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Updated every weekday.         Please vote!    

 

2011-07-18

So, after a year or two of being breastfed by his biological mother, our mystery child is returned to Pharaoh’s daughter, and now that he can eat solid foods, he finally gets a name. And he shall be called Squishy! Er—Moses.

Moses” is the modern equivalent of the Biblical Hebrew word Mosheh. You may notice that the original name doesn’t have an extra S at the end; this comes from the Ancient Greek Septuagint. Mosheh has a vowel sound ending, but in Greek, masculine names can’t end with a vowel sound, so the name was altered to “Moses,” which held over to the English translation.

Now, Exodus 2:9-10 says that Pharaoh’s daughter named the child Moses because he was drawn from the water, and sure enough, biblical scholars identify the word Mosheh to mean “drawn”. Of course this creates a rather odd conundrum; if Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t want anyone to find out that Moses was Hebrew, why on earth did she give him a HEBREW NAME!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, she didn’t name him the Hebrew word that means “drawn,” she used the word with the same meaning in her native Egyptian. The Israelites just translated it into Hebrew when they wrote about him. But due to the way we use names, I have a hard time believing that. For example, the name “Gary” has it’s root with the Germanic word for spear, gar. Yet, when you see a guy named Gary, you don’t translate his name into English and call him Spear, you simply call him Gary because that’s his name. Names are ways for us to identify people so they usually transcend their native language. Maybe a name’s spelling or pronunciation changes a bit to fit the new alphabet, but the overall sound remains intact.

So, if that’s the case, then Moses is actually an Egyptian name, which means we should look for an Egyptian etymology. Well, in Egyptian, mose (remember the S wasn’t there initially) is used as a suffix meaning “born of,” which was common among royalty. For example, Thutmose means “born of Thoth” and Ramose (or Ramesses) means “born of Ra.” But, Moses is just the suffix by itself. Was there originally an Egyptian god’s name prefixed to Moses? Did the Hebrews remove it because the pagan name offended them?

You know what, I believe I’m over-thinking this too much. Let’s not forget that, beyond the bible there is no evidence whatsoever of Moses ever existing. So, in reality, Moses is just a fable of the Hebrew people, so his name’s origin doesn’t need a legitimate etymology. Besides, even the Hebrew scholars can’t agree whether the name means “drawn out” as in drawn out of the water, or “draw out” as in draw the Israelites out of Egypt.

 

Comments

Laura writes:

 

Sits down and looks around* hey guys what's happening?

Maju writes:

 

"Was there originally an Egyptian god’s name prefixed to Moses? Did the Hebrews remove it because the pagan name offended them?"

Absolutely. Very well researched.

I wonder if he had the name of Yaveh before the -mose suffix (some have argued that Aten, the solar mono-theos of Akhenaten, is at the origin of Hebrew monotheism) and that the Jewish taboo for "God's name" (some even write "G-D", what is laughable) erased it? Maybe he was Atenmose? The 'equivalent' Ramose (Aten-Ra) is attested.

It is quite intriguing. You say well that there is no historical evidence of Moses but it's possible that the biblical figure is at least inspired on legends on a real figure of oral history, even if then all is distorted beyond recognition.

Note searching in Wikipedia for "*mose", you find pharaohs, princesses, queen consorts, Theban nobles... and, quite curiously several noble captains in charge of Retenu, the Egyptian name for the Levant: Minmose, Amenmose. There is even a vizier of Rameses II named Thutmose (Rameses II is the pharaoh most popularly associated with the Exodus story).

Baughbe writes:

 

Just to throw my hat into this ring, this one ring, this ring of power, what if the -mose was intentionally left with no preceding name? In other words: "Born Of (nothing)". Indicating having no known parentage, or the fact that this was all made up to begin with.

TheAlmightyGuru writes:

 

@Maju: I seem to remember an interview with a history scholar mentioning that the fiction we read today (i.e., fully made up) is a modern invention, and that the writings of antiquity are not the same. He wasn't arguing that ancient writing was factual, but that it was based on lost or muddled facts.

@Baughbe: I found an article written by Egyptologist Ogden Goelet who said that the name "Mose" did exist in Egyptian and simply meant "child". Though he doesn't say if the name lacking a god prefix was common among royalty. My guess is that is isn't.

Baughbe writes:

 

@TAG: Actually that fits into the general writing style. You have "Pharaoh" as non-specific reference to the leader. So "Mose" as non-specific reference to an Egyptian child (since adopted into Egyptian Household). Although in this case, the reference is supposed to be to a very specific and Hebrew personage. I then wonder that if when merging the old stories together that there were in the original tales there were more that one name which could not be settled on, and the term "Child" got stuck as the name.

TheAlmightyGuru writes:

 

@Maju: A correction to my failed memory: It wasn't ancient stories, but ancient artwork that was not made up. That is, all of our oldest artwork is of people, animals, etc. Humans didn't start depicting make-believe subjects in art until around the bronze age.

Allanon6666 writes:

 

I was going to say, it seems odd that completely fictional stories are a new invention, considering the human penchant for lying.

Maju writes:

 

"Humans didn't start depicting make-believe subjects in art until around the bronze age".

Not really. The Lion Man of Moravia and the "Venus" fat ladies are all of early Upper Paleolithic. There would be much to say about the bird-head men that appear in some "realistic" art of the Franco-Cantabrian region or even if the animals are merely animals (some argue they are constellations), not to mention the "shaman" a man covered on a deer costume or merged into a deer artistically.

It's way too simplistic to claim what your friend did: people has always been people like us in the essentials, even if the specific manifestations have varied.

Yeshivakid writes:

 

The stuff about the Egyptian suffix "mose" is fascinating. I never knew any of that. Another reason why I love this comic (and its regular commenters). :D

NightFairy writes:

 

@Maju
Do you have any links to the Lion Man of Moravia? I tried looking it up and found nothing. As for "Venus" I dont see how a figure of a woman is "make believe"

 

Oh the irony!