clearly indicates he was the son of Hebrew parents. Whether one accepts the Book of Exodus as a reliable account or a cultural myth, one cannot change the text to fit one's personal theories which is basically what Freud does.

At the same time, one cannot claim a "respectable date" for the Exodus when there is no historical record of the event outside of the manuscript of the Book of Exodus. The events of the Exodus are traditionally assigned to the reign of Ramesses II based on the passage from Exodus 1:11 where it states that the Hebrew slaves worked on the cities of Pithom and Rameses, two cities Ramesses II was known to have commissioned. Bauer, however, writes that a "respectable date" for the Exodus is 1446 BCE based on "a straightforward reading of I Kings 6:1 which claims that 480 years passed between the Exodus and the building of Solomon's temple" (236). Further complicating the dating of the event is that Exodus 7:7 states that Moses was 80 years old when he first met with pharaoh but Moses' birthdate is given by Rabbinical Judaism as 1391 BCE making the 1446 BCE date impossible and there are plenty of other suggestions for possible birth years as well which also make the 1446 BCE date for the Exodus untenable.

Exodus as Naru Literature

The problem with all these speculations stems from the attempt at reading the Bible as straight history instead of what it is: literature and, specifically, scripture. Ancient writers were not as concerned with facts as modern audiences are but were certainly interested in truth. This is exemplified by the ancient genre known as Mesopotamian Naru Literature in which a figure, usually someone famous, plays an important role in a story which they did not actually participate in.

The best examples of Naru Literature concern Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin (2262-2224 BCE). In the famous story "The Curse of Akkad", Naram-Sin is portrayed as destroying the temple of the god Enlil when he receives no answer to his prayers. There is no record of Naram-Sin doing any such thing while there is a great deal of evidence that he was a pious king who honored Enlil and the other gods. In this case, Naram-Sin would have been chosen as main character because of his famous name and used to convey a truth about humanity's relationship with the gods and, especially, a king's proper attitude toward the divine.

In the same way, the Book of Exodus and the other narratives concerning Moses tell a story of physical and spiritual liberation using the central character of Moses - a figure previously unknown in literature - who represents man's relationship with God. The writers of the biblical narratives go to great lengths to ground their stories in history, to show God working through actual events, in the same way the authors of Mesopotamian Naru Literature chose historical figures to convey their message. Literature, scripture, does not need to be historically accurate to express a truth. Insistence on stories such as the Book of Exodus as historical denies a reader a wider experience of the text. To claim that the book must be historically true to be meaningful denies the power of the story to relay its message.

Moses is a symbolic figure in the story while at the same time remaining a completely autonomous individual with a distinct personality. Throughout the narrative Moses mediates between God and the people but is neither completely holy nor secular. He accepts his mandate from God reluctantly, constantly asks God why he was chosen and what he is supposed to be doing, and yet consistently tries to do God's will until he strikes the stone to produce water instead of speaking to it as God had instructed (Numbers 20:1-12). God had previously told Moses to strike a rock to get water (Exodus 17:6) but this time told him to speak to the rock. Moses' actions here, ignoring God's instruction, prevent him from entering the promised land of Canaan. He is allowed to see the land from Mount Nebo but cannot lead his people once he has compromised his relationship with God.

As with the rest of the narrative concerning Moses, this episode with the rock would have conveyed (still conveys) an important message about a believer's relationship with God: that one must trust in the divine in spite of one's own perceived knowledge or reliance on precedent and experience. It does not finally matter whether a historical individual named Moses struck or spoke to a rock which then gave water; what matters is the truth of the individual's relationship with God that story conveys and how one can better understand one's own place in a divine plan.

Moses in the Quran

This is also seen in the Quran where Moses is known as Musa. Musa is mentioned a number of times throughout the Quran as a righteous man, a prophet, and a sage. In the story of the Exodus in the Quran, Musa is always seen as a devout servant of Allah trusting in divine wisdom. In Surah 18: 60-82, however, a story is related which shows how even a great and righteous man still has much to learn from God.

One day, after Musa has delivered a particularly brilliant sermon, a member of the audience asks him if there is another on earth as learned in God's ways as he is and Musa answers no. God (Allah) informs him that there will always be those who know more than one does in anything, especially regarding the divine. Musa asks Allah where he might find such a man and Allah gives him instructions on how to proceed.

Following Allah's guidance, Musa finds Al-Khidr (a representative of the divine) and asks if he might follow him and learn all the knowledge he has of God. Al-Khidr answers that Musa would not understand anything he said or did and would have no patience; he then dismisses him. Musa pleads with him and Al-Khidr says, "If you would follow me, ask me not about anything until I mention it myself" and Musa agrees.

As with the biblical Moses, the Musa of the Quran is a completely developed character with all the strengths & weaknesses of any person.

As they travel together, Al-Khidr comes across a boat by the shore and kicks a hole in the bottom of it. Musa objects, crying out that the owners of the boat will not be able to earn their living now. Al-Khidr reminds him how he told him he could not be patient and dismisses him but Musa asks forgiveness and promises he will not judge or speak on anything else. Shortly after the boat incident, though, they meet a young man on the road and Al-Khidr kills him. Musa strongly objects asking why such a handsome young man should be killed and Al-Khidr again reminds him of what he said before and tells him to leave now immediately. Musa again apologizes and is forgiven and the two travel on together. They reach a town where they ask for alms but are refused. On their way out of the town they pass a stone wall which is falling down and Al-Khidr stops and repairs it. Musa is again confused and complains to his companion that at least he could have asked for wages in repairing the wall so they could get something to eat.

At this, Al-Khidr tells Musa that he has breached their contract for the last time and now they must part ways. First, though, he explains: he scuttled the boat because there was a king at sea seizing every boat which put out by force and enslaving the crew. If the good people who owned the boat had gone out, they would have met with a bad end. He killed the young man because he was evil and was going to bring great pain to his parents and community. Allah had already provided for another son to be born to the parents who would bring them and others joy instead of pain. He rebuilt the wall because there was a treasure hidden beneath it which two orphans were supposed to inherit and, if the wall had crumbled any more, it would have been revealed to those who would take it. Al-Khidr ends by saying, "That is the interpretation of those things over which you showed no patience" and Musa understands the lesson.

As with the biblical Moses, the Musa of the Quran is a completely developed character with all the strengths and weaknesses of any person. In the Bible, Moses' humility is emphasized but he still has enough pride to trust in his own judgment in striking the rock rather than in listening to God. In the Quran his faith in himself and his own perceptions and judgments is questioned through his inability to trust in God's messenger. The story from Surah 18 teaches that God has a purpose which human beings, even one as devout and learned as Musa, cannot understand.


Throughout the Christian New Testament Moses is cited more than any other Old Testament prophet or figure. Moses is seen as the Law Giver in the Christian writings who exemplifies a man of God. To cite only one example, Moses features prominently in the famous story Jesus tells concerning Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16: 19-31.

In this story a poor, but pious, man named Lazarus and a rich man (unnamed) live in the same town. Lazarus suffers daily while the rich man has everything he could desire. They both die on the same day and the rich man wakes up in the underworld and sees Lazarus with Father Abraham in paradise. He begs Father Abraham to help him but is reminded that, on earth, he lived a life of ease while Lazarus suffered and now it is only just that the roles are reversed. The rich man then asks Father Abraham to send someone to warn his family, as he has five brothers still living, and tell them how they should better live to avoid his fate. Abraham responds, "They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them." The rich man protests saying that if someone should rise from the dead to warn his family then they would surely listen but Abraham says, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets neither would they listen should someone rise from the dead."

In this story Moses is presented as the paradigm of God's truth. If people would heed Moses' example and words then they could avoid separation from God in the afterlife. The story emphasizes how Moses' teachings provide everything anyone needs to know about how to live a good and decent life and enjoy an afterlife with God and how, if one is going to ignore Moses and the prophets and justify one's life choices, one would just as easily dismiss someone returning from the dead; the two are equally self-evident of God's desires for human piety and behavior.

Moses is also featured in Jesus' transfiguation in Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:2-4, and Luke 9:28-30 along with Elijah when God announces that Jesus is his son with whom he is well pleased. In these passages and others in the New Testament Moses is held up as an exemplar and representative of God's will.

Whether there was a religious leader in history named Moses who led his people and initiated a monotheistic understanding of the divine is unknown. Individual beliefs will dictate whether one accepts the historicity of Moses or regards him as a mythical figure more than any historical evidence - or the lack of it - ever will. Either way, the figure of Moses has cast a long shadow across the history of the world. The monotheism he is credited with introducing was further developed by the teachers of the Jewish faith which influenced the atmosphere in which Christianity was able to thrive which then led to the rise of Islam. All three major monotheistic religions in the world today claim Moses as their own and he continues to serve as a model of humanity's relationship with the divine for people of many faiths around the world.

Moses the man

Although time undoubtedly enhanced the portrait of Moses, a basic picture emerges from the sources. Five times the narratives claim that Moses kept written records (Ex. 17:14 24:4 34:27–28 Num. 33:2 and Deut. 31:9, 24–26). Even with a generous interpretation of the extent of these writings, they do not amount to more than a fifth of the total Pentateuch therefore, the traditional claim of Mosaic authorship of the whole Pentateuch is untenable. Moses formulated the Decalogue, mediated the Covenant, and began the process of rendering and codifying supplemental interpretations of the Covenant stipulations. Undoubtedly he kept some records, and they served as the core of the growing corpus of law and tradition. In a general sense, therefore, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible can be described as Mosaic. Without him there would have been no Israel and no collection known as Torah.

