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Behind the Iron Curtain in Egypt: Oppressed but not Enslaved

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Behind the Iron Curtain in Egypt: Oppressed but not Enslaved

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Behind the Iron Curtain in Egypt: Oppressed but not Enslaved

The earliest story of Israel’s experience in Egypt.

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Behind the Iron Curtain in Egypt: Oppressed but not Enslaved

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The beginning of Exodus transitions from the family narratives of Genesis to the national narratives of the rest of the Torah and Former Prophets. It gives a reason for the sharp change in attitude of the Egyptian rulers towards the Israelites from Genesis to Exodus, and delineates the contours of the relationship between the Egyptians and the Israelites that will prevail throughout the first half of the book. Finally, it creates the backdrop for the most important Israelite myth, that of slavery in Egypt followed by salvation.

And yet, chapter 1 is incoherent, with several fractures that imply divergent conceptions of the Egypt experience.

One Generation or Hundreds of Years?

The opening verses describe the family of Jacob that arrived in Egypt, and their deaths. It then continues with a description of their growing into a people:

שמות א:ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ אֹתָם.
Exod 1:7 The Israelites were fruitful and teamed, they multiplied and became exceedingly strong, and the land was filled with them.

It would require a great amount of time for the family to become so numerous a people that the land was filled with them. The very next verse, however, implies that we are speaking about the period shortly after the death of Joseph, which would be too early for the Israelites to have multiplied significantly:

שמות א:ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף.
Exod 1:8 A new king arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph.

Thus, the opening of Exodus seems to be working with two conceptions of time: in some verses, the oppression is depicted as having taken place in the generation after Joseph, and in the other, tens, or even hundreds, of years later.

Oppression or Ruse?

The king announces the problem he has with the Israelites, and suggests that the Egyptians should use cunning to deal with them:

שמות א:ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ. א:י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ.
Exod 1:9 And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are stronger and powerful for us. 1:10 Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.

The report of how the Israelites were forced into hard labor immediately follows:

שמות א:יא וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס.
Exod 1:11 So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses.

Setting taskmasters over the Israelites and forcing them into slave labor is certainly a cruel measure but it is hardly a ruse, reflecting “dealing shrewdly” with them. Moreover, it is not entirely clear how this will avoid an increase in population. Indeed, it does not:

שמות א:יב וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Exod 1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and burst forth, so that they (the Egyptians) came to dread the Israelites.

This leads the Egyptians to make the Israelites’ servitude harsher, (vv. 13–14), but the text never explains how this will further the king’s plan to avoid their population growth.

To solve this problem, rabbinic midrash claims that Pharaoh made a further decree, aimed to stopping men from sleeping with their wives (Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 9, Warsaw):

אתה מוצא בשעה שהיו ישראל בעבודת פרך במצרים גזר עליהם פרעה שלא יהיו ישנים בבתיהן שלא יהיו משמשין מטותיהן.
You find that when the Israelites suffered harsh labor in Egypt that Pharaoh decreed they should not sleep at home nor have relations with their wives.[1]

This interpretation appears in the Passover Haggadah as well, which interprets the term עָנְיֵנוּ “our suffering” in Deuteronomy 26:7 with זוֹ פְּרִישׁוּת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ “this refers to the avoidance of marital intimacy.” This midrashic addition of a prohibition unrecorded in the biblical text highlights the problem that just enslaving people does not necessarily lead to a contraction in population.

Population Size

Next, the king commands the midwives who serve the Israelite population[2] to surreptitiously kill all the baby boys when they are born:

שמות א:טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה. א:טז וַיֹּאמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת הָעִבְרִיּוֹת וּרְאִיתֶן עַל הָאָבְנָיִם אִם בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתוֹ וְאִם בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה.
Exod 1:15 The king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 1:16 saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.”

Here, the king’s plan is both crafty and relevant. The king expresses concern that as the Israelites are already a powerful people (whether economically, politically, or some combination), if they also grow numerous, they will pose a threat to Egypt. His command to the midwives, had it had been fulfilled, would circumvent this problem. His plan fails, however, since, the midwives, fearing God, do not follow the king’s plot. They make up an excuse for why the Israelites keep multiplying, and are rewarded with their own families.

