Saving a Child (Exodus 1-2)

Kevin L. Tolley

Kevin L. Tolley, "Saving a Child (Exodus 12)," Religious Educator 23, no. 1 (2022): 94–115.

Kevin L. Tolley ( is a coordinator for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion in Riverside, California.

baby moses in the basketEach section of [Moses's] story teaches principles that can inspire the reader to recognize the divine potential of all God's children and our role to succor these forgotten groups. Moses in the Bulrushes, by George Soper, © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Exodus is arguably the most essential book in the Hebrew Bible because it depicts the pivotal events in Israel’s history and the definitive institutions of its religion. These themes have reverberated through all subsequent Jewish and Christian history.[1] Nahum Sarna wrote that the Exodus narrative “profoundly influenced ethical and social consciousness” in the Torah and was the “motivation for protecting and promoting the interests and rights of the stranger and disadvantaged of society.”[2]

The introductory chapters of the book of Exodus contain themes and characters that are quite unique in the Hebrew Bible. Surprisingly, the Hebrew men, who are typically the focus of the narratives, have been reduced to the background. Women are depicted as saviors, and a child becomes the symbol of the promise of redemption.[3] The text illustrates how this child is in danger, abandoned for a time, then taken in, adopted, and nurtured.[4] The role this baby played is used to teach the relationship between the house of Israel and God. The author of Exodus skillfully demonstrates an examination of children’s potential for change. Each section of the story teaches principles that can inspire the reader to recognize the divine potential of all God’s children and our role to succor these forgotten groups.

Moses’s birth narrative consistently shows women as rescuers. This is an unusual twist because biblical texts were (presumably) written by elite males, who typically focused on male characters and problems. Marginalized groups take center stage to illustrate the plight of the neglected and the nature of deity. Women embody God’s nurture, care, and salvation of the children of Israel, the women liberate Moses, the legendary liberator. These female characters are strong, courageous, and independent. These unlikely heroes appear among elements of isolation, abandonment, fear, oppression, prejudice, and persecution.

The Family of Israel in Danger (Exodus 1:1–12)

Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”[5] Exodus chapter 1 paints a shockingly cruel depiction of Egyptian leadership, ordering the infanticide of Israelite children.

The author of Exodus begins the narrative using language that hearkens back to the Creation.[6] This narrative is a new beginning that foreshadows the birth of Israel.[7] Over the roughly 400-year gap between Genesis and Exodus, the Israelite population dramatically increased. The seventy souls who entered Egypt in Genesis 46:27 had expanded to over 600,000.[8] The population boom sets up, what one scholar described as the “historically preposterous claim” that the Israelites became more powerful than the Egyptians (Exodus 1:9).[9] This frames a xenophobic reasoning behind the Pharaoh’s fearful and cruel response towards the Israelite populous. The Exodus narrative contains a preoccupation with nationality, whereby the Hebrew and Egyptian peoples are constantly contrasted.[10] Despite the long gap between the events of Genesis and Exodus, the Israelites kept their distinct social and ethnic identity, a group apart from Egyptian society. The text refers to the Israelites as “Hebrews” (see Exodus 1:16, 19). The etymology of Hebrew (ʿivry, עברי) denotes someone who comes from beyond or from the other side.[11] The introduction of the term “Hebrew” thus introduces the differentiation between the Egyptians and the “children of Israel” (Exodus 1:1, 7, 9, 12, 13) and a sense of social and economic marginalization. The term “Hebrew” might have had connotations associated with any group of marginal people who have no social standing, own no land, and endlessly disrupt ordered society.[12] They may function variously as mercenaries, state slaves, or terrorists, depending on governmental policies and the state of the economy. They are “low-class folks” who are feared, excluded, and despised. One scholar wrote, “This allows Israel to be feared and despised as an intrusive element from the Egyptian perspective. At the same time, from the Israelite perspective, the use of the term would reinforce a sense of not belonging in Egypt.”[13] The perceived population imbalance of these foreigners results in drastic measures by the king of Egypt to aggressively suppress the Israelites.

William Propp called Pharaoh’s paranoia of the Israelites “ludicrous yet sinister.” He also wrote, “Demagogues often credit weak minorities with vast powers. Elsewhere, the Bible depicts the Egyptian ruling class as obsessively xenophobic (Gen. 42:9, 12; 43:32; 46:34).”[14] Pharaoh’s attempts to check the Israelite expansion unfold in four stages. In each stage the Egyptians’ cruelty becomes increasingly oppressive. The Jewish Study Bible says, first, “the Israelites are subjected to corvée (forced or drafted) labor (Exodus 1:11–12), then to slavery (Exodus 1:13–14), then a secret attempt to murder newborn boys (Exodus 1:15–21), and a public attempt” (Exodus 1:22).[15] He issued a decree for the Egyptians to execute the newborn Israelite males (Exodus 1:22). The presentation of these four successive, intensifying stages shows the cruelty heaped upon the Israelites that climaxes in infanticide.[16]

The Egyptians’ prejudice causes them to lash out at the most defenseless demographic, children. As the narrative continues, their dread of the Israelites strength is compounded as the more the Israelites were “afflicted, the more they multiplied” (Exodus 1:12). The Egyptians’ attempt to alleviate their fear of Israel through persecution had the opposite effect.

Israel as a Child (Exodus 1:22–2:22)

The hope of Israel’s future salvation is embodied in a child. The destiny of the covenant people is depicted as a helpless child. The concept of children runs throughout Exodus 1–2.[17] Over the past few decades, concerted efforts have been made to give a voice to the voiceless, to recognize those who have been overlooked. Biblical studies have followed this trend. One emerging field is that of “childist theory.”[18] This study identifies a new theoretical lens in which to examine the ancient world. Childist theory investigates the role of children in ancient society.[19] The field recognizes children’s presence and importance and calls for more scholars to include children in their studies and reconstructions of past societies.[20]

Although some texts regard children as a divine heavenly gift (compare Psalm 127:3–5), the role of children in ancient society were more pecuniary. Naomi Steinberg points out that in some cases in the ancient world, an individual child “was economic family property whose function was to carry forward the production and reproduction of the family into the next generation.”[21] Laurel Koepf-Taylor wrote, “The economic value of children in the ancient world renders them a necessity rather than an emotional luxury.”[22]

Seeing children as simply utilitarian has the potential for awful consequences. When human life is equated with financial gain, the true human identity is forfeited. The grand secret that Cain possessed was that life is equal to money (Moses 5:29–31; Helaman 6:21–30; Ether 8:13–25).[23] Biblical texts sometimes illustrate these vices.[24] These are vices that still plague the modern world and a plague that reaches out and affects too many children today. This view is counter to God’s divine plan.

