Moses as a Role Model in the Serbian Charters after 1371: Changing Patterns

Moses as a Role Model in the Serbian Charters after 1371: Changing Patterns

By Žarko Vujošević

Balcanica, Vol.39 (2008)

Moses hitting the rock
– from British Library MS Additional 11639 f. 743

Abstract: The aspects of the Old Testament figure of Moses highlighted in the charters of post-Nemanjić Serbia, or under the Lazarević and Branković dynasties (1371– 1459), testify to a changed attitude towards Old Testament role models. While members of the Nemanjić house such as the archbishop Sava I and the rulers Stefan of Dečani and Dušan look up to Moses as a “religious leader”, a prayerful intercessor before God and a victorious warrior, all of that for the sake of the “chosen” people, the role he is assigned in the arengae of the charters issued by prince Lazar and despots Stefan Lazarević and Djuradj Branković is completely different. In the universal Christian context of the post-1371 arengae Moses figures as a “prophet” and the builder of the Tabernacle — a prefiguration of the Church, thereby epitomizing a major stage in the salvation history of humankind.

The role of Moses, as well as that of David, the only other Old Testament figure still referred to in the charters of the period, has a universal, ecclesiologically interpreted, significance. This new pattern of interpreting Moses implies that the ruler’s main virtue now becomes his concern for the “true faith” and the houses of God. The practice of the Nemanjićs as regards selection and interpretation of Old Testament themes is reestablished by the titular despots of the Branković dynasty. In their charters, the first part of the Bible with Moses as a popular leader reassumes a “national” character and becomes part of the ideological apparatus intended to posit the Serbs as a “New Israel”.

Introduction: The medieval ideology of state and society, in its various manifestations, often made use of biblical models in creating the sacral identity of contemporary institutions and political personages. Quoting, paraphrasing and reformulating portions of the biblical text in order to transplant their messages into new contexts, a phenomenon known in modern scholarship as rewritten Bible, is not specific only to narrative sources; it also occurs in documents, most of all in the arengae of charters.

Click here to read this article from the Institute of Balkan Studies

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!