I think it is worth pointing out that the story Josephus presents concerning Moses' campaign against Ethiopia (Antiquitates Judaicae 2.238-53) is not historical but rather is a late legend. It is filled with details and themes found in Hellenistic sources, such as episode with the ibises and winged serpents (cf. Herodotus, Historiae 2.75), the explanation of the name of Meroe (cf. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca 1.33; Strabo, Geographica 790, 821), the love story between Tharbis and Moses (which has recognizable Hellenistic color), etc. The story itself derives from an older Hellenistic Jewish tale, attested earlier by Artapanus (who lived in the third or second century BC) who wrote at length about Moses' military campaign against the Ethiopians. This story is different overall but contains some interesting parallels (such the association of Moses with the ibis). The story of the Egyptian campaign helmed by Moses, in turn, was ripped off from the (still older) Egyptian legend of king Sesostris who was famous for conquering Ethiopia and in later legends the whole world (cf. Herodotus, Historiae 2.102-103, Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca 1.53-59); the latter claim is probably influenced by the Alexander Romance (which in turn drew on the Sesostris legend). The link with the story of Sesostris is somewhat muted in Josephus, but in the older version in Artapanus, "Moses" is clearly based on Sesostris because Artapanus attributes to Moses the division of Egypt into 36 nomes, the introduction of circumcision to Egypt, the invention of certain military weapons, and other features from Sesostrisian legend. Since Sesostris was a lawgiver in Egyptian tales, he was a natural source of Moses legends for Jews living in Ptolemaic Egypt. And the legend of Sesostris, in turn, is loosely based on the Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Senwosret III ( who reigned c. 1878 – 1839 BC), who campaigned against both Canaan and Ethiopia (the latter four times). In fact, the stelae erected by the legendary Sesostris mentioned by Herodotus correspond to the actual stelae in Nubia that Senwosret III installed. So it looks pretty likely that Josephus' story of Moses campaigning in Ethiopia is a late distant reflection of the deeds of Pharaoh Senwosret III. The association of Moses with the ibis is also probably dependent on the Sesostris legend; it was Thoth who appeared in a dream to Sesostris prophesying his conquests and Thoth was usually depicted with ibis features.
Moses was an Israelite Egyptian Military leader who rebeled! Any thoughts or info?
Thank you Leolaia for this very interesting post. It led me to the following paper by Thomas Römer, which also deals with other issues raised in this thread (e.g. Moses' "wives") and leads to a provocative take on the relationship between "Biblical" and "non-Biblical" stories in the Persian and Greek periods: http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/Articles/article_92.pdf
What is really striking about Artapanus is how Egyptian traditions were drawn upon to construct a Moses that was a force for the betterment of Egypt. Moses commenced the Nile inundation, he organized the polity, he improved Egypt's military, he even instituted the various animal cults in the various cities. The association with Thoth (as in the story of Moses in Hermopolis, the city of Thoth) and the ibis, again, is a positive pro-Egyptian and pro-Jewish construction of Moses. My opinion is that Artapanus represents the viewpoint of syncretic Egypt-born Jews who identified themselves culturally as both Jewish and Egyptian. There is still an exodus story in Artapanus (which has to be somewhat awkwardly harmonized with otherwise pro-Egyptian tenor of the romance), but it is characterized via the topos of the "court conspiracy" (as found in the biblical Joseph and Daniel stories) which saw the pharaoh Chenephres as resisting Moses' positive reforms.
