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[This article was distributed at the 1983 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Interdisciplinary Studies]

Ev Cochrane

It is truly remarkable to contemplate how archaeological developments in the past century have revolutionized our understanding of the cultural milieu of Old Testament times. With the discoveries of the past treasures at Ur, Elba, Ugarit, Amarna, and others, it has become clear that the Hebrew religion did not arise independent of the influences of its neighbors. The study of Hebrew cultural origins is somewhat analogous to the study of the age of the universe; with each discovery the origins are pushed further back into the hoary past.

The past century has also witnessed a revolution in our understanding of the role played by Moses in the development of the Hebrew religion. Prior to 1880 it was difficult to find a single scholar willing to question Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch; today it is equally difficult to find a reputable scholar willing to support Moses' authorship. Similarly, a century ago it was taken for granted that Moses had led a great exodus from Egypt, wandered for forty years in the wilderness, and received the ten commandments upon Sinai; in short, Moses was credited with almost single-handedly having laid the foundation for the religious and political development of the Israelite people. Today, on the other hand, it is not only common to find the most respected biblical scholars questioning the historical veracity of each and every one of these traditions; some, with Edourd Meyer, even question whether Moses was a historical figure at all. It is with such vacillations of scholarship in mind that I submit this essay for scrutiny, knowing full well that the scholar's lot is not to be proven right on all counts or judged to have settled an issue once and for all. It is hoped, rather, that the present essay may provide a few new insights into the career of Moses, thereby preparing the way for further research.

Biographies of Moses

Writing a biography of Moses is at once a fascinating and formidable enterprise. Of the many great scholars who have attempted the undertaking—Buber, Auerback, Freud, Gressman, Noth, and others—it would seem that none has wholly succeeded. Norman Gottwald has recently offered the following assessment of past biographies of Moses: "Unfortunately, the results of the inquiry, beyond the probability that an historical figure does lie behind the traditions, have won no consensus among historians because every posited `historical Moses' has relied upon questionable and arbitrary dependence on the traditions or has taken flight into unverifiable conjecture."[FN] A similar assessment has been offered by Auerback: "The remarkable figure of Moses, standing at the inception of the history of Israel, has fascinated poet and scholar again and again, but neither has been able to do justice to him." [FN]

That our sources are almost exclusively biblical does not help matters (a few later accounts of Moses, such as those in Greek authors, rabbinical writings, and the Koran being the only exception). Nor does the fact that the biblical sources are incomplete or contradictory on certain key details of the Mosaic history. Thus Gottwald has observed: "It is certainly true that none of the historical-critical reconstructions of the actual unity of action beneath the compiled traditions is conclusive or complete. The primary point is that the critical reconstructions are inconclusive and incomplete precisely because the Biblical traditions are inconclusive and incomplete on the historical plane. If any serious effort is made to visualize concretely the sequences of events alluded to in the Moses traditions, then a speculative reconstruction is inescapable." [FN]

It is agreed that most of the extant testimony with regard to Moses appears in legendary form. Auerback summarizes the nature of the sources as follows: "Even the oldest account has to be used with the greatest caution if the recovery of an historical portrait of Moses is to result. All that we learn about Moses is clothed in the form of legends and miracle stories. Not one word of these stories goes back to Moses himself." [FN]

It would appear, moreover, that the various legends have themselves undergone extensive revision and evolution. Thus scholars have found that the legends have been revised, enlarged, and altered many times and that this process did not even end when the final form of the Biblical narrative was established.

Auerback has duly noted the difficulties facing the historian of Moses, admitting: "Do we have any historical testimony about Moses? We have none."[FN] Immediately thereafter, however, Auerback adds that: "There can be no doubt whatever about the historicity of Moses' personality."[FN]

Even Martin Noth, who has expressed grave doubts about Moses' original connection with the Exodus and Sinai traditions, admits nevertheless the probability of an historical Moses: "In any case, it also remains most probable that, into whatever contexts the narrative tradition subsequently may have introduced the figure of Moses, the original point of departure, wherever it is to be sought, was an historical person with the name Moses. To be sure, there is not much that we can say with certainty about his historical position."[FN]

The present author recently discussed a similar case to that of Moses; namely, the alleged historicity of the Theban Kadmos.[published as "Kadmos: the Primeval King," in KRONOS XI:3 (1986)] There we found that although most scholars take it for granted that Kadmos was a historical character, all memory of his existence was preserved in the form of myth and folklore. An analysis of the various myths proved necessary to recover Kadmos' original historical character and the same strategy appears appropriate with regard to Moses.

Moses on the Mt.

Of Moses' early years virtually nothing is known. Moses' childhood, as revealed in the Torah and Rabbinic accounts, is distinguished by its non-historical character. The account of his miraculous birth, the episode of the murder of the infants, his rescue from the reed-ark by the princess, the ability to walk and talk at one-day, etc., are all well-known motives of ancient folklore and myth.[FN] Such legends, several of which Moses shares in common with Abraham and Jesus, shall not concern us here.