God sees the “worth of souls” from a divine perspective (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). Throughout the text of the Bible, God consistently and repeatedly reminds the reader of the marginalized, the abandoned, the isolated, and the lonely. He assures that he will “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed” (Psalm 82:3 NIV; compare Deuteronomy 10:18). The Psalmist also knows God to “hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17–18 NIV).

A subtle message unfolds of divine protection, playing on the child-deity connection with Israel’s oppressed children. Exodus is the definitive story of Israel’s establishment as a people freed from human tyranny who become heirs to their own loving God. God’s purpose was to liberate Israel to establish an exclusive relationship and “dwell among them” (Exodus 29:46).

Midwives (Exodus 1:13–22)

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.”[25] The text introduces a couple of unsuspecting heroes who risk everything to protect innocent children. Two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15), are highlighted as the heroines because they “feared God” (Exodus 1:17). Their importance is exhibited in the text because their names are mentioned. In contrast, Pharaoh, the most politically powerful man in the narrative, remains unidentified and unnamed. Nahum Sarna wrote, “In the biblical scale of values, these lowly champions of morality assume far greater historical importance than do the all-powerful tyrants who ruled Egypt.”[26]

These women’s primary responsibility was to protect the mother and child during the birthing process.[27] From extrabiblical texts, we learn that midwives also played a spiritual role, as they function to perform rituals to ensure heaven’s aid. Above all else, they were women of character who were morally strong, who risked everything to ensure these children’s safety.

Giving birth was a dangerous event in the ancient world; both mother and child were at risk. The child mortality rate hovered upwards of 40–50 percent.[28] Midwives worked to help the child and the mother survive this traumatic experience, to assist “the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools” (Exodus 1:16).[29] It has been suggested that the profession was impure and hence not highly esteemed.[30] Later in the Middle East, among Palestinian Arabs, midwives were older women who are past menopause, which is crucial for they are not in danger of becoming impure.[31] These women provided the mother with medical expertise. Once the baby came out of the birth canal, the midwives sprang into action. In relating the symbolic birth of Jerusalem, Ezekiel 16:4–5 suggests some of a midwife’s responsibilities: “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.”[32] The care withheld from the infant Jerusalem provides a glimpse at the care given to a typical newborn. Each of these actions had sound medical backing but also had religious significance.

Birth was often surrounded by an air of magical superstition.[33] In many cultures in the ancient Near East, the birth process became ritualized. Following a ritual practice gave the event religious significance. The vast amounts of Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature starkly contrast with the Hebrew Bible’s silence on the subject.[34] It is possible that ancient Israelite women also used incantations and salves during labor.[35] It was believed that heaven was involved in forming the child in the womb, and the birth process echoed the Creation narratives (compare Psalm 139:13–15).[36] Midwives engaged in ritual actions for each birth that reinforced this view. They were responsible for all the blessings and prayers for the child and ensuring the safe delivery.[37] A midwife was a representative of divinity, intermediating the gateway between heaven and earth. Their responsibility was to help those in danger, both the child and mother weather the ordeal safely.

Shiphrah and Puah boldly defied the death decree of Pharaoh. It seems unlikely that these two women were responsible for the whole of Israelite births, but they might have held some position of authority over the guild of midwives.[38] Regardless, they recognize the cruelty of the order and will not stand for it. The text says that they “feared God” (Exodus 1:17), and for their bravery, they were immortalized in the story. This episode might be the first recorded act of civil disobedience in defense of a moral imperative in the Bible. Although they only get a brief mention in the narrative, their names become synonymous with protecting the defenseless.[39] They would not bend under Egypt’s political pressure when the king himself questioned them for neglecting his order. They claimed that the Israelites are “lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them” (Exodus 1:19). This alludes to the fact that the women were not passively waiting back or were too slow to assist in the births. Their inactivity was an act of civil disobedience.[40] Jon D. Levenson agrees: “The Hebrew Bible does not generally support an equation of faith with passivity.”[41] The story immediately states, “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives [and] . . . he made them houses” (Exodus 1:20–21).[42] God blesses them for their courage.

Shiphrah and Puah put their lives on the line to protect those who needed protection. These two women defend the innocent, physically and spiritually. The narrative shows two women, an often-overlooked demographic, as saviors of the innocent. Being unbending in their service despite tremendous pressure, pressure from the most politically powerful man in the known world. They undoubtedly saw the importance of their office; they understood the physical and spiritual ramifications of their work. The example of the midwives is designed to teach the reader to be proactive in defending the defenseless, to help give a voice to the voiceless.

Birth and Abandonment (Exodus 2:1–4)

Exodus 2:2 describes the birth of Moses in a typical biblical fashion by simply stating that “the woman conceived, and bare a son” (Exodus 2:2). This significant event was often associated with challenges.[43] Childbirth could be so perilous that it was used as a metaphor for crisis or horror.[44]

In modern and ancient stories, a hero’s origin is often depicted as coming from a place of abandonment. They begin as being portrayed without support, deserted, without anyone looking after them. This is true in the stories of Oedipus, Romulus, King Arthur, Snow White, Tarzan, Superman, and innumerable, less-familiar heroes. This is also the case with Moses. Moses’s birth narrative has also been linked to that of the Assyrian king Sargon and is understood as part of the literary motif of a “rags to riches” narrative.[45] The theme of child abandonment is not only a catalyst for heroic epics but a common reality in the ancient world. It appears not only in epic tales but also in legal documents as they struggle to delineate an abandoned child’s legal rights. Understanding adoption in the ancient world requires some knowledge of abandonment. The modern reader who recognizes the subtle hints of abandonment in the text can see these themes in contemporary society and individuals.

