Born a slave – although the year of her birth is uncertain, and may be as early as 1820 – Harriet Tubman would become one of the foremost activists against slavery. From her birthplace in Maryland, she escaped from her owners in 1849 while in Philadelphia, and immediately became active in the Underground Railroad, helping other slaves to escape as she had. Believing her mission to be divinely inspired, she was nicknamed ‘Moses’, since like she led escaped slaves to a promised land.
In 1858, she assisted John Brown in his infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry – Brown found her so invaluable, he nicknamed her ‘General Tubman’. In her later years, Tubman was also a prominent Suffragette in her later years, and assisted the Union Army as a scout during the American Civil War. She died in 1913, in her nineties.
Traditionally, Deuteronomy, the fifth book in The Bible, was held to have been written by Moses (along with its four predecessors). In fact, the book was written much later than Moses would have been alive – eight to nine hundred years later, in fact.
Different sections of Deuteronomy were written at different times, and not in chronological order, either. The majority of the book is a very detailed legal code, including all sorts of prohibitions, punishments and proscriptions. Some of these are purely religious in nature, others detail crimes and sentences, and still others concern civil matters such as marriage. And, of course, it called for the complete destruction of the Amalekites.
One of the best known stories in the Bible, the Exodus or Exit from Egypt, is the escape of the Israelites from slavery under the Pharoahs. The particular Pharoah in question is not specified in the Bible (and speculation about who it is has been a scholarly pastime for centuries), but whoever it was, he was clearly cut from the same cloth as the most stubborn, stupid and self-destructive leaders of history.
It’s only after numerous plagues – which kill off a goodly portion of his subjects – that he agrees to let the Israelites go. And even then, he changes his mind once more, pursuing them with his army…
…only to be killed, along with his army, when Moses unparts the Red Sea and the Israelites make good their escape to the Sinai, where they spend the next four decades preparing to invade Canaan and begin the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has continued, intermittently, ever since.
No doubt you’re familiar with the story: during the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the Sinai desert between fleeing Egypt and entering Canaan, they encamped for some time at the foot of Mt Sinai.
At one point, God summoned Moses, his chosen prophet and the leader of the Israelites, to the top of the mountain, and here he gave him stone tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments – one of the world’s earliest legal codes that is still known to us.
When Moses carried the tablets back down the mountain, he was sufficiently enraged by the conduct and reaction of his fellow Israelites that he broke them half. Fortunately, God had made a backup copy, and Moses was able to once more bring the tablets of the Ten Commandments.