Handout #1 – Ancient Near East and Times of Moses
The earliest civilization in history were established in the region now known as the Middle East around 3500 b.c. by the Sumerians, in Mesopotamia (Iraq). The Sumerians and the Akkadians – later Babylonians- all flourished in this region. It begins with the rise of Sumerin the 4th millennium BC covering the Bronze Age (from 3300 b.c. – 1200 b.c.) and the Iron Age (1200 b.c. – 539 b.c.) in the region, until the conquest by the First Persian Empire (600 b.c. by Cyrus the Great) or Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.
The ancient Near East is considered the cradle of civilization. It was the first to practice intensive year-round agriculture, it gave the rest of the world the first writing system, invented the potter’s wheel and then the vehicular- and millwheel, created the first centralized governments, law codes and empires, as well as introducing social stratification, slavery and organized warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.
Moses (Hebrew: Mosheh – drawn out or he who draws out, in the sense of deliverer). Also called Moshe Rabbenu – “Moses our Teacher/Rabbi”), he is the most important prophet in Judaism; he is also an important prophet in Christianity and Islam, as well as a number of other faiths. Rabbinical Judaism calculated a lifespan of Moses corresponding to 1391–1271 BC. But possibly 1592 as his birth year, around the Middle Bronze Age that included early Babylonia and the middle period of the Egyptian Kingdom. His death at 120 is recorded Deut. 34:7. This predates the kingdoms of Israel and Judah which were important powers around 800 b.c.
In the Hebrew Bible, the narratives of Moses are in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. According to the Book of Exodus, Moses was a son of Amram, a member of the Levite tribe of Israel descended from Jacob, and his wife, Jochebed. She (Hebrew: Yocheved: Yahveh is glory) was of the royal family in Egypt and was kin to Amram’s father Kehath (Exodus 6:20). Moses had one older (by seven years) sister, Miriam, and one older (by three years) brother, Aaron. According to Genesis 46:11, Amram’s father Kehath immigrated to Egypt with 70 of Jacob’s household, making Moses part of the second generation of Israelites born during their time in Egypt. He elected to cast his lot with the people of his father and we learn that he was interested in freeing them from their captors.
Moses was thus the human instrument in the creation of the nation of Israel by communicating to it the Torah. More humble than any other man (Num. 12:3), he enjoyed unique privileges, for “there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). See also Jude 1:9 and Zechariah 3.
In Josephus‘ (37 – c. 100 AD) Antiquities of the Jews, Moses is mentioned throughout. For example Book 8, chapter 4 describes Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, at the time the Ark of the Covenant was first moved into the newly built temple: When King Solomon had finished these works, these large and beautiful buildings, and had laid up his donations in the temple, and all this in the interval of seven years, and had given a demonstration of his riches and alacrity therein; he also wrote to the rulers and elders of the Hebrews, and ordered all the people to gather themselves together to Jerusalem, both to see the temple which he had built, and to remove the ark of God into it; and when this invitation of the whole body of the people to come to Jerusalem was everywhere carried abroad, … The Feast of Tabernacles happened to fall at the same time, which was kept by the Hebrews as a most holy and most eminent feast. So they carried the ark and the tabernacle which Moses had pitched, and all the vessels that were for ministration to the sacrifices of God, and removed them to the temple… Now the ark contained nothing else but those two tables of stone that preserved the ten commandments, which God spake to Moses in Mount Sinai, and which were engraved upon them…
Josephus attaches particular significance to Moses’ possession of the “cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.” He also includes piety as an added fifth virtue. In addition, he “stresses Moses’ willingness to undergo toil and his careful avoidance of bribery. Like Plato‘s philosopher-king, Moses excels as an educator.”
From Moses to John the Baptist there extended an unbroken line of faithful teachers who passed the monotheistic torch of light from one generation to another while they unceasingly rebuked unscrupulous rulers and ever exhorted the people to adhere to the worship of the supreme YHVH (Hebrew name of God – the Tetragrammaton = 4 letters). Similar to YHWH – the W was eventually absorbed into Hebrew, replaced by the V. The text derives Yahweh (יהוה) from the Hebrew word hayah (אהיה), meaning he who is he, or I AM THAT I AM = the uncreated Creator.
Moses was an extraordinary combination of military leader, social organizer and religious teacher until the time of Jesus. Because the Hebrews had no written language at the time of the Exodus, little has been brought forward. He had a great vision of God and taught the Hebrews that if they would obey God, He will love, bless, multiply you and the fruit of your womb and your land. He forbade the making of images. There is little of the mercy of God shown in these times in scripture. The Hebrews learned of God as the Almighty, the God of battles, glorious in power, He who hardened Pharaoh’s heart and cursed the enemies of the Israelites. But the children of Israel slowly learned to trust the God who spoke to Moses from Mt. Horeb more than other tribal gods which for centuries earlier they had been taught to worship by the Egyptians, Sumerians, Persians. Remember the First Commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. (Ex 20:3, Deut 5:7) This commandment establishes the exclusive nature of the relationship between the nation of Israel and its national god, Yahweh the god of Israel, a covenant initiated by YHVH after delivering the Israelites from slavery through the plagues of Egypt and the Exodus.
The burning bush is an object described by the Book of Exodus (Ex 3:1-22)] as being located on Mount Horeb; according to the narrative, the bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames, hence the name. In the narrative, the burning bush is the location at which Moses was appointed by Yahweh (God) to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.
As a powerful religious symbol, the burning bush represents many things to Jews and Christians such as God’s miraculous energy, sacred light, illumination, and the burning heart of purity, love and clarity. From a human standpoint, it also represents Moses’ reverence and fear before the divine presence. The Hebrew word used in the narrative, that is translated into English as bush, is seneh, which refers in particular to brambles. When challenged on his identity, Yahweh replies that he is the God of the Patriarchs – Abraham,Isaac, and Jacob and that he is Yahweh.
The Jews have no conception of Holy Ghost – they are a visual people. The Burning Bush episode is accepted as a sign of God’s presence – called the Ruach ha Kodesh – the Holy One, blessed be He. The basic meaning of ruach is both ‘wind’ or ‘breath,’ but neither is understood as essence; rather it is the power encountered in the breath and the wind, whose whence and whither remains mysterious. Ruach as a designation for the wind is necessarily something found in motion with the power to set other things in motion… Not a presence or a person, but the carried life force of God. Other Hebrew names for the Holy Ghost:
Comforter, Eternal Spirit, Holy Spirit of Promise, spirit of Adonai (God), Spirit of Revelation, Spirit of the Living God, Spirit of the Messiah, Spirit of the Truth, Spirit of Wisdom, Spirit of Yeshua our Messiah, Spirit of YHVH.
“Hebrews are the children of Israel; the twelve-tribe confederation – the descendants of Abraham. All Jews are Hebrews, but not all Hebrews are Jews. Initially, Jews are those tribal factions of Judah and Benjamin [and a smattering of Levitical Priests] who nationalized themselves, during the Divided Monarchy, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as “The Yehudim” [the Jews], while the ten tribal factions of Israel which seceded from the twelve, and resided in and about Samaria, retained their Hebrew identities until their dissolution in the Syro-Ephraimite conflicts of 735-721 B.C.E. and the Assyrian Diaspora.”
By Marlena Tanya Muchnick-Baker [email protected] Renton Wa stake. May Creek ward. Email if you want these handouts for your class.