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Musing of a Progressive Christian Layman: Was Moses Hebrew or Egyptian?

 
Since Moses’ name is similar to the name of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose (or Tuthmosis) III, many scholars speculate that Moses was Egyptian royalty.
 
Almost eighty years ago, Sigmund Freud, in his book Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion, suggested that Moses was not Hebrew, but was born into Egyptian nobility. Freud claimed he became a priest of Aten, and a follower of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who was a monotheist. Moses led the Jewish slaves and the followers of Akhenaten out of Egypt when Akhenaten was deposed, circa 1350 BCE. Freud speculates that those who escaped subsequently killed Moses during a rebellion and later combined with another monotheistic tribe in Midian that worshiped a volcanic god named Jahweh. That god became the Israelites’ Yahweh and the deeds of Moses were actually those of a Midianite priest who was also named Moses. Centuries after the murder of the Egyptian Moses, the people regretted killing him and created the concept of the Messiah in hopes that Moses would return as Savior of the Israelites. Interesting. And Freud published this in 1939? Why has his theory not been more widely disseminated?
 
The Old Testament story of Moses’ birth is fishy. Supposedly, the Hebrews had procreated so profusely in Egypt that the Pharaoh feared they were getting too powerful. He thought they might join one of their enemies and conquer his country, so he ordered the midwives to kill all newborn Hebrew males. The midwives, however, refused to obey. They told Pharaoh that the Jewish mothers were birthing without midwives. Therefore Moses was born to a husband and wife from the Levi tribe. Fearing for her baby’s life, Moses’ mother put her son in a basket made of bulrushes and reeds and placed it in the Nile River near where Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. When she saw the basket, she ordered one of her handmaidens to retrieve it. She opened it and discovered a male child inside. Even though she knew the baby was Hebrew, she decided to keep it and adopt him as her son. Miriam, Moses’ sister, was watching from nearby, so she asked Pharaoh’s daughter if she needed a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for her, which she did. So Miriam brought her mother to nurse her own child until he was weaned. It was Pharaoh’s daughter who named him Moses.
 
Killing all the male babies is exactly the same thing that Herod reportedly ordered shortly after Jesus was born. The New Testament writers were probably trying to make a connection between Moses and Jesus.
 
Pharaoh’s daughter fishing the baby out of the river is a bit suspicious. Perhaps she was guilty of a sexual indiscretion. Would the Pharaoh’s daughter bring the child of a Hebrew salve into the palace and raise him as a member of the royal family? Such a thing seems unlikely.
 
It is more likely that Moses was an Egyptian baby of noble birth – in fact, the name Moses is an Egyptian one, not Hebrew. But since Pharaoh’s daughter supposedly named him, so his name doesn’t prove his ethnicity.
 
The Old Testament furnishes a couple of clues that Moses was an Egyptian. After he draws water for Jethro’s daughters, they told their father that “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds.” (Exodus 2:19). Later, Moses tells God that he is “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10) and that he is a poor speaker (Exodus 6:30). Some people think Moses couldn’t speak Hebrew very well because he was Egyptian. If, however, Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace, he would speak Egyptian and dress like an Egyptian. Another clue that suggests that Moses was not an Israelite is that he wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land.
 
When Moses was twenty, he was visiting “his brothers” (Moses had only one brother, Aaron). He was appalled that the Hebrews were forced to endure such difficult labor. He became even more incensed when he witnessed an Egyptian foreman whipping a Hebrew slave, so he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. He was afraid people knew what he did and soon Pharaoh would know, so he fled to Midian, where he decided to settle down. He married a Midianite woman and sired two sons.
 
Several years later, when the Pharaoh died, the Israelites begged God for relief from their slavery. God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with the Israelites. Had God forgotten his covenant?
 
Up to this point, there hasn’t been any mention of any relationship between Moses and God. However, while he was shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep at Mt. Horeb (or Sinai), the mountain of God, Moses saw a blazing fire in the middle of a bush that didn’t consume the bush. From the burning bush, God told him that he had seen the affliction of his people in Egypt and instructed him to return to Egypt to free his people and bring them out of Egypt. God would establish them in a good, spacious land, a land flourishing with milk and honey, the land currently populated by the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
 
One potential explanation of the burning bush is something called earthquake lights, a pale cool flame flickering ankle-high, flashes of bright lights shooting into the sky, or luminous balls of light drifting through the air. In 2003, Norwegian scientist Dag Kristian Dysthe and her research team discovered a burning layer of turf under the soil in that region that may have been responsible. Scientist Colin Humphrey, in his book The Miracles of Exodus, argues that the bush burned because of natural gas or a volcanic vent underneath it.
 
Moses replied, “Why me?” Even after God promised to be with him, Moses hesitated, but he eventually agreed to go.
 
On the way to Egypt, God tried to kill Moses because his son wasn’t circumcised. Moses’ wife took a knife and circumcised their son and may have done the same to her husband. Since Moses grew up in the Egyptian palace, he had never been circumcised. Circumcision is more sociological than religious. It identifies a male Jew – even though no one sees it. However, it’s simply mutilation. Even though it’s been proven unnecessary from a health perspective, the majority of male children born in the U.S. are circumcised.
 
Before they reached Egypt, Aaron, Moses’ brother, joined him and agreed to do most of the talking.
 
