When Pharaoh’s daughter finds a Hebrew baby in the river, she names him “Moses (משה; mosheh) because, she said, ‘I drew him out (משיתהו; meshitihu) of the water’” (Exodus 2:10). According to Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses gets his name because it sounds like the Hebrew for “to draw out.” Yet, there is likely another reason why she made this choice: Moses was a common Egyptian name that gives us a clue into Moses’ identity and mission as God’s earthly representative.

In Egyptian, “Moses” means “child of” and formed pharaonic names like Thutmose (Thot + moses), a child “born of” the Egyptian god Thoth. When Pharaoh’s daughter names the Hebrew baby “child of,” it leaves the reader asking, “A child of whom?” Along with being the child of his earthly parents, Moses is a child of God whose clash with Pharaoh highlights his relationship with his heavenly Father.

Most scholars identify the pharaoh of Exodus as Rameses II (1279-1213 BCE), who built the capital city of Pi-Ramesses in Goshen. This building project aligns with the Bible’s description of the Israelites building the “storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh” (Exodus 1:11) while they lived in the “land of Goshen” (8:22; 9:26). The name “Rameses” (Ra + moses) means child of Ra,” the Egyptian sun god. Thus, when Moses confronts Pharaoh, we have a showdown between Rameses the “child of Ra” and Moses the “child of Israel’s God”: the Moses of Ra vs. the Moses of the Lord. As the leader of Israel, Moses represents the people whom God calls “my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). The God of Israel uses Moses as a “son” who defeats the son of Ra and, in turn, brings divine “judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12; Num 33:4).

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35 COMMENTS

  1. This is wonderful, and wonderfully interesting I do not find the name Moshe given to anyone else in the Tanakh. In fact the only other other Moshe I ever heard of is Moshe Dyan. So I see how this could be an Egyptian name, but also having a subliminal Hebrew meaning.

  2. That would certainly explain why an Egyptian woman, who would certainly NOT use a Hebrew name for her adopted son, would choose that name! My question now….when did the name ‘Moses” come to mean “drawn from the water” in Hebrew? Before or after Moses was named? Thank you for such interesting information.

    • Good question, Kathryn. The “drawn from water” connection likely would have come as a secondary (Hebrew) wordplay after Moses was named. It’s not so much that Moses (mosheh; מֹשֶה) means “to draw out” (mashah; מָשָה), but rather than the two words are built on the same Hebrew root: M-Sh-H.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  3. I appreciate this post. Since I’ve been hard on two of your other posts, I should also note when I find your post valuable.

    • Glad to hear it, Ivan. Thanks for contributing to my comment threads; your perspective — whether you agree or disagree — helps to generate a good discussion, which is useful for all of us.

  4. (1.1) Tutmés III ou Ramessés II? Como Ramessés II é o Faraó mais conhecido, muitas obras usaram o nome dele para representar o Faraó do Êxodo. Isto se dá por uma má interpretação de Êxodo 1.11, por terem os israelitas construído a cidade de Ramessés. Ora, houveram 11 Ramessés no Egito, e a construção foi muito mais de 80 anos antes de Moisés encontrar-se com Faraó, logo, o Ramessés da construção já não podia ser o mesmo Ramessés do Êxodo. Estudiosos modernos concordam que a datação correta para o Êxodo é a partir de I Reis 6.1

    • For those who don’t understand Portuguese, this is the translation: (1.1) Tutmeses III or Rameses II? Since Rameses II is the most known Pharaoh, many works (books) have used his name to indicate him as the Pharaoh of Exodus. This happens because of a bad interpretation of Exodus 1.11, that

      • says the Israelites have built the city of Rameses. Now, there were 11 Rameses in Egypt and the construction of the city happened more than 80 years before Moses met the Pharaoh. Therefore, the Rameses of the construction can’t be the same Rameses of Exodus. Modern scholars agree that for

    • ZA
      You are sharp sir....am sure you anticipates questions like these...we evangelicals have been greatly by not understanding and reading G-Ds' word in Hebrew,and general indifference to Hebrew exacerbates the depravity

