Moses Biography Looks for 'Proof' but Misses the Man

By Giedl, Linda L. | The Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Moses Biography Looks for 'Proof' but Misses the Man


Giedl, Linda L., The Christian Science Monitor


MOSES: A LIFE By Jonathan Kirsch Ballantine 415 pp., $27.50 Moses is in the public eye these days. While the American impeachment drama unfolded, Time magazine put him on their cover (Dec. 14), asking, "Who was Moses?" DreamWorks has animated him into epic grandeur for their feature-length film "The Prince of Egypt." Several new books about him are on bookstore shelves. Why all the attention to this towering figure of monotheism who gave humanity the Ten Commandments? Time's David Van Biema says it's "in our nature to search for heroes, and Moses, rebel and saint, is as relevant today as he ever was." Moses, like other major Bible characters and events, has come under historical scrutiny. Biblical scholars and archaeologists feel they must respond to new demands for "proof." On his own quest for the truth about Moses, Jonathan Kirsch, attorney, book critic, and author of bestselling "The Harlot by the Side of the Road," has written "Moses: A Life." In this biography, which was a primary source for the Time article, Kirsch has pieced together hundreds of quotes and fragments of information about Moses from various ancient and modern sources. He has employed them to explain discrepancies in the biblical account, fill gaps and omissions, sketch in best guesses about the multiple authorship of the five books attributed to Moses, and confront what he sees as the more troublesome features of Moses' personality and relationship with God. "To discern the real Moses," Kirsch writes, "we will need to excavate the layers of elaboration under which the figure of Moses has been buried, dust off the oldest relics of his life and work, and hold them up to the light." The results of his search, rather than enlightening, are, frankly, disappointing. Kirsch presents Moses as a reluctant "magic-worker rather than a strict monotheist" - complex, flawed, temperamental, even murderous - acting in grudging but steadfast obedience to a man- like, magical, demanding, vengeful tribal deity.

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Moses Biography Looks for 'Proof' but Misses the Man
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