Basket Cases: Moses, Sargon, and Karna

Introduction: Founder Stories

Many, many religions and nations have founder stories where the founder has some unique beginning so as to tell the listeners, “Look, this guy/gal is special!”.  Below I describe three basket cases (smile): stories of three important religious/political figures which started with a basket: Sargon, Krishna & Moses.

Moses — Judaism & Christianity

Moses in Basket

In Jewish Bible (embraced also by Christians), the book of Exodus tells the myth about how the Jews were exiled to Egypt and then later Moses led them out of captivity.   Very few scholars would doubt this story is fictionalized, the question is how fictional is any part of the story.   See my “Jesus, myth or fact” post to see the various percentages of fiction in bible stories — or any story.

Part of Exodus myth is the part about Moses being put in a basket. Moses was born to a Jewish woman (Levite) in Egypt at a time that the Pharaoh supposedly commanded all Jewish male babies be killed. So that Jewish woman, hid her child then three-months old, but when she could no longer hide him, she put him in a basket and sent him down a river.

The daughter of the Pharaoh apparently saw the child Moses in the basket and adopted it as her own. Eventually, after baby Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house hold, he had a powerful position in the court and later help his people (Jews) to escape from the Pharaoh. (Exodus 2).  

Sargon the Great — King of Akkadian Empire

Sargon the Great

Sargon the Great, was the King of Akkadian around 2,300 BCE and had a similar basket beginning to the Jewish Moses.

Sargon  was born as the illegitimate son of a priestess or low-class woman. In shame she secretly hid her child and then placed in a basket of reeds and floated him down a river where baby Sargon was found by a man and raised as his own son — only later to become a great King and leader.  The similarities to the Moses story are uncanny.

But which story came first?  The earliest copy of the Sargon story we have is from the 600s BCE found in the Library of Ashurbanipal.  But the original story is much earlier, of course, passed on in oral tradition. Likewise, the oldest Hebrew Bible we have are the Dead Sea Scrolls with texts dated from 150 BCE to 70 CE but the stories were likely also written in the 600s. Due to all these stories being passed on orally for most likely centuries before their recording, and not knowing when the original recording took place, dating these events is very difficult. So, did they borrow from each other, or just use an obvious literary technique or, and this is unlikely, all just tell the truth about their founders. See my post illustrating models for how Greeks and Jews shared similar stories here.


Karna — Hindu Hero

My daughter and I are now reading the Mahabharata were a similar basket story came up. I copied the page with the picture on it for you.

In this story, a virgin is impregnated by the sun god (sound Christian?). In shame the child is sent down a river and found by a charioteer (low caste) who found him a famous teacher of war. This child was Karna who would become major warrior in the Mahabharata.

Clouds of Oral Traditions

Below I point out the source of the three basket heros: Karna, Sargon and Moses (probably in that chronological order). I also added “Clouds of Oral Traditions” temporarily to my diagram to emphasize that written traditions often are patched together from very long oral traditions — often oral traditions that intermingle.  I know my diagram is busy, but I hope it helps again illustrate that stories can either be the result of sharing and remixing or spontaneous creation of similar concepts in diverse cultures.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

64 responses to “Basket Cases: Moses, Sargon, and Karna

  1. Hi sabio. confident pronouncement of a myth I see. I’m suprised that when many similar stories abound the first conclusion seems usually to be its a myth, rather than representations of an actual event. I also see your timeline (unspurisingly) puts the Torah etc well this side of 1000BC. I’m wathicng wtih interest as low chronolgy starts to creak as more evidence comes to light. I’m a little sad this probably won’t be resolved in my life time but who knows…
    best, cct

  2. @ clapham
    (1) Moses
    It would take a lot of post to cover exactly why I think the Moses story is fabricated. But apparently, most Jewish scholars think so too. And actually, a great many Christian scholars do. But you are right, I am not trying to prove it here. Just showing you there are lots of basket stories.

    (2) Torah’s Dates
    This book would be informative:
    The Formation of Jewish Canon: Timothy Lim.
    Check Wiki — “Dating the BIble” for a summary. Not that wiki is any authority but I don’t have time to tour you through the research.

    Dating the Torah — as with the Mahabharata and others — is tough. We have extant texts alluding to earlier times. So, do we go only with the extant texts, or the references for when earlier texts existed or buy into the writer’s perspective of the time they say they are writing in. Plus, there is the whole oral tradition issue.

    Why don’t you draw a diagram and justify the dates with up-to-date research on your site — then come back and let me know and I will take a look.

    All I ask is that whatever standards you use to evaluate other religions in terms of anthropology, textual analysis and such, you do to your own.

  3. We read about Sargon in my kids’ homeschool history book. I was shocked at the similarities.

  4. @ Alice
    Either accidental or shared source or copying or …. but it is interesting.
    Certainly if you want to compete with a culture, you can steel from them.

    @ Clapham<
    See this post:
    The whole blog is very challenging to evangelicals and more.

  5. @ sabio. thansk for that link, i started reading it but to be honest i find these polemic blogs a bit tiresome. The same is often true of Christian blogs but often you can tell whats coming from the opening lines. I enjoy a reasoned blog, like yours but I try avoid the utterly ungracious ones. We’re all entitled to our views but most people don’t regard Jesus as a bigot. In fact, I suggest that the gretest moral characters of our time, such as Ghandi, regard him as a great teacher. So to be honest i’m not going to really bother with someone who’s opening line is that Jesus was a bigot.
    I am however familar with a lot of the arguments about archeology and egyptoloy, as well as the debate about low chronology. You may have seen my post on the dust that hasn’t settled yet, with a link to a national geographic article called the kings of controversy about Israel finkelsten and low chronology.
    The problem with low chronology is that it largely relies on teh lack of evidence. But the more people dig (like Garfinkel and Levy), the more the seemingly solid foundation starts to slip away.
    If my appetite reurns I’ll read a little more of the link…I wish i had all day to do this!

