Questioning the Moses Timeline: Clues revealed in work of murdered playwright Marlowe
On May 29th, 1593, a government informer, Richard Baines, formally charged the famous playwright, Christopher Marlowe, with blasphemy. The complaint sent to Queen Elizabeth I read: “Containing the opinion of Christopher Marlowe concerning his damnable opinions and judgment of religion and scorn of God’s word. … He affirmed that Moses was but a Juggler and that one Herriot, being Sir Walter Releigh’s man, can do more than he. That Moses made the Jews to travel 11 years in the wilderness, ere they came to the promised land to the intent that those who were privy to most of his subtleties might perish and so an everlasting superstition remain in the hearts of the people. That it was an easy matter for Moses, being brought up in the all the arts of the Egyptians, to abuse the Jews...”
A portrait believed to be of Christopher Marlowe, (1564-1593). ( Public Domain )
Marlowe had dared to make the sacrilegious statement that Moses was no more than a second-rate illusionist who had succeeded with such tricks because the Israelites were remarkably gullible. Marlowe also didn’t bother to hide his belief that the celebrated tale of forty years wandering in the wilderness was a gross exaggeration. Furthermore, he wasn’t discreet in his claim that the true purpose of the supposed exile was not to build the strength of the Israelites as rationalized in Exodus but was instead a cynical ruse designed to cover-up a deep secret.
Marlowe never had the chance to reveal what that secret might be. He was released from jail after the council adjourned. The next morning, while eating breakfast, he was stabbed to death by an agent of Queen Elizabeth I. The murderer spent only a month in jail - the official story being that the young playwright was just another victim of a common place pub brawl.
Centuries later, another famous writer also dared to take a magnifying glass to the Moses story. In doing so he discovered some of the same timeline inconsistencies hinted at by Marlowe.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). ( Public Domain )
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 compose the first five books of the Old Testament attributed to Moses and named The Torah (the Law). Goethe’s writer’s eye convinced him that misleading words had been added to the scriptures. Like an art restorer peeling away layer-upon-layer of paint covering a lost masterpiece he revealed hidden seams and overlapping pigments in the Torah that implied the work of different authors, some of whom were obsessed with religious ceremony. According to Goethe these late and unwelcome additions spoiled the natural flow of the narrative.
The same meddlesome writers had exaggerated critical timescales and shoe-horned their revisionist versions into the ancient sacred texts. Goethe considered the idea that a great prophet had wandered the desert for forty years with thousands of people in tow 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 bungler.
Moses and the Israelites. ( Public Domain )
To Goethe, Moses’ piousness didn’t compensate for his serious faults. His princely education counted for nothing. He describes the prophet as ‘curt and introvert, and barely able to communicate.’ He was especially unimpressed with Moses’ dismal military leadership; remarking that during the Israelites’ first battle the prophet ‘retreated to a mountain to pray’ leaving others to face the enemy.
Goethe saw Moses as an honest, strong-willed man consumed by his mission of leading his people to the Promised Land. His tragic flaw was a weak personality inadequate to the task. He was at best, incompetent: at worst, foolish. Goethe paints him as a pathetic character forced to lead an unruly tribe through unforgiving desert. A tribe who, though liberated from slavery had been wrenched from the great Egyptian culture and dragged into a primitive life. For Goethe, such a fate was ‘the saddest condition in which an excellent man can find himself.’ He goes so far as to conjecture why the exiled Moses didn’t have the courage to end his own miserable life.