Moses was a gifted, well-trained person, but his true greatness was probably due to his personal experience of and relationship with Yahweh. This former stammering murderer understood his preservation and destiny as coming from the grace of a merciful Lord who had given him another chance. Moses had an understanding spirit and a forgiving heart because he knew how much Yahweh had forgiven him. He was truly humble because he recognized that his gifts and strength came from Yahweh.

Because of the uniqueness of his situation, Moses had to function in a number of roles. As Yahweh’s agent in the deliverance of the Hebrews, he was their prophet and leader. As mediator of the Covenant, he was the founder of the community. As interpreter of the Covenant, he was an organizer and legislator. As intercessor for the people, he was their priest. Moses had a special combination of gifts and graces that made it impossible to replace him. Although his successor, Joshua, and the priest Eleazar, the son of Aaron, tried to do so, together they did not measure up to him. Later prophets were great men who spoke out of the spirit that Moses had, but they were not called to function in so many roles. As tradition claimed, he was indeed the greatest of the prophets, and, as history shows, few of humanity’s great personalities outrank him in influence.

Early Life

If there was a historical man named Moses, he would most likely have been born in Egypt (the "Land of Goshen") during the reign of Ramses II (ruled 1279–1213 BCE), the pharaoh of the New Kingdom's 19th dynasty.

According to the Torah, Moses was the youngest of three children born to Yocheved (sometimes spelled Jochebed) and Avram. Yocheved was the daughter of Levi she married Avram, a grandson of Levi, which means Yocheved was also Avram's aunt. Moses' siblings were Aaron (the founder of the Hebraic priestly dynasty) and Miriam (an important prophetess).

God Calls Moses Out To Deliver His People

After 40 years of Moses being in the desert, God hears the cries of His people under their Egyptian bondage. The Bible says that God acknowledges their cries and plight under the Egyptian rule and decides He will deliver them out of their bondage because of the previous covenant that He had made with their earlier forefathers &ndash Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

God first makes contact with Moses through a burning bush. Initially an angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a &ldquoflame of fire from the midst of a bush.&rdquo This bush is burning with fire, but the bush itself is not being consumed by the fire!

God then starts to speak directly to Moses. He tells Moses that He has heard the cries of His people in Egypt and that He is calling Moses out to be the one who will go in there and deliver them from their plight with the Egyptians. God is thus going to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians through Moses!

God then proceeds to tell Moses that he will be the one to deliver and lead them out of their captivity, and that he will then lead them into a &ldquogood and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and Hittites.&rdquo

Moses&rsquo initial response to God was that who was he to go down and bring the children of Israel out from their Egyptian bondage? God then tells Moses that He will be with him during this entire deliverance and for him to tell the children of Israel, when they ask the name of their God, that His name is:

&ldquoI AM who I AM.&rdquo

He further tells Moses to tell His people that He is the God of their fathers &ndash Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob &ndash and that He is going to deliver His people and bring them into a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

God then tells Moses to approach the Pharaoh after he has pulled his people together for this deliverance, and to tell the Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go into the wilderness for their three day journey into the Promised Land.

God then tells Moses that the Pharaoh is not going to let them go on this first request. He then tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh that if he does not let His people go, that He will stretch out His hand and strike Egypt with all of His wonders.

God tells Moses that after He stretches out His hand with all of these wonders against the Pharaoh, that the Pharaoh will then let them go.

After receiving all of the above instructions from God, Moses still questions the Lord about all of this. He then asks God &ndash &ldquoBut suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice suppose they say, &lsquoThe Lord has not appeared to you.&rdquo

God then proceeds with miracle #1.

God then moves into miracle #2.

He tells Moses to put his hand into his bosom and then to take it back out again. When he takes his hand back out again, his hand then becomes like leprous snow. He then tells Moses to put his hand back into his bosom and to take it back out again. He does, and when he pulls his hand back out again, his hand is restored back to its original condition.

God then tells Moses that if they still will not believe him, that he is to take water from the river and pour it on dry land, and the water will then become blood on the dry land. After God shows Moses all of the above, Moses still questions God as to whether He has chosen the right man for the job. He proceeds to tell the Lord that he is not eloquent enough, and that he is too slow of speech and tongue. God then responds back saying to him:

&ldquoWho has made man&rsquos mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.&rdquo (Exodus 4:11)

After God makes this powerful statement to Moses, Moses still questions God on choosing him and says to God &ndash &ldquoO my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever else You may send.&rdquo

At this point, the Bible says that the anger of the Lord was kindled as a result of Moses questioning His decision to call him out for this task. However, seeing Moses&rsquo lack of self-confidence in himself, God then proceeds to tell Moses to take his brother Aaron with him. God says that Aaron can speak well and for Moses to convey God&rsquos message to Aaron, and that God will be with the both of them and will teach them both what to say and what to do.

God tells Moses that Aaron will be the spokesman to the people, and that Moses shall be to Aaron &ldquoas God.&rdquo

What God just did, in order to help Moses out with his lack of self-confidence, was to make Aaron his spokesman for when he would be too afraid to speak out to the people, but that God would still deliver the orders and instructions as to what was to be done directly to Moses.

There is an awful lot to learn from this dialogue that had just occurred between God and Moses.


Elliot Coleman gave the keynote talk at the first conference, which would later become known as the MOSES Conference.

The organization has its roots in the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, which was created in 1990 to help educate the growing number of farmers interested in organic agriculture. That first conference in 1990 drew 90 farmers.

In 1999, when conference attendance rose above 1,000, conference planners decided it was time to create a new entity to meet the year-round educational needs of organic and sustainable farmers. They created MOSES and hired Faye Jones, a market farmer who’d been instrumental in organizing the conference, as its leader.

Today, MOSES has a staff of 10 that manages educational events, programs, publications, and more to help farmers succeed in organic production. The Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference has become known as the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, or simply, the MOSES Conference. It is now the country’s largest event for the organic farming community, reaching more than 3,500 attendees each year.

Was Moses real?

If Moses existed today, muses Christian Bale, the actor who plays the biblical figure in Ridley Scott's upcoming blockbuster, "drones would be sent after him." According to Bale, the champion of ancient Egypt's enslaved Israelites was a dangerous revolutionary.

"[He was] absolutely seen as a freedom fighter for the Hebrews, but a terrorist in terms of the Egyptian empire," the actor told ABC's Nightline last month.

This silliness is probably in keeping with the film -- just take a look at the trailer above for "Exodus: Gods and Kings," which opens Friday in the United States. It's also compounded by Scott's cringe-worthy justification for casting white actors in lead roles, rather than people who would look more like those who live in modern-day Egypt and the Levant. (Scott insisted his Moses could not be played by "Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such" because then nobody would finance his film.)

The figure of Moses is well-known: He's the subject of generations of Hollywood spectacle and a holy man revered by all three faiths of the Book. In his legend's wake are a bunch of commandments, rivers of blood, plagues of frogs and a sea that parts.

Yet, outside of biblical scripture, there is next to no evidence in the archaeological and historical record of Moses's existence. There is no exact time frame for when the events of Exodus may have occurred -- with scholarly conjecture spanning more than half a millennium. Nor do we know the identity of the villainous Pharaoh in the Bible, cast in films repeatedly as Ramesses II. That pharaoh is famed for his conquests and building projects. But in their digs and readings of inscriptions and papyrus, historians have found no trace of Moses under Ramesses's reign.

They also puzzle over the seismic environmental event that is the parting of the Red Sea. There are various scientific theories over what could have happened. Over at Wonkblog, my colleague Chris Mooney looked into one model that saw strong winds sweep through a brackish lagoon in the Nile Delta (not the actual Red Sea), creating a channel through which runaway Israelites could flee.

Moses - History

Photo: Alinari/Art Resource, NY.

This is one of the most interesting questions a Biblical scholar can explore, mostly because so much study has been done on Moses’ public life as a leader of the Israelites.

The Moses we know goes from floating in a basket among the reeds along the Nile as an infant to murdering an Egyptian to becoming the majestic tribal leader parting the Red Sea.

That’s why it’s fascinating to dig deeper into the Hebrew Bible commentary on Moses for clues to his personal life. Was he deeply religious as a young man? Was he a natural shepherd of men? Are these the reasons that YHWH chose him to lead His people?

In fact, the answers are murky, but Professor H. Daniel Hays gives us the best possible understanding of the mysteries of Moses in the Hebrew Bible in “Moses: The Private Man Behind the Public Leader.”

Hays delivers a close reading of the Biblical passages related to the inner Moses: His violent streak. His identity as an Egyptian, not an Israelite, when he arrives in Midian. His marriage into another pagan community. This is not YHWH’s Moses that Hays has unearthed in Exodus!

That Moses emerges, of course, as he encounters his God in the burning bush, and departs Midian on God’s command to return to Egypt to rescue his people. Yet even then, Moses does a strange thing, Hays notes: He asks his father-in-law permission to go, even creating an excuse that he must “go back to my kinsmen in Egypt and see how they are faring.”

Until this moment, Moses was anything but a devout Jew. And in following Hays’s reading of Exodus, it can certainly be startling to realize this about one of the Bible’s most heroic leaders!

Getting to know Moses better

Photo: Scala/Art Resource, NY.

There is so much more to understand about Moses, it’s almost overwhelming. But the Biblical Archaeology Society leads you forward: Learn how Moses’ name, rather than being a Hebrew name related to his being drawn out of the Nile, was more likely an Egyptian name meaning “Son of God”—and an indicator of the new personal piety that was beginning to take shape in the Egypt of Ramesses the Great.