The religion of the ancient Egyptians forbade infanticide, and during the Greco-Roman period they rescued abandoned babies from manure heaps, a common method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans.[46] Mesopotamian texts, our oldest sources, often refer to abandonment of children as a precursor to adoption.[47] These texts refer to abandoned children as being “cast out” (Akkadian, nasākum) by the mother. Texts occasionally allude to the children being thrown out into the water. There is a parallel to Pharaoh’s decree where he orders that “every son that is born ye shall cast into the river” (Exodus 1:22; emphasis added). The language of “exposure” used by Pharaoh (“to cast,” šālak, שלך) parallels the Mesopotamian (Akkadian, nasākum).[48] The story in Exodus makes efforts draw parallels back to Mesopotamian abandonment texts.[49] Pharaoh’s order to “cast” their children is a technical term for abandoning a child (compare Genesis 21:15; Ezekiel 16:5).[50] The language is meant to reference an exposure text of those who are “cast off” (Exodus 1:22), using a known verb for abandoning a child in the biblical tradition (Ezekiel 16:5; Psalm 22:11; Isaiah 49:14–15).

Jochebed, Moses’s mother, does not “cast” the child aside as was ordered but “places” him (sym, שים) in the ark. Jochebed reinterprets Pharaoh’s command to connote abandoning with the possibility of adoption. Being excused from the charge of abandonment is clearly seen by the care and concern in which she puts into the construction of the ark.[51] She also places the ark not into the middle of the Nile but among the rushes near the shore. Even though a theme of abandonment is in the text, other details continue to protect Jochebed.[52]

Although in Egyptian society, children were valued and there is no sign of infanticide,[53] the consequences for not obeying the Pharaoh’s decree are ambiguous. The penalties must have been steep to motivate a mother to abandon her newborn. She does everything she can to comply with the bare minimum of the order while making every effort to save her child. Besides constructing the ark, to safely place her child, she assigned her daughter to watch over the infant Moses. Robert D. Hales commented, “Leaving nothing to chance [Jochebed] also sent along an inspired helper, her daughter Miriam, to keep watch.”[54] There was a specific assignment to watch over the helpless.

Discovery and Adoption (Exodus 2:5–6)

Despite the volumes of documentation for adoption in the ancient Near East, the Torah contains no legislation concerning adoption.[55] The practice indeed existed in ancient Israel.[56] We read several times about elevating an individual to sonship, but the details on how this is done have not been recorded.[57] The text alludes to Moses being adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh (Exodus 2:5–6).[58] The adoption couldn’t have taken place without a prior abandonment. Pharaoh’s law to “cast” the Israelite children away had a loophole. It failed to say that a baby, once cast off in the Nile, might not be adopted by another party.

Although absent from the Hebrew Bible, adoption contracts are prevalent in ancient Mesopotamian literature. The Code of Hammurapi §185 speaks of adopting a son “from his water” (Akkadian, ina mêšu)—i.e., from birth.[59] Another text illustrates children who are abandoned and are at risk of certain doom and either symbolically or literally being rescued “from the dog’s mouth.”[60] In the simplest language, to become a son was referred to as literally “to take as a son” (Akkadian, ana mārūtim leqûm).[61] A careful examination of exposure and adoption language suggests that Exodus uses the form, structure, and language of adoption contracts as a primary mode of expression. The whole exposure-adoption system illustrated in Mesopotamian adoption contracts is used in Moses’s birth story.[62]

Jochebed and the daughter of Pharaoh parallel each other in significant ways; they are both portrayed as using their resources to provide security to a vulnerable child/son. First, they both see the child. One sees goodness of the child (Exodus 2:2), while the other sees the child in distress (Exodus 2:6). Second, their perceptions lead to actions that focused on the child’s survival (Exodus 2:3) and nourishment (Exodus 2:9). Third, both of these actions lead to momentary separation from the child. The biological mother of Moses places him among the reeds (Exodus 2:3), while the adoptive mother gives him away to be nursed by a Hebrew woman (Exodus 2:9).[63] The two women represent two different national identities but interact in ways that mimic each other in their efforts to care for the child.

When the daughter of Pharaoh found the young child in the bullrushes, she instantly recognizes him as a Hebrew child (Exodus 2:6). Although the word “Hebrew” is used in Exodus 1:15–16 to make a sociological distinction between women of different ethnic backgrounds (Hebrew versus Egyptian), as one scholar suggests, “The word is used here in Exodus 2:6 in the context of a distinction between an Egyptian princess (thus a powerful, political figure) and a helpless, vulnerable young man. The distinction is sociopolitical.”[64]

The language of Exodus and later tradition alludes that she took him as her son (Hebrews 11:24).[65] Adoption, in ancient Egypt, was a way to protect a child who was left orphaned.[66] This appears to be an unusual turn of events considering the Pharaoh’s previous decree. It would be impossible to truly discover her motivation for keeping the child. The idiom used in Exodus 2:6 to describe the princess’s motivation toward the crying child was “she had compassion on him” (על . . . חמל). This idiom is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to describe the preservation of someone’s life, usually in a context of political violence (compare 1 Samuel 15.3, 9, 15; 23.21; 2 Chronicles 36.17; Zechariah 11.5, 6). It is also used to describe the protective care a parent has for their child in danger (Malachi 3:17).[67]

Taking into account the wealth of Mesopotamian adoption literature and the parallels between the literature and the Moses narrative in Exodus, it is clear that Moses was being adopted into the Egyptian court (see Exodus 2:10). The Exodus text goes out of its way to illustrate that Moses was abandoned, discovered, and adopted. Although Moses’s life is preserved, he is taken into the home of the enemy.

