Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze faith, and the Bahá’ Faith all rank Moses as a major prophet in their traditions, with Christianity ranking him as the most important. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are credited to Moses in both the Bible and the Quran as the leader of the Israelites and their lawgiver.
The Israelites, Moses’ captive people, were growing in number at the time of his birth, and the Pharaoh of Egypt was understandably concerned that they could eventually join forces with Egypt’s adversaries, according to the Book of Exodus. Jochebed, Moses’ Hebrew mother, hid her son from Pharaoh, who had ordered the deaths of all male Hebrew infants as a means of controlling the Israelites’ growing population. The infant was adopted as a foundling from the Nile and raised as a member of the Egyptian royal family by Pharaoh’s daughter (referred to in the Midrash as Queen Bithia). After Moses killed an Egyptian slave master who was abusing a Hebrew, he escaped to Midian, where he encountered the Angel of the Lord in the form of a flaming bush on Mount Horeb, which Moses believed to be the Mountain of God.
To have the Israelites freed from slavery, God dispatched Moses back to Egypt. When Moses complained that he was unable to articulate his ideas clearly, God sent Aaron, Moses’ older brother, to be his spokesman instead. Having led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea in the wake of the Ten Plagues, Moses eventually established their new homeland atop Mount Sinai, where he was subsequently given the Ten Commandments. Moses died on Mount Nebo at the age of 120, having finally seen the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert.
The historical Moses is generally considered a mythical person, yet it cannot be ruled out that someone who resembled Moses lived in the 13th century BCE.
Jewish rabbis placed Moses’s life somewhere between 1391 and 1271 BCE; Jerome proposed 1592 BCE, while James Ussher proposed 1571 BCE as his birth year.
There is some disagreement on Moses’s scholarly reputation. Although most modern scholars agree that Moses is largely fictional, William G. Dever argues that “a Moses-like figure may have existed in the southern Transjordan in the mid-late 13th century B.C.” and that “archaeology can do little” to prove or exclude this possibility. Among biblical scholars, there are three main schools of thought, as described by Solomon Nigosian: (1) that Moses did not exist as a historical character; (2) that his significance to the Israelite religion must be explained; and (3) that he is both a historical figure and a mythical one. Brian Britt claims that a stalemate is imminent due to scholarly disagreements on Moses.
According to Jan Assmann, Moses exists only in legend, not in reality. No extrabiblical sources support the idea that Moses existed, despite the fact that his name and many others in the Bible have Egyptian roots. Moses is not mentioned in any Egyptian records prior to the fourth century BCE. Not only have no archaeological artifacts been discovered in Egypt or Sinai to corroborate Moses’ tale, but no contemporary Egyptian sources mention him or the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy either. David Adams Leeming claims that the central figure in Hebrew mythology is Moses.
The absence of Moses cannot be explained, hence the Oxford Companion to the Bible concludes that his historicity is the most acceptable (though not unbiased) explanation. Although few modern historians accept Moses as the author of the Torah’s five books, his role as a leader is too deeply embedded in the Israeli people for it to be written off as religious fiction, according to Oxford Biblical Studies.
The story of Moses’s revelation is similar to ancient Near Eastern stories about a king who rises from humble beginnings. According to the Akkadian mythology surrounding Sargon of Akkad’s birth, he was born:
It was in secrecy that my high priestess mother conceived and gave birth to me. She wrapped me with bitumen and put me in a rush basket.
There was a raging river, and she flung me into it.
Like the biographies of the other patriarchs, the story of Moses was likely passed down orally (he is mentioned in Jeremiah and Isaiah), and his name is obviously very ancient; the meaning of the term “Exodus” has been lost to the passages of time.
Previous passages were joined with new ones to make the final Pentateuch, which in turn completed the Torah and elevated it to the center of post-Exilic Judaism. By declaring that God is the father of Israel and that Israel’s history began with the Exodus rather than with Abraham, the Exilic Jewry (“gôlâ”) who had returned to Judah during the first part of the sixth century BCE became a source of contention. This, along with other evidence (such as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), suggests that Moses and the Exodus story must have played an important role in the lives of the people of Judah both before, during, and after the Exile, helping to fortify their claims to the land against those of the returning exiles.