Or consider the reasoning of Professor William H.C. Propp when he reveals why Moses was condemned to die in the wilderness, instead of leading his people into Canaan. Perhaps you would also be intrigued by Moses’ death scene, contrasted with those of his sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron. Writes Erica S. Brown of Moses’ final moments, when he tries to resist his impending death:

“He fought God in defense of the people and the people in the defense of God.”

Moses’ fighting nature is a common theme among Mosaic scholars, exemplified by a title to another article by Professor Propp: “Moses: From Vigilante to Lawgiver.” No wonder the actor Charlton Heston was so successful at portraying Moses in that 1950s Hollywood extravaganza movie we’re all familiar with: He was equally skilled at playing both fighter and noble Jew, both of which roles lived in Moses himself.

And with the Biblical Archaeology Society, there’s no shrinking from surprising or even unwelcome interpretations of Moses’ character. Leading intellects explore the great and tragic man in detail, truly a curious Biblical scholar’s dream.

That’s why BAS has compiled the remarkable Special Collection The Biblical Moses. Follow the great scholars’ reasoning in all these articles:

But there is a catch in learning more about the Biblical Moses: You must join the Biblical Archaeology Society as an All-Access Pass member! When you join, you’ll gain access to an incredible library that covers everything from Adam and Eve, to Moses, to deep dives into modern beliefs about Easter and the death of Jesus.

A sibling rivalry

Moses is the most important prophet in Judaism, and as the person to whom the authorship of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is traditionally attributed, he's overall one of the most important dudes in all of the Bible. However, most modern biblical scholars say that the Torah wasn't actually written by Moses. In fact, they say it wasn't written by any one person. Instead, they say it's a composite of multiple documents that were edited together. And in the earliest of these documents, it seems like Moses' role was even more prominent and had to actually be toned down by communities who liked Moses' brother, Aaron, better.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, in the earliest sources for the Torah, Moses did everything, and the only mention of Aaron was when he built the golden calf for the Israelites, which wasn't exactly a high point for him. The reason for this seems to be that the earliest sources were written in the northern kingdom, where Moses was the biggest fish, while later documents from the south were written by Aaron fans, who made him Moses' helper and spokesman, as well as softening his culpability in the golden calf incident and generally adding "Aaron was also there" throughout the Torah. Aaron's main role in tradition is that of the first high priest, and so the passages of the Torah attributed to the priestly class account for some 90 percent of the references to Aaron in the Bible.

Musa (Moses) - The Story of Moses

The pharaoh who ruled Egypt was a tyrant who oppressed the descendants of Jacob , known as the children of Israel (Bani Israel). He used every means to demean and disgrace them. They were kept in bondage and forced to work for him for small wages or nothing. Under this system the people obeyed and worshipped the pharaoh, and the ruling class carried out his orders, thereby authorizing his tyranny and crazy whims.

The pharaoh wanted the people to obey him only, and to believe in the gods of his invention. Perhaps, during that time, there were many classes of people who did not believe in or practice polytheism however, they kept this to themselves and outwardly did as they were expected to do, without revolting or revealing themselves to anyone.

Thus, successive dynasties came to Egypt and assumed that they were gods or their representatives or spokesmen.

Visions of Dethroning the Pharaoh

Years passed, and a despotic king, who was adored by the Egyptians, ruled Egypt. This king saw the children of Israel multiplying and prospering. He heard them talking about a vague vision that one of Israel's sons would dethrone the pharaoh of Egypt. Perhaps this vision was only a daydream that persisted within the hearts of the persecuted minority, or perhaps it was a prophecy from their books.

Another tradition states that it was Pharaoh himself who had the vision. Ibn Abbas narrated: "Pharaoh saw in his vision a fire which came from Jerusalem and burned the houses of the Egyptians, and all Copts, and did not do harm to the children of Israel. When he woke up, he was horrified. He then gathered his priests and magicians and asked them about this vision. They said: 'This means a boy will be born of them and the Egyptian people will perish at his hands.' That is why Pharaoh commanded that all male children of the children of Israel be killed."

Either way, this vision reached the ears of the Pharaoh. He then issued a decree to slay any male child that would be born to the children of Israel.

The Killing of the Children of Israel

This (the killing of the children of Israel) was carried out until the experts of economics said to Pharaoh: "The aged of the children of Israel die and the young are slaughtered. This will lead to their annihilation. As a result, Pharaoh will lose the manpower of those who work for him, those whom he enslaves, and their women whom he exploits. It is better to regulate this procedure by initiating the following policy: males should be slaughtered in one year and spared to live the next year." Pharaoh found that solution to be safer economically.

The Birth of Aaron and Moses (PBUT)

Moses's mother was pregnant with Aaron in a year that boys were to be spared thus she gave birth to the child publicly and safely. During a year in which boys were to be slain, she gave birth to Moses thus his birth caused her much terror. She was afraid he would be slain, so she nursed him secretly.

Description of the Pharaoh - Qur'anic

Allah the Almighty revealed: These are Verses of the manifest Book (that makes clear truth from falsehood, good from evil, etc.). We recite to you some of the news of Moses and Pharaoh in truth, for a people who believe (those who believe in this Qur'an, and in the Oneness of Allah). Verily, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (i.e. children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsideen (i.e., those who commit great sins and crimes, oppressors, tyrants, etc.).

The Birth of Moses - Qur'anic

And We wished to do a favor to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land, and to make them rulers and to make them the inheritors, and to establish them in the land, and We let Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts receive from them that which they feared. And We inspired the mother of Moses, (saying): "Suckle him (Moses), but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back to you, and shall make him one of (Our) Messengers." Surah 28: 2-7

Moses Thrown into the Nile

No sooner had the divine revelation finished than she obeyed the sacred and merciful call. She was commanded to make a basket for Moses. She nursed him, put him into the basket, then went to the shore of the Nile and threw it into the water. Her mother's heart, the most merciful one in the world, grieved as she threw her son into the Nile. However, she was aware that Allah was much more merciful to Moses than to her, that He loved him more than her. Allah was his Lord and the Lord of the Nile.

Hardly had the basket touched the water of the Nile than Allah issued His command to the waves to be calm and gentle while carrying the child would one day be a prophet.

She instructed her daughter to follow the course of the basket and to report back to her. As the daughter followed the floating basket along the river bank, she found herself right in the palace grounds and saw what was unfolding before her eyes.

Moses Finds a Home in the Palace

The basket came to rest at the river bank which skirted the king's palace. The palace servants found the basket with the baby and took it to the Pharaoh and his queen. When the queen beheld the lovely infant, Allah instilled in her a strong love for this baby. Pharaoh's wife was very different from Pharaoh. He was a disbeliever she was a believer. He was cruel she was merciful. He was a tyrant she was delicate and goodhearted. She was sad because she was infertile and had hoped to have a son. Hardly had she held the baby than she kissed him.

Pharaoh was much amazed when he saw his wife hugging this baby to her breast. He was much astonished because his wife was weeping with joy, something he had never seen her do before. She requested her husband: "Let me keep the baby and let him be a son to us."

Moses Finds a Home - Qur'anic

Almighty Allah said: Then the household of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a (cause of) grief Verily! Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts were sinners. And the wife of Pharaoh said: "A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he may be of benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son." And they perceived not (the result of that). Surah 28: 9

Moses and His Mother Reunited

The queen summoned a few wet nurses to suckle the baby Moses, but he would not take any of their breasts. The queen was distressed and sent for more wet nurses. Moses's sister was also worried, as her baby brother was without milk for a long time. Seeing the queen's anxiety, she blurted that she knew just the mother who would suckle the child affectionately.

They asked her why she was following the floating basket. She said she did so out of curiosity. Her excuse sounded reasonable, so they believed her. They ordered her to rush and fetch the woman she was talking about. Her mother also was waiting with a heavy heart, worried about the fate of her baby. Just then her daughter rushed in with the good news. Her heart lifted and she lost no time in reaching the palace. As the child was put to her breast, he immediately started suckling. Pharaoh was astonished and asked: "Who are you? This child has refused to take any other breast but yours."

Had she told the truth, Pharaoh would have known that the child was an Israelite and would have killed Moses instantly. However, Allah gave her inner strength and she replied: "I am a woman of sweet milk and sweet smell, and no child refuses me." This answer satisfied Pharaoh.

From that day onward, she was appointed as Moses's wet nurse. She continued to breast-feed him for a long time. When he was bigger and was weaned, she was allowed the privilege of visiting him. Moses was raised in the palace as a prince.

Moses and His Mother Reunited - Qur'anic

Allah the Almighty narrated: And the heart of the mother of Moses became empty (from every thought, except the thought of Moses). She was very near to disclose his (case, i.e. the child is her son), had We not strengthened her hearth (with Faith), so that she might remain as one of the believers. And she said to his (Moses's) sister: "Follow him." So she (his sister) watched him from a far place secretly, while they perceived not.

And We had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for him, until she (his sister came up and) said: "Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and sincerely they will look after him in a good manner?"

So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, and that she might know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of them know not. Surah 28: 10-13

The Qualities of Moses - Qur'anic

And when he attained his full strength, and was perfect (in manhood), We bestowed on him Hukman (Prophethood, right judgment of the affairs) and religious knowledge of the religion of his forefathers i.e., Islamic Monotheism. And thus do We reward the Muhsineen (i.e., good-doers). " Surah 28: 14

Moses Kills an Egyptian

Allah had granted Moses good health, strength, knowledge, and wisdom. The weak and oppressed turned to him for protection and justice.