It is Moses' later career that interests us. Moses is best known for his role as primeval lawgiver of the Hebrew people. Most scholars would agree that here, at last, we are on firm historical ground. Auerback, for example, has written: "It is recognized today by all serious scholars that the law actually dates from the time of Moses and therefore can be fully ascribed to the lawgiver Moses."[FN]

The traditional accounts of the lawgiving are by no means free of mythical elements, however. According to the account in Exodus, Moses received the laws directly from God upon Mt. Sinai; the holy mountain usually assumed to have been located somewhere upon the Sinai peninsula. In view of Sinai's prominence in Hebrew tradition, one would assume it to be a well-known and especially revered site, a probable candidate for religious pilgrimage perhaps. Yet in spite of its historical and religious significance, the exact location of Mt. Sinai remains very much a mystery. Thus Auerback is forced to admit that: "The Biblical statements about the location of Mt. Sinai are very vague and can hardly be placed geographically."[FN]

J. Silver has recently expressed a similar view: "No one knows the actual location of the mountain of Moses."[FN] Silver adds that: "the entire scene may, in fact, be legendary."[FN]

The physical descriptions of Mt. Sinai, in the Torah and elsewhere, only add to the mystery. The account in Exodus 19:18, for example, depicts Sinai as a volatile mountain enveloped in fire: "Mt. Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly."

The Rabbinic accounts likewise emphasize the extraordinary circumstances of the lawgiving: "The day of the revelation announced itself as an ominous day even in the morning, for diverse rumblings sounded from Sinai. Flashes of lightning, accompanied by an ever swelling peal of horns, moved the people with mighty fear and trembling. God bent the heavens, moved the earth, and shook the bounds of the world, so that the depths trembled and the heavens grew frightened."[FN]

Such descriptions are often cited as evidence that Sinai was formerly an active volcano, or the scene of a massive earthquake.  The testimony of Exodus 19:18 notwithstanding, no evidence of volcanic activity has yet been found on the Sinai peninsula. If not on the Sinai peninsula, where then was the fiery mountain of the revelation?

Silver's suggestion that the mountain of the lawgiving might be legendary in nature is perhaps the most promising approach, and has recently received discussion as the subject of several major studies.[FN] It is well-known, for example, that Sinai is associated with several mythological motives characteristic of the Cosmic Mountain. Thus Hebrew tradition held that Yahweh made his seat or throne upon the summit of Sinai.[FN] Similar traditions are common throughout the ancient world, of course, the Ugaritic accounts of El's and Baal's mountain-top dwellings providing close parallels.

With the Israelite conquest of Jerusalem many of the mythological characteristics associated with Sinai became transferred to Zion, including the throne of Yahweh, the latter mountain thereafter assuming the role of the Cosmic Mountain par excellence. In Psalm 98:3, as Widengren observed in a perceptive essay on mythology in the Old Testament, Zion is explicitly identified with Mt. Saphon, seat of the Ugaritic Baal: "His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all earth, Mt. Zion in the far north, the city of the great king."[FN]

The language in this latter verse is wholly mythological in nature, Zion being little more than a small hill in actuality and not at all situated in the north.

In The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament, Clifford analyzes the mythology of the Cosmic Mountain in great detail, documenting its extensive influence upon Hebrew cosmology and religion. As Clifford points out, it is upon the Cosmic Mountain that the great god lives; it was there that he was surrounded by his divine assembly; and it was there that the god occasionally made his presence known to man.

In "The Spring of Ares" [published in KRONOS XI:3 (1986)] I suggested that the Biblical site of Mt. Mamre was the proto-typical example of the Cosmic Mountain. In Genesis 14:13 Mamre is presented as the site of Abraham's dwelling (in the form of a tent). Of crucial significance is the fact that Mamre was also associated with a sacred tree, said to have been around since Creation. As recognized by Eliade, the mountain and tree are analogous symbols and almost certainly possess a common origin:

"The symbolism of the World Tree is complementary to that of the Central Mountain. Sometimes the two symbols coincide; usually they complement each other. But both are merely more developed mythical formulations of the Cosmic Axis (World Pillar, etc.)."[FN]

By Cosmic Axis Eliade understands the Earth's axis extended out into the northern polar heavens. The following summary of Holmberg's may be regarded as representative of this position: "The regular diurnal movement of the stars round an axis at the North Star, the reasons for which never-ending rotation were earlier unknown, gave birth to an idea that their apparent centre of the universe was formed by some object which could be represented in concrete form, and which was, in addition, believed to support the roof of the sky."[FN]

The Heavenly Tent

Mamre's role as World Pillar/Cosmic Mountain is supported by the fact that in Hebrew tradition the heavenly domain of the Creator is frequently represented as a tent. Thus Psalms 104:2 glorifies Yahweh as the one who: "hast stretched out the heavens like a tent." Isaiah 40:22, similarly, celebrates Yahweh as, "he who sits above the circle of the earth ... who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in." Such traditions are paralleled in Ugaritic sources where El is represented as dwelling in a vast tent upon the Cosmic Mountain.

As Eliade has shown, such imagery is quite common in the ancient Near East, particularly among nomadic peoples.[FN] It is also common to find the Cosmic Mountain symbolized by the central tent-prop. Is it too bold to suggest that here, as elsewhere, the editors of the Pentateuch ascribed to Abraham characteristics that elsewhere belonged to El?

