4 Completely Different Versions of the Story of Moses
Atrapanus: Moses, Egyptian War Hero and Cult Leader
Even the Jews had more than one version of the story of Moses. The Jewish historian Atrapanus had his own version of the story, and even though he was Jewish, it’s completely different from the story in Exodus.
The Book of Exodus: ‘ The Israelites Leaving Egypt’ by David Roberts, c. 1829 ( Public Domain )
Moses, according to Atrapanus, was raised as the son of Chenephres, king of Upper of Egypt. Chenephres thought Moses was his own son – but, apparently, the bond between a father and a son wasn’t enough to keep Chenephres from trying to kill him.
Chenephres sent Moses to lead his worst soldiers into an unwinnable war against Ethiopia, hoping Moses would die in battle. Moses, however, managed to conquer Ethiopia. He became a war hero across Egypt. He also declared the ibis as the sacred animal of the city – starting, in the process, the first of three religions he would found by the end of the story.
‘Victory O Lord!’ By John Everett Millais . ( Public Domain ) Hur and Aaron hold up the arms of Moses during the battle with the Amalekites
He started his second religion when he made it back to Memphis, where he taught people how to use oxen in agriculture and, in the process, started the cult of Apis . He didn’t get to enjoy his new cult for long. His father started outright hiring people to assassinate him, and he had no choice but to leave Egypt.
While in exile, he started his third religion after God burst out of the earth and told him to invade Egypt. Moses obeyed and, in the process, freed the Jews – but in this version of the story, he was much more efficient. He just whispered the name of god into the pharaoh’s ears and the pharaoh became “speechless and as one dead”.
Moses before the Pharaoh, a 6th-century miniature from the Syriac Bible of Paris. ( Public Domain )
Tacitus: Moses, The Exiled Atheist
When the Roman Tacitus tackled the story of Moses, he was determined to get it right. By the time he was alive, there were already a lot of different stories about him floating around. He did his best to sort out the parts that made sense to him.
“Most authorities,” Tacitus wrote, “agree on the following.” Like Manetho, his story begins with Egypt being plagued by leprosy, which he says was spread through pork. Instead of going to war, however, Moses and the other lepers were just expelled from the country altogether and sent out into the wilderness.
In the wilderness, Moses ordered his people to turn against god and man , telling them that “both had deserted them”. Instead, he taught them, they should only trust their own judgment. He led them through the desert, keeping them alive by bursting water out of the ground – but this wasn’t a miracle. Instead, Moses found underground channels of water by following patches of grass.
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- Egypt Remembers: Ancient accounts of the Great Exodus
Moses Striking the Rock . ( Public Domain )
Once they made it to Canaan, Moses introduced a new religion – not because he believed in it, according to Tacitus, but because he believe d it would “secure the allegiance of his people”.
He introduced the kosher diet because eating pork had given them leprosy. He introduced fasting as a way to commemorate their journey through the wilderness. He had them keep the seventh day holy to commemorate their journey through the desert – which, in this version, didn’t take forty years. It took seven days.
Moses and the Israelites. ( Public Domain )
Through Tacitus, though, we get a beautiful little glimpse into how history is created. It’s easy to see the parts he’s taken from the Egyptian story, the parts he’s taken from the Jewish story, and he’s filtered it all through his own worldview.
But it’s just another view – not the truth. Whoever the real Moses was, today we can only see him split through the prism of history – the truth broken up into little refractions of the truth, each one colored by the culture that tells it.
Top Image: Moses’ Horns. Source: rethought/ CC BY NC 2.0
By Mark Oliver
Josephus, Flavius. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1843. https://books.google.com/books?id=4trfAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false