Distributed by Outrigger Publishers, P.O. Box 1198, Hamilton, New Zealand
Review by Norman Simms of
Gary Greenberg. The Moses Mystery: The African Origins of the Jewish
Seacaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing/ A Birch Lane Press Book, 1996. X + 308 pp.
NOTE Color and text format are from William Theaux
Also the text printed in Glozel NewLetter may show modifications;
break lines dashes and some typos are not cerrected hereby.
I am going to review this book in terms of the long critique William Théaux makes of Jan Assmann's study of Akhenaton in this issue of The Glozel Newsletter . Because Greenberg is not a professional Egyptologist, his study also would fall outside of Assmann's range of "serious" scholarship, and certainly its publication by a non-academic or even non-mainstream press signals something other than "seriousness". The publisher's blurb on the dust jacket tells us that "Gary Greenberg is president of the Biblical Archaeology Society of New York. He is also a member of the American research Center in Egypt, the Archaeological Institute of America, The Society Of Biblical Literature, and The Egypt Exploration Society," but "He serves as a senior trial attorney with the Criminal Division of the Legal Aid Society of New York City." However, as Théaux indicates--and as we have tried to argue many times, following Kuhn's insight into the way the paradigms of scientific investigation have to be broken down by out-siders--it is precisely this "seriousness" which blocks our vision of the "facts" of history, not least of which is prehistory and archaeology.
Greenberg's reading, though mis-named in the title, as though this were going to be a book like Martin Bernal's multi-volumed and much- misunder-stood Black Athena. At least that book's first volume titillated the politically-correct with the notion that European culture has its real roots and substance in sub-Saharan Africa. This new study makes for pleasant reading against the grain of conventional wisdom, in that Greenberg argues that Moses--as author of the Old Testament, as well as principal character in the Exodus legen--was an Egyptian and drew on Egyptian history and myth to write the Five Books of the Bible that are credited to him. This interpretation requires a great deal of revising of the chronologies of Egyptian dynastic history, as well as coordinating it to biblical genealogies and king lists, then trying to smooth out and rationalize the resulting discre-pancies.
More than two thirds through the book, Greenberg enters a disclaimer, a denial of where his argument is taking him: "This is not to say that Akhaneten and Moses were one and the same. Moses is only the scapegoat" (p. 201). Moses is not Akhenaten because Moses is Osareph (or Ramose or Hormose), Akhenaton's friend, general, high priest who, after the reign of the pharoah and the beginning of the persecutions against the followers of his religious reforms, and the campaign to expunge his name and achievements from the record of Egyptian history, mounted a military operation to rescue these Egyp-tians--now disreputable and unaccep-table priests and their families, civil servants deeply implicated in the Akhenaton regime, lepers and other marginalized people whom the pharoah had drawn to his city and promoted as citizens of a new kind of civilization. Among them are likely to have been some of the remnants of the Israelite clans which had come with Joseph into Egypt earlier and were caught up as part of the despised and feared "others" whom Akhaneten's reforms gave hope and pro-tection to. But it was only after the departure (Exodus) to Schechem and the gradual conquest of the coastal territories of the Promised Land that the myth of the Twelve Tribes was substantiated, albeit with many loose threads that Greenberg uncovers in his research.
One of the key weaknesses in this study is that the genealogical and dynastic discussions, which form the bulk of the first half of the book, are based on an assumption that biblical chronology is accurate but Egyptian king-lists are full of errors in trans-mission. Yet, when it suits him, Green-berg rejiggles the patriarchal data to bolster his assertions; and he tends to slide too easily from indicating a discrepancy in dating to a speculation on a misreading or miscalculation on the part of a scribe to an acceptance of the possibility as a fact from which new data can be extrapolated. He also tends, when summing up and repeating points, to take his wown ealier hesitant statements as proven data later on. All of which does not mean he is wrong, or that at least the conventional dates and sequences of rulers do not require very significant adjustments and reinterpre-tations. It does, however, detract from the logic of the final conclusions.
Another weakness is for Greenberg to read both Egyptian and Hebrew documents as though they were news-papers or almanacs of factual informa-tion. Yet manifestly they are either religious hymns, prayers, and homiletic discourses or the kinds of apologetic histories and philosophical disquisitions that are typical of the ancient world, none of which pretends to the kind of objectivity that is only possible--or desired--after the Renaissance. For Greenberg therefore to assume that the scribes or anthologists erred as they copied, coordinated, and rationalized the texts before them--just as he assumes that Moses the Egyptian did scholarly research in the pyramidal and temple archives before commencing the writing of the Pentateuch--stretches credibility beyond normal limits. Religious,. ritual and political purposes would have been dominant, and a good part of the collecting of information conducted under trance-like states or in the anxiety of national crises. The assumption of a modern self-conscious objectivity cannot be sustained.
