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Moses' Egyptian Name
Biblical Archaeology ^ | 5-30-2003 | Ogden Goelet

Posted on 05/30/2003 11:32:54 AM PDT by blam

Moses' Egyptian Name

Ogden Goelet

The history of Israel begins with its enslavement in Egypt. Israel is defined in opposition to everything Egyptian—they are powerful, Israel is weak; they are rich, Israel is poor; they have many gods, Israel has one.

Isn’t it ironic, then, that the greatest Hebrew prophet and lawgiver, the man who single-handedly organized the Israelites and led them out of Egypt, has an Egyptian name? And his name is not just any Egyptian name, it’s a religious Egyptian name. Moses’ name reflects basic Egyptian religious beliefs that are, in truth, not as different from Mosaic Judaism as the Book of Exodus might lead us to believe.

The familiar name Moses is actually Moshe in Hebrew. The final -s in the English comes from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible known as the Septuagint: a terminal sigma was added because Greek does not permit masculine proper nouns to end in a vowel.

The Book of Exodus offers its own explanation of how Moses acquired his name. It’s a pun based on the circumstances of his discovery in a floating basket.

Three months after Moses was born, his mother placed him in a basket and hid him among the reeds along the Nile so that he would survive Pharaoh’s decree to murder all Hebrew baby boys. When Pharaoh’s daughter came to the river to bathe, she spied the baby and adopted him as her own. Moses’ sister, who had been stationed near the river to see what would happen, offered to find a wet nurse for the baby. She returned with Moses’ (and her) own mother.

"And the child grew," the Book of Exodus recounts, "and she [Moses’ mother, masquerading as a nursemaid] brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses (Hebrew, Moshe), for she said, ‘Because I drew him (meshitihu) out of the water’" (Exodus 2:10, Revised Standard Version).

There are many puzzling things about this statement, beginning with the identity of the woman who names the child. Most likely, "she" is the Egyptian princess, since she had adopted the child as her own and presumably would be the one to name him.1 Yet, it seems improbable that an Egyptian princess would be capable of making such a sophisticated pun in Hebrew, or, for that matter, that she would even give her foster child a Hebrew name.

In any case, let us assume that whoever named Moses knew Hebrew. How valid, then, does the Hebrew etymology seem? As an Egyptologist, I must here rely on the arguments of Hebrew scholars, who generally agree that it simply doesn’t make sense.2 The biblical etymology—which says the baby’s name is based on his having been drawn out of water—would lead one to expect a name that means "the one drawn out" or "he who was drawn"; that is, a passive form. But Moshe has an active participle behind it;3 the name means "the one who draws." (That’s why Isaiah calls him "the drawer" of his people [Isaiah 6:3].) The passive form would result in a name like Mashuy, not Moshe.

The Egyptian language provides a far more plausible etymology.4 The name Moses is related to common Egyptian names like Amenmose, Ramose and Thutmose,* which are formed of a god’s name followed by mose.5 These compound names mean something like "Amen is born" or "Born of Amen" or "The offspring of Ra" or "The child of Thoth." When the name Mose appears by itself, as it occasionally does in Egyptian, it simply means "the Child" or "the Offspring."6 But in Egyptian, Mose most frequently appears along with the name of a god as part of a compound name.

Most likely of all, the name Moses (assuming that he originally had a longer name) is short for Ramose, a popular name related to the name of the reigning pharaoh, Ramesses II.**—would also mean "Ra is born," but his name is normally written R‘-ms-sw (roughly, Ramessu) and means "Ra-fashioned him," using another meaning of the verb msi, that is, "to fashion, form." The two senses of the verb are related, however, in that Egyptians thought of the fashioning of a divine statue as equivalent to the god being born.) It was a common custom among the Egyptians to rename foreign slaves or captives after the pharaoh.

The technical term for a compound name with a divine element is a "theophoric" or "theophorous" name, derived from a Greek word meaning "bearing [derived from] a god."7

As BR readers know, theophoric names were common in the biblical world, too. Examples include Samuel, which means "His name is El"; Ishmael, "God hears [requests]"; Daniel, "God is my judge"; Jehoshaphat, "YHWH has judged"; and Jeremiah, "The one whom YHWH has appointed," to name just a few. (In the Hebrew Bible, God is called both El and YHWH, with El being a more generic name for God; and YHWH—usually vocalized Yahweh—being the personal name of the Israelite deity. Jeho, yahu, yah and iah are shortened forms of the latter name.)

