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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XXIII.—The Age, Birth, and Life of Moses.

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Chapter XXIII.—The Age, Birth, and Life of Moses.

Moses, originally of a Chaldean 2098 family, was born in Egypt, his ancestors having migrated from Babylon into Egypt on account of a protracted famine. Born in the seventh generation, 2099 and having received a royal education, the following are the circumstances of his history. The Hebrews having increased in Egypt to a great multitude, and the king of the country being afraid of insurrection in consequence of their numbers, he ordered all the female children born to the Hebrews to be reared (woman being unfit for war), but the male to be destroyed, being suspicious of stalwart youth. But the child being goodly, his parents nursed him secretly three months, natural affection being too strong for the monarch’s cruelty. But at last, dreading lest they should be destroyed along with the child, they made a basket of the papyrus that grew there, put the child in it, and laid it on the banks of the marshy river. The child’s sister stood at a distance, and watched what would happen. In this emergency, the king’s daughter, who for a long time had not been pregnant, and who longed for a child, came that day to the river to bathe and wash herself; and hearing the child cry, she ordered it to be brought to her; and touched with pity, sought a nurse. At that moment the child’s sister ran up, and said that, if she wished, she could procure for her as nurse one of the Hebrew women who had recently had a child. And on her consenting and desiring her to do so, she brought the child’s mother to be nurse for a stipulated fee, as if she had been some other person. Thereupon the queen gave the babe the name of Moses, with etymological propriety, from his being drawn out of “the water,” 2100 —for the Egyptians call water “mou,”—in which he had been exposed to die. For they call Moses one who “who breathed [on being taken] from the water.” It is clear that previously the parents gave a name to the child on his circumcision; and he was called Joachim. And he had a third name in heaven, after his ascension, 2101 as the mystics say—Melchi. Having reached the proper age, he was taught arithmetic, geometry, poetry, harmony, and besides, medicine and music, by those that excelled in these arts among the Egyptians; and besides, the philosophy which is conveyed by symbols, which they point out in the hieroglyphical inscriptions. The rest of the usual course of instruction, Greeks taught him in Egypt as a royal child, as Philo says in his life of Moses. He learned, besides, the literature of the Egyptians, and the knowledge of the heavenly bodies from the Chaldeans and the Egyptians; whence in the Acts 2102 he is said “to have been instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” And Eupolemus, in his book On the Kings in Judea, says that “Moses was the first wise man, and the first that imparted grammar to the Jews, that the Phœnicians received it from the Jews, and the Greeks from the Phœnicians.” And betaking himself to their philosophy, 2103 he increased his wisdom, being ardently attached to the training received from his kindred and ancestors, till he struck and slew the Egyptian who wrongfully attacked the Hebrew. And the mystics say that he slew the Egyptian by a word only; as, certainly, Peter in the Acts is related to have slain by speech those who appropriated part of the price of the field, and lied. 2104 And so Artapanus, in his work On the Jews, relates “that Moses, being shut up in custody by Chenephres, king of the Egyptians, on account of the people demanding to be let go from Egypt, the prison being opened by night, by the interposition of God, went forth, and reaching the palace, stood before the king as he slept, and aroused him; and that the latter, struck with what had taken place, bade Moses tell him the name of the God who had sent him; and that he, bending forward, told him in his ear; and that the king on hearing it fell speechless, but being supported by Moses, revived again.” And respecting the education of Moses, we shall find a harmonious account in Ezekiel, 2105 the composer of Jewish tragedies in the drama entitled The Exodus. He thus writes in the person of Moses:—

“For, seeing our race abundantly increase,
His treacherous snares King Pharaoh ’gainst us laid,
And cruelly in brick-kilns some of us,
And some, in toilsome works of building, plagued.
And towns and towers by toil of ill-starred men
He raised. Then to the Hebrew race proclaimed,
That each male child should in deep-flowing Nile
Be drowned. My mother bore and hid me then
Three months (so afterwards she told). Then took,
And me adorned with fair array, and placed
On the deep sedgy marsh by Nilus bank,
While Miriam, my sister, watched afar.
Then, with her maids, the daughter of the king,
To bathe her beauty in the cleansing stream,
p. 336 Came near, straight saw, and took and raised me up;
And knew me for a Hebrew. Miriam
My sister to the princess ran, and said,
‘Is it thy pleasure, that I haste and find
A nurse for thee to rear this child
Among the Hebrew women?’ The princess
Gave assent. The maiden to her mother sped,
And told, who quick appeared. My own
Dear mother took me in her arms. Then said
The daughter of the king: ‘Nurse me this child,
And I will give thee wages.’And my name
Moses she called, because she drew and saved
Me from the waters on the river’s bank.
And when the days of childhood had flown by,
My mother brought me to the palace where
The princess dwelt, after disclosing all
About my ancestry, and God’s great gifts.
In boyhood’s years I royal nurture had,
And in all princely exercise was trained,
As if the princess’s very son. But when
The circling days had run their course,
I left the royal palace.”

Then, after relating the combat between the Hebrew and the Egyptian, and the burying of the Egyptian in the sand, he says of the other contest:—

“Why strike one feebler than thyself?
And he rejoined: Who made thee judge o’er us,
Or ruler? Wilt thou slay me, as thou didst
Him yesterday? And I in terror said,
How is this known?”

Then he fled from Egypt and fed sheep, being thus trained beforehand for pastoral rule. For the shepherd’s life is a preparation for sovereignty in the case of him who is destined to rule over the peaceful flock of men, as the chase for those who are by nature warlike. Thence God brought him to lead the Hebrews. Then the Egyptians, oft admonished, continued unwise; and the Hebrews were spectators of the calamities that others suffered, learning in safety the power of God. And when the Egyptians gave no heed to the effects of that power, through their foolish infatuation disbelieving, then, as is said, “the children knew” what was done; and the Hebrews afterwards going forth, departed carrying much spoil from the Egyptians, not for avarice, as the cavillers say, for God did not persuade them to covet what belonged to others. But, in the first place, they took wages for the services they had rendered the Egyptians all the time; and then in a way recompensed the Egyptians, by afflicting them in requital as avaricious, by the abstraction of the booty, as they had done the Hebrews by enslaving them. Whether, then, as may be alleged is done in war, they thought it proper, in the exercise of the rights of conquerors, to take away the property of their enemies, as those who have gained the day do from those who are worsted (and there was just cause of hostilities. The Hebrews came as suppliants to the Egyptians on account of famine; and they, reducing their guests to slavery, compelled them to serve them after the manner of captives, giving them no recompense); or as in peace, took the spoil as wages against the will of those who for a long period had given them no recompense, but rather had robbed them, [it is all one.]



This is the account given by Philo, of whose book on the life of Moses this chapter is an epitome, for the most part in Philo’s words.


“He was the seventh in descent from the first, who, being a foreigner, was the founder of the whole Jewish race.”—Philo.


[See Ex. ii. 10.]


[Concerning this, see Deut. xxxiii. 5. And as to “mystics,” with caution, may be read advantageously, the article “Mysteries,” Encyclop. Britann., vol. xxiii. p. 124.]


Acts vii. 22.


Adopting the reading φιλοσοφίαν ἀΐ´ξας instead of φύσιν ἄξας.


Acts v. 1.


[Eusebius, Præp Evang., ix. 4.]

Next: Chapter XXIV.—How Moses Discharged the Part of a Military Leader.

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