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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Bread

The first Biblical reference to a woman doing specific work (other than childbirth) refers to a task done four thousand years ago. Abraham entertained unexpected guests, and Sarah made cakes for them.

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes.”

 Women made cakes from meal, or fine meal (flour), and “roasted the dough in the ashes” or “under the coals” or on hot stones.[1] The ancient people used four kinds of grain to make meal: millet, oats, barley and wheat. Sarah could have made cakes from any of the grains, although barley and wheat were preferred. Barley meal made healthful roasted flatbread and became a symbol of Israel’s strength.

“Nowhere—not even in Homer—is there written so forcible a tribute to barley as in the Book of Judges, where an Israelite dreams of a cake of barley bread tumbling into the Midianites’ camp and destroying all of Israel’s enemies.”[2]

Barley

Barley (Photo credit: freefotouk)

While barley, millet and oats make satisfying flatbreads, these grains have little or no gluten, which is necessary for making raised bread. Millet is gluten-free; oats contain a little gluten; and barley has less gluten than wheat. Because of its high gluten content, wheat flour makes exceptional raised bread. Kneading dough made from wheat flour develops strands of gluten. Gluten is stretchy and traps the gas generated during leavening. It enables bread to rise and hold its structure. Raised bread can be made with other grains if they are combined with wheat flour or another gluten source. Because of wheat’s baking qualities, it “became the king of grains—and remains so to this day.”[3]

Sarah’s Cakes

Did Sarah know how to make raised bread from air-borne yeast? She might have. Historians believe that Egyptians “invented” raised bread about 500 years before the time of Abraham.

Egyptian Bowl with Bread

Egyptian Bowl with Bread (Photo credit: feministjulie)

 “Around 2,500 B.C. the Egyptians learned how to exploit the gluten in wheat flour making the first raised breads from yeast. This discovery alone pushed wheat to the forefront ahead of the other prized grains of the day, oats, millet, rice and barley. The Egyptians grew huge amounts of wheat. They eventually started exporting wheat to other parts of the new world.”[4]

The Egyptians “made an enormous contribution to civilization” by setting aside their dough until it fermented, and “were known as the bread eaters…[because it was] the principal good of all Egyptians.”[5]

How the Egyptians first discovered the activity of invisible air-borne yeast is not known. Was an Egyptian woman called away from mixing her dough long enough that yeasts began to ferment it? When she returned and found a slightly bubbly mess, did she throw up her hands and say, “I’ll have to bake it anyway.” It’s lost to us.

Learned skill

 It is likely that the Israelites learned to make raised bread while they were slaves in Egypt. At the time of Moses, Egyptians already had brick ovens and were capable of making raised breads in various shapes, a skill attested to by Egyptian tomb paintings.  Earlier Hebrews, nomadic peoples like Abraham who lived in tents and followed their herds, “could not be bothered transporting such ovens through the land…either they parched the grain, like the reapers in the Book of Ruth, or they set flat cakes to bake” on a hearth or under coals.[6]

Adam Clarke states that Sarah made cakes on a hearth as was common among the Bedouin tribes. “When the hearth is strongly heated by the fired kindled on it, they remove the coals, sweep off the ashes, lay on the bread, and then cover it with hot cinders.”[7] Commentators John Gill and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agree with Clarke that Sarah made cakes from sifted meal and cooked them on a hot surface under embers.

Time to Rise

It is stated on some Jewish websites that flour made from any of five basic grains (wheat, oats, rye, barley and spelt) and mixed with water begins to be leavened by natural yeasts in 18 minutes. Orthodox Jews, who seek to avoid any chance of dough beginning to ferment, bake their Passover matzohs quickly. Wild yeast will begin fermenting sugar when it settles on hydrated flour. But it takes more than 18 minutes of yeast activity to achieve dough sufficiently strong for baking a sizable raised loaf.

Peter Reinhart in The Baker’s Apprentice describes preparing an initial “seed culture” of wild yeast, flour and water over a period of one to four days. A small portion of this starter culture is mixed into a measure of flour and water to make a loaf of sourdough bread. After the dough is kneaded to develop gluten, it rests two to four hours as the yeast works. After resting, the dough is shaped and rises a final time before being baked.[8]

No Time to Rise

Ancient Israel had to leave Egypt quickly. After God administered the tenth plague, He wanted Israel out in a hurry. They couldn’t wait the hours to leaven, knead, shape, rise and bake their dough in Egyptian ovens. As stated in Exodus 12:33-34, the Israelites left with unused kneading bowls on their shoulders. Their daily bread was leavened but they didn’t have time to prepare it.