The short episode about the midwives raises yet another problem. The statement that the king is afraid they Israel will grow numerous suggests that they are not yet numerous.[3] This explains how the Israelites are served by only two midwives, which implies a population of a few thousand at most. Moreover, they must all be living in more or less the same location, not spread around Egypt, otherwise it would have been impossible for two women to serve them all. And yet, verse 7 says that they were exceedingly numerous and spread throughout the land.

Many other places throughout the story of the exodus and the wilderness narratives similarly imply a small population. Consider the multiple allusions to one water source (Exodus 15:23, Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-11 and elsewhere) which would be insufficient to allow millions of Israelites drink.

Israel as a Growing Threat: The E Story

The issues surveyed above suggest that the text of the first chapter of Exodus does not derive from one hand. While many documentary scholars have argued that we have two independent accounts of the Israelites’ negative experience in Egypt, I suggest that we have a core account that has been supplemented in an attempt to present the Israelite experience in a different light.[4]

The core text of the Pentateuch, I have argued,[5] is the E or Elohistic text, a document from the northern polity of Israel which told a series of stories about Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Balaam. The E text has certain literary features that allow us to distinguish it from other sources.

The most obvious feature is that of God’s name; E, in my view, uses only Elohim and never YHWH.[6] Another feature, relevant specifically to our story, is that E refers to the ruler of Egypt as מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם “king of Egypt” and not “Pharaoh.” These literary markers are certainly insufficient in order to reconstruct the E text, but when we combine them with the narrative inconsistencies noted above, we can reconstruct the earliest layer of the Egypt story’s opening, before it was edited to include the enslavement and Israel’s exploding population.

In the Elohistic story, the accession of the new king follows immediately upon the death report of Joseph. Fearing that the Israelites will soon grow too large and thus present a danger to the Egyptians, the new king concocts a plan to thwart their growth: the midwives will kill the boys. This plan, however, fails, since the midwives prove to be ethical, God-fearing women, and they do not carry out the king’s demands. Indeed, in an ironic twist, instead of the Egyptian king tricking the Hebrews, the midwives trick the king. (See appendix for a reconstruction of the original E story.)

Oppressing, not Enslaving, the Israelites

According to this early strand, the Israelites are not slaves; indeed, later Elohistic narratives never allude to enslavement of the Israelites. When God speaks with Moses later in the E text, we hear that the Egyptians are mistreating or oppressing the Israelites:

שמות ג:ט עַתָּה הִנֵּה צַעֲקַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָה אֵלָי וְגַם רָאִיתִי אֶת הַלַּחַץ אֲשֶׁר מִצְרַיִם לֹחֲצִים אֹתָם.
Exod 3:9 Now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover, I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them.

The imagery of a cry going up to heaven appears elsewhere in the Bible in the context of mistreatment, such as the cries of Sodom in Genesis (18:21), and Israel’s cries to God in Judges (4:3, 10:12), because of the enemy’s לחץ, “oppression.” These stories are not about slavery.

The Egyptians are also preventing Israel from leaving Egypt, since they are construed as a threat, possibly that they will join with Egypt’s enemies. For this reason, the king wants to keep an eye on them. Indeed, we see evidence for this already in E’s Joseph cycle, since Joseph must ask permission to bury his father in Canaan (Gen 49:5). A modern-day equivalent would be the Jews beyond the iron curtain who were not enslaved yet could not leave the Soviet Union.

This early strand of the story posits a small yet rapidly growing population, which would concern the Egyptians; this fits with the wilderness stories which mention only one primary water source.

Yahwistic Revision

The E narrative of Exodus 1 contained no enslavement, which is one of the linchpins of the Exodus story we know. The Yahwistic editor (J), the first scribe to revise the E text, added the theme of slavery. Thus, the J layer added verses 11–14 which describe how the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites.

First the text describes how the Egyptians made Israel build garrison cities:

שמות א:יא וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס. א:יב וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Exod 1:11 So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with burdens; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Ramesses. 1:12 But the more they made them suffer, the more they increased and spread out, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.

