Moses: Myth, Fiction or History?
In the early days of biblical archaeology there was a lot of optimism that the new science could verify the existence of Moses by proving that there was indeed a great migration of people from Egypt who eventually conquered and settled Canaan. This premature optimism was dashed by the stark reality of subsequent excavations.
Contradictions and Puzzles Within the Biblical Account of Moses
In The Bible Unearthed, Israeli archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman dispelled any illusions that their digs had verified the story of the Exodus:
“The process that we describe here is, in fact, the opposite of what we have in the Bible: the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of the Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan – they emerged from within it. There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. There was no violent conquest of Canaan. Most of the people who formed early Israel were local people – the same people whom we see in the highlands throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The early Israelites were – irony of ironies – themselves originally Canaanites!"  (Finkelstein & Silberman The Bible Unearthed, 118)
The Book of Exodus: "Departure of the Israelites", by David Roberts, 1829 (Public Domain)
Their conclusion was a severe blow to those who believed that Moses had been a real person. But the question of the prophet’s existence – whether he was indeed a flawed flesh-and-blood man or a fictional character forced to jump through his creator’s hoops is a thorny one; not easily dismissed or answered.
The biblical story of the great man is full of contradictions and puzzles. Unlike the story of Joseph which has a discernible beginning, middle and end, Moses’ narrative is scattered and disjointed. At first we are led to believe that he is a first child; only for it to be revealed later that he has older siblings. We’re told he was adopted by an Egyptian princess, but no details of his childhood are offered. The only account of his death is sketchy to say the least and no one knows where one of the most significant figures in history is buried. These troubling mysteries led some scholars to doubt his existence. In our Ancient Origins article we discuss 4 possible versions of this being in history, a wholly distinct portrayal from the one you're familiar with.
The Finding of Moses, by Edwin Long, 1886 (Public Domain)
We believe that Moses was a real person whose pedigree offended Levi’s descendants, the Levite scribes who edited the Torah for their own aims. Unable to explain the Egyptian education, appearance and accent of Moses, the scribes were compelled to obscure his family tree. If the truth that Moses belonged to the House of Joseph was ever to be leaked the scribes might be separated from their significant priestly rights and perks. It was imperative that the great prophet not only be from their own House of Levi but to be seen to be from it. In their desperate, self-serving tampering with the memory of Moses the scribes could never have guessed that one day the patchy biography of the prophet that they had cobbled together would convince scholars that he was nothing more than a myth.
In our reconstruction, the children of Israel were expelled from Egypt because of the murder of Joseph. Moses was born to Joseph’s widow, Asenath, and raised as a priest in the Temple of Heliopolis where many years earlier the Pharaoh Akhenaten had created monotheism. Born after the expulsion, Moses was the sole Israelite left living in Egypt. Did this sense of singularity plant in him a psychological propensity towards Egyptian monotheism?
We’ve seen that the Egyptian historian, Manetho, believed that Moses was associated with dangerous beliefs. The Egyptians experienced monotheism as a great threat; a religion that vowed to destroy their many gods. Did Moses receive his belief in a single God from the priests of Heliopolis or from Reuel’s god, Yahweh? The Levites voted for Yahweh. Freud favored Heliopolis. We agree with Freud.
We know Moses was an Egyptian priest/magician but unlike Reuel, who also trained in the same arts, Moses had no restrictions on his education. Akhenaten’s monotheism is not something that the priests of Heliopolis would be likely to reveal to Reuel. No matter how talented - he was still a foreigner. In contrast, Moses was the high priest’s grandson.
Moses' encounter with Jethro, also known as Reuel in the biblical story. (furyon/Adobe Stock)
During this time, perhaps twenty years or more, Moses’ Hebrew family was living in the oasis of Midian under the rule of its high priest, Reuel. Moses had no contact with them. It was only after he was fully grown, had become a general in the Pharaoh’s army and successfully reclaimed Ethiopia, that Moses left Egypt. The reason for his departure may very well have been the rise of a new Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph.” Exodus 1:8
- Why Mount Sinai is in Egypt and Other Exodus Enigmas
- Egypt Remembers: Where are the Ancient Accounts of the Great Exodus?
Like Freud we believe that there were two men who took the name Moses. The first Moses was raised in Heliopolis by his mother, Asenath, and her father, the High Priest. The second person was the Magician Reuel who had the motive, means and opportunity to successfully kill the original prophet, steal his identity and reclaim what he believed to be his rightful place as leader of the Jews.
This article was originally excerpted from Rand & Rose Flem-Ath’s book, The Murder of Moses and has been edited.
Top image: AI Illustration of Moses with the 10 Commandments Tablet. Source: Jim Vallee/Adobe Stock