Recently, I was listening to a speaker talk about Sonlight curriculum at a homeschool convention. She was making the point that learning through “great books” is more effective than learning through text books, and so she asked the audience to think of their favorite book. Most people had no trouble doing this. Next, she asked the audience to think of their favorite textbook. This request elicited laughter, and the point was made: no one remembers textbooks.
Except for me, apparently. Not only could I easily name my favorite textbook, I can even remember my second favorite. Even though, I can’t remember it’s name, but I can remember which one it was: my 6th grade Social Studies book.
It’s the one that talked about Moses.
Now, I went to a public school, so this wasn’t a religious textbook; it was just telling ancient history. We also learned about the Code of Hammurabi and stuff like that. But there was something so thrilling to me about seeing Moses in a new way, from a different perspective. It was cool to see a biblical figure through historical eyes.
Maybe it is because I have read the Bible (or had it read to me) so. much. throughout my life that the characters therein are just so close to me, such a part of my identity. Thus, seeing them through the lens of history has the same effect as reading about myself through the objective lens of a personality test. It is at once disorienting and thrilling and even baffling.
That’s why I love Paul Johnson’s description of Moses in A History of the Jews:
This overwhelming event [the Exodus] was matched by the extraordinary man who made himself leader of the Israelite revolt. Moses is the fulcrum-figure in Jewish history, the hinge around which it all turns. If Abraham was the ancestor of the race, Moses was the essentially creative force, the moulder of the people; under him and through him, they became a distinctive people, with a future as a nation. He was a Jewish archetype, like Joseph, but quite different and far more formidable. He was a prophet and a leader; a man of decisive actions and electric presence, capable of huge wrath and ruthless resolve; but also a man of intense spirituality, loving solitary communion with himself and God in the remote countryside, seeing visions and epiphanies and apocalypses; and yet not a hermit or anchorite but an active spiritual force in the world, hating injustice, fervently seeking to create a Utopia, a man who not only acted as intermediary between God and man but sought to translate the most intense idealism into practical statesmanship, and noble concepts into details of everyday life. Above all, he was a lawmaker and judge, the engineer of a mighty framework to enclose in a structure of rectitude every aspect of public and private conduct–a totalitarian of the spirit.
(I put my favorite parts in bold.)
Now, not being familiar with Johnson’s book, you might be reading all this thinking, “but, but, but…” Clearly, in taking a modern, historical view, Johnson leaves out the part of the Bible’s version of events which claims that God directly led and determined Moses’ life, and that God wrote the Law. To me, though, it is fascinating to see an “outside” perspective on this man. Even someone who does not believe in God (though it should be noted that Johnson is a Christian) cannot help but acknowledge that this man made an incredible difference in this world. And when I see him from this essentially godless angle, I marvel at the way that God uses even deeply flawed people like Moses. As a deeply flawed person myself, I find encouragement and hope through that awareness.
What do you think of this picture of Moses?
Quote taken from:
Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. New York: Harper and Row, 1987. 27.