One day in the main city, he saw two men fighting. One was an Israelite, who was being beaten by the other, an Egyptian. On seeing Moses, the Israelite begged him for help. Moses became involved in the dispute and, in a state of anger, struck a heavy blow on the Egyptian, who died on the spot. Upon realizing that he had killed a human being, Moses's heart was filled with deep sorrow, and immediately he begged Allah for forgiveness.

He had not intended to kill the man. He pleaded with Almighty Allah to forgive him, and he felt a sense of peace filling his whole being. Thereafter Moses began to show more patience and sympathy towards people.

The next day he saw the same Israelite involved in another fight. Moses went to him and said: 'You seem to be a quarrelsome fellow. You have a new quarrel with one person or another each day." Fearing that Moses might strike him, the Israelite warned Moses: "Would you kill me as you killed that wretch yesterday?"

The Egyptian with whom the Israelite was fighting overheard this remark and reported Moses to the authorities. Soon thereafter, as Moses was passing through the city, a man approached and alerted him: "0 Moses, the chiefs have taken counsel against you. You are to be tried and killed. I would advise you to escape."

Moses Kills an Egyptian - Qur'anic

Moses knew that the penalty for killing an Egyptian was death. Allah the Exalted recounted: And he entered the city at a time of unawareness of its people, and he found there two men fighting, - one of his party (his religion - from the children of Israel), and the other of his foes. The man of his (own) party asked him for help against his foe, so Moses struck him with his fist and killed him. He said: "This is of Satan's doing, verily, he is a plain misleading enemy."

He said: 'My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, so foorgive me." Then He forgave him. Verily, He is the OftForgiving, the Most Merciful.

He said: 'My Lord! For that with which You have favored me, I will never more be a helper for the Mujrimeen (criminals, disobedient to Allah, polytheists, sinners, etc.)!"

So he became afraid, looking about in the city (waiting as to what will be the result of his crime of killing), when behold, the man who had sought his help the day before, called for his help (again). Moses said to him: "Verily, you are a plain misleader!" Then when he decided to seize the man who was an enemy to both of them, the man said: "0 Moses! Is it your intention to kill me as you killed a man yesterday? Your aim is nothing but to become a tyrant in the land, and not to be one of those who do right."

And there came a man running, from the farthest end of the city. He said: "0 Moses! Verily, the chiefs are taking counsel together about you, to kill you, so escape. Truly, I am to you of those who give sincere advice."

So he escaped from there, looking about in a state of fear. He said: 'My Lord! Save me from the people who are Zalimeen (polytheists and wrong-doers)!" Surah 28: 15-21

Moses Leaves Egypt

Moses left Egypt in a hurry without going to Pharaoh's palace or changing his clothes. Nor was he prepared for traveling. He did not have a beast of burden upon which to ride, and he was not in a caravan. Instead, he left as soon as the believer came and warned him of Pharaoh's plans.

He traveled in the direction of the country of Midian, which was the nearest inhabited land between Syria and Egypt. His only companion in this hot desert was Allah, and his only provision was piety. There was not a single root to pick to lessen his hunger. The hot sand burned the soles of his feet. However, fearing pursuit by Pharaoh's men, he forced himself to continue on.

Moses Helps Women Shepherds

He traveled for eight nights, hiding during the day. After crossing the main desert, he reached a watering hole outside Midian where shepherds were watering their flocks.

No sooner had Moses reached Midian than he threw himself under a tree to rest. He suffered from hunger and fatigue. The soles of his feet felt as if they were worn out from hard walking on sand and rocks and from the dust. He did not have any money to buy a new pair of sandals, nor to buy food or drink. Moses noticed a band of shepherds watering their sheep. He went to the spring, where he saw two young women preventing their sheep from mixing with the others.

Moses sensed that the women were in need of help. Forgetting his thirst, he drew nearer to them and asked if he could help them in any way.

The older sister said: "We are waiting until the shepherds finish watering their sheep, then we will water ours."

Moses asked again: "Why are you waiting?"

The younger one said: "We cannot push men."

Moses was surprised that women were shepherding, as only men were supposed to do it. It is hard and tiresome work, and one needs to be on the alert. Moses asked: "Why are you shepherding?"

The younger sister said: "Our father is an old man his health is too poor for him to go outdoors for pasturing sheep."

Moses said: "I will water the sheep for you."

When Moses approached the water, he saw that the shepherds had put over the mouth of the spring an immense rock that could only be moved by ten men. Moses embraced the rock and lifted it out of the spring's mouth, the veins of his neck and hands standing out as he did so. Moses was certainly strong. He watered their sheep and put the rock back in its place.

He returned to sit in the shade of the tree. At this moment he realized that he had forgotten to drink. His stomach was sunken because of hunger.

Moses Helps Women Shepherds - Qur'anic

Almighty Allah described this event: And when he arrived at the water of Midian (Midyan) he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: "What is the matter with you ?" They said: "We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take (their flocks). And our father is a very old man."

So he watered their flocks for them, then he turned back to shade, and said: 'My Lord! Truly, I am in need of whatever good that You bestow on me!" Surah 28: 22-24

Moses Finds a Home Among Shepherds

The young ladies returned home earlier than usual, which surprised their father. They related the incident at the spring which was the reason that they were back early. Their father sent one of his daughters to invite the stranger to his home. Bashfully, the woman approached Moses and delivered the message. "My father is grateful for what you have done for us. He invites you to our home so that he may thank you personally."

Moses welcomed this invitation and accompanied the maiden to her father. Moses could see that they lived comfortably as a happy and peaceful household. He introduced himself and told the old man about the misfortune that had befallen him and had compelled him to flee from Egypt. The old man comforted him: "Fear not, you have escaped from the wrongdoers."

Moses's gentle behavior was noticed by the father and his daughters. The kind man invited him to stay with them. Moses felt at home with this happy household, for they were friendly and feared Allah.

Moses Becomes a Shepherd

One of the daughters suggested to her father that he employ Moses, as he was strong and trustworthy. They needed someone like him, especially at the water hole, which was visited by ruffians.

The father asked her how she could be sure of his trustworthiness in such a short time. She replied: "When I bade him to follow me to our home, he insisted that I walk behind him so he would not observe my form (to avoid sexual attraction)."

The old man was pleased to hear this. He approached Moses and said: "I wish to marry you to one of my daughters on condition that you agree to work for me for a period of eight years."

This offer suited Moses well, for being a stranger in this country he would soon have to search for shelter and work. Moses married the Midianite's daughter and looked after the old man's animals for ten long years.

Moses Becomes a Shepherd - Qur'anic

Almighty Allah recounted: Then there came to him one of the two women, walking shyly. She said: "Verily, my father calls you that he may reward you for having watered (our flocks) for us." So when he came to him and narrated the story, he said: "Fear you not. You have escaped from the people who are Zalimeen (polyt heists, disbelievers, and wrong-doers)." And said one of them (the two women): "0 my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy." He said: "I intend to wed one of these two daughters of mine to you, on condition that you serve me for eight years, but if you complete ten years, it will be (a favor) from you. But I intend not to place you under a difficulty. If Allah wills, you will find me one of the righteous." He (Moses) said: "That (is settled) between me and you whichever of the two terms I fulfill, there will be no injustice to me, and Allah is Surety over what we say." Surah 28: 25-28

The Ten Years of Preparation

Time passed, and he lived in seclusion far from his family and his people. This period of ten years was of importance in his life. It was a period of major preparation. Certainly Moses's mind was absorbed in the stars every night. He followed the sunrise and the sunset every day. He pondered on the plant and how it splits the soil and appears thereafter. He contemplated water and how the earth is revived by it and flourishes after its death.

Of course, he was immersed in the Glorious Book of Allah, open to the insight and heart. He was immersed in the existence of Allah. All these became latent within him. The religion of Moses was the same as that of Jacob , which was Islamic monotheism. His forefather was Jacob the grandson of Abraham . Moses , therefore, was one of the descendants of Abraham and every prophet who came after Abraham was one of Abraham's successors.

In addition to physical preparation, there was a similar spiritual preparation. It was made in complete seclusion, in the middle of the desert and in the places of pasture. Silence was his way of life, and seclusion was his vehicle. Allah the Almighty prepared for His prophet the tools he would need later on to righteously bear the commands of Allah the Exalted.

Moses Decides to Return to Egypt

One day after the end of this period, a vague homesickness arose in Moses's heart. He wanted to return to Egypt. He was fast and firm in making his decision, telling his wife: 'Tomorrow we shall leave for Egypt." His wife said to herself: 'There are a thousand dangers in departing that have not yet been revealed." However, she obeyed her husband.

Moses himself did not know the secret of the quick and sudden decision to return to Egypt. After all, he had fled from there ten years ago with a price on his head. Why should he go back now? Did he look forward to seeing his mother and brother? Did he think of visiting Pharaoh's wife who had raised him and who loved him as if she were his mother?

No one knows what went through Moses's mind when he returned to Egypt. All we know is that a mute obedience to Allah's destinies impelled him to make a decision and he did. These supreme destinies steered his steps towards a matter of great importance.

Moses Begins His Prophethood

Moses left Midian with his family and traveled through the desert until he reached Mount Sinai. There Moses discovered that he had lost his way. He sought Allah's direction and was shown the right course. At nightfall they reached Mount Tur. Moses noticed a fire in the distance. "I shall fetch a firebrand to warm us."

As he neared the fire, he heard a sonorous voice calling him: "0 Moses, I am Allah, the Lord of the Universe." Moses was bewildered and looked around. He again heard the strange voice. "And what is in your right hand, 0 Moses?"