  6. @ clapham
    Yes, I agree.
    When blogs start out attacking, they are very hard to read. I slip into that error sometimes myself — especially if recently being pissed off at something in the news or some bigoted thing said to me or my kids or which I overhear.

    Yeah, it sounds like you are much more up on the chronology issue than I am. I will have to try and compile a post which links to pros and cons on the issue.

    Do you have any good sites or books which argue PRO a real Moses in light of present counter evidence (or lack) which is offered? Thanx.

    Concerning Jesus a great moral teacher or not. I guess it depends on what teachings and what “Great” means. In my recent Harischandra & the Book of Job post, Gandhi saw Harishchandra as one of his great role model, yet I tell why I would have some very deep problems with that. No one’s teachings are perfect — in my view. No one’s life is perfect either. But people like heros to inspire them to shoot higher– I get that and maybe it ain’t too bad.

    Yeah, I wish I could do more blogging too. I sneaking this in while working — the patient load just took a short drop. BTW, may I ask, where do you live in England?

    BTW, I left you a question back on the other post about evil spirits being the presence that nonbelievers feels when they feel some divine presence. Are you checking the “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.” box on posts? Anyway, hope to hear your answer on that. Thanx for dropping in.

  7. It is fascinating to hear all these stories.

    I live in a small community where the dominant culture is Evangelical Christianity. I find it entertaining, yet often frustrating, to hear many of them explain their beliefs as if they just suddenly appeared in history through some divine intervention without any influences from other cultures. One needs only to read and study their own history, and the histories of other cultures, to realize that what is believed today is an outcome of much influencing, give and take and/or conquer. With Christmas upon us, many here are reminding others(this is mostly just preaching to the choir) about the reason for the season, which they believe is Jesus. I am afraid(ok maybe I am not) that I have burst a few bubbles by sharing that December 25th is not the birthday of Jesus and that that idea was taken from a much older practice and worship of Mithra, the ‘pagan’ Sun god, and that most of what Christianity is and does today is taken from this older worship.

    As you may have gathered, I am not a very popular person in my community, at least not positively.

  8. @ CalledtoQuestion
    Well, you are popular here.
    I taught my kids to tell their friends that they celebrate Yule Tide. Happy Yule Tide greetings! As you know, Yule Tide was absorbed by Christians to convince pagans to convert. Here is a Christian “Yule Tide” hymn. So I am all for grabbing it back and making the Winter Holiday season, fun and universal. Of course, I’d like it out of the hands of commercialism too but …

  9. While at a shopping centre, in the city last week, I made sure to cover all my basis’ by wishing the clerk Season greetings, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Birthday Mithra and Happy Holidays(Am I missing any?).

    To which she replied, “gesundheit!”.

    I couldn’t have said it better.

  10. @calledtoquestion

    Where did you learn all that about Mithraism?

  11. So, consoledreader, while you are asking questions, may I ask why you changed your name from drkshadow to “consolereader” and why you started at new blog? I loved the movie Ikuru, btw.

    As for your question, I found this on wiki:
    ^ “Roman Religion”. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 07-04-2011. “For a time, coins and other monuments continued to link Christian doctrines with the worship of the Sun, to which Constantine had been addicted previously. But even when this phase came to an end, Roman paganism continued to exert other, permanent influences, great and small….The ecclesiastical calendar retains numerous remnants of pre-Christian festivals—notably Christmas, which blends elements

    Now, what are your thoughts?
    Looking forward to CalltoQuestions answer too! 😉

  12. Much of what I learned about Mithraism was through humanities class, then from a few Persian friends, and of course the internet. Mithraism, in Rome, was one of many religions known as the ‘Mystery’ religion and supposedly had its roots in Zoroastrianism, though there is some debate about this. Mithraism heavily influenced Christianity, in fact the two groups even held services in neighbouring buildings(I imagine this is where the influence kicked in.). There are so many similarities. In fact, even within its roots in ancient Persia and Zoroastrianism, you can already see some of the influences, from this religion, on what the Jews were just beginning in Judaism. Interesting stuff, especially when sharing with the very conservative Christian(tee he, so fun!).

    Hope that answers your question, or maybe I went to far?

  13. Hi all. I’m still surprised to hear that its a new idea to many that there are common elements in various religions. It certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to evangelical Christians, like me. I can’t think of a single slightly-more-than-basic “truth” of any sort that doesn’t have various competing theories (which still have the same core) around it. But i’m even more surprised when people reach the conclusion that this means they are all made up. Rather than undermining the truth of theism, the almost universal tradition of it, often with many similar themes) to my mind would suggest it is true, if perhaps misunderstood.
    This is another one of those universals that a naturalist world view needs to put in the category of illusion, or useful but ultimately untrue evolutionary tool. Its a bit like the ice of evil – it must be simply a label we put on things rather than a real thing itself.

  14. @ sabio I definitely don;t want to claim expertise on chronology. The leading author on low chronology (As far as i can tell) is a guy called Israel Finkelstein. On the Biblical side is the not at all ambiguously named Biblical Archeology Society. They publish periodicals and have some free ebooks on the site, some better than others. I’ve not come across anything actually written on moses but i haven’t really looked for it. If i get a chance i’ll do some digging.
    re location I’m in London. Clapham Common is a big green space nearby.

