Moses as a Warrior

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.- Acts 7:22

The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.- Exodus 15:3

moses
Moses parting the Red Sea

When you think of Moses, you probably think a few things. The Burning bush; the Ten Commandments; the Exodus of the Jews. You probably think of the strife between himself and his brother, Ramses, who was Pharaoh over Egypt. He is an essential prophet to Christianity and obviously Judaism (the Torah is also been called the “Five books of Moses”).

You probably thought of all of that, but you might not of know that there is historical precedence for Moses as a General over the Egyptian’s army.

I was paging through “The Works Of Josephus” one day (for those of you who don’t know, Josephus was a very important Romano-Jewish historian and scholar in 1st century AD); skimming through chapters and making annotations, I found something I had never read before. A footnote that I only glanced over, that read “This history of Moses, as General of the Egyptians against the Ethiopians, is wholly omitted in our bibles…

This caught my attention, so I read on.

Josephus writes in chapter 10 of book 2: “Moses, therefore, when he was born and brought up in the foregoing manner, and came to the age of maturity, made his virtue manifest to the Egyptians… the occasion he laid hole of was this: The Ethiopians, who are next neighbors to the Egyptians, made an inroad into their country, which they seized upon, and carried off the effects of the Egyptians, who in their rage, fought against them, and revenged the affronts they had received from them; but, being overcome in battle, some of them were slain, and the rest were slain, and the rest ran away in a shameful manner, and by that means saved themselves; whereupon the Ethiopians followed after them in the pursuit, and thinking that it would be a mark of cowardice if they did not subdue all Egypt, they went on to subdue the rest with greater vehemence…

“The Egyptians under this sad oppression, betook themselves to their oracles and prophecies, and when God had given them this counsel, to make use of Moses the Hebrew, and take his assistance, the king commanded his daughter to produce him, that he might be the general of their army.”

prince of egypt
from “Prince of Egypt”

He writes that “Moses… cheerfully undertook the business.” Some of the Egyptian priests apparently were happy he took the job because he would help them overcome their enemies, but they also wanted to see Moses slain (they knew Moses was Hebrew and did not appreciate him among the Pharaohs court at all).  The way he assembled his army and marched upon the Ethiopians was described as “Sagacious.” It was said that “Moses invented a wonderful stratagem to preserve the army safe, without hurt.”  According to Josephus, he was speedy and arrived at the Ethiopians before they even expected him, and “made a great slaughter of these Ethiopians,” overthrowing entire cities.

Moses was really good at war. So good, apparently, that according to Josephus, that’s how he got his first wife. When Moses marched upon the walls of her city, “Thurbis…  the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians; she happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls, and fought with great courage; admiring the subtility of his undertakings,  and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians success… she fell deeply in love with him: and upon the relevancy of that passion, sent to him the most faithful of all her servants to discourse with him about their marriage. He thereupon accepted the offer, on condition she would procure the delivering up of the city; and gave her the assurance of an oath to take her to his wife.” The deal was made, the city was delivered to the Egyptians, Moses married the Ethiopian princess and went back to Egypt with her.

Irenaeus, an early church father, sourcing Josephus also talks of Moses this same way, saying “when Moses was nourished in the king’s palace, he was appointed general of the army against the Ethiopians, and conquered them, when he married that king’s daughter; because of her affection for him, she delivered the city up to him.”

Jordaens Mozes en zijn Ethiopische vrouw(2)
Moses and his Wife

The story Josephus told definitely runs in conjunction with other scriptures, as we know that Aaron and his Miriam spoke against Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1; The KJV version says Ethiopian, several other versions say “Cushite.” This is because KJV is translated from Greek versions of the bible, and “Ethiopian” is the greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Cush”).

The story the Jews tell of Moses in their books is the story of liberating them from the Egyptians, which might make sense as to why they might ‘forget’ that he once fought for them, at least explicitly in their canonical texts. As Josephus himself was Jewish, it stands to reason that this story was also passed down via writing (or possibly even oral tradition), but all other records have been lost of it.

This story gives the verses I quoted at the start of this article a lot deeper of a context. I reread and noticed the verse in Exodus 15 just days before I read up on Josephus. The verse struck me, but I thought Moses was only speaking from a philosophical perspective about war, or something of the kind. It had never occurred to me that he would of had direct experience with armed combat.The way that Josephus describes how Thurbis the Ethiopian first saw Moses  was that he was fighting “with great courage. ” This might suggest that he was actually involved in the fighting up close, and was not directing soldiers from afar.

Another verse exists where Moses mentions war:

And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war… And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe… to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand. – Numbers 31: 3,6

If you read the verses in Numbers 31, you could be left with the impression that he sent other warriors off to fight in the distance, without having any direct contact with the battle. It doesn’t really imply any previous experience with battle either. Knowing what Josephus wrote, that turns things around. If he wasn’t their visibly, at the least his experience in warfare could of aided in Israel’s war effort.

This background might also give new light to how easily he seemed to have murdered the Egyptian he found smiting his Hebrew brethren. Hearing the story of Moses slaying another man often jostles people who might of heard of Moses beforehand, but never opened a bible before. Most of Moses known history portrays him as a wise man, often of old age- and reading that a wise and praiseworthy man should commit such a crime out of anger is shocking to some.

The answer to that may be that he had already been called to war so many times before, and this may very well have been reflexive for him. In Exodus, it says that Moses did this when he was “grown,” after he was nurtured by the Pharaoh’s daughter (Exo 2:11-12) and in Jospehus’ account, Moses fought in war when he “came to the age of maturity.” It stands to reason the murder occurred after the war efforts, since shortly after he slew the Egyptian, he ran away to live in Midian for 40 years.

Moses-slaying-Egyptian
Moses about to slay the Egyptian
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