Shivering, Moses answered: 'This is my staff on which I lean, and with which I beat down branches for my sheep, and for which I find other uses." (This question was asked so that Moses's attention would focus on the staff and to prepare him for the miracle which was to happen. This was the beginning of Moses's mission as a prophet - PBUH.)

The same voice commanded him: 'Throw down your staff'." He did so, and at once the staff became a wriggling snake. Moses turned to run, but the voice again addressed him: "Fear not and grasp it We shall return it to its former state." The snake changed back into his staff. Moses's fear subsided and was replaced by peace, for he realized that he was witnessing the Truth.

Next, Allah commanded him to thrust his hand into his robe at the armpit. When he pulled it out, the hand had a brilliant shine. Allah then commanded Moses: 'You have two signs from your Lord go to Pharaoh and his chiefs, for they are an evil gang and have transgressed all bounds."

However, Moses feared that he would be arrested by Pharaoh, so he turned to Allah saying: "My Lord! I have killed a man among them and I fear that they will kill me."

Allah assured him of his safety and set his heart at rest.

Moses Begins His Prophethood - Qur'anic

Almighty Allah narrated this event: And has there come to you the story of Moses? When he saw a fire, he said to his family: "Wait! Verily, I have seen a fire, perhaps I can bring you some burning brand therefrom, or find some guidance at the fire."

And when he came to it (the fire), he was called by name: "0 Moses! Verily! I am your Lord! So take off your shoes, you are in the sacred valley, Tuwa, And I have chosen you. So listen to that which is inspired to you. Verily! I am Allah! La ilaha illa Ana (none has the right to be worshipped but I), so worship Me, and offer prayers perfectly, for My Remembrance. Verily, the Hour is coming - and My Will is to keep it hidden - that every person may be rewarded for that which he strives. Therefore, let the one who believes not therein (i.e. in the Day of Resurrection, Reckoning, Paradise and Hell, etc.), but follows his own lusts, divert you therefrom lest you perish. And what is that in your right hand, 0 Moses?"

He said: "This is my stick, whereon I lean, and wherewith I beat down branches for my sheep, and wherein I find other uses."

(Allah) said: "Cast it down, 0 Moses!"

He cast it down, and behold! It was a snake, moving quickly.

Allah said: "Grasp it, and fear not, We shall return it to its former state, - and press your (right) hand to your (left) side, it will come forth white (and shining), without any disease as another sign, - that We may show you (some) of Our Greater Signs.

"Go to Pharoah! Verily, he has transgressed (all bounds in disbelief and disobedience, and has behaved as an arrogant, and as a tyrant)." Surah 9-24

Moses and Aaron (PBUT) Given Their Duties

(Moses) said: "0 my Lord! Open for me my chest (grant me self-confidence, contentment, and boldness). And ease my task for me and make loose the knot (the defect) from my tongue, (i.e. remove the incorrectness of my speech) that they understand my speech, and appoint for me a helper from my family, Aaron, my brother increase my strength with him, and let him share my task (of conveying Allah's Message and Prophethood), that we may glorify You much, and remember You much, Verily! You are of us Ever a Well-Seer."

Allah said: "You are granted your request, 0 Moses! And indeed We conferred a favor on you another time (before). When We inspired your mother with that which We inspired, saying: 'Put him (the child) into the Tabut (a box or case or a chest) and put him into the river (Nile), then the river shall cast it up on the bank, and there, an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his shall take him.' And I endued you with love from Me, in order that you may be brought up under My Eye, when your sister went and said: 'Shall I show you one who will nurse him?' So We restored you to your mother, that she might cool her eyes and she should not grieve. Then you did kill a man, but We saved you from great distress and tried you with a heavy trial. Then you stayed a number of years with the people of Madyan (Midian). Then you came here according to the fixed term which I ordained (for you), 0 Moses!

"And I have Istanatuka chosen you for My Inspiration and My Message for Myself Go you and your brother with My Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), and do not, you both, slacken and become weak in My Remembrance.

"Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, verily, he has transgressed (all bounds in disbelief and disobedience and behaved as an arrogant and as a tyrant). And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear Allah."

They said. "Our Lord! Verily! We fear lest he should hasten to punish us or lest he should transgress (all bounds against us)."

He (Allah) said. "Fear not, Verily! I am with you both, Hearing and Seeing. So go you both to him, and say: 'Verily, we are Messengers of your Lord, so let the children of Israel go with us, and torment them not indeed, we have come with a sign from your Lord! And peace will be upon him who follows the guidance! Truly, it has been revealed to us that the torment will be for him who denies believes not in the Oneness of Allah, and in His Messengers, etc., and turns away' (from the truth and obedience of Allah)." Surah 20: 25-48

Moses and Aaron (PBUT) Talk to the Pharaoh

Moses and Aaron went together to Pharaoh and delivered their message. Moses spoke to him about Allah, His mercy and His Paradise and about the obligations of monotheism and His worship. Pharaoh listened to Moses's speech with disdain. He thought that Moses was crazy because he dared to question his supreme position. Then he raised his hand and asked. "What do you want?"

Moses answered: "I want you to send the children of Israel with us."

Pharaoh asked: "Why should I send them, as they are my slaves?"

Moses replied: 'They are the slaves of Allah, Lord of the Worlds."

Pharaoh then inquired sarcastically if his name was Moses. Moses said: 'Yes."

"Are you not the Moses whom we picked up from the Nile as a helpless baby? Are you not the Moses whom we reared in this palace, who ate and drank from our provisions and whom our wealth showered with charity? Are you not the Moses who is a fugitive, the killer of an Egyptian man, if my memory does not betray me? It is said that killing is an act of disbelief. Therefore, you were a disbeliever when you killed. You are a fugitive from justice and you come to speak to me! What were you talking about Moses, I forgot?"

Moses knew that Pharaoh's mentioning his past, his upbringing, and his receiving Pharaoh's charity was Pharaoh's way of threatening him. Moses ignored his sarcasm and explained that he was not a disbeliever when he killed the Egyptian he only went astray and Allah the Almighty had not yet given him the revelation at that time.

He made Pharaoh understand that he fled from Egypt because he was afraid of their revenge upon him, even though the killing was an accident. He informed him that Allah had granted him forgiveness and made him one of the messengers.

Moses and Aaron (PBUT) Talk to the Pharaoh - Qur'anic

Allah the Almighty revealed to us part of the dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh: Allah said. "Nay! Go you both with Our Signs. Verily! We shall be with you, listening. And when you both come to Pharaoh, say: 'We are the Messengers of the Lord of the Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists), - So allow the children of Israel to go with us.

(Pharaoh) said (to Moses): "Did we not bring you up among us as a child? And you did dwell many years of you life with us. And you did your deed which you did (i.e. the crime of killing a man). And you are one of the ingrates."

Moses said: "I did it then, when I was an ignorant (as regards my Lord and His Message). So I fled from you when I feared you. But my Lord has granted me Hukman (i.e., religious knowledge, right judgments of the affairs and Prop het hood), and appointed me as one of the Messengers. And this is the past favor with which you reproach me, - that you have enslaved the children of Israel."

Pharaoh said: "And what is the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinn and all that exists)?"

Moses replied: "Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, if you seek to be convinced with certainty."

Pharaoh said to those around: "Do you not hear (what he says)?"

Moses said: "Your Lord and the Lord of your ancient fathers!"

Pharaoh said: "Verily, your Messenger who has been sent to you is a madman!"

Moses said: "Lord of the east and the west, and all that is between them, if you did but understand!"

Pharaoh said: "If you choose an ilah (a god) other than me, I will certainly put you among the prisoners."

Moses said: "Even if I bring you something manifest (and convincing)."

Pharoah said: "Bring it forth then, if you are of the truthful!" Surah 26: 16-31

Moses Proves Himself Right

The degree of the conflict expressed in this dialogue reached its apex thus, the tone of dialogue changed. Moses used a convincing intellectual argument against Pharaoh. However, Pharaoh escaped from the circle of this dialogue based on logic and began a dialogue of another type, a type which Moses could not bear to follow: a dialogue of menacing and threatening. Pharaoh deliberately adopted the style of the absolute ruler. He asked Moses how he dared to worship Allah! Did he not know that Pharaoh was a god?

After declaring his divinity, Pharaoh asked Moses how he dared to worship another god. The punishment for this crime was imprisonment. It was not permitted for anyone to worship anyone other than Pharaoh.

Moses understood that the intellectual arguments did not succeed. The calm dialogue was converted from sarcasm to mentioning charity, then to scorn, then to the threat of imprisonment.

Moses said: "Even if I bring you something manifest (and convincing)." Pharaoh said: "Bring it forth then, if you are of the truthful!" So Moses threw his stick, and behold, it was a serpent, manifest. And he drew out his hand, and behold, it was white to all beholders! Surah 26: 30-33

Moses Defeats the Magicians

Pharaoh's amazement turned to terror. Fearing that his rule was in danger, he addressed his advisors: 'These are two wizards who will strip you of your best traditions and drive you out of the country with their magic. What do you advise?" They counseled Pharaoh to detain Moses and his brother while they summoned the cleverest magicians in the country. Then they too, could show their skills of magic and change sticks into serpents. In this way they sought to reduce the influence of Moses's miracles on the masses.

Pharaoh detained Moses and Aaron. He dispatched couriers all over the land to enlist the best magicians. He offered each successful magician a big reward, including appointment as a royal courtier.

