In Moses, Sholem Asch presents the great Jewish leader as a human being without trivializing his spirituality. However, the novel finest achievement is its depiction of the Jews that Moses led out of Egypt.
Asch shows the Jews as just one small segment of the huge slave population of Egypt. The Egyptians ran the slave operations through Jewish overseers, much as the Nazis were to do centuries later. The “mixed multitude” that accompanied the Jews were from those slaves.
The story line follows the biblical narrative, adding details to explain some of the elements that often bewilder today’s readers. For example, since no slaves were allowed to worship any god, the request to go three day’s journey into the desert makes more sense. Moses leads the Jews out across the Reed Sea: the Red Sea is miles away from the exodus route.
Asch makes readers understand how stressful the desert journey would have been to people raised in a land with abundant water and fertile soil and why they resented the Levites who seemed to get the choicest of everything.
All told, you’ll find Moses an accessible and entertaining overview of an important historical period.
By Sholem Asch
Trans. Maurice Samuel
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
1951 #3 bestseller