by Victor C. Gavino


The personage of the Biblical Moses was and is deemed by certain quarters to be the most significant and influential figure in Jewish history and tradition.1Wolak 5-7; Feldman XV 2007, 5-7; Theophilos 26-27 However, during the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman era, the opinion on Moses was mixed. It is true that Moses was revered during this historical period2Feldman 1992, 287-288; Bar-Kochva 3; Theophilos 22-27; Matthews 6-12 but that was not always the case; in fact, among certain non-Jewish Hellenists, Moses was maligned or reviled.3Feldman XV 2007, 1-4; Feldman 1992, 286-287 Thus, both Philo of Alexandria425 BCE – 50 CE and Flavius Josephus537 CE – 100 CE crafted biographies based on Biblical text6LXX i.e., the Septuagint modified stylistically and/or content-wise in order to achieve a rhetorical flourish designed to elevate the perception, understanding, status and therefore acceptance of Moses in the eyes of both non-Jewish and Jewish Hellenistic and Greco-Roman culture.7Theophilos 27-29; Matthews 13-28 Moses also looms large throughout the Gospel of Matthew as a typology, highlighting the premise that Jesus of Nazareth fits the pattern of the Jewish archetype of redeemer of Israel.8Allison 137-270; Theophilos 53-158 The majority of the traits of Moses highlighted in Philo, Josephus and the Gospel of Matthew share a commonality: they are idealized characteristics of leaders as conceptualized in Hellenistic times. Albeit ancient, these traits continue to be recognized as useful attributes in leadership models today. This essay will focus on the rhetoric of Philo and Josephus in reshaping Biblical text for the purpose of favouring the status of Moses within their respective audiences. Further, the relevance of Moses typology in the Gospel of Matthew will be discussed. Lastly, examples will be given on the relevance of the figure of Moses to leadership models today.

Section 1 – The Greco-Roman World: A Hostile Audience?

The shape in which a text is composed, i.e. its rhetoric, should cohere with its ultimate objective in order to heighten its communicative and persuasive power. In the case of the biographical accounts of Moses written by Philo9Philo 1935, Mos. 1.1-2.292 and Josephus,10Josephus 1930, AJ 2.210-8.327 the characterization of the profiles of their Greco-Roman audience gives direction in evaluating the contours and content of their texts with respect to the expected characteristics of revered personages. More to the point, a knowledge of the orientation of the readership should permit a judgment on the probability of the effectiveness of the text in accomplishing its objective.

What then is the historical record concerning the reception of the personage of Moses in the Greco-Roman world? Who would have been the intended audience of Philo and of Josephus: the sympathetic or the unsympathetic, Jew or non-Jew? Feldman gives an overview.11Feldman 2007, 1-19; Feldman 1992, 286-290 A selection follows.

One of the more prominent anti-Jewish figures in Alexandria at the time of Philo was Apion who produced revisionist and disparaging accounts of Moses and the Jews, meriting a vigorous and sarcastic refutation and counter-attack from Josephus.12Josephus 1926, 2.10-27 Apion appeared to have considerable stature in the Greco-Roman world, evinced by his occupation as teacher of rhetoric in Rome during the reign of the Emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius.13Josephus 1926, 203 footnote 1 He was known for his glosses of Homer, papyrus fragments of which are extant dating to the first-century CE.14Feldman 2007, 377 footnote 3 His fierce anti-Judaism manifested in calculated angry words against the Jews relayed to Gaius Caligula, moving the latter to great anger and punitive action against the Alexandrian Jewish community.15Josephus 1930, AJ 18.257-261 The recorded contact between Apion and Philo was as co-delegates of a contingent of three individuals commissioned by the Alexandrians to an audience with Gaius Caligula to seek resolution to a Greek-Jewish conflict.16Josephus 1930, AJ 18.257 It is therefore a reasonable hypothesis that Philo’s rhetoric would be shaped to persuade his readership of the nobility of Moses, contra Apion.

Another prominent Greco-Roman non-Jewish critic of Moses was Apollonius Molon.17Josephus 1930, AJ 2.145 Molon was a famous rhetorician of his time; Cicero and Caesar were among his students.18Feldman 2007, 4 He dismissed Moses as a charlatan or sorcerer (γὀητα) and an impostor (ἀπατεῶνα). Philo recorded the exact same accusation against Moses of being γὀητα with the addition of a second derogatory metaphor: a jokester, “tricky monkey-man” or playing the ape (κέρκωπα).19Philo 1941, Hypoth 6.2 The similar abusive terms suggests that Philo was probably repeating Molon’s insults against Moses as recorded in Josephus AJ 2.145.20Philo 1941, Hypoth 6.2 footnote 1

Josephus wrote other examples of disparaging revisionist accounts of Moses21Josephus 1926, 1.260-66, 1.279-280, 1.289-290, 1.305-311 such as:

  • Manetho portrayed Moses as an Egyptian priest from Heliopolis, expelled from the country because of his leprosy;
  • Apion and Manetho described Moses as a leader of cripples and lepers;
  • Chaeremon and Manetho stated that Moses was among the leaders of an afflicted population that the king of Egypt saw fit to drive away;
  • Lysimachus embellished the cripple/leper story and added scurvy to the list of maladies. The mass of sick people, Jews, were exterminated upon order of the king, and the survivors led by Moses to another country where, scoundrels all, they maltreated the inhabitants.