This strategy does not have the desired effect of shrinking Israel’s population growth, and the Egyptians react by heaping more taxing labors upon the Israelite slaves:

א:יג וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ. א:יד וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים וּבְכָל עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה אֵת כָּל עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ.
Exod 1:13 The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites 1:14 the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field.

The language of these verses—sivlot “burdens,” levenim “bricks,” avodah “labor”—fits with the detailed description of Israelite slavery in Exodus 5, generally attributed to J because of the name YHWH used there. Why did the Yahwistic (J) editor add slavery to the tale? Perhaps only forced servitude felt like a sufficiently strong explanation for why the Israelites remained so long in Egypt instead of returning.[7]

J also added the throwing of the Hebrew babies in the Nile (the final verse of ch. 1), which rectifies the king’s failed strategy with the midwives, though it jettisons any attempt at craftiness. (Note the use of the name Pharaoh in this verse, instead of the title “king of Egypt.”)

שמות א:כב וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה לְכָל עַמּוֹ לֵאמֹר כָּל הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן.
Exod 1:22 Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

This verse serves as the backstory for J’s introduction of Moses, in which he is found floating in the Nile after his mother places him there in a wicker basket.[8] In E, however, no further attempt to curtail Israel's might is recorded.

Priestly Revision

The Priestly text then added a new opening for the story, which begins with a list of Jacob’s sons in verses 1–5, which is the characteristic style of P. The Priestly editor was also responsible for verses 6–7, about the death of the Joseph generation and the population increase, which is meant to smooth the transition between the family stories in Genesis and the story of Israel as a nation.

The transition offered by v. 8 about the new king who did not know Joseph, which implies that only a generation or so past since the time of Joseph, is problematic for P. The Priestly source wants to present Israel as a nation of 600,000 men over twenty years of age, and so he adds the opening verses to create the impression of hundreds of years passing.

Several Priestly vocabulary markers appear in these verses: the word combination paru (“were fruitful”), yishretzu (“teamed”), and yirbu (“multiplied”) in v. 7 to describe fecundity is reminiscent of the priestly blessings to the animals and the first people in the first chapter of Genesis.

The priestly editor also appears to have added the theme of population increase into the account of the righteous midwives:

שמות א:כ וַיֵּיטֶב אֱלֹהִים לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיִּרֶב הָעָם וַיַּעַצְמוּ מְאֹד.
Exod 1:20 And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly.

That Israel was a large nation at the time of the exodus is an important part of the Priestly editor’s envisioning of the story. We see this again when the exodus begins:

שמות יב:לז וַיִּסְעוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵרַעְמְסֵס סֻכֹּתָה כְּשֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת אֶלֶף רַגְלִי הַגְּבָרִים לְבַד מִטָּף.
Exod 12:37 The children of Israel traveled from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children.

It appears again in the Priestly census texts (Num 1–2, Numbers 26). In contrast, Israel’s large numbers does not feature in E at all, whose exodus story is about a large extended family, not a nation more than a million strong.

Appendix

The Opening of the Exodus Story in E

בראשית נ:כב וַיֵּשֶׁב יוֹסֵף בְּמִצְרַיִם הוּא וּבֵית אָבִיו // נ:כו וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף // וַיַּחַנְטוּ אֹתוֹ וַיִּישֶׂם בָּאָרוֹן בְּמִצְרָיִם. שמות א:ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף. נ:ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ. נ:י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ. //
Gen 50:22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s household. // 50:26 Joseph died // and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. Exod 1:8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. 1:9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are stronger and mightier than we. 1:10 Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they become numerous, and when war would break out, they would join themselves to our enemies, and fight against us, and leave the land.” //
נ:טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה. א:טז וַיֹּאמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת הָעִבְרִיּוֹת וּרְאִיתֶן עַל הָאָבְנָיִם אִם בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתוֹ וְאִם בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה. נ:יז וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וְלֹא עָשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶן מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת הַיְלָדִים.
1:15 The king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah, 1:16 and he said, “When you minister to the Hebrew women, check the birth stool; if it is a male child, then kill him; but if it is a female child, then let her live.” 1:17 But the midwives feared God, and didn’t do what the king of Egypt commanded them, and allowed the baby boys to live.
א:יח וַיִּקְרָא מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶן מַדּוּעַ עֲשִׂיתֶן הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת הַיְלָדִים. א:יט וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת כִּי חָיוֹת הֵנָּה בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא אֲלֵהֶן הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ. // א:כא וַיְהִי כִּי יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים.
1:18 The king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” 1:19 The midwives said, “Because the Hebrew women aren’t like the Egyptian women; they are vigorous, and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” // 1:21 Because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