And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.”

 A remarkable sign

Israel learned to make leavened bread in Egypt. Women baked it every day. It was a staple of their diet.

It was a remarkable sign for the Israelites to leave the land of “bread eaters,” the people who “invented” raised bread, who built brick ovens, who made fanciful shaped loaves, who baked bread for their gods and ancestors—to depart without any of the bread of Egypt.—Mary Hendren

 


[1] Six Thousand Years of Bread, H.E. Jacob, p.35.

[2] Same source, p. 15.

[3] Same source, p. 15.

[4] http://www.aaoobfoods.com, “Grain Information”

[5] Six Thousand Years of Bread History, pp. 26, 31

[6] Ibid, p. 35

[7] Adam Clarke’s Commentary, note on Gen.18:6, p. 42

[8] The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart, pp. 227-235

The Many Facets of Miriam

Caregiver

Miriam was born in Egypt. Her parents, Amram and Jochebed, were Hebrew slaves in Pharaoh’s work force. Miriam was the oldest of their children, and she helped care for her younger siblings. As a child, she was responsible, nurturing, and assertive.

Sometime after Amram and Jochebed married, Pharaoh ordered a massive infanticide. He intended to control the slave population by systematically killing Hebrew male infants. Amram’s second child, Aaron, may have been born before the edict went into effect because he was already three years old when the story begins.  The edict was in force, however, when the second son was born. Sympathetic midwives did what they could to save the infants, but Pharaoh eventually required all Egyptians to take part in the killings. When all Egyptians were on the lookout, it was difficult to conceal any boys the midwives saved. Read the rest of this entry

Two Mothers, One Son

In a previous post, we considered the identity of Pharaoh’s daughter and concluded there does not seem to be enough evidence to settle on any one name with confidence. However there is information about daughters of pharaohs in general which could have a bearing on the Moses story.

Who is her mother?

Though we can’t answer the following conclusively, we’ll explore a couple of general questions regarding this elusive princess:  who her mother was, and where she might have lived. If she was a daughter of Pharaoh’s principal wife, it’s probable that she would have lived in the environs of the royal palace. If, however, she was the daughter of a secondary wife, she and her mother could have taken up residence in one of many royal compounds scattered throughout Egypt. In that case, Pharaoh would visit or call for them as he desired.

“‘The pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (c. 1570-1085 B.C.) maintained residences and harim not only in the great capitals of Thebes, Memphis, and Pi-Ramesse (Ra’ amses) but also in other parts of Egypt, especially in pleasure resorts….Papyrus documents indicate that this Harim was no prison of enforced idleness for its inmates in pharaohs [sic] absence; the royal ladies supervised a hive of domestic industry, spinning and weaving done by servants….’”[1]

Women of substance

Some may wonder about the role of women in Egypt.  According to Nahum M. Sarna, in his book, Exploring Exodus (1986),  the social and legal position of an Egyptian woman was considerable. “Descent was strictly matrilineal, so that property descended through the female line. This meant that the woman possessed inheritance rights and could dispose of property at will. As a result, she enjoyed a certain measure of economic independence” (p. 31).  It should not seem strange that Pharaoh’s daughter made several on-the-spot decisions with confidence and without apparent reservation (Ex. 2:1-10), likely based not only on her position generally, as a woman in Egyptian society, but especially on her place within the royal family.

The princess commissions a wet-nurse

Wet-nurses were hired to care for foundlings. Ancient Mesopotamian legal texts provide specifics for proper payment regarding such services. Typically, a wet-nurse suckled and reared a child in her home for a specified period of time, usually two to three years, until it was weaned. Then it was returned to the finder for adoption.[2]

The account in Exodus 1 records an interesting departure from the normal procedure. Royal wet-nurses were generally members of elite families, perhaps wives or mothers of high officials. This connection brought with it a certain prestige, one which could result in possible advancement in rank for their husbands and sons.[3] For Pharaoh’s daughter to listen to a young Hebrew girl and follow her suggestion to enlist the services of an unknown woman, represents, to my mind, evidence of the providence of a much higher Power in this whole episode.