El's tent eventually found its way into Hebrew ritual via the tabernacle. Thus Clifford has observed: "The tent of meeting, the predecessor of the Temple, is the earthly copy of the heavenly Tent of Meeting of the Divine Assembly of Canaanite religion."[FN]

According to the account of Exodus 26:30, it is Moses who is instructed to make the Tent of Meeting. And as Clifford points out, it is the tent of El that served as the prototype: "It is clear that the tent that Moses had built is a copy of the heavenly tent in accordance with the ancient religious principle, `like is like.' The similarity in form between the earthly dwelling of the god and its heavenly prototype brings about the presence of the deity."[FN]

The Divine Assembly

In recent years it has become apparent just how decisive an influence the Ugaritic religion had upon Hebrew tradition, particularly the mythology associated with El. Yet seldom if ever has the mythology of El been investigated with respect to its possible influence upon Mosaic traditions.

Consider, for example, the Ugaritic traditions of a Divine Assembly. In Ugaritic mythology El is closely associated with a Divine Assembly, understood as the totality of gods in the midst of whom El dwells as Father: "El is a terrible master in the great counsel of Holy Ones, and awe-inspiring above all those round about him."[FN] A near identical setting is associated with Yahweh in Psalms 82: "Yahweh stands in the assembly. He gives judgement in the midst of the gods."[FN]

The Ugaritic phrase for Divine Assembly is phr md. As Pope points out, the first word phr is that commonly used for the assembly of the gods in Akkadian—thus attesting to the antiquity of the tradition—while the latter term md is that used in the Old Testament to describe the divine assembly of the Hebrew God.[FN]

El's Divine Assembly appears to have been known by other names as well, several of which were dr il, `the circle of the sons of El's'; mphrt bn il, `the assembly of the gods of El'; and phr ilm, `the assembly of the gods.' A very interesting name of El's celestial cohorts was `the 70 children of Asherah.'[FN]

It is probable that the `70 children of Asherah' associated with the Ugaritic El are paralleled in Hebrew tradition by the 70 Elders associated with Moses.

The Celestial Source of El's Mythology

Biblical scholars, aware of the celestial nature of the Divine Assembly, have searched the skies for a suitable reference for El's `circle of followers.' Clifford, following Albright, notes the parallelism in Ugaritic texts between El's Assembly and a `circle of stars,' concluding that El's assembly is most probably

the circumpolar stars of the northern heavens.[FN]

If there is general agreement with regard to the interpretation of the Cosmic Mountain as a projection of the Earth's axis, and a small consensus concerning the circumpolar identification of El's circle of stars, the situation is far less clear with regard to the celestial reference of El himself. Several scholars opt for understanding El as a solar god: others envision El as a general god of `Heaven'; while one of the leading scholars, M. Pope, doubts any celestial reference for El altogether.[FN] Yet it would seem to follow, that if El sits in the midst of the Divine Assembly, understood as the circumpolar stars, El should bear some relationship to the Pole Star.

In El in the Ugaritic Texts, perhaps the definitive study of the Ugaritic god El, Pope cites the writings of Philo for their accurate portrayal of ancient Canaanite mythology, particularly that of El. One wonders then what, if any, is the celestial reference of El in Philo?

Philo preserves the valuable tradition that El was a primeval king of the Phoenicians, explicitly identified with the planet Saturn.[FN] Although this statement makes little sense at first sight, it accords perfectly with the well-known identification of El with the Greek Kronos, likewise identified with the planet Saturn and celebrated as a primeval king of Crete.[FN]

El's identification with the planet Saturn also finds striking confirmation from recent research into the nature of the Cosmic Mountain/World Pillar. Thus, in Hamlet's Mill, Santillana and Dechend presented a broad and detailed analysis of the various traditions of a pillar or pole supporting the heavens, finding an explicit, if inexplicable connection between the pillar/pole and the planet Saturn. Believing with most scholars that the pillar/pole has reference to the Earth's polar axis, Santillana and Dechend asked: "What has Saturn, the far out planet to do with the pole?"[FN]

The Saturn Myth

That no such connection actually exists between Saturn and the Pole, at least in the current skies, appears to have dissuaded Santillana and Dechend from following up their intriguing discovery. David Talbott, however, achieved a revolutionary break-through in The Saturn Myth. [Doubleday, New York, 1980] Building on the research of Santillana and Dechend, together with that of Eliade, Holmberg, Velikovsky, and others, Talbott discovered evidence that a vast celestial configuration centered upon the planet Saturn once spanned the ancient skies. This unique Saturnian configuration, according to Talbott, played a decisive role in the origin and distinctive astral character of ancient religion and myth.

Briefly, Talbott proposed that the planet Saturn once appeared to rest atop an immense fiery pillar in the northern polar heavens, the Cosmic Mountain of ancient myth. Another distinctive feature of the Saturnian configuration was a giant band which appeared to enclose Saturn, understood as being composed of cosmic debris and small satellites, comparable to the current rings of Saturn,

perhaps. According to Talbott's reconstruction, this band received light from the sun in such a manner as to periodically present a crescentine reflection, much as does the current lunar orb. In this way Talbott accounted for the origin of the universal symbol of the enclosed sun, difficult to explain from an astronomical stand-point as the crescent of the Moon always faces away from the sun.

