cover image Moses: A Life

Moses: A Life

Jonathan Kirsch / Author Ballantine Books $27.5 (415p) ISBN 97

Kirsch's treatment is less a biography of Moses than a meticulous distillation of the considerable secondary literature that has grown up around the sparse biblical material. Kirsch (The Harlot By the Side of the Road) draws extensively on the various theories elaborated by biblical scholars over the past centuries to explain multiple accounts of Moses' life. He also draws extensively on myths, legends and midrashim that have been woven around the figure of Moses, who figures, in various interpretations, as warrior, magician, shepherd, God's favorite, sorcerer's apprentice and reluctant prophet. Kirsch offers interesting speculation on Moses's identity, including the depth of his connection to Egypt, and on the power struggles that he believes underlie the patchwork narrative of Hebrew scripture. He also notes the succession of strong women who intervene on Moses's behalf, and he pays careful attention to the struggle between Miriam (who was a priestess in her own right) and Moses. Ultimately, Kirsch's Moses emerges less as a presence than an absence--but an absence that determines the structure of the whole narrative around him. (Nov.)