By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
A 12th century fresco rescued from the crypt of the Church of St. Nicholas
in Prison in Rome, depicts Moses, the first prophet of the Old Testament,
the first prophet to see God made visible, to hear God speak.
That fresco is one of the 31 bound for display in Lubbock during the Vatican
Museums Exhibition in 2002 at the Museum of Texas Tech.
Moses was a lawgiver, prophet a liberator and leader of the wandering band
of Hebrews that he freed from enslavement by an Egyptian pharaoh. He is,
perhaps, the most notable of prophets in the hierarchy of the Catholic
Who but the very young or someone not of this earth does not know something
of the tale of Moses?
The fresco that will be displayed in Lubbock depicts the prophet holding a
scroll opened across his chest, with a golden halo surrounding his head and
a circular flower/plant motif surrounding the portrait.
Moses is known as the lawgiver because of the 10 commandments, which he
brought down from Mt. Sinai, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, director of the
Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation.
"God gave Moses the 10 commandments; God himself burns them into the stone,"
Neyland said. "The 10 laws are then put into the tabernacle or the Arc of
the Covenant - the bond between God and the Hebrew tribe following Moses.
"It meant that He had chosen the people following Moses, promising to give
them a land of milk and honey."
The Israelites (or Jewish peoples) still follow Moses' law, and still hold
faith with the promise God gave through Moses, Neyland said. For those of
the Jewish faith, Jesus was not the Messiah sent promised by Old Testament
To deny or to doubt the historic personality of Moses, is to doubt the
subsequent history of the Israelites. Rabbinical literature teems with
legends touching every event of Moses' career.
As with nearly all the Old Testament prophets, taken singly, the popular
tales are purely imaginative. But considered in their cumulative force, they
vouch for the reality of a man of strong character, high purpose and noble
achievement, so fervent in his religious convictions as to thrill the minds
of an entire race for centuries after his death.
The Bible furnishes the chief account of Moses' life.
BIRTH TO VOCATION (EXODUS 2:1-22)
Born at a time when a king's edict decreed the drowning of every new male
offspring among the Israelites, the "goodly child" Moses, after three
month's concealment, was placed in a basket and set afloat in the River Nile
by his mother, Jochabed, wife of Amram.
Moses' older sister, Mary, kept watch over the baby and was helped induce
the pharaoh's daughter to rescue the child.
Moses' real mother was appointed by the princess to nurse the baby, who
eventually was schooled "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts, vii,
In manhood, Moses killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew slave and,
fearing for his life, fled to Madian, according to the Bible.
He spent 40 years as a shepherd in the area of the Sinai Peninsula, working
for a priest named Raguel (Jethro) and marrying one of his employer's
daughters. The couple had two sons, Gersam and Eliezar.
While driving a flock of sheep in the mountainous region, Moses is said to
have come upon a flaming bush that did not burn, and he heard a voice
declare that the ground was holy and that he must remove his shoes before
approaching the wondrous bush.
A mysterious voice revealed itself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob, earlier prophets, and designated Moses to deliver the Hebrews held
captive in Egypt to the "land of milk and honey," the land promised to the
children of Abraham, the land later known as Palestine.
VOCATION AND MISSION (EXODUS 2:23-12:33)
Moses, with his family, starts for Egypt, and in his hand he carried the
"rod of God", a symbol of the fearlessness he had to show to perform the
wonders designed to convince the pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves.
Moses faces God's wrath, the pharaoh's indignation and ridicule and the
pharaoh's court magicians, but he overcomes. In his 80th year, Moses
inflicts 10 plagues upon the Egyptian ruler and his court, a series of
divine manifestations so overwhelming that even the kingdom's magicians are
forced to recognize the prophet's power as that of "the finger of God."
With the last plague, the Hebrews, forewarned by Moses, celebrate the first
Pasch or Passover, as God carries out his threat to pass through the land
and kill every first-born of man and beast, thereby executing judgment on
all the gods of Egypt.
