In Uses and Abuses of Moses, Theodore Ziolkowski surveys the major literary treatments of the biblical figure of Moses since the Enlightenment. Beginning with the influential treatments by Schiller and Goethe, for whom Moses was, respectively, a member of a mystery cult and a violent murderer, Ziolkowski examines an impressive array of dramas, poems, operas, novels, and films to show the many ways in which the charismatic figure of Moses has been exploited—the “uses and abuses” of the title—to serve a variety of ideological and cultural purposes.
Ziolkowski’s wide-ranging and in-depth study compares and analyzes the attempts by nearly one hundred writers to fill in the gaps in the biblical account of Moses’ life and to explain his motivation as a leader, lawgiver, and prophet. As Ziolkowski richly demonstrates, Moses’ image has been affected by historical factors such as the Egyptomania of the 1820s, the revolutionary movements of the mid-nineteenth century, the early move toward black liberation in the United States, and critical biblical scholarship of the late nineteenth century before, in the twentieth century, being appropriated by Marxists, Socialists, Nazis, and Freudians. The majority of the works studied are by Austro-German and Anglo-American writers, but Ziolkowski also includes significant examples of works from Hungary, Sweden, Norway, the Ukraine, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, and France. The figure of Moses becomes an animate seismograph, in Ziolkowski’s words, through whose literary reception we can trace many of the shifts in the cultural landscape of the past two centuries.
“With Uses and Abuses of Moses: Literary Representations since the Enlightenment, Theodore Ziolkowski has delivered a magisterial account of the history of uses of Moses. Professor Ziolkowski is the preeminent interpreter of how the Bible has been received by and has shaped modern literature; this book demonstrates an encyclopedic breadth of vision as well as a concise and convincing assessment of significance. I can’t think of any literary scholar who manages to combine so successfully a comprehensive view of a vast literary landscape, incisive judgment, and crisp, enjoyable prose.” — John Barbour, St. Olaf College
“Published more than forty years after his meticulous Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus (1972), Theodore Ziolkowski’s Uses and Abuses of Moses is an extraordinarily rich exploration of the figure of Moses in modern literature, culture, and film. Beginning with the contrasting assessments of Hitler, Churchill, and Wiesel, this book looks back, rather than forward from Mount Pisgah, on the liberator lawgiver and prophet who continues to haunt the Western imagination—a forerunner of Christ who forms an ‘animate seismograph’ of the modern mind from the Enlightenment to the present. Ziolkowski’s book is a triumph of learning and interdisciplinary scholarship.” — David Jasper, University of Glasgow
“Uses and Abuses of Moses deals with writings about and interpretations of the biblical Moses primarily in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One original feature of the text is that these interpretations belong to numerous genres and kinds of discourses: fiction, drama, and poetry, interspersed with theological, philosophical, and psychological essays." — Virgil P. Nemoianu, William J. Byron Distinguished Professor of Literature and Ordinary Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of America
“Is there another figure in the Bible who has been claimed, disclaimed, argued and fought over, or enlisted in as many contradictory causes as Moses? Here at last in Ziolkowski’s book we have a clear-headed, richly researched, and fluently crafted volume that casts a welcome light on an immensely important personage in history and in our collective imagination.” — Harvey Cox, author of How to Read the Bible
“Ziolkowski explores the immense latitude that interpreters of the Moses tradition have taken in rendering the material useful for them. . . . [This] study invites us to the awareness that we ourselves, in our own interpretive work, continue bold readings of the text with the permit given by our predecessors in the urgent duty of interpretation.” — The Christian Century
“. . . an encyclopedic overview of a staggering number of novels, poems, plays, and films about Moses from multiple perspectives: Zionist, anti-Zionist, feminist, Methodist, Mormon, magical realist, satirical, and even cynical. The book is descriptive rather than interpretive but in all ways astonishing.” — The Christian Century
“Ziolkowski surveys representations of Moses in novels, poems, symphonies, operas, theatre, and film during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, finding him continually recast to fit any number of religious and ideological functions from the pious to the satirical and from the learned to the preposterous…. Uses and Abuses of Moses is an enjoyable and valuable examination of biblical themes in literature that is recommended for academic libraries supporting programs in religious studies or comparative literature” — Catholic Library World
“Ziolkowki . . . has amassed what seem to be any and all representations of the Moses figure in literature since the Enlightenment, and he references dozens of precursors in earlier texts. The author’s claim that Moses has been the most frequently explored Old Testament character in both literature and art is supported by the staggering number of authors and artists Ziolkowki considers.” — Choice