Talbott's reconstruction has much to recommend it for understanding the mythological cosmos of El. As the great god atop the Celestial Mountain, El is to be understood as the planet Saturn atop the fiery pillar. El's Divine Assembly, `the circle of stars,' would appear to refer to the ring of satellites which surrounded Saturn/El. Certainly Talbott's hypothesis is supported by the fact that the high gods of other lands were also associated with a band of followers: "The symbolism of the Cosmos and Divine

Assembly reaches far beyond Egypt. Do not all supreme gods sit enthroned within a circle of secondary divinities? Ninurta, Kronos, El, Yima, Huang-ti, and every other Saturnian figure has his `sons', `councillors', `spies', `followers', `assistants', or `warriors' seated round about him."[FN]

The Planet Mars

That the planet Mars also played a  crucial role in this configuration was hinted at by Talbott and has been the subject of several papers by the present author.[FN] As was the case with Saturn, the same strange association of Mars with the World Pillar has also been found by traditional scholars. In A Dictionary of Symbols, Cirlot states: "The Tree of Life, when it rises no higher than the Mountain of Mars ... is regarded as a pillar supporting heaven."[FN]

If indeed the planet Mars played a role in traditions of the Cosmic Mountain, and if Mt. Sinai was actually celestial in nature, one would expect a connection between Sinai and the planet Mars. Such a connection is hinted at through Sinai's identification with Mt. Moriah.

One of the most sacred sites in Hebrew tradition, Mt. Moriah has long been recognized for its cosmic significance.[FN] In Genesis, it will be remembered, Moriah appears as the site of Abraham's intended sacrifice of Isaac. Ginzberg, however, reports the tradition that Sinai had once been part of Mt. Moriah, the two mountains later being separated under mysterious circumstances. According to Hebrew eschatological lore, with the coming of the Messianic age, Sinai will return and adjoin itself to Mt. Moriah.

The traditions associated with Moriah are strikingly similar to traditions surrounding Moreh, mentioned in Genesis as a campsite of Abraham's. There Moreh was celebrated for its giant Oak tree.[FN] Later Hebrew tradition remembered Moreh as the `navel of the earth,' a well-known attribute of the axis mundi (one shared by Moriah), and it was once considered the holiest shrine in all of Israel.[FN]

Here the sacred Oak of Moreh must remind us of the Oak of Mamre.  The obvious conclusion is that the two sites were modelled after a common prototype, their respective traditions later being confused by the editors of the Pentateuch.

Moses at the Spring

In light of Eliade's finding that the World Pillar could alternately appear as a mountain, tree, or spring, it is significant that Moses elsewhere receives a valuable set of laws at a spring—the spring called Marah.

It was at Marah that Moses is said to have received some of the most important precepts concerning the Sabbath, marriage rites, and civil law.[FN] Although Biblical tradition represents Moses as receiving the law upon Sinai after the episode at the spring of Marah, it is certainly not beyond possibility that the two sites were originally one and the same, or traceable to a common source. Later Hebrew legend, in fact, suggests as much. Thus, Ginzberg reports a legend which represents God as saying to Moses immediately before the revelation at Sinai: "I will come to thee in a thick cloud and repeat to thee the commandments that I gave thee on Marah."[FN]

The previous passage reads like an attempt to reconcile two different versions of the law-giving, one localized at Sinai and the other at Marah. The tendency to locate the law-giving at different sacred sites has also been discovered by Biblical scholars.[FN] And as was the case with Sinai, Biblical scholars are forced to admit their inability to locate Marah: "We have no indication ... where the spring of Marah lay."[FN] It is our opinion that the search is a futile one. The spring of Marah was celestial in nature.

Associated with mountain, tree, and spring respectively, the three sacred sites of Moriah, Moreh, and Marah should all be seen as mythological versions of the World Pillar or Cosmic Axis. There would also appear to be a close philological relationship between the three names.

There is also, quite possibly, a philological relation between Moriah, Moreh, Marah, and the Latin Mars. If valid, these sites would share this philological relationship with Mamre, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Mamer, the Oscan form of the Latin Mars.[FN] Latin scholars have long recognized that both Mars and Mamer go back to the root mr, of which the latter is a reduplicated form[FN] (thus an early form of the god's name was Marmar.)

As I pointed out in "The Spring of Ares," there was an ancient Semitic god by the name of Mermer, phonetically identical to that of the Latin Marmar.[FN] According to leading scholars, the name Mermer is a reduplication of a Sumerian word mer, one of the meanings of which is `wind.' In my opinion, it is this root which is shared by Moriah, Moreh, and Marah.

In summary, we have shown that the planet Mars was intimately associated with various symbols of the World Pillar, i.e., mountain, tree, and spring; Latin scholars have found that the word Mars derives from the root mr, for which we have provided a suitable Semitic progenitor; we have found the root mr within several ancient Hebrew names of sacred sites identifiable with the World Pillar. Such parallels support the hypothesis that Moriah, Moreh, and Marah each received their name precisely because of some ancient and long since forgotten relationship with the planet Mars.

Moses as Primeval King

We have found that Moses' most celebrated achievement, the giving of the Law, is brimming with mythological motives. Yet the revelation upon Sinai is hardly the only episode in Moses' history to share such mythological elements. Indeed, the simple fact of the matter would appear to be that the ancient accounts of Moses' life as preserved in the Torah and other Jewish sources reveal one mythical motive after another. And the closer one looks at these accounts the more the life of Moses begins to conform to a well-known pattern: the myth of the primeval king.