  15. @ Clapham,

    Your comment about common elements in various religions was a bit abstract and hard to follow — though I could guess, especially being an ex-evangelical of sorts at one time. So I made this picture to aid our dialogue.
    Help me fix it up if you’d like.
    I see you saying —

    Look, the shared stuff is usually A or B, so why do Atheists always run to C. That stories/myths resemble each other point to Yahweh. In “A”, Indian stories just see a fuzzy version of the truth. In “B”, Yahweh intervened in some place and people hear this and change the story or make it their own, while the Bible (Israel’s version) is the true story. Thus the ‘universalism’ is God in the background trying to speak to everyone.

    My version:

    A & B happen without heavenly connection. People either do similar things or borrow, steal or share with each other.

    Boy, mine sounds boring, doesn’t it?
    Hope you like the diagram — I will post it as a separate post after readers help me add more options or improve the ones I have.

    PS — please go back and answer my question on the other post — sorry, lots to keep track of.

  16. @clapham common tree

    It surprises me too! I have found, and perhaps it is just a difference of location or demographics(or something like that), that the Evangelicals I know, and I would presume a good number of North American Evangelicals, are very surprised to hear such stories. Sure they may admit that much of history has been a balance of give and take between cultures, but when it comes to Christianity it is as a religion (sorry not a religion, a “relationship”) divinely established without any human interference at all. The idea of it being influenced by other religions is ground shaking and foundation breaking for many.

    While this commonality between religions may produce warm squishy feelings, this should not, necessarily, be confused with proof of a grander divinity. I do not think that it should be surprising for many to reach the conclusion of it all being, as the apostle Paul would say, “Skubala”. After all a majority of North American culture is heavily influenced by Christianity, particularly evangelicals (Like the influence of Wormtongue over Theoden, in Lord of the Rings). I am often having to deconstruct the minds of many atheist’s as much as the evangelicals. It’s a lot of work.:)

  17. @ sabio. Good pics – how do you generate graphics so quickly? I think that is more or less right. There are some technicalities in the phrasing that I would tinker with, but in the context of this thread it’s good. Like some of the creation myths are similar – maybe they are retellings of the same event.
    But your view could be true as well.
    I should also say that I don’t adhere to the all religions lead to the same god school of thought ( I think logically that can’t possibly be true given what each says). And I also don’t adhere to the Yahweh with a broken telephone school – although that could well be the case in some situations.
    But if we hold that Romans 1 says that god can be perceived by all, then it should not surprise Christians to see religions with similar elements. And if we hold that morality is also objective we should not be surprised to see eg the 10 commandments pop up elsewhere. Rather than weaken our faith, IMHO these should strengthen it. I’ll pop over to the other post now.

  18. @ called to question. I’m evangelical as well but I sometimes share the frustration that I think some non Christians have with other evangelicals on some topics. I think the biggest problem is that we become defensive and then aggressive. A friend of mine has just moved from London to Texas to work in a church there so am looking forward to hearing what he sees there. I think it’s a real shame because often Christianity gets painted as being thoroughly brainless when I really don’t think it is. Although I am probably a great contributor to that problem. There have been some bright lights over the years, cs lewis here and Tim Keller in New York are two of my favourites!

  19. @clapham common tree.

    I agree, that a quick defensive response is a big problem. I appreciate your insight on the matter. I believe your friend will observe a vast difference between European evangelicalism and North American evangelicalism, especially in the southern United States. We’re talking about a place where Baptists decided against wine for communion and invented a substitute called “Welch’s” grape juice. Where Jesus miraculously turned water into wine North American evangelicalism has, in equal, miraculously turned wine back into water.

    Christianity, is in no way brainless, although there are definitely those out there that seem to prove otherwise(ahem..Mark Driscoll). The very fact that you are conversing on this blog site, indicates to me that you are not brainless. Some of the most intellectual individuals I know claim faith in Christianity (this could be due to the fact that I live in a community dominated by evangelicalism) but these intellectuals hold to a theology that claims relationships come before theology. I guess that makes them smart in my eyes.

  20. @ Evangelicals,
    So concerning the “Basket Cases”.
    What do you think is the picture for the Sargon – Moses similarities:
    (B) Model Hebrews borrowed Mesopotamian story for Moses
    (C) The Two Basket Stories developed independently.

    How about the Karna? A, B or C with Hebrew or Mesopotamia stuff?

    I think those questions make this post meaningful in a simple way.

  21. If I am not an evangelical, can I still answer?

    While it is difficult to accurately pin down either or, I tend to lean toward (B) Model Hebrews borrowed Mesopotamian story for Moses. Other stories of similarity can be observed through this Jewish-Mesopotamian relationship. the ‘flood’, the dualistic concept of the personification of evil through Satan, the two final destinations of humankind i.e.Heaven and Hell, and the appearance of a divine saviour at the end of time.

    I think it is all a conglomerate of faiths, beliefs and political ideas. Call it synchronism, if you will. An unintended combination, or, as I like to call it, society’s ‘Frankenstein’ ideology.

  22. i think it really happened in the bible – cant comment in the other. would be interested to see the claimed chronology of events rather than publication.
    @ called – interesting. i look forward to seeing how my friend goes. are you a christian under any particular label?

  23. @Sabio

    My old blog got associated with my real name.