Once there, Moses gathered the leaders of Israel and Aaron told them what God had told Moses. Then the brothers went to Pharaoh and told him that the God of the Hebrews wanted permission for the Israelites to make a three-day journey into the wilderness to worship him. Of course, Pharaoh would never agree to let them go anywhere – he thought they would never return and the country would lose its free labor force.
 
After several failed attempts to get Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness to worship God, a series of plagues was inflicted upon Egypt: the water of the Nile turned into blood, frogs covered the whole country, lice infected men and animals, flies swarmed everywhere, all the livestock became diseased, festering boils broke out on men and animals, a horrible hailstorm killed livestock and ruined crops, darkness covered the country for three days, and every firstborn son died (the Israelites’ children were spared). Is there any verifiable evidence that the plagues actually happened? Egyptologists answer “No!”
 
Pharaoh finally told Moses and Aaron to “Get out of here… Go worship God on your own terms. Take your livestock as you’ve insisted – just go!” The Israelites grabbed their bread dough before it had risen, bundled their bread bowls in their cloaks and threw them over their shoulders. They also fleeced the Egyptians of silver, gold and clothing. About 600,000 men (women and children were not important enough to count) left Egypt, including a crowd of non-Israelites, plus their large flocks and herds of livestock. The Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years.

If the Israelites had all been slaves, how did they possess such a large stash of gold that the Pharaoh risked the wrath of God to chase them across the desert for it? Did they really steal silver and gold from the Egyptians? How did they manage that in such a short period of time? The Old Testament claimed the people of Egypt gave the gold to the Israelites as back wages – but slaves weren’t paid wages. Furthermore, the Israelites were the Pharaoh’s slaves, so why would the people of Egypt be paying them back wages?
 
Egyptologists claim that their records and oral tradition are devoid of any mention of Moses or the “so-called” Pharaoh. They also claim there is no record of the Hebrew people ever being in Egypt.

Now, let’s look at an alternative history based on Egyptian-born author, Ahmed Osman’s book Moses and Akhenaten.

 
Osman claims that Moses and Akhenaten, who ruled Egypt for seventeen years in the mid-14th century BCE, are the same person.
 

Akhenaten was the second son of Amenhotep III and his queen Tiye, the daughter of Amenhotep’s minister, Yuya, who is otherwise known as Joseph, the Jewish patriarch.

 
Osman places Akhenaten’s birth at the summer royal palace in Goshen, where the Israelites lived, and in the same place where Moses was born. During his early years, his mother kept Akhenaten away from the royal residences.
 
When Akhenaten’s older brother was murdered, his mother sent the young boy, whose life was at risk because he was heir to the throne, to live with Jewish relatives, who raised him in the summer palace in Goshen.
 
The idea of a single deity did not materialize until at least the mid-14th century BCE. All previous cultures believed in a pantheon of gods; each god had jurisdiction over a particular aspect of life – fertility, rain, war, crops, disease, etc. Then, almost suddenly, the radical idea of a single omnipotent god emerged in Egypt – the god Aten, who had no image or form.
 
Osman claims that the Egyptian components in the monotheism preached by Moses came from Egypt’s worship of Aten. He also claims that the Ten Commandments are directly influenced by Spell 125 from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
 
Once Akhenaten assumed the throne as co-regent with his father, he became Amenhotep IV. His wife was Nefertiti, his half-sister. Soon, he built three temples to Aten. In the fifth year of his reign, he changed his name to Akhenaten, which means “he who worships Aten.” Following the death of his father, Akhenaten abolished the worship of all gods in Egypt, except Aten.
 
Akhenaten’s attempt to change Egypt’s pantheon of gods to monotheism was fiercely resisted by the populace. Eventually, a conflict arose between Akhenaten, his army and his subjects. When he learned that his enemies planned a military coup, Akhenaten abdicated and along with some of his followers fled to the area of Serabit el-Khadim, hundreds of miles away in southern Sinai. Later, Akhenaten decided to return to Egypt and reclaimed his throne, but Ramses, who controlled the army, refused to acknowledge Akhenaten’s rule.
 
When Akhenaten realized that his life was threatened by Ramses, he escaped, along with some of his followers. They went into Canaan, where he could prepare an army to challenge Ramses. Reportedly, Akhenaten was killed in a battle. Subsequently, his statues were destroyed and his name was expunged from the list of pharaohs.
 
The similarities between Moses and Akhenaten:

……..Both were born in Goshen.
……..Both were trained as a priest. The primary reason people have identified Akhenaton with Moses is their monotheism. One theory speculates that Moses was an Aten priest.
……..Both were exiled from Egypt as young men.
……..Both returned to rule, only to flee a second time.
……..Both, in exile, lived in the same small remote village, Serabit el-Khadim.

And the name Moses is clearly derived from the name Tuthmosis or Thutmose, the name of many pharaohs. The Hebrew form of his name is Moshe. The Egyptian origin is from mesu or mose, which meant “son,” as in Thutmose, the son of Thuth. But his name, which the Old Testament says was given by Pharaoh’s daughter, doesn’t prove anything.

After all the evidence, I’m not convinced that Akhenaten and Moses are the same person. I do think Moses could very likely have been Egyptian royalty and was not the son of Israelite slaves. I’m willing to admit that Moses was influenced by Akhenaten’s monotheistic religion. However, I think it is possible that he adapted the religion of Aten into the Jewish religion.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are Jewish patriarchs. Why not Moses? Might it be because he wasn’t a Hebrew?

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