The infant Moses becomes a symbol for a people who have felt cast off, neglected, and abandoned. One of the essential messages of the gospel of Jesus Christ has always been to seek out the lost. The mission of the Savior’s premortal, mortal, and postmortal ministry is to find the abandoned and bring them home. Groups and individuals are too often overlooked in the “bulrushes” of life, unnoticed and unheard. To follow the pattern of the great Jehovah is to find those who are physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually lost waiting to be found.

Wet Nurse (Exodus 2:7–9)

Once the daughter of Pharaoh becomes responsible for the care of the young child, she immediately delegated the responsibility to Jochebed. The wording is interesting considering adoption records. The daughter of Pharaoh states, “Take this child away, . . . and [Jochebed] took the child” (Exodus 2:9; emphasis added). This ironic turn of events has significant implications.

Being a wet nurse was a highly esteemed position throughout in the ancient Near East. A wet nurse’s responsibilities were expansive. Children are often breastfed for up to three years after birth.[68] Besides the arduous responsibility of feeding the child, a wet nurse was also accountable for rearing the child. She was to act as a guardian and tutor.[69] A wet nurse’s job was not risk-free, because she took complete responsibility for the child’s well-being in her house and was responsible for any injury or harm to the child.[70] She would be compensated for her efforts (Exodus 2:9). Although some of the details of these contracts might vary, Old Babylonian wet-nurse contracts indicate the wages cover room and board and can include five shekels or food, clothing, and oil.[71] Some efforts of ancient Egyptian wet nurses were immortalized on tomb wall.[72]

Exodus describes an unusual twist; the mother of the abandoned child is now paid to have the child live with her. Jochebed has three years or more to bond with her son. Her efforts to raise the child are now financed by the very family that caused the abandonment of the child in the first place.

Giving a Name (Exodus 2:10)

William Shakespeare penned the words, “What’s in a name?,” saying that names do not matter. What matters is the individual.[73] While this might be true for star-crossed lovers, those in the ancient world believed that names really did matter. Names recorded a parent’s thoughts about the baby and the child’s legal and social status.[74]

Exodus 2:10 describes the daughter of Pharaoh, giving a name to Moses. Before this time, the child remains unidentified. In Egyptian culture, it was often the mother who named the child.[75] Similarly, over two-thirds of the birth narratives in the Old Testament record women naming children (Genesis 4:1; 29:32–35; 30:6–13, 22–24; 35:18; 1 Samuel 1:20; 4:21; 13:24).[76]

The child’s name in biblical literature is often associated with a pun or some sort of meaning. Most biblical and ancient Near Eastern names express some sentiment, such as the feeling of the parents upon the birth of the child. Some names also include a theophoric element reinforcing an idea of gratitude for God’s help in the birthing process or an attribute of deity.[77]

A child might not be named until he or she was a few days old or until after the period of their mandated seclusion was over (Leviticus 12). Waiting to see whether a child would survive for the first weeks or months of their life before naming the child could have been a coping measure.[78] As for slave children, it is possible that these children were not named for at least two to three years until they were weaned and able to survive on their own. Naming an individual gave him a place within society and a place in the household.[79]

The narrative clearly states that the child was named by the “Pharaoh’s daughter” (Exodus 2:10). This would suggest that the child would possibly have an Egyptian name.[80] Herbert Marks suggests, “One can see how such a tradition could have arisen among hypothetical tradents centuries after the exodus to explain the strange–sounding name that had outlived its Egyptian derivation in popular memory.”[81] The etymology of the name could stem from the Egyptian word “mśi,” “to bear,” “give birth.”[82] An abbreviated form of the word is found in theophoric personal names such as Akhmoses, Thutmoses, Ptahmoses, Ramses.

The consonants mss signified “child of”[83] and would delineate the parentage of the name holder. In the case of the aforementioned Egyptian theophoric names, the name illustrated the divine nature of the name holder by pointing back to the deity mentioned. Since the daughter of Pharaoh did not know the lineage of Moses, essentially, the name of the child became “born/begotten of [nobody]” or “born/begotten of [unknown].”[84] This might allude to the unknown parentage of the child or possibly an allusion to an unknown God.

Moses’s name must have impacted him greatly. Later, while conversing with deity, he might have referred to his own name when he complains, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). This might reveal his personal view of himself, a retrospective on his own identity and, by extension, his own capability. God seeks to build this young man by helping him see his own divine potential. There may be a play on the etymology of Moses’s name in a theophany recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. While upon a mountain, Moses “talked with God face to face” (Moses 1:1). God repeatedly emphasizes Moses’s divine heritage. He tells Moses, “Thou art my son” (Moses 1:4), that he had a work for “Moses, my son” (Moses 1:6), and that God will show him visions, “Moses, my son” (Moses 1:7).[85] If Moses’s name comes from the Egyptian word meaning “born of [nobody],” these phrases might have resonated with the new prophet. God is making it perfectly clear that he is “a child of God.”[86] This might have a dual meaning, obviously referring to his spiritual identity but also his relationship being magnified through making and keeping covenants. Moses then sees a series of visions where he gets a glimpse of God’s work and his love. By extension, he begins to see his own divine potential.

Understanding the Egyptian etymology of Moses’s name helps the reader understand not only how Moses viewed himself but how God used his name to help him see his own divine potential. For Moses, who grew up as an outsider in the Egyptian court, whose name points to an ambiguous heritage, this revelation expanded his view of whom he could become. This is a powerful message for those who feel marginalized and for those who seek to help those who feel they are on the outside of society. A powerful change can occur not merely by changing their environment but by changing their perspective on themselves.

Jehovah and Israel

Out of the many titles for God’s covenant people, the title most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the “children of Israel.”[87] The relationship between God as parent and Israel as child proves to be at the heart of the identity of the Israelite people. The title denotes a family relation but also includes connotations of vulnerability and dependence. It implies qualities that are necessary to approach divinity (compare Mosiah 3:19). The characters who watch over and protect Moses become embodiments of the traits and qualities of the Savior.