The theory proposed by Cornelis Tiele in 1872 that Yahweh was a Midianite deity introduced to the Israelites by Moses’ father-in-law Jethro remains widely held today. To Moses, who had previously known him as El Shaddai, Yahweh revealed his true identity. Common belief nowadays holds that the vast majority of Israelis are actually Palestinian immigrants. Martin Noth proposed that the Pentateuch uses the character of Moses, who is first associated with stories of invasion from across the Jordan River, as a narrative bracket or a redactional device to join four of the five basic themes of the book.
The names of the real pharaoh Amenmose and his successor, whose name was shortened to mistery, have been linked to the Moses myth by scholars such as Manfred Görg and Rolf Krauss (Mose). “Interesting but unproven,” as Aidan Dodson puts it. According to Rudolf Smend, Moses’ Egyptian name and marriage to a Midianite woman are the two most plausible historical details concerning him. All other biblical elements, in Smend’s opinion, are too steeped in mythology to be taken seriously as facts.
As the story goes, King Mesha of Moab is responsible for giving Moses his name. Mesha’s stories have parallels to both the Exodus and Israel’s conflict with Moab, hence he is often linked to themes of conquering (2 Kings 3). Moab rebels against oppression, like Moses, lead his people out of Israel, like Moses does from Egypt, and his first-born son is slaughtered at the wall of Kir-haroseth, in what Calvinist theologian Peter Leithart called “an infernal Passover that delivers Mesha while wrath burns against his enemies”
According to Josephus, the priest of Heliopolis named Osarseph was put in charge of a group of lepers after Amenophis, who had followed in the footsteps of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, confined all the lepers in Egypt in an effort to cleanse the kingdom and gain access to the gods. For the lepers at Avaris, the old metropolis of the Hyksos, Osarseph prescribes everything banned in Egypt. They invite the Hyksos back into Egypt, where they rule for 13 years (during which time Osarseph transforms into Moses) before being driven out.
The sons of Pharaoh Ahmose I, Princes Ahmose-ankh, and Ramose, or a member of the Thutmose III family have also been proposed as potential historical Moseses. After the death of Queen Twosret, Egypt’s political power shifted to a Shasu named Irsu, who the Papyrus Harris I and the Elephantine Stele claim seized control with the help of “Asiatics” (people from the Levant). In an effort to “treat the gods like the people,” Irsu and his followers stopped making sacrifices to Egypt’s gods. While departing, they abandoned large amounts of gold and silver they had stolen from temples.
When Moses passed away, how old was he?
Moses was 120 years old when he passed away, but “his eyes were not failing nor his vigor gone,” as it says in Deuteronomy 34:7. Is there any explanation for Moses’ long life span? How, then, did Moses keep his youthful vigor and power even after reaching the ripe old age of 120?
Three segments of forty years each characterize Moses’ life. Acts 7:23 states that Moses lived as a member of the Egyptian royal family for the first forty years of his life. After making the decision to support Israel’s cause rather than Egypt’s, Moses spent the next forty years of his life in exile (Acts 7:30). Moses lived for another forty years after his return to Egypt to rescue the Hebrew slaves (Acts 7:36). For a total of 80 years, Moses served as a prince, an exiled shepherd, and the leader of a freed slave people.
One would assume that Moses’s experience as a prince in Egypt for forty years qualified him to lead Israel through its forty years of wandering in the wilderness. However, the Lord also intended for Moses to gain a sense of modesty via this experience. Over the course of his forty years tending sheep, Moses learned humility and dependence on God. The Bible says that Moses was the most modest person ever (Numbers 12:3). As the leader of Israel, Moses was well-prepared for his eighty years of life. Yet, Moses’ direct communion with the Almighty was the defining factor in his rise to prominence as a virtuous and holy leader (Exodus 33:11).
It’s worth noting that Moses didn’t die of old age, even though he lived to be 120 years old. Despite the fact that the average longevity in Moses’ day was significantly lower than 120, this is what happened. Moses had been preserved from the symptoms of aging and supernaturally enhanced, but God’s plan for Moses’ life had been fulfilled, and so Moses passed away. The Israelites had been led by Moses to the edge of the Promised Land after God had freed them from slavery in Egypt, given them God’s Law, and led them out of Egypt. The Lord did not permit Moses to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites because he did not obey him in Numbers 20:1-12. When the time came for the Israelites to enter and take control of the land, Moses went to the top of Mount Nebo to have a bird’s-eye view before the Lord miraculously whisked him away (Deuteronomy 34:1–7). A disciple of God is “indestructible” until God’s plan for him or her is fulfilled, as evidenced by Moses’ 120-year lifespan.