Moses and the Law

35 Centuries Ahead

“The awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalms 111:10 RVIC2016).

by James Parkinson

Moses’ birth and upbringing in the royal family of Egypt are recorded in Exodus 2:1-10. Paul, educated by Gamaliel, says that Moses was opposed by Jannes and Jambres (Egyptian Seuserenre Khyan, reigned ca. 39 years, and Maybre Sheshi, 3 years; Greek Iannas and [Iambres] Assis), two pharaohs of the 15th Dynasty of Egypt (Hyksos). Jewish writings say the alphabet was invented by Moses. Some say it may have been even earlier, with evidence as early as the 18th year of the great Pharaoh Ammenemes III (probably Joseph’s Pharaoh, who closed the basalt quarries from his 4th to 18th year) ( hebrew-first-alphabet).

Pharaoh invited Jacob and his family to come to Egypt and have the best of the land (Genesis 45:10-18), near to the capital. While formerly it was thought that the capital, Avaris, was at Tanis, in the northern delta, and some distance from the best of the land, it is now thought to have been at Tel el-Dab’a (= Hatwaret = Avaris), just east of the Bubastite branch of the Nile, where the best soil is. It is from there that Moses led the sons of Israel out of Egypt. From Goshen, it would be only two-days’ journey to the edge of the wilderness (desert), per Exodus 12:37, 13:20.

Mt. Sinai has variously been identified as Jebel Musa (south-central Sinai), Har Karkom (southern Negev), Jebel al-Lawz (northwest Saudi Arabia), and 11 other less-likely sites. Some object that Jebel Musa is not volcanic (but there is said to be lava on the south and west), and no ancient artifacts are found there (though Deuteronomy 29:5 may suggest no discards were left behind). Har Karkom is plausible, except the artifacts there are only from BC 2000 and earlier. Jebel al-Lawz requires a Red-Sea crossing through the Gulf of Aqaba, too far to reach in 3-days’ journey, and the area was not thriving until the twelfth century. For now, we may allow it to be uncertain.

Earlier Codes of Laws

The earliest yet-known code of laws was issued by Urukagina, king of Lagash (in modern Iraq), in perhaps the 23rd century BC, in response to the greed and corruption of a predecessor. His intent was “that a man of power must not commit an injustice against them [the orphan and the widow].” (How successful Urukagina was is another question; he was conquered after an eight-year reign, and Lagash was destroyed.)

Ur-Nammu, king of Sumer and Akkad (ca. 2054-2036), issued a better-known code of laws, so that “the orphan did not fall a prey to the wealthy,” “the widow did not fall a prey to the powerful,” and “the man of one shekel did not fall a prey to the man of one mina (sixty shekels).”1 Typical of his laws, “If a man has cut off with a geshpu-instrument, the nose of another man, he shall pay 2/3 of a mina of silver.”

(1) Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians, Their History, Culture, and Character; U. Chicago Press, 1960, pages 79-85, 130. Ur-Nammu, in his fifth year, boasts that he had conquered the West A century later, a code of the city of Eshnunna (about ten miles east of modern Baghdad, in Akkad) said, “If an ox is known to gore habitually and the ward authorities have had the fact made known to its owner, but he does not have his ox dehorned, it gores a man and causes his death, then the owner of the ox shall pay two-thirds of a mina of silver.”2 (evidently in his fourth year), but in his eighteenth year he was killed in battle, “abandoned on the battlefield like a crushed vessel.” The account is entirely parallel to Genesis 14, where fourteen years after Amraphel king of Shinar, and allies, conquered the West, Abraham slays him in a surprise night attack.

Half a century later, Lipit Ishtar issued a code of laws which freed “the sons and daughters of Sumer and Akkad” from slavery which had been imposed upon them.3 The still-better-known Code of Hammurabi king of Babylon (ca. 1728-1686) came two centuries later. Finegan mentions, “Laws covering assault and battery were based largely on the principle of equal retaliation, but with some complications because of the division of society into three classes: nobles, commoners, and slaves. For example, ‘If a seignior has knocked out a tooth of a seignior of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth. If he has knocked out a commoner’s tooth, he shall pay one-third mina of silver.’ One very extreme application of the lex taliones was provided for: if under certain circumstances a man caused the death of another man’s daughter, his own daughter was to be put to death.”4

(2) Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959, page 54.
(3) Kramer, op. cit., page 87f.
(4) Finegan, op. cit., page 60.

The Law God Gave to Moses

The law Jehovah God gave to Moses has many things similar to the Sumerian-Babylonian law codes, and many things unlike those law codes. One major difference is that Moses’ law is no respecter of persons: “One law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Exodus 12:49; repeated in Leviticus 24:22 and Numbers 15:16, 29). Again, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to turn aside after a multitude to wrest justice: neither shalt thou favor a poor man in his cause” (Exodus 23:2-3 ASV). “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty, but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). “Thou shalt not wrest justice: thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a bribe; for a bribe doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19 ASV).

