It is difficult to over exaggerate the importance of Moses to the narratives of the three major religions. The Talmud refers to the Pentateuch as the ‘Book of Moses’. Jesus mentions Moses’ supposed Prophecy if the Gospels are to be believed. The Qur’an speaks of the exodus as if historical fact, with Moses (Musa) being a key Prophet for the faith. All three rely on his existence, and his deeds. All three rely on the story of the Exodus. If the stories of Moses & the exodus fall down, all three major faiths fall down with it.
It is of course obvious, that the first five books of the Bible contain massive inconsistencies and errors. This in itself is not enough to dismiss the entire text, given that it isn’t considered the exact word of God (as the Qur’an is) but it is enough to question the legitimacy of the claim that the first five books were penned by one man; Moses. It has been the opinion of most scholars for around the past century, that the first five books were written by multiple authors. There has been disagreement over how many authors there may have been, when they were composed, when they were edited and put together. Despite the disagreements, it is generally accepted that multiple hands are at work with the first five books.
The Yahwist source (known as Source J, and named so because it refers to God as ‘Yahweh’ – Jehovah – some argue that this source was produced in the 6th Century BCE as a prologue to Deuteronomistic history covering Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) places Moses as someone only able to stop God’s plagues upon Egypt. God is solely responsible. Moses, the intermediary. Whereas, the Elohim source (Source E, named so because it refers to God as ‘Elohim’) suggests that Moses was someone who openly threatened Pharaoh, and was himself responsible for bringing about the plagues. Both sources were written centuries after Moses supposedly lived.
The contradictions begin right at the start of Genesis, and proceed from there. The contradictions are actually two versions of the same story. For example, the order of creation in Genesis 1 is: plants, animals, man & woman together. Whereas, the order of creation in Genesis 2 is: man, plants, animals, woman.
So, if we can discount one Jewish/Christian myth of Moses, what about the others? Well, the most notable story is the Exodus out of Egypt. It is this story that places Moses at epicentre of Judaism, and therefore Christianity, and later, Islam. Without this, Judaism falls to the ground, Jesus’ mention of Moses in the Gospels, is irrelevant, and the Qur’an appears as nothing but a plagiarised version of the other two.
The supernatural elements of the claims about Moses certainly have no evidence. There is no evidence to suggest that a large amount of Israelites crossed a parted Red Sea, no Egyptian source that ever mentions Israelites enslaved in Egypt who later escaped. In fact, no Egyptian source mentions an enslaved Israelite population at all. There is also absolutely nothing to suggest the plagues took place. No evidence of the mass genocide of first born Egyptian sons.
We can of course accept that the supernatural elements were invented to give divine aspect, thus solidifying a story for the purpose of group solidarity and power, in much the same way as the later – more creative – stories of the Prophet Muhammad developed in order to solidify a new Arab Empire.
On a side note, one of the supernatural elements of the story – that of the genocide of first born Egyptian sons commonly known as Passover – always seemed to me to be a particularly vile ‘celebration’. There seems to be an odd obsession with linking death, to salvation within Christianity and Judaism. I have never been able to understand why Jesus needed to die, in order to absorb the sins of humanity. Where is the connection between the two? Why must Egyptian children be murdered, in order to free Israelites? I am delighted that Passover isn’t based on historical fact
The situation though, seems to suggest that even the more historically ‘believable’ aspects of the story lack any sort of evidence. Archaeologists have all but given up searching for evidence of a mass exodus of Israelites out of Egypt. There is nothing that even slightly suggests it ever happened. Ze’ev Hertzog, an Israeli archaeologist says:
“The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction—made in the seventh century [BCE]—of a history that never happened.”
Similarly, renowned archaeologist Israel Finkelstein says:
“Modern archaeological techniques are quite capable of tracing the very meager remains of hunter-gatherers and pastoral nomads all over the world…repeated archaeological surveys in all regions of the Sinai peninsula…yielded only negative evidence, not even a single shred , no structure, not a single house, no trace of an ancient encampment…there is simply no evidence at the supposed time of the Exodus.”
