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Moses Archetype

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"It was my dream for my people to have a homeland of our own, where we would have no masters but ourselves."
Shartan, Dragon Age: Origins

Where the Messianic Archetype echoes Jesus (or Mohammed or Buddha), this character echoes Moses.

Moses, the leader of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, is one of the most enduring cultural figures throughout the world. The Exodus is a foundational story that is held in high regard by all Abrahamic religions, making Moses a figure that unites fully half the world's population. Even without that, the story of a man learning his true roots and rising up to free his people from slavery and oppression, and leading them to a new, brighter future, is a powerful narrative that speaks to almost everyone. Naturally, then, many a character and/or story is based on him.

This trope can take many forms, but its core typically involves a leader rising up to free their people from slavery or oppression and leading them to a new place where they can forge their own future. Unleashing some massive calamity upon the oppressors is optional. Other possible elements include:

Compare Allegorical Character, Crystal Dragon Jesus, Madonna Archetype, Messianic Archetype and Satanic Archetype.


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    Comic Books 
  • The main character of the comic book series is Mosely. He is a janitor chosen to save his people from their AI overlords.
  • While Superman has become a Messianic Archetype in modern times, the creators of the character Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who were both Jewish) intended for his character and origin story to reflect Moses, having been sent to live away from his doomed home and birth parents in a "basket", only learning about his true heritage when he becomes a man and then embracing that heritage in his new persona, using his awe-inspiring powers to help the helpless.
  • New Gods: Highfather, the original Big Good, leader of New Genesis, and the counterpart to Darkseid, began as a fierce warrior who changed his ways after an encounter with "The Source" (basically the enigmatic force Above the Gods), leading him to become a spiritual and moral leader for his people.
  • The narrator compares Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss to Moses because he refuses to act unless the Higher Powers send him a clear sign.

    Fan Works 
  • When Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld gets a City Zoo, in the works of A.A. Pessimal, its Director has horrible visions of what would happen if they are ever so ill-advised as to acquire orang-utans. She reasons that the Librarian will turn up bearing bolt-cutters and a very loud "OOOOK!" meaning "Let my people go!"

    Film - Animation 

  • Jonathan Brisby from The Secret of NIMH is held in high regard by the rats from NIMH (except for Jenner) due to his importance in helping them escape from the titular organization; he was small enough to crawl through the screen at the end of the air duct. This is how Mrs. Brisby is able to get help from said rats when hers and (the now-dead) Jonathan's son Timothy falls ill when they need to move.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin from Batman Returns, is in many ways the Anti-Moses by how his story parallels Moses. While Moses was born to slaves, was left in a river basket to save him from being murdered by Egypt's aristocracy and was found and adopted by royalty, Oswald's parents were wealthy aristocrats who left him in a basket to float down one of Gotham's rivers hoping he would die, only to be found and raised by the penguins left at the Gotham Zoo. While Moses was raised as royalty, only to leave to live in the desert and return as God's prophet, Oswald was raised as a circus freak and became an urban legend before he quickly became a darling to the people of Gotham and a candidate to become the mayor. Much like how the first borns of Egypt were selected to die as part of the tenth plague, Penguin's Evil Plan involved kidnapping and murdering all of the firstborn sons of Gotham's wealthy families for petty vengeance.
  • Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire: Kong, an Ape-Titan who seems to be the Last of His Kind and has been surviving alone since he was an infant, is now residing in the hollow earth after the events of previous movie and is searching and hoping to find others of his kind, when he does, he discovers that a population of apes are being kept as slaves by a tyrant Ape named the Skar King, he initially tries fighting the Skar king but when he is overpowered by another Titan named Shimo who the Skar King is also holding captive and is being Forced into Evil against her will, Kong has to retreat and seeks the aid of God(Zilla) to help him stop the Skar King from conquering the surface world and free his fellow apes from slavery.
  • I, Robot: Sonny, the prototype robot and one of the protagonists, flirts with this trope. While being interrogated by Detective Spooner, he mentions dreaming of a figure on a hill coming to lead other robots. Despite Spooner's first guess, Sonny says that he was dreaming of the detective on the hill. Spooner's next destination is a hill overlooking an area where obsolete robots are being warehoused. At the end, Sonny is on the same hill, overlooking the storage area where the other NS-4 robots are stored after the failed rebellion, implying he would be leading them to a new future after all.
  • Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its sequels. Raised by a human scientist and being exposed to the ALZ-113, he frees the newly intelligent apes from their prisons in zoos and laboratories, and leads them to form their own society, first in a redwood forest near San Francisco, then later leading them far south to another land, far away from the humans. However, like Moses, he dies before they reach the land.
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: Max himself, a deeply flawed man who nonetheless liberates the slaves of Bartertown to led them and the lost children to a promised paradise, even sacrificing his own chance to enter it. The last scene implies he'll find his way there, one day.
  • Us: Red, aka original Adelaide. She rose up from underground due to being able to dance, and she implies that she thinks God or at least some form of high power chose her. She is the leader of the Tethered, who live lives of pain and misery while their aboveground counterparts live in genuine fulfillment and happiness and are able to make their own choices. She taught them how to organize themselves, build costumes and weapons, and form a human chain like Hands Against America. She is also literally the only Tethered who can speak because she was taught in her past life as "Adelaide" meaning that she literally comes bearing the message.