Studying the emergence of theophoric names in Egypt might shed light on the meaning of this practice in the biblical world, too.

In Egypt and Israel, theophoric names were used to induce a deity to place a person under his or her protection. A man named Ramose might expect the sun-god Ra to protect and guide him for life. When, in the Bible, Hannah names her son Samuel, she is inviting the Israelite deity El to watch over the child.

Certain theophoric names avoid mentioning the god’s name explicitly, replacing it with either a pronoun or a circumlocution, as shown by the royal names Userkaef ("His ka is powerful"), referring to the god Re, and Senwosret, "The man of the Powerful One," probably referring to the goddess Hathor. This was done both out of respect for the divine name and out fear of its power. Similarly, the Hebrews avoided mentioning God’s name by substituting Adonai or Elohim for the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) when reading aloud from the Hebrew Bible.

Theophoric names were used at various times in the deeply religious climate of Egypt and would continue to be so throughout Egyptian history. They were especially popular in Egypt during the New Kingdom, in the Ramesside period (1295-1069 B.C.E.), the biblical setting for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. Some of the most common Ramesside period theophoric names were Thutmose (Thoth is born), Ramose (Ra is born) and Ptahmose (Ptah is born). Since the first two of these were the names of famous and powerful Egyptian kings, they were to remain popular for ages to come, and thus offer scant improvement over other means of estimating the date of the Moses stories.

The emergence of these names is directly related to a development in Egyptian worship: the rise of personal piety. Theophoric names are a direct expression of the belief that even the humblest individuals could establish a personal relation with a deity who would become their patron or tutelary (guardian) god.8 In the Egyptian consciousness, a personal name was virtually akin to a soul; it was critical to one’s survival in this world and the next. A theophoric name served as a prayer for divine assistance in the journey through life to the afterlife.

The Book of Exodus and contemporary Egyptian monuments—the massive Temple of Karnak, the colossal statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel, numerous grandiose reliefs trumpeting great Egyptian triumphs on the battlefield—give the impression that the Ramesside age was an oppressive, almost totalitarian civilization. But the prevalence of theophoric names in this period, as well as the remarkable prayers preserved by the non-elite on papyri and stelae, suggest this image is inaccurate. In this period, average Egyptians were granted limited access to their god’s dwelling—the temple. (These areas were sometimes marked with a special logographic sign that meant "the common people praise the lord" and that even the illiterate could recognize, just as we today can navigate our way through foreign airports simply by looking for special iconic symbols.) In earlier times, only the king, some members of the royal family and the temple priesthood were allowed into special areas within the temple precinct. Another change in this period was that average Egyptians could come into direct contact with the gods when shrines containing their concealed statues were placed on portable barques and then paraded along public processional routes on the shoulders of the priests. (Might one see here a distant echo of the Ark of the Covenant?) During these festive events, questions written on potsherds could be submitted to the god, and the answers would be deduced from the barque’s movements along the processional route.9 In this way, a god participated in the daily life of regular people. Certain theophoric names such as Horemheb (Horus is in festival) refer directly to these celebrations.

There are, of course, sharp differences between the essentially polytheistic Egyptian beliefs and Hebrew monotheism, but the presence of theophoric names among both groups suggests a common ground. It is not surprising. Can there be a greater and more universal desire among humans than the need for a sign from the deity, a confirmation of faith from above? Surely the many pleas for signs from God in the Bible express a need for an affirmation of faith and a desire for personal interaction with God. It is this fervent hope that God will take a personal interest in us that is expressed in Egyptian, through a name like Moses, "Child [of God]" and in Hebrew by a name like Ishmael—"God hears."


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: archaeology; egyptian; epigraphyandlanguage; exodus; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; letshavejerusalem; moses; name

1 posted on 05/30/2003 11:32:55 AM PDT by blam
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To: blam
I believe I read a monograph here on FR a few months ago wherein it declared that Rameses was probably not the Pharoah of the Mosaic dispora, because it didn't fit with the time line of the kings of Egypt. They gave a rather convincing argument that it happened several hundred years earlier (I believe).
2 posted on 05/30/2003 11:42:42 AM PDT by Frumious Bandersnatch
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To: blam
bump for later
3 posted on 05/30/2003 11:45:35 AM PDT by tutstar
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch
This was before there was a written hebrew language.
4 posted on 05/30/2003 11:48:43 AM PDT by jd777
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch
Philo of Alexandria wrote in the first century AD that Moses was "an Egyptian name."
5 posted on 05/30/2003 12:48:30 PM PDT by Taft in '52
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch
"They gave a rather convincing argument that it happened several hundred years earlier (I believe)."