The traditional date set for the exodus at 1450bc (set, due to the mention in Kings of 480 years before the founding of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem) conflicts with Biblical description of just how the Israelites were put to work years before the exodus, here:
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
– Exodus 1:11
– The name Rameses was used by Egyptian Pharaohs, though the first to use these conflicts with the dates given for the supposed building of the city of Raamses. As Kenneth Kitchen points out:
The first of these, Ramesses I, reigned only sixteen months and built no cities. None of the rest founded major cities either, with but one exception. He was Ramesses II, grandson of I, who was the builder of the vast city Pi-Ramesse A-nakhtu, “Domain of Ramesses II, Great in Victory,” suitably abbreviated to the distinctive and essential element “Ra(a)mses” in Hebrew.
Ramesses II reigned from 1279–1213 BC. Two hundred years after the exodus, and even longer after the Bible suggests the Israelite slaves built the city. Ramesses II’s body was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but is now in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum…. not at the bottom of the ocean after the parted Red Sea engulfed him.
The site “Islamic Awareness” also comes to the conclusion – through Qur’anic inquiry – that the Pharaoh of the exodus (as well as at the time of Moses’ birth) was Ramesses:
“In conclusion, the Qur’anic presentation of the Pharaoh of the Exodus is internally consistent and fits well with the extant egyptological data. This is also in line with the earlier studies by Hamidullah and Fatoohi et al. who have arrived at similar conclusions, albeit using less exhaustive and sometimes shaky evidence, that the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt before the birth of Moses until the Exodus and his (i.e., Pharaoh’s) death was Ramesses II.”
– And despite their thorough discrediting of the traditional Biblical narrative, “Islamic Awareness” offer no evidence for an exodus during the time of Ramesses. They also do not mention how Ramesses II actually died; at the ripe old age of 90, with terrible arthritis and hardened arteries… not drowned at sea, as the Qur’an claims.
The exodus would have been perhaps the most calamitous moment in Egyptian history (with the exception of Augustus’ annexation) The Biblical narrative states that:
37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside women and children.
38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
– Exodus 12:37-38
– To put this into perspective, the English city of Manchester has a population under 600,000. Less people live in Manchester than the population of Israelite men (not including women & children) supposedly breaking away from Egypt. When we include women and children, we can guess of a number higher than 1,000,000. At around the time of the exodus, Egypt’s population hit around 3 million people. This means, that around 33% of the population of Egypt escaped from a state of captivity, without any record of them ever existing.
The Amarna letters dated to the mid-1300s bc, make no mention of any huge slave revolt or inevitable economic meltdown that a 1,000,000+ slave revolt would have caused. The Amarna letters are unique, in that they are 382 diplomatic correspondence on clay tablets from that very specific period of Egyptian history. Fourteen correspondence with the Babylonians, more to the Syrians, Hatti, and Lebanon. None mention Israelite slaves or a mass revolt.
The website “Answers in Genesis” tries to argue that the Israelites didn’t just build Pi-Ramesses, but also built the Pyramids. David Down, the author of the article, and apparent archaeologist says:
“When we take the history and chronology of the Bible as written, we find that it makes eminent sense of the archaeological evidence. The pyramid builders were not people who had evolved from animals over millions of years. Rather, they were once part of an advanced civilization which built an imposing tower that soared over the plains of Babylon (Genesis 11), a people descended from a family that disembarked from the 15,000-ton ocean-going Ark (Genesis 6–8). We still do not know exactly how they accomplished all their engineering feats in ancient Egypt, but we can be sure that a people who were less than 30 generations from Adam had incredible intellectual skills.”
– It is difficult to know where to begin on such a ridiculous paragraph, but what strikes me as being at the heart of this piece, is that Down takes for granted the idea that the Pyramids were built by slaves. This is a myth. It is handed to us by Greek historian Herodotus, who claimed the Pyramid builders were slaves originally, but modern archaeology tells us that the Pyramid builders were in fact, paid labourers. Ex-director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, Dieter Wildung says:
“The myth of the slaves building pyramids is only the stuff of tabloids and Hollywood.”
– Many of the workers who died during the construction of the Pyramids, were buried with honour, by the site, something that would not have been offered to slaves. Slaves did not build the Pyramids. Israelite slaves, descended from a family on an ark, certainly didn’t build the Pyramids.