There were contrastingly positive accounts of Moses in the Greco-Roman world; Indeed, Manetho, in having made aspersions against Moses, also ascribed to the latter the office of Egyptian priest, albeit afflicted with leprosy.22Josephus 1926, 1.279 This could be interpreted as a an acknowledgement of the significance of Moses. Lastly, Alexander Polyhistor (first-century BCE) wrote that Moses the lawgiver was Moso a woman.23Feldman 2007, 4 While this could have been intentionally malevolent,24Feldman 1992, 287 footnote 3 citing Heinemann it may also be the case that Polyhistor drew the feminine gender assignment from the similarity in sound of “Moses” to “Μῶσα” the latter a feminine noun that carried no pejorative sense.25Feldman 2007, 4 Thus there can yet be no conclusion as to Polyhistor’s intent regarding Moses.

In sum, the perception of Moses was mixed in the Greco-Roman world. Thus, Philo and Josephus would have had reason to craft an account that would be apologetic, meant to elevate the status of Moses and refute his detractors. So it is that Philo began his Da Vita Mosis with the stated rationale that it is a corrective for the “Greek men of letters (who have) refused to treat him as worthy of memory, possibly through envy…”26Philo 1930, Mos. 1.2 Further, Philo’s text is also an apology meant to counter the aspersions against Moses by these men of letters who should have known better, should not have abused their powers gained in education, and should not have composed “comedies and pieces of voluptuous licence…”27Philo 1930 Mos. 1.3 As for Josephus, he began the text of his Antiquities of the Jews with an emphasis on Moses the lawgiver, referring to him as νομοθέτης seven times in the preface28Josephus 1930, AJ 1.6, 1.15, 1.18, 1.20, 1.23, 1.24 before launching into Moses’ account of the creation.29Josephus 1930, Mos. 1.27 Significantly, Josephus emphasized Moses’ direct relationship with God, receiving directly from God the Torah, and passing into divinity at death. Thus, Josephus elevated Moses to near divinity above every other human being, but not quite divine so as to tread the middle ground between Hellenistic pagans and monotheistic Jews.30Matthews 19-27

Section 2 – The Intended Audience of Philo and Josephus: Gentile or Jew?

Irrespective of the presumed purpose of Philo’s and Josephus’ account of Moses, that is, the task of refuting his Hellenistic detractors and elevating him to a status above the ordinary, it is also instructive to speculate on the identity of their target audience or readership. Were the biographies written for the Jews in order to shore up their confidence in their customs and traditions in face of the onslaught of anti-Jewish sentiment from among the non-Jewish intelligentsia of the time? Or, were the texts meant for the non-Jews, not just as an apology for the maligned Moses or a defence of Jewish customs, traditions and history, but also as a strategy to win converts to Judaism?

In the case of Philo, Feldman gave an overview and concluded that the target audience were non-Jews31Feldman 2007, 11-16 He identified the following critical points in Philo’s text that he considers supportive of his thesis:32all references from Philo 1930

  • Philo began Da Vita Mosis stating that his purpose was to inform those Greek men of letters still ignorant of the story of Moses, with the expected result that these educated and presumably renowned individuals would no longer dismiss the lawgiver of the Jews as unworthy of memory.33Mos. 1.2
  • Philo wrote that it is a shame that the law (of God) was found only among the Barbarians (the Jews) and denied to the Greeks.34Mos. 2.27-28
  • No less than Ptolemy Phildelphus, “king of the highest repute,” commissioned the translation of the law into Greek.35Mos. 2.28-29 Philo wrote exuberantly on the greatness of this Ptolemy. Even he, this great king the “head (of) the kings” expressed an “ardent affection” for the laws.36Mos. 2.29-31 The implication is that if even a great man above all others like Ptolemy would desire to acquaint himself with Jewish law, then so should all Greeks also that have been heretofore ignorant of it.
  • Philo veered to proselytizing in Mos. 43-44. Having stated that the law is desirable and precious in the eyes of all, that is, Jews and non-Jews, he went on to write that if there were ever a “fresh start” (for all nations), then it is best that all (non-Jews) abandon their ancestral customs and turn to Jewish law (that is, convert to Judaism).

This ensemble of enumerated critical points if taken in isolation will not be sufficient to eliminate the possibility that Philo had the Jews or a mixed group in mind as his target audience. If considered isolated from other circumstances, these critical points could be understood as a strategy to comfort the Jews and strengthen their allegiance to their customs and traditions in the face of the anti-Semitism of the time.

