In The God Whom Moses Knew, J. Roger Nelson aims to make the ancient biblical story of Moses and the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt accessible to modern-day readers. The author offers a well-researched, fictionalized account complete with footnotes that adheres closely to the biblical tale, with several passages of dialogue taken directly from the Bible and seamlessly interwoven into the story.
For those unfamiliar with the story: Moses is an Egyptian leader who one day discovers he is the same race as the enslaved Hebrew people. In the aftermath of this discovery, Moses leaves Egypt, marries a woman in distant Midian, and spends 40 years as a shepherd. At the ripe age of 80, Moses is called by God to free the Israelites. He leads the Israelites during the Egyptian plagues, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering in the desert before finally entering the Promised Land.
Nelson’s goal is to help readers “understand God and His relationship to us,” and he, indeed, offers fresh insights. Discussing the fairness of God allowing 430 years of slavery, one character suggests that “slavery might have been the only way we would stay together and multiply. ” Another character’s observation that “God has seen fit to honor us with laws concerning the smallest details of our lives” gives a new perspective on the Israelites’ many rules.
Unfortunately, the book’s portrayal of Moses is less successful, offering little insight into the pivotal character’s motivations. On p. 144, for example, the author details Moses’ movements (he “smiled,” “was fatigued,” “invited,” “ushered,” “helped,” “dabbed” and so on), yet how he thinks or feels while doing such actions is largely missing. The result is a flat character rather than a fully fleshed out protagonist.
Without a well-drawn Moses, the narrative lags in places, but it succeeds in offering a new perspective on God’s motivations in an oft-told story. Those who read it with this expectation will find a story that satisfies.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.