At the same time--or at least within the covers of the same book--Greenberg allows for the Five Books of Moses to be, not a transcription of official archival data distorted by current political limitations of access and awareness of context, but the product of fuddled memories of archaic Egyptian mythic and religious conceptions, overlaid by Hebrew rationalizations to fit with truisms generated by priestly, monarchic and prophetic reforms. There is, I believe, a case made for the assertion that some of the problematics of biblical patriarchal history may be due to interferences from Egyptian sources which have been rationalized to fit with emergent Jewish belief structures; but the degree of that interference or the extent of the distortions remain to be seen. There should be little doubt now that Egyptian documents need to be placed closer to the centre of any study of the Old Testament.
A good reason for this "egyptianizing" of the Bible lies in the documents Greenberg cites, and which belong to the Graeco-Egyptian civilization that Israel, as well as Hellenistic Greece, belonged to. As Théaux so aptly points out, the subsequent history of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance--down to the discrediting of Hermes Trismegistus and the Corpus Hermeticus--Moses was taken in an Egyptian context, sometimes as the teacher and sometimes as the student of the great Egyptian sage and mystic, as Francis A. Yates has shown several times. We now stand at a point in history where the dismissal of the Moses-Hermes connection cannot be accepted on seventeenth-century polemical grounds. The rediscovery of Akhenaton, for one, puts new light on the whole identity of Moses; and the finding of the Gnostic library in Egypt means that the Hermetic texts cannot be put aside as irrelevant to the understanding of the Bible.
Thus when Greenberg writes, "According to Josephus's excerpt [of the lost history by Manetho]. Moses was an Egyptian priest named Osareph who organized a rebellion among oppressed Egyptians suffering from leprosy and other diseases," the connection needs to be considered seriously by both biblical scholars and Egyptologists.
What we have to put aside, for the moment, at least, is whether or not the texts represent factual history or not: let us read them, rather, as trance-docu-ments, records of collective public-dreaming, filtered through traditional mythic and religious conventions. Thus when Greenberg writes, "The problem is that Moses departed Egypt twice, once after Akhenaton died and once at the beginning of the reign of Sethos, during the Exodus" (p. 170), he not only jumps the gun by declaring Moses and Akhenaton as characters with the same degree of historicity in Egyptian-Hebrew texts, but he has already translated the Exodus into a political and military event internal to Egyptian conditions, when Osareph attempted to rescue the remnants of the Aten cult. What we can see in regard to Moses is that he enters the narrative several times: (a) born among the Hebrews at a dangerous period, (b) rescued by Pharoah's daughter and raised as her child at court, (c) fleeing Egypt to become a Midianite shepherd and long afterwards divinely appointed to return to Egypt to demand the relase of the Chosen People, (d) prevented on the boundaries from entering Egyptian territory until his Midianite wife performs a forgotten circumcision on his son Gershom, (e) integrated into his family by joining forces with Aaron and Miriam, (f) demonstrating his magical powers before the Pharoah and his religious advisers, (g) announcing the ten plagues while negotiating a covert escape for all the Children of Israel, (h) conducting the Exodus from Egypt leading towards the gathering at Mount Sinai or Horeb to receive the Law, and (i) finally refusing to enter the Promised Land until the older generation of slaves have passed away and then being refused entry himself, and then (j) mysteriously disappearing on Mount Nebo.
Certainly some of these narrative events coincide with aspects of Akhanaten's life-story, not least of which is the mysterious disappearance from history. But with Moses we have a man with three roots: Hebrew, Egyptian and Midianite. Greenberg sees some analogies, but he is more concerned to set them in a framework of Egyptian religious narrative, particularly "the mythical conflict between Horus and Set following the death of Osiris." But Greenberg says, "In the conflicting Egyptian and biblical versions, the pharoah and Moses corrspond to either Horus or Set, depending upon which side tells the story" (p. 181). The analogy only works by squeezing the Hebrew and Midianite aspects out of the Moses story, and by assuming rather too much of the Akhaneaten legend. Neverthe-less, somethinmg happened in history to set these narratives in motion and to make the various ancient historians conceive of the events in ways closely analogous to one another.
Interestingly, when dealing with the etymology of names and their crypto-graphic possibilities, Greenberg sug-gests that Moses's name derives less from the Hebrew root m-sh-h, to draw out, than the Egyptian ms, to be born; and argues that Osareph when becoming a priest of Akhanaten deleted the first particle of his hieratic name, either Ramose or Hormose, to avoid being known by one of the discredited deities, Re or Horus, those original cult-names being written in Egyptian without vowels as rms or hrms. From this, Greenberg argues:
Artapanaus, a historian of the second century B.C., wrote that while Moses was still with the Ewgyptian court he was highly honored by the priests, and in refcognition of his skills in hieroglyphics he was named Hermes. Hermes was the Greek god identified with the Egyptian Thoth, the god of writing. But Egyptians at the time of Moses wouldn't have used the name Hermes; they would have used Thoth. Also, as a member of Akhenaton's court, Moses would not have used such an impermissible god-name. While the Artapanus story may be simply nnan unsaubstantiated folk tale, it may be that there was a remembered tradition in which Moses was originally know[n] as either Rms or Hrms, and Artapanus mistakenly thought the name was Hermes...." (pp. 188-189)
Then Greenberg drifts off in other speculations, but following Théaux's lead, we can see the speculation lading towards the tradition that identifies Moses cum Akhenaton as Hermes Trismegistus--the triple master of Hebrew, Egyptian and Midianite heritage.
