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Tzvi Novick





The Depiction of Jeroboam and Hadad as Moses-like Saviors





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Tzvi Novick





The Depiction of Jeroboam and Hadad as Moses-like Saviors








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The Depiction of Jeroboam and Hadad as Moses-like Saviors

Set against the Pharaonic Solomon, Jeroboam frees Israel from servitude and founds the Northern Kingdom. Hadad plays a similar role on behalf of the Edomites. Why are these two “rebels” depicted as heroes?


The Depiction of Jeroboam and Hadad as Moses-like Saviors

King Jeroboam and the prophet before the altar, print maker: Jan Luyken, 1708, Rijksmuseum.nl

The king is killing newborn boys, but one of them survives. His life threatened, he flees to a foreign land, and remains there, until report comes that those who seek to kill him have died. He then returns, with a salvific mission. This is the story of Moses at the beginning of the book of Exodus:

שמות ד:יט וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְיָן לֵךְ שֻׁב מִצְרָיִם כִּי מֵתוּ כָּל הָאֲנָשִׁים הַמְבַקְשִׁים אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ. ד:כ וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת בָּנָיו וַיַּרְכִּבֵם עַל הַחֲמֹר וַיָּשׇׁב אַרְצָה מִצְרָיִם.
Exod 4:19 The LORD said to Moses in Midian: “Go return to Egypt, for all the people who are seeking your life have died.” 4:20 So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt.[1]

It is also the story of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. King Herod attempts to kill Jesus at birth, but Jesus escapes through his family’s flight to Egypt; he returns only after Herod’s death, when an angel tells his father Joseph:

Matt 2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

The Gospel of Matthew here presents Jesus as another Moses, and Herod as his Pharaoh.[2] The centrality of the exodus narrative in Jewish memory makes the Pharaoh-Moses paradigm ripe for reapplication. And indeed, Jesus is not the first figure who takes on the character of the fleeing and returning Moses, nor is Herod the first “villain” to be painted as a second Pharaoh.

Pharaoh versus Moses: Solomon and Son versus Jeroboam

In the Book of Kings, Solomon makes an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt by marrying his daughter (1 Kgs 3:1).[3] He also acquires horses and chariots, the characteristic military trappings of Egypt (1 Kgs 10:28).

Most significantly, Solomon “conscripts laborers from all Israel …thirty thousand men” (מַס מִכָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל… שְׁלֹשִׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ; see 1 Kgs 5:27) for a multi-year construction program.[4] Not only does he build his palace and the Temple, but he also deploys labor gangs to construct “storage cities” (ערי מסכנות), a term that otherwise occurs only in the exodus story.

Pharaoh — Exod 1:11       Solomon — 1 Kgs 9:19
Therefore, they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built storage cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. [So Solomon built] all of Solomon’s storage cities, the cities for his chariots, the cities for his cavalry, and whatever Solomon desired to build.
וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס.
וְאֵת כׇּל עָרֵי הַמִּסְכְּנוֹת אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לִשְׁלֹמֹה וְאֵת עָרֵי הָרֶכֶב וְאֵת עָרֵי הַפָּרָשִׁים וְאֵת חֵשֶׁק שְׁלֹמֹה אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁק לִבְנוֹת.

The Israelites under Solomon, like the Israelites under Pharaoh, are in need of a savior to free them from bondage.

Jeroboam as Moses

The savior this time, the Moses of the book of Kings, is Jeroboam. Just as Moses is raised in the house of Israel’s oppressor, so Jeroboam, a member of the important northern Israelite tribe of Ephraim, rises to prominence in Solomon’s household, as the administrator of the levy over his tribe:

מלכים א יא:כח וְהָאִישׁ יָרָבְעָם גִּבּוֹר חָיִל וַיַּרְא שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת הַנַּעַר כִּי עֹשֵׂה מְלָאכָה הוּא וַיַּפְקֵד אֹתוֹ לְכָל סֵבֶל בֵּית יוֹסֵף.
1 Kgs 11:28 The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph.

