24

Moses got his name from Pharaoh's daughter:

When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”—Exodus 2:10 (ESV)

The ESV translators note:

2:10 Moses sounds like the Hebrew for draw out

But it seems unlikely that Pharaoh's daughter knew Hebrew. Did Moses originally have an Egyptian name that was later translated into a Hebrew name with the same meaning? Could Moses have lived with an Egyptian name and it was only updated to a Hebrew word when the people of Israel no longer spoke the Egyptian language? Or are we to suppose that Pharaoh's daughter asked Miriam for an appropriate Hebrew name?

7
  • 1
    Remember that Pharaoh’s daughter had contact with Moses’ family, and even hired his mother as nursemaid. It’s entirely plausible that she asked the family how to say “I drew him out” in their language and chose an Egyptian name that had a similar sound. Oct 21, 2012 at 0:26
  • 5
    "Moses" is his Egyptian name. The "midrash shem" noted in 2:10 is an apologetic for this non-Hebrew name. Oct 21, 2012 at 15:22
  • We know from Tradition that Moshe has his jewish name as well! Jan 18, 2014 at 0:09
  • 1
    As many have said Mose means "Son of" in Egyptian. There would have been another part to his name which have referred to him as the son of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian princess who drew him out of the water. When he chose to indentify himself with the hebrews he (Moses) dropped the rest of his Egyptian name. Note other Egyptian names - Ahmose Son of Ah; Thutmose - Son of Thut and Kamose - Son of Ka
    – user3707
    Mar 15, 2014 at 21:56

3 Answers 3

20

I believe your first option is the best but with a little modification. Moses originally had an Egyptian name that sounded almost exactly like a Hebrew name.

The pun involved in the name is elaborate and crosses languages. Names like Tutmose, Ramose, Amenmose are well attested from Egypt. The addition of -mose makes it "born of Amen," "child of Tut," or "shaped by Ra." Obviously, these are names of piety, showing the child's attachment to the patron god. The final "s" on Moses (Hebrew Moshe) comes from Greek which does not allow masculine names to end with a vowel (Yeshua becomes Jesus, Moshe becomes Moses. You will also note that the Hebrew "sh" in both became the Greek "s" as koine Greek does not have the "sh" sound).

An oddity is that the Hebrew name is active (Moshe) instead of passive (Mashuy). One might expect that his being drawn out would result in his name meaning "one who is drawn out" instead of "one who draws out." However, this is a wordplay, not a precise description. The exegete should not try to be more precise than the original author or speaker intends to be.

It would be unlikely (but not impossible) that the princess would know the language of the slaves. However, everything she has already said has been recorded in Hebrew. Most likely, her words were in Egyptian and translated into Hebrew (some might argue that she said little beyond the name and the rest of the phrase was placed in her mouth by later writers, but this seems unlikely).

Having found the child in the Nile, the source of life for Egypt, the princess could easily have seen the child as given by divine providence. It is possible that she gave him a longer name (perhaps Ramose after the sun god or Hapimose after the god of the Nile).

Translating the princess' words allowed for a sophisticated pun. The name brought to mind his later works and the translation was rather free (as it often was in those days). Perhaps she said in Egyptian, "I will call his name 'Mose', for he was born from the water." The the Hebrew pun is natural and requires only a small modification to her words when translating: "I will call his name 'Moses,' for I drew him out of the water."

Where the Egyptian means "born," it sounds very like the Hebrew "drawn out." "The one who draws out" is how Moses has always been remembered (Isa 63:11). The princess drew him from the river to give him physical life. He drew the Israelites out of Egypt through the water and gave them spiritual life.

He was born with a great destiny, and even his name and circumstances of his naming showed that.

3
  • 3
    I'm glad I asked. Not only did I get an answer to my original question, you provided a lot of surprising details about Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew. And, of course, you brought out the larger significance of the story as well. This is one of the best answers on the site. Oct 18, 2012 at 15:57
  • (blank)-mose - I find this very interesting, when compared to other god-mose names, since Moses' God reveals his name to Moses a few chapters later.
    – Nacht
    Apr 19, 2023 at 5:00
  • @FrankLuke-See simplified Answer by Ray Grant. Quite obvious from what we know of Hieroglyphics!
    – ray grant
    Jul 12, 2023 at 21:24
3

The etymology given for his name is "Min ha-mayim mashitehu". Which goes along with the active verb: moshet, or the passite constructure mashut, or whatever construction you want with the three consonsants "M""Sh" and "T". The "T" is missing, so it's not Hebrew, and this is clearly made up etymology justifying the name in hindsight, as most of the Hebrew folk etymologies in the Bible.

The name "Moshe" means "child" or "begotten" according to this website. This is reasonable considering the number of ancient Egyptian kingly names that end in a variant of "Moshe". I hazily remember, perhaps falsely, that on a trip to Egypt, the tourguide told us Moshe meant "water", but not being able to find an online source for ancient Egyptial, I will just hope a Coptic speaker comes to this site at some point.