With respect to Josephus, and as was the case for Philo, Feldman identified a number of critical points in the Antiquities that to him suggests that Josephus’ intended audience were the non-Jews.37Feldman 1992, 289 footnote 7 These are:

  • Josephus explicitly stated his purpose in producing the text which is that the “whole Greek-speaking world will find it worthy of attention”.38AJ 1.2 The identifier “whole” must have certainly been majority non-Jews. This new-found attention would lead the Greek world to “embrace of our entire ancient history and political constitution…” Who but the non-Jews are to “embrace” matters Jewish? It would be superfluous to direct this enjoinder to the already-Jews.
  • As to whether the pagan Greeks might be interested in learning of Jewish customs and traditions, Josephus like Philo cites Ptolemy Philadelphus as one who commissioned the translation of the law into Greek. The implication is that if such an exalted man pagan as he was, would be so interested in Jewish customs and traditions, then so would the ordinary Greeks.39AJ 1.9-12
  • In AJ 3.143, Josephus wrote that the seventh day is a “day which we call Sabbath.” There would be no reason for this explanatory sentence if the readership were Jews. Therefore the explanation (and the whole work) must have targeted a pagan readership ignorant of Jewish customs.
  • In AJ 20.262, Josephus claimed that no one else could have written the text that he did, a work that is an “accurate treatise… for the Greek world (εἰς Ἕλληνας).” This could not have been less ambiguous.

In sum, Josephus was direct in defining his target readership – the Greek-speaking Gentile world. Philo, on the other hand was not as specific: he did intend for his work to inform the Greek intelligentsia that Moses is worthy of memory. However, his text comes across as more equivocal in purpose because the Jews could have also benefited from his work in terms of the comfort to be gained by being reminded of the superiority of Jewish customs and traditions.

Section 3 – What are the Attributes of an Idealized Hellenistic Hero?

Section 1 established that the reception of Moses was mixed among the Greek intelligentsia of Philo’s and Josephus’ era. Section 2 pinpointed locations in the texts of Philo and Josephus that reveal the identity of the target readership of both authors – the pagan Greek-speaking world. The premise in this and the following section is that Philo and Josephus crafted their texts, their rhetoric, in order to attain their objectives. Their objective is to persuade the pagan Greek world of the quality, the nobility and the grandness of Moses as leader and lawgiver. It is therefore useful to establish a framework of expectations of the pagan Greco-Roman world that are proper to a personage of renown. This framework will serve as the reference point that will reveal the rhetorical power of Philo and of Josephus.

There is in classic Greek literature a tendency, a common thread to “produce idealized biographies of philosophers and rulers”.40Najman 89-91 These larger-than-life traits and attributes imputed to the heroes of the classical Greek world are collected under the genre “aretalogy”. Of these idealized traits, there are three characteristics that are relevant to Philo’s account of Moses. These are:

  • The hero’s education includes travel away from his homeland and initiation into the mysteries;
  • The hero exhibits extraordinary integrity, that is, he treats others in an exemplary manner. He also establishes laws on how to live;
  • The hero is superior to any other human being, perceived as a demi-god or being semi-divine, and at times even becoming a god worthy of worship.

While the praise of larger-than-life personages in Greek literature is aretalogy, in the Hellenistic world, the praise of people in the general sense is governed by the rules of encomium. Education in rhetoric in the Greco-Roman world included training in encomium which is a fairly rigid framework populated by fixed categories by which the literate perceive, describe and praise people.41Neyrey 178-179 The structure and categories of encomium illustrated below is reproduced from Neyrey.42Neyrey 179-180

In sum, in classical Greece and in the Greco-Roman world, the praise and elevation of an individual to the stature of hero follows certain fixed criteria (aretalogy). At a level below the adoration of heroes, the proper praise of people also follows a stable structure with fixed categories (encomium). We now proceed to a close reading of Philo’s and Josephus’ text with respect to its conformity (or not) to the rhetoric of aretalogy and encomium.

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Section 4 – The Rhetoric of Philo and Josephus: A Comparison of Selected Texts to the Corresponding Biblical Accounts

This section is a partial list of the attributes of Moses categorized according to the aretalogy and encomium of the Greco-Roman world.

With Respect to Origin and Birth

The Biblical text

Exodus 6:16-20
Moses was the fifth generation after Jacob. He would therefore have been the seventh generation after Abraham. The latter being the founder of the Jewish nation, it is of note that the Samaritan tradition places a special value to every seventh generation, hence, Moses.43Feldman 2007, 37, 383 footnote 7

Exodus 2:1, 6:20
In chapter 2, both father and mother were identified as Levites but remained named. Only in chapter 6, the names of the parents were given: Amram and Jochebed.


Mos. 1.5
Moses was descended from the Chaldeans. Feldman points out that by placing Moses’ ancestry thus, he accomplished two things: that Moses’ origin predates that of the Hebrews; and, the Chaldean ancestry associates Moses with the greatest of that civilization’s achievements which is astronomy/astrology.44Feldman 2007 36

Mos. 1.7
While Moses’ parents were not named, they were said to be the best of their contemporaries.


AJ 2.229
Moses was the seventh generation from Abraham (see comment above on Exodus).

AJ 2.210-217
Moses’ father was named Amram, a Hebrew of noble birth. God revealed to him that he will father a child who will deliver the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt. Moses’ mother’s name, Jochebed, was mentioned.