The mighty Jehovah is often viewed in the light of feminine qualities in the Old Testament.[88] He experiences the fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8) or as a mother eagle hovering over her young (Deuteronomy 32:11). He even takes on the attributes of a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14; Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 45:9–10) or of a mother suckling her child (Number 11:12). The attributes of motherhood are often used to describe the deep feelings he has for the children of Israel as he cares for them (Psalm 131:2; Isaiah 49:15; 66:13). The women described in Exodus 1–2 become types and shadows for the loving care Jehovah has for his people. Jehovah takes on many of the roles typically associated with women as he cares for Israel. He lovingly cares for, corrects, and nurtures Israel along their journey.

As mentioned, Shiphrah and Puah are highlighted as the heroines. Their moral courage protected the innocent and helpless. In a similar fashion, the God of Israel is described as caring for his people like a midwife that cares for a child who has been newly delivered. The Psalmist writes, “But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (Psalm 22:9–10; compare Psalm 71:6, Isaiah 66:9).

Being set adrift upon the sea of possibilities, pulled about by any current, the infant Moses is at the mercy of the flow of the river, abandoned but not alone. Moses’s sister Miriam takes personal risk to watch over the child. She actively worked to intercede on her brother and mother’s behalf. Approaching and speaking to the daughter of Pharoah could have put her own safety in jeopardy. For a time, the children of Israel felt this type of isolation amidst the growing tide of Egyptian persecution, unaware that the Savior knew of their challenges, interceding on their behalf (Exodus 3:7). Moses’s experiences will be echoed as Jehovah sees Israel abandoned in Egypt.

The exposure-adoption language that is typically in Mesopotamian contracts is all leveraged as wider metaphors to set up the book of Exodus. The Lord instructs Moses using this type of language when he says, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Exodus 6:7). A cluster of themes describing the Egyptian princess’s rescue and adoption activities anticipate Jehovah’s actions on behalf of Israel. Both the princess and Jehovah go down to the place of rescue (Exodus 2:5; 3:8), both see and respond to the human outcry (Exodus 2:6; 3:7, 9) and, with the assistance of members of the ethnic subgroup (Exodus 2:6–9; 3:16–18), both adopt the rescued child/son (Exodus 2:10; 4:22–23).

All Israel is sometimes regarded as Yahweh’s adopted child (Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20; Hosea 11:1). According to Deuteronomy 32:10–20, Yahweh found Israel in the desert, embraced him, taught and loved him, and treated him as his own children. Ezekiel 16:4–14 described a similar motif and illustrated Israel as an abandoned baby girl, taken in, washed, and cherished by the Lord. Jeremiah 3:19 envisions Yahweh’s future adoption of Israel, including the specification of an inheritance.[89] The text moves beyond Moses’s fate as an individual, anticipating the future adoption of Israel by Jehovah.[90] Moses’s birth narrative provides an interpretive blueprint for the larger Exodus story.

Jehovah illustrates his desire to care for Israel by symbolically taking on the role of the wet nurse or surrogate mother. He feeds, cares for, and instructs the children of Israel. God comforts his people like a mother who comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13). The Psalmist admonishes Israel as a child who should rely on Jehovah as a mother (Psalm 131:2). He promises the children of Israel that he will provide nourishment, or “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, 17; 33:3). Later they are promised that like a woman would never forget her nursing child, God will never forget his children (Isaiah 49:15; compare Psalm 27:10).

Just as God repeatedly refers to Moses as “my son” (Moses 1:4, 6, 7), God frequently claims that Israel is to be called by his name (Deuteronomy 28:10; Jeremiah 14:9). Israelites are consistently referred to as the “people of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 27:9; Judges 5:11). The “people of the Lord” is a title that is among the oldest passages in the Hebrew Bible.[91] Coming into the family of Christ includes taking a new name or identity (compare Moroni 4:3; 6:3). Moses becomes an embodiment of Israel to teach this relationship, and Jehovah takes on the roles depicted by women in Exodus 1–2.


The story of Moses begins with elements of danger, prejudice, and abandonment. A helpless child is set adrift and floats to the unknown. The political, social, economic, and cultural tones of this text are complex and layered. This is reflected in the narrative art of a story using the motif of exposure and adoption to lay the groundwork and begin the process for the liberation of communities—the rescue and adoption of not just an individual but a community.

Exodus 1–2 repeatedly shows women rising to save others. The midwives defy the Pharaoh’s decree and allow the Hebrew children to live. Jochebed gives birth and then devises a plan to save the child and his sister, ensuring the plan is carried out. The Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the child and provides for his safety. So many groups of women acting proactively to save the helpless are unique in the Bible. Each of these women embodies an element of the Savior’s compassion for those in need. We need to be that hero who looks out for the neglected and the marginalized.


[1] God’s redemption of his people from Egyptian bondage is mentioned no less than 120 times in the Hebrew Bible. See Y. Hoffman, The Doctrine of the Exodus in the Bible [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1983), 11.

[2] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus שמות: The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), xii.

[3] All the actions to thwart Pharaoh’s death decree are taken up by women. The midwives defy the Pharaoh’s decree and allow the Hebrew children to live (Exodus 1:17–18). Moses’s mother gives birth and then devises a plan to save the child and his sister to ensure the plan is carried out (Exodus 2:2–4). The Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the child and provides for his safety (Exodus 2:5–10). The narrative becomes a deconstruction and reconfiguration of typical gender roles in the Hebrew Bible, where Moses depends on women’s help.

[4] Mikael Larsson, “In Search of Children’s Agency,” in Exodus and Deuteronomy, ed. Athalya Brenner-Idan and Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 88.

[5] Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Pretoria, May 8, 1995.

[6] God commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful [פרו; peru] and multiply [רבו; revu], fill the land (מלאו את-הארץ; milu et-ha’aretz)” (Genesis 1:28 NKJV). Exodus echoes these themes by depicting the Israelites and being fruitful [פרו; paru] and multiplied [ירבו; yirbu] and the land was filled [תמלא הארץ; timale ha’aretz] with them” (Exodus 1:7). John D. Currid states, “The scriptural writer understood and described the exodus as a second creation. It was a new conquest of chaos, another prevailing over the waters of the deep, and a redemptive creation of the people of Israel.” John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 115.

