Who was Moses? Was he a real person? Is there evidence for the Exodus? Jimmy Akin continues our lively look at Moses among the Egyptians.
Did you miss Part 1 of this conversation? Listen here: Moses and the Egyptians (Pt.1)
Cy Kellett: We continue our discussion of Moses and the Egyptians, right now on Catholic Answers Focus.
Cy Kellett: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, our guest this week continuing our conversation we began last week is Jimmy Akin, senior apologist here at Catholic Answers and also the podcast behind Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. Jimmy when you were here last we talked a bit about the Egyptians, we mentioned the Israelites and Moses a little bit.
Jimmy Akin: That was a lot of fun talking about Egypt wasn’t it?
Cy Kellett: Yeah, obviously this is an avocation of you.
Jimmy Akin: Yeah, I’ve taken courses in Egyptology and read a lot about Egypt and stuff. Also, you mentioned Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World, I’ve podcasted about it a number of times. I have an episode on the pyramids, also I have one on Akhenaten the so called “heretic Pharaoh” who was a monotheist.
Cy Kellett: Not a very popular one.
Jimmy Akin: Not after a while yeah. Some people have even suggested that he may have influenced Moses. Also recently did an episode of Mysterious World on the theory that some archaeologists have that King Tut was murdered.
Jimmy Akin: So I cover a lot of this a lot there too, but check out the previous, if you haven’t heard it, check out our previous focus on Egypt. It’s a lot of fun.
Cy Kellett: Funky Tut, that’s what I call him. King Tut, Funky Tut.
Jimmy Akin: “Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia.” Neither of which is true.
Cy Kellett: No, I never went to Babylonia, it’s not even a real place.
Jimmy Akin: We know where he was born.
Cy Kellett: Where was he born?
Jimmy Akin: He was born at a site that today is called Amarna. At the time it was called Akhetaten which means “the horizon of the Aten.” The Aten was the god of the horizon of the solar disc that his father Akhenaten worshiped as the only true god.
Cy Kellett: Let’s start with Moses then. You and I are speaking about Moses as if he’s a real guy, a historical figure. What about the objection from the historian who might say, “Look, lets be a little skeptical here, Moses is maybe an amalgam of figures or probably he’s legendary. He’s the legendary kind of projection into the past of later Hebrew people”
Jimmy Akin: Okay, I would say a couple things. The first one is there’s a criterion that is most often applied in New Testament studies, but it’s what’s known to the scholars as the criterion of embarrassment, and the idea is you’re not going to make up something that is embarrassing. So, if something would be embarrassing to your position, and you are admitting it, its true, its reliable.
Cy Kellett: I gotcha here.
Jimmy Akin: And it’s not something you are going to make up.
Cy Kellett: What’s embarrassing about Moses?
Jimmy Akin: Well, there, before we get to Moses let’s do the Exodus.
Cy Kellett: Okay.
Jimmy Akin: Because one of the things that, one of the foundational claims about Israel is, “Okay, we used to be slaves in Egypt, and then we got out of Egypt and came to the Holy Land.” Is being a slave a good thing, in the ancient world?
Cy Kellett: No.
Jimmy Akin: No, its not! It’s embarrassing, and Egypt was a bigger more militarily powerful entity. It was a superpower, in the ancient world, and it wasn’t the only one. The Hittites were another one. They lived in Turkey, and the Egyptians and the Hittites would then fight each other, but because the Egyptians were terrible sailors they didn’t do naval battles. Instead, they went around into the Holy Land and fought in the Holy Land, with the Hittites. That’s why Megiddo (the site of the Battle of Armageddon) is such a famous military… There have been innumerable battles at Megiddo because its at this military crossroads, and so Israel is this little vulnerable state.
Cy Kellett: Right between these two superpowers.
Jimmy Akin: Between these superpowers.
Cy Kellett: Right.
Jimmy Akin: And they are not the only ones. You also have the Assyrians and the Babylonians on the other side. So, we have this vulnerable little state and they’re saying, “Yeah, okay we used to be slaves of this other superpower”.
Cy Kellett: If you were making it up– you wouldn’t make that up.
