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TV REVIEW : 'Moses' Makes Its Subject as Accessible as Possible

March 25, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

According to the biblical record, Moses was a simple shepherd with a speech impediment, a reticence to lead, and a fiery temper that flared up when his followers became equally reticent. In other words, one of those greats who had greatness thrust upon him, as they say.

On the eve of Passover, A&E continues its excellent "Ancient Mysteries" series with "Mysteries of the Bible: Moses at Mt. Sinai," an accounting of the historical basis for Moses' intriguing character and the epic Exodus story.

Inasmuch as it's possible to provide an extra-biblical account, that is--for as one of the scholars interviewed in this hour points out, desert peoples don't leave many traces, and the parched wilderness between Egypt and Canaan has yielded few clues for archeologists.

Given the dearth of verifying artifacts and records, then, the academics on hand mostly take the Exodus writers at their word and conjecture which contemporary landmarks might have been the sites of the ancient events. (Was the Red Sea really a big, parted swamp? Will the real Mt. Sinai please stand up?)

Lest the arguments become too arcane, there's also a good amount of philosophic focus on just what made the god of the Hebrews demonstrably different from competing deities of the time, like Baal. One major departure, as set down in the Ten Commandments: "no graven images"--hence, of course, the relative lack of icons for modern diggers to uncover.

More significant are the differences that continue to affect modern law and morality: "God isn't just a god who pays attention to sacrifices and prayer," says Rabbi David Wolpe of the University of Judaism. "God cares if I lie to you, to another human being, and that's what makes (the developing religion) different."

Interviewing a good mixture of Jewish and Christian scholars, achieving a healthy balance of belief and skepticism, and offering some terrific Middle Eastern scenery besides, "Moses at Mt. Sinai" makes its subject as accessible as possible, yet smartly avoids any sense of patronizing the layman.

Future episodes focus on Jesus in the Galilee (next Friday), Joshua, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

* "Mysteries of the Bible: Moses at Mt. Sinai" at 7 and 11 tonight on A&E.

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