[7] William Henry Propp, Exodus: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 134; See also Clair R. Mathews McGinnis, “Exodus as a ‘Text of Terror’ for Children,” in The Child in the Bible, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 28.

[8] Due to redactional efforts, exact numbers of population and lengths of periods appear to shift. We may compare the census of “about 600,000” Israelites of Exodus 12:37 becoming 625,550 in Exodus 38:26, similarly 400 years in Egypt in Genesis 15:13 becoming 430 in Exodus 12:40–41.

[9] Propp, Exodus, 131.

[10] In Exodus 1, “Egypt(ian)” is mentioned eight times (Exodus 1:1; 5; 8; 13; 15; 17; 18; 19), “Israel” is mentioned five times (Exodus 1:1; 7; 9; 12; 13), and “Hebrew” is mentioned three times (Exodus 1:15; 16; 19).

[11] Francis Brown, S. R Driver, Charles A Briggs, and Wilhelm Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1959), 720.

[12] Over a third of the uses of ‘Hebrew’ in the Hebrew Bible are found in Exodus: 1:15–16, 19; 2:6–7, 11, 13; 3:18; 5:3; 7:16; 9:1, 13; 10:3; 21:2. The term is often used in the presence of, or by someone considered to be foreign. See Shammai Engelmayer, “Ivri: Naming Ourselves.” Judaism 54, no. 1 (2005): 13. Nahum Sarna suggests that the title “Hebrew” was associated with other migratory groups in the ancient Near East, and the term has been associated with “killer, aggressor, violent person.” Sarna, Exodus, 266. See also J. David Schloen, “The Exile of Disinherited Kin in Ktu 1.12 and Ktu 1.23,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52, no. 3 (1993): 209–20.

[13] Magdi S. Gendi, “Pharaoh as a Character in Exodus 1–2, An Egyptian Perspective,” in Brenner-Idan and Yee, Exodus and Deuteronomy, 63.

[14] Propp, Exodus, 131.

[15] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 107.

[16] Berlin and Zvi, Jewish Study Bible, 103.

[17] The Hebrew word for “male child” (yeled, ילד) can span a wide range of social ages and is a generic term for a group of children who could be of any age and can refer to a newborn infant to a young adult. The term “male child” (yeled, ילד) occurs eight times in Exodus 1:22–2:22 (verses 3, 6 [twice], 7, 8, 9 [twice], 10).

[18] Julie Faith Parker, “Children in the Hebrew Bible and Childist Interpretation,” Currents in Biblical Research 17, no. 2 (2019): 130–57.

[19] Julie Faith Parker, Valuable and Vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible, Especially the Elisha Cycle (Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2018), 41–74. See also D. N. Fewell, Children of Israel: Reading the Bible for the Sake of Our Children (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2003).

[20] Kristine Henriksen Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel: Children in Material Culture and Biblical Texts (Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2018), 3–4.

[21] Naomi Steinberg, The World of Children in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013), 123.

[22] Laurel W. Koepf-Taylor, Give Me Children or I Shall Die: Children and Communal Survival in Biblical Literature (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 37. Shawn Flynn wrote, “The children are vulnerable, valuable, and sometimes both: indeed, these two estimations can be intertwined. . . . This value, in turn, can heighten the children’s vulnerability, since they are desired. Children are needed for cultural survival but may be used or exploited through slavery or sacrifice.” Shawn W. Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel: The Hebrew Bible and Mesopotamia in Comparative Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 8, quoting Julie Faith Parker, Valuable and Vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible, Especially the Elisha Cycle (Providence, RI: Brown University, 2013), 197.

[23] Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 12.

[24] Julie Faith Parker highlighted “the vulnerability of children and youth through warfare (e.g., Judg. 8.20; 2 Kgs 6.24–31), debt slavery (e.g., 2 Kgs 4.1–7), sexual coercion (e.g., 1 Kgs 1.1–3; Est. 2.2–8), and human trafficking (e.g., 2 Kgs 5.1–5).” See “Children in the Hebrew Bible and Childist Interpretation,” Currents in Biblical Research 17, no. 2 (2019): 132.

[25] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 27.

[26] Sarna, Exodus, 7.

[27] According to Lawrence E. Stager, during Iron I in the highlands of Israel, only about two in six babies born would reach adulthood. See “The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,” BASOR 260 (1985): 18.

[28] Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 25.

[29] Pictorial evidence of birthing chairs and bricks are not found in Iron Age Israel, but there are examples from Middle Kingdom Egypt and Bronze Age Mesopotamia. “The aforementioned midwives delivered babies on אבנים (ʾobnāyîm). This word has been translated as birth/delivery stool or chair. Some translations, noting the dual the dual for of the noun, suggest it is related to the word אבן (ʾeben; “stone”) and transliterate it as two stones. However, this translation has now fallen out of favor. All of these transliterations rely on the notion that Egyptian women squatted during birth.” See Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 52.

[30] Alternatively, in other Egyptian literature, specifically Tales of Wonder, the function of midwives was performed by male and female deities disguised as musicians. Rosalind M. Janssen and Jac. J. Janssen, Growing Up in Ancient Egypt (London: Rubicon Press, 1996), 6–7.

[31] Kristine Henriksen Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel: Children in Material Culture and Biblical Texts (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2018), 51. See also Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 413.

[32] For information on the widespread practice of swaddling, see Marten Stol and F. A. M. Wiggermann, Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting (Groningen: Styx, 2000), 177.

[33] Janssen, Growing Up in Ancient Egypt, 9.

[34] Standardized prayers and incantations are also found in the Egyptian record in the New Kingdom, “Magical Spells for Mother and Child” (P. Berlin 3027). These spells were uttered by a lector-priest or “magician of the nursery.” See Robert Ritner, “Magic: An Overview,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. 3., ed. Donald B. Redford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 2:324.

