Like a Duck from a Falcon: Moses in Middle English Biblical Literature the Mystery Cycles, the Mystery Cycles, and Piers Plowman B
Berlin considers texts that elaborate on the life of Moses, including the mid-thirteenth-century Genesis and Exodus and Higden’s Polychronicon, texts that discuss his law, including catechetical works on the Ten Commandments, and texts that attach figurative meanings to him, including the Ancrene Wisse. She then discusses the mystery plays, where the dramatists’ attitudes to Moses change as the narrative of eschatological history unfolds. Berlin then turns to PPl B. In the second vision, Piers himself presents the Ten Commandments as the way to Truth, but Truth’s pardon, which simply restates that people will be judged on doomsday, points to the insufficiency of Moses’ law. The poem continues to reflect on the status of the Decalogue: for Wit, doing well involves following the Ten Commandments, but doing better and best involve loving one’s enemies and performing acts of charity, while for Trajan, law without love is worthless. Passus 17 offers a complex account of Moses’ situation: he possesses the Ten Commandments, figured as a patent awaiting Christ’s seal, but understands them in a naive way, as a protective charm. His role in L’s version of the Samaritan parable confirms that his Law can instruct but cannot heal the soul, pointing towards compassion without necessarily engendering this quality. Even so, the Samaritan insists that Moses will be given a new role under Christ’s Law, where the Decalogue remains indispensable. Finally for L, as for many other writers in Middle English, ‘Moses could neither be wholly assimilated nor wholly rejected’ (p. 304).
Illuminating Moses: A History of Reception from Exodus to the Renaissance, ed. by Jane Beal (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 263-304
Berlin, Gail Ivy