1571-1451 B.C. [USHER].
Among the great actors in the world’s history must surely be presented the man who gave the first recorded impulse to civilization, and who is the most august character of antiquity. I think Moses and his legislation should be considered from the standpoint of the Scriptures rather than from that of science and criticism. It is very true that the legislation and ritualism we have been accustomed to ascribe to Moses are thought by many great modern critics, including Ewald, to be the work of writers whose names are unknown, in the time of Hezekiah and even later, as Jewish literature was developed. But I remain unconvinced by the modern theories, plausible as they are, and weighty as is their authority; and hence I have presented the greatest man in the history of the Jews as our fathers regarded him, and as the Bible represents him. Nor is there any subject which bears more directly on the elemental principles of theological belief and practical morality, or is more closely connected with the progress of modern religious and social thought, than a consideration of the Mosaic writings. Whether as a “man of God,” or as a meditative sage, or as a sacred historian, or as an inspired prophet, or as an heroic liberator and leader of a favored nation, or as a profound and original legislator, Moses alike stands out as a wonderful man, not to the eyes of Jews merely, but to all enlightened nations and ages. He was evidently raised up for a remarkable and exalted mission,—not only to deliver a debased and superstitious people from bondage, but to impress his mind and character upon them and upon all other nations, and to link his name with the progress of the human race.
He arose at a great crisis, when a new dynasty reigned in Egypt,—not friendly, as the preceding one had been, to the children of Israel; but a dynasty which had expelled the Shepherd Kings, and looked with fear and jealousy upon this alien race, already powerful, in sympathy with the old regime, located in the most fertile sections of the land, and acquainted not merely with agriculture, but with the arts of the Egyptians,—a population of over two millions of souls; so that the reigning monarch, probably a son of the Sesostris of the Greeks, bitterly exclaimed to his courtiers, “The children of Israel are more and mightier than we!” And the consequence of this jealousy was a persecution based on the elemental principle of all persecution,—that of fear blended with envy, carried out with remorseless severity; for in case of war (and the new dynasty scarcely felt secure on the throne) it was feared the Hebrews might side with enemies. So the new Pharaoh (Rameses II., as is thought by Rawlinson) attempted to crush their spirit by hard toils and unjust exactions. And as they still continued to multiply, there came forth the dreadful edict that every male child of the Hebrews should be destroyed as soon as born.