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Prophet Moses

Updated on October 30, 2010

The story of the Hebrew lawgiver and prophet Moses is told in the books of the Bible from Exodus to Deuteronomy, which record critical events in the earliest history of the people of Israel. Moses, a key figure in all of these events, led his people, a band of slaves, out of Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land of Canaan; this journey shaped the people of Israel into a nation and gave them their basic laws. The story of Moses and his relationship with the people of Israel is supported by archaeological, anthropological and linguistic evidence.

The son of Amram and Jochebed (descendants of Jacob), Moses was born at a time when the Hebrew people lived in slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, who, in an attempt to kill the King of the Jews of the prophesies, ordered that all new-born Hebrew male infants should be put to death. To ensure that he escaped this fate, Moses' mother placed her son in a papyrus basket and set it afloat on the Nile River. The baby was rescued by the Pharaoh's daughter and was thus raised as an Egyptian prince rather than a slave. As a young man, after slaying an Egyptian who had murdered a Hebrew, he fled to Midian, where he underwent a spiritual rebirth. God spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush, telling him that His name was Yahweh (I am that I am). He was ordered to go back to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery. To assist him in this task, Yahweh gave Moses the power to perform miracles.

The Pharaoh agreed to release the Hebrew people after Moses had brought a series of plagues on his kingdom but he later despatched an army to intercept the Hebrew exodus. Moses thwarted the advance of the army by parting the Red Sea; the Hebrews were able to cross on dry land but, when the Egyptians attempted to pursue them, the walls of water broke upon them. Upon reaching Sinai, Moses ascended the mountain, where he spent 40 days and nights communing with Yahweh, who gave him two tablets of stone on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments. Thereafter, these constituted the fundamental laws of the Hebrews and are the basis of Christian morality.

During their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites were changed into a nation with a special relationship to Yahweh. This is defined by the Covenant made between God and the Israelites through Moses and forms the basis of Hebrew law; these laws have parallels with other ancient Near Eastern law codes, such as that of Hammurabi. Those persons who had remained faithful to Yahweh slowly travelled northwards to Canaan, carrying the Covenant in an ark. Moses, having led and protected his people, died within sight of the Promised Land but before reaching it. Tradition ascribes to Moses the authorship of the first five books of the Bible. The Mosaic laws contained within these books are the irrevocable laws of God, intended to enable all people to live in peace, prosperity and stability.

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