Eugene Rabbi Offers a Modern Rendering of Moses

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Eugene Rabbi Offers a Modern Rendering of Moses


Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

As told in a new book by Eugene Rabbi Maurice Harris, even in the age of pharaohs strong women played critical roles in the political and social life of ancient Egypt.

So much so, in fact, that the towering Biblical figure of Moses owed his life to five women - two midwives, his mother, his sister and the Pharaoh's daughter herself - for their collective bravery, sneakiness and backbone.

That's one aspect of "Moses: A Stranger Among Us," but as another well-known local religious figure, the Rev. Dan Bryant, puts it in his foreword to Harris' book: "We all recognize Moses because we think we know him, or at least we know about him. But would we know the man surrounded by five determined sisters who think they can challenge the law given by God? Or how often have we considered the possibility that the marriage of Moses to Tzipporah is a model of interfaith marriage? Would we recognize a Moses who, instead of 'laying down the law' for all to follow and obey, shows adaptability and willingness to incorporate ideas and principles from other cultures?"

Those are concepts far beyond the Hollywood portrayals of the stern and bearded Moses contending with the burning bush, parting the Red Sea (which Harris says really should be translated as the Sea of Reeds) and receiving the stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments from the hands of God.

Indeed, there's nothing stuffy about Harris' book, which promises to present Moses as "the adopted child, the ex-con, the failure and the intermarrier."

It also has the cachet of being published locally by Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock, a Eugene company.

In fact, Harris said, he wrote most of the book while sitting in Theo's Coffee House in downtown Eugene, where it shares space with Cozmic, also known as Cosmic Pizza.

"Unbeknownst to me as I was writing it, Wipf and Stock, the publisher, was literally right above my head, on the second floor of the same building," he said.

"I submitted the book to many publishers around the United States before I ever learned about Wipf and Stock. A professor of mine from seminary actually contacted me from Boston to tell me about them, and only after she contacted me did I discover them and then submit my book to them. They were the ones who said 'yes.'"

Because he was a local author - "and it's unusual for them to have one of their authors be local," Harris said - he even got to take a personal tour of Wipf and Stock's publishing house, complete with printing press and bookbinding machine room. …

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