Moses in America by Timothy Beal


The American Moses is George Washington. The American Moses is Harriett Tubman. The American Moses is Martin Luther King, Jr. The American Moses is anyone who is called to lead her or his people out of some kind of bondage and into a new sense of identity, often a new sense of nationhood. 

The American Moses is a deliverer in both senses of the word; a deliverer in terms of being a liberator; but also, a deliverer as in a midwife who helps deliver, helps give birth to a new sense of identity.  One who conveys a sense of chosen-ness and blessing upon a people. 

I think one thing that fascinates Americans about the biblical Moses in the Book of Exodus is his conflicted-ness, his sense of inner conflict and self-doubt, and even his between-ness, actually very much like the character of Esther in the story of Esther.  Moses is both, Prince of Egypt, as the movie describes him, and one of the Hebrew people.  He identifies with both the Hebrew people who are oppressed and the empire that oppresses them.  And, it is that in-between-ness that is part of Moses’s identity that puts him in a particularly strategic place to be the deliverer of the Hebrew people.

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Tim Beal

Timothy Beal
Professor, Case Western Reserve University

Timothy Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University and editor in chief of the forthcoming Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and the Arts. He has published several books, including The Rise and Fall of the Bible (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know (HarperOne, 2009), and Roadside Religion (Beacon, 2006). He has written essays on the Bible and culture for the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Huffington Post, among others.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

German cleric usually considered to have formally launched the Protestant Reformation with his list of 95 "theses" itemizing grievances against the Roman Catholic Church, especially its sale of indulgences claimed to absolve individuals' sins.

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