  24. And I wanted to continue blogging, so I felt I reboot was in order.


    What kind of Humanities class was it? Where did you hear about the twelve disciples of Mithras specifically?

  25. @chapham common tree: I wouldn’t say I am a Christian at all, though in my past I was once a an avid evangelical. Call me ex-evangelical, post- Christian, call me whatever, people always do(I guess it is impossible to get away from labels.). 🙂 I am, who I am.

    @consoledreader: The Humanities class was called, Western Thought and Culture I: Before the Reformation. Which is where I read about the twelve ‘disciples’ or ‘followers’. Though there are similarities, between both religions, there is debate on many of them and how much influence they had on one another or if it just happens to be a coincidence. Regardless, it does make many in my circles surprised to hear of theses similarities.

    @sabio lantz: If you don’t mind me asking, in reference to one of your comments above, “…I am all for grabbing it back and making the Winter Holiday season, fun and universal.”. What does this all entail? What type of traditions do you practice during this time? Sorry, I am kind of in the holiday spirit and enjoy hearing what others do to celebrate the season. Yes, I am a sap.

  26. Is it possible that Sargon of Akkad was using the Israeli Moses’ story to bolster his status in his Empire? And the story was caught on by the authors of Mahabharat? Since Mahabharat depicts real/mythical wars in a developing Indo-Aryan ethno-cultural milieu, it is possible this story was transmitted from Babylon eastwards to Central Asia and/or Indus river.

  27. @infernothatyoulit
    Weren’t both Sargon and Karna around 700-800 years before Moses? And there’s also a similar myth about Romulus and Remus.
    I guess they could have developed independently, but it does seem a bit too much of a coincidence.

  28. Thanks for jumping in, Boris

  29. Nate


    The timeline of Sargon and Karna are not what’s important here, but rather the dating of the tablets that tell their stories. Saying they lived “around 700-800 years before Moses” is not such a strong point when you consider the fact that the oldest versions of their stories come long after Moses’ time, and at a time that was close in proximity to the oldest version of the Torah.

    Furthermore, even if all the stories have similarities it does not suggest they were all myths, as Sabio so confidently puts it, but that 2 of them were potential myths that borrowed from the first story that actually occurred. And this is only if you assume that the similarities are so strong that it even necessitates a theory that they were actually copied.

  30. @Nate: “the fact that the oldest versions of their stories come long after Moses’ time”.
    I’m not sure where you get that from. As far as I can find out the oldest version of Exodus are fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which may date to the 3rd century BC, while fragments of the Sargon story found in Nineveh date to the 7th centruy BC.
    How long either of them were passed down orally is anyone’s guess.
    Of course, none of it is proof either way.
    I understand from looking around that there are perhaps a couple of dozen such myths from the ancient world, and I must go and do more research.
    It’s all fascinating stuff, and I look forward to any other information that you may provide.

  31. Nate


    Hey. A very cursory investigation pins the book of Exodus, detailing the story of Moses, to the 6th century BC, and the Library of Ashurbanipal, which depicts the birth of Sargon, to the 7th century BC. Unlike the 400 year gap you suggested, that’s only 100 years. You would then have to take into account that whoever wrote the book of Exodus, if we even want to assume it was in the 7th century BC, had access to the tablets that detailed Sargon’s birth. In my mind, that is highly unlikely, and the whole theory does not have much to stand on.

    But my earlier point, in which I attempted to be careful in my wording, was that “the oldest versions of their [Sargon and Karna’s] stories”, meaning the tablets, came “long after Moses’ time”, not the hard copy scripture that described his stories. Meaning, while the timelines of the Moses and Sargon stories put Sargon before Moses, you cannot prove that the detailed stories that are found within the Sargon tablets precede Moses’ time (which is believed to be in the 15th century BC).

  32. Hi, thanks for your reply. I was looking at the actual oldest documentary evidence, which in the case of Exodus would appear to fragments from the Scrolls.
    As for the oral traditions, you’re perfectly correct that they supposedly date to the 15th century BC and the Sargon document could well be gleaned from that source, or another.
    But claims from oral tradition, like someone said, aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on:-)
    As for the Karna tale, I’m not having much success in dating it at all, but I’ll keep trying.
    Thanks and regards, Boris.

  33. Nate

    @Boris, @Sabio

    Indeed. But it’s quite a leap for the author to make a bold and confident statement that “The whole biblical Exodus story of the Jews exiled to Egypt where a leader Moses finally led them out of captivity is a myth”. The claim is based on one portion of the “myth”, namely Moses’ birth story, which cannot be stated with any certainty due to the points brought above, and that’s enough to say that the entire rest of the story is made up.

    Boris, do you also consider the “whole exodus story” a myth based on the Moses-Sargon issue?

    But more importantly, is it so outlandish to say that they BOTH happened? Indeed, nowadays putting a baby in an enclosed chest (if you read the Moses story carefully in Hebrew, saying it’s a basket is a poor translation) on a river is just not common practice, but that’s because we live in a very different world. Put it this way: If a great leader from this generation revealed how he ran away from home as a child and hitchhiked off the highway, would we say he made it all up if we find out that the same thing happened to a great leader from the 18th century?
    It’s clear from the Sargon and Moses accounts that the mother placed the child on the river for entirely different reasons. It’s clear that the identity of the person who found them was not the same in each story. And what about the continuation of each respective story? How is that part similar again? Read the Bible carefully (original Hebrew is obviously best) and explain how the accounts match each other, other than the fact that he was saved from the river.
    Besides the basket/chest part of the story and that these two were important historical figures, is that enough ammunition to say that one story is a sham over the other?