  • Ampris from Alien Chronicles is raised as a pet and friend of the Viis Empire's heiress, despite the Viis keeping Ampris' species (and several other species collectively known as the abiru) as slaves. As she comes to open her eyes to Viis oppression, Ampris starts on a path that ends with her becoming the leader of a rebellion seeking liberation for the abiru peoples. Along the way, she is aided by visions from an arcane amulet called the Eye of Clarity, providing a supernatural influence in her journey. She even finds a Promised Land in the form of the secluded paradise world of Ruu-113, which she plans to settle as a new abiru homeworld. Ampris leads a great exodus to Ruu-113 at the end of the trilogy, but passes away shortly after arrival as the Eye of Clarity foretold. Just before she dies, she passes the Eye and leadership of the abiru to her friend and partner, Elrabin.
  • Tobias from Animorphs is an unusual example, as he was never a member of the people he helped to free and lead to a new homeland (the Hork-Bajir). He was chosen by a higher power, though. The Hork-Bajir colony holds him in high regard, and the first two he saved, Jara and Ket, name their daughter Toby after him.
  • The Cold Moons features several badgers who have elements of this. Buckwheat and his son Beaufort are two badgers who help lead their community to The Promised Land while they escape genocide by humans. They learned about this journey from Bamber, a badger they considered God-sent. Bamber was the Sole Survivor out of his sett and travelled a long distance to tell other badgers about the danger. He died of exhaustion soon after arriving at Buckwheat and Beaufort's sett.
  • Daenerys Targaryen of A Song of Ice and Fire is a Zig Zagged example. After having been made a slave wife to Khal Drogo of the Dothraki and attaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to free all the slaves of Essos, reforming them into her main bloc of supporters and her military forces called the Unsullied. The aim of the army is to conquer Westeros, as she believes the Iron Throne is her birthright, and to form the Unsullied into her closest circle and elite.
  • Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter is a dark rendition of this trope in several senses. While he's no Emissary from the Divine by virtue of there not being deities in the Potterverse, his own God-complex and outstanding magical prowess compensate for it. He believes the Muggle population oppresses the Wizarding population because the latter are forced to hide from the former and, therefore, unable to freely practice magic. Never mind wizards have historically regarded Muggles as lesser beings. So, upon learning his true heritage as a wizard, Voldemort sets out to liberate the Wizarding people by force and, well, genocide. He's Moses in the Bulrushes because her mother died at childbirth (her weakened state implying newborn Voldemort was lucky to survive) and he was raised in a Muggle orphanage. He didn't, however, show any kind of Nature vs. Nurture conflict seeing he was always cruel and manipulative to the other orphans. Voldemort also dies twice before accomplishing his ultimate goal and while getting very near to it, although that goal never came to fruition thanks to the heroes' interference. Finally, there's no great wizard purge on Voldemort's time, but the Wizarding community still resents the times when muggles hunted them down to burn them on the pyre.
  • The Last Unicorn presents the main lead as a cross between Moses and Jesus. While she initially starts her journey with the intent of liberating her people (the rest of the Unicorns) from bondage, during the story she gets to empathize and comprehend humans, when before she thought poorly of them. While the Unicorns are ultimately freed, due to her experiences as a human woman she cannot fully share their joy and worldview as before.
  • Watership Down details the exodus of marginal rabbits from Sandalford Warren to the far hill that becomes Watership Down. Tiny rabbit Fiver gets a premonition of doom, and beseeches his brother Hazel to abandon Sandalford. Hazel agrees, and convinces other rabbits to join the exodus. Fiver's premonition proves true: humans come with bulldozers and poison gas, killing rabbits galore. At one point, the wanderers come upon Cowslip's warren, but Fiver is unnerved by habits of these rabbits, and urges further seeking. Again, Fiver is proven right: snares around the warren cull rabbits, but not enough to panic the survivors, who pretend nothing's amiss. Together, Fiver and Hazel function as a lapine Moses, with Fiver having the premonitions, and Hazel acting as the leader.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica (2003) is believed to be the "dying leader" destined to bring her people to Earth. However, she tends more towards the morally grey end of the spectrum than most other messiahs, and that's before the recent revelation that her prophetic dreams are being shared by Cylons.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Befitting the Christian nature of Tolkien's works where the Evil tries to corrupt the Good, Adar is a dark example of a Moses-like figure. He is a corrupted Elf, acting like a bridge between Elves and Orcs. He sees himself as a father figure to the Orcs, and his mission is to guide and give them a promised land, where they would not be treated as slaves anymore. He successfully turns the Southlands into the hellish-like Mordor with the help of Waldreg, who provokes the eruption of Mt. Doom.