      The general indifference to the understanding of Hebrew amongst evangelicals,has greatly deprived us from a greater background understanding of G-Ds’ holy word…..am going to learn Hebrew and teach free of charge. Thanks for enlightening insight

    • Thanks, Timothy. I’m glad you found the post interesting. No book yet, but it’s on my to-do list…

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  5. Certainly an interesting thought, well worth pondering. However, nobody has ever been able to come up with Mosheh’s given Hebrew name, which he would have been given at eight days at his brit milah, if the Hebrews still followed the custom while being slaves. Strange that Exodus 2 doesn’t mention any names, but simply refers to the people by gender and relationship. Does anybody want to agree that Mosheh could have been called Y’hoshua, the same name given to our Saviour? Mosheh’s follow-up was called Y’hoshua (the son of Nun) and both are a shadow picture of Y’shua, our Redeemer.

  6. No I can not see where it says that Ramases was the Pharaoh and what I read what was here he was not pacificly that it was Ramases either. He was just explaning the meaning of Ramases and of Moses. What they meant and how it ties into the Exodos 1:11. So what I read it could have been Ramases but it does not really say so. So to Meilssa please read more clearly of what is being said. Not tearing people down on this. What goes around comes around and that is in the word.

  7. Hi Dr Schaser
    Very interesting article, Egypt and Israel or Hebrew history seem to be intertwined from almost the beginning. Have you at any time read the geographies of Strabo? Book 17, chapter one is about Egypt, and was written in the first century, Judea is mentioned also.

    • Thanks for reading, Jon. Yes, I’m familiar with Strabo’s Geographica. The interactions between the Hebrews and the Egyptians certainly goes back to the earliest history of Israel’s ancestors (see Genesis 12:10).

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  8. Uhuuu!!! Muito esclarecedor. Para mim uma nova informação muito valiosa.
    Muito obrigado Dr. Nicholas. Que Deus o abenoe sempre.

  9. It is wonderful explanation and may the Elohe of Israel bless all of us.
    I like to understand those meanings from the original language and i understand now Israel is truly a child of Adonai.
    Thank you very much.

  10. Vowels had not yet been added by the phonecians so the word was ms, as in Rams, or Ramases but we could also say Ramoses, meaning the son of Ra. In this context, ms or moses can be the son of an unnameable god, as per Hebrew belief.

  11. Can you clarify something?

    Do you mean that Pharaoh’s daughter named the baby “child of” as a way of referring to him as a child of God (i.e. other than one of their gods)?

    Or do you think that she was referring to him as her child?

    • “Moses” was likely given his name because the Egyptians didn’t know whose child he was; thus, “Child of…” like a placeholder name. It wouldn’t have been a reference to him as a child of the God of Israel.

  12. So in Christian terms, Moses was a “type” of the Christ. I can see that. I also see that if biblical names are prophetic, and all true prophecy comes from the God of Israel, then even a pagan princess could have named her newfound baby at the unction of Israel’s God. So your definition of the name Moshe as just “child of” as a place holder makes sense, as does it’s having a Hebrew equivalent “to draw out.” Pharaoh’s daughter could have had, and I believe HaShem does have a sense of irony and humor. I also like how you framed the clash of two disparate belief’s around the names of the antagonist and protagonist. Enjoyed reading both the article and the Q & A. Thanks.

  13. Two points:
    1. For many reasons, historical AND Biblical, Ramses II could not be the Pharoah of the Exodus. No room to explain that!
    2. The 18th Dynasty was the Moses/Moshe family. Moses identified him with that family. It may have been a nickname applied by Israelites too.

    • Thanks for your question. Moses makes the bronze snake because God tells him to do so (see Num 21:4-9), but then the snake becomes a snare to the people of Israel when they start worshiping it, so Hezekiah has it destroyed (2 Kgs 18:4). Moses didn’t make an “idol”; Moses made an image that saved lives in the wilderness, and then the people after him made it into an idol.

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