Yup. I believe the Kings List is in error. I believe the Exodus happened in 1628BC when Thera/Akatori blew it's top. This provided all the fireworks, plagues and etc. for the Exodus.

6 posted on 05/30/2003 1:12:07 PM PDT by blam
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch
"They gave a rather convincing argument that it happened several hundred years earlier (I believe)."

Yup. I believe the Kings List is in error. I believe the Exodus happened in 1628BC when Thera/Akatori blew it's top. This provided all the fireworks, plagues and etc. for the Exodus.

The World When Thera Erupted

7 posted on 05/30/2003 1:13:42 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
I believe that the author of the monlogue made much of the fact that the time line assigned to the kings list was incorrect since Egyptologists assume that there is no overlap or duplication - while, in point of fact, there actually is.
8 posted on 05/30/2003 1:27:14 PM PDT by Frumious Bandersnatch
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To: blam
moses found in the bullrushes???!!!!
get the true story at http://www.angelfire.com/blog/mosesatlantis/proof.htm and read the comments at http://www.angelfire.com/blog/mosesatlantis/
9 posted on 08/20/2003 8:35:24 AM PDT by mosesat
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch
"They gave a rather convincing argument that it happened several hundred years earlier (I believe)."

Yup, read that. I believe it happened earlier at 1628BC. I saw an article that dated charred grains under the collapsed ruins of Jerico around this date and the grains were just above the Santorini (1628BC) ash layer.

"Three months after Moses was born, his mother placed him in a basket and hid him among the reeds along the Nile so that he would survive Pharaoh’s decree to murder all Hebrew baby boys. "

Gilgamesh has the same story surrounding his birth and also a flood story very similar to (earlier than) Noah's Flood story.

10 posted on 08/20/2003 10:17:02 AM PDT by blam
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To: farmfriend
Ping.
11 posted on 08/20/2003 10:18:21 AM PDT by blam
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To: blam; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; bd476; carenot; CatoRenasci; ckilmer; curmudgeonII; dorothy; ellery; ..
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.

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12 posted on 08/20/2003 2:14:20 PM PDT by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: blam
The part that does not make sense is the dropping of the more important "Ra" in "Ra-mose", and why did it have to be "Ra" anyway? Just because it was the most popular name?

The way it makes sense is if the first part of the name could not any longer be used, for example, being banned. How about "Aton-Mose" instead?

13 posted on 08/20/2003 5:16:54 PM PDT by mvonfr
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Just updating the GGG information, not sending a general distribution.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
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14 posted on 04/22/2005 11:32:55 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FR profiled updated Monday, April 11, 2005. Fewer graphics, faster loading.)
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To: 75thOVI; AndrewC; Avoiding_Sulla; BenLurkin; Berosus; CGVet58; chilepepper; ckilmer; demlosers; ...

another, approximately three year old topic, so please keep that in mind if replying.


15 posted on 05/06/2006 9:35:34 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: blam

the Bible's more accurate than the supposed etymology of a language deciphered last century after around a millennium of being a sort of lost language.


16 posted on 05/06/2006 6:21:14 PM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu
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Yet, it seems improbable that an Egyptian princess would be capable of making such a sophisticated pun in Hebrew, or, for that matter, that she would even give her foster child a Hebrew name.

Stuck on Stupid. He knows nothing about the Princess, her education, her intelligence or her political affiliations.

Perhaps she was from a faction that remembered Joseph kindly, or that worshiped the God of Abraham. Perhaps she was just a pro-life Princess that disagreed with the current Pharoahs slave policy.

The fact is, she had some power and status to defy the Pharoah's edict and she used it to preserve Moses' life and the life of his family. Do you really think she didn't know the wetnurse was his birth mother?

17 posted on 08/31/2006 10:41:23 AM PDT by Valpal1 (Big Media is like Barney Fife with a gun.)
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To: blam
Yet, it seems improbable that an Egyptian princess would be capable of making such a sophisticated pun in Hebrew,

Wasn't there a theory that the Egyptian rulers of the time of Joseph were a semetic invader?