    Myth and Religion 
  • Jesus himself, appropriately enough. Many of the events in the Jesus story appear to have been deliberately presented by the authors as parallels to the Moses story, especially the Massacre of the Innocents (an event recounted only in the Gospel of Matthew), which appears to be intended to mirror the Pharaoh ordering the deaths of all Hebrew baby boys, which Moses narrowly escaped. This may have been an attempt by the apostles and/or early Christians to increase Jewish support for Christianity in its infant years, to present Jesus as a great liberator who would lead the Jews to freedom from the Roman yoke.

    Video Games 
  • Specimen Six in Aliens vs. Predator (2010) serves as a Moses figure for the Xenomorphs. Six is more intelligent than the rest of her kin, she is spared as an infant from being executed at the insistence of a human who sees her as a slave, she is forced to kill many innocent humans on her master's orders before hearing the commands of the Matriarch who orders her to liberate her people and in doing so, unleashing a plague on their oppressors. When Six is taken off-world, she is born again as a Queen to lead the Xenomorphs into a new era, and she is briefly shown in a Crucified Hero Shot at the beginning of the Alien campaign.
  • Shartan from Dragon Age led the elves, who had spent a thousand years in slavery to the Tevinter Imperium, to join Andraste's rebellion and secure a new kingdom for the elves in southern Thedas, known as the Dales. However, he didn't live to see it; he was executed along with Andraste, and it was their followers who managed to bring down Tevinter once and for all. The elves forged a new nation in the Dales, but it didn't last; it fell to a war with the human empire of Orlais 200 years later.
  • Miquella from Elden Ring was a Moses Archetype in the making, with a mix of Messianic Archetype: The son of the Top God of the Lands Between, he took mercy on the people oppressed by his mother's own Golden Order and sought to create his own Erdtree where they could be free from slavery and persecution - the Albinaurics, an Artificial Human species, in particular began to revere Miquella and pilgrimage over to his domain as The Promised Land. He failed miserably, though through no fault of his own.
  • Saint Veloth from the backstory of The Elder Scrolls is this for the Dunmer, formerly the Chimer. He led his people, the Chimer, away from the Summerset Isles, so they could worship the Daedra in peace. He saw the Summerset Isles as being corrupted by decadence, so he took his followers to Morrowind. Their departure is even called 'the Exodus from Summerset'. However, it's not necessarily a straight example, since the Chimer are still very keen on keeping slaves.
  • Warcraft series:
    • Thrall of Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. Raised among humans as a gladiator slave, a prophetic vision leads him to free the orcs from their internment camps and sail across the sea to the continent of Kalimdor, where they found their own nation in Durotar.
    • In the Expanded Universe novels, Dath'Remar Sunstrider also fits. He was the leader of the last of the Highborne, the magic-practicing upper caste of elven society before the War of the Ancients. The Highborne lost their status and continued to practice arcane magic, even though it was strictly banned after the war, which led to deep resentment mistrust between them and the rest of the elves. In the end, Dath'Remar led the remaining Highborne across the sea from Kalimdor to the Eastern Kingdoms, where they would later found Quel'Thalas.
    • Kael'thas Sunstrider's story in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, meanwhile, broadly mirrors that of his ancestor Dath'Remar. After the near-total destruction of the high elves by the undead Scourge, and amid oppression and mistrust from the remnant of the Alliance and the human kingdom of Lordaeron, the surviving elves were on the brink of total extinction thanks to their addiction to the magical energy of the Sunwell, which the Scourge had befouled in their conquest. The son of King Anasterian, Kael'thas rose to lead his people into the "promised land" of Outland, joining Illidan Stormrage and the naga Lady Vashj, where magical energy was abundant and the elves could lead a new, dignified existence.

    Western Animation 
  • The Disney retelling of the John Henry legend plays up this aspect. In this version, told through Gospel-style music, the railroad company promised the workers 50 acres of land if they completed the job, but then tried to avoid paying by bringing in a steam drill to replace them. Henry took up his hammer in a race to tunnel through a mountain. He won but died of exhaustion after coming out the other side, and the other workers got their Promised Land.
  • The Dragon Prince: Fits a dark version of the trope. Lord Viren views himself as humanity's savior, fit to unite the human kingdoms to wage war against and wipe out the oppressive dragon and elven kingdoms of Xadia with himself as the leader to lead his people into a paradise. In season 2, he saves people from a famine, and in season 3 he is seen in white robes, parts a river of lava with his staff like Moses did with the Red Sea.
  • In The Lion Guard, Kion parts an ocean with the semi-mystical Roar of the Elders so his friends can reach the Tree of Life on the other side. Kion's Lion Guard is of special notice since it was made of animals different than lions, even some herbivores, who are all subjects of the Lion King. Furthermore, Kion translates as "leader" in Swahili.

    Real Life 
  • Abraham Lincoln was in his time explicitly compared to Moses by black Americans. Understandably, the story of the liberation of the Hebrews resonated strongly with former slaves, even if the president fulfilled the requirements only metaphorically. note 
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was also compared to Moses. In many of his speeches, King made references to the story of Moses, likening his crusade for the end of anti-Black discrimination to emancipating Hebrew slaves and also analogizing an egalitarian America to the Promised Land. Fittingly, Dr. King's final speech was aptly named "I've Been to the Mountaintop" in a clear reference to Moses's dying before reaching the Promised Land.