This is in contrast to the native Egyptian reworking of legendary traditions as anti-Jewish polemic. While Artapanus (or his intellectual forebears) saw Moses in the figure of one of Egypt's greatest kings, writers like Hecataeus of Abdera, Manetho (or Pseudo-Manetho, if the the anti-Jewish polemic is a product of later redaction), Lysimachus, Apion, and Chaeremon reworked various Typhonian legends that saw Moses and the Jews as tyrannical outsiders or expelled diseased Egyptians. These legends at least in Manetho seem to have historical kernals as the Sesostris legend does (i.e. the Hyksos legend reflecting the historical Hyksos and the story of Osarseph reflecting Akhenaten), but are also strongly influenced by stock Typhonian topoi and Egyptian nationalism (the story of the Hyksos, for instance, pertains as much to the Persian conquest of Egypt under Cambyses as it does to the historical Hyksos). There is an interesting synergy between history and later ideology; the Hyksos were devotees of Seth and Avaris was a known cult center of Seth (as it was later under the Ramesside pharaohs, cf. the Year 400 Stela), the biblical story in Exodus associated the Jews with the Ramesside version of Avaris (Pi-Ramesses) and the described them as the source of plague and destruction to Egypt, and in the Hellenistic period the Typhonians were seen as the evil arch-enemies of the nation. So it was only natural for the Egyptians to see this foreign element of their population in Typhonian terms. Whereas the pro-Jewish tradition of Artapanus and Josephus associated Moses with Thoth and the ibis, the anti-Jewish tradition of (Pseudo)-Manetho, Apion, and others associated Moses with Seth/Typhon and the ass. It is amazing how many different ways the ass was linked to Moses: that the ass was the animal that led Moses to discover water in the wilderness (Tacitus, Historiae 5.3.2, 4.2; Plutarch, Quaestiones Convivales 4.5.2), that Typhon when he escaped Egypt on the back of an ass became the father of sons Hierosolymus (Jerusalem) and Judaeus (Judea) (cf. Plutarch, Iside et Osiride 31), that Moses was depicted as seated on an ass inside the Temple (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca 34/35.1.1-5), that the Temple contained a golden head of an ass that the Jews worshipped (Mnaseas as quoted in Josephus, Contra Apionem 2.112-114, Apion as quoted in Josephus, Contra Apionem 2.80), and so forth. The ass worship motif also likely lies behind certain translation choices in the LXX (cf. Exodus 4:20 LXX, Numbers 16:15 LXX) and it was of course extended further to anti-Christian polemic, as attested in the Palatine graffito of the worship of a crucified donkey-headed figure and in Tertullian, Apologia 16.1-3 and Minucius Felix, Octavius 9.3, 28. So it looks like we can see here competing strategies of depicting Moses and Jewish origins in Egypt on the part of Egyptian Jews and native Egyptians.
The real chicken-and-the-egg puzzle for me is the relationship between the older biblical stories and these Egyptian legends. The connection between the Osarseph narrative (which itself is clearly a composite) and the story of the exodus is quite intriguing, and the pre-Manethoan version of the story probably made no reference to the Jews. Yet the narrative structure of the exodus story and various motifs (such as the association of leprosy with Moses and Miriam, the priestly Levite background of all the main characters of the story, etc.) suggests some sort of possible dependence and one wonders who first applied the Osarseph story to the Jews — native Egyptians in anti-Jewish polemic or the Jews themselves. Or is there a thread in the Osarseph story that does reflect a common group of traditions (or even a historical kernal) that the Jews drew on themselves? I am led to wonder this because of the strongly Egyptian character to the Levites in terms of practice (e.g. the use of the ark of the covenant, the purification rituals, the dietary restrictions, possibly head shaving in the case of the Korahites) and personal names (many of the Levities named in the OT have Egyptian names which are not attested as names of non-Levites), and the fact as mentioned above that virtually all the main characters of the exodus and wilderness traditions were Levites. I suspect that the exodus story originated in pre-exilic times as a the origin legend of the Levites which subsequently became the origin narrative for the entire nation. And if that is the case, my hypothesis is that there is possibly a historical kernal to the apparent Egyptian background of the Levites who imo were instrumental in introducing Yahweh (originally a Midianite or Edomite deity?) to the peoples of Israel, possibly in the mid-twelfth century BC.
I remember you did mention (and perhaps develop) this hypothesis before, unfortunately I cannot locate the post now. This is a rather complex issue imo because the Biblical "Levites" are a heterogeneous compound including possible memories of some pre-Israelite Southern tribe associated with Simeon, and maybe a non-ethnical title of religious function implying consecration to a deity and sanctuary -- cf. the lawu-DN theophoric names in Mari, the frequent equation of priests and levites in Deuteronomy (ha-kohanim ha-lewim, 17:9 etc.). Levites in the latter sense were likely "ethnicised" as an artificial tribe in the aftermath of Josiah's centralisation which made all priests of sanctuaries throughout Judah a subordinate class to the Jerusalem priesthood* (levites vs. priests), the hierarchy being translated into genealogy (Levi / Aaron). It seems to me that most exodus stories with Egyptian-sounding names somehow presuppose the latter developments, but I may be wrong. Are Egyptian names for "Levites" found before / outside of the Josiah / exile 'influence cone' so to say? Moreover, I'm also under the impression that most alleged Southern parallels to pre-exilic Israelite religion (especially the DN Yhwh, the ark / tabernacle structure etc.) are found in the Sinaitic or Arabic peninsulae rather than in Egypt proper, even though most of the region was under Egyptian control at some point (e.g. the Midianite Timna), and there are simpler ways to account for them (the Qenites, for instance) than an exodus from Egypt. A contrario, if there were Egyptian (stricto sensu) influences on Israelite religion at an early date (late 2nd millenium or early 1st) through a group of "levites" which became central to it, this raises the question why they have been so limited. Otoh, contacts between Judah and Egypt were important from the 6th centuries onward, when most (if not the earliest) exodus traditions were devised.
