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Recasting Moses

The Memory of Moses in Biographical and Autobiographical Narratives in Ancient Judaism and 4th-Century Christianity


Finn Damgaard

The political and social changes that occurred with the transformation of the Roman Empire into a Roman Christian Empire and with the bishops’ new social position as imperial bishops called for new literary representations of the ideal Christian leader. In this struggle, the figure of Moses turned up as a suitable figure intimately connected with questions of authority and power and, related to this, with the risk of dissension and discord. While the portrait of Moses as a political figure was hardly applicable in Christian discourses of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it became the centre of interest during the 4th century. This new emphasis was, however, no more new than that it actually revived traditions of 1st-century Jewish biographical and autobiographical narratives.


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8. Conclusion


In all the biographical writings that have been under consideration in this study the Moses narratives become a foundational narrative framework for constructing, revising or maintaining the collective identity of ancient communities. The figure of Moses is basically used in two ways in the ancient biographical narratives: either to construct or legitimize the character of the author/orator himself, or some third party, or as an example to be imitated as a desired “possible self” that expresses what the community was like in the past and what it may become in the future. In either case, however, the authors/orators mapped their community’s historical development and emphasized its distinct social identity as an intertextual identity with roots back to the foundational past. While the latter use operates by presenting the Moses figure as an example to be emulated, the former rather implies that since the author/orator himself or some third party resembles the Moses figure, the community has to give him their support and take the role of the responsive people. The ancient biographical focus on the figure of Moses is above all concentrated on Moses as bearing a relation to the people. For the ancient authors, the Moses narratives demonstrated the importance of leadership for keeping different parties together and sustaining and maintaining the collective identity of the community, and they accordingly time and again keyed the Moses narratives to their own present situation as a means of promoting unity and concord. The figure of Moses thus becomes a picture of...

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