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Who Was Moses?

Updated on December 5, 2012
Remnants of Akhenaten's city at Armana
Remnants of Akhenaten's city at Armana
Remains of Temple to Aten
Remains of Temple to Aten

A Radical View

Moses is generally accepted as being the author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. However, various biblical scholars point to variations in style and other discrepancies to question the accepted authorship of Moses. Some of these scholars go as far as proposing that certain elements of these texts weren’t until after the time of David, during the reign of King Josiah 621BC, centuries after Moses had died.

The question though, is not, who wrote the Pentateuch, but who was Moses and this is a far more important question, one that will make the question of who wrote these books one of total irrelevance.

If we accept that Moses is the author of these books, despite that various challenges, the consensus view is that Moses completed Genesis around the year 1513 BC, sometime after the accepted date of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt. The only information available about Moses comes from what he wrote about himself. Despite the Egyptian propensity for record keeping, it remains difficult to fully comparable story in the Egyptian historical records. Part of the problem is that many ancient papyruses were destroyed when the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed by fire.

According to the scriptural account, Moses was found in the bull-rushes by a childless Egyptian princess and raised as an Egyptian Prince. This compares to the Egyptian story of Princess Thermuthis, meaning, of the Thutmose family, daughter of King Thutmose who is also identified with the personal name, Hatshepsut who married her sibling who became Thutmose II, though it is Hatshepsut who held the reigns of power and is also referred to as, the female Pharaoh.

Although the story of Thermuthis/Hatshepsut finding an infant fits the limited scriptural account of this event, there is no expert consensus, a great deal of disagreement, but this is included because I want to point to another Egyptian record that also has its parallels, and also about which most experts will dispute.

Some of these official proposals connect the identity of a Hyksos ruler who led an invasion into the northern territories of Egypt. The Hyksos were a nomadic people similar to the Hebrews and for a time, held power across wide swathes of Lower Egypt. Thutmose eventually drove out the Hyksos, but little else fits.

The third century Egyptian priest Manetho, links Moses with a rebellious priest named Osarseph. Another early historian, Chaeremon, also links Moses with a rebel priest, but gives the name as, Tisathen. In this account Tisathen has a co-conspiritor named Peterseph, who is identified as Joseph however, the story of Joseph and Moses living at the same time does not fit.

Part of the problem is that scripture doesn’t tell the truth and when it does, it is a doctored version of the whole truth. For example: Genesis 41:45 states, with no further explanation, that “Pharaoh … gave Joseph Asenath the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On as a wife.

No problem there, except that various Hebrew accounts reveal a great deal more and the modern Genesis etc are all compiled from Hebrew texts. The text entitled, Joseph and Asenath describes Asenath as ‘the most beautiful virgin in the land’ and her father, Potiphera as the high priest of Heliopolis. (A funeral stele in the Cairo Museum refers to the personage of Potiphera).

The name Heliopolis’ means ‘City of the Sun’ the sun standing as the image of the God Ra, the prime God in the Egyptian pantheon of gods. Potiphera was not just a priest, he was the High Priest of Ra in the Temple of Ra in the City of Ra and Asenath was his daughter. This creates a problem on a number of levels. It goes against the Law forbidding marriage to a non-Israelite. She was the daughter of the high priest to a God clearly in opposition to the God of Israel. It also raises questions about the story of Joseph withstanding the wiles of Potiphar’s (Potiphera) wife when proclaiming his loyalty to the Lord in the palace of Pharaoh, to then marry her daughter.

Hebrew mythology gets around this by telling the fanciful story that golden bees appeared to weave a honeycomb around Asenath’s lips and thus, by the purifying power of honey, the marriage is deemed acceptable. Or you could simply say that Joseph married Asenath, daughter of a priest of On.

What this is leading to is consideration of the story of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, also known as the heretic pharaoh. Pharaoh Amenhotep, son of Amenophis III, took the name Akhenaten, meaning, He who is in service to Aten. He then set about trying to enforce a monotheistic religion throughout Egypt, but it is that the laws laid down by Akhenaten compare so closely with those given by Moses that creates the reason to examine this potential connection.

Akhenaten forbade the worship of other gods (Exodus 20:3).

Akhenaten forbade the use of images or icons (Exodus 20:4).

Akhenaten issued a royal decree that the name Aten was no longer to be depicted by the hieroglyph of a solar disc emanating rays but instead had to be spelled out phonetically (Exodus 20:7).

Akhenaten removed the plural term ‘gods’ from the Egyptian language. The statement; “And God created” in Genesis is translated from the word Elohim, but Elohim, when correctly translated, is the plural form of the word Eloah (god). A correct translation of Genesis should therefore read, “And Gods created” though Hebrew scholars do wrangle a technical explanation to justify a singular translation as being correct.

Akhenaten that Aten was the only one and true god and there were no others. He set about defiling the temples of Egypt’s tradition gods while terrorising those that held onto traditional Egyptian belief in much the same way as modern missionaries suppressed what they dismissed as pagan belief.

Another link is the hymn to Aten, written by Akhenaten. This has been compared with Psalm 104 for the similarity of its principle message and content. (For this comparison, see Pritchard, James B. "The Ancient Near East, An anthology of Texts and Pictures", Princeton University Press, 1958, page 227.) It must also be pointed out that there are also some differences.