AJ 2.218
Jochebed did not experience childbirth pains. This was considered to be a miraculous sign from God, a confirmation of their belief.

In sum, Philo and Josephus added details over that in Biblical text and made the circumstances of Moses’ background conform to the expectations of the first category of the encomium, origin and birth. In addition, the miraculous circumstances of his birth (Josephus) satisfies a criterion of aretalogy.

With Respect to Nurture and Training/Education

The Biblical text

Exodus 2:10

The Egyptian princess adopted Moses for her own son.

pseudoepigrapha Jubilees 47:9

Amram the father taught Moses writing.


Mos. 1.18

Moses was weaned at an earlier age than usual for other children.

Mos. 1.20

Moses was precocious and applied himself while still a boy to studying and learning, eschewing fun and pleasure usually associated with children of his age, and this even if his guardians allowed much latitude and freedom for Moses to do as he pleased.

Mos. 1.21
Moses was taught philosophy, teachers coming unbidden from neighbouring countries to teach the child. Some teachers were said to come from Greece, the Greeks renowned as teachers of philosophy.

Mos. 1.23
Part of Moses’ education under the Egyptians was in astrology/astronomy.


AJ 2.230-231
Moses was precocious in understanding, quick to learn for his age, tall in stature, physically beautiful even at three years of age, and, polite. Moses’ countenance and bearing were so striking that wherever he went, people turned their heads, dropped whatever they were doing in order to look upon the child.

AJ 2.232
The Egyptian princess whose name was Thermuthis, presented Moses to the king saying that the child is in form, divine.

In sum, both Philo and Josephus added extraordinary details to the circumstances of Moses’ Nurture and Upbringing that is over and above that found in Biblical text. So doing, the second criterion of the encomium is satisfied. As for the requirement of aretalogy with respect to education, Moses did not travel outside of Egypt. Instead, teachers from outside of Egypt came unbidden to teach Moses. In a sense, this could be taken as having gone outside of the home country to seek education. As for training in the mysteries, Moses was taught astrology and astronomy. Thus, a criterion of aretalogy is also satisfied.

With Respect to Accomplishments and Deeds

The Biblical text

Exodus 2:11-14
Moses killed an Egyptian who was physically beating one of the Hebrews. This indicated a sense of justice and retribution on the part of Moses. The text did add that when Moses learned that word of the killing got to Pharaoh, he became afraid and fled out of Egypt to Midian.

Exodus 2:16-17
Moses rescued Jethro’s daughters from malevolent shepherds. Again, this reveals a sense of justice on the part of Moses and his impulse to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

Exodus 3:4
Moses became a shepherd to Jethro’s flocks.

Exodus chapters 3-4
The text portrays an actual physical conversation Moses had with God. The text also reveals Moses’ self-doubt, so much so that God is said to have been angered by his (Moses) reticence. God conceded and instructed Moses to appoint his brother Aaron to be his spokesman.

Exodus 12:37ff
Moses led out of Egypt, 600,000 men on foot plus children and a mixed crowd. “Mixed” in this sense would include non-Hebrews, e.g., Egyptians.

Exodus 17: 8-13
Moses instructed Joshua to choose men to go and fight with Amalek. In the text, Moses was observing the conflict from a hilltop. During the course of the war, the Israelites would be winning over Amalek only when Moses kept his hands upraised. When his hands drooped because of fatigue, the Amalekites would instead prevail. Therefore to keep the tired Moses’ hands up, Aaron and Hur had him (Moses) sit on a rock and they held his hands up for him.

Deuteronomy 34:5-7
Moses lived to 120 years. He died in peace in Moab, buried in that land which site is unknown to this day.


Mos. 1.8, 1.18, 1.20
Moses, adopted by the princess as her son, was brought up and nurtured as an Egyptian prince.

Mos. 1.32
Moses was to be the successor to the throne; he was regular called the “young king” (ο νέος βασιλεὺς).

Mos. 1.40-44
Moses witnessed the brutal oppression of his fellow Hebrews by their Egyptian overlords. With no power to stop the abuse nor to help the abused, he acted as an encourager for the oppressed and exhorted the oppressors to relax their stringency. He acted as a physician with soothing words to somehow alleviate the suffering. Feldman commented that this is analogous to the speech of Aeneas to his men upon landing in Africa, bidding his men to continue to persevere after having endure all sorts of troubles getting there.45Feldman 2007, 61

Mos. 1.46-47
Moses’ flight from Egypt was not because of his fear of Pharaoh’s anger over the murder of the Egyptian, but because of Pharaoh’s disappointment that Moses had not consult with his “grandfather” (the use of the word narrows the breach between Moses and Pharaoh). Further, Philo accuses those around the king of pouring onto the king’s ears, malicious lies against Moses. These malevolent characters were the ones instigating the king to have Moses killed. In addition, the flight from Egypt was not identified as an “escape” but a sort of “time away” as a safety measure. Further, in what would be an attempt to portray Moses as righteous, Moses was said to beseech God to save his people, thus acting as intercessor.

