Moses the Philosopher

A few months ago I wrote about Moses the Showman; about his theatrics at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, theatrics that he might have learned from the magicians of Egypt when he was in the court of the Pharaoh. But there is so much more to him than someone who from his privileged position learned the lay of the land and how the tides behaved at a full moon and with a strong east wind.

No, he learned so much more in the court of the Pharaoh. Some of that is commonly noted among the many aspects of his life that receive mention, chief among them being a law giver and a leader, both skills probably learned from being raised in the court of Pharaoh.

But I think there is yet another dimension that I’ve never heard mentioned and one in which he surpasses even what he learned in Egypt. I refer to his experience at the burning bush, where he confronts, or is confronted by, what he understands to be the one true God, which makes himself known to Moses as I Am. In this encounter Moses embraces his identity as one of the Hebrew people and the latent monotheism in Hebrew religion which some scholars think tended to polytheism.

As I’ve reflected on this over the years it has seemed to me that he comes to the same understanding of the universe and the spiritual world as the Greek philosophers in their conception of the “unmoved mover,” the single, all encompassing motive force of the universe, a conception of divinity that couldn’t be more different from one of believing that there are many little independent and whimsical gods in every tree and stream. Give or take a few centuries these discoveries, by Moses and the Greeks, represent a simultaneous dawning of a new idea in human history, similar to the way that many inventors were coming up with designs for flying machines independent of and about the same time in human history as the Wright brothers.

I think the concept had a significant practical effect on the Hebrew people too. Henceforth they were children of one God, not followers of different, even jealous and competing, family and tribal gods. This would have an immense unifying effect; not that I think Moses advanced the concept cynically for that reason. No, I think it is just a singular example of the way that God leads humankind to new knowledge and deeper understanding as humankind evolves to be ready for the next advance.

Dear God, thank you for Father Moses: showman, law giver, political leader, and philosopher.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 5-April-2016.

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