The Legend of Sargon and the story of Moses (Exodus 2)

Discovered in the Assyrian archive in Nineveh, the Legend of Sargon recounts in fantastic language the birth, ascension and rule of Sargon of Akkad, who established his empire in Mesopotamia around 2300 B.C. Sargon II (721-705 B.C.), a later Assyrian king who sought to emulate his namesake’s meteoric rise to power, probably commissioned the writing of this legend.

The Legend of Sargon resonates with a number of features also found in Moses’ birth narrative (Exodus 2:1-10). Sargon’s mother was a high priestess (reminiscent of Moses’ Levitical lineage). After his secretive birth, Sargon was placed in a “reed basket”, which was “sealed with pitch” and set adrift on a river. “Aqqi, drawer of water”, rescued the infant, adopted him and raised him to be a farmer. Eventually, he found favour with the godess Ishtar and was crowned king.

Moses’ and Sargon’s birth accounts employ a common ancient literary motif, in which a hero is exposed to death during infancy, only to be rescued and to achieve greatness. The plot of the Sargon legend emphasizes the stunning, and often miraculous, nature of the hero’s rise from obscurity to honour. In the case of Sargon II, use of the device may have been a deliberate attempt after the fact to legitimize his own power grab. The Biblical narrative, however, includes many unique features, such as the threat of national genocide, the attempt to hide the child and his temporary return to his mother. Although the relationship between the Sargonic and Mosaic narratives is still being debated, the details of Moses’ birth unquestionably signify his heroic role in God’s plan. It is helpful to bear in mind that the fictional tale commissioned by Sargon II was written much later than the factual, Biblical account og Moses’ early life.

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