2
  • 3
    The root mose had an important role to play in the decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Champollion was examining a cartouche on the Rosetta Stone which should contain the name "Rameses", and recognised a sign he had previously identified with the Greek genethlia, meaning "birthday celebrations". He realised that in Coptic, the root misi or mose means "to be born", and conjectured that the character in question had that pronunciation and meaning.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 8, 2012 at 23:59
  • @RonMaimon-Your tour guide had more insight than you realize---or what other scholars fail to see: the Coptic pronunciation is the left over of the ancient Egyptian language, and "water" is "mo". This was the first glyph in the ancient hier. glyph of the Name ,Moses. (Just add the masculine ending.) MO+SES. Nothing Hebrew about it!
    – ray grant
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:45
2

Etymology A lot of effort has gone into trying to link Moses's name with Hebrew: similarity of sounds, similarity of meanings ("drawn out from"), etc. However, the Egyptian daughter of Pharaoh, who did the naming, would have not been familiar nor interested in Israeli vocabulary! A little boy running through the Egyptian palace halls with a Hebrew name would have been embarrassing, if not offensive!

Hieroglyphics Rather, we have a more certain resource to draw from (no pun intended, well, maybe) in the Hieroglyphics of the Egyptian scribes. The Egyptian word for water in Hieroglyphics is "mu" and is symbolized by three wavy lines on top of each other. The masculine ending of Egyptian names is the double "s" symbolized by two "folded cloths" (chair back cover?). (Recall names like Rameses, Tutmoses, etc.) (Instead of the two "folded cloths", the "ses" is also represented by two "door bolts" on top of each other. This depends on whether the hieroglyphics are in a line or a column. The name of Rameses is spelled both ways on monuments. MOSES could have been spelled either way, as well.)

Water So the Egyptian name that Pharaoh's daughter gave the baby was "Muses" or "Moses." (To this day the Coptic pronunciation for "water" is "mo" or "mu". She put the emphasis on "water", not "the drawing out" from the water, as other scholars are misled to believe. And then she added the masculine ending. M-O-S-E-S (Mu + ses) Water Boy

It's that simple! No need for in depth, mysterious, jumping from language to language, etymological research. Moses was drawn ("born", if you must) from WATER. And it is "Water", not "Drawn from" that is foremost.

Drawn From Some have reasoned that the glyph for "born of" or "drawn from" was in between the glyph for "water" and the masculine ending "ses": "mes" which was represented by three reeds(?) tied together at the top. ("Mes is a biconsonantal glyph. You see this in the compound name of Rameses, for instance: Ra + mes + ses) But by itself, this glyph would be meaningless as far as the biblical story goes: many men are born, many pharaohs claimed descent from a god...but only Moses came from WATER. Water remained the stress point in his name.

Phonetics Moses's Egyptian name would then be Mo (water) + mes (born of) + ses + (masc.) Hierglyphics made use of phonetic complements. These were glyphs that directed the way a name was to be pronounced, especially if it was to be spoken with some variation. In this case the glyph for water was used (pronounced "mo" or "mu") to change "meses" into "moses," as well as to highlight the unusual place where she found the little boy. {Actually, there is no "e" in Egyptian, but it is found in the "eS" sound. With only consonants, the "mes" was written in hieroglyphics as MS. We are transliterating it here for clarification.}

The ancient Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, is worth quoting here:

Hereupon it was that (Pharaoh's daughter) imposed this name Mouses upon him, from what had happened when he was put into the river; for the Egyptians call water by the name "Mo," and such as are saved out of it, by the name of "uses" so by putting these two words together, they imposed this name upon him. [That is, WATER + DRAWN OUT] (Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston, Philadelphia: Universal Book and Bible House, 1737, II,9,6, p. 76)

All of this had nothing to do with any Hebrew derivation. That a Hebrew word for "drawn out" may sound similar, is of little consequence. The Hebrew word for "water" does not come close to sounding like Moses, either.

Aqua man It is interesting that Moses life was characterizes by water throughout. It was by drifting in the river Nile that he was saved. It was the splitting of the waters of the Reed Sea that he is noted for. It was by drawing "water" that he met his wife, and father-in-law, who later gave him good advice on hiring assistant judges to help him lead the Israelites. It was by sweetening the "bitter waters" that he saved Israel from thirst. It was by getting water out of the Rock that he preserved the wandering Jews. It was his implementation of hygenic laws using "living water" KJV that set Israel apart from other laws. And it was by making a mistake when obtaining water that he was cursed and not permitted to enter the Promised Land! From Water Baby to Aqua Man.

Observe the commands of the Lord your God...for the LORD is bringing you into a good land---a land with streams and pools, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills... (Deuteronomy 8:6-7)

It is sad that Moses, Aqua Man, never got to enjoy the ultimate in refreshing water...OR did he? Do we not see him with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, hanging out with Jesus? Jesus who once said, If any manthirst, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, Streams of living water will flow from within him. (John 7:37-38)

Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life! (John 4:14)

Amazing grace, unending love!

{Ancient Hieroglyphics, Early Lessons, Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, keeper of Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities at British Museum. -----Ancient Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Ibid -----Biblehistiry.net/newsletter/Moses}

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.