It might be objected here that Moses was a prophet, a great moral leader, not a king. Early Jewish literature, however, frequently represented Moses as the primeval king of the Jewish people. One of the earliest biographies of Moses, Philo's Life of Moses, for example, depicts Moses as the ideal king, as well as the most perfect of prophets and prototypal high priest. W. Meeks, who has investigated the traditions of Moses' kingship in great detail, observes that: "The fundamental theme of Philo's Life of Moses, is that Moses was the `most excellent king', the `most perfect ruler'."[FN] Meeks adds that Moses' role as king is not only the most important role in Philo's biography (a biography which appears to have been directed at Gentile readers), but that, "it is one which is taken for granted in Philo's circle."[FN]

Other ancient authors, including Ezekiel, Demetrius, Eupolemus, and Alexander Polyhistor, also represented Moses as an early king of the Israelites. According to Meeks, Ezekiel's testimony confirms the fact: "that the idea of Moses' kingship was much older than Philo and that it was not just an apologetic notion intended for Gentiles, but belonged to traditions familiar enough to be incorporated in an account based mainly on the Old Testament and intended probably for a Jewish audience."[FN]

Midrashic sources preserve the same traditions. Midrash Rabbah on Exodus 34:27, for example, represents god as saying to Moses: "As soon as you received My Torah, I made a covenant with you and I promoted you, and not only Israel alone (have I promoted) but also thee, their king."[FN]

While Midrashic sources are notoriously difficult both to date and interpret, it is considered fundamental to the nature of the midrash that some scriptural starting point must exist for every tradition. As Meeks points out, the primary source for Moses' kingship is Deuteronomy 33:5: "And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together." [FN]

While most translators of the Masoretic text have understood `he' as a reference to God, Meeks observes that the text is ambiguous on this point as either God or Moses could be meant. That the sentence was actually understood as referring to Moses is strongly suggested by the aforementioned midrash. [FN]

Meeks summarizes his analysis of the rabbinic traditions of Moses' kingship as follows: "The tradition that Moses was the king of Israel during the wilderness sojourn has been found to be very widespread in rabbinic haggada ... In various ways the idea is expressed that Moses was made king directly by God and that he served as God's earthly vice-regent. A particularly close connection appeared between Moses' installation as king and his mediation of the Torah. In some circles at least the connection lay specifically in the notion that when Moses went up Mt. Sinai, he was enthroned in heaven as king and descended from there with the Torah to exercise his reign." [FN]

Moses' appearance as king of the ancient Israelites raises a most intriguing question: to what extent does the life of Moses correspond to the universal myth of the primeval king associated with the planet Saturn?

There are several obvious similarities. As Saturn was considered the originator of the laws so too was Moses. The laws associated with the name of Moses must remind us of the codes of laws associated with the Hindu Manu, Greek Minos, and Egyptian Menes.[FN]

As Saturn was considered the originator of sacrificial rites, so too was Moses. Once again, similar traditions were reported of Manu, Minos, and Menes. [See: "Kronos, Minos and the Celestial Labyrinth," in KRONOS IX:2 (1984)]

In "Kadmos: the Primeval King," I discussed traditions linking Saturn to the origin of the alphabet. Here too there is a parallel in Mosaic legend. Thus Eupolemus' history On the Kings of Judah (2nd Century BCE) reports the tradition that Moses discovered the alphabet, after which it passed to the Phoenicians and then to the Greeks.

A prominent motive found in the histories of many primeval kings is their sudden disappearance and/or ascension to heaven. Latin legend reported the following of Saturn: "Saturn, like many other mythical kings, suddenly disappeared, being removed from earth to the abode of the gods."[FN]  A close parallel is to be found in accounts of the last days of Moses. Philo and several others, for example, preserve traditions with regard to an apotheosis of Moses. According to Meeks: "Philo takes it for granted that Moses was translated ... The end of Moses' life was an ascent, an `emigration to heaven', `abandoning the mortal life to be made immortal'."[FN]  Similar beliefs are hinted at in Josephus' account of Moses' death. As Meeks observes: "Of particular importance is his handling of Moses' death, for it shows that legends of Moses' ascension to heaven were current and had awakened fears of idolatry."[FN]

Silver confirms the presence of similar traditions in the haggadah. One tradition, for example, told that: "After his death Moses was translated into Heaven where he was warmly welcomed, clothed with light, and made a member of God's court."[FN] Meeks cites midrashic and rabbinic sources to the effect that here was a "persistent tradition that Moses did not die, but ascended to heaven."[FN] Finally, it is interesting to note that other early Jewish groups such as the Samaritans, not only believed in the ascension of Moses, but actually identified him as the Messiah and expected him to return to earth as the prophet of the final redemption.[FN]

It is actually difficult to find a significant episode in Moses' career which is not paralleled in the mythus of the primeval king, understood here as the mythological personification of the planet Saturn. Furthermore, several episodes in Moses' life have no viable explanation apart from their mythical significance and reference to the history of the planet Saturn. One of the strangest images of Moses, for example, is that of the law-giver descending from Sinai with shining face. According to the Exodus account: "When Moses came down from Sinai ... Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him."[FN]

Is there a stranger episode reported of any other historical character in the Old Testament. What possible explanation could there be for Moses' iridescent countenance?

