Leader of the Israelites. In a way comparable with the legends of other ancient peoples, the story of Moses begins (Exod. 2) with his being hidden at birth to escape a massacre, and then unexpectedly rescued by Pharaoh's daughter and cared for at her request by a Hebrew nurse, who is in fact the child's mother. Thus Moses was brought up in Egyptian regal surroundings. As the narrative proceeds after the infancy stories, Moses left Egypt after an altercation with a fellow Israelite, lived in Midian, got married, and was called to be the leader of his people at the Burning Bush (Exod. 3: 1–6). He was equipped by God with powerful weapons against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who was responsible for reducing the Israelites to slaves; he had the gift of working miracles, and the cooperation of his eloquent brother Aaron to act as his spokesman (Exod. 4: 14). The first gift was exercised by sending plagues of ever‐increasing ferocity upon the recalcitrant Egyptians (Exod. 7–11) culminating in the death of all the Egyptian first‐born sons (Exod. 12: 13), after which Pharaoh was at last coerced into releasing his slaves. They went out into the wilderness under Moses' leadership, where Moses divided the sea (Exod. 14: 21–15: 21), purified water (Exod. 15: 22–5), and guaranteed a victory over Amalek by holding up his hands (Exod. 17: 11–12).
Moses was the people's intercessor to God, and God's prophet to the people. He gave them the Law and he himself acted as a judge and arbitrator (Exod. 18). Thus, he gave the people a national identity and was on the point of leading them to the Promised Land (Canaan) when he ascended Mount Nebo in Moab and there died.
The historicity of Moses has been much discussed by OT scholars. Generally, it is accepted that there are three sources in the narrative known by the symbols J, E, and P, of which the two first are earlier and considered to contain some reliable history; but there is no confirmation of Moses' existence from archaeology or other ancient Near Eastern documents though the name, as also Aaron, is of Egyptian origin. We are left only with the view held about the internal evidence of the Pentateuch itself, where there are inconsistencies and doubts. Though few will nowadays be willing to support the traditional view that Moses himself wrote the five books of the Pentateuch, there are certainly those who regard the leadership of Moses as too firmly based in Israel's corporate memory to be dismissed as pious fiction.
In the NT Moses is named as the giver of the Law (Mark 7: 10; Rom. 9: 15; 2 Cor. 3: 13), as one whose faith in God is an example to the Church (Heb. 3: 2; 11: 24), and as the prophet of the Messiah (Acts 3: 22). In Matthew Jesus is portrayed as the ‘second Moses’, who proclaims the New Law (Matt. 5–7). At the Transfiguration, Moses is said to be present and so authenticates Jesus' claim as uttered by the heavenly voice (Mark 9: 7).