Jimmy Akin: No, and if you look at other cultures, and its like look at the Babylonians. Okay, where did people come? “Well, we got made right here in the land between the rivers by the gods, when Apsu and Tiamat died.” Well, in Egypt… Let’s look at Egypt. Where did people come from? “They were made by the Ogdoad group of deities right here in Egypt.” You know, “We’ve always been here, the gods made us here.” So if you have a group of people saying, “Actually we weren’t made here, we were escaped slaves,” okay, that’s the criterion of embarrassment. Okay, this is a real event, they’re not making this up. Well, guess what? Slave revolts, slave escapes, need leaders. So, somebody was appointed leader when they came out of Egypt, and the Israelites gave the name Moses to that person. So, whether he was historically called Moses, you can say, well, somebody had to leave them out of there and that’s who they call Moses.
Jimmy Akin: Now, what about the fact he’s called Moses, though? Is there anything there to that might indicate that that was his historical name, and not just something they made up for him later?
Jimmy Akin: Yeah, there is.
Cy Kellett: What?
Jimmy Akin: You know what? Moses is an Egyptian name.
Cy Kellett: Oh, okay.
Jimmy Akin: “Moses” is Egyptian for ‘born’ or ‘is born,’ and you hear it in the name, it’s usually coupled with the name of a deity. So, this is something that scholars have all noted, these are called theophoric names. Names that have the name of a god in them, and you see that in Israelite names all the time. Like, “Daniel.” Don-E-L. “El” is “God,” so “Don-E-L,” “God is my judge.”
Cy Kellett: Tutankhamun who we ere talking about before.
Jimmy Akin: Right exactly, “Tut-ankh-amen.” Now, originally he was born “Tut-ankh-aten,” because his dad was an Atenist, but “tut” in Egyptian means “image;” “ankh,” which is the kinda cross-looking symbol with the bulge on the top, “ankh” means life, and “Aten” or “Amun” were both deities. So he was born “Living Image of Aten” but then he changed his name, when he went back to the old religion, he changed his name to “Living Image of Amun”. Well, you hear this “Moses” (born) all the time in Egyptian names. If the Exodus occurred at the traditional date, in the 1400s B.C., the pharaoh at the time was named Thutmose III. Thutmose III, which would mean “Thoth (the god of magic) is born.” On the other hand…
Cy Kellett: I thought David Copperfield was the god of magic.
Jimmy Akin: No, no, no, no.
Cy Kellett: Oh, all right.
Jimmy Akin: If the Exodus occurred at the date that’s popular among most scholars today, in the 1200’s, then the Pharaoh at the time would have been Ramses II, “Ra-Moses,” “Ra is born,” the god Ra. And so the fact that Moses has an Egyptian name that probably would have been paired with the name of an Egyptian god, that then got circumcised off because they didn’t want to say the name of the Egyptian god…
Cy Kellett: Oh I see.
Jimmy Akin: Now that’s not a certainly. We do have some records of some people who were just called Moses, but we don’t know, was there a god that was also associated with their name and they just didn’t use it all the time. But, its quite likely that Moses, because he was raised in Pharaoh’s court he had a name like Thutmose or Ramses or Ahmose or something like that. But then he got known to his own people as Moses, and they preserved the memory of that name even though it was Egyptian. Because again, that’s not a thing you are going to make of for your great national leader.
Cy Kellett: No, he’s got one of their names. Probably included one of the names of their gods who we don’t believe in. Okay, so were the Hebrew people, the Israelites there who Moses lead out of Egypt, were they by that time, had they rejected all these other gods? Were they monotheists, or what do we know about that?
Jimmy Akin: They were not monotheists universally, certainly, because they immediately, we know when Moses is up on the mountain they fall into polytheism. Or I should say they fall into idolatry. Aaron, Moses’ brother makes a golden calf because they’re used to being in Egypt all the gods of Egypt have statues, idols in their temples and they bring them out occasionally at festivals and stuff, and so they are used to having a god represented by an idol. So, Moses makes a golden calf and says, “behold your god.”
Cy Kellett: Aaron.
Jimmy Akin: Aaron makes a golden calf, and when Moses comes down he’s really mad about it. Smashes the idol, grinds it up, and makes everybody drink the water, so that they are going to poop out the idol, and that’s why he’s doing it.
Cy Kellett: Gets the point across.
Jimmy Akin: Yeah, also later we’re mentioned, we have a mention to the fact that while they were wandering the desert for forty years, they prostituted themselves to goat idols that they had brought from Egypt, and Egyptians, you know, had animal-headed gods and stuff.
