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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Epistles: Moses as Pharaoh’s Equal—Horns and All

By Gary A. Rendsburg

Biblical Archaeology Review

In the Spring 2023 issue of BAR, Lee M. Jefferson provided an excellent survey of how the horns of Moses (see Exodus 34:29–30, Exodus 34:35) were reinterpreted over the centuries in his article, “The Horns of Moses.” Whereas earlier readers, including Jerome, who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, understood the phrase “the skin of his face was horned” in a positive light, perhaps even exhibiting the presence of God, with the passage of time, many later readers, especially Christians of the Middle Ages, began to view the horns negatively, often with dire consequences for the Jews who lived within Christendom.

I would like to travel further back in time, to the original setting of Exodus 34. In that context, “horned” should be understood as having actual horns. This curious description relates to one of the main objectives of the Book of Exodus: to present Moses as Pharaoh’s equal.1

First, contrary to everything that the Bible professes—in which no person can achieve divine status—in this instance, Moses is elevated to the level of deity:

“And it will be, he [Aaron] will be to you as a mouth, and you will be to him as a god.”

(Exodus 4:16)

“Look, I have set you as a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet.”

(Exodus 7:1)

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