The prophet Ahijah the Shilonite comes upon Jeroboam and informs him that God is going to tear the kingdom away from Solomon and make Jeroboam king of ten tribes of Israel, so that David’s descendants will rule over only their own tribe (1 Kgs 11:29–39).[5] When Solomon hears of this, he seeks to kill Jeroboam, just as Pharaoh seeks to kill Moses after he hears that Moses smote an Egyptian taskmaster:

Exod 2:15

וַיִּשְׁמַע פַּרְעֹה אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וַיְבַקֵּשׁ לַהֲרֹג אֶת מֹשֶׁה וַיִּבְרַח מֹשֶׁה מִפְּנֵי פַרְעֹה וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְיָן וַיֵּשֶׁב עַל הַבְּאֵר.
When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.

1 Kgs 11:40

וַיְבַקֵּשׁ שְׁלֹמֹה לְהָמִית אֶת יָרׇבְעָם וַיָּקׇם יָרׇבְעָם וַיִּבְרַח מִצְרַיִם אֶל שִׁישַׁק מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם וַיְהִי בְמִצְרַיִם עַד מוֹת שְׁלֹמֹה.
Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam; but Jeroboam promptly fled to Egypt, to King Shishak of Egypt, and remained in Egypt until the death of Solomon.

In a bitter irony, Jeroboam seeks refuge from the Israelite “Pharaoh” Solomon in the house of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak.

Finally, just as Moses returns from Midian only after Pharaoh’s death (Exod 2:23 and 4:19), demanding that the new Pharaoh let his people go, Jeroboam returns to Israel only after Solomon’s death (1 Kgs 11:43), and demands from the new king, Solomon’s son Rehoboam, that he free the Israelites from the heavy burden imposed on them by the previous king:

מלכים א יב:ד אָבִיךָ הִקְשָׁה אֶת עֻלֵּנוּ וְאַתָּה עַתָּה הָקֵל מֵעֲבֹדַת אָבִיךָ הַקָּשָׁה וּמֵעֻלּוֹ הַכָּבֵד אֲשֶׁר נָתַן עָלֵינוּ וְנַעַבְדֶךָּ.
1 Kgs 12:4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam reacts the same way Pharaoh does in Exodus, by increasing the work load:

Rehoboam (1 Kgs 12:14)

אָבִי הִכְבִּיד אֶת עֻלְּכֶם וַאֲנִי אֹסִיף עַל עֻלְּכֶם
My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke.

Pharaoh (Exod 5:9)

תִּכְבַּד הָעֲבֹדָה עַל הָאֲנָשִׁים
Let heavier work be laid on them.

Rehoboam evidently inherits not only Solomon’s throne, but also his Pharaoh-like character. When the people of Israel see that Rehoboam will not lighten their burden, they rebel against Rehoboam and appoint Jeroboam as their king:

מלכים א יב:כ וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׁב יָרָבְעָם וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ וַיִּקְרְאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל הָעֵדָה וַיַּמְלִיכוּ אֹתוֹ עַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל….
1 Kgs 12:20 When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel….

According to this story, Jeroboam, the Moses-like savior of Israel, is the legitimate king, chosen by God and appointed by his prophet, Ahijah, and by the people themselves. But in the context of the broader book of Kings, this positive portrayal is puzzling.

The Sins of Jeroboam

From this point forward in Kings, Jeroboam is depicted as wicked in the eyes of God. First, fearing that his followers would return to Rehoboam if they continue to worship in Jerusalem, Jeroboam sets up new worship places in Dan and Bethel, and erects in each of them a golden calf, saying:

מלכים א יב:כח . . . הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. יב:כט וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הָאֶחָד בְּבֵית אֵל וְאֶת הָאֶחָד נָתַן בְּדָן. יב:ל וַיְהִי הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְחַטָּאת. . .
1 Kgs 12:28 … Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 12:29 He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 12:30 And this thing became a sin…

This incident echoes the story of Aaron building the golden calf in the wilderness (Exod 32).[6]

Soon after, Ahijah reappears to inform Jeroboam that because of his sins, his family is doomed (1 Kgs 14:1–18). And indeed, Jeroboam’s son Nadab reigns only a short while before being assassinated by his successor, Baasha. Jeroboam becomes the source of evil for all subsequent kings of Israel in the book of Kings, which condemns them insofar as they follow in the “sins of Jeroboam” (חַטֹּאות יָרׇבְעָם) that lead ultimately to the northern kingdom’s destruction (2 Kgs 17:21–23).[7]

But if Jeroboam is the paradigmatic sinner in the book of Kings, why is he presented in the beginning of the narrative so positively, as no less than another Moses? And, why should the book of Kings, which generally takes a southern, Judahite perspective, portray the Davidic successors Solomon and Rehoboam negatively, like Pharaohs?