Moses and Jochebed

Moses and Jochebed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The role of Jochebed

Of course, there is no doubt as to Jochebed’s ability to nurse her own baby. Her breasts were probably aching for relief by the time Moses was once more in her arms. However, what she might have done additionally, in the long term, is well worth contemplating.

There are those who speculate that this mother had carefully planned for her baby’s rescue, positioning him deliberately in a place where Pharaoh’s daughter would find him.[4] Why, one might wonder. Had she secretly watched this princess over time, and knew vicariously her disposition for kindness? Did she have a God-given understanding that hers was no ordinary son and that his future would require the best education the world of her day could offer?[5] Did she feel that the safest place for him would be in the care of this royal princess–one whom Jochebed knew to be influential and strong-minded enough to set aside her father’s bloody policy?

Training her child

Others discuss a different matter. Since Jochebed likely had Moses for three years or longer, what did she do during that time? Several feel she carefully laid a foundation for his eventual worshipping of the God of Israel. She was a daughter of Levi (Ex.2:10) and according to one source her name (Hebrew yokebed) apparently means “YHWH is glory.” She is noted as the first person in the Bible to have a name with the divine element yah, a shortened form of YHWH.[6] Does her name indicate that she came from a family of believers who worshipped the true God? Such a notion seems worth considering.

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary offers the following opinion concerning Ex. 2:10: “His [Moses’s] age when removed to the palace is not stated; but he was old enough to be well instructed in the principles of the true religion; and those early impressions, deepened by the power of divine grace, were never forgotten or effaced. He had remained long enough to be thoroughly imbued with the true national feeling of a Hebrew; and though he may have actively engaged in the varied scenes to which his royal station afterward introduced him, he never ceased to cherish a spirit of sympathy with the race from which he had sprung.”[7]

If the ruling pharaoh was indeed Thutmose III, he worshiped a form of the sun god (sometimes depicted as a sphinx), Amun-Re. It would have been important to introduce knowledge of the true God of Israel to Moses early on. Stephen, in Acts 6:20, says “Moses was born and was well-pleasing to God,” indicating that God was already involved in his life, beginning with his brave and faithful mother.

Grooming a royal prince

While Jochebed likely concentrated on the religious upbringing of her young son, his adopted mother provided the means for a formal education. At about the age of four, boys in the royal court began attending school from early morning until noon–a routine lasting for approximately twelve years. Strict discipline was maintained, backed up with corporal punishment. “The school curriculum largely centered on reading, writing, and arithmetic,” with writing being especially important. “The art of penmanship and the cultivation of style were both highly esteemed as the indispensable prerequisites for a sound education. Drill and memorization seem to have been the chief pedagogic techniques.”[8]

As for Moses’s childhood, John Davis writes: “Children were generally carefree, and played much like children do today….Swimming, horseback riding, hunting, playing with household pets would all be part of the experiences of a young boy in Egypt.”[9] 

Mummy Portrait of a Boy

Mummy Portrait of a Boy (Photo credit: Taifighta)

The young prince would have sported the typical haircut for Egyptian boys of his day—a shaved head except for one long lock on the side, which was braided.[10]

Teen to early adulthood

Moses undoubtedly spent much time perfecting his skills at archery and horsemanship—both favorite pastimes of that dynasty. Learning languages and the geography of his land would have been important as well. Slowly and surely he was being equipped with skills that would serve him in the challenging days to come. In Davis’s words, what we know is a “remarkable example of the excellency of the providence of God” (p. 56).

One last piece

Moses spent forty years in Egypt before he went into exile in Midian. We’ve managed to piece together a collage of what life might have been like into his early adulthood. The Jewish historian Josephus records another bit of his story in The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 10. According to his account, when Moses had reached full maturity, he was appointed general of the Egyptian army, went against their enemies, the Ethiopians, conquered them, and returned victorious. The Bible nowhere mentions this activity.

One yet to come

So far we have noted five memorable women whose presences figured prominently in the epic story of Moses: Shiphrah and Puah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Jochebed, and Zipporah —all heroic figures, all courageous in dangerous times.

One woman yet remains—Miriam—the subject of our next post.


[1] Citation in Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), John J. Davis, p. 52.

