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Moses: First Old Testament prophet
By MICHAEL GAFFNEY LubbockOnline.com

A 12th century fresco rescued from the crypt in the Roman Church of St. Nicholas in Prison depicts Moses, the first prophet of the Old Testament.

Moses, according to the Bible, was the first prophet to see God and to hear Him speak.

The fresco is one of 31 bound for Lubbock and scheduled for display at the Museum of Texas Tech during the Vatican Museums Exhibition, scheduled to open in June.

Moses, a lawgiver, prophet, liberator and leader of a wandering band of Hebrews, who he freed from enslavement by an Egyptian pharaoh, is perhaps the most notable of the prophets in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

The circular fresco depicts the prophet holding a scroll opened across his chest. A golden halo surrounds his head, and a flower/plant motif surrounds his portrait.

Moses is known as the lawgiver because of the 10 Commandments, which he brought down from Mt. Sinai, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation director.

"God gave Moses the 10 Commandments; God himself burns them into the stone," Neyland said. "The 10 laws are then put into the tabernacle in 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 as promised by Old Testament prophets.

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 stir the minds of an entire race for centuries after his death.

The Bible furnishes the chief account of Moses' life.


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 Nile River by his mother, Jochabed, wife of Amram.

Moses' older sister, Mary, kept watch over the baby and 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 7: 22).

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 Jethro'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 was not consumed, and he heard a voice declare that the ground on which he stood was holy and that he should remove his shoes before approaching the wondrous bush.

A 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.


Moses, with his family, started for Egypt. He carried the "rod of God", a symbol of the fearlessness he had to show to perform wonders designed to convince the pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves.

Moses faced God's wrath, the pharaoh's indignation and ridicule, and the pharaoh's court magicians, but he overcame them all.

In his 80th year, Moses inflicted 10 plagues upon the Egyptian ruler and his court, a series of divine manifestations so overwhelming that even the kingdom's magicians were forced to recognize the prophet's power as that of "the finger of God."

With the last plague, the Hebrews, forewarned by Moses, celebrated the first Pasch or Passover, as God carried out his threat to pass through the land and kill every first-born of man and beast, executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt.

Pharaoh stopped resisting and begged the Hebrews to depart.


Moses led 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 reached the Red Sea, it miraculously parted, opening a dry passage to the Sinai peninsula.

The sea collapsed upon the pursuing Egyptian army, and the dry passage proved to be a fatal trap for the pharaoh's forces and, possibly, the pharaoh himself.

The procession wandered through the desert for months until it reached Mt. Sinai, where Moses climbed the heights and was given the 10 Commandments by God.

On his first descent, Moses was enraged by a band of Hebrews who indulged in idolatrous orgies, worshiping a golden calf, and he caused their deaths.

When he climbed the mountain and descended a second time, the people were in awe because his face was emblazoned with luminous horns.

Along the way, Moses produced water for the thirsty masses by striking a rock indicated by God. But he struck twice, doubting the miracle, thereby sealing his fate. For his doubt, Moses was exiled from the Promised Land.

When hunger beset the Hebrews, God rained down manna or bread from heaven.

After instituting priesthood and erecting a tabernacle for the 10 Commandments, Moses ordered a census, which showed an army of 603,550 fighting men.

The tribe celebrated the first anniversary of the Pasch or Passover and carried the Ark of the Covenant. They then entered the second stage of their migration.

They were accompanied by Hobab, Jethro's son, who acted as a guide.

Instances of general discontent followed, the first of which was punished by fire, and ceased as Moses prayed. The second is followed by a plague.

When the people complained about a steady diet of manna, quails miraculously were provided.

In sight of their goal, Moses sent spies into Canaan, the Promised Land. They returned, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb, and gave a report that caused fear and rebellion among the Hebrew followers.

God condemned the generation to die in the wilderness.

A subsequent uprising suggests that, during the 38 years spent in the Badiet et-Tih Desert, discontent continued among the Hebrews.

During the wandering 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 Moses.

Moses is doomed never to enter the Promised Land, possibly because of his momentary doubt in God at the rock where he struck twice for water.

When the old generation, including Mary, Moses' sister, and Aaron, his brother, is no more, Moses inaugurated 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 allowed 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 pronounced three memorable discourses preserved in The Book of Deuteronomy, which is practically a summary repetition of the laws of Moses. He concluded the history of the people under

Moses' chief utterance related to a future prophet, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI.

He then sang a song of praise to God and added prophetic blessings for each of the twelve tribes.

From Mount Nebo, Moses viewed the Promised Land for the last time, and then died at age 120.

He was buried "in the valley of Moab," the Bible states, but no one "knows his sepulchre."

His memory is one of "isolated grandeur," Neyland said.

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