[35] Susan Ackerman, “Household Religion, Family Religion, and Woman’s Religion in Ancient Israel,” in Household and Family Religion in Antiquity, ed. John P. Bodel and Saul M. Olyan (Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 127–58.

[36] Shawn W. Flynn, “Birthing New Life: Israelite and Mesopotamian Values and Visions of the Preborn Child,” in Life and Death: Social Perspectives on Biblical Bodies, ed. Francesca Stavrakopoulou (London: T & T Clark, 2020), 86.

[37] Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 90.

[38] H. Rand, “Figure Vases in Ancient Egypt and Hebrew Midwives,” Israel Exploration Journal, 20 (1970): 209–12.

[39] Midrashic commentaries associated creative etymologies to the names Shiphrah and Puah, they also associate their identities to other heroic women. See Exodus Rabbah 1:13–25. See also Briah Cahana, “The Enigmatic Meyalledot Ha'ivriyyot: A History of Interpretation of Exodus 1:15–21 from Antiquity to the Medieval Period” (PhD diss., McGill University, 2017), 47–66.

[40] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994), 133.

[41] Jon Douglas Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 92.

[42] William H. Propp wrote that “houses” are probably families. “The idiom ‘make a house’ refers to funding a lineage in Akkadian and Hebrew (1 Samuel 25:28; 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 2:24; compare Genesis 16:2; 30:2; Jeremiah 12:16, also speculate that midwives were typically barren women.” Exodus, 141.

[43] Marten Stol and F. A. M Wiggermann. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting (Groningen: Styx, 2000), 27–48.

[44] Claudia D. Bergmann, Childbirth as a Metaphor for Crisis: Evidence from the Ancient Near East, the Hebrew Bible, and 1QH XI, 1–18 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009); see also Amy Kalmanofsky, “Israel’s Baby: The Horror of Childbirth in the Biblical Prophets,” Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches 16, no. 1 (2008): 60–82.

[45] Propp, Exodus, 155–58; See also Alison A. Gruseke, “Moses the Mesopotamian: Sargon of Akkad, Moses, and the Production of Geographical Identities in Ancient Israel” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2017). On similarities between Moses’s story and that of the neo-Assyrian king Esarhaddon, see Eckart Otto, “Political Theology in Judah and Assyria: The Beginning of the Hebrew Bible as Literature,” Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 65 (2000): 74–75. On the similarities and differences between Moses and Cyrus, see Helena Zlotnick-Sivan, “Moses the Persian? Exodus 2, the ‘Other’ and Biblical ‘Mnemohistory,’” ZAW 116 (2004): 191–96.

[46] See Amandine Marshall, Maternité Et Petite Enfance En Égypte Ancienne (Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 2015), 10.

[47] Meir Malul, “Adoption of Foundlings in the Bible and Mesopotamian Documents: A Study of Some Legal Metaphors in Ezekiel 16.1–7,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 15 (46): 104–5.

[48] The term can also mean “to eject” or “to dispose of living creatures.” See Ludwig Köhler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1528.

[49] Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 87–88.

[50] Propp, Exodus, 147.

[51] William H. Propp wrote, “vessel. Tēbâ has only two uses in the Bible: to denote Noah’s ark (Genesis 6–8) and Moses’ basket. It may be a loanword from Egyptian tbt ‘container,’” Exodus, 149; see also 147–49. This reinforces the idea of a new beginning for Israel. There is also a play on words in Hebrew between Jochebed’s ark that saved Moses and Moses’s protectors. Kenneth Ngwa pointed out “the symbol of security (תבת) has moved from the daughter (בת) of Levi to the daughter (בת) of Pharaoh.” Kenneth Ngwa, “Ethnicity, Adoption, and Exodus: A Socio-Rhetorical Reading of Exodus 2.1–10,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38 (2013): 171.

[52] Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 87–88.

[53] Douglas J. Brewer and Emily Teeter, Egypt and the Egyptians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 97.

[54] Robert D. Hales, “With All the Feeling of a Tender Parent: A Message of Hope to Families,” Ensign, May 2004, 89.

[55] While the Bible does not include explicit laws concerning adoption, later Jewish sources references something akin to adoption. The Babylonian Talmud states that if one raises a child, it is as if he fathered it (b San. 19b; b. Meg. 13a). This is how the rabbis explain the relationship between Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5–10). See Kristine Garroway, “Children,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, ed. B. Strawn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 103. For a good outline of adoption in the Old Babylonian period, see Raymond Westbrook, “Mesopotamia: The Old Babylonian Period,” in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vols. 1 and 2 (ed. R. Westbrook; HbO 72; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 391.

[56] For additional references for adoption, see Meir Malul, “Adoption of Foundlings in the Bible and Mesopotamian Documents: A Study of Some Legal Metaphors in Ezekiel 16:1–7,” JSOT 46 (1990): 97–126; Jonathan Cohen, The Origins and Evolution of the Moses Nativity Story (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993), 5–27.

[57] Lot may have been a possible adopted heir of Abraham. See Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1: Social Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 51. King David also obtained status of a “son” of divinity (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7). The nation of Israel was also considered “sons” (Exodus 4:22–23).

[58] Adoption is a well-attested practice in ancient Egypt. Childless parents were expected to adopt an orphan, who would then act for them as their heir or “eldest son.” See O. Berlin P 10627 in Edward Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta: Scholars Press for Society of Biblical Literature, 1990), 149 [no. 206], 230. In the Nineteenth Dynasty, a couple named Ramose and Mutemwia adopted a child after several prayers for a child had remained unanswered. See Morris Bierbrier, The Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs (London: British Museum Publications, 1982), 32–33. In ancient Egypt, an adopted child had the same rights of inheritance as a biological child. See Sandra Lippert, “Inheritance,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 1, no. 1 (2013).

[59] Propp, Exodus, 158.

[60] BM 94589 (young boy, rescued by a couple), BM 65950 (a baby boy rescued).

[61] For typical adoption contracts see TIM [Texts in the Iraq Museum] 5 3:12–13; BAP [B. Meissner, Beiträge zum alta babylonischen Privatrecht] 95: 20–1; BAP 96: 20–2; CT [Cuneiform Text] 822b: 9–10; CT 48:14–15.

