Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Is Moses a historical figure, as opposed to merely a literary character? Did Moses really live? If he did actually live, did he really lead the Children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt? And are all the plagues and miracles recorded in the Book of Exodus true to history? I have an opinion and a position on this constellation of questions. I would affirm that Moses did exist, and that the various wonders recorded in the Book of Exodus are factual and reliably historical.
To make my case, my starting point will not be Moses or the Book of Exodus, though, but Peter. Yes, I begin by appealing to Simon Peter, as in Peter bar Jonah, the Galilean fisherman. My first witness will be that particular Peter — the impetuous, thoughtlessly verbose, bumbling, ever earnest disciple of Jesus Christ. In proposition of my Bible-banging position, I present Simon Peter.
And I hope you catch the courtroom analogy here, because I am asserting the importance and reliability of his eyewitness testimony. Simon Peter was an eyewitness of Moses, after all. I mean, you know that already; right?
But first, perhaps I need to explain why any of this matters.
It may surprise you to learn that the existence of Moses is even a contested question in academia. But indeed, it is. Some academics say that there is insufficient evidence for a historical Moses. And if Moses is merely fictional, so is the rest of Exodus. Simply stated, there is insufficient external evidence to establish the historicity of the Book of Exodus, they say. Archaeology cannot confirm it. Egyptian monuments and documents cannot confirm it. The Book of Exodus simply cannot be established and proven as history, they assert. So, sad to say, it ought to be considered mostly or entirely fiction.
Well, crap. If the Moses and the Ten Plagues and the Ten Commandments of the entire Book of Exodus aren’t actual history, is anything in the Bible truly trustworthy? Ding, ding: There’s the rub. And that’s the upshot. That’s the implication. This is why it all matters. The best and the brightest — the people with the PhDs — say that you can’t be sure if anything in Exodus is trustworthy, kids. And as Exodus goes out the window, the rest of the Bible goes with it. Well, crap.
A lot of hypothetical and real college/university students will merely shrug at this point, because they simply do not know what to conclude. An unsettlingly doubt may well creep into said college student’s mind: “Maybe everything they taught me at church is just a bunch of bunk. After all, the professor seems really smart and knowledgable and has earned a doctorate. I dunno. The professor seems smarter than that pastor… I wonder what sort of dessert the cafeteria has today.”
And as for that particular college/university student, the Bible may have just lost considerable credibility, given just one (somewhat) challenging, critical lecture. Oh, and this can and does routinely happen at religious institutions of higher learning, too. Believe it.
However, a student who has somewhat higher regard for the authority of the Bible may accept the implicit challenge. She or he may set out to prove the historical reality of Moses and the reliability of Exodus. The problem is that the bar is too high. The challenge is too great. The burden of proof is too daunting. Neither Moses nor the Book of Exodus can be indubitably demonstrated as historical (indubitably being the key word). A certain amount of faith must be exercised. But who knows whether the Book of Exodus deserves that much faith? I mean, it is a really, really old document, after all.
But what about Peter? What if Simon Peter can verify the historicity of Moses with eyewitness testimony? What if Peter says it’s all true? Does that make a difference?
It ought to. And he does.
In his Second Epistle Peter says this:
For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.2 Peter 1:16-19a New Living Translation
Here Peter is clearly referring to Jesus’ Transfiguration. Realize that in every single account of the Transfiguration recorded in the Gospels (compare Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; and Luke 9:28-36), Jesus appears with two prominent Old Testament prophets. Just guess who the two Old Testament prophets are.
Moses and Elijah.
Peter saw Moses and Elijah alongside a transfigured, glorified Jesus. And Peter later asserted that his experience on that mountain was real and worthy of confidence.
So now an informed “said college student” and you, the blog reader/listener, need to ask yourself whether you think Peter’s testimony is reliable here. If it is, then the Transfiguration really happened. And if the Transfiguration happened, then Moses was presented not just as a historical figure, but even alive post-mortem. That left a profound impression on Simon Peter. That carried some hefty verifying weight with Peter. Likewise, it is probably safe to conclude from all this that the Book of Exodus also stands validated, along with the entire Old Testament.
However, if you don’t consider Peter’s testimony reliable on this point, then you probably don’t give much credence to the much of the New Testament. I say that because the Transfiguration is repeatedly affirmed as a historical event in the New Testament.
Said a bit differently and more generally, in a variety of ways the New Testament affirms the reliability and the historicity of the Book of Exodus, as well as other portions of the Old Testament. Consequently, someone who affirms the reliability of the New Testament must (by virtue of just that) also affirm the reliability of the Old Testament. You cannot have the New without the Old. It just doesn’t work.
If Jesus was a historical figure, so was Moses. If the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke are historically reliable, so is Exodus. Peter testifies to all that.