Notes and Comments

Commentary on a verse of the Holy Quran i » ‘ ** Moses, the Founder of Judaism, lived about 1400 years before Jesus. Hewas a Law-giving Prophet and the founder of a great religious system. As for the name Moses, it may be briefly stated that Moses is really a Hebrew name having definite derivation in both Hebrew and Arabic. In Hebrew it is pronounced and written as Mos/ze and means, “a thing drawn out of water” or “saved from water” (Enc. Bib.). See also (2:54). Against all accepted canons of history Freud in his “Moses and Monotheism” has adumbrated quite a novel theory that Moses was not an Israelite and did not belong to the Hebrew stock and also that the Israelites never settled in Egypt. He has advanced the following arguments in support of this strange and baseless claim :- 1. That Moses is an Egyptian name. 2. That the idea of the Oneness of God is originally Egyptian, having been first conceived and adopted by an ancient Egyptian king, named Ikhnaten (or Akhenaten). Moses himself being an Egyptian borrowed it from the Egyptians and preached it among the Israelites. 3. That, being an Egyptian, Moses popularized the Egyptian custom of circumcision as a religious rite among the Israelites. 4. That like the teaching of the Egyptian king, Akhenaten, there is no mention of the life after death in the teachings of Moses which also shows that he was also an Egyptian. 5. That the Egyptians had a very strong dislike for swine and its flesh and that the Israelites developed this dislike as a result of the teaching of Moses. 6. That because Moses was an Egyptian he could not properly express himself in Hebrew. 1. All these arguments possess no basis in fact. As stated above and also in 2:54, Moses is certainly a Hebrew word, having derivation both in Hebrew and Arabic. But even if we admit that the name Moses was of Egyptian origin, it does not follow that man Moses was also an Egyptian. As the Israelites were a subject race in Egypt, living under the rule of the Pharaohs, it seems quite plausible that they should have adopted Egyptian names. The members of a subject race generally feel a particular delight in adopting the names and imitating the customs, modes of living and dress etc., of their rulers. But the actual fact is that Moses is a Hebrew name and Pharaoh’s daughter, who very probably gave him that name, must have certainly been influenced to give the child a Hebrew name, as having taken him out of water she thought that he belonged to the Israelite people. It is also possible that the name might have REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 2 been suggested by Moses’s mother or sister. 2. The second argument that the idea of the Oneness of God was originally Egyptian, having been first conceived and adopted by Akhenaten, an ancient Egyptian king, and preached by him among the Israelites, is equally wrong. In the first place it is manifestly unreasonable to suppose that a certain concept is the monopoly of one people. Different peoples may independently form similar ideas without having borrowed them from one another. Secondly, even supposing that the idea of God’s Unity is of Egyptian origin, the inference cannot be justified that Moses was an Egyptian. If an American or a German can borrow an idea from an Englishman and vice versa why cannot an Israelite borrow an idea from an Egyptian. The truth is that the idea of God’s Oneness was neither conceived by Egyptians nor by Syrians or any other people. It has its origin in Divine revelation. 3. The contention that circumcision was an old Egyptian practice and Moses being an Egyptian borrowed it from his people and popularized it among the Israelites also possesses no substance. Supposing that the practice of circumcision was Egyptian, how does this fact show that Moses was an Egyptian? Do not one people adopt the customs of another people? Could not the Israelites, during their stay in Egypt, have borrowed this practice from the Egyptians, particularly in view of the fact that the Israelites were a subject race and the subject race have a special liking for the ideas and practices of their rulers. In any case it is not a fact that the practice of circumcision was in vogue among the Egyptians alone. According to the Bible, in pursuance of God’s command, Abraham had himself and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac circumcised and had made the observance of the rite of circumcision incumbent upon his posterity long before Moses was born (17:11). This practice was also in vogue among the Arabs who never had good social relations with the Israelites and never had gone to Egypt. Even among the wild tribes of Africa and the aborigines of Australia circumcision is not unknown (Jew. Enc. vol. 4, p. 97 and “Tribes of Central Australia” by Spencer and Gillen, p. 323). The earliest traces of this practice among Egyptians are to be found in the 16th century B.C. (Jew. Enc. vol. 4, p. 97), when the Israelites had already been living there. It can, therefore, be safely inferred that, if at all, the practice was borrowed by the Egyptians from the Israelites and not by the Israelites from the Egyptians. The practice seems to have been introduced into Egypt by the Prophet Joseph who commanded great respect and prestige with Egyptian monarchs. Under his influence it must have become popular among the upper strata of Egyptian society as research scholars are of the view that this practice was much more in vogue among the upper sections of the Egyptian people to which Joseph himself belonged than among the poor classes. 4. Another argument that has been advanced in favour of Moses being an Egyptian is that like the teaching of Akhenaten no reference is to be found in the teachings of Moses about life after death. That this argument is quite weak and 3 COMMENTARY ON A VERSE OF THE HOLY QURAN flimsy is clear from the fact that Akhenaten has left no book, no teaching and no community of followers from whom his views about life after death might be ascertained. Moreover, there are references to life after death in the teaching of Moses. The Bible says:’ ‘And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; As Aaron they brother died on mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people” (32:50) and “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (17:15). The misconception may have arisen from the absence of any marked emphasis on life after death in the Old Testament. This lack of stress might have been due to the fact that in the course of time the Old Testament had become subject to much interpolation and had been tampered with and many parts of it had been lost during the miseries and misfortunes that overtook the Israelites in the period of their dispersion and captivity. When, however, the Jewish scholars and savants re-edited the Bible, they left out from it those passages which did not quite suit the Jewish temper and genius. The passages dealing with the subject of life after death seem to have been among the parts left out as the Jews, being a particularly worldly-minded people, did not relish its repeated mention. 5. The fifth argument given in support of this thesis is that the Israelites, like the Egyptians, had an extreme dislike for pork. This argument, too, seems to stand on flimsy ground. Though Egyptians did not like pork, pigs were kept and reared in Egypt and were even offered as sacrifice at the altars of the Egyptian Gods (Enc. Bib. cols. 4825, 4826). Thus the reason for the Egyptians to refrain from slaughtering pigs seems to have been that they considered it a sacred animal unlike the Israelites to whom its eating was forbidden on account of its being filthy and abominable. 6. The sixth argument given in favour of Moses being an Egyptian is that he could not speak Hebrew properly, the language of the Israelites. This argument is based on Exod. 4:10 where it is stated that Moses was not eloquent and was slow of speech and of a slow tongue. It is true that Moses suffered from an impediment in his speech and could not freely express himself. But how could the fact that Moses was not fluent and was slow of speech prove that he was slow of speech in Hebrew and therefore was not an Israelite. On the contrary, as it appears from the Bible and the Qur’an, when commanded by God to go to Pharaoh to preach his mission to him. Moses requested to be excused on the plea of his inability to express himself adequately. This fact, if anything, shows that Moses could not freely talk in the tongue which Pharaoh spoke and understood i.e. the Egyptian tongue, and therefore he was not an Egyptian. In short, there is no reason or justification for supposing that the name Moses is of Egyptian origin or that the man Moses was not an Israelite. The linguistic evidence of Hewbrew and Arabic, combined with reason and the evidence of Jewish history and tradition, added to the account of Moses as given in the bible and the Qur’an, all go to substantiate and support the fact that Moses was not an Egyptian nor was his name of Egyptian origin.