On the customary festival day, which attracted citizens from all over the Egyptian empire, Pharaoh arranged for a public contest between Moses and the magicians. The people came in droves as never before when they heard of the greatest contest ever between Pharaoh's many magicians and a single man who claimed to be a prophet. They had also heard of a baby who had once floated down the river Nile in a basket, landed on Pharaoh's palace grounds, been reared as a prince, and who later had fled for killing an Egyptian with a single blow.

Everyone was eager and excited to watch this great contest. Before it began, Moses arose. There was a hush in the huge crowd. Moses addressed the magicians. "Woe unto you, if you invent a lie against Allah by calling His miracles magic and by not being honest with the Pharaoh. Woe unto you, if you do not know the difference between the truth and falsehood. Allah will destroy you with His punishment, for he who lies against Allah fails miserably."

Moses had spoken sincerely and made the magicians think. But they were overwhelmed by their greed for money and glory. They hoped to impress the people with their magic and to expose Moses as a fraud and a cheat.

Moses asked the magicians to perform first. They threw their magical objects down on the ground. Their staffs and ropes took the forms of wriggling serpents while the crowd watched in amazement. Pharaoh and his men applauded loudly. Then Moses threw his staff. It began to wriggle vigorously and became an enormous serpent. The people stood up, craning their necks for a better view.

Pharaoh and his men sat silently as, one by one, Moses's huge serpent swallowed all the snakes. Moses bent to pick it up, and it became a staff in his hand.

The crowd rose like a great wave, shouting and screaming with excitement. A wonder like this had never been seen before! On witnessing the power of Moses, the magicians prostrated themselves to Allah, declaring: "We believe in the Lord of Moses and Aaron." Pharaoh was angry and began plotting his next move. He charged that the demonstration had been arranged secretly between Moses and the magicians. He demanded that the magicians confess to their scheme, threatening them with death. They refused to denounce Allah and stuck to the sincerity of their belief. No longer hiding his cruel nature, Pharaoh threatened to cut off their hands and feet and to crucify them on the trunks of palm trees as an example to his subjects.

Moses Defeats the Magicians - Qur'anic

Almighty Allah recounted this event: He (Pharaoh) said: "Have you come to drive us out of our land with your magic, 0 Moses? Then verily, we can produce magic the like thereof, so appoint a meeting between us and you, which neither we, nor you shall fail to keep, in an open wide place where both shall have a just and equal chance (and beholders could witness the competition)."

(Moses) said: "Your appointed meeting is the day of the festival, and let the people assemble when the sun has risen (forenoon)."

So Pharaoh withdrew, devised his plot and then came back.

Moses said to them: "Woe unto you! Invent not a lie against Allah, lest He should destroy you completely by a torment. And surely, he who invents a lie (against Allah) will fail miserably."

Then they debated with one another what they must do, and they kept their talk secret. They said: "Verily! These are two magicians. Their object is to drive you out from your land with magic, and overcome your chiefs and nobles. So devise your plot, and then assemble in line. And whoever overcomes this day will be indeed successful."

They said: "0 Moses! Either you throw first or we be the first to throw?"

(Moses) said: "Nay, throw you (first)!" Then behold, their ropes and their sticks, - by their magic, - appeared to him as though they moved fast. So Moses conceived a fear in himself.

We (Allah) said: "Fear not! Surely, you will have the upper hand. And throw that which is in your right hand! It will swallow up that which they have made. That which they have made is only a magician's trick, and the magician will never be successful, no matter whatever amount (of skill) he may attain."

So the magicians fell down prostrate. They said: "We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses."

(Pharaoh) said: "Believe you in him (Moses) before I give you permission? Verily! He is your chief who taught you magic. So I will surely cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will surely crucify you on the trunks of palm-trees, and you shall surely know which of us I (Pharaoh) or the Lord of Moses (Allah) can give the severe and more lasting torment."

They said: "We prefer you not over the clear signs that have come to us, and to Him (Allah) Who created us. So decree (regarding) this life of the world. Verily! We have believed in our Lord, that He may forgive us our faults, and the magic to which you did compel us. And Allah is better as regards reward in comparison to your (Pharaoh's) reward, and more lasting (as regards punishment in comparison to your punishment)." Surah 20: 58-73

Allah's Description of Believers and Non-Believers

Verily! Whoever comes to his Lord as a Mujrim (criminal, polytheist, disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah and His Messengers, sinner, etc.), then surely, for him is Hell, therein he will neither die nor live.

But whoever comes to Him (Allah) as a believer (in the Oneness of Allah, etc.), and has done righteous good deeds, for such are the high ranks (in the Hereafter), - Everlasting Gardens (Adn Paradise), under which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever: such is the reward of those who purify themselves by abstaining from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which Allah has forbidden and by doing all that which Allah has ordained. Surah 20: 74-76

The People's Non-Reaction to the defeat of the magicians

The magicians represented the elite of the Egyptian society. They were its scholars. They prostrated before righteousness, but the people abandoned them and left them to their fate. The path of righteousness was plain, but in spite of this, the people did nothing but stand by and watch.

If every one of the Egyptians had stooped to pick up a piece of brick and had thrown it at Pharaoh, he would have fallen dead and the history of Egypt would have been changed.

This obviously did not happen. None of the people moved. Each one stood motionless in his place. The people did nothing but watch, and they paid the price for this inactivity: they were drowned later as the price for their cowardice of one day.

The Pharaoh's Reaction to Moses's Victory

Moses and Aaron left, and Pharaoh returned to his palace. Pharaoh was completely stupefied when he faced the two miracles. When Moses went out of his presence, his emotions changed from amazement and fear to violent rage. He quarreled with his ministers and men, reviled them bitterly for no reason, and commanded them to get out of his presence. When he was left alone, he tried to think more calmly. He drank several cups of wine, but his anger did not abate.

Then he summoned all the ministers, leaders, and responsible men for a serious meeting. Pharaoh entered the meeting with a rigid face. It was obvious that he would never surrender easily. He had established a kingdom on the basis of his being a god worshipped by the Egyptian people. Now Moses came to destroy what he had built. Moses said that there was no Lord other than Allah in existence. This meant that Pharaoh was a liar.

Pharaoh opened the session by throwing a sudden question at Haman: "Am I a liar, 0 Haman?"

Haman fell to his knees in amazement and asked: "Who dared to accuse Pharaoh of lying?"

Pharaoh said: "Has he (Moses) not said that there is a Lord in the heaven?"

Haman answered: "Moses is lying."

Turning his face to the other side, Pharaoh asserted impatiently: "I know he is a liar." Then he looked towards Haman (and cried): "0 Haman! Build me a tower that I may arrive at the ways, - the ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the Ilah (God) of Moses but verily, I think him to be a liar."

Thus it was made fair-seeming, in Pharaoh's eyes, the evil of his deeds, and he was hindered from the (Right) Path, and the plot of Pharaoh led to nothing but loss and destruction (for him). Surah 40: 36-37

Pharaoh issued his royal command to erect a lofty tower, its height to reach the heavens. Pharaoh's command depended fundamentally upon Egyptian civilization and its fondness for building what Pharaoh wanted. However, he ignored the rules of engineering. In spite of this, Haman assented (hypocritically), knowing that it was impossible to erect such a tower. He said that he would issue a command to build it immediately. "However, your majesty, let me object to Pharaoh for the first time. You will never find anyone in the heavens. There is no god but you."

Pharaoh listened to a settled fact. Then he declared in the famous meeting his historic line: "0 chiefs! I know not that you have an ilah (a god) other than me." Surah 28: 38

Chief Moses was the leader of the Columbia band of Indians, who gave his name to both Moses Lake and Moses Coulee. He was born in 1829, the son of a chief of this Central Washington tribe. His father sent him off at age 10 to Rev. Henry Spalding's Christian mission at Lapwai, Idaho, to learn Christianity and the white man's ways. Moses received his Christian name there, but was never baptized. He soon returned to his own people and as a young man came to be known as a brave warrior, a fierce opponent of white intrusion, and an influential leader. During the Indian wars and subsequent reservation negotiations, he emerged as one of the most influential tribal leaders in the entire Inland Northwest. Many white settlers distrusted Chief Moses -- he was accused of murder several times -- yet for decades he maintained a careful balance between friendliness and resistance, always stopping short of outright hostility. He went to Washington D.C. twice, where he signed two treaties and shook the hand of a U.S. president. However, his dream of a permanent reservation encompassing his mid-Columbia River homeland was thwarted on several occasions. He and his tribe eventually moved on to the Colville Reservation, north of the Columbia. He was an influential leader on the reservation and helped the defeated Chief Joseph (1840-1904) and his Nez Perce band to settle there. He died at the age of 70, recognized -- grudgingly, in some cases -- as a powerful, stalwart diplomat for his people.

Early Years

Chief Moses, at various times, gave his birthplace as either the Wenatchee Flat near the Columbia River, or in the nearby coulee which eventually bore his name, Moses Coulee. Both were sites frequented by his tribe, the Columbia Indians, also called the Columbia Sinkiuse or Sincayuse, according to Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, authors of a biography of Chief Moses, Half-Sun on the Columbia.

The tribe had once numbered in the thousands, but by the time Moses was born in 1829, the tribe was sadly diminished to only a few hundred after having been decimated by smallpox and malaria.

Moses was the son of Half-Sun (Sulktalthscosum) the chief of the tribe, and Between-the-Robes (Karneetsa), a half-Spokane woman. The child was named Loolowkin, a name that would change several times over his lifetime.

