On Moses and “illeism”

File:Bob Dole, PCCWW photo portrait.JPG

“Bob Dole doesn’t like that…*”


The Old Testament reading in the Daily Office for Saturday, May 17, is Exodus 40:18-38, where seven times Moses used the phrase:  “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  That brings up illeism, the practice of referring to yourself in the third person.

Chapter 40 ends the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses, about Moses, and by Moses, and about his leading the Children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and into freedom.

The next book, Leviticus, begins (in the King James Version; the one God uses), “And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation…”  As noted, tradition says that Moses wrote this book himself.

In the reading for Saturday, May 17, Moses built a “portable dwelling place” for God.

He set up the tabernacle, spread a tent over it and put a tent-covering over that, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”    He took the Ark of the Covenant – as in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – and put it in the tent, “and screened the ark of the covenant; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  He put a table in the tent and “set the bread in order on it before the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   Then he set up lampstand,  “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   He put an altar in and “fragrant incense on it; as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  He set a screen in front and presented “the burnt-offering and the grain-offering as the Lord had commanded Moses.”   He set up a basin with water, so Moses, his brother Aaron and/or Aaron’s sons could wash before approaching the altar, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

This then was the portable dwelling place for God (as “modeled” below), as He went with the Hebrews in their 40 years of wandering, before they entered their Promised Land.

File:Stiftshuette Modell Timnapark.jpg

That brings up illeism, “referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person,” used as a stylistic device in literature, while in real life it can reflect “different stylistic intentions…”

Julius Caesar used the device in his Commentaries about the Gallic Wars, while Xenophon of Athens – from whom the term xenophobia derives – used it in Anabasis, “‘one of the great adventures in human history,’ as Will Durant expressed the common assessment.”

Both Caesar’s Commentaries and Anabasis were, as Wikipedia put it, “ostensibly non-fictional accounts of wars led by their authors,” who used the device “to impart an air of objective impartiality to the account, which included justifications of the author’s actions.  In this way personal bias is presented, albeit dishonestly, as objectivity.”

Another note: Tradition says Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  In those books Moses told the story of the Hebrew people, from the beginning of time up to the time Moses was about to die and the Hebrews were about to enter their Promised Land.

Which brings up a question.  In modern terms:  What did Moses know, and when did he know it?  When did Moses find out he was “on a mission from God?”  At the Burning Bush?  Before then, when he killed the Egyptian overseer?  More important, when did he start taking notes for this massive work, five of the most influential books in the history of the world?

So the better question might be:  When did Moses write, and when did he write it?

One answer is to ignore the question.  “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  (Another way of saying, “For heaven’s sake, don’t make me think?“)  That approach seems to say super-heroes wrote the Bible and we shouldn’t even think we can become anything like them.

There is another approach.  At some point in his life, Moses had an experience that led him to believe he’d been spoken to by The Force That Created The Universe.  That experience changed the life of Moses and altered the course of history in a way seldom repeated.  And so you might think maybe – just maybe – the Bible was written by people very much like us, and the only difference is they – like Moses – had a “mystic experience with the Divine,” and we haven’t, yet.

Isn’t that what going to church should be about?  Isn’t that especially true because – as Jesus said in John 14:2 – He expects us to perform greater miracles than He did, and by extension, greater miracles than Moses?   (Of course that would mean a lot of work.) 

To be continued…



Moses doesn’t like this. Moses doesn’t like this one bit…


*  The Bob Dole image is courtesy of Wikipedia.   As for his habit of speaking of himself in the third person, see Urban Dictionary: Bob Dole, which defined him as:  “A guy who ran for president against Bill Clinton.  Known for speaking of himself in the third person…   [Example:] ‘Bob Dole doesn’t like this.  Bob Dole doesn’t like this one bit.'”

On the original tabernacle, see: Tabernacle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Xenophobia is excessive and irrational fear of anything foreign. This fear is most often of foreign people, places or objects. People who are xenophobic may display fear or even anger toward others who are foreign. See What Is Xenophobia? – Psychology – About.com.
What did Moses know, and when did he know it?”   An allusion to the Watergate hearings. 
See Howard Baker – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaIn 1973-74, Baker was a ranking minority member of “the Senate committee, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, that investigated the Watergate scandal.  Baker is famous for having asked aloud, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”, a question given him by his counsel and former campaign manager, future U.S. Senator Fred Thompson.”   Another site noted that the question “became a Washington mantra.”    For a 36-second clip, see Howard Baker asks Dean what did the president know and when did

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