Wandering the savage garden…

I wish CNN would stop: today it’s Moses

CNN.com has yet another Biblically-related piece, this time on Moses. I’m glad to see CNN acknowledge the Bible, I suppose, but I wish it was less “surprise!” journalism and more rationally-based.

I totally get the “We’re going to inform you of things you don’t know” vibe – hey, to some degree, that’s the whole point of writing. But they tend to forget that they could be wrong, and very much so.

So let’s look at what they say about ol’ Moshe.

“He was Egyptian.”

Their first point is that moses was an Egyptian, and not Hebrew. Actually, no – let’s try again.

… despite all the indications that Moses was Egyptian — especially his name — he was actually Israelite.

Err… well. The truth is, he might have been an Egyptian, an Egyptian who saw Hebrew (not Israelite) theology as a reflection of Atenism, and bought into the value of all men (unlike what Atenism would dictate). But he also would have had to go against every Egyptian value of humanity in order for this to be true.

Not impossible – Abraham, too, went against the mores of his culture – but it also means that the blanket statement that Moses was Egyptian, based on his name and station, has a lot less strength than it should have. Bad way to phrase it, CNN.

“Moses wasn’t anti-slavery.”

Um. This is based on the edict that Hebrew (not “Israelite!”) slaves were to be freed after seven years – making them bondservants and not slaves – and on the rules regarding injury to slaves who were not of Hebraic descent.

This is a misunderstanding of slavery and the Law. (Surprise; CNN doesn’t understand Hebrew thought! Oh, wait, I just used “surprise journalism.”)

Slaves were not merely property, no matter their descent. To some degree, the Law catered to the culture of the time (and not the culture of the time of Josiah, when some would claim the Torah was created); there’s other Scripture that makes reference to the same point.

So the Hebrews came from a culture where everyone was a slave (except Pharoah); therefore, despite the assertion that they were created in the image of God, slavery would still have been very much the norm. The concept of bondservitude would have been typical – the new idea would have been the mandated freedom (although a servant could choose permanent association with his master.)

Was Moses antislavery? Um… yes, especially by comparison to his compatriots. Were the Hebrews antislavery themselves? Far from it, although having been slaves, they were slightly less favorable toward it than others.

Moses’ edicts towards slavery were revolutionary for the time; the Law moved very much left of center. Claiming otherwise is poor form.

Moses had a black wife.

Surprise! In other news, water is wet. The sun is apparently warm. Ice is cold.

CNN pointed out that the protest might have been culturally-based, rather than based on skin color (especially after making the assertion that Moses was Egyptian, with a suggestion that the Egyptians were black as well.) This is a worthwhile assumption – Moses was death on a stick when it came to idolatry imported from other cultures.

However… um. If Moses was Egyptian, why was Aharon his brother? And Miryam his sister? I’m confused how that would work – with repeated assertions of the common descent – if Moses was Egyptian as being claimed.

Moses didn’t come up with a single law.

The assertion here is an unusual one for CNN: It says that Moses didn’t originate the Laws, but that God did.

Whoa — very unusual for CNN, indeed, to acknowledge God somehow, even if it is Pesach.

But is the assertion worthwhile?

Sort of, maybe. If you squint.

Here’s how I see it: God gave Moses the Torah. (Torah meaning “the law,” not “the five books of the Torah,” although you could make that argument as well. I won’t. Out of scope.)

The Torah is the written Law; that came from God as its source. But at the same time, God set Moses down to judge (Exodus 18:13, for example.) Those judgements are not necessarily part of Torah given directly by God; Moses may have derived them, and they may have been binding.

We don’t know the source of everything. That means the statement from CNN is weakened.

Moses didn’t write the Torah.

Here, we are speaking of the Five Books of Moses, what people usually mean by “The Torah” – the Pentateuch. The assertion is that Moses didn’t actually commit them to scrolls.

It’s hard to argue with this point – Josiah does factor in. Moses probably wrote very little – he may have been literate (probably was, given his station in Egypt, but may not have been literate in Hebrew.) But the “books of Moses” refer to his role as lawgiver, not as author.

In the end, CNN is still not being entirely honest about their approach to the Bible. They’re still looking for some sort of “gotcha!,” how what you believe isn’t right – and even if it’s not, the core of what is believed doesn’t need destruction through smarmy statements of “I know better than you.”


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