The renown Egyptologist and author Mirian Lichtheim, describes the hymn as ‘a beautiful statement of the doctrine of the One God’, which, perhaps unintentionally, creates another connection through her Jewish ancestry.

Akhenaten also set about building a new capital city, Akhenaten. This city, with its temple to Aten, was built on virgin land never previously dedicated to any other Egyptian god. It location is about 365 miles south of Cairo close to the River Nile between Memphis and Thebes and now called, Armana. Akhenaten’s unfinished tomb has been discovered nearby but seems never to have been used.

Eventually the people of Egypt rose up in revolt forcing Akhenaten and his followers to flee into the wilderness. Egypt returned to its previous form of worship but what happened to Akhenaten and his followers remains a mystery.

So here is a theory. I do not claim it as an original theory because it is one that has been proposed before. Nor is it one that is accepted by most academics, especially biblical scholars, but part of the problem is that they accept Moses’ account as the truth.

So let us suppose that Akhenaten and Moses are one of the same. Akhenaten if forced to flee, but would he, assuming he set out to write an account of events, tell the truth, that he and his God were defeated? Being Egyptian, it is a fair assumption that his version would be written and the modern term for this is spin.

Akhenaten becomes Moses, from his previous name Amenophis, Amen-mophis – Mophis – Moses. The prefix is a relative title in Egyptian names of dropping the prefix leaves the actual name part.

From the beginning, the people of Israel were allowed into Egypt where they prospered because Pharaoh, far from keeping them as slaves, gave them land and cattle and everything they needed to prosper. Amenophis learns about the God of Israel and when he becomes Pharaoh, sets out to impose the monotheistic religion of Israel across all of Egypt. After a number of years the people rebel against the singular god Aten, El, Jehovah and any number of other names, though all referring to the same God.

Akhenaten flees to become Moses and in writing his account, uses the family story of his father being found in the bulrushes, applying it to himself as part of the mysticism he wants to create.

The story where Moses kills the overseer, (Exodus 2:11) adds a twist. Why would Moses admit to committing what can be described as a murder? The account states that he fled fearing punishment, which is generally taken as a sign of guilt. Alternatively, perhaps this is a coded message. The slave being beaten pictures the Egyptian people. The overseer in the story pictures the numerous Egyptian gods. Moses steps in slaying the overseer (Egyptian gods) freeing the people from there oppression. However, in the scriptural account, news of the deed starts to spread and fearing retribution, Moses flees. This retribution is the return of the Egyptian gods Moses can’t fight alone, but in the wilderness his God steps in (the story of the burning bush) so Moses returns to set his people free. Therefore, being driven out of Egypt by a rebellious uprising, a defeat for Akhenaten and his god Aten, becomes a glorious victory in which God and Moses has set his people free.

In addition there is the eruption of the Santorini volcano. The eruption of this island, in the southern Aegean Sea, is described as one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history and a number of experts have made a connection between some of the events recorded in Egypt about this time. These are some of the plagues inflicted by Moses, as described in scripture. This includes the darkening of the sky and the withdrawal of the sea, a forerunner to a tsunami – Moses parting the sea and the pursuing Pharaoh and his army washed away.

The question here is whether Pharaoh, after his first born being killed and all the other plagues, would change his mind and set out in pursuit of the people of Israel or be glad to see them go? Alternatively, the rebellious army that rose up to drive out Akhenaten and his followers would certainly be following in pursuit, determined to seek revenge.

The story here is not just about the story of Moses. It is a challenge to the story attributed to Moses, starting from the very beginning, the story of Adam and Eve, of creation versus evolution, though not dismissing those accounts but pointing to an alternative. Not just an alternative story of the Adam and Eve, an alternative evolution as well. The account presented here is just one piece of a jigsaw that can only be judged how it fits when other pieces are laid down.


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    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks Radical Rog. I will keep reserching on this great Pharaoh (Akhenaten). Problem is, we may never really know due to what you call doctoring and I think misinterpretion of Hieroglyphics by many Egyptologists.

    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 5 years ago from Plymouth

      I totally agree Emmanuel. The problem is that nobody can say either way with any level of certainty. So many ancient writings, especially those called scriptural, have been doctored and changed to suit prevailing circumstance. As for Moses being Akhenaten, or vice versa, maybe, maybe not, but my argument is that the possibility should not be dismissed until it can be done with 100% certainty. Glad you like it.

    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Good Radical argument here Radicalrog but I have a strong feeling that Akhenaten is not Moses. But feelings don't count when you have given evidence from a variety of sources. I tend to think Biblical references to Pharaohs mention Ramesess. That would place the Jewish Exodus to a period after the 18th Dynasty. However you could be right about Akhenaten leading his "OWN EXODUS" during a jubilee in his era. I have concluded that there were many ''EXODUSES (EXODII ?), perhaps one during each Jubilee (Sed festival). It's only that the Biblical one is the most famous because it was recorded in a famous book. Hundreds of other Exoduses remain unwritten and forgotten. Akhenaten led one of them southwards into Bantu Country (another radical approach) as I have theorised in my hub - Akhenaten and the Kikuyu. This was refreshing reading and voted up!