How long did the British royal family speak French, and later, German?

My example is hardly proof, but perhaps it is not so improbable.

18 posted on 08/31/2006 1:40:45 PM PDT by lepton ("It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into"--Jonathan Swift)
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To: lepton
A good possibility.

This one is over three years old...

19 posted on 08/31/2006 1:45:56 PM PDT by blam
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Note: this topic is from 2003.
Desert of Wandering: ...There are autochthonous Arab traditions about the wandering tribes led by Mosaikaia, his brother Arnran, and his sister Zeripha. These traditions have not been borrowed from the Old Testament or rabbinical tradition. From the Bible and Midrashim, the Arabs culled much of the content of the Koran, but they did not realize that their traditions about Mosaikaia (and the catastrophe that took place in his time) are of independent origin, though referring to the same persons and events. (I. Velikovsky)
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20 posted on 12/14/2008 5:42:48 PM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/_______Profile finally updated Saturday, December 6, 2008 !!!)
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To: 75thOVI; agrace; aimhigh; Alice in Wonderland; AndrewC; aragorn; aristotleman; Avoiding_Sulla; ...
Note: this topic was posted 5/30/2003. Thanks blam. One of *those* topics.

21 posted on 02/11/2014 5:13:38 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
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Desert of Wandering: ...There are autochthonous Arab traditions about the wandering tribes led by Mosaikaia, his brother Arnran, and his sister Zeripha. These traditions have not been borrowed from the Old Testament or rabbinical tradition. From the Bible and Midrashim, the Arabs culled much of the content of the Koran, but they did not realize that their traditions about Mosaikaia (and the catastrophe that took place in his time) are of independent origin, though referring to the same persons and events. (I. Velikovsky)

22 posted on 02/11/2014 5:14:47 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
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To: blam
The name Moses is related to common Egyptian names like Amenmose, Ramose and Thutmose

I have always understood Moses to be Egyptian. It may have had a play on words in Hebrew, but its Egyptian.

23 posted on 02/11/2014 5:33:36 PM PST by marron
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To: Frumious Bandersnatch; blam; SunkenCiv; no-to-illegals; All

It might have been my argument. I believe that Thera was too early, and was the time of the unsettled Hyksos period. I believe that Moses was mid 18th Dynasty around 1450 to 1500 BC. Somewhere in that period Etna had a major eruption. My theory is that volcanic ask drifted over Africa, fell in the southern Nile, flowed into the area of the rulers, caused chemical changes in the river a physteria, death of fish, no frog eggs eaten, plague of frogs and flies, lesions on skin from toxic water, etc. I think the crossing of the Red Sea, reed sea, could have been caused by magma inflation under the ground raising the marsh bed. Remember the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day. When the magma chamber emptied, the land subsided, the water returned and persuers were drowned. Also, I think that anyone as powerful as Ramasees would have squashed Moses like a bug. Also there are years given in the bible from the age of Abraham to the Exodus, and from Exodus to the temple, and they do not align with Ramasees period. Some day I may write a historical novel with that plot line. Anyway, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.


24 posted on 02/13/2014 12:59:21 AM PST by gleeaikin
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To: gleeaikin

Morning gleeaikin. Prayers up all is well with you and yours.


25 posted on 02/13/2014 4:35:11 AM PST by no-to-illegals (Scrutinize our government and Secure the Blessing of Freedom and Justice)
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To: gleeaikin

I basically agree with the chronology (not nexessarily with the Reed sea,etc., because that is just supposition and I just don’t plain know).

However, my biggest beef with many Egyptologists is that while the know there are discrepancies between dating per the Pentateuch and dating per Egyptian dynasties, the always make the assumption that the Egyptian version is correct, whereas there is plenty of evidence tha we don’t yet have Egyptian timelines nailed down yet.

And yes, I believe that there is good evidence that it was the Hyksos who took advantage of a situation that has puzzled Egyptologists for a,LNG time.

Oh yes, indeedy if Rameses had been the king, he would also would have been the chief bug squasher. I havee my doubts that he would have been stupid enough to follow the Israelites into what was clearly a trap.


26 posted on 02/13/2014 5:21:38 PM PST by Frumious Bandersnatch
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