Moses Research Paper

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Moses, the Hebrew prophet and leader, figures prominently in biblical accounts of his people. Yahweh, the Hebrew God, charged Moses with freeing the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt and leading them to Canaan, the land promised to their ancestors. Moses also consulted Yahweh and instituted the Decalogue and Covenant Code, both of which would prove to be major elements in establishing the Israelites’ culture and religious practices.

The prophet Moses, leader of the Hebrews and one of the Bible’s most renowned figures, began his life in Egypt during a difficult time for his people. The reigning pharaoh, who some scholars suggest may have been Ramses II or Seti I, felt that the Hebrew populace had become too large and decreed that every Hebrew male child be killed at birth. Moses was born in the midst of this compulsory genocide, but with the aide of his sister, the pharaoh’s daughter, and two defiant midwives, he survived. Three months after his birth, Moses’ mother crafted a papyrus basket and plastered it with bitumen and pitch. She then carefully placed Moses and the basket in the Nile River; his sister stood at a distance to watch what would happen. The daughter of the pharaoh saw the floating container and had her maid bring it to her. After discovering the child, she took pity on him, and requested that a Hebrew woman come and serve as his nurse. Ironically, the woman chosen for this task was Moses’s mother. Moreover, she was able to rear him in the household of the pharaoh who desired to kill him.

This special birth motif is a common theme in stories found throughout the Near East and in cultures around the world. The theme often introduces people, primarily men, who amazingly avoid death during their infancy or are born miraculously to mothers who are barren. Subsequently, the children become great leaders. One example of note from the neighboring Mesopotamian culture is the legend of Sargon. According to Akkadian writings, the mother of Sargon of Agade also made a basket sealed with pitch after the birth of her son. She placed the infant in the basket and let it sail down the Euphrates River. Akki, the drawer of water, discovered baby Sargon and reared him; the goddess Ishtar protected him, and Sargon became a successful king.

Although Moses did not become a king, he lived his youthful years in the home of the ruling pharaoh. Here Egyptian teachers educated him, and he learned the intricacies of Egyptian culture. However, the biblical writers explain that Moses was very much aware of his Hebrew ethnicity. For example, he murdered an Egyptian whom he saw beating a fellow Hebrew. But because someone witnessed his crime, Moses had to leave Egypt immediately in order to save his life.

Shortly after his departure, he encountered Yahweh, the Hebrew God, for the first time. He was now married to Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest. While walking his father-in-law’s flock on Mt. Sinai, he witnessed a bush that burned without being consumed. Yahweh spoke to Moses from the bush and charged him to return to Egypt, liberate the Hebrews, and lead them to a land that had been promised to their ancestors.

With the assistance of his brother Aaron, Moses confronted the pharaoh regarding the release of the Hebrews. The process was taxing, as the pharaoh refused his numerous requests. Thus, the writers describe how Moses, with the hand of Yahweh, instituted ten plagues, some of which brought darkness upon the land, a cacophony of frogs, locusts, excruciating boils, and damaging hail. However, the tenth and final plague, the death of all of the Egyptians’ firstborns, was the zenith of this battle of wills. This act, without question, reflects the Hebrew genocide that Moses narrowly escaped during his birth. There are continuing scholarly debates regarding the exodus from Egypt, the route(s) taken, and the famous parting of the sea, but most agree that the event would have happened at the Red Sea.

Once the Hebrews safely left Egypt, Moses and Aaron began their trek to the Promised Land. The journey led them through the wilderness for forty years. During this time, there were problems with apostasy, grumblings regarding the conditions during the journey, and disagreements among the leadership. Yet Moses consulted Yahweh and instituted the Decalogue and Covenant Code, both of which would prove to be major elements in establishing the Israelites’ culture and religious practices. Sadly, the brothers were not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, Moses—as the prophet, the liberator, and the spiritual leader—is responsible for the Hebrew Exodus and the victorious trek to Canaan. There are no contemporary extra-biblical writings that reference Moses or the Exodus. But most scholars argue that the biblical sources are well constructed and that later authors would have been unable to create such an individual as Moses.


  1. Auerbach, E. (1975). Moses (R. A. Barclay & I. O. Lehman, Trans. and eds.). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.
  2. Childs, B. (1974). The book of Exodus. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster.
  3. Coats, G. W. (1988). Moses: Heroic man, man of God. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press.

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