Other details in Greenberg's text offer backing to the possibility that Moses and Aklhenaten are, if not originally one and the same historical person, then at least two aspects of the same legendary figure which bears in itself, as a potent cultural hieroglyph, repressed anxieties for both civilizations. There is, for example, the the legend recorded by Apion that Moses was a native of Heliopolis, that is, Akhenaton's sacred cult-capital (p. 193) There is also the indications that, like the Egyptian reforming king, Moses suffered from leprosy, " and that leprosy and plague were widespread among the Hebrew at the time of the Exodus, lending strong supoport to Manetho's identification of Osareph with Moses" (p. 195).
Another point by Théaux concerninmg Moses's veil draws us to remarks made by Greenberg which may shed more light on the problem:
First, the Osareph story says that Moses had leprosy. Second, we have an unexplained connection between the desire of the pharoah "to see god" and the rounding up of the lepers. In the biblical story, not only is it suggested that Moses had leprosy or some form of severe skin disease, but his affliction has a connection to his desire "to see god". We should also note that when Moses's hand turned leprous, it did so while in the preence of God, who at the time took the form of a burning bush: God's voice came out of the bush, but his face couldn't be seen. (p. 197)
Citing Redford, Greenberg points towards the oddly "effeminate: appearance of Akhenaton: "elongated skull, fleshy lips, slanting eyes, lengthened ear lobes, prominent hjaw, narrow shoulders, pot-belly, enormous hips and thighs and spindly legs. Of late," we are then told, "experts have tended to identify his problem with some sort of endrocine disorder in which the secondary characteristics failed to develop, and eunuchoidism resulted" (p. 199).
It is this point, where Greenberg draw sattention to the shared "bodily deformities" between the two figures, that he denies an identity of Moses and Akhenaton. Yet in his section (pp. 204-206) retelling the Exodus story from the new perspective, Greenberg provides the strongest case for making this identity.
When Akhenaton became pharoah he appointed Moses, his childhood friend, to a high position in the administration, most likely chief priest and administrative head of the Aten cult.... Akhaneten, himself a victim of debilitating diseases, synmpathized, and in the fifth year of his reign had the lepers and "polluted ones" brought together to live a protected lifestyle.... religious reforms were introduced.... Moses, as chief priest, took responsibility for administering these reforms and became the most visible target of Theban wrath.
And if that were not enough, "When Akhenaton died, a vengeful Amen priesthood marked Moses for death," but after the deposing of the Aten cult, Moses led a counter-attack, "seeking to restore the Satenists to the throne and, as the adopted son of Amenhotep III, claiming a right of title ." As part of his strategy,
Moses made common cause with the king of Shechem.... He may also have had temporary alliances with "a mixed multitude" of other southern Egyptians who thought a combined military campaign could dislodge the northern-based coregency of Ramesses and Sethos..... Realizing that eventually Sethos would get the upper hand, Moses negotiated a cease-fire and safe passagew for his southern troops. They marched due east towards the northern edge of the Red Sea, where it narrowed into the Gulf of Suez. There they crossed into Sinai....In time, Sethos reasserted military auhtority over Canaan, the Shechemites were brought to heel, and, in keeping with the treaty between Moses and the pharoah, the Atenists were left alone, later to evolve into the House of Israel.
Clearly, then, for all its weaknesses, The Moses Mystery is another case to answer in the struggle to break apart the conventional paradigms of "serious" Egyptology and Bible History, and thuis to look at the dynamics of group fantasies stretching back thousands of years.
THE GLOZEL NEWSLETTER
No. 4:4 (ns) 1998
Editor: Norman Simms
Hans -Rudolf Hitz (Switzerland) Robert Liris (France) and Damien Mackey (Australia)
Notes added by William Theaux in this web page:
Note (n01) - About leprosy, deformation, operation of seing God and Burning Bush; Saint Antony information mus be consulted, refering to "La Fievre des Ardents'. <back to text>
Note (n02) - there is an echo there, of Moses' two identities, as Freud and others enphazised. Some parts of the text suggest the reading of Oedipus at Colonus. Semenkhare may have taken a part of the memory carried by the name 'Moses'. <back to text>
© CYBEK of New York, 1999.