Mos. 1.50
Moses regarded justice as “strength invincible.” He saw himself as the defender of the weak.

Mos. 1.51-57
In the name of justice from above, Moses defended Jethro’s daughters. Philo described Moses when he spoke as being transformed into a prophet, commanding fear and respect on the part of the malevolent shepherds.

Mos. 1.60-62
Shepherding flock was a training ground for Moses on how to lead/command people. In addition, Moses as a shepherd had to protect the sheep from wild animals. This too is training ground for a leader with respect to the management of emergencies in times of war. Thus, the perfect king is one who is trained in shepherding, that is, the management of inferior creatures (sheep) is a step towards the management of superior creatures (people).

Mos. 1.63-64
Moses was honest to the task and focused on the constant goal of an improvement each day. As a result, the size of the flock under his care increased significantly.

Mos. 1.65-84
The rhetoric of the burning-bush incident is different from the Biblical text in significant ways. In contrast to the Biblical account, Philo’s text would be in conformity to the expectations of Hellenistic non-Jews. The initial conversation with God is absent, implying that the burning bush as an epiphany would not have been too surprising to Moses. Absent was the self-declaration of God and the fencing of the holy ground. Further, Philo’s text implies that this encounter was a vision more than material in nature, allegorizing the bush and the fire and the voice from within as the situation of Israel in slavery, Israel’s resilience in face of oppression. Philo then transforms the voice into one of oracular nature, comforting the nation of Israel and prophesying their protection and imminent deliverance. With respect to Moses’ self-doubt as portrayed in Biblical text, Philo transforms this into an expression of modesty. As for Aaron, instead of spokesman speaking on Moses’ behalf, Aaron becomes the designated interpreter.

Mos. 1.71,73
God called Moses to leadership with the words “Take charge of the nation.” God also commissioned Moses to go and confront the king of Egypt.

Mos. 1.83
In the call/commissioning, Moses claimed to have a speech impediment. Philo attributed this reticence and excuse to Moses’ shock at hearing the voice of God. Moses became tongue-tied. He became in awe of God showing his modesty of soul.

Mos. 1.147
Moses led out of Egypt a motley group of 600,000 military-aged men plus the older men and the women and children. The were accompanied by a “promiscuous, nondescript and menial crowd, a bastard host… associated with the true-born.” The implication here is that Moss had truly exceptional qualities for him to have led such a heterogeneous and probably difficult-to-manage group of people.

Mos. 1.216-219
Moses the strategist sent out scouts to reconnoiter the enemy – the name “Amalek” is not mentioned. In contrast to the tired Moses in Biblical text, Philo in this conflict portrayed Moses as vigorous, mustering his men and choosing Joshua as their general. Whereupon he ran to the neighbouring hill to beseech God for protection and victory for Israel. Moses’ hands directed upwards or downwards was not a function of weariness; Philo portrayed this as an allegory or a symbol. Downwards pointed to the earth and upwards to the “ethereal… holiest” region. Thus, just as heaven is higher and more superior than the lower earth, so will Israel be victorious over their enemies in war.

Mos. 2.288-292
Moses’ moment of death was portrayed as a summoning of the Father to immortality, with the transformation of body and soul into a unity of pure mind as “sunlight.” Yet, before passing into eternity, Moses prophesied to each tribe specifically. And at the moment of death, he prophesied once more describing his own death, how it came and how he would be interred by immortal powers at a site unknown to man.


AJ 2.232-235
The Egyptian princess Thermutis adopted Moses to be her own son. When the princess presented Moses to the king, he hugged him and placed his diadem on Moses’ head. Whereupon Moses threw the diadem to the ground and trampled upon it. A witness, a scribe, prophesied that Moses will be trouble for Egypt, bringing it low.

AJ 2.239-253
The Egyptians had been routed by the neighbouring Ethiopians. Desperate, the Egyptians sought oracular counsel which pointed to Moses as the deliverer (divine appointment). Moses showed great skill and subtlety in defeating the Ethiopians in their own territory. In the invasion, Moses devised a way to neutralize ferocious serpents by employing baskets of Ibis birds. These birds killed the serpents along the way permitting the advance against the Ethiopians. Lastly, as a tactician, Moses worked a pact with the daughter of the Ethiopian king: he would marry her on condition that she deliver the city to him. This was so, and in effect, the marriage appeared to be part of the “spoils of war.”

AJ 2.258-262
The prologue to the incident with Jethro’s daughters and the malevolent shepherds framed the incident as an opportunity for Moses to express his virtue. It was also going to be an opportunity for his situation to improve. Moses took action against the malevolent shepherds, telling himself that he could not tolerate such an injustice and that it would be monstrous if he were to overlook such a heinous act.

AJ 2.264-274
With respect to the burning bush incident, Josephus framed this story as one of daring and courage on the part of Moses. It took place upon heights never before ventured upon by shepherds. This boldness was affirmed by the voice from the burnign bush, declaring the site to be divine. The voice, God’s, commissioned Moses to go back to Egypt to become the commander and conductor of the Israelites to deliver them from oppression in Egypt. Moses expressed self-doubt. God exhorted him to be courageous and gave him three miraculous signs as evidence of His promise to assist him (rod to a serpent, hand took on a “chalk” coloration and then back to normal, water to blood).