  34. Hi, thanks for your reply, I do appreciate you taking the time.
    No, I agree, I don’t think you can say either way which, if either, was the original. I’d just favour what seems to be the older one because that seems slightly more likely and simple.
    But as you say, they could well have emerged separately. Though I’d like them and others to have a common link, as I find it fascinating that during a time when literacy was so low, and travel so difficult, that such myths could possibly have become widespread.
    I can’t really see that a legend about his birth and rescue would have much bearing on the validity or otherwise of the Exodus story as a whole. At most I guess you could argue that if it could be shown to have been a copied story, then it may be used to add weight to those claiming that everything was fabricated and mythical. But certainty of the story’s origins seems highly unlikely.
    I’m not sure about the chest/box point. Yes, it’s the correct translation of the hebrew tê·ḇaṯ, (which I just looked up:-) but it was made from bulrushes, the same material mentioned in the Sargon saga, and something made from that material would more likely be regarded as a type of basket by most people reading the Bible today. To translate as box or chest would leave people thinking it was wood or even metal.
    The Karna story, while I find it very interesting, I can’t find any reliable dates for it before the 2nd century AD. But I’ll keep looking at it and a couple of others.
    Thanks and regards, Boris.

  35. Boris and Nate: I am working on updating the post a little bit (correcting my earlier sloppy writing and such) and will get back to you both in a bit with questions. Thank you for participating.

  36. OK, guys, I finished my editing. See if you like my wording a bit better and if it makes my points more clear.

  37. Nate

    The point I was making about the basket is not about the material used. You are indeed correct about the fact that it was used from pitch and reeds (the Hebrew terms to describe the materials are quite rare and not really found elsewhere in the Bible). My point was more on what is conveyed by the term “basket”. I always picture a basket as something open and exposed, almost like a fruit basket you send to a friend. But the wording of the Moses story suggests it was enclosed, and that’s why I used the term “chest”.

    You claim in your story that “Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house hold” and that “he had a powerful position in the court”.
    Where are you getting these facts from? From the movies (Ten commandments, Prince of Egypt, etc.) or from the text itself??? Go back to the text and provide me with some verses that clearly support these points.
    Furthermore, in my above point I noted that the “happenstance” of two leaders having a similar birth story within almost a millennium is not an indication that one story copied the other. If they both occurred in the 21st century then I would start to question it, but that’s not the case

  38. Nate:
    Commanding me with “Go back to the text and provide me” will not work to motivate me.
    You seem to have a horse in this race. Does it matter to you if the Mahabharata is true (is does to lots of Hindus) or that the Book of Mormon is accurate (it does to lots of Mormons) or that the Jewish Scriptures are accurate (it does to lots of Jews and Christians). You get my point. Answer that question!!! Oops, sorry, was that a command or too many punctuation marks?

  39. Oh, Nate. One point, I have found that sharing thoughts and information with those who have a huge vested interest in their beliefs is a challenge. And one must weigh the use of their time. Without courtesy, the calculus on that issue is also changed.

  40. Nate


    You are absolutely right. I should not be commanding. I apologize if my statements conveyed that tone, and I will try to avoid doing that again.

    I know it was an analogy, but I want to make it clear that I would not consider this a “race” per se. I am not interested if the story of Moses “wins” vs. that of Sargon. In fact, I suggested that both be true.

    Do I have a “vested interested in my beliefs”? I think there’s nothing wrong with that. If someone writes a blog about cardiology and states things that are unfounded, I would hope that cardiologists put out a dignified and respectful response. So yes indeed, I have a “horse in the race”, and that horse is “truth”. We live in a world where people write blogs and news articles that people read blindly without actually taking the time to investigate if the material is based on fact or are supported in any way. Whether or not you feel “motivated” to “go back to the text”, it would behoove you to first go back to the source of the “myths” as an exercise of being intellectually honest with yourself, especially when you are expressing those views in a public manner.
    I have done the same with my own belief system and that’s because I don’t just follow what other people say; I look to the source myself. I see that you have indeed quoted “Exodus 2” in your description of the story. Where in that chapter did you see that “Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s house hold” and that “he had a powerful position in the court”?

    You stated that “sharing thoughts and information with those who have a huge vested interest in their beliefs is a challenge”.
    I promise you, I’m not one of those kooks who will say things like “you’re damned if you don’t believe..” or that “you can’t be saved if you don’t see the truth”. I would agree that attempting dialogue with people like that is not only a challenge, but a nuisance. I am all about having a dialogue based on facts and text, and if you’re willing to do that with me, no matter what the ultimate outcome shall be, I would greatly enjoy it! I don’t view this as an opportunity to “prove you wrong” but more an opportunity to understand the thought process that led you to writing your post, and if it’s founded on something reliable.

    Looking forward!

  41. @Nate: Yes, I see your point about the basket, but I think chest/box would be equally misleading for many people. Perhaps rushwork box would be better?

  42. @ Nate
    Indeed, there is nothing wrong with vested interests, but it is important to bring them up front. In medicine, my field, journals have finally gotten to the point of having authors of articles on medicines and devices to admit their financial vested interests. With religion, it is social/identity vested interests, much further reaching than financial, at times.

    But by stating that your vested interest is “truth”, is a bit of a sidestep in my view.

    I strongly agree that people read blindly on issues — without discernment, in echo chambers etc.

    Ooops, you said, “it would behoove you…” — you went against your first statement to “not be commanding” or perhaps to be superior in tone. Oh, then “intellectually honest” — as if I am a liar. Wow, see your tone.

