Profile of Moses

About the Biblical Figure

Moses on Mount Sinai by Jacques de Letin (1597-1661), oil on canvas, 210x232 cm, circa 1655
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Moses was an early leader of the Hebrews and probably the most important figure in Judaism. He was raised in the court of the Pharaoh in Egypt, but then led the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Moses is said to have talked with God. His story is told in the Bible in the book of Exodus.

Birth & Early Childhood

The story of Moses' childhood comes from Exodus. In it, the pharaoh of Egypt (probably Ramses II) decreed that all the Hebrew boy babies were to be drowned at birth, in a story similar to that of the founder of Rome, Romulus and his twin Remus, and the Sumerian king Sargon I. Yocheved, Moses' mother, hid her newborn for 3 months and then placed her baby in a wicker basket in the Nile River reeds. The baby cried and was rescued by one of the pharaoh's daughters who kept the baby.

Moses and His Mother

Moses' sister Miriam was watching when the daughter of the pharaoh took the baby. Miriam came forward to ask the princess if she would like a Hebrew wet nurse for the infant. When the princess agreed, Miriam fetched Yocheved.

His Crime

Moses grew up in the palace as an adopted son of the pharaoh's daughter, but he went to see his own people when he grew up. When he witnessed an overseer beating a Hebrew, he struck the Egyptian and killed him, with the beaten Hebrew as a witness. The pharaoh learned that Moses was the murderer and ordered his execution.

Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he married Tzipporah, daughter of Jethro. Their son was Gershom.

Moses Returns to Egypt

Moses returned to Egypt to seek the release of the Hebrews and to bring them to Canaan, as a result of God speaking to him in a burning bush. When the pharaoh wouldn't release the Hebrews, Egypt was afflicted with 10 plagues, the last being the killing the firstborn. After this, the pharaoh told Moses he could take the Hebrews. He then reversed his decision and had his men follow Moses into the Red or Reed Sea, which is the scene of one of Moses' miracles - the parting of the Red Sea.

The Biblical Exodus

During the 40-year journey of the Hebrews from Egypt to Canaan, Moses received the 10 Commandments from God at Mt. Sinai. While Moses communed with God for 40 days, his followers built a golden calf. Angry, God wanted to kill them, but Moses dissuaded him. However, when Moses saw the actual shenanigans he was so angry he hurled and shattered the 2 tablets holding the 10 Commandments.

Moses Is Punished and Dies at 120

It is not clear what exactly Moses did to receive punishment, but God tells Moses that he failed to trust Him sufficiently and for that reason, Moses would never enter Canaan. Moses climbed Mt. Abarim to see Canaan, but that was about as close as he came. Moses chose Joshua as the successor. At the ripe old age of 120, Moses climbed Mt. Nebo and died after the Hebrews entered the promised land.

Historicity?

The Ptolemaic-era Egyptian historian Manetho mentions Moses. There are other late historical references in Josephus, Philo, Apion, Strabo, Tacitus, and Porphyry. These do not constitute scientific proof that Moses ever existed or the Exodus ever occurred.

Horns

Moses is sometimes shown with horns coming out of his head. A knowledge of Hebrew would help here since the word "horned" appears to be an alternate translation of the "shiny" appearance Moses exhibited after he came down Mt. Sinai following his tete-a-tete with God in Exodus 34.