As I’m reading about Moses, it occurred to me that there are a few similarities to the stories about Abraham. I’m not saying that there is a connection, but it’s interesting to look at. I can’t help but wonder if the two heroes were not occasionally confused, or if stories were sometimes mis-attributed (and then the new associations carried forward).
Both Moses and Abraham are immigrants to Canaan (though ***SPOILERS*** Moses doesn’t quite make it). Abraham came from the east, from the Ur region (“of the Chaldeans”), as we see in Genesis 11. Moses comes from the west, from Egypt – as we see in Exodus 2.
It seems that there’s a strong cultural memory about coming into Canaan from the outside, whether by following Abraham or by following Moses. It may be that, when the two narratives were merged into a single tradition, Abraham’s cycle was placed before Moses’ as an attempt to legitimize Moses’ later entry into Canaan (and its conquering by Joshua), since it would have established a prior Hebrew claim to the land (something the Abraham narrative is clearly all about).
Perhaps Abraham is the initial settler of the rural shrine priests, and Moses is the initial settler of the urban sanctuary priests…
Wives that matter
In both the narratives of Moses and Abraham, we see hints of wives who matter in a possibly cultic capacity. Twice, Abraham is said to have prostituted his wife, Sarah, to a king (to an Egyptian pharaoh in Genesis 12, and to Abimelech in Genesis 20). I have no idea how much credence this is given in scholarly circles, but it does – superficially, at least – sound vaguely like an echo of Inanna (or a similar myth) being brought into the Israelite belief system.
According to Wikipedia, there was Sumerian ritual referred to as the Sacred Marriage Rite in which a king would symbolically take the place of Inanna’s consort Dumuzi and sleep with her (represented on earth by a high priestess). This consummation between king and goddess granted the king’s reign legitimacy. By sleeping with Inanna, the king was placing himself as the earthly representation of the god-king Dumuzi – in much the same way as Egyptian Pharaohs would be seen as earthly representations of the god Horus.
So when we see Sarah sleeping with two kings, it seems that she is performing Inanna’s function, indicating that she may either be a shadow of a historical high priestess or an appropriation of the goddess herself. Either way, she seems to be cultically important. (Incidentally, we see the same story repeated a third time in Genesis 26, except this time it’s Isaac prostituting Rebekah to Abimelech.)
[If Sarah/Rebekah really are shadows of Inanna, I find it interesting that in the Biblical stories, it is the men – Abraham and Isaac – who are the active agents in getting their wives into bed with the kings, rather than something the women themselves are initiating.]
In Exodus 4, Moses falls deathly ill. In order to save him, his wife – Zipporah – circumcises their son and rubs the foreskin on Moses’ feet. Either this story is a different tradition of the origin of the commandment to circumcise (which, I’ll note, was otherwise given to Abraham in Genesis 17), or the practice had fallen by the wayside at some point (either culturally or just Moses, given his rather unusual infancy).
Regardless, Zipporah serves a cultic function – symbolically sacrificing Moses’ son and saving Moses from God’s wrath. It’s even possible that Zipporah is positioned as the initiator of the circumcision ritual.
A sacrificed son
Both Moses and Abraham must symbolically sacrifice their sons. In Genesis 22, Abraham is told by God that he must sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham follows God’s instructions and, once God is satisfied that Abraham really totally would go through with it, his hand is stayed and a lamb is sacrificed instead.
In Exodus 4, God tries to kill Moses, but Moses is saved just in time when Zipporah circumcises their son. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, but it seems that circumcision – in that it endangers the mechanism by which a man might have descendants – may be a stand-in for child sacrifice. As with Isaac, it seems that Moses’ son is symbolically sacrificed to avert God’s wrath.
I find it interesting to note that Moses is shown to have only one son in the Exodus 4 story, though he has at least two everywhere else (that I’ve noticed). This parallels nicely with Abraham who, at this point in the narrative, also has only one son (having abandoned his other son in the wilderness).
So, what do you think? Is it plausible to think that both Moses and Abraham may have come from a single tradition, or that they might both be patriarch figures whose narratives have gotten a little muddled together at times? Have you encountered this theory before?