The boy spent months, sometimes entire years, traveling across the Rockies to Montana on expeditions with his father's buffalo-hunting parties. The tribe also roamed widely through central and north-central Washington, from Kettle Falls in the north to the Yakima River in the south to the slopes of the Cascade Mountains in the west. Sometimes, they would camp at a marshy lake where the tribe gathered duck eggs, later to be called Moses Lake.

When the boy was about 10 (or 12 by some accounts), his father sent him on an adventure that would change his life forever. The chief had heard about a white missionary, Rev. Henry H. Spalding (1803-1874), who had established a mission and school at Lapwai, Idaho. The chief believed that Rev. Spalding was in possession of powerful medicine in the form of written words -- the Bible. The chief resolved to send one of his sons to Lapwai to learn this magic, and he chose Loolowkin (Moses).

So Loolowkin rode all the way to Lapwai and soon began learning to read the Bible and speak English. Little is known about his three years at Lapwai, but apparently he was a reluctant student. He often played hooky by sneaking out to his Appaloosa pony and riding into the mountains instead of going to his lessons.

Yet he learned some English and even more Nez Perce, along with the rudiments of agriculture. He also learned a number of Bible stories which he remembered all of his life. Spalding gave the boy the Christian name Moses, in hopes that the boy would one day be a leader of his people. There is no record that he was ever baptized. He sometimes talked about his love for Jesus, but he apparently never considered himself a full-fledged Christian.

Moses grew to like and admire Spalding, but he must have been desperately homesick. One day, the boy said a spirit told him to return to his mother's tipi. He untied his horse and rode nearly 200 miles home, without even saying goodbye.

Sometime after returning to his tribe, he joined a buffalo-hunting expedition to Montana. While there, Blackfeet warriors attacked the party. Moses was too young to take part in the fighting, but he was enlisted to shuttle ammunition and water to his father's warriors. While gathering supplies at camp, a Blackfeet warrior appeared and came after Moses with a knife. Moses somehow managed to throw the warrior to the ground and stab him through the heart with his own knife.

"It was his life or mine," Moses would later say (Ruby and Brown).

Because of this incident, Moses was accepted at an early age as a brave warrior. His tribe had numerous other clashes with the Blackfeet on the buffalo hunting grounds, and during one clash, Moses's father was shot dead. Moses did not immediately assume the role of chief -- that would fall to one of his brothers -- but he soon became an influential leader among the mid-Columbia tribes.

The Treaty and the Treaty Wars

Moses was apparently at the Stevens Council of May 1855, when representatives of the Yakama, Entiat, and other tribes ceded rights to practically all of Central Washington in exchange for two relatively small reservations, the Yakama Reservation and the Wenatchee Fisheries. Moses opposed the treaty and became especially angry when white prospectors almost immediately overran even those small reservations.

Now going by his new name, Quetalican, Moses became so angry that, according to one Spokane chief, he embarked on a campaign of revenge, stalking white intruders into Central Washington and strangling them. His brother-in-law, the Yakama chief Qualchan, also angry for the same reasons, led a war party that hunted down a group of six miners and killed them. The federal government sent Indian Agent A. J. Bolon out to find the killers, but Bolon, too, was killed.

The Army sent in a detachment to punish the Indians, inciting what came to be known as the Yakima War. Moses later described one victorious encounter on Toppenish Creek by saying, "Then we started a war here and we whipped most of the soldiers" (Ruby and Brown). Yet more white soldiers kept coming over the next two years.

Moses himself was accused of killing a miner in Moses Coulee during another attack in 1857, although the evidence suggests it was the work of another war party. Another Army detachment went on the march to hunt down the killers.

Moses and Qualchan retreated toward the Spokane country in an attempt to join up with the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, and Palouse tribes, who were at war with another Army detachment under Col. George Wright (1803-1865). However, before they could join up, Wright routed those tribes at the Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains.

The victorious Wright then demanded that all of the warring chiefs, including Moses, Qualchan, and Qualchan's father, Owhi, come in to his camp on Latah Creek south of present-day Spokane, to surrender and make peace. Owhi arrived and was immediately clapped in chains. Wright sent a messenger to bring in Qualchan, who Wright believed had killed Indian Agent Bolon.

Meanwhile, Moses rode into Wright's camp unrecognized, along with some other Indians. An officer asked Moses for his horse, and Moses was about to comply when another Indian whispered for him not to do so. The man whispered that Owhi was in chains in the guard tent. Moses jumped on his horse and raced out of the camp, before anyone knew who he was. He set out to warn Qualchan.

Yet they missed each other. The unsuspecting Qualchan soon rode into Wright's camp and was immediately seized. Wright later boasted that it took less than 15 minutes to string Qualchan up and hang him. Owhi was also killed, after attempting to escape. Latah Creek became known thereafter as Hangman Creek.

Chief Moses

With both Owhi and Qualchan dead, the chieftainship of his tribe settled on Chief Moses. He established camps at Moses Coulee and near Rock Island on the Columbia and welcomed people from many of the tribes and bands along the Columbia, who were being driven out by white encroachment. He encouraged people to plant vegetables and he led hunting parties into the Cascades and, less frequently as time went on, to the buffalo grounds of Montana. Moses became the arbiter of disputes, many of which were of a domestic nature.

Moses himself had several wives. His favorite was Mary (?-1939), who became his wife in 1864 and remained with him until his death.

He continued to remain aloof from the whites. By 1870 he had a developed a firm position about how his tribe and other tribes should deal with what looked like the inevitable tide of non-Indian settlement.

During a meeting in 1870 with Indian Agent W. P. Winans, he made the following speech: "The white man is the cause of our sorrow . I fear the ruin of my people is coming. Now you tell me to cultivate and fence my land [and that] after a time the government will give me a deed for it and then it will be mine. My parents gave birth to me here and I fancy that this is my country. . Let me remain in my own country and I shall die contented" (Ruby and Brown).

He and his tribe refused to accept the gifts Winans offered and refused to take part in a census that Winans was conducting, although he guessed that Moses's tribe now consisted of about 1,000 people.

As historian Byron Fish later put it, "He was not really friendly to white settlers, but neither was he an overt enemy. He just kept them guessing and worrying."

In 1873, he had a happy reunion with his old teacher Rev. Spalding, who reported that Moses "came out boldly for Jesus," and said that most of his tribe was ready come into the fold as well (Ruby and Brown). But this apparently went no farther than talk.

By the 1870s and 1880s, Moses's personality was well known and much debated amongst the new white inhabitants of the region. He was famous for his stylish outfits and was particularly partial to his decorated "magic shirts," which caused his tribe to nickname him "Seven Shirts."

He often lectured his people on the perils of drink, yet his fondness for the white man's poison is well documented.

Major R. D. Gwydir, an Indian agent at the Colville Reservation called him a "big man and a great character," but "he used to get pretty drunk" (Spokesman-Review, "Habits").

Gwydir told this story about the time Moses went in a government worker's home in Nespelem:

"Moses looked around the apartment in search of fire water. Spying a bottle on the mantle containing a colored liquor which he supposed was whisky, he hastily grabbed it, put it to his mouth and drank a copious draught. With a yell of anguish he rushed to a creek nearby and plunged into the icy water. The bottle contained Perry Davis' Pain Killer" (Spokesman-Review, "Habits").

R. A. Hutchinson, who lived on the Colville Reservation with Moses and went on to become state legislator, had a more nuanced take on Moses' attitude toward alcohol. He said that Moses would "occasionally drink to excess" but he was one of the "brightest, brainiest and most liberal men I ever met" (Hutchinson).

He quoted Moses as saying, "Liquor is a bad thing for the Indian, for it robs him of his property and his health, and through it come diseases never known by the Indian until the white man came. But the Indian is weak, and I want to tell you the only way to stop the Indian from drinking liquor is for the government to stop making it" (Hutchinson).

Resistance and Struggle

In 1877, Moses had to make the difficult choice about whether to join Chief Joseph's Nez Perce in war or to remain peaceful. His ties with the Nez Perce were particularly strong, dating from his days at Lapwai, but he eventually realized it would be futile to join in the war, since the Nez Perce were already retreating across the Rockies. Moses apparently did what he could to prevent his warriors from joining in a number of attacks that erupted across the Northwest during the Nez Perce crisis.

Jack Splawn (1845-1917), a white cattleman, interpreter, and historian, who had known Moses for years, later wrote that the "energy and foresight of Moses, together with his good control of his followers, must be given the credit for averting another Indian war" (Splawn).

Meanwhile, obtaining a suitable reservation settlement seemed more crucial than ever to Moses. The government was pushing him to accept removal to the Yakama Reservation -- which was south of his tribe's homeland and already filled with other tribes -- or to the newly established Colville Reservation, which was north of the Columbia and farther east than the tribe's homeland. Moses made clear his displeasure with either idea by staying away entirely from the 1877 treaty council.

He threatened to run to Canada, like Joseph, if the government forced them onto the Yakama Reservation. In a letter to Gen. O. O. Howard (1830-1909), who was attempting to broker a treaty with Moses and other tribes, Moses made his position clear.

"I have always lived here on the Columbia River," he wrote. "I am getting old and do not want to see my blood shed on any part of the country. … I do not want to go to the Yakima Reservation. I wish to stay where I have always lived and where my parents died" (Ruby and Brown).

A number of serious skirmishes broke out during this time, but all-out war was barely averted because the government backed down from its threat to move Moses forcibly to the Yakama Reservation. In an 1878 council with Howard, Moses traced out a reservation request that included a huge chunk of Central Washington, from the mouth of the Spokane River to the mouth of the Yakima, and the entire Columbia country in between.

