Stephen, Session #14 (All quotes generally ESV


  The section on Moses is the largest portion of Stephen’s speech by far, Acts 7:17-44.  There are some peculiar elements to his description of Moses’ life.  But before we get to those, we should review Samaritan beliefs about Moses.

Moses was the center of the Samaritan religion.  His job was to intercede for God’s people.  Although their Messiah, the “Taheb,” would be a “prophet like Moses” (Deut. 18:15), the Messiah would be a lesser person than Moses.  They believed that God gave Moses the first five books of the Bible already written in manuscript form.  Samaritans believe that Mt. Gerizim is the only mountain which was not completely covered in Noah’s flood, and those who worship there will escape Judgment Day.  

Samaritans also believe that the Ark of the Covenant is hidden on Mt. Gerizim and it will be revealed on Judgment Day; and the Gerizim Temple at Shechem will be rebuilt to honor God.  They also believe that all the significant acts of the Patriarchs happened at Shechem.  Many (1900) of the Samaritan Pentateuch readings are a match to the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint) and not to the Masoretic Text (Hebrew version).  Most—but not all—of what they believe is not in the Bible.

Modern day Samaritans have come under the influence of Islam. (Remember that until 1948, their neighbors for many centuries were all Muslims!  They have rejected the general Muslim teachings, however.)  Like Islam, Judaism and Christianity, they are monotheistic (only one God).  Samaritans, however, do not vocalize the name of God (Yahweh).  Instead, they say שְׁמָהּ֙  (shema), the Semitic word for “name.”  Jews on the other hand will refer to “The Shema” which is their quote from the Bible: “Hear O Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) our God is one Lord.”  (This is Deut. 6:4 which continues with verse 5:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”


Like the Samaritans, most of what the orthodox Jews believe about Moses is not in the Bible.  There are so many “tall tales” about Moses in the annals of Judaism that it would take many sessions to repeat them all.  To recount only a few will give you a general idea of the esteem to which Moses is held among the Jews.  Much of what follows comes from rabbinical commentaries, repeated stories within the stories of Josephus, and various scholarly and scribal types.

When Moses was a little boy—so the story goes—he was sitting on Pharaoh’s knee and grabbed the king’s crown and put it on his own head.  The magicians who saw this demanded a test, because they were sure that this was a very bad omen!  They put two braziers in front of Moses, one full of gold and the other full of hot charcoal.  If he took the gold, Moses would be killed.  But an angel guided Moses to take a coal and put it in his mouth.  This saved Moses, but gave him a permanent speech-impediment.  This “explains” Exodus 4:10  But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

Exodus 2 tells the story of Moses being hidden in the reeds, being found by Pharaoh’s daughter, and growing up at court.  Stephen tells us, Acts 7:22,And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” This was a common belief, and while it is not in the Bible, it seems reasonable.  However, Jews who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, claimed not only that Moses “learned” the wisdom of the Egyptians, but that it was HIS wisdom to begin with, and he was the one who gave them their wisdom—and not only the Egyptians, but the Greeks and the Phoenicians also derived all their knowledge from Moses!

Again, Exodus 2 never tells us this story:  that Pharaoh’s daughter (whose name supposedly was Bithiah; there are several other names claimed too, but “Thermutis”—a Greek name—doesn’t sound too likely!) went to the river because God created extreme heat, and Bithiah was suffering from leprosy.  She was bathing in the Nile to cool off, heard the baby cry, and when she touched the basket which carried Moses Bithiah was healed instantly.  She found Moses not only to be a beautiful baby, but his face “glowed like God’s glory.”  Then the angel Gabriel struck Moses in order to make him cry.  Bithiah felt sorry for the baby because of this, and took him home with her.

The Bible tells us that Moses saw an Egyptian mistreating a Jew, killed him and buried his body in the sand.  Exodus 2:15 says  “When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.”  Midian is in what today is Saudi Arabia, on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba.  It is nowhere near Ethiopia.  But according to Jewish legend, when Moses fled, he went SOUTH to Ethiopia where he came across the rightful king trying to besiege his own capitol (today’s Addas Ababa)  because a traitor had taken the city.  The King was overwhelmed with Moses’ courage and Moses’ face glowed like the sun.  After nine years of siege-warfare, the king died, Moses was made general, finally captured the city, and the people make Moses the King of Ethiopia!  Moses was there from age 27 to age 67!  Then he went back to Midian.  (I skipped a LOT of details here.  The story is even stranger than this!)  Anyway, Stephen is saying that Moses killed the Egyptian and went to Midian (Acts 7:22-29); Stephen’s version begins ““When he was forty years old….”  The Old Testament never tells us how old Moses was when this occurred, but 40 is not 27 by a long shot!

This WILD TALE from Josephus,Antiquities 4.8.48 “Now as Moses went to the place where he was to vanish out of their sight, they all followed him weeping; but Moses beckoned to those that were at some distance, and asked them to stay behind quietly, while he exhorted those closer to him  not  to see his death as a sad event. Thus, they thought they ought to grant him the courtesy to let him depart the way he asked; so, they restrained themselves, though still crying.  Those who went with him were the senate, and Eleazar the high priest, and Joshua their commander. As soon as they arrived at the mountain called Abarim, (which is a very high mountain, situated near Jericho, a mountain which gives a great view of the best part of the wonderful land of Canaan,) he dismissed the senate; and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still speaking with them, a cloud suddenly stood over them, and he disappeared in a certain valley, even though he wrote in the holy books that he died; he wrote that for fear that someone would claim that because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God.”

This preceding paragraph may be a little difficult to work through, but it is saying that Moses wrote of his death in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 but then this did not happen:  So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day.”   The claim is that God took him to heaven without dying!  There is a first century apocryphal book called “The Assumption of Moses” but it doesn’t actually tell the story of Moses’ Assumption.  It claims Moses was also pre-existent:  “”He was prepared before the foundation of the world to be the mediator of God’s covenant….”   The book is in fragments, so we don’t have the entire thing.