Moses and the Magician Reuel
The truth about the powerful man who was Moses remains elusive, as his life has always been shrouded in mystery. The isolated details of the biblical story and the contradictory accounts of his behavior have mystified and frustrated scholars and devotees alike. For the last years of his life he chose to hide behind a mask. At times he is depicted as a meek, stuttering figure; pleading with God that he’s unfit for a sacred mission. At other times his tyrannical commands terrorized the children of Israel. What is the explanation for these extreme shifts in the prophet’s character? Was Moses a manic-depressive or was he brutalized by harsh experience? The evidence suggests something much more sinister. Was Moses murdered and replaced by an impostor?
This intriguing puzzle falls into place when we understand the critical role played by a third party who had everything to gain by manipulating a gullible audience to serve his own unscrupulous ends. His name was Reuel, otherwise known as Jethro, and he was an Egyptian-trained magician who spent a lifetime pursuing vengeance.
The idea that Moses had been murdered and replaced by an impostor was a forty-year obsession of Sigmund Freud’s and was central to his last book, MOSES AND MONOTHEISM. But Freud saw the death of Moses as more of a lynching than a cold-blooded and calculated murder. He failed to appreciate the magnitude of the skills that Reuel (Moses’ father-in-law) had acquired in Egypt. Nor did Freud realize that Reuel had a motive as old as humankind for killing Moses.
Moses takes his leave of Jethro (Reuel) by Jan Victors, c. 1635. Reuel is seated on the left, in red. Image source: Wikipedia
Far from being a minor biblical character, the Magician Reuel embedded himself deeply into the lives of the major political ‘players’ of his time in the pursuit of his own brutal agenda. He had the motive, means and opportunity to murder and successfully impersonate Moses. So who was this charismatic character whose influence moulded the development of both Judaism and Christianity?
Reuel’s father, Esau, as first born son of the founder and leader of the Jews, Isaac, was destined to become the leader upon his father’s death. It followed that Reuel would assume that powerful position in his turn. But Esau was tricked out of his natural inheritance by a cynical act of impersonation cooked up by Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, who favoured her other son, Jacob. By misleading her blind and dying husband she succeeded in transferring the legacy that was Reuel’s father’s natural right to Jacob. Reuel lost his chance of succession through a Machiavellian act of impersonation. And it was by murdering and impersonating Moses that Reuel ultimately obtained his long-awaited revenge.
Cheated of the leadership of the Jews Esau eventually made a name for himself as a warrior; conquering the ancient land of Seir and renaming it Edom where Reuel was born to Esau’s wife, Bashemath. She was considered quite a catch being a daughter of Ishmael, the founder of the Arabs.
As the first person to be both Arab and Jew, Reuel believed he possessed the most holy of all bloodlines. Maintaining and augmenting this ‘noble’ lineage provided the fuel for his ambition. It is the prime motive driving many of the perplexing events recorded in the story of Moses and the Exodus.
His status as a member of the royal family of Edom gained Reuel the privilege of travelling as a young man to Egypt for his education. He excelled at his lessons; becoming a master magician at the royal Egyptian court. Magic was a much more all-encompassing profession than it is now. Magicians exercised the skills of doctors, astronomers and many of the various sciences that today form the kaleidoscope of disciplines taught in universities. But he also mastered arts not normally available in today's academic institutions. Hypnotism, ventriloquism and puppetry were fundamental skills used to convince the magician’s audience that he communicated with the gods.
Puppetry in ancient Egypt was not the child’s play it is in our times. It was a deadly serious business whose practitioners wielded their skills for ends far beyond innocent entertainment. It was used in corrupt politics as early at the 14 th century B.C. In a sham exercise candidates for high office were compelled to parade before a priest holding a pole with an idol attached to the top. The pole had a hollow center that contained a hidden string. The puppeteer pulled the string when the preordained candidate passed before him. To an unsophisticated audience it appeared that the nodding head of the idol was indicating the best candidate for office. At other times, magicians would wear masks that they claimed channeled the deities depicted in the mask’s features. Playing god was a role Egyptian magicians felt entitled to assume.
Reuel and Hur
Reuel didn’t hesitate to adopt a different persona in order to achieve his life-long ambition of ruling over the children of Israel. One of his secret identities went by the name of Hur. Just as Moses ascends the Mountain of God ‘Hur’ suddenly and inexplicably appears as a powerful figure in the life of the tribe. “… and Moses went up into the mount of God. And he said unto the elders, Tarry ye here for us, until we come again unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: if any man have any matters to do, let him come unto them. …” Exodus 24:13-15
When Moses handed his power and authority to Aaron and Hur he sealed his fate. For days the children of Israel waited anxiously for their leader’s return. As time passed, having themselves so recently experienced the ordeal of starvation and thirst, they were forced to accept that without food and water Moses must be dead; lost to the ravages of the dry mountain.
And then suddenly the Israelites anxiety and panic were brought to unbearable levels when Amalek, Reuel’s nephew, appeared on the horizon commanding an army bent on destroying them. Amalek hated Reuel. Exhausted and grieving the death of their prophet the Israelites had no courage left to fight Amalek’s thundering army. Reuel seized the moment. His opportunity was ripe. To calm the tribe’s fears and provide them with inspiration Reuel, disguised as Hur, aided and abetted by Aaron, created a life-sized, puppet figure of Moses. Dragging it to a hill overlooking the battlefield they propped the figure up and used it as a beacon of inspiration for the embattled people below.
Hur and Aaron holding up the arms of Moses during the battle with the Amalekites. Image source: Wikipedia
“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” Exodus 17:11-13.
The biblical scholar Martin Noth (1902-1968) refers to the role played by Hur and Aaron as “…a very strange helping part… ” Not so strange when we consider the important political role played by puppets in ancient Egypt; the place where Reuel learned his trade. The sudden appearance of Moses on the hill overlooking the battlefield encouraged the children of Israel to fight valiantly against the army of Amalek. They believed their prophet to be long dead but then, in their hour of need, he reappears from above to guide them to victory. The Prophet was alive! God was on their side.
Reuel’s brilliant puppet show during the battle against Amalek was just a prelude to the magician’s most spectacular performance – that of the Masked Moses whose terrible rages would come to dominate and terrorize the Israelites.
This article is excerpted from Rand & Rose Flem-Ath’s new book, KILLING MOSES .
Featured image: Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments. Image source: Wikipedia