“In the Hebrew scriptures are many beauties, many excellent precepts, much found morality, and they deserve the attentive perusal of every scholar, every person of curiosity and taste. All those good things I admit, and admire, and would equally admire them in the writings of Plato, Tully, or Marcus Antoninus. But there are other things in great abundance that I can neither admire nor admit, without renouncing common sense and superseding reason—a sacrifice which I am not disposed to make, for any writing in the world.”
Rev. Dr. Alexander Geddes, Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures (1.v–vi)
“A professed Egyptologist has written respecting the passage of the Red Sea: ‘It would be impious to attempt an explanation of what is manifestly miraculous.’ To such a depth of degradation can Bibliolatry reduce the human mind! Such is the spirit in which the subject has been crawled over.
“These impotent attempts to convert mythology into history, dignified with the astounding title of the Book of God, have produced the most unmitigated muddle of matter ever presented to the mind of man. There has been no such fruitful case of misconception as this supposed source of all wisdom, designated the Book of God, ignorantly believed to have been communicated to man orally by an objective Deity.”
Gerald Massey, A Book of the Beginnings (2.176)
OVER THE CENTURIES, many people have attempted to reconcile biblical persons and events with confusing ancient accounts of individuals, incursions, excursions and skirmishes involving Egypt and Canaan. These efforts frequently have been tedious and unsatisfactory in identifying Moses and explaining the Exodus story as a whole. This difficulty is so great that one is tempted to admit defeat that the “historical” Moses and Exodus are hopelessly lost, as if non-existent. Since so many aspects of the tale appear in myth, we can assume safely that the biblical account represents a fictional composite of events and individuals that cannot be considered a single historical occurrence and personage.
The fact is that the biblical story of Moses does not represent the “real history” of the leader of the “chosen people,” who through supernatural events and divinely ordained laws and intervention brought the Israelites to the Promised Land. Moreover, the Pentateuch was not composed by a historical Moses but constitutes a series of pseudonymous texts written over a period of centuries and containing numerous allegorical and mythical tales interspersed with some history. In this regard, Moses cannot be discovered in history, whether as Akhenaten or another historical personage. Instead of being founded as presented in the biblical story, the Israelites emerged from the hill country as a result of the merger of several groups of Semitic nomads, including those who had been in Sumeria, Canaan, Phoenicia, Babylon, Egypt and the southeastern Levant. Factoring in the possible Indian influence on the Syro-Jewish philosophers Josephus styled the Kalanoi, it may be that a group of Semitic Brahma worshippers from the Harappan Valley in India via Ur/Sumer had made its way to the eastern Levant during the second millennium BCE. There they encountered other Semites, El Shaddai worshippers who established superiority and demoted the immigrants’ god to the patriarch Abraham. Next, this unified tribe of “Hebrews” apparently merged with the Sumero-Canaanite Mš serpent cult, joined in the hill country by Hapiru and other bedu followers of Baal, El and various other Semitic deities.
To this mix were added Amoritish Hyksos worshippers of Baal-Seth and Shasu followers of Yahweh familiar with Egypt. These latter eventually established supremacy and evidently subverted the Mash/Mush cult, demoting its god to a patriarch, with Hezekiah legendarily smashing its bronze serpent talisman. In this merger, the Yahwists came to dominate during the first millennium BCE and to be known as Judeans or “Jews.”
Considering the abundant evidence presented here, it may be asserted that the tale of the Exodus and Conquest is not a historical account of the founding of Israel but is based largely on other mythical battles, sojourns in the wilderness and entries into promised lands.
As we have seen, the figure of Moses constitutes a mythical compilation of characters, the significant portion of which are solar heroes or sun gods, along with fertility, serpent, storm and wine deities and attributes. It appears that the myths of Gilgamesh, Baal and Dionysus in specific were incorporated into the patriarchal foundation/lawgiver story of the demoted god.
The scientific conclusion is that the Bible is not the literal “Word of God.” Instead, the “Good Book” represents ethnic traditions and political propaganda from a particular culture and era, designed both to record ancient folklore and to establish hegemony for that especial ethnicity. To reiterate, this old tome of fabulous fairytales contains some history as well, but it should not be mistaken for a history text, in which the God of the cosmos actually established a “chosen people” holier than the rest of humanity.