Due to the intense brilliance of his face, Moses was forced to don a veil-like covering of some sort when appearing before the people, as if the mere sight of Moses could lead to blindness or injury. Auerback has offered the following comment on this bizarre state of affairs: "The result is the strange phenomenon of Moses' face remaining concealed from the Israelites for 40 years; only when facing the deity did he uncover his face."[FN]

It is futile to seek a biological explanation for Moses' luminosity. Nor can Moses' veil be explained as a cultic device of one form or another, as has been attempted by several scholars.[FN] Each of these bizarre images—the radiating face and the veil—is mythical in nature and based upon a celestial prototype.

Velikovsky and Saturn

To understand the importance of the Saturnian symbolism for a proper interpretation of the story of Moses, a brief summary of Saturn's early history is in order. According to the thesis of Immanuel Velikovsky, briefly hinted at in "On Saturn and the Flood" [in KRONOS V:I (1979)] and other writings published late in his life, the planet Saturn loomed large in the ancient skies. being brighter and far more impressive in appearance than at present. Indeed Velikovsky suggested the possibility that the Earth may have recently been a satellite of the giant planet. At an unspecified time, Velikovsky wrote, Saturn exploded with the power and brilliance suggestive of a small nova, inundating the Earth with brilliant light. Saturn's explosion was one of several cataclysmic episodes associated with Saturn, leading Velikovsky to propose that Saturn might bear the physical characteristics of a collapsed or dying star. Velikovsky's thesis that Saturn might be a dying star was unheard of when first proposed in the 1940's, but similar ideas are much discussed today.[FN]

With this rough sketch of Velikovsky's thesis in mind (since confirmed to a great extent by the researches of David Talbott and Dwardu Cardona) we return to the brilliant countenance of Moses.  Is it possible that Moses' bizarre luminosity is reminiscent of Saturn's flare-up?

According to Jewish legend, from Moses' face, "issued rays like those of the sun."[FN] Such legends led Goldhizer, Steinthal and other scholars to See: Moses as a type of solar hero.[FN] That it was not the radiation of the present sun that was the basis of such legends, rather that of the former sun Shamash—the planet Saturn—is suggested by another old legend. Thus Ginzberg reports that Moses' face shone so brightly that, "if even today a crack were made in his tomb, the light emanating from his corpse would be so powerful that it could not but destroy the whole world."[FN]

It is intriguing to note that the Popul Vuh, the Mayan Holy Book, likewise tells of a former `man-like' sun of terrible brilliance: "Like a man was the sun when it showed itself, and its face glowed when it dried up the surface of the earth ...; but then the sun rose, and it came up like a man. And its heat was unbearable. It showed itself when it was born and remained fixed in the sky like a mirror. Certainly it was not the same sun which we see."[FN]

The aforementioned Mayan tradition not only reminds us of the Jewish descriptions of Moses, but of the widespread traditions of a Universal Man identified with the planet Saturn.[FN]

Moses' Veil

A key to the understanding of Moses' luminescence is the fact that he afterwards dons a veil to subdue its harmful effects. Most significant with regard to our thesis is the fact that ancient tradition ascribed a similar veil to the planet Saturn. Suffice it to observe here that a veiled face was one of the distinguishing characteristics of Greek representations of Kronos: "The vast majority of the preserved monuments show him veiled ... It is not known just when and where this type first occurs; but it is certain that it was already in existence when the Romans borrowed it for their Saturnus ... It is obvious therefore that the type cannot be very recent and must be somehow connected with one of the characteristics of the deity about which no notice has come down to us."[FN]

According to Krappe, Saturn's veil served a prophylactic purpose in warding off the harmful radiations emitted by that planet's evil eye.[FN]

The Horns of Light

In addition to a veil the Greek Kronos possessed another characteristic feature: He was represented with horns. As Talbott and I have demonstrated, this motive is shared by prominent Saturnian gods throughout the ancient world, as well as by most of the primeval kings identified with Saturn: El, Dumuzi, Minos, Manu, etc.[FN]

That Moses was frequently represented as horned is well-known to anyone familiar with the history of art.[FN] Of thousands of examples of this motive, Michelangelo's statue is certainly the most famous.

In a fascinating analysis of Michelangelo's creation, Sigmund Freud observed that in the investigation of works of art, as in psychoanalytic and detective investigation, it is often the little things, such as the fold of an ear or the shape of the hands, that most clearly betray the purpose and peculiar genius of the artist in question.[FN] Such features presumably reveal a good deal about the subject of the artist as well. In his detailed discussion of the features of Michelangelo's Moses, however, Freud all but ignores the horns. Yet how can one help but wonder why Michelangelo would chose to depict the greatest of all Old Testament figures with horns more appropriate to Satan?

