Moses, Man of the Mountain Syllabus

“A narrative of great power. Warm with friendly personality and pulsating with…profound eloquence and religious fervor.” —New York Times

In the 1939 novel Moses, Man of the Mountain, based on the story of the Exodus, Zora Neale Hurston blends the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses of black folklore and song to create a compelling allegory of power, redemption, and faith. Narrating in a mixture of biblical rhetoric, black dialect, and colloquial English, Hurston traces Moses’s life from the day he is launched into the Nile in a reed basket, to his development as a great magician, to his transformation into the heroic rebel leader, the Great Emancipator. From his dramatic confrontations with Pharaoh to his fragile negotiations with the wary Hebrews, this very human story is told with great humor, passion, and psychological insight—the hallmarks of Hurston as a writer and champion of black culture.

The Biblical story of Moses has always resonated with the African-American community—and it became a staple of African-American sermons. In the African kingdom of Dahomey, Moses with his staff of power was worshipped as the serpent god. In the Haitian pantheon, the highest god is identified as Moses. So, all across Africa, American, and the West Indies, there are tales of the prowess of Moses.

Suggested Course Use

With themes of oppression and its effects on a people’s and an individual’s psyche, freedom, and the cost of freedom, and the novel’s blending of the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses of black folklore—Moses, Man of the Mountain works beautifully in any number of classes—from literature and religion, folklore, African-American studies and literature.

The novel works especially well in African-American Studies courses and courses on the African Diaspora. A syllabus that began with Moses, Man of the Mountain that also included such classic works as Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and more contemporary works such as Juan Williams’s Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns—a history of the decades-long migration of Black Americans from the South to the Northern and Western cities—would give students new insights into Black social thought, political protest,  and the struggle to initiate social change.