Cy Kellett: So, they’re following God but they’re still working on it.
Jimmy Akin: Yeah. This position is sometimes called Henotheism and the idea is that they might believe in multiple gods but “There’s one that is our God.” It’s like, “He’s the one we are really concerned about, he’s the one we are worshiping.” So, they had an awareness that “Yahweh is our God, that he’s the one that making a covenant for us,” but they, at least as a body, had not yet all come to the understanding that aren’t any other gods. This is a situation that is kind of common. Some people presumably did have this, for example Moses could have had this pure monotheistic understanding at the time. But, he’s trying to get everyone else there and they are not there yet.
Cy Kellett: Its like the pastor of any Catholic Church, I’m sure. There are a great variety of beliefs but that doesn’t mean that that’s the belief of that church.
Jimmy Akin: Or, any religious body you want to name there are people who are, “Okay we are part of the group but were not really that devout.”
Cy Kellett: Okay, so I, before we even go to the next question, can we talk more about Moses, like do some of these in the future?
Jimmy Akin: Yeah of course.
Cy Kellett: I just want to, we’re not even getting close to all the things I want to know about Moses. But, he’s a historical figure and he leads the slave Hebrew, Israelite people out of the land of Egypt. I just want to get to this. There’s been a movie recently that says that he wrote the Torah himself and this is somewhat controversial. I suppose the traditional…
Jimmy Akin: Yeah, I reviewed this movie.
Cy Kellett: OK, the most traditional Christian belief is that Moses himself did write the five books of the Torah. Where do we fall on that now? What did Moses write? What do we know about that?
Jimmy Akin: Well, there’s not a Church teaching on this, this is a matter that the Church leaves up to scholars to try to decide. There is a diversity of opinion among scholars. For along time there was a view that, okay, it was all written by Moses. Then there was this view that, okay no it wasn’t written by Moses, it’s a composition of these four sources called J, E, D, and P. And now the JEDEP theory has broken down, and scholars are kind of at sea, “How do we understand this?”
Jimmy Akin: I would say, and this is just speaking for myself, I would say you look at the Torah , the first five books of the Bible, Moses is the main character in four of the five books. He’s not the main character in Genesis because he’s not born yet, but after that he’s the main character. And I think that these were written, like Genesis was written about the time of King David and there are various clues for that. So, its only two to four hundred years after Moses, and that means that lots of traditions in the Torah could have come directly from Moses and were passed down. I mean legal institutions and religious institutions, those last for a long time.
Cy Kellett: Yeah sure, sure.
Jimmy Akin: It is easily possible for Moses to have been the law-giver.
Cy Kellett: Were they a literate people at this time? They must have been, because the Ten Commandments are written down, so there must have been some.
Jimmy Akin: Well there is also a high role for oral tradition in this culture, but that’s something we could maybe talk about in the future. But, you look at the Torah and it attributes individual things to Moses, like “Moses said this” or “Moses did that.” But, it doesn’t say, “I, Moses, wrote this.”
Cy Kellett: Anywhere.
Jimmy Akin: Anywhere, and you read the end of Deuteronomy, Moses dies and is buried and it says, “There has not risen another prophet like Moses in Israel to this day”. Suggesting this is looking on Moses from a later perspective. I think it’s from about the perspective of, perhaps, of king Davids reign or King Solomon’s reign.
Cy Kellett: Interesting.
Jimmy Akin: But its not looking back that many centuries, just two to four, and legal and religious institutions last a long time. So, easily this could be preserving lots of traditions that did go back to Moses.
Cy Kellett: Fair enough. Jimmy Akin thank you very, very much.
Jimmy Akin: My pleasure.
Cy Kellett: Find out all, here, I’ll say it again. Here’s what you should do, go to the Google and search “Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World,” you won’t be sorry that you did. I don’t probably need the article there in front of Google?
Jimmy Akin: No, they will know what you mean.
Cy Kellett: All right, this is Catholic Answers Focus. Jimmy, we’ve got, we’ve also extracted a promise from Jimmy that he’s going to talk more with us about Moses in the near future. Actually you didn’t say “near” but I’m throwing that in there. Because its been a lot of fun. Please, if you like Catholic Answers Focus, would you like us wherever you get this podcast- maybe leave a nice comment and share it with friends. That way Focus grows and we’d really like it to grow. Next time, God willing, on Catholic Answers Focus.