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In שְׁמוֹת it says:

וַתֹּ֧אמֶר לָ֣הּ בַּת ־ פַּרְעֹ֗ה הֵילִ֜יכִי אֶת ־ הַיֶּ֤לֶד הַזֶּה֙ וְהֵינִקִ֣הוּ לִ֔י וַאֲנִ֖י אֶתֵּ֣ן אֶת ־ שְׂכָרֵ֑ךְ וַתִּקַּ֧ח הָאִשָּׁ֛ה הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַתְּנִיקֵֽהוּ ׃ וַיִגְדַּ֣ל הַיֶּ֗לֶד וַתְּבִאֵ֙הוּ֙ לְבַת ־ פַּרְעֹ֔ה וַֽיְהִי ־ לָ֖הּ לְבֵ֑ן וַתִּקְרָ֤א שְׁמוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֥י מִן ־ הַמַּ֖יִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ ׃

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” The woman took the child, and nursed it. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, and said, “Because I drew him out of the water.”

My question is, how do you explain this? Was it Moses's mother who named him saying “Because I drew him out of the water.” Or was it Pharaoh's daughter? If it was Pharaoh's daughter, how do you explain her knowing Hebrew?

Any guidance at all on how to properly interpret this passage would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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You had a number of very good suggestions.

Ibn Ezra to Exodus 2:10 suggests 2 possibilities, namely, that Pharaoh's daughter had learned the Hebrew language, or that she asked someone how to say this phrase (and the name was translated from a similar Egyptian name):

אולי למדה בת פרעה לשונינו או שאלה.

Shadal there (same link) quotes Abarbanel saying that in fact, the baby's mother called him that. Abarbanel brings a proof from the grammar of the word "משיתהו", which sounds like someone else had drawn him out.

Shadal himself seems to assume that Pharaoh's daughter simply said this in Egyptian, and the Torah translated to Hebrew:

כי מן המים משיתהו – היא אמרה בל׳ מצרי, והכתוב אמר בלה״ק, והזכיר פעל משה להיותו ל׳ הנופל על הלשון.

He explains how Moses comes from Egyptian as follows (including sources):

ומ״מ משה היה שמו (ולא שם אחר כגון מוניוס כדברי ראב״ע), כי mo בל׳ מצרי מים, usee מֻצָּל, והנה משה ענינו מֻצָּל ממים. ומזה היה כי המתרגם האלכסנדרי במקום משה כותב תמיד Mωυσής (Mo-yses)‎ להיות תחלה גזרתו (Mo-isee), וכן יוסף פלאויוס כתב כי המלה מורכבת מן Mo-yses, שענינו מֻצָל ממים (Jablonsky וראז׳{נמילר} וגיז׳{ניוס}).

Hizkuni says that according to the Rabbis, she had converted and learned the language (which would support Ibn Ezra), but says that according to the "Peshat" of the verse, she did not know Hebrew, likely implying what Shadal suggests himself.

Note: There are a few other worthy notes in RDZ Hoffman, Netziv, and Minchas Yehudah there, I will try to add them when I have some time later, or I invite any reader to edit them in (they are available at the above link).

  • Doesn't Ibn Ezra mention Moshe's Egyptian name? Monios, or something like that? – ezra Feb 6 '18 at 16:05
  • @ezra yes he does. I didn't feel the need to include it. – רבות מחשבות Feb 6 '18 at 16:08
  • Was it possible to convert to Judaism before the giving of the Torah at Sinai? – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 7 '18 at 17:16
  • @RobertColumbia you are correct, it was impossible to convert in the legal sense of the term. – רבות מחשבות Feb 7 '18 at 17:23
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Some thoughts from Rabbi Kaplan's Living Torah on that passuk.

He writes that moshe means son in Egyptian. He quotes Ibn Ezra & Hadar Zekenim who say this and uses this idea to translate the passuk as "he became to her as a son".

Rabbi Kaplan continues and writes:

Significantly the suffix moshe is found (and exclusively so) in the names of many Pharohs of the 18th Dynasty such as Ka-moshe (son of [Ra's] majesty), Ach-moshe (Ahmose; son of the moon, or the moon is born) and Toth-moshe (Thutmose, son of Toth). The word moshe may indeed be of Semitic origin introduced by the Semitic Hyksos. According to other ancient sources the name Moses comes from the Egyptian mo (water) and uses (drawn from) Josephus Antiquities 2:9:6, Contra Apion 1:31, Philo De Vita Moses 2:17, Malbim.

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James Henry Breasted, in The Dawn of Conscience (p. 350) writes:

It is evident that some of the Hebrew nomads, after having taken refuge in Egypt in time of famine, were subjected to slavery, from which a Hebrew of statesman-like gifts and notable powers of leadership, who placed himself at their head, delivered them and thus became the first great Hebrew leader whose name has come down to us. It is important to notice that his name, Moses, was Egyptian. It is simply the Egyptian word “mose” meaning “child,” and is an abridgement of a fuller form of such names as “Amen-mose” meaning “Amon-a-child” or “Ptah-mose,” meaning “Ptah-a-child,” these forms themselves being likewise abbreviations for the complete form “Amon-(has-given)-a-child” or “Ptah-(has-given)-a-child.” The abbreviation “child” early became a convenient rapid form for the cumbrous full name, and the name Mose, “child,” is not uncommon on the Egyptian monuments. The father of Moses without doubt prefixed to his son’s name that of an Egyptian god like Amon or Ptah, and this divine name was gradually lost in current usage, till the boy was called “Mose.”

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