Chapter 1. An Unlaid Ghost
The name Moses is so familiar that we’ve forgotten that the word held an unfamiliar and foreign ring to the ancient Hebrews. In the Egyptian language Moses meant son of. It was always, without exception, added to another name--usually that of a god such as Thoth or Ra. Although easily understanding a name like Ra-Moses, which would translate as son of the god Ra, the single name Moses would have been puzzling and would naturally elicit the question, “son of whom?” To Freud the name strongly indicated that Moses’ parents were Egyptian and not Hebrew. In Moses and Monotheism he wrote, “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. In modern times we have no misgivings in drawing such conclusions . . . What hindered them from doing so can only be guessed at. Perhaps the awe of Biblical tradition was insuperable. Perhaps it seemed monstrous to imagine that the man Moses could have been anything other than a Hebrew.”
The second chapter of Exodus reveals that Moses was born in Egypt during the reign of a tyrannical Pharaoh who planned to kill all first born Hebrew sons. Moses’ frantic mother managed to hide him for three months.
Freud claimed that Moses’ true heritage had been deliberately suppressed by Jewish editors of the Bible who couldn’t stomach the idea of such an authoritative prophet not being born to a Jewish mother. He believed that exiled Jewish scholars had invented a more palatable legend during their captivity in Babylon where they had most certainly read the legend of Sargon and were inspired to adopt it for their own propaganda purposes. By a simple cut-and-paste job they conferred upon their hero a fully Hebrew birthright more fitting of the great prophet. In a second article for Imago, Freud took his idea much further, arguing not only that Moses was a full-blooded Egyptian but also, shockingly, that he was a follower of the Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh, Akhenaten (1375 BC-1358 BC) who introduced the world’s first religion based upon the idea of a single God.
In 1819, Johann Goethe wrote “Israel in the Desert” partly as an attempt to show how later editors of the Bible had tampered with the story of Moses. At the time, many biblical scholars were busy trying to disentangle the various strands that composed the first five books of the Old Testament attributed to Moses and named The Torah (the Law) by the Jews. Goethe was disturbed by what he saw as the deliberate insertion of artificial laws into the text that only impeded the progress of the stories. He believed that the narrative of the heroic adventure had been bogged down by unnecessary, and unwelcome, depictions of religious ritual.30
Goethe’s aesthetic convinced him that misleading words had been added to the scriptures. Like an art historian peeling away the layers of paint covering a lost masterpiece he revealed hidden seams and overlapping pigments that implied that there were different authors, some of whom were obsessed with religious ceremony. According to Goethe these late, bogus and unwelcome additions spoiled the natural flow of the stories.
The same meddlesome writers had exaggerated critical timescales. Goethe considered the idea that a great prophet had wandered the desert for forty years with thousands of people in tow to be absurd. It called into question Moses’ fitness as a commander and painted him in a ridiculous light. Goethe concluded that the only explanation must be that the forty years was symbolic; noting other instances in the Bible where the number forty was used symbolically. Remove the corruption of the text, especially the illegitimate timescale, Goethe reasoned, and Moses’ dignity would be restored, revealing the prophet of God as more of a hero and less of a buffoon.
Cold Case File
When there are no witnesses to a murder, detectives are trained to discover the guilty party by asking who had the “motive, means and opportunity” to commit the crime. There is only one character in the Moses story who fits this bill. The insights of Marlowe, Goethe, and Freud all provide clues to his identity and point to evidence of his ruthlessness.
Marlowe gave us the ‘means,’ by which the murder was accomplished. He believed that Moses was an illusionist whose acts thrilled and baffled the children of Israel because they were naive in the ways of an Egyptian-trained Magician. These acts of illusion concealed the murder of the prophet and allowed an impostor to step into his place. Goethe believed that the story of Moses had been tampered with by scribes with a powerful agenda. Their late editing of the original spoken stories distorted the truth by inserting artificially long periods of time into the text. Removing these exaggerated periods of time reveals what was concealed. We take Goethe’s argument further. Once we remove the artificial timescales that were shoe-horned into the text by the manipulative editors it becomes apparent that our prime suspect had the perfect opportunity to murder Moses.
Freud insisted that Moses was an Egyptian. Denying the Jews a genetic link to the greatest of their prophets was something he did with great reluctance, especially since his people were facing the Nazis in 1939, the year his book was released. The idea that there were two Moses was something many of the faithful found deeply disturbing.
Unlike Freud we don’t believe that the death of the ‘first’ Moses resulted from a spontaneous murder. One man was powerfully motivated, possessed the skills of a magician, and had the opportunity to murder Moses. Our suspect is Moses’ father-in-law, Reuel, the man Goethe held in such esteem.