BIBLICAL ANACHRONISMS AND ERRORS
In his book Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Egyptologist Redford expresses exasperation at the religious habit of taking the Bible literally, in consideration of the fact that the text clearly does not represent history and makes repeated mistakes and anachronisms, revealing its folkloric nature. Firstly, he refers to the dearth of evidence from the supposedly contemporary Egyptian and Semitic sources, which barely mention Israel or “Biblical associates” before the eighth century BCE. Secondly, he points out that the Bible itself likewise lacks “any specific references betraying a knowledge of Egypt or the Levant during the second millennium B.C.”
Regarding the biblical account as put forth in the Hexateuch or first six books of the Bible, including the Pentateuch and Joshua, Redford next remarks:
There is no mention of an Egyptian empire encompassing the eastern Mediterranean, no marching Egyptian armies bent on punitive campaigns, no countermarching Hittite forces, no resident governors, no Egyptianized kinglets ruling Canaanite cities, no burdensome tribute or cultural exchange. Of the latest and most disastrous migration of the second millennium, that of the Sea Peoples, the Hexateuch knows next to nothing: Genesis and Exodus find the Philistines already settled in the land at the time of Abraham…. The great Egyptian kings of the empire, the Amenophids, the Thutmosids, the Ramessides, are absent from the hundreds of pages of holy writ; and it is only in occasional toponyms unrecognized by the Hebrew writer that a faint echo of their names may be heard…. Errors persist even in periods closer in time to the period of the Biblical writers.
Discussing the time of the biblical judges, from around 1456 to 1080 BCE, the Egyptologist points out that it supposedly occurred during the same period when in actuality Egyptians were dominant in the Levant, ruling over their outposts in Canaan and elsewhere. Yet, says Redford, “our Egyptian sources mention neither the patriarchs, Israel in Egypt, Joshua, nor his successors, while the Bible says absolutely nothing about the Egyptian empire in the land.”1800 In other words, the biblical writers had no idea of how to depict the appropriate history of Egypt in Canaan; nor had the Egyptians ever heard of the patriarchs and judges who supposedly engaged in such dramatic behaviors as recorded in the Old Testament.
Redford proceeds to name several other errors and anachronisms, throwing his hands in the air at the devout attitude that insists on taking the Bible literally, when it clearly is not historically accurate. Says he: “Such ignorance is puzzling if one has felt inclined to be impressed by the traditional claims of inerrancy made by conservative Christianity one behalf of the Bible.”
Referring to the attempts by bibliolaters and others at manipulating the time periods in order to align with known history, Redford comments:
Such manhandling of the evidence smacks of prestidigitation and numerology; yet, it has produced the shaky foundations on which a lamentable number of “histories” of Israel have been written. Most are characterized by a somewhat naïve acceptance of sources at face value coupled with the failure to assess the evidence as to its origin and reliability.
Despite these efforts, we now know that the Pentateuch was composed centuries later than the time it purports to record, as proved by the many chronological errors and omissions chronicled by Redford and others here and elsewhere.
In the final analysis, high, middle, low or new chronology all rate as irrelevant when the quest is understood to reside in the realm of myth, not history. It matters not if Ramesses II, for example, flourished in the 13th century or 10th century BCE, because he was not the “historical” pharaoh/dragon of the Exodus myth. Such attempts at recovering literal history from, and establishing chronology according to, mythical motifs remain futile, regardless of how the dates are altered and/or justified.
In the past centuries, millions of people have taken the Bible literally, including such verses as: “Whoever sacrifices to any god, save to the LORD only, shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exod 22:20) The Lord here is specifically Yahweh; hence, certain fanatical followers of the biblical god, whether Jewish or Christian, have felt the right to slaughter all nonbelievers. Another verse used to justify violence, especially against women, is Exodus 22:18: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” The scripture at Leviticus (18:22) proscribing homosexuality is yet another of the many used to defend violence. These verses may seem of little consequence in civilized regions, but in places where superstition continues to reign supreme, such as in parts of Africa, people today suffer from these writings.
