Etymology of "Moses"

Abarim Publications' Biblical Name Vault  explains thusly: The name מֹשֶׁה is explained in Ex. ii. 12 (E) as though it were of Hebrew origin, and from מֹשֶׁה ("to draw out"). If this were its real etymology, the name would mean "deliverer," "savior" (comp. Ps. xviii. 17, Hebr.). As an Egyptian princess could not have spoken Hebrew, this etymology has been generally abandoned. A second one dates from the time of Josephus ("Ant." ii. 9, § 6; "Contra Ap." i., § 31), and is built on the Greek form of the name Μωνσῆς. This, Josephus claims, is derived from Egyptian "mo" (water) and "uses" (saved)—a theory to which Jablonski gave a quasi-scientific character by comparing the Coptic "mo" (water) and "ushe" (rescued). An Egyptian name with such a meaning would, however, be formed differently (see "Z. D. M. G." xxv. 141). The etymology now generally received regards it as from the Egyptian "mesh" (child), often used as a part of a theophorous name. [For example, Tutmhose is "Tut" plus "mhose (mose, mos, mes, etc.)," son of Tut; similarly Ramses is thought to be "Ra" plus "mose," son of Ra. On this view, "Mose (Moses)" simply means "son" or "child;" the first part of the name might have been forgotten or this use could signify Moshe as being simply a person.] This view was suggested by Lepsius, and has been accepted by Ebers, