Moses: Heroic Man, Man of God (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series, 57)

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This explanation would allow the oath in Q to be seen as an allusion to but not necessarily borrowed from the Jacob story. Speyer does identify a close linguistic parallel in the language used to express the vow in Q and in the Jacob story. There are a number of difficulties with the identification of the two stories based on the similarities of language in Q and Genesis First, in Genesis , it is not Jacob, the character that Moses would represent if Q is supposed to be taken from Genesis , but his father-in-law who makes the statement of the oath.

Second, the oaths in Q and Genesis are two different oaths. To parallel the Jacob story, the language used in the oath of Q would have to parallel Genesis The oath of Genesis is one of many oaths in the Jacob story, paralleling the oath of Genesis , and the second oath Jacob makes with his father-in-law. Q has only one oath between Moses and his future father-in-law. Although Speyer does not seem to consider the possibility, there is reason to see the source of the oath of Q not in the Jacob story, but in the Moses story of Exodus It is important to note that the reference in the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus draws a parallel between Moses and Jacob because of the well at which they meet their future wives.

In this passage of Ephraim, the parallel between the two stories is drawn on the basis of what results from the oaths that Moses and Jacob make with their fathers-in-law. Because both Jacob and Moses served their fathers-in-law as shepherds, they kept their wives and the sisters of their wives being the same people in one of the stories from being shepherds. The comparison of Jacob and Moses in Ephraim is probably due to the fact that the first verb in Exodus was understood to involve an oath on the part of Moses with his father-in-law.

Judah preserved in the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus Why did he make an oath with him? I fear that if I give you my daughter you will do the same to me.

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Therefore, Moses made an oath at that time, and he gave to him Zipporah. In this passage, the parallel between Moses and Jethro and between Jacob and Laban is used as evidence for an argument about the semantics of the initial verb in Exodus , not for the identity of the two stories. There is another tradition of understanding what Moses did in Exodus which is likewise linked to the notion of his making an oath.

Nehemiah and the sages in the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus When he married his daughter he began by agreeing to look after his sheep. This is more evident from the opinions attributed to R. Judah and the sages in the Sifre on Deuteronomy On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this Torah. Judah and Ephraim.

In these cases, it is assumed, on the basis of Exodus , that Moses made an agreement to tend the sheep of his father-in-law in exchange for his marriage to Zipporah. Given this understanding of Exodus , it is difficult to contend that the oath in Q is dependent upon the Jacob story.


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The parallel drawn between the Moses and Jacob stories in Ephraim and the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus focus not on the well but on the effect of the oaths taken by both Moses and Jacob. It is possible that the oath mentioned in Q is taken from an earlier conflation of the Jacob and Moses stories, although the evidence to support such a conclusion is problematic. The brief parallel drawn in Ephraim does not include any of the elements in Q considered to be imports from the Jacob story, and the oath mentioned in Q could be an elaboration of the oath between Moses and his father-in-law already present in Exodus Likewise, lacking further evidence, it is not necessary to assume that the two daughters in Q are derived from or based upon the daughters of Laban.

Based on the information in the Quran alone it is not even necessary to conclude that there were not seven daughters in Midian, only that two of them were at the well when Moses arrived. Moses and Jacob Although it cannot be demonstrated that Q is dependent upon the Jacob story, it is evident that many of the earliest Muslim exegetes did interpret the verses describing the Midian episode in light of the Jacob story.

The exegetes, by the addition of small details to the Quran narrative, often elements specific to Genesis , made certain their own interpretive conflation of Moses and Jacob. One of the clearest indications of this conflation is the addition of Moses having to remove a rock from the well at Midian. Our father is an old man. A band of people from Midian used to gather around the rock in order to lift it. Then Moses drew water in buckets for the two women. They gathered their sheep and returned home quickly.

They were watering from surplus basins. On the one hand, Q already mentions that the two daughters had to hold back until the shepherds gathered their sheep.

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This is a rough parallel to Exodus It is reported that the shepherds used to place a rock on the mouth of the well which took seven men to lift. It is said: ten. It is said: forty. It is said: one hundred. He [Moses] moved it himself. Moses stood up, saved them, and watered their sheep. Moses came and sat in judgment over them [the shepherds at the well]. There are here those guilty of negligence. When he moved back the waters would return to their place.

Seven girls, daughters of the priest, had come to a well, and, after attaching their buckets to ropes, drew water, taking turns so that they shared the labor equally. You think you can take advantage of the loneliness of this place? Are you not ashamed to let your arms and hands be idle? You are people of long hair and lumps of flesh, not men. Away with you. Give place to those who were here before you, to whom the water belongs. Rather, you should have drawn the water for them, to make the supply more abundant.

Instead, you are trying to take from them what they themselves have provided.


  1. Moses: Heroic Man, Man of God (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 57)!
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  5. I swear by the heavenly eye of justice, you shall not take it. For that eye sees even what is done in the greatest solitude. In any event, justice has sent me and appointed me to help those who did not expect it. I fight to aid these girls, allied to a mighty arm which those who do evil cannot see, but you will feel its invisible power wounding you if you do not change your ways. For as he spoke, he grew inspired and was transfigured into a prophet.

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    In the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus there are two different explanations of how Moses used his strength to save the daughters. Yohanan, on the authority of R.

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    Eliezer son of R. Yose ha-Galili, said: The shepherds came with the intention of violating the women. Therefore Moses saved them. Just as this verse refers to violation, so does this verse here. The sages said: This teaches that the shepherds threw the women into the water, from which Moses drew them out. Another element from the Jacob story which Muslim exegetes link to Moses in Midian is the oath made between God and Jacob in Genesis In the text of Q , there is already a hint upon which the exegetes capitalize. So he [Moses] watered [their sheep] for them. The allusion to the Jacob story does not appear to be to the oath in Genesis , as suggested by Speyer, but the Muslim exegetes seem to relate Q and Genesis in which the oaths are made with God.


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    This parallels the situation of Jacob, who leaves the protection of his father and enters into the protection of God. The oath with God also parallels the oath that Jacob makes with Laban for his daughters and, later, for the speckled sheep. In the case of Q , Moses also makes an oath with God that parallels the agreement with his future father-in-law in Q This parallel is also evident from the text of Q in which Moses asks God to save him from his enemies, and in Q where the father of the daughters tells Moses he is safe in Midian from his enemies.

    In both cases, the new patron is made responsible for protecting Moses from his previous patron, the Pharaoh. A report, given on the authority of the Prophet Muhammad, states that Moses worked for his future father-in-law for a fixed period of time in order to receive both food and the hand of Zipporah in marriage.

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    In the discussion between Moses and God in Q , Moses states his fear of returning because he had killed an Egyptian, and God promises him protection. For example, in Q it is from a tree [shajarah] that Moses hears God speak just as it is from under a tree that Moses asks God to protect him in Q The connection between the oath to God by the well and the commission highlights the same connection between the two oaths in the Jacob story.

    There are several reports preserved in al-Tabari which give the names of the daughters as Zipporah [Safura] and Leah [Liya]. The names of the two girls were Leah and Zipporah.

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    A priest is a rabbi [habr]. On the one hand, this report states that the wife of Moses was Zipporah, as is also reported in Exodus There are also Muslim reports which claim that Moses married Leah as well as Zipporah. There is one report, given on the authority of Ibn Ishaq, that the name of the second daughter was Shurfa. The closest Biblical parallel seems to be Shiphra who is mentioned as one of the midwives in Exodus , and is sent by Pharaoh to kill the male babies born to the Israelites. In the Midrash Rabbah on Exodus , the two midwives are said to be the mother of Moses and either his sister or sister-in-law.

    Also specific to the Jacob story and attributed to the account of Moses in Midian by Muslim exegetes is the account of the speckled sheep. There is a brief account in al-Zamakhsharl. Only black and white sheep were born so he got them all according to his agreement. The Hebrew of Genesis , but not of Genesis , 35, or 39, uses a similar expression specifying that the variegation of the sheep involved a certain color on the head and another color on the rest of the body.

    In the account by al-Zamakhsharl, the rod of Moses replaces the rods taken from different trees by Jacob in Genesis There are two different versions of a similar episode recorded in Ibn Kathlr. So he gave her his sheep that would be bom in that year not of one color [min qalib lawn]. He said: When a sheep passed, Moses would strike its side with the rod. All of the sheep gave birth to offspring not of one color. Each sheep gave birth to two and three young.