    My point of this post is simple, the basket theme is most likely shared or a simple fictional archetype vehicle to imply ones founder is great. The historicity is clearly questionable from many angles. That is fine, because the story can still be instructive and influential without being fact. Fiction is powerful.

    But since your tone is still odd, I will not be runny to help you with your nit-picking while avoiding the main point which appears contrary to you investment which is far beyond your claim of being “truth”.

  43. Nate

    Not being “intellectually honest” does not make someone a liar. But it may indicate that someone is making statements without a strong background in the matter, or without having put much thought into it. Not saying that’s you, and I’m hoping that’s not the case.
    It seems we have different understandings of what “behoove” means. I am not attempting to express a “superior tone”. I am simply stating that someone who writes a public blog should appropriately ensure the statements he or she is making are coming from valid sources. Would you please care to share what your sources are?

    I completely agree that fiction can bear great meaning. I’m all for it. I actually find it ridiculous when certain teachings that are clearly meant to be allegory are taken too literally. But it’s an entirely different issue to state something never transpired at all (“the myth about how the Jews were exiled to Egypt”) when it’s a critical component of a people’s history.
    This statement of yours (about fiction lending meaning) is sidestepping the point I brought up. I don’t see how it’s outlandish that two leaders living almost an entire millennium apart can have one similar minute detail of their youth, enough to make judgements on the entirety of the narrative. I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

    The “main point” here is your blog, not my vested interest. But if you’d like to know, my “vested interest” is the Bible and its veracity. Whether I’m Christian, Jewish, or Mormon is not the point. I am very happy to have a dialogue with you about the story you’ve brought up. I have no “vested interest” in whether you become “a believer” or that you “see the truth” or “find salvation in christ” or some garbage like that. Your life is your life, and what you choose is your choice. I am not selling anything, there is no spiritual “medicine or device” I am hoping you will buy from me. I meant it when I said that my main interest is getting to the “truth” of the matter. I would very much look forward to having an open dialogue with you, where both of us share that same interest.

  44. Nate


    I like “rushwork box”! Very slick! I just don’t like box. What about a barrel or an encasement?

  45. @Nate:
    Glad you like the rushwork bit! I don’t think barrel would be suitable. Encasement or container would do the job, since they’re so vague that at least they wouldn’t bring the wrong image to mind.
    I was looking at hamper, as it’s a woven box with a cover, but the connotations it suggests would probably be food/picnic or laundry.
    I’ve been looking at online thesaurus sites and it’s amazingly difficult to find a suitable word or even phrase.
    My respect for the people that translate the Bible and other works has risen 10 fold!

  46. Nate


    Check out Robert Alter. He’s about to publish his own translation of the entire Bible. Should be epic.

  47. @ Nate:

    (1) Do you think the Moses basket story is meant to be taken literally?

    (2) Interesting that you claim that the Jewish Exile to Egypt story is “a critical component [to the ‘history’ of the Jews]”. So, I imagine you think it is important for that story to be historically accurate in the large part (basket or box or whatever, aside). So though you agree that fiction can be useful, it seems you don’t want the Mosses story to be largely fiction.

    (3) Thus, if number (2) is true, it seems you may indeed have a vested interest for Judaism to have its “critical” components verified. Otherwise, do you feel things will fall apart for the Jewish people? Their culture, their faith, their bonds, their roles in history?

    (4) How did you find this post? Do you scour the web also looking to defend the “truth” of the Mahabharata claims or Mormon claims or …. You still feel it is not important to tell us you mission? It seems obvious that your desires (as in all of us) informs much more than perhaps you’d like to imagine.

    (5) I get that you are not a salvation-freak Christian, and imagine instead that you are a Jew of some flavor. Care to share?

    (6) Do you think horrible damage would be done to Hindus if the Mahabharata was found to be largely fictional, or Buddhism, if the Sutras were not actually by the Buddha, would the Buddhist world be horribly hurt? Would it be a great loss to those people, or to the world or to your people or to your world?

    I am sure you see my points (agree or not)
    Thank you

  48. @Nate:
    That’s outstanding, thanks for the info. I’ve no idea how I’ve been ignorant of this work. My goto versions is Young’s, but this Alter version looks amazing. I can’t wait to get hold of a copy.
    Regards, Boris

  49. Nate


    (1) Yes. But then again, if the Prince of Egypt is the source for how it all went down, then the answer is no. Isn’t it peculiar that you are continuously avoiding that question. Please can you share where you glean your information from when you wrote your blog. I’m not even saying that you’re wrong, I’m asking a simple question.

    (3) I do believe that if Jewish people view the main historical stories of the Bible as fictional (the Exodus being one of them) then indeed it would have a major impact on Jewish practice. Once someone convinces themselves that this massive part of the story never happened, then it will ultimately lead them to believe that there is either no God, or that His commandments to the Jewish people bear no significance. What defines Judaism is Jewish practice, not the culture. Furthermore, the Exodus story bears great weight toward mankind in general’s faith in the existence of a God or not. So my “vested interest” is not solely about Jews, but members of other faiths as well. If you or other people choose to see it all as fiction and choose to believe in the absence of a God, then that’s completely up to you. But if that logic is coming from an uneducated place and it’s being shared publicly then I think a dialogue is perfectly fine.

