Bible Review 19:3, June 2003

Moses’ Egyptian Name

By 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 appears as hv²m in Hebrew, pronounced roughly Moshe in English. The final -s in the English comes from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible known as the Septuagint: Mwushõ adds a terminal sigma (õ) 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.

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