'In the Steps of Moses'

When I read first the story of Moses in Father Knox's abridged Bible without all the genealogies, the laws, the offerings prescribed for making the tabernacle and its appurtenances and the descriptions of the vestments of the priests which interrupt that epic, I was breathless with the realization that there again was pictured the age-old problem of human freedom and responsibility, of leadership and dictatorship.

I had started study of the laws of the Old Testament some years before because of Peter Maurin's insistence on the teaching of the Fathers of Israel and the Fathers of the Church as being the basis for social reconstruction (the teaching on usury, the moratorium, and the Year of Jubilee, for instance). But one gets the story of Moses best in the Knox edition.

Louis Golding's book is a welcome addition to my knowledge of the Prophet and the places of his wandering. The story of Moses was familiar to Mr. Golding from the kitchen of his Jewish home at Doomington, England, years ago when his father traced the journey on a chart, framed in maple wood on the dark wall. The flavor of that background is all through the book, even in the awesome, rigid and foreign atmosphere of the Convent of Mt. Sinai where the travelers stayed during their time on that holy mountain.

The story begins in Egypt and Mr. Golding brings to bear on his account, not only his knowledge of the Bible, but of the Talmud, Jewish folklore and tradition. He searches for the birthplace of Moses near the Nile, he tells of Joseph's account of the early life of Moses. He fought for Pharaoh in a war against Ethiopia, there pining the experience which helped him in his campaigns against the foe on the way to the promised land. He married a Cushite (Ethiopian woman) "most devoutly believed by the Negroes of America who take great pride in the thought that the Lawgiver took himself a wife out of the black people." (I had never heard this before.) He tells of the crossing of the Red Sea, the journey to Sinai, and the long and weary journeyings in the wilderness.

In keeping up with the archeologists Mr. Golding is often too scholarly for the general reader. Whether Mt. Hor is at Jebel Harum or at Gebel Madra, and whether there is a similarity of names between Madra and Moseroth, or whether it is at Gebel Moweeilleh, some twelve and one-half miles north of Ain Kadeis—and whether Petra and Kadeshbarnea are the same place—these endless discussions become very wearisome and there are pages and pages of them.

But there are exciting accounts, too, of terrifying trips down mountain tracks that were "small waterfalls and shifting slithers of gravel"; there is the night in the two room house of Sheikh Suleiman in Dana: wife, ten children, goats, chickens and calves in one room and the guests in the other; the banquet on the mountain side on a ledge looking over an abyss, where they all ate with their hands, from a caldron, of boiled mutten, rice and sour milk. These are unforgettable pictures left with you. Both for those who love travel books and for those who love the Bible this book is of deep interest.

[For more of Dorothy Day's writings from Commonweal, see our full collection.]

Dorothy Day is a cofounder of the Catholic Worker, the author of The Long Loneliness and hundreds of newspaper articles and essays. Her cause is currently being considered for beatification.

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