* Afterthought: another potentially important element in this discussion is that the Jerusalem priesthood itself was most likely of native origin, as a number of clues indicate (the continuity of çdq names, Melchizedeq, Adonizedeq, Zadoq; the story of David's conquest and his buying the temple site from "Aravna the king," etc.)
I should clarify that it wasn't intended to be a hypothesis per se — more like developing thinking towards a very complex puzzle that I'm still pondering and learning about. And your questions all zero in on the main issues, particularly the chicken-and-egg (yes another one!) problem of how the heterogenous elements of the biblical Levite traditions came together and reflect different historical developments. I think we agree that the genealogies of P and the Chronicler are late and ideologically contrived (such as furnishing Zadok a Levitical background) and we agree on the effects of the Josianic reform and on the prior role of Levite priests in the local sanctuaries. I also agree that the notion of Levi as a separate "tribe" reckoned among the twelve is a late Josianic or post-Josianic development. Although older theories of Levi's origin as a secular tribe accepted the Blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49) and the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33) at face value as very early documents, newer redactional analyses has shown that the references to Levi in the tribal lists are secondary accretions. I am thinking especially of Kent Sparks' 2003 ZAW article that reconstructs the Blessing of Moses as a late seventh century BC redaction of an eighth century BC list and the Blessing of Jacob as a sixth century BC redaction of an eighth century BC list. The oldest tribal list in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), which Sparks dates to the ninth century BC but which I think could have been composed earlier, has a ten-tribe confederation lacking Levi, and the early versions of the Blessing of Moses and the Blessing of Jacob similarly mention only ten tribes. Expanding the ideal number from ten to twelve in the seventh century BC allowed Levi to be counted as a separate tribe of Israel. I believe the fall of the northern kingdom around 722 BC may have produced social changes (such as the migration of Aaronid refugee priests from Bethel, Dan, and other northern sanctuaries to Judah and their subsequent conflict with the Zadokites of Jerusalem) that lie behind the ethnicization of Levites as a "tribe" and the later centralization of the Yahweh cult.
But I don't think that is the whole picture. Although Deuteronomy equates Levites with priests, the picture is certainly more complex in the traditional material in Judges which does not declare Levi to be a tribe and which portrays imo a more primitive situation. There we find non-Levites performing priestly functions or installed as priests (Judges 6:26-27, 13:17-19, 17:5, cf. 1 Samuel 7:1, 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 20:25-26), and the young Levite who is the focus of the story in Judges 17-18 only becomes a priest when others take it upon themselves to hire him. There also isn't anything characteristically priestly about the Levite at the center of the tale in ch. 19-20, particularly if we set aside the probable redaction in 19:18 (which is not found in the LXX). But what these stories do say about the Levites is that they were sojourners (gr) living among various alien tribes (Judah, Ephraim, and Dan in the case of Jonathan the Levite) who depended on the hospitality of the host tribes. It is tempting to see these stories as reflecting the situation in the seventh century BC when northern priests were dispersed in Judah and certainly this latter circumstance lies behind the references to Levi as a dispersed tribe in the Blessing of Jacob and later sources. But the picture in Judges is not one of a tribe of priests and not one which depicts the Levites as moving southward into Judah from Ephraim and Dan. The sojourner status of the Levites however is reminiscent of other alien residents within Judah, such as the Kenites and the Rechabite clan in particular (1 Samuel 15:6, 30:29, 1 Chronicles 2:55, Jeremiah 35). My idea is that the Levites of the Divided Monarchy derive at least in part from a southern (possibly Edomite) non-Judahite clan that became part of Judah's hodgepodge population, possibly affiliated with the Kenites and Calebites. This was the group that was centered around the Yahwistic covenant ark cult and which traced their origins, at least in part, to Moses.