The Biblical source for the belief in a horned Moses is Exodus 34:29 ff, the passage which describes Moses as descending from Sinai with face aglow. As Moberly points out in his analysis of Exodus 34, the source of the puzzle is a word which means both `horned' and `to shine' (actually translated `horned' in the Latin Vulgate): "The writer's choice of the verb qrn in Exodus 34 should mean that Moses had horns yet the context demands the sense of `shine.' The question must be asked why the writer chose the unusual qrn when the more common verb `wr' was available."[FN]

According to Moberly, the writer chose qrn to emphasize the association between Moses and the Golden Calf: "The writer's use of qrn is a clear echo of the calf and constitutes a daring parallelism of Moses with the calf. It is daring to take the symbol of the false god and use it of Moses."[FN]

As the story stands in the Exodus account, the Golden Calf is represented as being an image of a false god, the entire scene providing the Jewish paradigm for apostasy. It is possible to doubt whether that was always the case however. In fact, the majority of Biblical scholars have recognized that it was the Hebrew god Himself who was originally represented by the calf.[FN]

Thus, with reference to the Golden Calf, it is stated in Exodus 32:4: "This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt." Here Auerback observes: "From this it follows that the worship of Ywh under the image of the bull was familiar to the people. It was not an innovation, but an old and well-known cult."[FN]  Albright concurs with this opinion, arguing that "no other interpretation can be squared with the known facts."[FN]

The general sense of Exodus 32:4 would also appear to support the conclusion of Auerback and Albright, for given the ancient's belief in the special efficacy of their own tribal gods, and the centrality of the Exodus event to the Israelite tradition, it is inconceivable that a foreign or `false' god could have been deemed responsible for leading the Israelites out of bondage and into the promised land.

But if Auerback and Albright are right, the repeated juxtaposition of Moses and the bull as leader of the exodus suggests an original identification of Moses with the Israelite god. Although he is reluctant to admit it, Moberly is forced to a similar conclusion: "The problem arises out of the prolonged absence of Moses on the mountain. The people's request for elohim on the grounds that Moses has now disappeared is notable in that it implies that the elohim are a replacement, in some sense, for Moses. A similar implication can be seen in the parallelism of v.1 with v.4: `This Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.'  A similar antithesis in vv.7-8 also points to the supplanting of Moses by the elohim."[FN]

If Moses had been as an elohim to the people his divine radiance and/or horned countenance would be more understandable, El-Ywh bearing the same feature(s). Moreover, the belief that Moses was crowned with horns of light as a god in heaven is actually preserved in rabbinic sources.

The Midrash Tanhuma states that when Moses went up to heaven he received God's crown, identified with the horns of light that streamed from Moses' face. Meeks, who discusses these traditions at some length, concludes: "Thus it was in heaven that Moses became imbued in some sense with God's fiery substance, or in the pictorial language of the Midrash Tanhuma, was crowned with God's own corona as the heavenly king's earthly vice-regent."[FN]

Meeks would understand the previous imagery from a symbolic or theological perspective. From our perspective, however, it is possible to understand the legend of Moses' crowning as a remarkably accurate reminiscence of actual celestial events witnessed and commemorated by ancient man the world over.

There can be little doubt, for example, that Saturn's primeval kingship began when the giant planet became associated with or enveloped within a celestial band. Mythologically Saturn was judged to have been crowned, or to have taken his seat upon the heavenly throne. It is David Talbott to whom we owe this revolutionary insight, the amazing depth and integrity of this symbolism having been outlined in great detail in The Saturn Myth.

According to Talbott's reconstruction, the band-crown received light in such a manner as to project a crescentine image. This celestial crown, explicitly associated with the planet Saturn in the ancient sources, actually possessed `horns' of light. Moses' horns did shine. And as a direct consequence of this celestial scenario the words for horn and light are related in many languages (Hebrew qrn), as well as the words for horn and crown (Latin cornu, corona, for example).

The Exodus and the Wandering

Since the time of Philo, Biblical exegetes have struggled to make sense of the traditional accounts of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, their 40 years wandering in the darkness, and their eventual settlement in Canaan. After several thousand years of investigation these puzzles loom as large as ever. We still  remain very much in the dark with regard to the alleged exodus, the identity of the Pharaoh of the exodus, the actual course of the migration, the size of the Israelite contingent, etc.

The details of the exodus are troublesome enough to make sense of; the account of the wandering in the darkness well nigh impossible. Auerback's observation may be taken as typical of the scholar's dismay: "If the traditional conception is taken as a basis to explain the physical events, the 40 years stay of the Israelites in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula remains completely unintelligible."[FN]

When investigating the Exodus of the Israelites, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that most ancient peoples preserved similar traditions. Spanish missionaries, for example, were surprised to find that the early Mexicans told tales of a great exodus led by Quetzalcoatl. According to the Popul Vuh, Quetzalcoatl led an ancient migration from the North as a result of which the Quiche came to Yucatan and founded their capital at Chichen Itza.[FN] The striking similarity of the Hebrew and Mexican traditions—the Mexican account also featuring the crossing of a great body of water and a prolonged period of wandering—prompted some early writers to suggest that in these early Mexicans were to be found the remnants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

As we observed in "Kadmos the Primeval King," the early Greeks recalled an exodus of Kadmos from Egypt after which he founded the Boetian Thebes. The numerous similarities between Kadmos' exodus and that of the Israelites did not fail to draw the attention of ancient chroniclers.[FN]

The early Norsemen believed that they were the direct descendants of a primeval migration led by Odin. According to Norse saga and legend, the Norse exodus occurred in the aftermath of the destruction of Troy.[FN]

It is probable that the Old Testament account of the Exodus contains as much historical foundation—or as little—as these others. By this I mean that as actual historical records of racial migrations each of these accounts fails miserably to accord with reality; but as mythical records of celestial happenings, of the movements and migrations of planet-gods, each contains a certain measure of historical value.

