Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318
Moses, Man of the Mountain is a novel by American writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. The novel is a re-interpretation of the Book of Exodus in the Bible and the second Torah, which tells the story of Moses from an African American perspective. Neale Hurston studied anthropology with the pioneer of the field, Franz Boas, and one of the first studies she conducted was on the voodoo religion. She adopted her method of anthropological interpretation of cultural symbolism, codes, and their meanings into her work as a novelist. Hurston studied the Book of Exodus and interpreted the universal aspects of Moses's story to relate them to the African diaspora's experience in the Americas.
The book examines the various similarities between the experiences of the ancient Hebrews and African Americans, such as centuries of oppression and slavery and their eventual liberation. Symbolism such as the journey through the desert illustrated the spiritual and psychological "trek" that African Americans endured and continue to endure in order to reach the proverbial promised land. The novel's premise of using Moses's story is also a subtle reference to a contemporary theory among some African American people that they are descended from one of the tribes of Israel. However, this is not explicitly stated in Hurston's novel, and there is no evidence that she subscribed to that theory or if it was popular during her time. Her novel still could have had a small influence in the development of that theory according to certain scholars.
Another subtext in the novel's story is Hurston's critique of authoritarianism, which is the political foundation that racial oppression stems from. The similarities between the oppression of the Hebrews by the Egyptians and black people by a white society hints at Hurston's criticism of oppressive regimes in general. She believes that, like the Hebrews, African Americans can achieve liberation by fighting against authoritarian and fascist political systems directly.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 669
Moses, Man of the Mountain retells the Exodus story of the Hebrew Bible as an allegory for African American history and culture. While keeping to the broader brush-strokes of the biblical account (from the Torah books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), Hurston places the Moses story in a much broader mythological, theological, and political context. By doing so, she creates her own Moses legend, unique in its structure and content. As she asserts in her introduction to the novel, Moses legends are not confined to the biblical literature of Judaism and Christianity, but they are “all abroad in the world,” especially in Africa: “Then Africa has her mouth on Moses. All across the continent there are legends of the greatness of Moses.”
Hurston uses this African cultural context, as well as the linguistic patterns of African American vernacular, to set up an extended mythological meditation on the nature of racial identity, leadership, political power, class, and freedom. Written in 1939, the novel allegorically sets these issues in the context of early twentieth century African American culture.
As the novels opens, Amram and Jochebed, a Hebrew slave couple in Egypt, struggle to save their newborn son from the Egyptian police, who are under orders from the pharaoh to kill all male Hebrew babies. The worried parents send the baby boy down the Nile river in a floating basket, watched over from the riverbanks by his sister Miriam. Miriam falls asleep and loses track of the basket. Although she does not see where it goes, when later confronted by her hysterical mother, she frantically constructs a tale whereby the baby has been plucked from the river by the Egyptian...
(The entire section contains 2193 words.)
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