If Yahwism was shared between the several southern clans (as the Kenites were also probably Yahwistic) that became a part of Judah's population, and if the ark was regarded as the seat of Yahweh's presence, then the Levite clan (if it was called that early on) held prestige in cultic duties relating to Yahweh. The southern groups that introduced the Yahweh cult to Judah settled in various places as alien residents, but most importantly in Hebron where Judahite political power came to be concentrated in the eleventh century BC. The families that cared for the ark may not have originally been called "Levite" but that functional name in due course distinguished them from the other southern clans (notice that Kenite is also functional, the "metal smiths"). Not all Levites were priests and there were many priests throughout the tribes who were not Levites. The Yahweh cult spread especially once it had official support from the ruler(s) of Hebron and eventually the ark came to reside in Shiloh in Ephraimite territory. This was probably a traditional sanctuary for El and the relocation of Levites connected with the ark to Shiloh may have played a role in the syncretistic merging of the originally separate El and Yahweh cults. A similar syncretistic merger of the El and Yahweh cults occurred elsewhere in Ephraimite territory at Bethel (where Yahweh possessed El's bovine iconism). In both cases, the mixing of the cults possibly meant that the local priesthoods devoted to El and the Levites devoted to Yahweh merged at the various locales, and much the same thing would have also occurred at sanctuaries devoted to Baal. The story of Jonathan and Micah in Judges 17-18 is interesting because Micah already had a priest but what he really wanted was a Levite priest. And then in ch. 18 the Danites settling in Laish took Jonathan and his cult images by force so that he would become their own priest in Dan. I think that as the Yahweh cult (along with its iconism) spread northward throughout the Israelite territories, the Levites spread along with it. And so the rise of henotheistic Yahwism (with its many local Yahweh cults, e.g. "Yahweh of Samaria") increased the number of sanctuaries with "Levite" ties and gradually led to the perception of Levites as a tribe unto itself. Although priesthoods in the ANE were largely hereditary (which suggests that the later Levite priesthood was at least inclusive of the descendents of early Yahwist priests), it is probable that by the seventh and sixth centuries BC, some priesthoods having no hereditary connection with the early Levite ark cult adopted Levite identities to gain legitimacy or to co-opt the credentials of another group (the Zadokites and P come to mind). But I think for several reasons that the ethnicization of the Levite tribe in the late Divided Monarchy built upon an older traditional southern non-Israelite and non-Judahite identity.
First of all, the tribal name Levi (lwy) shares its form with the gentilic lwy "Levite", which may be an indication that the former is a secondary adaptation of the latter. As qyny "Kenite" is the gentilic of qyn (cf. Numbers 24:21-22), lwy "Levite" may be the gentilic of lwh (perhaps with the functional meaning "pledged one", as qyn has the functional meaning of "metal smith"). It is possible that these names were bestowed on the southern alien residents by the Judahites (according to their different social functions), or it is possible that the names are traditional to these groups (if the Kenite genealogy in J is indicative). Another important indication is found in the early tradition in Numbers 26:58 (LXX): "The following are the Levite clans: The Libnite clan, the Hebronite clan, the Korahite clan, and the Mushite clan". This non-genealogical fragment is embedded within P's genealogical census scheme and conflicts with it on a number of points (compare v. 10 and 57) and P appears to be dependent on it in his genealogy in Exodus 6:16-19 which contains a number of secondary contrivances. The first two names locate the Levites in two different towns in Judah, Libnah and Hebron (which turn up in the much longer list of Levitical cities in Joshua 21), and the southern credentials of the Korahites are also manifest in the fact that elsewhere Korah is one of the sons of Esau (= Edom) "born in the land of Canaan" (Genesis 36:5, 14), whereas the Chronicler makes Korah a son of "Hebron" (1 Chronicles 2:42), who in turn is designated as a Calebite. And the Calebites in turn are characterized elsewhere as Edomites of the clan of Kenaz (cf. Genesis 36:11, 15, 42, Judges 1:12), and Joshua 15:13-14 locates the Calebites in the town of Hebron. That the Calebites and Levites were both located in Hebron and both given Edomite ties through Korah is one sign of the overlap between the two groups. The town of Libnah also is depicted as siding with the Edomites in war against Judah (2 Kings 8:20-22), suggesting that the Levite clan of the Libnites had Edomite sympathies. The association of Levi with Simeon in the Blessing of Jacob suggests a southern background as well for the Levites, and the Levite stories in Judges may depict a northward progression from Judah into Ephraim and Dan.