[2] See Exploring Exodus, p. 32.

[3] Women in Ancient Egypt (1993), Gay Robins, p. 89.

[4] See Barnes’ Notes and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary regarding Ex. 2:4-5.

[5] Josephus seems to think so. See The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 2, Chapter 9.3; 9.4.

[6] Women in Scripture (2000), Carol Meyers, Gen. Ed., p. 103.

[7] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc.

[8] Exploring Exodus, p. 33.

[9] Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 55.

[10] Ibid. Davis comments that this hairstyle was actually found on a mummy of a young boy.

A Woman Named Zipporah

We first meet Zipporah at a well in Midian where she and her sisters watered their father’s flocks. On that day, Moses stepped in to defend the women from brutish shepherds who had driven them away from the well. Moses watered the flocks and later accepted the hospitality of Jethro, Zipporah’s father.

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on his dress and grooming, Moses appeared to be an Egyptian (Ex.2:19). He was born in Egypt and was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses had lived a princely life until, in a fit of anger, he killed an Egyptian.  To escape the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses fled to Midian. The day he met Zipporah, Moses was an exile from home, the natural son of Hebrew slaves, and a man without a country.

Jethro took Moses into his family. The two of them seemed to get along amiably. In time Jethro arranged a marriage between Moses and Zipporah. Moses named their first son Gershom, foreigner, because Moses considered himself, “a foreigner in a foreign land” (Ex. 2:22). Over the next forty years, Moses cared for the flocks of his father-in-law.

Jethro was a priest in Midian. There was some similarity between the religious beliefs of Jethro and Moses, because both men traced their roots back to Abraham…and the God of Abraham. But there were differences in how they understood God’s will, such as the proper manner of circumcision. “The Midianites practiced circumcision on a groom right before his marriage instead of circumcising male infants.”[1] The difference in the timing of circumcision[2] became the occasion of a harrowing event.

As Moses, Zipporah and their sons were on the road to Egypt, God suddenly confronted Moses and “sought to kill him” because Moses had neglected to circumcise his son. Zipporah, realizing that her husband’s life was at stake, grabbed a sharp stone and circumcised the child herself (Ex.4:24). Then she threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet, saying,

Surely you are a husband of blood to me!  You are a husband of blood![3]

Back to Midian

Moses later sent his wife and sons back to live with Jethro. It may have been that Zipporah instigated the separation after the ordeal with God. It appears they did not see Moses again until a few months after Israel had left Egypt. Jethro, Zipporah and the two sons visited Moses at a campsite near Mt. Sinai (Ex. 18). They stayed together as a family and discussed what had happened in Egypt. The elders of Israel joined them for meals. Jethro remained long enough to advise Moses on organizing his administration, then departed.

A faded figure

Scripture doesn’t mention Zipporah after this visit. Did she stay with Israel or return to Midian? It’s not known. Over time she has become an enigmatic figure known for her defining action in saving her husband’s life. From there, she fades into obscurity. —Mary Hendren


[1] Nelson Study Bible NKJV, 1997, note on Ex. 4:24.

[2] In Genesis 17 specific instructions were given concerning circumcision. Every male child was to be circumcised when he was eight days old. An uncircumcised male risked being cut off from his people (vv 10-14),

[3] This passage has puzzled many and regardless of the many possible scenarios put forward, there is no clear-cut explanation.

Who Was Pharaoh’s Daughter?

“Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children'”(Ex. 2:5-6).

While Cecil B. DeMille cast Rameses II as Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments, and millions of viewers have probably never questioned his choice, scholars know there are other historical contenders. But without a definitive Egyptian chronology by which to trace the rule of various kings, experts are often frustrated by gaps and inconsistencies.

Wikipedia comments, “While the overwhelming majority of Egyptologists agree on the outline and many of the details of a common chronology, disagreements either individually or in groups have resulted in a variety of dates offered for rulers and events.”

And the Pharaoh is…

The proper identification of the pharaoh of the exodus likely holds little interest for the average reader of the Bible account, but it is key to discovering, if possible, the identity of the royal daughter who defied her father’s edict and rescued a tiny Hebrew infant from the banks of the Nile.

