Monday, January 30, 2006

At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. (Exod 2)

Ack! I can't seem to ever get back to this, I've been so busy lately, and yet I feel like I've gotten very little done in my personal life. (And then was experiencing some difficulties for a while.) I can relate being busy in this way to the story, though. I gotta admit I've often wondered at the amount of busy-work God gave Moses. Most of what's accomplished in this book and the ones following seem like they could have been done much simpler and faster than they were, but no dice. I guess God has his reasons for it, though, and perhaps we'll get into some of them.

So, the background for our story having been set up, we now introduce the baby who will grow up to be our main character in the next few books: Moses. The SAB points out that the story of Moses' childhood bears a strong resemblance to that of Sargon the great, an old Babylonian king. As the link provided points out, however, such stories are actually very common, and not just in a literary sense, but perhaps in a very real sense. Note that Pharaoh's daughter, upon discovering the child, immediately realizes that he's a Hebrew baby; it may have been not so uncommon for Hebrew women to do this sort of thing in the days of Moses' childhood.

Actually, in a more general sense, I've heard many pastors make the claim about stories in other religions that are similar to the stories of the Bible that, "Satan is good at making counterfeits." The idea behind this belief is that when you hear about a pagan god who was born of a virgin, or a Babylonian king who was set float in a basket, or the Buddha who, having been born into a royal family, forfeited his earthly kingdom to begin a new religion, the similarities are actually deceptions to distract people from the truths of the Biblical accounts. If you believe in the supernatural, this explanation makes a lot of sense, actually, although it's not necessarily true. If you don't believe in the supernatural, then it hardly matters, but perhaps you can see the logic in it, or at the very least why it's an appealing explanation. In any case, it's not unheard of for two different important historical personages to have similarities in their life stories, is it? (For instance, the second and third U.S. Presidents both died of natural causes on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of American independence. Sounds mythical, but it's apparently true. Go figure.)

Anyway, Moses is raised among the Egyptian royalty, but it seems despite what the movie Prince of Egypt (I highly recommend it) would tell us, he did know where he came from. Thus, in his adulthood, he one day killed an Egyptian slavemaster, and hid the body. Yes, Moses was a murderer, and the fact that he was the chosen deliverer of Israel didn't make it less of a sin. Afraid once he realized that the murder wasn't a secret as he had hoped, Moses fled the country. Now the SAB calls this a contradiction with a later verse, but I think it's a matter of time scale. At this time in the story Moses feared Pharaoh, but later on, when he knew he was on a mission from God, that fear evaporated. Indeed later in his life, Moses is very bold in standing up to Pharaoh.

After fleeing into the wilderness, Moses meets up with the daughters of the priest of Midian, named here as being "Reuel". The SAB points out a contradiction here that is actually one I've heard a few times, that being that Moses' father in law keeps being called by many names. I have both the standard interpretation of what's going on here, and my own viewpoint that I came up with just the other day. The standard interpretation is that "Jethro" (which is certainly the correct name) also at times went by the name "Reuel", and that "Hobab" is actually Moses' brother-in-law. This latter point indicates that while Judges 4:11 is either an actual mistake or at the least, badly written, the problem with Numbers 10:29 is that the SAB only quotes the verse in part. The full clause that begins that verse reads, "And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses' father in law,..." Now "Raguel" is actually "Reuel" in Hebrew, and I have no idea why the KJV spells it different in this verse, and unless there is someone out there reading this who knows Hebrew better than I do and knows why it must be otherwise, I think it's more than reasonable to assume "Moses' father in law" refers to "Raguel the Midianite," and not the preceding.

My own theories I put forth as possibilities are as follows. Note that "Reuel" means "friend of God". I believe that it is a possibility that Reuel is not just another name that Jethro occasionally used, but his priestly title. The other possibility goes back to the recurring theme in the Bible that the term "grandfather" is never used. It may be that at the time Moses comes to Midian at first, Reuel is the high priest, and these young women are actually Reuel's granddaughters. Years later, when Moses returns to Egypt, Reuel has died, and Jethro is now the high priest, having inherited the position from his father Reuel. I think any of these three explanations is sufficient to explain this issue, apart from Judges 4:11, which is a mystery to me.

The last issue brought up in this chapter is whether or not God "respects" anyone. Aside from my response to this issue in general in a previous post, I would like to say here that there may be another intended meaning of this word in the original Hebrew. If you look at what the word means, it seems that what's happening is that God is turning His full attention to their plight.


marauder34 said...

To be honest, I've wondered at times how much of what God reportedly said to Moses during the next four books really was said to Moses.

A good deal of the Law laid out in the Torah deals with stuff that's going to happen after Israel enters the Promised Land, and it's not wholly consistent on matters of sacrifice, or other details from time to time. I can't help but wonder if there isn't some truth to the theory of a post-Moses redactor who stitched together two different traditions after the Exile had ended.

There's also the matter of the lost book of the Law that was found in the Temple during the days of King Josiah. Cecil Adams or one of his workers at The Straight Dope pointed out that many scholars see this as evidence that the law was attributed to Moses in order to give it added weight and to turn the rapidly disintegrating social structure back around. You can see this today when evangelical groups back legislation they hope will increase righteous living, and cite Christ's authority for why they're doing this.

Yitzhakofeir said...

The reason they translate it Raguel is probably because in Hebrew there is a 'Ayin in the word, which back in the day occasionaly had a very guttural pronunciation (Actually it had the same sound as the French R.) Anyway, as Greek, Latin, and English lack this sound, a G is often inserted for it. Hence Gomorrah and Gaza for what is in modern Hebrew 'Amorrah and 'Aza.

Brucker said...

Ah, I didn't know that about Gaza and Gomorrah. When I was in Hebrew school, they told us that Aleph and 'Ayin were silent letters, which of course I later found out to be untrue for both of them. I guess it's just generally difficult to transliterate these names when we're talking about a language that has a whole bunch of sounds that English completely lacks. And then again, so many of the better-known names heave accepted pronunciations for reasons I do not know that bear little resemblance to their true pronunciation, despite the fact that English does have all the sounds. (Yerushalayim => Jerusalem? How's that work?)

Yitzhakofeir said...

Well, a lot of times that a name in Hebrew is perfectly pronounceable in English, but is still different, Like Yerushalayim/Jerusalem, the reason is that the name came through a Greek or Latin filter. In Jerusalem's case, the filter was the Greek "Ιερουσαλήμ", or that is Ierousalēm.