INTOLERANCE, CULTURAL BIGOTRY AND BARBARISM
Although various wisdom sayings and platitudes are included in the Old Testament, Yahweh does not teach his chosen about love, charity, forgiveness, tolerance and good will to any significant extent. Instead, the lessons focus largely on enemies, adversaries, hatred, slaughter and pillage. Despite the Platonic pretensions of Yahwistic monotheism, there is little sense of godly transcendence of primitive human emotions and behaviors, as in sophisticated philosophies. On the contrary, the supposedly cosmic and enlightened doctrine is full of blood and gore, on page after page, reveling in violence and retribution.
According to the Bible, the purported creator of an amazing cosmos which we now know contains, among innumerable other wonders, six-trillion-milehigh clouds of gas that give birth to stars, was obsessed not only with animal sacrifice but also with the genocide of Bronze Age, Near-Eastern tribes such as the Amalekites, Canaanites, Moabites and Midianites!
As related in the Pentateuch, this same creator of the sun, moon, planets and stars stepped down from his heavenly abode to engage in endless bloody skirmishes; yet, this violent chosen culture is supposed to be far superior to that of the barbaric Aztecs, for example. In the vast scheme of things, however, there is little difference between the latter and the biblical bloodthirstiness and pettiness.
All cultures other than the “chosen” are reduced in value biblically, as this one is raised up by the pretense of this ethnicity’s myths as more sacred than all others, in spite of the fact that these myths may have been built on the stories of other cultures. In reality, the Bible itself ranks as a cultural artifact, no more sacrosanct than are the ancient religious texts of other cultures, in which various prototypical deities can be found.
In this regard, the supposedly omniscient Lord, who purportedly had been visiting Moses and Aaron for months and years on end, possessed no more knowledge than did Bronze Age shepherds and their priests, the true composers of the texts.
MISOGYNY AND SEXISM
In reworking the ancient myths of other cultures, the biblical stories often have removed completely the role of goddesses in the original tales, either demonizing the deity or demoting her to a judge, prophet, saint or other less divine role. In the frequently misogynistic and sexist texts, a number of goddesses, in fact, ended up as “whores,” including Jesus’s purported ancestor, Rahab. This denigration and suppression of myths about females has done a tremendous disservice not only to women and girls—one-half of humanity—but also to men, who may not experience women in their fullest potential, empowered by these divine archetypes.
The supernatural and miraculous biblical tales are no more “historical” than the predecessor myths upon which they evidently are founded. As a reflection of an ancient literary genre that used myth to record beliefs and culture, as well as possessing some history, the Bible is a valuable human artifact. As a history book, however, its value is minimal, and taking it literally has proved a great detriment to humanity.
As we know from the remarks at the beginning of this present work and spread throughout, even in antiquity not all believers thought the Bible was entirely historical. Speaking of Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the fall of mankind as found in Genesis, for example, Geddes recounted a list of others in antiquity who understood biblical tales as cosmological and allegorical, not literal:
This allegorical mode of explaining the fall (and indeed the whole cosmogony) by the most ancient professed interpreter whose works have come down to us, appeared so ingenious and satisfactory to the more early Christian fathers, that, with some little variations, they generally adopted it. It was adopted, if we may credit Anastasius Sanita, by Papias, Pantaenus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria; and we are certain it was adopted and improved upon by Origen. From Origen, it was borrowed by the Gregories of Nyssa and Nazianzum; and among the Latins, by St. Ambrose. There were not, however, wanting writers who contended for a literal meaning, and who charged the Origenists with impiety and heresy: particularly, the credulous Epiphanius, and the acrimonious Jerome….
Each of these Church fathers and Christian thinkers understood that there is allegory—myth—in the Bible.
Concerning the obfuscation during centuries of pantheon mergers and priestcraft that turned mythical or allegorical gods into historical prophets and saviors, it is important to keep in mind the words of Josephus regarding Moses (Ant. “Preface,” §4): “Now when once he had brought them to submit to religion, he easily persuaded them to submit in all other things…”
We are reminded again of the old adage, “The people like to be fooled, let them be fooled.” Here we find the themes of manipulation and coercion as well as deceit, which provide some idea of one of the purposes for priestly endeavors, as the Jewish historian suggests.