    (4-5) I found this post from a simple Google search. I myself was reading the first chapters of Exodus recently and developed a few ideas. I had heard about the Sargon story and how Exodus “copied” it a long time ago, so I did a search about Sargon and Moses and this blog came up. So you guessed correctly: I’m Jewish. But I don’t have a mission. I don’t go scouring the web to defend the truth of Judaism. I read your post because I was interested in the topic for my own reasons. While doing so, I read things that just demonstrated the author didn’t have a firm background in the topic, so I commented here. Make sense?

    (6) I don’t have enough knowledge in those other religions to answer this question. Do you have enough knowledge about Judaism or the Bible to answer it?

  50. Nate


    Looking forward to your response. Cheers!

  51. @ Nate

    Sorry, rather busy as of late.

    (1) Is the Moses story meant to be taken literally.
    You said, “Yes”. I also asked you if your feel the Mahabharata is meant to be taken “Literally”. And the list goes on: Joseph Smith’s magic goggles story, Mohamed’s story, Hindu and Catholic saint stories — I have read many. Of these, I think the Iron-Age stories of the likes of the Mahabharata and the Torah are not meant to be taken literally in any modern sense of the word. I won’t even begin to debate that with you, since it is so obvious to me and going through all the traditional stories of those times and wondering why you just chose to believe the literalness of the exact tradition you were raised in, seem a waste of time.
    BUT, I still may not be understanding you. But if I am avoiding your question (as you are avoiding mine), it is because nitpicking on something I consider blatantly obvious is not something I will do.

    (2) I think you are wrong — many Jews (and I attended a Reform synagogue for a year while transitioning out of Christianity) do not view the main historical stories of the Bible as literal but instead as a story piece on which to base traditions, holidays, identity and such. And you are right, thus Reformed Jews shed most of the mitzvahs. So you are using the “No True Scotsman” argument. A real Jew believes as you do. And I hear Christians who do the same, Muslims who do the same and Hindus and Buddhist who do the exact same thing. So your number two answer puts us at such a huge distance from each other — and you from the rest of humanity — that dialogue on that issue appears unuseful.
    The greater the intellect of an individual the deeper they can comfortably bury themselves in their own blindness. Something, I am sure you believe holds to those who don’t agree with you too, I imagine.

    Further you say that the Moses story, if given up as fiction who hurt other faiths too — I imagine you mean only Abrahamic faiths because, Hindus, Buddhists, Daoists, Animists and more don’t care about the Abrahamic Yahweh deity, of course. Just because they don’t believe in your tribal god, does not mean they don’t have some rich faith live and meaning etc.

    You seem indeed on a quest to get everyone to confess your truths so people can believe in your Tribal God. You seem to feel if you can get people to just report everything accurately then all intelligent and moral people with choose your Yahweh. Just my impression.

  52. PS, Nathan, thank you for being straightforward with your biases and prejudices.

  53. @Nate:
    Hi, I’ve just got Alter’s Pentateuch and he translates it as “wicker ark”.
    The ark part is nice, but wicker, no thanks.
    I’ll go with rushwork ark. Now all I need to do is get him to change his term!
    By the way, you wouldn’t happen to read Greek by any chance?

  54. Nate


    (1) You did not ask me if I thought the Mubharata and other stories were literal. You asked me “Do you think horrible damage would be done to Hindus if the Mahabharata was found to be largely fictional”. And I answered that question honestly: I do not know. I do not know the ins-and-outs of Hinduism to know if they believe their stories to be literal or fictional, and whether painting them as fictional would be an insult to their religion. I am not sidestepping any question here. If I were to ask you something about a topic you did not have any knowledge in and you said “I’m sorry but I don’t know much about that stuff”, that’s not sidestepping.

    You state that the Moses story is “not meant to be taken literally in any modern sense of the word. I won’t even begin to debate that with you, since it is so obvious to me ” but you fail to have any discussion as to why. Saying something like “it’s so obvious to me” is not a statement that bears any intellectual reasoning behind it. If you’re knowledgable, or at least have the capacity to think rationally, then at least answer the points I brought up earlier instead of avoiding it all by saying it’s “a waste of time” (yet writing the rest of your comment is conveniently not a waste of time?) Saying that”nitpicking on something I consider blatantly obvious is not something I will do” is again an expression of you not being open, or capable, about having a rational and logical conversation with simple questions to answer (i.e. what is your source, two basket stories a millennium apart is not outlandish, and that the medium of a basket on the river was not something uncommon back then)

    (2) You seem to be choosing the reform sect of Judaism as your basis to state that “many Jews do not view the main historical stories of the Bible as literal but instead as a story piece on which to base traditions, holidays, identity and such”. How old is Judaism and how old is reform Judaism? What percentage of reform Jews are actually raising their children in homes that have overtly Jewish values and practices? How many reform Jews marry outside the faith and celebrate non-Jewish holidays like Christmas? Most importantly, what is reform Judaism going to look like in 50 or 100 years when everything about Judaism is being shed away bit by bit? And by the way, do you even know what the originator of reform judaism was all about?

    “A real Jew believes as I do”? No. A Jew is a Jew whether he practices or not. There is no such thing as a “real” Jew or a “fake” Jew. But there is such a thing as a “real Judaism” and that is defined by what’s kept the faith alive for thousands of years: the rituals and practices. Without those, sure you could say things that sound Jewish and eat bagels with lox, but how long will it last?
    Wasn’t Jesus Jewish? What about his followers? Why is the religion that stemmed from them not at all considered in the image of Judaism, and is clearly an entirely different religion? Did it have anything to do with the “shedding” of Jewish practices? I assume you are somewhat versed in the history of christianity’s origins from judaism.

