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The biblical narrative about Moses’ call to become Israel’s liberator, his coming to Egypt and liberating Israel from Egypt by passing through the Red Sea is a version of a well-known narrative motif about the Liberator Hero. Traditional church exegesis interprets this story as a prefiguration of Jesus´ coming to the world and delivering humanity from the rule of sin. In his interpretation, Gregory of Nyssa takes over the fundamental idea of the tradition – the liberation theme, but stresses the activity of the one called to freedom. For him, the story about Israel’s liberation from Egypt is a narrative about the human struggle for one’s own spiritual freedom. When the divine liberator has provided the basic precondition for human liberation by means of the Incarnation, he recedes into the background and leaves further activity to humans.
The doctrine that God’s Incarnation made possible the restoration of God’s image in humans forms the basis of the ascetic teaching of the Greek Christian tradition. It is so also for Gregory of Nyssa in his Life of Moses where he discusses the life of virtue. This stream of thought provides the work with a substantial unity and it emerges in key places: theophany in the burning bush when Moses received the vocation to restore the image of God in him; manna, the miraculous bread from heaven; the theophany on Mount Sinai with the vision of the heavenly tabernacle. The breaking and renewing of the Tables of the Law corresponds with what happened with human nature: damaged by the First Fall, but with the Incarnation renewed into its pristine shining beauty. This idea culminates at the end of the work when Moses dies: the paradoxical circumstances of his death confirm that he fulfilled his vocation.
Gregory of Nyssa’s allegorical exegesis in the Life of Moses II,1–18 is extremely coherent and well‑structured. There is one main idea – the development of human rationality. This is expressed in three images demonstrating its gradual growth and final sovereignty: the baby boy threatened with death, a Hebrew fighting with an Egyptian, and a shepherd tending sheep. A supporting stream of images speaks about the changing role of profane culture in this process (the ark and Pharaoh’s daughter, the Hebrew and the Egyptian, and Moses at the water sources in Madiam). The passage ends with the image of the sovereign rule of reason as the basic prerequisite for any further spiritual development.
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