As a motive for this misapprehension, in his Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures, Geddes refers to the “mythos of Moses” as “charming political fictions” dressed as “history”:
We have now got to the end of the mythos of Moses; or whoever else was the author of the wonderful production. I trust that I have done something like justice to its beauties; and that it will appear, on the whole, to be a well devised, well delineated, well executed piece: nay, that it has not equal in all the mythology of antiquity: I mean, if it be considered, not as a real history, nor as a mere mystical allegory; but, such as I have throughout exhibited it, a most charming political fiction, dressed up for excellent purposes in the garb of history, and adapted to the gross concepts and limited capacity of a rude, sensual and unlearned credulous people.
This erudite and insightful churchman was centuries ahead of his time, this text published in the late 18th century and not “outdated” overall. For his hubris and although he remained a professed Christian—the Catholic equivalent of a Unitarian—Geddes was censured for “liberalism” in his translation of the Bible, and he lost his vocation for his subsequent Critical Remarks. Nevertheless, his analysis remains factual and current, with modern scholarship just now catching up with his assessment, suppressed largely because of the inculcated bias of entrenched institutions.
As concerns this apparent political propaganda, a Jewish writer of the early 20th century, Marcus Eli Ravage, published an article “A Real Case Against the Jews” in Century Magazine that included the following taunting admission:
Our tribal customs have become the core of your moral code. Our tribal laws have furnished the basic groundwork of all your august constitutions and legal systems. Our legends and our folk-tales are the sacred lore which you croon to your infants. Our poets have filled your hymnals and your prayer-books. Our national history has become an indispensable part of the learning of your pastors and priests and scholars. Our kings, our statesmen, our prophets, our warriors are your heroes. Our ancient little country is your Holy Land. Our national literature is your Holy Bible. What our people thought and taught has become inextricably woven into your very speech and tradition, until no one among you can be called educated who is not familiar with our racial heritage.
Jewish artisans and Jewish fishermen are your teachers and your saints, with countless statues carved in their image and innumerable cathedrals raised to their memories. A Jewish maiden is your ideal of motherhood and womanhood. A Jewish rebel-prophet is the central figure in your religious worship. We have pulled down your idols, cast aside your racial inheritance, and substituted for them our God and our traditions. No conquest in history can even remotely compare with this clean sweep of our conquest over you.
In the end, it appears that the story of Moses was created in order to compete with the lawgiver tales of other cultures and to give divine origin for the various laws and traditions that became definitive of the Yahwist sect of the Israelites.
MOSES VERSUS JESUS MYTHICISM
As I say regarding the “quest for the historical Jesus,” the discussion revolves around not whether or not a Moses existed but what his myth signifies. As a historical personage, the Moses of the Pentateuch did not exist. As a mythical character, however, Moses certainly has existed, in multiple forms in a number of cultures extending back thousands of years and developed over a period of centuries to millennia.
Various comments in the present work reveal that there has been a significant amount of Moses mythicists within academia over the past couple of centuries. Questioning Moses’s historicity has become a valid exercise, in consideration of all the fabulous fairytales, supernatural events and lack of a historical and archaeological record for the biblical story. In fact, currently it appears to be almost de rigueur among many academicians to object to the very notion of the Exodus and the Conquest serving as history.
It should be kept in mind also that, as the tale of Moses is mythical, so too evidently are the stories of several other biblical characters, as mentioned by a number of scholars quoted here and elsewhere. These figures include Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Noah and others.
As we can see, there exists precedent for mythical characters or fictional composites in the Bible. These fabled figures of the Old Testament are depicted as participating in supernatural events and acts. Therefore, should we not maintain our rationality, logic and skepticism when it comes to the most supernatural of all biblical characters, Jesus Christ?
The equally implausible gospel story in the New Testament likewise is full of fabulous fairytales, supernatural events and a dearth of scientific evidence. However, questioning the tale as “history”—even to the point of the historicity of the purported founder at its core, as is the case with the Moses myth—is treated as an affront to common sense.
Even with the precedent of a mythical Moses, making us suspect other biblical tales, it remains taboo to suggest as nonhistorical the virgin-born son of God who walked on water, restored sight to the blind using spit, raised the dead, turned water into wine, transfigured on a mount next to two apparitions, resurrected from death and bodily flew off into the sky, to live for all eternity omnisciently watching over every aspect of creation.