    “The greater the intellect of an individual the deeper they can comfortably bury themselves in their own blindness”
    This is not about blindness. This about answering very easy questions. I am not asking you to believe in something you don’t believe in.

    “Something, I am sure you believe holds to those who don’t agree with you too, I imagine.”
    And there’s the main point. I don’t consider other people of other faiths blind (you are the one who introduced the term blindness here). You are inserting those words into my mouth. If you want to be christian, go for it. Muslim? Go ahead. I have no qualms with that and I respect your faith, and I wouldn’t consider you blind.
    But when it comes to other people barging in to my religion and stating things about it and its history and its books, and failing to provide any logical defense to unsubstantial claims, that’s an entirely different story. I am not trying to get you to “confess to my truths” or “believe in my tribal God”. I am trying to have a logical discussion here. I am not just wanting you “to just report everything accurately then all intelligent and moral people with choose your Yahweh”.
    Honestly, I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe. That’s not the Jewish way. We don’t proselytize like others may do, and I couldn’t care less about your belief system. I did not trespass into your beliefs. It was you who quoted something from the Bible and came up with conclusions that you still aren’t ready to have any dialogue over. If you don’t know anything about the story, then don’t bother stating it in the first place, unless you are willing to even talk about it.

  55. @ Nate

    Let’s start at the end of your comment where you close with: “If you don’t know anything about the story, then don’t bother stating it in the first place, unless you are willing to even talk about it.” Your commanding, self-righteous attitude comes through again, and I do not encourage or enable this sort of personality. It is better to keep challenging them out of their stupor of habits.

    I loved your anti-Reformed Judaism piece — very telling, thank you. The “Real Judaism” part was great too. So classic.

    I am so glad you laid yourself out for the readers that way. We find Christians who speak the same of their sect, Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists too. Each defending the literal nature of their stories and the importance of such a belief to hold the true version of the religion together. And all that, to protect true reality. Such nobility. Some say, that one of them has to be right. I don’t think so. Instead it is obvious to me that they are all wrong. They all share the same habits of mind.

    Sorry, Nate. Our “dialogue” has ended. Boris is much more patient with you.

  56. Nate

    [deleted for breach of comment policy]

  57. @ Nate: Done with conversation with you for all the reasons I have mentioned. I will let you have your last words.

  58. Nate

    [deleted for breach of comment policy]

  59. Read Genesis 36:31… if Moses wrote the Torah in 1500 ish BCE, then how could he say the sentence inferring a few kings had reigned the Israelites… how would he know, when Solomon the third King reigned 970 – 931 BCE… Moses died before Joshua took Canaan (according to the folklore written whilst the Jews were in Babylonian captivity…obviously borrowing Babylonian stories in order to design their own history. Even Mount Sanai mimicks Mount Horeb! It’s obvious that Ezra whilst in captivity, wrote along with his scribes, the history of Israel…some true, some most definately borrowed. There is no archealogical evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt at all! No evidence of the Exodus, and no evidence of taking Canaan or destroying Jericho. So, I believe ALL 3 basket stories are made up as local legend and nothing more.

  60. @ Chris Adam: I think all three are “made up as local legend” also. Did you think that I felt otherwise? Maybe your comment was meant to be addressed not to me (the author) but to one of the illustrious individuals on this comment thread.

  61. Nate

    @Chris Adam

    The point about Genesis 36:31 is a great one. See here for numerous interpretations:
    IMHO, the most realistic and practical viewpoints are the last two that are mentioned. The main point is that there are opinions that while Moses wrote the law contained within the Torah, he did not necessarily write the non-legal components. Some orthodox Jews take issue with this; I myself do not.

    Regarding your point about no archaeological evidence of the exodus:
    Which time period are you referring to?
    What I’m getting at here is the following:
    Are you saying (a) that there’s no evidence whatsoever of the exodus at any point in history, or (b) that there’s no evidence for the exodus in the time period that many egyptologists/archaeologists believe the exodus occurred in?
    People often equate these two questions, when they are drastically different. You can start by watching the “Patterns of Evidence” documentary. While it isn’t bulletproof, it’s a good starting point to do your own research afterward. Suffice it to say, the claim of question (a) is untenable.
    The mistake most people make is that they pin the exodus to the wrong point in history, and then they make the claim that there’s no evidence for it. It’s like looking for a missing object in the wrong room, and then saying that the object must have never existed because it can’t be found, when all they need to do is recognize that they need to be looking in a different room.

    Looking forward to hearing back from you!


    It’s been a while since I last commented here. It looks like I must have offended you previously and I offer my deepest apologies for that. I would be more than happy if we could again approach one another in dialogue, and I will be careful not to express a similar tone as in our previous back-and-forth.

  62. @ Nate: I deleted your comment previous to this one that you made today where you cheered on a vulgar commenter because you both ignored the commenting policy for this site. This comment of yours is OK. I no longer have interest in these issues, so I will let Chris Adams respond to you if he wishes. Yes, be careful in your tone but most importantly be sure to follow the comment policy or you will be banned.

  63. John

    You forgot to mention Romulus and Remus who the Romans considered their founders. They also have a similar myth to this with them being placed in a basket and left to float before being found later. Also didn’t Osiris also get put in a basket or something like that before later being found?

  64. Nate


    I think you are referring to Horus, son of Osiris.

    See Donald Redford’s “Exposed Child” p. 223-224 who rejects the comparison to Horus due to the late dating of the Egyptian source, among other factors.
    The same rationale applies to Sargon, which I did bring up to Sabio Lantz at some point in our earlier back and forth.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s