Moses’ Horns.

4 Completely Different Versions of the Story of Moses

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The story of Moses doesn’t just show up in the Bible. In the ancient world, nearly every culture had their own version of what happened. The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans all had their own way of explaining why thousands of people left Egypt to live in Jerusalem.

The Moses you know, who performed miracles and freed the Jewish slaves from Egypt, is just one version of the story. There are others – and they paint a completely different picture from the one you’ve heard.

Detail; Moses and the tablets of law. Source:

Detail; Moses and the tablets of law. Source: Public Domain

Manetho: Moses, Leper King and War Criminal

The Egyptians told the story of Moses, too, but in their version, he wasn’t a miracle-working hero with god-given powers. In the version passed down by the Egyptian historian Manetho, Moses is a brutal and violent monster – and he isn’t even Jewish.

Moses, according to Manetho, was an Egyptian priest named Osarsiph who tried to take over Egypt. The pharaoh had quarantined everyone with leprosy into a city called Avaris, and Osarsiph used them to stage a revolt. He made himself the ruler of the lepers, changed his named to Moses, and turned them against the pharaoh.

Moses lifts up the brass serpent, curing the Israelites from poisonous snake bites in a painting by Benjamin West

Moses lifts up the brass serpent, curing the Israelites from poisonous snake bites in a painting by Benjamin West. ( Public Domain )

Moses and his army of lepers created the Jewish laws purely out of spite for the Egyptians. They deliberately made their laws the exact of opposite of everything the Egyptians believed. They sacrificed bulls, for example, purely because the Egyptians worshiped one.

Moses and his leper colony formed an alliance with the people living in Jerusalem. He built up an army of 200,000 people, then invaded Egypt. They conquered Ethiopia first, where they reigned as brutal despots. According to the Egyptians, Moses and his people “ abstained from no sort of wickedness nor barbarity .”
 

The ancient Egyptians worshiped sacred animals like Apis, who was a living bull treated as a god. Moses didn’t just kill these sacred animals – he forced the Egyptian priests who served them to do it for him. The priests were forced to burn their divine animals alive on top of a pyre made of sacred images. Then they were stripped naked and sent out into the wilderness to die.

Eventually – after about 13 years – Amenophis managed to get a big enough army together to chase Moses out of Egypt. He chased him into Syria, where Moses and his people settled in Jerusalem. According to the Egyptians, though, every Jewish law that makes the foundation of our modern society started in that leper colony as nothing more than spite against Egypt.

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648) by Philippe de Champaigne.

Moses with the Ten Commandments (1648) by Philippe de Champaigne . ( Public Domain )

Strabo: Moses, Philosopher

According to the Greek historian Strabo, Moses wasn’t a miracle worker and he didn’t speak to God. He was just a philosopher who sat down, thought about it, and decided that monotheism made the most sense.

Moses, at the time, was the ruler of Lower Egypt, but he was “dissatisfied with the established institutions” in his own country. God, he believed, could not be a man or an animal, but had to be “one thing which encompasses us all”.

God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush. Painting from Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg. (1848) By Eugène Pluchart

God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush. Painting from Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg. (1848) By Eugène Pluchart. ( Public Domain )

He was so convinced of this that he gave up his position and led a group of people out of Egypt to start their own country. These people weren’t slaves, and this wasn’t a revolution. They were, according to Strabo, “right-minded people” who agreed with Moses’s philosophy, and nobody tried to stop them from leaving.

Moses and his people made it to Jerusalem, which they did not have to conquer. It was, according to Strabo, “surrounded by a barren and water territory”, so nobody else really wanted it. There, he set up a lax religion with few rules, which was so popular that the surrounding nations willingly joined his kingdom.

After Moses’s death, though, Jerusalem was taken over by “superstitious persons” who introduced the kosher diet and circumcision – ideas that, Strabo claims, went completely against everything Moses taught.

The Death of Moses, as in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company.

The Death of Moses, as in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company. ( Public Domain )

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