The History of Salvation in The Russian Primary Chronicle, Part 2

What follows is the second of four installments in which I will transcribe the full text of the “redemptive-historical” discourse delivered before St Vladimir, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, by the Constantinopolitan scholar-envoy. For a discussion of the apologetic importance of this discourse, see my earlier post, The Conversion of St Vladimir and Orthodox Apologetics. The section transcribed below is a compendium of events between the call of Abraham and the death of Moses. As was noted before, the scholar’s discourse (like its Byzantine and Slavic sources) makes free use of traditional material not belonging to the biblical text to expand on the particulars of the account.

“God loved Abraham, and said to him, ‘Go forth out of the house of thy father into the land to which I shall guide thee. I shall make of thee a nation, and the generations of the earth shall bless thee.’ And Abraham did as the Lord ordained. So Abraham took his nephew Lot (for Lot was both his brother-in-law and his nephew, since Abraham had married his brother’s daughter Sarai); and he came to a high oak in the land of Canaan. God said to Abraham, ‘To thy seed will I give this land.’ Then Abraham worshipped God. Now Abraham was seventy-five years old when he went out of Haran. But Sarai was barren, and since she was afflicted with her sterility, Sarai said to Abraham, ‘Have intercourse with my maid-servant.’ So Sarai took Hagar and gave her to Abraham, who had intercourse with her. She conceived and bore a son, and Abraham called him Ishmael. Abraham was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born. Afterward, Sarai conceived and bore a son, and called his name Isaac. Then God directed Abraham to circumcise the child, and he duly circumcised him on the eighth day. God loved Abraham and his race. He called them his people, and distinguished them from the Gentiles by calling them his own.

“When Isaac was grown up, Abraham, having lived one hundred and seventy years, died and was buried. When Isaac was sixty, he begot two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was crafty and Jacob truthful. Jacob served under his uncle seven years for his younger daughter, but Laban did not give her to him, saying, ‘Take the elder instead.’ He thus gave him Leah, the elder, but for the younger demanded of him seven years’ further service. So Jacob served seven more years for Rachel and married the two sisters. By them he begot eight sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zabulon and Asser. From these brothers are the Jews sprung.

“Jacob went to Egypt when he was one hundred and thirty years old, accompanied by his kin to the number of sixty-five souls. He lived in Egypt seventeen years before his death, and his race was in captivity four hundred years. During these years, the Jewish people increased and multiplied, but the Egyptians crushed them with toil. At this time, Moses was born among the Jews, and the Egyptians informed the King that a child was born among the Jews who should destroy Egypt. Then the King gave orders to cast the growing children of the Jews into the river. But Moses’ mother, fearing his destruction, took the infant and laid him in a basket, and set him in the water.

“At this moment, Thermuthi, the daughter of Pharaoh, went down to bathe, and on seeing the child floating there, she rescued him and named him Moses, and brough him up. The child was fair, and was four years old when the daughter of Pharaoh brought him before her father. When Pharaoh saw Moses, he fancied the child. Moses seized him around the neck, knocked the crown from the King’s head, stamped upon it. A magician who beheld this act protested to the King, ‘Oh King, destroy this child, for if you not destroy him he will ruin all Egypt.’ The King heeded him not, but gave command that no more of the Jewish children be killed.

“When Moses grew to manhood, he was great in the house of Pharaoh. But when another King came to the throne, the nobles hated him. Then Moses, since he had killed an Egyptian who was persecuting a Jew, fled from Egypt, and came to the land of Midian. As he was making his way across the desert, he learned from the angel Gabriel about the nature of the whole world, of the first man, what happened after him, about the flood, the confusion of the tongues, the age of each man, the movement and the number of the stars, the dimensions of the earth, and all wisdom. Thereafter God appeared to him in the burning bush, and said to him, ‘I have seen the oppression of my people in Egypt, and have descended to take them from the hands of the Egyptians, and lead them forth from the land. Go therefore to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and say unto him, “Set Israel free, that they may perform sacrifice to God for three days.” If the King of Egypt heed thee not, I will smite him with all my wonders.’

“When Moses came before Pharaoh, the King did not heed him. Then God sent ten plagues upon him: rivers of blood, frogs, gnats, dogflies, cattle-plague, burning vesicles, hail, locusts, three days’ darkness, and pestilence among the population. Ten plagues were thus visited among the Egyptians, because they drowned the children of the Jews for ten months. But when there was pestilence in Egypt, Pharaoh said to Moses and his brother Aaron, ‘Depart hence quickly.’ So Moses after gathering the Jews together, departed out of the land of Egypt.

“The Lord lead them over the road through the desert to the Red Sea, preceding them by night as a fiery pillar, and by day as a cloud. When Pharaoh heard how the people were escaping, he pursued them, and overtook them by the seaside. When the Jews beheld this, they cried out against Moses, saying ‘Why have you led us out to certain death?’ Then Moses called upon God, and the Lord said, ‘Why callest thou upon me? Smite the sea with thy staff.’ Moses did thus, and the water parted in twain, so that the children of Israel went down into the sea. When Pharaoh beheld this, he pursued them, for the children of Israel were traveling on dry land. But when they reached the shore, the sea closed over Pharaoh and his warriors.

“God loved Israel, and they traveled three days from the sea, and arrived at Marah. There the water was bitter. The people murmured against God, but the Lord showed them a tree, and when Moses placed it in the water, the water was sweetened. Then they still murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘It was better for us in Egypt, where we ate meat, onions, and bread until we were filled.’ The Lord then said to Moses, ‘I have heard the complaint of the children of Israel,’ and he gave them manna to eat. Afterward the Lord revealed the law to them upon Mt. Sinai. But while Moses was with God upon the mountain, the people moulded a calf’s head and bowed down before it as if before God himself, and Moses killed three thousand of them.

“Yet again they murmured again Moses and Aaron because there was no water, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Smite the rock with thy rod.’ But Moses replied, ‘How can water issue from it?’ Then the Lord was angry at Moses because he did not glorify him, and for this reason, on account of these murmurings, he did not enter the Promised Land. But Moses died there on the mountain.

S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (eds.), The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text [Cambridge: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953], pages 101-104.


2 responses to “The History of Salvation in The Russian Primary Chronicle, Part 2

  1. Does anyone know if this is the only source for the tradition of Moses trampling on Pharaoh’s crown? There’s a Jewish story about the child grabbing Pharaoh’s crown and putting it on his own head, but this version seems quite different. I see it’s also the theme of a Poussin painting–could that have been based on the Russian source, or is it more likely that it was a widespread Christian tradition?


  2. What an interesting set of questions, Trevor! I too have been wondering about the sources for the extra-biblical materials in this account. The critical introductions and notes to this edition cite a Slavonic compendium of sacred and ecclesiastical history usually called the Paleya (cp. Gk. Παλαιά); what in turn may be the sources of this, apparently, is a matter of some debate.

    One Alen Novalija has written what appears to be a very promising book on the Paleya which parallels my own concerns; I’d very interested to see where he comes out in the issue of sources and such, to the extent that he may discuss them in his book.

    As for Poussin, only heaven knows!


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