Howard was encouraging and said he would convey Moses' request to the U.S. president. Howard immediately issued an edict preventing settlement on that land, pending a decision. Moses left in an optimistic mood.

The Perkins Murders

Yet settlers in the Yakima Valley immediately blared their opposition to such a huge barrier to white expansion. Meanwhile a young White Bluffs couple, Lorenzo Perkins (1836-1878) and his pregnant wife, Blanche Bunting Perkins (1856-1878) were murdered by seven renegade Umatillas in 1878, setting off hysteria in the Yakima country. The murderers had been on the way to Chief Moses's camp when they came upon the couple, and people in Yakima accused Moses of complicity.

Moses proclaimed his innocence and even offered to join a posse to hunt down the renegades. A posse was formed, but after a series of misunderstandings and a tense standoff on Crab Creek, the posse captured Moses himself.

He was brought to Yakima City and clapped into prison, and some Yakima City people wanted him prosecuted for aiding and abetting the Perkins murderers. As he sat in prison, he could hear townspeople outside, celebrating his capture.

Moses still held out hope that Howard would arrive soon, set things straight, and announce the acceptance of Moses' reservation proposal.

"In staying here I am getting very tired and I would like to hear from General Howard very soon, so that I can go to my own house," he said from prison around Christmas, 1878 (Ruby and Brown).

Partly because of fears that white vigilantes would seize Moses, he was soon moved to a guardhouse on the Yakama Reservation. In February 1879, Moses was called to a meeting and was told that the President had finally made a decision: There was to be no vast mid-Columbia reservation.

Moses, after hearing the news, wrote a despondent letter to Howard: "We are both beaten and those that opposed us have won we have been outwitted" (Ruby and Brown).

Going to Washington D.C.

The government invited Moses to come to a council in Washington, D.C. to work out the details of his people's future. Moses was suspicious of the offer, but eventually agreed. But he also worked out a plan of escape, in case it was all just a ploy to transport him to Indian Territory and leave him in exile, like Chief Joseph.

He set out for The Dalles on March 17, 1879, with an Army chaperone, where they caught a steamer to Vancouver, Wash. There he told reporters about his new reservation idea: A large new reservation which would be added on to the western side of the Colville Reservation, encompassing almost all of the land from the Okanogan River on the east, to Lake Chelan and the Cascades on the west, to the Columbia River on the south and the Canadian border to the north.

Moses went shopping for a suit and tie in Portland ("I look fine!" he reportedly said) and then embarked with his delegation by steamer to San Francisco. From there, they went by railroad and arrived in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 1879. The Washington Evening Star reported that he "seems to have the powers of leadership, if not the meekness, of his Biblical namesake" (Ruby and Brown).

He and some other chiefs were paid by a theater owner to go up on stage and display themselves to the public. "We went and all we had to do was sit on the stage, look wild, smoke the pipe of peace and give an occasional yell," reported a somewhat baffled Moses (Ruby and Brown).

The Short-Lived Moses Reservation

In a series of meetings over the next week, Moses must have been persuasive. E. A. Hayt, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, agreed to the new, vast reservation west of the Colville Reservation for Moses's people and "other friendly Indians." On April 19, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) signed an executive order establishing the reservation, which would become the Columbia Reservation, more commonly known as simply Moses's Reservation.

Moses immediately wrote, in a letter to a Seattle newspaper, "Great Father Hayes is a good man and has a good heart. He gave me all the country I wanted, more than I need" (Ruby and Brown).

When he shook President Hayes' hand at the White House, Moses told him he would now be a "bigger Indian than ever" (Ruby and Brown).

Yet there was an immediate backlash in the settled parts of the Northwest. One opponent said that the government had set up a sanctuary for "King Moses" to set up a "barbarous kingdom" of renegades (Ruby and Brown).

On his return, Moses invited many of the mid-Columbia tribes to come onto the new reservation. Moses was now officially considered the chief of the Wenatchees, Entiats, Chelans, Methows, and Okanogans. And since his new reservation adjoined the Colville Reservation, he also considered himself chief of the Colvilles, San Poils, and Nespelems -- even if they did not.

The Spokanes, among others, had no interest in submitting to Moses's rule. Spokane Chief Garry (ca. 1811-1892), who was Moses's equal in experience and influence, stood up at a council and related the story of an Indian who once snuck up on a sleeping miner in a coulee and cut his throat.

"That Indian was Moses, your good chief," said Garry, resurrecting the old charges against Moses from the 1857 incident. "If he is a good Indian, then is Garry a bad one, for Garry never killed a white man. Oh, no!" (Ruby and Brown).

The Spokanes chose to hold out for their own reservation.

Meanwhile, the Perkins murder charges were still simmering. The murderers had been captured and one had implicated Moses before they later escaped. Moses had to return to Yakima City for a grand jury hearing in October 1879. Yet the evidence was shaky and the grand jury set Moses free.

The new Moses Reservation was beset with problems from the start. Moses had trouble convincing many Indians, most of whom lived south of the reservation on the Columbia, to move up there. And white miners and ranchers were beginning to raise a ruckus about the loss of so much prime land. They began agitating for the abolition of the Moses Reservation almost before Moses or any other Indians had moved onto it. It didn't help matters that when Moses finally established his home camp in 1880, it was in the Nespelem Valley on the Colville Reservation, not on the Moses Reservation.

First, the mining interests succeeded in having a 15-mile strip of the Moses Reservation removed along the Canadian border. This caused so much trouble amongst the Indians that Moses was once again invited to Washington, D.C. in 1883 along with several other chiefs, to discuss a settlement. This time they were able to leave by train directly from Spokane.

The Colville Reservation

In D.C., the Interior Department floated another proposal: That Moses and the related tribes cede the entire Moses Reservation and move to the Colville Reservation. In exchange, the government would give them various improvements, including a sawmill, a grist mill, cows, wagons, and plows. Moses himself was offered an annuity of $600 a year if he and his people kept to the agreement. Moses bargained only one significant change He asked for $1,000 a year, and got it. Moses signed with an X and when the treaty was ratified in 1884, the Moses Reservation was no more.

Moses was vilified by many Indians for bartering away their land in exchange for gifts for himself. Some, but not all, of that criticism abated when the government arrived on the Colville Reservation with wagons and mills and other improvements.

Also, Moses had managed to gather some new allies onto the Colville Reservation: Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce band. They had been exiled to the Indian Territory after being captured, but they were homesick for the mountains and ponderosa pines of the Northwest. Joseph sent a message to his old friend Moses asking if they could come and live on the Colville. Moses was quick to agree and the government eventually agreed as well. In 1885, Joseph and his band were put on trains and escorted first to Fort Spokane and then to Nespelem, where they set up a camp not far from Moses.

Hutchinson, on the reservation to build the mills and teach the Indians how to use them, came to Moses' defense when a Spokane newspaper article implied that Moses took everything for himself and nothing for his people. Hutchinson said Moses once asked him to buy extra supplies because he was worried his people would starve before spring. Hutchinson told Moses he didn’t have the money to buy that much food.

"The next morning, Moses came to me and handed me $1,000," wrote Hutchinson. "He told me to buy sugar, tea and flour with the $1,000 and let the people have the supplies during the winter and that they would pay me later, and when they did, I could pay him" (Hutchinson).

The Indians eventually paid Hutchinson in furs, and Moses got his money back. Hutchinson said he knew Moses and his people better "than most any other white man" and he could vouch for his character and generosity.

Chief Moses's Last Years

Moses' last years on the reservation were marked by strife between the various bands on the reservation by outbreaks of measles and by increasing complaints that the government was not living up to its treaty promises.

In 1890, Moses came to Spokane and gave a despondent interview to a reporter, who asked him about "his children" (his tribe).

"I have about 500 are dying off rapidly they are sick all the time," said Moses. "I do not know how long they will last" (Ruby and Brown).

Moses and his people found it difficult to adjust to a life of staying put. No more could they follow game into Montana or the Cascades. They became increasingly dependent on government handouts.

Then in 1891, the federal government decided it wanted to buy back the north half of the Colville Reservation for $1.5 million. At a tribal council Moses argued that the government was going to get what it wanted anyway, so they might as well take as much money as they could. Moses signed -- and had his annuity raised to $1,500. The next year, however, Congress passed a bill which took back the north half of the Colville Reservation, but eliminated the $1.5 million payment and the increased annuity.

Moses and Joseph became a common sight in Wilbur and other nearby towns. A Wilbur reporter wrote the "two old murdering rascals" strutted around town "as only becomes men of rank" (Ruby and Brown). However, they became increasingly jealous of each other and did not always get along.

Their diminished reservation was getting crowded and their people were finding it increasingly difficult to roam outside of it to their ancestral camas root grounds or to Moses Lake to collect duck eggs. When they tried to go to Moses Lake in 1898, a settler harassed them and tried to get the sheriff to eject them for trespassing.

Moses, now 69 years old, had increasingly taken to drink. When he went to the Yakima Jubilee and Fair in 1898, he went to a saloon and ended up in jail for what a reporter called "failure to carry his liquor with his former grace" (Ruby and Brown).

Moses was failing fast. He died on March 15, 1899, at his house in Nespelem with his wives, including Mary, by his side. One of his tribespeople said he "was made an old man too soon and too sad." Over a thousand people came to a potlatch in his honor.

Grave robbers dug up his grave in 1904 and stole his watch and a Washington D.C. presidential medal.

Yet nobody could steal his legacy, which remains alive on the land where he roamed. Next time you drive across Moses Lake or Moses Coulee, spare a thought for the man who was forced off these lands, even as he gave his name to them.