a reply to: neoholographic
Now, who's Moses in the Bible and the Pharoah of the Exodus? This is a question that has been looked at throughout the years. I will say who it is and
lay out the evidence. Senenmut is the Biblical Moses.
According to Exodus 2, after Moses was three months old, his mother could no longer hide him from Pharaoh’s soldiers, so she placed him in a small
ark on the Nile, where he is found by Pharaoh’s unnamed daughter:
שמות ב:הוַתֵּרֶד בַּת פַּרְעֹה לִרְחֹץ עַל הַיְאֹר וְנַעֲרֹתֶיהָ הֹלְכֹת עַל יַד
הַיְאֹר וַתֵּרֶא אֶת הַתֵּבָה בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת אֲמָתָהּ
וַתִּקָּחֶהָ. ב:ו וַתִּפְתַּח וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת הַיֶּלֶד וְהִנֵּה נַעַר בֹּכֶה
וַתַּחְמֹל עָלָיו וַתֹּאמֶר מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה.
Exod 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and
sent her slave girl to fetch it. 2:6 When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, "This must be a
Moses’ sister who was standing and watching from nearby, offers to find a Hebrew midwife to nurse the child, and she calls the boy’s mother, who
then is hired as nursemaid. Then the text continues:
שמות ב:י וַיִגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד וַתְּבִאֵהוּ לְבַת פַּרְעֹה וַיְהִי לָהּ לְבֵן
וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ מֹשֶׁה וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי מִן הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ.
Exod 2:10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, who made him her son. She named him Moshe (Moses), explaining, "I drew him
(me#ihu) out of the water."
This verse suggests that Pharaoh’s daughter names Moses—oddly enough, using a Hebrew etymology. This interpretation goes back as far as the Second
Temple period. For example, in a second century B.C.E. Greek play, Exagoge, written by a Greek Jewish dramatist from Alexandria, Ezekiel the
Tragedian, Moses tells about his birth and how his sister brought his mother to be his nursemaid when Pharaoh’s daughter found him:
Mariam went to fetch our mother who presently appeared and took me in her arms. The princess said to her, “Woman, nurse this child and I shall pay
your wages.” She then named me Moses, because she had taken me from the watery river-bank.
God Accepts the Name
The Sages in Leviticus Rabbah (ca. 5th cent. C.E.) were sensitive to the fact that this greatest of all Israelite prophets was named by an Egyptian
woman, whom they name Bitya (based on 1 Chronicles 4:18), meaning “Daughter of Yah [God],” and thus, they explain that God specifically approved
of her and her choice of name (Levitcus Rabbah 1):
ר' יהושע דסיכנין בש' ר' לוי אמ' לה הקדוש ברוך הוא לבתיה בת פרעה, משה לא היה בנך וקראת
אותו בנך, אף את לא את בתי ואני קורא אותך בתי....
Rabbi Yehoshua of Siknin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: God said to Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh, “Moses was not your son, yet you called him your
son; you are not my daughter but I will call you my daughter.”
עשרה שמות נקראו לו למשה... אמ' לו הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה חייך מכל שמות שנקראו לך איני
קורא לך אלא בשם שקראתה לך בתיה בת פרעה. ותקרא שמו משה (שמות ב, י). ויקרא אל משה.
Moses was called by ten names… The Holy One, praised be he, said to Moses: “By your life, from all the names you have been called I will only call
you by the name that Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh called you.” [The verses states:] “She named him Moses” (Exod 2:10), “He called Moses”
What Did Moses’ Parents Call Him?