Exodus 1—Source Division

E—black, not indented, J—blue, one indent, P—red, double indent

שמות א:א וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ. א:ב רְאוּבֵן שִׁמְעוֹן לֵוִי וִיהוּדָה. א:ג יִשָּׂשכָר זְבוּלֻן וּבְנְיָמִן. א:ד דָּן וְנַפְתָּלִי גָּד וְאָשֵׁר. א:ה וַיְהִי כָּל נֶפֶשׁ יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב שִׁבְעִים נָפֶשׁ וְיוֹסֵף הָיָה בְמִצְרָיִם. א:ו וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל אֶחָיו וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא. א:ז וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ אֹתָם.
Exod 1:1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household: 1:2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 1:3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 1:4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 1:5 The total number of persons that were of Jacob's issue came to seventy, Joseph being already in Egypt. 1:6 Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. 1:7 But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
א:ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף. נ:ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ. נ:י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ.
1:8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph. 1:9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are stronger and mightier than we. 1:10 Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they become numerous, and when war would break out, they would join themselves to our enemies, and fight against us, and leave the land.”
א:יא וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת לְפַרְעֹה אֶת פִּתֹם וְאֶת רַעַמְסֵס. א:יב וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ וַיָּקֻצוּ מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. א:יג וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ. א:יד וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים וּבְכָל עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה אֵת כָּל עֲבֹדָתָם אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ בָהֶם בְּפָרֶךְ.
1:11 So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with burdens; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Ramesses. 1:12 But the more they made them suffer, the more they increased and spread out, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 1:13 The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites 1:14 the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field.
נ:טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה. א:טז וַיֹּאמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת הָעִבְרִיּוֹת וּרְאִיתֶן עַל הָאָבְנָיִם אִם בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתוֹ וְאִם בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה. נ:יז וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וְלֹא עָשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶן מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת הַיְלָדִים. א:יח וַיִּקְרָא מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶן מַדּוּעַ עֲשִׂיתֶן הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ אֶת הַיְלָדִים. א:יט וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל פַּרְעֹה כִּי לֹא כַנָּשִׁים הַמִּצְרִיֹּת הָעִבְרִיֹּת כִּי חָיוֹת הֵנָּה בְּטֶרֶם תָּבוֹא אֲלֵהֶן הַמְיַלֶּדֶת וְיָלָדוּ.
1:15 The king of Egypt spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah, 1:16 and he said, “When you minister to the Hebrew women, check the birth stool; if it is a male child, then kill him; but if it is a female child, then let her live.” 1:17 But the midwives feared God, and didn’t do what the king of Egypt commanded them, and allowed the baby boys to live. 1:18 The king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?” 1:19 The midwives said, “Because the Hebrew women aren’t like the Egyptian women; they are vigorous, and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”
א:כ וַיֵּיטֶב אֱלֹהִים לַמְיַלְּדֹת וַיִּרֶב הָעָם וַיַּעַצְמוּ מְאֹד.
1:20 And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly.
א:כא וַיְהִי כִּי יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים.
1:21 Because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
א:כב וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה לְכָל עַמּוֹ לֵאמֹר כָּל הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן.
1:22 Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Published

December 24, 2021

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Last Updated

November 28, 2022

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh has a PhD in Bible from Hebrew University, as well as a PhD in Wisdom Literature of the Hellenistic period from the University of Toronto. He has written many books focusing on his reconstruction of the redaction history of Genesis through Kings. He is the author of The First Book of God, and the multi-volume Kernel to Canon series, with books like Jacob’s Journey and Moses’s Mission. Yoreh has taught at Ben Gurion University and American Jewish University. He is currently the leader of the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in New York.

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