Egyptologists still puzzle over this obstinate king. Was he Amenhotep I? Thutmose I? Thutmose III? Or Rameses II? Perhaps producer director DeMille simply accepted the current wisdom of his day by choosing the latter to be his villain. But I, for one, would like to narrow down the list in hopes of answering an intriguing question–who was Pharaoh’s daughter?

Father/daughter connections

Let’s explore a couple of possibilities. Take DeMille’s choice, Rameses II, for starters. Nahum Sarna, in his book, Exploring Exodus (1986), fills in an interesting detail concerning this pharaoh: “If her father was indeed Rameses II, she would have been one of his fifty-nine [emphasis mine] daughters!” (p 31). That fact alone would make it difficult to determine which one was associated with the Exodus account.

Closeup shot of a large granite sphinx bearing...

Closeup shot of a large granite sphinx bearing the likeness of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. Dating to the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, circa 1479-1458 B.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps Hatshepsut?

Some scholars put forth another name—Thutmose I,[1] and his daughter Hatshepsut. If he were the one, imagine what DeMille could have done with the twists and turns of this story line. Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and Aahmes, both of royal lineage, was the favorite of their three children. When her two brothers died, she was in the unique position to gain the throne upon the death of her father.

To have a female pharaoh was without precedence in Egyptian annals. When Thutmose I died, his son (by a commoner), Thutmose II, ascended the throne, bolstering his claim by marrying his half-sister, Hatshepsut. She, in turn, was not shy in pursuing her own ambitions during his reign.

There are archaeologists who believe Thutmose II died of a skin ailment after ruling for only a few years. Hatshepsut, his half-sister and wife, had produced no offspring with him, but he had sired a son by a commoner named Isis. This son, Thutmose III, was in line for the throne, but due to his young age, Hatshepsut seized the throne as regent and reigned for twenty plus years before he finally assumed his rightful place as the sole ruler of Egypt.

Current opinions

John J. Davis, in his book, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), writes the following: “It is the view of many that Queen Hatshepsut was the one responsible for caring for Moses in his early years. Following her rule, Thutmose III finally regained the throne as sole Pharaoh and was destined to become one of Egypt’s greatest” (p.34).

The Woman’s Study Bible  tends to agree in its note on Exodus 2:15: “The current pharaoh was Thutmose III. His first 20 years of reign were dominated by Hatshepsut, who was his mother-in-law as well as his father’s widow and half-sister….He may have viewed Moses as a personal threat, since Moses, as the adopted son of a pharaoh’s daughter may have been the son of Hatshepsut herself” (p. 100).

By other names

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary lends its support: “’Pharaoh’s daughter’ may have been the very famous Eighteenth-Dynasty princess and queen Hatshepsut. Eusebius records the tradition that her name was Merris….Josephus calls her Thermuthis….but others claimed her name was Tharmuth…Bityah…Bithiah.” (See Vol. 2, Exodus 2, Note 5, p. 310.)

Still an indistinct figure

A painting by Konstantin Flavitsky of Pharaoh'...

A painting by Konstantin Flavitsky of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses, who is in a basket. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So was Hatshepsut the one? Though opinions presented here seem to be weighted in her favor, for me, in lieu of hard facts, Pharaoh’s daughter continues to be the indistinct figure whose actions changed the course of history for the nation of Israel.

In a future post we’ll look at the grooming of Moses as an Egyptian prince.


[1] Sometimes read as Thutmosis or Tuthmosis.

The Midwives

Pharaoh’s growing problem

Pharaoh was anxious. The increasing size of the Israelite presence in Egypt’s Delta region was worrisome, and in spite of his imposition of harsh servitude, they just continued to multiply. These people were a strong, valuable workforce, and he knew they couldn’t arm themselves and turn against Egypt. After all, they were in bondage and dependent on Egypt for food. However, if his slaves ever aligned with an enemy, that would pose a significant threat. Three million slaves lived in Goshen and 600,000 of them were men—potential warriors. Something must be done.

A depiction of the Hebrews' bondage in Egypt, ...

A depiction of the Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt, during which they were forced to make bricks without straw. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pharaoh had to deal with the number of slaves without destroying slavery. His solution was to decrease the number of Hebrew males. Harsh servitude hadn’t worked. Perhaps a systematic elimination of baby boys would lower the slave birthrate, and the forcing of the females to marry Egyptian men or become household slaves in Egyptian homes would produce children loyal to Egypt. So he devised a plan.

