Ancient Law-giving Super-Heroes

Ancient Law-giving Super-Heroes

The Super-Hero Births

“But we must make mention of the lawgivers who arose in Egypt and who ordained some strange and marvelous customs. For in primitive Egypt, after life had become settled (which according to myth took place in the era of gods and heroes), they say that the first person who convinced the people to use written laws was Mneves, a man both lofty in spirit and the most altruistic in his way of life of any lawgiver in memory. He claimed that Hermes had given these laws to him as a source of many substantial benefits; and this, they say, is just what Minos of Crete did among the Greeks and Lycurgos among the Lacedaemonians, the former asserting that he had received his revelations from Zeus, the latter from Apollo. And it is a tradition as well among most other nations that this kind of inspiration was the case, being the cause of many blessings to those who believed. Among the Aryans, they record, Zathraustes [Zarathustra/Zoroaster] pretended that the Good Spirit gave him the laws; and among those called the Getae, who aspire to immortality, Zalmoxis in like manner credited the familiar Hestia with the revelation; and among the Judaeans, Moyses attributed them to the God called by the name of Iao. For all of them believed either that their intent was wonderfully and thoroughly divine if the result would be of benefit to the mass of men, or else they knew that the common people would obey more readily if they were faced with the majesty and might of the beings said to have devised the laws.”          Diodorus Siculus, The Antiquities of Egypt (1.94)

WE HAVE SEEN that there exists no scientific evidence for a historical Moses or Exodus as depicted in the Bible, and that Israelites were founded as a confederation of hill tribes, rather than through a dramatic exodus out of Egypt. We have concluded that attempts at associating or identifying various purported historical characters and events with Moses and the Exodus have been unsuccessful, often constituting convoluted efforts to fit the purported history to the biblical tales and vice versa. Also demonstrated is the fact that many of these biblical themes are clearly mythical, including the exodus itself, desert/wilderness sojourn, sea parting, heavenly bread, plagues, godly arks, covenants and battles with giants.

With such facts, the figure of Moses resolves not to a historical but to a mythical character, evidently created not only to give divine legitimacy to the biblical law but also to incorporate the worshippers of other religions, such as the followers of Shamash, El, Baal, Dionysus, Horus and numerous other deities popular in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond.

As previously mentioned, there have been various prophets and lawgivers in a number of cultures globally, often representing not real people but a tribal or ethnic expression of an archetype that dates back many millennia. This era occurred long before the purported time of the allegedly historical Moses during the 13th century BCE, and many centuries before the Jewish tale was written down. Indeed, this concept of a divinely inspired or appointed leader may date back tens of thousands of years, to the earliest human communities.

The Hero’s Birth

One motif common among lawgivers, kings, heroes and deities of old is a miraculous or unusual birth. In the Mosaic nativity story at Exodus 2:1–10, the newborn prophet is placed in a reed basket and set afloat in a river, to be discovered and raised by another family. This story has been compared frequently to the birth tales of other legendary individuals, such as the Akkadian king Sargon the Great (fl. c. 2334–2279 BCE) and the Indian virginborn hero Karna, both of whom were portrayed as placed by their mothers in reed boats on a river, to be discovered by others. As noted, “Moses” is said to connote “drawn,” as from water, a title that could be applied to various heroes saved from the water. Moreover, the fact that Moses’s “biography”— supposedly written by the patriarch himself—completely skips his childhood indicates the story’s fictional and mythical nature.

Sargon the Great

Regarding these various nativity myths, American professor Dr. David Leeming remarks that the “leaving of the baby in a basket on a river ties Moses to the unusual beginnings of several mythological or legendary heroes, including, for instance, Sargon of Akkad and Siegfried in Germany.” Both Sargon and Siegfried go on to become rulers, as does Moses.

Concerning the “Babylonian Moses,” Sargon, British Assyriologist Dr. George Smith (1840–1876) states:

In the palace of Sennacherib at Kouyunjik [Kuyunjik], I found another fragment of the curious history of Sargon... This text relates that Sargon, an early Babylonian monarch, was born of royal parents, but concealed by his mother, who placed him on the Euphrates in an ark of rushes, coated with bitumen, like that in which the mother of Moses hid her child (see Exodus ii). Sargon was discovered by a man named Akki, a water-carrier, who adopted him as his son, and he afterwards became king of Babylonia.... The date of Sargon, who may be termed the Babylonian Moses, was in the sixteenth century B.C. or perhaps earlier.

Since Smith’s era, Sargon I has been placed in the 23rd–24th centuries BCE, long before the purported time of Moses. As we can see, this scholar of a past era was knowledgeable and scientific about his subject matter; indeed, Smith was an archaeologist on the important excavation at Nineveh, capital of the Assyrians, where he himself unearthed the legend of Sargon.

Moreover, Smith is the discoverer and translator of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the most famous and important ancient texts of all time. The British scholar’s work was pioneering and exemplary, and his conclusions were substantially correct, not “outdated” merely by the fact that he came to them during the 19th century. The greatest adjustment during the century and a half since Smith’s time, perhaps, is the dating, which has been fine-tuned due to subsequent discoveries.

Many other such conclusions from earlier scholars have been verified or accepted in the past century, including the doubting of Moses and the Exodus as historical entities, comparing, for example, Moses’s birth with that of Sargon’s to demonstrate the mythicality of this motif, as Smith had done shortly after discovering the Sargon myth.