The strongest evidence imo for a southern Edomite and possibly Midianite origin of the Levites is the predominance of the Levites in all the wilderness traditions (J, E, D, P, the Blessing of Moses, etc.), which locates Moses and pre-Israelite Levites in the lands of Midian and Edom. And the different sacred mountains named as Yahweh's abode (Horeb, Sinai, Paran, Seir) may indicate that the groups introducing Yahwism into Judah incorporated families from different parts of the southern wilderness or were nomadic themselves. What is especially interesting about the Edomite connection is that it is in Edom where a form of Yahweh first turns up; a fourteenth century BC toponym list of Amenhotep III refers to "Yhw in the land of the Shasu" near "Seir in the land of Shasu". And the Shasu during the New Kingdom also frequently entered Egypt for various reasons; one twelfth century BC text refers to the "Shasu of Edom" who were permitted to water their herds in the "waters of Pithom" (Papyrus Anastasi VI 55-56). The frequent military campaigns in the Levant during the New Kingdom, particularly in the wars against the Hittites and the Sea Peoples, also led to the exile of many thousands of Shasu prisoners-of-war (along with captives from Canaan and Syria), and we know from Ramesside-era documents that these captives were employed in architectural and agricultural work. And some managed to escape, such as a pair who fled Egypt through northern Sinai (Papyrus Anastasi V). This gives us a lot of the ingredients of the sojourn, exodus, and wilderness narratives and it is not improbable that different experiences of different components of the ancestral population(s) contributed traditions that amalgamated together. In addition to Yahweh having a southern origin, the same is the case with the Nehushtan serpent cult which traces its origins to Moses and the Levites as well (cf. Numbers 21:5-9, 2 Kings 18:4). The Moses connection is also evident in the magical connection with Moses and/or Aaron and serpents in Exodus 4:2-4, 5:6-12, and some have noticed the serpentine names belonging to Levites and figures associated with Moses: Nahshon (Exodus 6:23), Hobab (Numbers 10:29), Shuppim (1 Chronicles 26:16), and Naas (1 Chronicles 26:4 LXX). That the Nehushtan cult has a southern and possibly Egyptian origin is indicated by the discovery of a votive copper serpent in the Hathor temple at Timnah, which was used by Semites in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC. There also seems to be an Egyptian background to many priestly traditions. The focus on purification and cleanliness in the levitical legislation resembles the constant physical purification that the lower-caste wa'eb priests (servants of the hem-netjer priests, only the latter had direct access to the god's sanctuary), who as "pure ones" underwent circumcision, abstained from fish and pork, shaved their heads, washed themselves with water before servicing the temple, and wore white linen and sandals. This two-level system is reminiscent of the exilic and late pre-exilic division between subordinate Levites and the Zadokite priests so the influence may be late. On the other hand, it was during the New Kingdom when priests carried a chest as a portable throne for the king which strikingly resembled the form and function of the Israelite ark of the covenant carried by Levite priests (see this relief depicting Amenhotep I who reigned from 1526-1506 BC, and compare with the concept of Yahweh borne on the ark of the covenant). So it is possible that some Egyptian features are early and some are late. I recall also parallels between the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:23-26 (which is certainly pre-exilic if Ketef Hinnom is any indication) and Egyptian sources. Egyptian personal names, as mentioned above, occur only among those identified as Levites and/or priests, e.g. Moses (= ms "born of", possibly shortened from DN-ms), Merari (= mrry "beloved"), Phinehas (= p3nhsy "the Nubian"), Assir (= 'sr "Osiris"), Hori (hry "He of Horus"), Pashhur (psh-hr "portion of Horus"), Hophni (hfnr "tadpole"), Harnepher (= hr-nfr "Horus is good"), On (= iwn "pillar"), Putiel (= p3-di-'l "El has given"), Ahira (= 'chy-r` "My brother is Re") etc., the latter two being Egyptian-Semitic blends. Most of these are attested late and may represent perhaps a late influence. But Moses is certainly traditional and if this Egyptian name is early, perhaps others are as well. Also Phinehas is ascribed to three different individuals (Judges 20:38, 1 Samuel 1:3, Ezra 8:33) and Pashhur is the name of four different priests as well (Jeremiah 20:1, 21:1, 38:1, Ezra 2:38); this suggests to me that the names were already widely used and probably traditional. Since names tend to be rather conversative, since Egyptian DNs are common in the names despite the absence of Egyptian cults in Judah, since some of the names are blends with Hebrew (suggesting a degree of bilingualism in Egyptian), and since the names are not attested among those who are not priests or Levites, I think this might be an indication relevant to Levite origins. But even if we hypothesize that the names go back at least in part to the founding Levites, it doesn't necessarily point to residence in Egypt since we know that Egyptians had a presence, even a religious one, in Sinai (as the Timnah temple indicates), or even in LBA Canaan as the temple at Beth-Shean shows. But since Levantine Semites had resided in Egypt for hundreds of years under a myriad of different conditions (i.e. not necessarily as prisoners), it is also possible that the acquisition of Eygptian names and practices occurred in Egypt as well.