He would require midwives to do the extermination. They assisted at Hebrew deliveries and could quickly drown the babies before suspicions were raised.[1] They could report that the infants had been stillborn.

Who were these midwives?

Scripture does not say if Shiphrah and Puah were Egyptian or Hebrew midwives. Likely they were Hebrew because of their Semitic names and their fear of God (Ex.1:17). The two women probably represented of a guild of midwives, and that may have been why Pharaoh singled them out. He explained the procedure they were to follow at the birth of a Hebrew boy and expected them to pass on the order.

When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools,[2] if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.

Looking back over 3500 years, it’s hard to imagine what happened when Shiphrah and Puah stood before Pharaoh. Did they say anything in his presence? Did they remain silent and feign compliance? Did they tell the other midwives to secretly disobey? How did they evade his order? Scripture doesn’t say. But they were successful for some length of time because “the people multiplied and grew very mighty” (Ex.1:20).

Amazing Intervention

Eventually Pharaoh realized that the Hebrew baby boys were being saved, and he asked the midwives for an explanation.

Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?

Shiphrah and Puah came up with what seems like a barely credible excuse for all the live baby boys.

The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before a midwife can get to them.

As Pharaoh listened, God must have endowed their words with believable-ness, creating a reasonable delusion in his mind—His plan wasn’t working because Hebrew women had faster rates of delivery than Egyptian women.

God blessed the midwives in additional ways: Pharaoh didn’t execute them for disobedience; the Egyptian king shifted the responsibility for killing babies to the Egyptian people; and God provided households for the midwives (Ex. 1:20).

Legacy

The names of Shiphrah and Puah[3] were recorded in Exodus for succeeding generations to understand that their courage mattered to God. It made a difference in history.[4]

I wonder if they ever knew that one of the baby boys who lived was Moses—the one destined to become the deliverer of Israel.—Mary Hendren

.

 

 


[1] According to John J. Davis, in his book Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), p. 50, midwives aided at childbirth by “taking the newborn child, cutting its umbilical cord, washing the baby with water, salting, and wrapping it.” Some propose that babies were to be drowned under the guise of washing them immediately after their birth.

[2] Egyptian women were often delivered while squatting on two large bricks. There is some evidence that, at least in the New Kingdom, birth took place, if possible, in a specially built structure erected perhaps in the garden or on the roof of the house. (See Women in Ancient Egypt, Gay Robins, 1993, p. 83.)

[3] It is interesting that the specific names of the midwives are given, but the pharaoh of the Israelite oppression remains anonymous and a subject of continuing debate and discussion. (See Exploring Exodus (1971), Nahum Sarna, pp 24-5.)

[4] The Nelson’s StudyBible, NKJV, 2007, p. 91, note on v. 15.

Silhouettes from the Book of Exodus

Pharaoh, the king of ancient Egypt, is often d...

Pharaoh, the king of ancient Egypt, is often depicted wearing the nemes headdress and an ornate kilt. Based on New Kingdom tomb paintings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the time of year when one can expect to see the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments airing somewhere on network or cable channels available to viewers worldwide. So far its appeal has managed to endure, as it is currently listed number ten of the top ten epic movies produced.

Wikipedia says, “The Ten Commandments is one of the most financially successful films ever made, grossing over $65 million at the U.S. box office. Adjusting for inflation, this makes it the sixth highest-grossing film domestically, with an adjusted total of $1,025,730,000 in 2012.[2] The box office website “The Numbers” lists the domestic gross at $80 million.[1]

While Cecil B. DeMille was obviously good at making a blockbuster movie, he was also good at embellishing the facts with his own imagination and interpretation. For instance he introduces the storyline of a fictional romance—that Moses loves Nefritiri, the throne princess who must marry the next Pharaoh. The Bible does not even hint at such a thing.

DeMille assigns names to some of the characters, possibly based on the prevailing scholarly opinion of the time: Rameses II as Pharaoh, and Bithiah, as the princess who rescued Moses. But when one reads the account of Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, such details are noticeably missing. Instead the reader encounters shadowy figures made comprehensible only when placed against the cultural tableau of their time.

The next posts will explore the lives and environment of several personalities, including six women who appear in the Moses story, in an attempt to add, if possible, a personal dimension to these otherwise inscrutable silhouettes.

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