[62] Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 86.

[63] Kenneth Ngwa, “Ethnicity, Adoption, and Exodus: A Socio-Rhetorical Reading of Exodus 2.1–10,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 38 (2013):170.

[64] Ngwa, “Ethnicity, Adoption, and Exodus,” 165.

[65] According to Josephus, the daughter of Pharaoh adopted Moses as her son and would later present him to her father as a potential heir to the throne. He wrote, “Thermuthis therefore perceiving him to be so remarkable a child, adopted him for her son, having no child of her own.” Josephus, Antiquities, 1:9:7.

[66] Marshall, Etre Un Enfant En Egypte Ancienne, 235.

[67] Ngwa, “Ethnicity, Adoption, and Exodus,” 172.

[68] Because infertility was not desirable, upper-class women trying to increase their fertility might hire wet nurses in order to begin trying to have children sooner. This would be the case in a royal or wealthy family who did not have a son or was hoping to have multiple sons. This doesn’t appear to be the case in this story. See Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 97.

[69] Sarna, Exodus, 10.

[70] Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 60.

[71] Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 98; B. S. Childs, “The Birth of Moses,” Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965) 109–22. The Laws of Eshnunna (par. 32) deal with the hire of a wet nurse. See also Flynn, Children in Ancient Israel, 89.

[72] Maarten J. Raven, The Tomb of Maya and Meryt (Leiden: National Museum of Antiquities, 2001), pl. 48.

[73] Romeo and Juliet, 2:2:47–48.

[74] Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 79.

[75] Janssen, Growing Up in Ancient Egypt, 14.

[76] A child is ordinarily named by its mother but could be named by the father (Genesis 16:15; Exodus 2:22; 18:3–4); there might even be disagreement between the parents (Genesis 35:18). At times the community named the child (Ruth 4:17), and sometimes God designated a name for the child (Genesis 16:11; 17:19).

[77] Carol L. Meyers recorded over sixteen hundred names from Iron Age Israelite inscriptions that allude to birth or God’s role in birth. See Carol L. Meyers, Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 158. Rainer Albertz gives a detailed analysis of names found in the Hebrew Bible, ancient Israel, and surrounding cultures. He puts the names into six categories: (1) names of thanksgiving, (2) names of confession, (3) praise names, (4) equating names, (5) birth names, and (6) secular names. Rainer Albertz, “Names and Family Religion,” in Family Household Religion in Ancient Israel and Levant, ed. Rainer Albertz and Rüdiger Schmitt (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 245–386, esp. 253.

[78] Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 107.

[79] Garroway, Growing Up in Ancient Israel, 82–83. Based on the Hebrew word “tob” (טוב), meaning “good” a rabbinic commentary suggests that “Tobiah” was the original Hebrew name that Moses received from his parents. See Tractate Sotah, 12a.

[80] Philo suggested that the name Moses came from Egyptian, explaining that “Mou is the Egyptian word for water.” David R. Runia, “The Writings of Philo,” in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, ed. Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel and Lawrence H. Schiffman, trans. Maren R. Niehoff (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2013), 1:17. Maren R. Niehoff explained, “Philo’s interpretation takes into account the historical background of the story, assuming that it is far more likely for an Egyptian princess to call her adopted son by an Egyptian name.” Maren R. Niehoff, “On the Life of Moses,” in Outside the Bible, 1:968.

[81] Herbert Marks, “Biblical Naming and Poetic Etymology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 114, no. 1 (1995): 30.

[82] Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1988), 116. On Moses’s name and Egyptian etymology, see J. G. Griffiths, “The Egyptian Derivation of the Name Moses,” JNES 12 (1953): 225–31; W. F. Albright, “Moses in Historical and Theological Perspective,” in Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God, ed. Frank Moore Cross, Werner E. Lemke, and Patrick D. Miller Jr. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 120–31; Roland de Vaux, The Early History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978) 329; Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1986), 32–33. George W. Coats, Exodus 1–18 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 28–29. For occurrences of the name Moses in Egyptian documents, see A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 277. See also Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Matthew L. Bowen, David J. Larsen, and Stephen T. Whitlock, Book of Moses Essay #39,; James P. Allen, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 9.

[83] The Egyptian name mss (born of) functioned much like the Hebrew ben (בן), as in the personal name “Benjamin” (Genesis 35:18), meaning “son of the right hand, except ben is always masculine and mss could be masculine or feminine.

[84] Moses’s older sister Miriam’s name also has a possible Egyptian etymology. The origin of the Hebrew Miriam (מִרְיָם), may mean “pig-headed,” “rebellious,” or “bitter.” The name might also have an Egyptian etymology, the name sounds like the Egyptian word mry.t (beloved) or mr (love). See Faulkner, Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, 111.

[85] Nathan J. Arp, “Joseph Knew First: Moses the Egyptian Son,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 32 (2019): 187–98.

[86] Naomi W. Randall, “I Am a Child of God” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 301.

[87] “Metaphors of YHWH as parent appear throughout the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 11:12; Deuteronomy 32:6, 18; Psalm 131:2; Isaiah 42:14; 46:3–4; 63:16; 64:8; 66:12–13; Jeremiah 3:4; 31:9, 20; Hosea 11:1–4; Malachi 1:6; 2:10). Paternal metaphors with Israel as God’s son frequently focus on the child’s filial obligations. See Jon Douglas Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 36–42; James M. M. Francis, Adults as Children: Images of Childhood in the Ancient World and the New Testament (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2006), 74–96.

[88] David J. Cline analyzes twenty-two comparisons between deity and female roles and characteristics. See David J. Clines, “Alleged Female Language about Deity in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal of Biblical Literature 140, no. 2 (2021): 229–49.

[89] Propp, Exodus, 157.

[90] Danna Nolan Fewell, The Children of Israel: Reading the Bible for the Sake of Our Children (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 25–26.

[91] Daniel E. Fleming, Yahweh Before Israel: Glimpses of History in a Divine Name (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 201.