A Northern Polemic

The answers to these questions probably lie in the coexistence of northern and southern traditions in the book of Kings. The core of the Jeroboam story is most likely a hero story from the northern kingdom that tells of his appointment by Ahijah, his escape to Egypt, and his rebellion against Rehoboam upon returning. Later, when the Jerusalem-centered editors, who regarded the northerners as rebels, incorporated this story into the book of Kings, they revised the account, but retained many of its elements.

Once we understand that the core Jeroboam story derives from the north, the positive portrayal of a Moses-like Jeroboam and the negative portrayal of a Pharaoh-like Solomon make good sense, since the north would have seen the rebellion against Rehoboam as a positive act, the foundational deed of their kingdom.[8] Other evidence suggests the importance of the exodus specifically in the northern kingdom’s historical memory, in particular its special prominence among the early literary prophets Hosea and Amos, both of whom prophesied in the north.[9]

Hadad, an Edomite Moses

As attractive as the suggestion that part of the Jeroboam story originates from the northern kingdom and therefore depicts him positively is, we must account for the depiction in Kings of a second, Moses-like figure who opposes the Davidic monarchy and flees to Egypt. This is Hadad, the Edomite, who is one of two adversaries whom God raises up against Solomon after he turns to foreign worship (1 Kgs 11:14–25). His story is told just before that of Jeroboam.

When David had earlier sent Joab against the Edomites, Hadad, a little boy from the royal Edomite family, was smuggled out via Midian to Egypt. Hadad found favor with Pharaoh and married Pharaoh’s sister-in-law. Upon learning that David and Joab have died, Hadad returns to Edom. There, he foments a war against Solomon.

The story of Hadad is even closer than the Jeroboam story to the Moses story. Midian serves as a waystation in Hadad’s flight, and he marries into the local leader’s family and raises a family under his auspices. In addition, his return is explicitly linked to a report about the death of those threatening his life, and he seeks leave from his host before he returns to his homeland:

Moses — Exod 4:18-19 Hadad — 1 Kings 11:21
Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt …” 4:19YHWH said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead.” When Hadad heard in Egypt that David slept with his ancestors and that Joab the commander of the army was dead, Hadad said to Pharaoh, “Let me departthat I may go to my own country.”
וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה וַיָּשׇׁב אֶל יֶתֶר חֹתְנוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֵלְכָה נָּא וְאָשׁוּבָה אֶל אַחַי אֲשֶׁר בְּמִצְרַיִם… ד:יט וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הֹוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְיָן לֵךְ שֻׁב מִצְרָיִם כִּי מֵתוּ כׇּל הָאֲנָשִׁים הַמְבַקְשִׁים אֶת נַפְשֶׁךָ.
וַהֲדַד שָׁמַע בְּמִצְרַיִם כִּי שָׁכַב דָּוִד עִם אֲבֹתָיו וְכִי מֵת יוֹאָב שַׂר הַצָּבָא וַיֹּאמֶר הֲדַד אֶל פַּרְעֹה שַׁלְּחֵנִי וְאֵלֵךְ אֶל אַרְצִי.

Yet Hadad is certainly not a northern Israelite hero like Jeroboam; he is not even an Israelite but an Edomite! How are we to explain this?

Suggestion 1 – A Derivative Story (LXX Jeroboam)

The Septuagint contains a second origin story for Jeroboam (3 Kgdms 12:24 LXX), not found in the MT. This long story shares significant details with the Hadad story: LXX Jeroboam receives a report of Solomon’s death in Egypt; he seeks leave of Pharaoh to depart, but Pharaoh instead asks him to choose a gift, and gives him his wife’s sister as a bride. She bears Jeroboam a son, and only afterward does Jeroboam leave Egypt and return to Ephraim.

