The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Ramban`s Complex Portraiture of Moses: The Resumé of a Leader

On biblical character, Meir Sternberg has written, “[T]he Bible avoids formal character sketching,” such that assembling the portraiture of biblical figures “calls for distinctive and complex operations of reading” (Poetics of Biblical Narrative (1985), 315, 254). This paper will delineate Ramban’s perception of the many-sided character of Moses, from his appointment to leadership through the climactic event at Mei Merivah. Through his incisive readings of biblical narrative, Ramban elicits the varied character indicators that facilitate in the aggregate a means to define the noted features of Moses’ complex persona. Ramban pays close attention to epithets describing Moses in the biblical text—such as man of God, prophet, God’s servant—as well as distinguishing facets of his character, as his loyalty to God and humbleness. Notably, Ramban also characterizes Moses with his own pointed epithets at crucial junctures in the biblical stories to demarcate the marked features of his persona. Among his depictions, Ramban describes Moses as messenger; king; and master of wisdom. Furthermore, in relation to his exegetical predecessors, Ramban demonstrates exceptional insights into the shaping and development of Moses’ leadership persona, by exploring the dynamics of his relationship with the Israelites, who rely on and also test his leadership, and with God, in his capacity as God’s emissary. As such, through Ramban’s commentary, one may also extrapolate his view of what makes an effective leader, and when Moses exhibits his limitations in this role. An important, recent work on specific facets of Moses’ figure, Moses the Man—Master of the Prophets [Hebrew] (2010), did not include a study of Ramban on this subject. This paper aims to add to that work with an analysis of Moses’ multifaceted portraiture through Ramban’s biblical commentary.