FIRST AND SECOND MESSIAHS?
Nevertheless, as might be expected, there exist many correspondences between the gospel story and that of Moses, as discussed by Dr. Burton Mack, for example, decades ago. First and foremost, both are a type of messiah for the Israelite and Jewish people. In the New Testament, Jesus is Moses’s brazen serpent, erected centuries previously in the Jerusalem temple. So important is Moses in the gospel tale that he appears at Jesus’s transfiguration. Moreover, the two figures naturally share many philosophical ideas, which need not emanate from a single historical individual but which could be the result of combining archetypical figureheads within religion and mythology, along with the various mysteries around the Mediterranean and beyond.
Jesus’s genealogy can be traced to Moses; yet, Moses clearly is a mythical and not historical personage. We submit the same can be said of Christ. A similar process used to turn the ancient solar-serpent god and divine vinewine legislator into a Hebrew patriarch was employed also to change the solar son of God/hero into the Jewish messiah.
In this quest, numerous passages from the Old Testament have been compiled as “messianic scriptures” purportedly predicting or foreshadowing the messiah and supposedly fulfilled in Jesus. In reality, these verses served as “blueprints” used midrashically or allegorically to create the gospel story and mythical messiah.1809 For example, one of the favored texts for midrash is the book of Isaiah, evidently used in the creation of not only the messianic character but also the Exodus.
It is obvious that, in emulation of other cultures with lawgivers, Moses was created in order to give divine legitimacy to the Yahwist priestly ordinances and authorities. In the same way, the “historical” Jesus was fashioned in order to unify the religions of the Roman Empire.
In consideration of purported plans by various “fringe” elements and governmental officials alike in Israel to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple in order to house the Ark of the Covenant1810—an act that would require the demolition of the Muslim Dome of the Rock and possibly set off a major war —it is urgent that humanity as a whole investigate scientifically, with great scrutiny, the stories it holds sacred. Are these tales “historical events” based on God’s intervention, which will lead us inexorably to Armageddon? Or, are they myths, fables and, when taken literally, deleterious fantasies?
It would be best to recognize the Pentateuch/Torah as a book of fabulous fairytales and meaningful myths, rather than insisting that such stories represent “history,” for which there is no corroborating evidence, no archaeological remains, no other literary account confirming the brutal conquest of the Promised Land.
The Bible’s myths have inspired the world to create great cathedrals, literature, music and art, but they should not have been taken as literal facts, as we can see from the tale of Moses and the Exodus, neither of which entities finds its place in history but both of which clearly constitute ancient mythical motifs present in other cultures.
It must be admitted that, as mythology, Moses and the Exodus ranks as a well-crafted tale with drama and intrigue, even if quite illogical and implausible—nay, impossible—as history. Devoid of the significance of the myth, however, the story appears absurd and grotesque, if taken literally. With the mythological understanding, the narrative gains greater depth, when put into its context as one of many similar stories across a variety of cultures and eras.
Taken alone as “ultimate truth” while dismissing with utter prejudice and fallacious superiority all these other myths and epics, the biblical tall tale loses its meaning and becomes debased, reflecting an insane and violent god with a megalomaniacal representative bent on tormenting and/or slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people. It is time to acknowledge this genocidal story’s place in mythology, rather than erroneously presuming it to be history.
Nor is the Bible as literature superior to the sacred texts of other cultures, such as the Rigveda, Iliad, Odyssey and Norse Eddas. In order to progress into a more truthful and enlightened future, we must recognize these facts and adjust our attitude accordingly, for we are all one human species on a small planet far off to the side of one of countless galaxies.
The final answer to the question of “Did Moses exist?” is no and yes: No, the character of Moses in the Bible is not a historical person; and, yes, Moses exists—as a mythical figure. In the end, the biblical story of Moses should be understood as folklore, not literal history, similar to the legends of other cultures, and not given divine status. In an age of transparency and information, this suppressed and hidden knowledge needs to be known widely with alacrity.
Fig. 125. Moses orders the Levites to slaughter all those worshipping the Golden Calf. Woodcut by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (Das Buch der Bücher in Bilden, 1920)
Fig. 126. James Tissot, The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews, 1900. Watercolor, Jewish Museum, New York.