AJ 3.47-54
With respect to the war with the Amalekites, Josephus described how in a speech Moses succeeded in stirring the tired and hungry multitude to courage and ardour against the enemy. Contra the Biblical account, Moses himself selected the fighting men and appointed Joshua to lead them to battle. A strategist, Moses posted a guard to protect the women and children. All through the night of preparation for war, Moses instructed Joshua on how to lead the men in battle. On the morn of the war, Moses once more exhorted the whole army with stirring words whereupon he withdrew to the mountain leaving the war effort to God and Joshua. In contrast to Philo, Josephus followed closely the Biblical account of Moses’ tiring of holding his hands up.

AJ 4.320-331
Moses’ farewell to his people was emotional, the people grieving overtly at their impending loss. No one witnessed his physical death; Josephus wrote that while in the presence of Eleazar and Joshua, Moses was enveloped in a cloud and he disappeared in a “ravine.” Yet, in order that the people might not elevate him to Deity (become a god), Moses himself wrote that he died, having lived 120 years. Josephus eulogy of Moses was an enumeration of his (Moses) qualities: surpassed all other men in understanding; put his wisdom/knowledge to the noblest of use; found favour with his people in every way; was in complete control of his passions; as a general he had no equal; as a prophet he had no peer in that his utterances seemed to the people the speech of God himself.

With Respect to Comparison

Neyrey citing Menander Rhetor clarified the meaning of Comparison in the classical Greek world: It must identify a reference point, usually a renowned personage in a preceding era, and then demonstrate that the present object of the encomium is superior to the one before it.46Neyrey 188 Menandor Rhetor wrote:

You should then proceed to the most complete comparison, examining his reign in comparison with the preceding reigns, not disparaging them (that is bad craftsmanship) but admiring them while granting perfection to the present.

Thus, according to Feldman’s analysis, and presumably in conformity to the requirements of encomium, Philo crafted his account of Moses with the objective of projecting him as “the Jewish equivalent of Plato’s philosopher-king”.47Feldman 2007, 375 Feldman further observes that Philo’s Moses first verbally instructed the Hebrews on God’s law, and later codified the law as a form of constitution. In contrast, Plato in The Republic first conceives and describes an ideal state before formulating the laws to create/govern such a state.48Feldman 2007, 361 It was evidently unthinkable for Philo to negatively critique Plato in favour of Moses; Philo therefore adds that Moses was a military leader and strategist, a model high priest and a prophet who had a unique relationship with God.49Feldman 2007, 375

As for Josephus, his account of the ethereal circumstances of the death of Moses is similar to the story of the disappearances of Aeneas, Romulus and Oedipus.50Feldman 2007, 374 Further, as were the attributes of Tuchydides’ Pericles, Josephus similarly highlighted Moses’ self-control, the ability and skill to speak to and manage a crowd, and his extraordinary skill as a general.51Feldman 2007, 375

There are many more locations in both Philo’s and Josephus’ text that are embellished versions of the corresponding Biblical text. They reinforce or strengthen the image of Moses as a personage worthy of memory by virtue of his qualities according to the expectations of the Greco-Roman world. Correspondingly, there are passages in Biblical text that are omitted in Philo or Josephus because they could have diminished the Moses hero-image they purposed to construct. The instances enumerated in this section cover the the majority of the requirements of encomium. The same can be said of the criteria for aretalogy except for martyrdom. Combined with the observations presented in Sections 1 to 3 (eg., the near-divinity of Moses), a strong case can be made that Philo and Josephus shaped their texts to respond and to conform to the expectations of the Greco-Roman world with respect to the image of a renowned personage, a hero, a king and a philosopher.52Philo 1935, Mos. 2.2

Section 5 – Moses: The Leader of leaders

The preceding sections have made a strong case that Philo’s and Josephus’ account of the life of Moses were directed towards a likely unsympathetic pagan Greek audience. It is therefore to be expected that both Philo and Josephus, in treating the qualities of leadership, would craft their text according to Hellenistic patterns. As for Philo, the undercurrent in Da Vita Mosis is that Moses corresponds to Plato and conforms to the pattern of a philosopher-king. As for Josephus’ portrayal of Moses’ leadership qualities, Feldman wrote:53Feldman 1993, 326

Inasmuch as the reputation of a nation depended so heavily upon the qualities of its leadership… it was particularly effective for Josephus to glorify the personality of Moses for his primary audience, which consisted of non-Jews. Thus Moses, the paragon of the cardinal virtues in Josephus’ portrait, emerges as a combination of Thucydides’ Pericles, Plato’s philosopher-king, Virgil’s Aeneas, and a Stoic sage.

The cardinal virtues mentioned in the quote above are from Plato’s The Republic. They are requisite of great and renowned leaders: wisdom; courage; temperance; and, justice. Moses, as per Philo and Josephus, had all these virtues. The following are examples.