Anyway, all of this is very rough thinking, and I'm sure I could change my mind about a lot of things as I learn more about this subject, so I put this out there as one possible tentative perspective.
Thank you for this excellent post.
There are a number of threads I had noticed in the past (especially genealogical overlapping between Edom and Caleb, the connection between the Shasu Yhw and Seir, the Yahwistic Qenites -- cf. Genesis 4:26! -- and Timna as a place of Egyptian-Semitic encounter and possible syncretism) but I had never thought of linking them with the early "Levite" tradition, and this makes a lot of sense.
I'm still wondering about your suggestion of Moses (Mshh)'s name being traditional. The different genealogical inscription of Mushi(tes) in Exodus 6:19 (Numbers 3:20,33; 1 Chronicles 6:4,32; 23:21,23; 24:26,30) and Numbers 26:58 argues for the antiquity of the gentilice; the copper serpent (cf. 2 Kings 18:4, nchsh nchsht) may predate Numbers 21 (etiology?) and both almost certainly point back to the Timna region as the origin of the cultual practice, but it is uncertain to me that the connection with Moses (as an individual, Egyptian-like theophoric name lacking a theonym) predates Deuteronomistic redaction (cf. v. 6,12 and 1 Samuel 12:6,8; 1 Kings 2:3; 8:9,53,56; 2 Kings 14:6; 21:8; 23:35 for other occurrences of Moses which clearly presuppose the Exodus and/or Torah traditions). Are there other clues I am not thinking of?
My opinion is that the PN Mushi (mshy) listed by P and the Chronicler (Exodus 6:19, 1 Chronicles 6:19, 47, 23:21, 23, 24:26, 30) is derivative of the gentilic clan name (mshy), not the PN Moses (mshh). Mushi perserves the gentilic suffix just as we find in the case of Levi as a PN which is homophonous with the clan name. The contrived nature of P's genealogy is most evident in the fact that the towns of Hebron and Libnah (lbnh), places of Levite settlement in Joshua 21 and the source of the Levite clan names of Hebronites and Libnites (Numbers 26:58), are retrojected back into the Levite genealogy as PNs (still possessing the gentilic in the case of lbny). The invention of Mushi similarly obscures the linkage with Moses and the Mushites. So I view the name of Moses as older than PN Mushi, and I think the tradition of Moses as an individual predates the Josianic reforms; the enthusiasm with which the Josianic scroll was accepted as an authoritative and ancient document, or even the way Moses is used by the Deuteronomist to invoke purportedly old tradition, suggests to me that the notion of "Moses" as a traditional lawgiver was not a new innovation but rested on a very old tradition of Moses as an authoritative figure from the past. And while the DH applies Mosaic exodus/wilderness traditions to the nation as a whole (1 Samuel 12:6, 8), this is almost surely an extension of a tradition belonging to an originally smaller group (such as the Levites or Mushites) to the national level; virtually all the main players in the exodus and wilderness are Levites, yet artificially all the tribes are present with the Levites in Egypt and the wilderness in the narratives of J, E, D, and P. The Egyptian etymon of Moses is attested throughout the New Kingdom as an element of theophoric PNs, and in the 19th and 20th Dynasties non-theophoric hypocoristic forms parallel to Moses appear in documents. Also the name is spelled with a shin rather than a samek; in the ninth century BC we find the shin in "Anemose" (`nmsh), i.e. Anat-mose in a Samaria ostracon while samek occurs in the "Ramesses" of Exodus 1:11 (r`mss, from Egyptian r`-ms-sw "Re is born"), which is certainly a late borrowing. But this is probably inconclusive if the shibboleth/sibboleth story is any indication. I think it is reasonable to think that the figure of Moses originated as the eponymous ancestor of the Mushite clan (whereas Mushi is a later back formation from the clan name), and that would potentially take us back prior to the seventh century BC. Is there any material in the J and E exodus/wilderness narratives that is older than the Josianic period? Maybe the exodus/wilderness traditions linked to Moses in Micah 6 are pre-Deuteronomistic as well, i.e. dating to the late eighth century BC. But we simply don't have any sources dating earlier than the eighth century BC that haven't been modified at the hands of redactors.