It is obvious, of course, that during the development of mankind from cave-dweller to city-dweller there would have been numerous migrations. But why is it that the migrations of tradition are almost always led by some semi-divine hero? And why do these legendary migrations assume more social significance than actual migrations known to history?

It is also a curious fact that in many of these exodus-traditions the leader is the primeval king of the people in question, usually identifiable with the planet Saturn. Such is the case with Kadmos, Odin, and Quetzalcoatl, for example. It would be surprising if the Israelite tradition were to depart from this universal pattern.

Hebrew tradition, of course, represents Moses as the leader of the Exodus, and we have pointed to early traditions in which the name Moses figures as primeval king. We have also documented numerous attributes shared by Moses and mythological personifications of Saturn, yet we would hope for an actual statement to the effect that the planet Saturn was somehow involved in the Hebrew Exodus.

A well-known passage in Amos warrants our attention. Reflecting upon the time of the wandering in the wilderness, Amos states: "Ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun, your images, the star of your god."[FN] This passage has been the subject of endless debate, fuelled no doubt by the fact that the Masoretic text differs substantially from that of King James. Most modern scholars accept that the passage has been corrupted and would down date it to the time of the Assyrian domination, with little if any connection to the time of the wandering.

With regard to this passage there is unanimous agreement upon one thing only: Chiun is to be identified with the planet Saturn.[FN] Given the acknowledged difficulty of the passage in Amos, perhaps it would be wise to let the matter drop with this observation. It is interesting, however, that Amos calls Chiun the `star of your god,' particularly in light of the fact that the god of the ancient Israelites was frequently identified with the planet Saturn.

This equation is attested as early as the writings of Tacitus and St. Augustine and has since been confirmed by modern scholars. H. Lewry, for example, who has written extensively on the antiquity of the Israelite worship of the planet Saturn, observed: "It was in honour of Salim, the planet Saturn, that David and Solomon built the temple on Mt. Moriah, and it was, therefore, the worship of this god which these two princes attempted to propitiate among their subjects. If this is so, it is further manifest that the six-pointed star symbol usually named for either David or Solomon was the emblem of their favourite deity, the planet Saturn."[FN]

Lewy's findings behoove us to consider carefully Amos' testimony with regard to Chiun. Perhaps the prophet was privy to ancient traditions which linked the planet Saturn as `the star of your god' to the time of the Exodus and the Wandering. Being a nomadic people it is only logical that the early Israelites would look to the stars to guide them on their migrations. It is well-known that the Pole-star is particularly valuable in these endeavours, and if, as Santillana and Talbott have demonstrated, the planet Saturn was once considered the Pole-star, then perhaps Chiun's prominence in Hebrew tradition becomes more understandable.

Yet it must be said that the role I envision Saturn as having played in these traditions of a primeval exodus was far greater than that of a stationary reference-point. Indeed it appears clear that Saturn itself actually inspired the numerous legends of an exodus and period of wandering when it began to wander from its position in the North.

The celestial background of this widespread mythological motive is by no means obvious but can be reconstructed somewhat as follows from the world's mythological records. Amidst cataclysmic circumstances the planet Saturn underwent a period of instability during which it appeared to waver or wobble and then to wander about the North Pole. During this same series of events the planet

also appears to have been obscured from view for an indeterminate amount of time. Saturn's apparent movement was associated with a disturbance of the polar column, aligned as it was with the giant planet.

Should there be any truth to this hypothetical scenario—the details of which will be addressed in part two of this series—its relevance to the Biblical account of the Exodus is quite extraordinary. Immediately we are confronted with the possibility of providing an explanation for the enigmatic pillar of fire which allegedly guided the Israelites during the wandering in the Wilderness: "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light."[FN] For if the Hebrew Lord was originally the planet Saturn, as the evidence appears to indicate, the pillar of fire can be seen as the World Pillar universally associated with Saturn. (And is it not possible that this same Saturnian pillar lies behind the bizarre tradition of Moses' construction of the fiery, serpentine pole? [Numbers 21:8])


Traditions from around the world celebrate the planet Saturn as a primeval king, renowned as a great law-giver and religious reformer. A consistent tradition represents these Saturnian god-kings with bovine characteristics. Eventually, after a great cataclysm of some sort, the primeval king is said to have begun a exodus or to have suffered an exile from his native land.

Throughout this essay we have sought to show that ancient Jewish tradition described Moses in similar fashion. As primeval king Moses was said to have been crowned with horns of light and was compared—if not downright identified—with the Golden Calf by the editor(s) of Exodus 32. According to Exodus 32:4, this bovine image symbolized the God of ancient Israel, known to have been the planet Saturn. Such parallels support the conclusion that beneath the veil of Moses and Mosaic legend lies the planet Saturn.

[This article was distributed at the 1983 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Interdisciplinary Studies]

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