With Respect to Wisdom


Mos. 1.48
Moses was always studying philosophical doctrines, understood them rapidly, and committed them to memory. As he learned these doctrines, he applied them to his personal conduct.(Mos. 1.48) Moses was always studying philosophical doctrines, understood them rapidly, and committed them to memory. As he learned these doctrines, he applied them to his personal conduct.

Mos. 2.211-212
In observing the Sabbath, Moses proscribed meaningless merry-making but decreed that the day be spent in pursuit of wisdom: Not just wisdom of any sort, particularly the sophists, but true philosophy constituted in three parts, namely, thoughts, words and deeds – united for the “attainment and enjoyment of happiness.”

With Respect to Courage


Mos 1.87
Moses and Aaron with courage went face to face with the Pharaoh, to ask him to let the Israelites go beyond the borders of Egypt.

Mos. 1.216
This passage describes Moses’ energy (courage) in mustering his men to fight the Amalekites. His scouts reported that the enemy was not far off while his own men were still exhausted and hungry.

Mos. 2.182-183
Moses finds a parable in a nut. To get at the fruit requires breaking through a hard shell. Similarly, for a soul to attain virtue, it must encounter toil. This is courage, to go through difficulty (“toil is bitter and hard”) in order to attain the prize.


AJ 3.302
Moses stirred the people to courage, preparing them to make war with the Canaanites and displace them from the land.

AJ 2.238-253
This passage described Moses’ conquest of the Ethiopians, presented earlier in this essay.

With Respect to Temperance


Mos. 1.28
He consumed no more than is necessary and sex was only for procreation.

Mos 1.153
Moses displayed modesty which is closely related to temperance. He despised wealth and preferred nature. He abhorred pomp, parade and grandeur, preferring to conduct himself as would a private citizen.

Mos. 2.68
Moses was clean in soul and in body. He did not indulge the passions: food, drink, women.


AJ 4.157
On the principle that modesty is closely related to temperance, Josephus gave an account of how Moses recorded Balaam’s prophecies for the benefit of the latter’s posterity. Josephus added that Moses could have appropriated these for his own but did not do so because of his modesty and integrity.

AJ 3.73
In modesty, Moses accepted Raguel’s (Jethro) advice to delegate a portion of his responsibilities to other men. Moses in his integrity gave credit to Raguel for this innovation.

With Respect to Justice


Mos. 1.239-249
This passage expounds the contact between Edom and the Israelites on the way to Canaan. Moses wanted to peacefully traverse Edom in their journey but Edom refused. The Israelites wanted to retaliate and go to war against them but Moses intervened and prevented the conflict. In a speech, he convinced the Israelites that they are honour-bound not to make war with their kinsfolk even if they the latter had intended malice.

Mos 2.4
The king commands what is right and proscribes what is wrong. The law does the same. Therefore, “the king is the living law, and the law is a just king.”

Mos. 2.166
The people had made a gold calf as an idol to worship. Upon hearing this from God, the dismayed Moses, begged for forgiveness on behalf of his people.

Mos 2.242
This passage concerned a question of rightful inheritance. The custom was to pass the inheritance to men who have served the nation in war. If carried out, this would have left the daughters of the deceased Zelophehad penniless as the latter had no male issue. Moses, drawing on God’s wisdom, awarded part of the inheritance to the maidens so that they do not fall destitute, but did not raise them to equality with the men who had served in war. It was a Solomon-like decision.


AJ 3.66-67
Josephus described Moses as a man of justice, people all wanting to go to him confident that they would be treated justly. Even those who were unsuccessful in their petitions were convinced that Moses was fair.

This and the preceding sections make a very strong case for Moses as a great leader in all attributes that one of such renown was expected to have in the Greco-Roman world. From these selections, as well as from the examples in the preceding sections, it is clear that both Philo and Josephus crafted their rhetoric so as to maximize the persuasiveness of their texts concerning the superior qualities of Moses. They trod between the sensibilities of their fellow Jews, eg., Josephus’ refusal to accord full divinity to Moses, whilst embellishing and elaborating on certain passages of Biblical text so as to convince the pagan Greeks of their objectives.

Section 6 – Moses Typology in the Gospel of Matthew

The underlying Moses typology in the Gospel of Matthew appears in the very chapter – the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth. The trace begins with Abraham and is segmented into 3 sets of 14 generations, thus in multiples of seven. This recalls the genealogy of Moses (see above) in the Samaritan tradition which highlights Abraham the father of the Jews as seven generations above Moses. This is followed by the visit of the wise men in chapter two which recalls the education of the boy Moses: teachers from other countries, notably Greece, came unbidden to Egypt to teach the young prince (see above). Chapter two also recounts Herod’s decree to exterminate all male infants two years and under, a repeat of Pharaoh’s edict to kill all sons birthed by Hebrew mothers.54Exodus chapter one The flight to Egypt and the return to Israel was linked to a quotation from Hosea chapter 11. All of these numerous parallels that run through the whole gospel are documented elsewhere.55Allison; Theophilos The question relating to the focus of this essay, the leadership of Moses, is why would the writer of the Matthew gospel use Moses typology in the text. Questions similarly posed for Philo and Josephus are pertinent: Who was Matthew’s audience? Were they Jew or Gentile? What was the Matthean community like?