Pharaoh resists no longer and begs the Hebrews to depart.
EXODUS AND THE 40 YEARS (EXODUS 12:34 AND AFTER)
Moses leads 600,000 men and an undetermined number of women and children
through the desert, their direction indicated by an advancing pillar of
alternating cloud and fire, the Bible states.
When the throng reaches the Red Sea, it miraculously parts, opening a dry
passage to the peninsula of Sinai.
The sea collapses upon the pursuing Egyptian army, and the dry passage
proves a fatal trap for the pharaoh's forces and, possibly, the pharaoh
The procession wanders through the desert for months until it reaches Mt.
Sinai where Moses climbs the heights and is given the 10 commandments by
On his first descent, he is enraged by a band of Hebrews who indulge in
idolatrous orgies about a golden calf, and causes their deaths.
When he climbs the mountain and descends a second time, the people are in
awe because his face is emblazoned with luminous horns.
Along the way, Moses produces water for the thirsty masses by striking a
rock indicated by God, but he strikes twice, doubting the miracle, thereby
sealing his later fate, exile from the Promised Land.
When hunger besets the Hebrews, God rains down manna or bread from heaven.
After instituting a priesthood and erecting the Tabernacle for the 10
commandments, Moses orders a census, which shows an army of 603,550 fighting
men. The tribe, along with the Levites, women and children, celebrate the
first anniversary of the Pasch or Passover and, carrying the Ark of the
Covenant, enter on the second stage of their migration.
They are accompanied by Hobab, Raguel's (Jethro's) son, who acts as a guide.
Instances of general discontent follow, the first of which is punished by
fire, and ceases as Moses prays, and the second is followed by plague.
When the people complain about a steady diet of manna, quails are
In sight of their goal, Moses sends spies into Chanaan (Canaan), the
Promised Land, and they return, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb,
with reports that cause fear and rebellion among the people. Moses prays and
God intervenes, only to condemn the generation to die in the wilderness.
A subsequent uprising suggests that, during the thirty-eight years spent in
the Badiet et-Tih Desert, discontent continued.
During this period, tradition places the composition of a large part of the
Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
The books of the Pentateuch are partly historical, partly legal in
character. They give the history of the chosen people from the creation of
the world to the death of Moses, and reveal the civil and religious
legislation of the Israelites during the life of their lawgiver, Moses.
Genesis may be considered as the introduction to the other four books of the
Bible; it contains the early history down to the preparation of Israel's
exit form Egypt.
Moses is doomed never to enter the Promised Land, presumably because of his
momentary lack of trust in God at the rock where he struck twice - an
incident known as the Water of Contradiction.
When the old generation, including Mary, the prophet's sister, and Aaron,
his brother, is no more, Moses inaugurates the onward march around Edom and
Moab to the Arnon.
The tribe had wandered for 40 years in the desert and, because of complaints
and idolatry suffered many deaths at God's Hand.
But Moses finally allows the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of
Manasses to settle in the east Jordan district, without, however, releasing
them from service in the west Jordan conquest, according to The Catholic
Encyclopedia, Volume 10.
As a legacy to the Hebrew people, Moses pronounces three memorable
discourses preserved in The Book of Deuteronomy, which is practically a
summary repetition of the laws of Moses, and concludes the history of the
people under his leadership, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume
His chief utterance relates to a future Prophet, like himself, whom the
people are to receive.
He then sings a song of praise to Jahweh (God) and adds prophetic blessings
for each of the twelve tribes. From Mount Nebo, Moses views for the last
time the Promised Land, and then dies at the age of 120.
He is buried "in the valley of Moab," the Bible states, but no one "knows
His memory is one of "isolated grandeur," Neyland said.
He is the type of Hebrew holiness, so far outshining other models that
twelve centuries after his death, the Christ, who he foreshadowed, seemed
eclipsed by him in the minds of learned Israelites.