Did Egyptians have mid-wives?
NKJV - 19 And the midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.
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Although the cited verse appears to indicate that both the Egyptians and Hebrews made use of midwives in giving birth, my understanding is that the names that are given for the two midwives mentioned in Exodus 1:15 (Shiphrah -- meaning "beautiful" -- and Puah -- meaning "lass" or "girl")) would have been of Semitic (rather than Egyptian) origin, and they thus would have been Jewish.
Great question, norman Phillips! Because of how the Net Bible translates and explains this verse, I don't think the midwives were Hebrew. (that is, even though their names appear to be Hebrew). "So these were women who assisted in the childbirth process. It seems probable that given the number of the Israelites in the passage, these two women could not have been the only Hebrew midwives, but they may have been over the midwives (Rashi). Moreover, the LXX and Vulgate do not take “Hebrew” as an adjective, but as a genitive after the construct, yielding “midwives of/over the Hebrews.” This leaves open the possibility that these women were not Hebrews. This would solve the question of how the king ever expected Hebrew midwives to kill Hebrew children. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN INFANTICIDE! And yet, the two women have Hebrew names."--as I mentioned.
Exodus 1:15 relates the command of the king of Egypt to two midwives to kill all baby boys of the Hebrew people. Some suggest these midwives might have been in charge of other midwives, perhaps several hundred, that attended the many births in the land of Egypt. Because of the wording of this verse, many commentators assume the midwives were Hebrew. But the phrase “Hebrew midwives” could also be translated, “the midwives of the Hebrew women” as the Septuagint reads. The “Contemporary English Version” renders it, “...the two women who helped the Hebrew mothers...” Older English Bibles such as the Geneva, Bishop’s, Coverdale, and Tyndale have the same idea of not modifying midwives with the word, ‘Hebrew.’ So, the phrase could either mean the ‘Hebrew midwives,’ or the ‘midwives for the Hebrews.’ According to Moshe Lavee and Shana Stauch-Schick, the authors of “The ‘Egyptian’ Midwives,” it could be either depending on different vowel points of the source texts. This could well suggest that these two women were Egyptians in charge of child-birthing the Hebrew population. Josephus in his work, “Antiquities,” wrote, “...that the midwives of the Egyptians should watch carefully the pangs of childbirth of the Hebrew women…” Exodus 1:16 says “when you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women” as if as if they were not part of that group. When the midwives are before Pharaoh, they speak of Hebrews as though they were not themselves Hebrew, Exodus 1:19. It is believed that the names are Hebrew or Semitic, but their names could just as well be the Hebrew form of the Egyptian names, just as many foreign names are given the Hebrew equivalent. Some suggest they had to be Hebrew to defy Pharaoh the way they did, but that would be foolhardy given they were at this time technically enemies in the land. If they were Hebrew, the Pharaoh would have every right to question if they would be loyal to their own people. It would be a somewhat reckless policy for the Pharaoh to entrust Hebrew midwives with such a task. They would likely not hide this command of the Pharaoh from their people but warn them. They were more likely Egyptians, and if so, they betrayed their ruler, refused to carry out genocide, and risked their lives. They gave a very plausible account to the king, so he believed their account, Exodus 1:17. As a result, Pharaoh forced the people to cast the infant boys into the river, Exodus 1:22. This set the stage for a boy to be found in the river, albeit, in a basket, the future leader, Moses. Their faith was rewarded. God dealt well with these midwives and provided them with families of their own, Exodus 1:20. Also, the Midrash, a Hebrew commentary, listed them among the righteous Gentile women including Asenath, Zip[p]orah, Shifrah (Shiphrah), Puah, the daughter of Pharaoh, Rahab, Ruth and Yael (Jael). They are also listed among those who were converts from the Gentiles.
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