According to Yair Zakovich and Avidgor Shinan,[10] the Septuagint preserves the original account of Jeroboam’s stay in Egypt, evoking Moses’ stay in Midian because this was precisely the story’s original purposes, to cast Jeroboam as a second Moses. However, later Judean scribes could not tolerate such close parallels between Jeroboam and Moses, and so they transferred some of the especially evocative details to a less threatening figure, Hadad the Edomite. The Septuagint knows of and preserves the original Jeroboam story as a sort of appendix to the rebellion story, while retaining the revised, Judahite Hadad story that draws on the original Jeroboam story.[11]

This reconstruction is attractive, but it runs counter to the typical direction in the migration of traditions, which is from the lesser known figure to the more prominent person. The story of the killing of Goliath, for example, moves from the obscure Elhanan son of Jaareoregim (2 Sam 21:19) to the famous David (1 Sam 16).[12]

If this more typical dynamic holds in this case, Hadad would be the original subject of the story, with Jeroboam acquiring some of Hadad’s details only secondarily, in the alternative origin story preserved in the Septuagint. But if this is the case, why should Hadad, a relatively obscure Edomite prince, come across as so Moses-like? 

Suggestion 2 – “The Enemy of My Enemy”

Perhaps the pre-Judahite narrative constructed Hadad, like Jeroboam, on the model of Moses, in order to intensify the portrayal of Solomon as Pharaoh. Solomon is so Pharaonic that he must confront both a major Moses (Jeroboam) and a minor Moses (Hadad). In other words, Hadad is portrayed as a hero not because he freed Edom from Solomon’s reign but because he helped Israel—i.e., the nascent northern kingdom—by fighting against its oppressor.

Suggestion 3 – Tale Type

Another possibility is that the Hadad story, despite its similarities to the Moses story, does not in fact allude to it at all. Their similarities can be explained by positing that the two stories independently instantiate the same tale type.[13]

The story of Moses in Midian belongs to a tale type that we might call “the flight and return of the persecuted prince,” or, with Ed Greenstein, “the fugitive hero.”[14] The story of David, who flees to Gath to escape Saul, and returns after Saul’s death to rule in Hebron (1 Sam 27 – 2 Sam 2), belongs to the same tale type.[15]

It may be, then, that the book of Kings does not mean to paint Hadad as a Moses, but simply to present him as a persecuted prince, in accordance with standard narrative conventions. We may be confident, by contrast, that the Jeroboam story actually alludes to the story of Moses. The intertextual connections between Solomon and the Pharaoh of the exodus are so abundant and detailed that it is clear that he is being painted as a second Pharaoh. Once this is established, it follows that this “second Pharaoh” requires a “second Moses.”

In sum: It may be that the Hadad story is a knock-off of an older Jeroboam story (Zakovitch and Shinan). Perhaps, alternatively, it means to represent Hadad as another Moses, beside Jeroboam. Or perhaps Hadad is just another “fugitive hero” who did Israel a favor by fighting against Israel’s oppressor. Whatever the case, the book of Kings portrays Solomon as a second Pharaoh, and Jeroboam as his Moses.

Israel’s Foundation Myth

For the scribes of the kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam was the founder of their nation, and the namesake of the greatest of all northern kings, Jeroboam II. The story we have about his rebellion may well have roots in a northern foundation myth from this period. Despite the southern revisions, transforming him from a hero to the paradigmatic sinner, his early status as a savior is still evident in these passages. Before the Mosaic Jesus was the Mosaic Jeroboam, who brought the northern tribes out of slavery (under the house of David) to the freedom and prosperity of an independent and powerful kingdom.


December 25, 2018


Last Updated

May 25, 2024


View Footnotes

Dr. Tzvi Novick is the Abrams Jewish Thought and Culture Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He has an M.A. from Yeshiva University and a Ph.D. from Yale. His research focuses on law and ethics in rabbinic Judaism.  He has also written on topics in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism, and on Jewish liturgical poetry (piyyut) from late antiquity.