As for the connection with Nehushtan and Moses, it would seem wholly unnecessary for the Deuteronomist author of 2 Kings 18:4 to attribute a graven image like that to Moses, which had just been used in the cult that Josiah was stomping out; such a claim runs against the whole tenor of Deuteronomy. J's narrative relating the origin of the Nehushtan (in Numbers 21:4-9) could be viewed as a polemical etiology aimed at establishing that the Nehushtan was not originally a cult object, and yet the author takes the Mosaic origin of the bronze serpent for granted when he could just have easily attributed it to a party of unfaithful Israelites who made a graven image for themselves much like the golden calf. In both cases, it seems that the Mosaic background of the Nehushstan cult could not have been easily denied and the aniconic authors accepted the tradition of a Mosaic origin of the Nehushtan, even if that sat uncomfortably with the portrait they otherwise want to give of Moses.
What I can't quite figure out yet is how you go from an Egyptian mshh as a 'non-theophoric hypocoristic form' (which I understand functions as personal name, but I may be wrong about that too) to a gentilice (mshy, which I also think predates the Biblical eponym mshh and a fortiori the secondary mshy PN).
Your argument about 2 Kings makes me think that the DH may have known the basic J story after all.
Micah 6:4 is particularly interesting because it has the trio Moses, Aaron and Miriam: on the one hand, the small (and even partly negative) role of Miriam in the Torah may plead for the antiquity of the text (a topos of feminist exegesis :)); otoh, the absence of Aaron (and Miriam) from any other arguably "old" text makes it sound too good to be true...
What I can't quite figure out yet is how you go from an Egyptian mshh as a 'non-theophoric hypocoristic form' (which I understand functions as personal name, but I may be wrong about that too) to a gentilice (mshy, which I also think predates the Biblical eponym mshh and a fortiori the secondary mshy PN).
I guess what makes me hesitant to view the gentilic clan name as the earliest form is that it etymologically has its model in an Egyptian PN, so the ethnonym must have somehow developed from a PN and mshh looks like it would produce mshy when inflected for the gentilic. Is that incorrect? I admit I may not have grasped these issues fully. I recognize that usually the direction is from ethnonym to (sometimes eponymous) PN, but could it also go in the other direction?
I wish we could somehow discover a nineth or eighth century BC Israelite equivalent of the libraries of Assurbanipal or Ammurapi of Ugarit....there's nothing like that at all in the Iron Age Levant. I guess we are lucky to even have what is in the OT saved for posterity, redacted and revised as it is. So many of these basic questions would easily be cleared up if only we had an archive of literary texts.
Here is an interesting comment by Philip R. Davies on this subject:
"Does this mean that Moses himself must be a spurious figure? The Moses of the Pentateuch almost certainly is — though a historical counterpart might yet be found at another time and place, perhaps as the founder of the mysteries levitical 'Mushite' priestly clan mentioned in Numbers 26:58. This clan seems to resurface in the book of Judges, where we are told (18:30) that Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. Work out the chronology! Like that of some Israelite priests, such as Hophni and Phinehas, the name 'Moses' is Egyptian, and while this fact in itself requires some historical explanation, it may in turn have helped to generate part of the exodus story. Like many deceptions, while we know that what we are told is wrong, we are never likely to find out the real truth" (in "Spurious Attribution in the Hebrew Bible," The Invention of Sacred Tradition, 2007, p. 286).