Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moses and America

I ran across an excerpt from Bruce Feiler's new book, America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story in a recent issue of Time. The story of Moses, Feiler argues, is ingrained deeply into the story of America. Most notably, the pioneers and immigrants who came here felt a strong connection to a story about slaves being freed and heading to a promised land. Leaving the old world dominated by a Church that seemed heavy-handed and oppressive to them, gave them a kinship to the people of Israel fleeing the hard-hearted Pharoah. But more than that Moses keeps returning again and again. The slaves in America are drawn to Christianity through the story of freed slaves. The Moses story comes back during the Cold War. Moses is a mighty figure in scripture, as well as in this nation. Most entertaining is the connection between the quintessential American superhero and Moses. Felier writes:

With the rise of secularism and the declining influence of the Bible in the 20th century, Moses might have melted away as a role model. But something curious happened. He was so identified as a hero of the American Dream that he superseded Scripture and entered the realm of popular culture, from novels to television.

Superman was modeled partly on Moses. The comic-book hero's creators, two bookish Jews from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, drew their character's backstory from the superhero of the Torah. Just as baby Moses is floated down the Nile in a basket to escape annihilation, baby Superman is launched into space in a rocket ship to avoid extinction. Just as Moses is raised in an alien world before being summoned to liberate Israel, Superman is raised in an alien environment before being called to assist humanity.

I don't know if I will spring for a hardback, but I will certainly be keeping an eye out when it goes into paperback.

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