Where Was Moses Again?

The answer to the question where Moses was when he died (see the post “Where was Moses?” October 4, 2009), seems to lie in a mixture of traditions that crept into the Biblical account.

In Deuteronomy 3, as the children of Israel are on the verge of entering Canaan, Moses leaves them and goes up to the mountains east of the river Jordan. There the Lord gives him a glimpse of the Promised Land before he dies. The mountains are named, the land is naturally irrigated and it contains a “sea.” None of these have been identified near Canaan, but, as the previous post shows, they are all names and features that can be found in Kashmir, India. Even the tomb of Moses that cannot be found in Deuteronomy is clearly identified in Kashmir.

With Joshua now leading the children of Israel at the end of their long wanderings over the river Jordan into Canaan, it defies common sense that at about the same time Moses is climbing the slopes of Mount Nebu in Kashmir to get his glimpse of their destination.

What appears to have happened is that a story from one oral history has become inserted in another when the Hebrew bible was first written down. Scholars tend to agree that the writing down mostly took place during the years of exile in Babylon.

After the death of King Solomon in 931 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into the northern kingdom, known as the Kingdom of Israel (based in Samaria), and the southern kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah (based in Jerusalem). The northern kingdom lasted until 722 BCE when Assyria started destroying the kingdom. By 720 BCE, the population was exiled and the kingdom was no more. These Israelites, now known to us as the ten lost tribes, never returned. They were most likely assimilated as the Pashtuns into the areas of Afghanistan and eastern Pakistan, as well as into northern India, notably Kashmir.

The Kingdom of Judah suffered a similar fate around 586 BCE, when the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians. These Jews were allowed to return in 539 BCE when the Persians conquered the Babylonians. They were permitted to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and they brought with them the written version of their heritage, the Torah.

In the Torah is that passage in Deuteronomy about Moses seeing the Promised Land, but it comes from the tradition of the northern tribes in exile, and this is why there is a discrepancy with the rest of the narrative.

Where Was Moses?

When I was still in elementary school in Wau, Papua New Guinea, I was asked the riddle, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?” The answer was, “In the dark.” Whether it was my age, or my weak English, I was puzzled at first before I could make the leap and “get” it. There is a bigger riddle about Moses, which is intriguingly puzzling: “Where was Moses when his lights went out?” In other words, where was Moses when he died?

The children of Israel had come to the end of their “forty years” of wandering in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. They now had a younger leader Joshua who was about to take them into the low land, Canaan, seen as their Promised Land. This is the time when Moses, their former leader, departed from them.

In Deuteronomy 3.27, Moses is told to “get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.”  Mount Pisgah is usually said to be in the mountains on the other side of the river Jordan, collectively known as Mount Abarim.  (Looking eastward, Moses would have seen nothing of Palestine.) We have a description of what Moses sees. “On this side Jordan, in the valley over against Bethpeor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon … And all the plain on this side Jordan eastward, even unto the sea of the plain, under the springs of Pisgah” (Deut. 4.46, 49). Finally,  “Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho, and the Lord shewed him” the Promised Land. Moses died and the Lord “buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deut. 34. 1-6).

These sites, Bethpeor, Heshbon and Pisgah, are still unidentified. There is a Mount Nebo, but as Wikipedia points out, scholars continue to dispute whether the modern day Nebo is the same mountain referred to in the Torah.

Here now is the riddle. These places have not been identified in and around Palestine, but they are all in Kashmir, India. How did Moses get there?

Bethpeor (meaning “place of opening”) is Behat-poor (now called Bandipur) where the Jehlum (formerly Behat) river valley opens up. Heshbon (often referred to in the Bible as “the pools of Heshbon”) is the same as Hashba, known for its pools. Pisgah is the easiest to identify, for it is a place with “springs” three miles north west of Hashba. Mount Nebo is Baal Nabu, a peak eight miles north west of Behat-poor (Bandipur). From here the entire Kashmir valley is visible, including Wullar Lake. And here also, near the top of the mountain, there is a tomb, known as the tomb of Moses.

The Lord’s Promised Land is a heaven on earth, a land of hills and valleys that “drinketh the water of the rain of heaven” (Deut. 11.11), a land that is naturally irrigated, and that has a “sea of the plain under the springs of Pisgah” (Deut. 4.49). There are more references of a similar nature. These hardly describe Palestine, but they very well describe Kashmir, down to its very large lake of fresh water.

So the answer to the question, where was Moses when his lights went out, seems to be: in Kashmir, of all places.

(Note that there are other references in the Bible that describe the Promised Land in terms that befit Kashmir, rather than Palestine. The ones in Isaiah seem to suggest that this is the Promised Land for the ten “lost” tribes of Israel after their captivity. These references are detailed in Jesus in Heaven on Earth by K. N. Ahmad, of which Chapter 18 is the reference source for this blog.)