Because the Moses story contains Egyptian words, it is argued that it could not have been based directly on the Sargon tale.  However, the Babylonian story still could have been in the minds of the Moses myth’s composers, using Egyptian archaicisms and terms added for realism, as fiction writers often do.


The biblical mythmakers may have drawn as well from the Egyptian birth narratives of Ra-Horakhti and others to create an amalgam. Ra-Horakhti is the combined Ra and Horus, both solar deities, representing “Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons,” the sun at sunrise and sunset. Regarding the biblical mythmaking, religious studies professor Dr. Robert K. Gnuse states, “In my opinion the biblical author has used both the Sargon legend and the Horus myth.”

Walker likewise elaborates on this theme, mentioning various similar hero births, including that of the syncretized Ra-Horakhti:

The Moses tale was originally that of an Egyptian hero, RaHarakhti, the reborn sun god of Canopus, whose life story was copied by biblical scholars. The same story was told of the sun hero [Ion] fathered by Apollo on the virgin Creusa; of Sargon, king of Akkad in 2242 BC; and of the mythological twin founders of Rome, among many other baby heroes set adrift in rush baskets. It was a common theme. Another Egyptian version of the bulrush basket made it a dense mass of papyrus plants growing out of the water, where Isis placed the infant Horus. In India, the Goddess Cunti gave birth to a hero-child and set him adrift in a similar basket of rushes on the river Ganges.

In the Moses motif, we have what appears also to be a Jewish rendering of the fleeing Isis giving birth to Horus secretly in the swamp, afterwards drawing the child out of the water and resuscitating him when Seth kills him, as in Diodorus (1.25.6).


The solar Dionysus’s association with marshes is reminiscent also of this tale of Horus in a swamp or marsh endangered by the prince of darkness Seth. The story appears to be a depiction of the sun being drawn out of the “marshy dawn” or a sunrise over a “reed sea,” saved from the water by the virgin-mother dawn goddess.

Apollo and Creusa

As we can see, the miraculous birth motif extends to numerous figures, including solar heroes such as Horus and Apollo. Regarding the myth of Apollo and Creusa, theologian Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso remarks:

Creusa, the daughter of the legendary Athenian king Erectheus (grandson of the miraculously born Erichthonius), was impregnated by Apollo and gave birth to her child in a cave, where she left him to die. Interestingly, it was a Delphic Pythia who found and raised the infant (Euripides, Ion 12–28, 1334–69), which suggests an intimate connection among Creusa, Apollo, the cave, virgin birth, and the priestesshood of Delphi.

Again, Apollo was invoked as Dionysus, who in turn is identified with the Egyptian god Osiris, all of whom possess prominent solar attributes. In this regard, the Egyptian temple was considered “the place of the birth of the sun,” recalling of the “tent of the sun” in the solar hymns of Egypt, Babylon and Israel, to be discussed below.

Again, the birth of the sun-engendered child in a cave is a common solar motif representing the day star’s entry into the night sky or tomb/cave, where it is perceived as dying and resurrecting or being reborn.


Continuing this nativity theme, German religious historian Dr. Claudia Bergmann notes the similarity between the Moses birth motif and one involving the solar Shamash, when the Hebrew infant in the basket is “seen by the pharaoh’s daughter, just as the newborn of the ancient Near Eastern Boat Motif is described as being seen by the god Šamaš [Shamash].”


The Greco-Syrian god Adonis was “born in Arabia where Moses dwelt, and was, in his myth, hidden in an ark entrusted to Proserpine [Persephone/Kore] …..”

Tyro’s Twins

As another example of a water-drawn hero, in a note explicating Aristotle’s “The Tyro” (Poet. 1454b), named for the Greek princess impregnated by Poseidon, editor Dr. W.H. Fyfe remarks that “Tyro’s twins by Poseidon, who appeared to her in the guise of the river Enipeus, were exposed in a little boat or ark, like Moses in the bulrushes, and this led to their identification.”

Noah’s Basket?

The same Hebrew word for “basket” at Exodus 2:5 to depict Moses’s vessel of abandonment,  תבה tebah, is employed also to describe Noah’s “ark.” This ark theme in the Noah myth has been said to represent the phases of the moon, a motif likewise associated with Osiris, who, again, was said to be shut in his ark on the same day as tradition holds of the biblical patriarch.


Reflecting the mythical nature of the Moses tales, in his strikingly misogynistic allegorizing of this birth myth, Philo (Moses, 39/27) puts forth the “gnostic” idea of Moses having no mother, “born of the father alone”:

…in accordance with the honour due to the Creator of the universe, the prophet hallowed the sacred seventh day, beholding with eyes of more acute sight than those of mortals its pre-eminent beauty, which had already been deeply impressed on the heaven and the whole universal world, and had been borne about as an image by nature itself in her own bosom; for first of all Moses found that day destitute of any mother, and devoid of all participation in the female generation, being born of the Father alone without any propagation by means of seed, and being born without any conception on the part of any mother. And then he beheld not only this, that it was very beautiful and destitute of any mother, neither being born of corruption nor liable to corruption…

As we can see, Philo evidently believed it a wonderful thing to be born without any “participation in the female generation,” “destitute of any mother” and therefore “neither born of corruption nor liable to corruption.” In other words, “mother” and “female” equal “corruption,” according to the Jewish philosopher.

In any event, the mythical divine-birth motif has been very common and often represents a solar, lunar or other astrotheological or nature-worshiping concept.