The ‘Torah’ relies on the story of Moses for credibility with regard its laws, handed down by God, to Moses. If Moses did not pen these laws, and if multiple sources over time penned these laws, then it stands to reason that they came from already established systems of law. Around 3200BC there existed a tribe of people who lived in Egypt called the Kemet. They seem to have been a civilisation who lived a rather advanced existence, just slightly before the Early Dynastic period, and so predating Pharaoh Narmer who is identified as the man responsible for uniting the different tribes of Egypt, thus becoming known as the first Pharaoh of Egypt. The unified Egypt incorporated ideas and beliefs from the tribes that it unified, one of which was the Kemet concept of “Ma’at“. Ma’at was the principle used as a guide on law, morality, truth, and spirituality that was needed to help unify Egypt. The principle was depicted as a Goddess – also called Ma’at – who was said to be in control of the stars, the sky, law, and men. They deified the concept of Ma’at. She was essentially the main God. The guiding principles of Ma’at were set out in what is known as the 42 Declarations of Purity. Of those, 10 of which can be found in the Commandments handed to Moses. Or, possibly, given that Egypt had long been a force in Canaan and the surrounding area, by the 20th century BCE, the influence of those basic principles enshrined in Ma’at; principles that lived on in Ancient Egypt, reached the Israelites, who simply appropriated much of it for themselves.
Judaism relies on the story of the exodus for its origins. Christianity relies on the historicity of Moses for the very fact that Jesus himself mentions Moses as if a historically accurate figure from the Old Testament:
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
Indeed, if the first five books of the Bible are not written by Moses, then Jesus is completely wrong:
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.
47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
– Christianity, and the claim of Jesus as a fulfilled Prophecy from Deuteronomy 18:15-22 among others, relies solely on not only the existence of Moses, but his penning at least some of either Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, if not all of it. And yet, we now know that those five books were penned by different authors, at vastly different times.
Similarly, the Qur’an, a book supposedly the exact, uncompromising, completely accurate word of Allah mentions the story of Moses, as if historical truth:
Then we sent after them (the messengers) Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh and his chiefs, but they disbelieved in them; so see what the end of the corrupters was (7.103). Moses said: “O Pharaoh! I am a messenger from the Lord of all peoples (7.104). It is a duty on me to say nothing about Allah but the truth; I have come to you with clear proof from your Lord, therefore send with me the Children of Israel” (7.105).
– This suggests that either Moses’ people escaped from Egypt, left absolutely no trace, and their captors wrote nothing of them, or even acknowledged their existence until God mentions it to Muhammad thousands of years later. Or, the Qur’an is not the word of God, and was instead used as a way to anchor the new Arab empire to a religion that was strengthened by the name of already established mythical names and events. Indeed, later Hadith tell us that Muhammad upon his Night Journey visited heaven, and met Moses. The reliability of both the Qur’an and Hadith, and so, Islam’s claim on Jerusalem, whither away to nothingness, if the story of the exodus is false, which is appears to be.
There seems to be very little reason to believe Moses achieved what the Holy books claim he achieved. It is as good as certain that there was no vast exodus out of Egypt; the underpinnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam fall at their most basic hurdle. If the exodus didn’t happen, then Christianity stole it from Judaism and fabricated the words of Jesus in an attempt to confirm the Prophecies of Moses. Similarly, if the exodus didn’t happen, early Muslims must have appropriated the story for themselves, added a few bits, subtracted a few bits, but ultimately the point remains the same. Therefore, the first five books of the Bible – written by different people, at different times, for different purposes – are the most important aspects of the three major religions.
Collective enslavement of Israelites in Egypt, and their subsequent break from bondage, appears not to have ever occurred. The supernatural elements of the story can therefore be equally as dismissed as fantasy. It is more likely that Canaan slowly became Israel, incorporating Semites from Egypt, with stories of their own, crafting a new narrative for a new people. All civilisations have their creation myths. Moses was a key name to this, much like Romulus was a key name to the mythical creation of Rome. Whether Moses existed historically, may never be determined, but what is becoming increasingly obvious is that the stories attributed to Moses from the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an, are all fabrications.