JEWS, Christians, and Muslims have often disagreed about many things. Yet, in spite of their differences, these faiths hold at least one thing in common: profound respect for the man known as Moses. Jews recognize him as “the greatest of all the Jewish teachers”—the founder of the Jewish nation. Christians regard him as a forerunner of Jesus Christ. Muslims view Moses as among their first and greatest prophets.
Moses is thus one of the most influential men in human history. Even so, for well over a century, Moses has come under fire from both scholars and clerics. Many challenge the belief not only that Moses performed miracles and led the Israelites out of Egypt but also that he even existed. The book Moses—A Life, by Jonathan Kirsch, concludes: “All that we can say about the historical Moses is that someone like the man described in the Bible might have lived at some unknowable time and place in the far-distant past, and his exploits might have been the grain of sand around which the pearly accretions of legend and lore slowly built up over the centuries until he became the rich and provocative figure whom we find in the pages of the Bible.”
At first glance, such skepticism might seem to have merit. For example, critics observe that archaeological proof has been found to confirm the existence of such Bible personages as Israelite King Jehu, but no archaeological evidence has been found to confirm the existence of Moses. This is hardly proof that Moses is a myth, however. Skeptics once argued that others mentioned in the Bible, such as Babylonian King Belshazzar and Assyrian King Sargon, were likewise myths—until archaeology later confirmed their historicity.
Author Jonathan Kirsch reminds us: “The remnants and relics of biblical Israel are so sparse that the utter absence of Moses in any source except the Bible itself is neither surprising nor decisive.” According to Kirsch, some thus argue that it is unlikely that Moses could be a mere figment of someone’s imagination, since “a life story so rich in detail and dialogue, so complex . . . , could not have been made up.”
Whether you are a believer or not, you likely have at least a passing acquaintance with the main events of Moses’ life: his encounter with God at the burning bush, the Exodus of Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea. But is there reason to believe that any of these things really happened? Or is Moses little more than a mythological figure? The next article addresses these fascinating questions.