It was “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:23-24, Leviticus 24:19-20 ASV), not two eyes for an eye, or four front teeth for a tooth, whether wealthy, common people, or strangers. Moses’ law is not a respecter of persons.

Laws for Good Health

God commanded to Abraham, “He that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations” (Genesis 17:12, Leviticus 12:3). Why the eighth day of life? Vitamin K and prothrombin (clotting factor II) are necessary for normal blood clotting, and both are synthesized by intestinal bacteria.

“If Vitamin K is not manufactured in the baby’s intestinal tract until the fifth to the seventh day of life, it is clear that the first safe day to perform circumcision would be the eighth day.” On a baby’s day three, available prothrombin is about a third of normal, putting any surgery at risk of serious hemorrhaging. But on the eighth day the prothrombin concentration temporarily rises to 110 percent of normal. “Thus, one observes that from a consideration of Vitamin K and prothrombin … the perfect day to perform a circumcision is the eighth day.”5

What could Moses or Abraham have known about Vitamin K and prothrombin four thousand years ago? But the Creator already knew.

(5) S. I. McMillen, M.D., “None of These Diseases;” Old tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1963.

The Washing of Hands

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, a Jewish Hungarian physician, became assistant to the professor of the maternity clinic at Vienna General Hospital in 1846. In 1847 he began requiring doctors and nurses to wash their hands thor oughly after touching corpses. When the death rate dropped, he also required washing of hands between patients. The death rate suddenly dropped from 10-20% to 1-2%, but hospital personnel were irate at the inconvenience! His two-year contract was not renewed, and he was alienated in Vienna; so he moved back to Buda-Pest, where his experience was repeated at St. Rokus Hospital in Pest. In 1861 he wrote about his success in “Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever,” but it was not well written, and it was disdained in Europe. People thought he was crazy, so had him committed to an insane asylum in 1865, where he was beaten and died.

Over the next two decades, Louis Pasteur developed germ theory, Joseph Lister pio neered antiseptic surgery (1865), Albert Billroth discovered streptococci and staphylococci (1874), and Robert Koch developed a staining technique for identifying bacteria (1877). Only then did Semmelweis’ practice begin to spread throughout hospitals worldwide. People thus discovered the instructions from thirty-five centuries earlier: When an antiseptic was prepared from a red heifer, cedar-wood and hyssop, it may have been used when the preparer “shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even … He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days: the same shall purify himself therewith on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean … When a man dieth in a tent: every one that cometh into the tent, and every one that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean. And whosoever in the open field toucheth one that is slain with a sword, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days … But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly” (Numbers 19 ASV).

The Law addressed other issues. Quarantine was prescribed for the leper (Leviticus 13:46). Israel was forbidden to eat either blood or animal fat (Leviticus 3:17, diseases are carried in the blood, and fat is modernly associated with heart disease). Israel was commanded to observe a sabbath — rest — on the seventh day of every week (Deuteronomy 5:14- 15. People find that when they try never to take a rest, they become progressively less efficient.)

James F. Jekel, epidemiologist at Yale, observes: “The priest served as the health officer, to oversee that the community was holy and clean, to diagnose and treat problems, and to pronounce healed persons clean.”6


(6) James. F. Jekel, “The Coming Revolution in Health Care;” J. Am. Scientific Affn., September 1978, pages 116-123.

Four centuries have increased the life expectancy from forty to eighty years old, primarily due to improvements in public health practices, rather than the advent of modern medicine. Jekel says, “The sanitary revolution came about from the personal convictions of many people, which were partly biblical in origin, that it was better for society’s health and morals to live in cleanliness rather than in filth.” Jekel adds a quote from the world-renowned bacteriologist from the Rockefeller Foundation, Rene Dubos:

“Clearly, modern medical science has helped to clean up the mess created by urban and industrial civilization. However, by the time laboratory medicine came effectively into the picture the job had been carried far toward completion by the humanitarians and social reformers of the nineteenth century. Their romantic doctrine that nature is holy and healthful was scientifically naive but proved effective against the most important health problems of their age. When the tide is receding from the beach it is easy to have the illusion that one can empty the ocean by removing water with a pail. The tide of infections and nutritional diseases was rapidly receding when the laboratory scientist moved into action at the end of the past century.”

Jekel continues with a summary (see table, previous page) and comments: “The biblical insight that health derives from a holy and clean way of life, and not from purchasing the services of healers, is a perspective that must be recovered by our society if we are to achieve the measure of health we desire at a price we can afford. But who can influence human behavior? Suffice it to say that how we behave derives from what we ultimately believe is of greatest value, and it is here, in determining the priorities of individuals, families, and communities, that religion has its most crucial impact on health.”

“If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of Jehovah thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his eyes, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians: for I am Jehovah that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).