The biblical text suggests that Moses spent his first three months at home, where he certainly already had a name. The Biblical Antiquities of
Pseudo-Philo, a 2nd cent. C.E. retelling of the biblical narrative from Genesis to Saul, suggests that Moses’ mother had named him earlier, but that
the Torah adopts the name given by Pharaoh’s daughter (9:16):
She took him and nursed him. And he became her own son, and she called him by the name Moses. But his mother called him Melchiel (God is my
Other midrashim suggest a variety of names that Moses had been named by his parents and other family members:
ותקרא שמו משה כי מן המים משיתיהו, ואביו קרא לו חבר כי בעבורו נתחבר עם אשתו,
“And she called his name Moses, for ‘from the water I drew him’” – But his father called him Chaver, since it was on his account that he was
reconnected with his wife.
ואמו קראה לו יקותיאל כי הניקה אותו משדיה,
And his mother called him Yekutiel, for she nursed him from her breasts.
According to this, God chose Bitya’s name for Moses above that of his own father and mother!
Yocheved Named Him Moshe: Hizkuni and Abarbanel
Despite the straightforward meaning of what the biblical verse says, several medieval commentators suggest that Yocheved, Moses’s mother, rather
than Pharaoh’s daughter, gave Moses his name. The first traditional commentator to suggest this that I can identify is R. Hezekiah ben Manoah (13th
cent. France) in his Hizkuni (ad loc.).
ותקרא שמו משה כדברי רבותינו שנתגיירה והיתה לומדת לשון הקודש על שם הנס שנמשה מן
המים להזכיר כי מן העברים הוא ולכך אינו נזכר בכל התורה אלא על שם זה.
“She named him: Moses” – This fits with the words of our Sages that she converted (BT Sotah 12b) [when she went down to the Nile and immersed as
if in a mikvah] and thus she learned the Hebrew tongue. [The name Moses] commemorated the miracle of his having been saved from the waters of the
Nile, clarifying that he is from the Hebrews. For this reason, the Torah only uses this name for him.
ד״א בת פרעה לא היתה יודעת לשון הקודש, אלא כך פשוטו של מקרא, ותקרא יוכבד את שמו משה
ותאמר לה בת פרעה מהו לשון משה והגידה היא לה שהוא לשון המשכה ואז אמרה בת פרעה יפה
קראתו כן כי מן המים משיתהו.
An alternate explanation: The daughter of Pharaoh did not know any Hebrew, but the plain meaning of the text is: She, Yocheved, called him Moses. The
daughter of Pharaoh said to her: “What does Moses mean?” She explained to her that it derives from [the Hebrew word for] drawing out something.
Then Pharaoh’s daughter said: “you have given him a great name for I drew him out of the water!”
Hizkuni sees two options. Either the Sages are correct that Pharaoh’s daughter was a “righteous convert” of sorts, and this is how she would
have known Hebrew, or that Pharaoh’s daughter did not know Hebrew, and that Yocheved named the baby, and Pharaoh’s daughter adopted that name.
A similar interpretation was suggested by Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508), likely independently (Abarbanel does not seem to know Hizkuni):
כל תי"ו הנקבה הנזכר בזה הפסוק היא כנוי לצדקת אם משה לא לבת פרעה כמו שאמר ותקח האשה
את הילד ותניקהו ותביאהו לבת פרעה. ועליה נאמר גם כן ותקרא שמו משה ותאמר כי מן המים
The feminine verbal forms in this verse all refer back to the righteous mother of Moses and not to Pharaoh’s daughter, as the verse states: “And
the woman took the boy, nursed him, and brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter.” It is thus referring to her when it says “and she named him Moses,
for she said, ‘He was drawn out of the water.’”
ופירוש הכתוב כך הוא שאמו של משה לקחה הילד ותניקהו ואחרי אשר גמלתו הביאתהו לבת פרעה
שלקחה אותו לה לבן וכשהביאתהו לפניה קראה שמו משה רוצה לומר יוכבד הנזכרת קראתהו כן
כי היא אמרה לבת פרעה שהיא ובני ביתה היהודים קראו שמו משה ותאמר רוצה לומר אמו של משה
אמרה לבת פרעה כי מן המים משיתהו כלומר גברתי הלא קראתי אותו משה ע"ש המאורע שהיה לך
עמו כי מן המים משית אותו