For several reasons, Matthew’s Gospel was most likely written by a Jewish Christian author from a Jewish Christian community.56Luz, Crouch, & Koester 46-60 First, there is overt Jewish influence in the text. Second, the putative source of the Matthean text, Mark and Q, had already arisen from a Jewish Christian community. Third, that are several points of contact “between the language of the Gospel of Matthew and the LXX and Jewish linguistic characteristics.” Fourth, Matthean theology understands the law. Further, the text uses the Old Testament in a characteristically Jewish style. All of these means that the audience of Matthew would have been familiar with Old Testament theology and the customs and traditions of Jews.

It is also the case that the Matthean community was in crisis consequent to the rejection of Jesus. It’s Gentile contingent was on the rise. While the community observed the Torah, it is not certain whether they considered themselves Jews, Gentiles, or somewhere in-between. It is also of note that the text repeatedly calls the Matthean community to action with the phrase “little faith.”

Theophilos reminds the reader that the use of typology derives from the pedagogical approach that the new is understood through the lens of the past.57Theophilos 160 Since the Matthean Jewish Christian community would have been well-versed with the accounts of the life of Moses, and since Moses was in a sense venerated by the Jews as the redeemer, leader/”king” and lawgiver of Israel, Moses typology in the Matthean text must have been an effective way to bridge Old Testament theology of redemption with the new movement inaugurated by Jesus of Nazareth. As Theophilos comments, typology “recalls the historical circumstances” treasured by Israel (eg. Moses) and invests “the present with similar significance”.58Theophilos 164 In other words, the idealized attributes of Moses are absorbed into the persona of Jesus of Nazareth to make the persuasive argument that Jesus is the new Moses, but superior to Moses.

Section 7 – Leadership Lessons from Moses

The essentiality and cruciality of leadership today becomes immediately evident with a cursory search on the information highway. The word “leadership” brings up close to a billion “hits” many of which are of the folk wisdom type all claiming to possess the best formula to effective leadership in various contexts ranging from business ventures to non-profits and community organizations. Universities and various business/management schools today offer degrees with leadership orientations. A legitimate question to ask is whether leadership principles remain stable trans-historically, and if so, are the leadership qualities of Moses relevant today?

Cohen finds that the attributes of Moses remain relevant today.59Cohen 4 These leadership qualities have been the subject of the previous sections. Cohen makes a significant observation that Moses exhibited a range of leadership skills, able to adapt to the requirements and needs of his people.60Cohen 173 This corresponds to the modern theory of “adaptive leadership” that places value on the capacity of leaders to prepare and encourage their people to adapt to and deal with change.61Northouse 257 Integral to this model is the leader’s ability to keep focus on the goal despite challenges. In connection with this, Cohen comments that “Despite… challenges to his leadership and… outright rejection of his authority, Moses never totally loses hope”.62Cohen 173

Another characteristic in the accounts of Moses’ leadership worth highlighting because of its relevance today is the concept of empowerment.63Cohen 92-93 In the story of Jethro in Exodus 18, Jethro counselled Moses to delegate some of his responsibilities to men he could trust. The rationale given in Biblical text is that by so doing, Moses would be decreasing his burden and prolonging his endurance. Today that is still true and has made its way into the “servant-leadership” model where employees are empowered and their concerns are valued.64Northouse 225-226

Lastly, it is now an axiom that managers are conservative and leaders iconoclastic, visionaries and innovators. Moses certainly took risks in order to lead his people from slavery to freedom in a new land. A manager perspective would have kept the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. It is not atypical that managers will resist innovation and change and will wish to return to the status quo if stretched beyond their limits. Biblical text attest to the Israelites’ dissatisfaction with the changes that were taking place and the challenges they were facing as they journeyed to Canaan. Resistance to Moses would erupt periodically with exclamations of the desire to return to Egypt and the status quo.

In sum, the leadership qualities of Moses remain relevant to today. A close study of these qualities by leadership specialists will be productive.

Section 8 – Conclusion

Philo and Josephus both produced an account of the life of Moses that was fashioned in the Hellenistic style of aretalogy and encomium. Their objective was to elevate the status of Moses among the pagan Greeks, to refute the slanderous accusations made against Moses, and to portray Moses as the ideal philosopher-king in the Hellenistic pattern. To do this, they refashioned Biblical text, either by embellishment, exposition or omission, in order to maximize the text’s persuasive power among their target audience – the pagan Greeks. The Gospel of Matthew employed Moses typology which would have been immediately comprehensible to their Jewish-Christian community. The typology facilitates the theological link between the OT and the NT. It also emphasizes the Moses-like attributes of Jesus as redeemer and king. Moses today is still venerated as a leader par excellence. His leadership qualities translate smoothly into today’s leadership models. A close study of Moses has potential to augment understanding of modes of leadership.


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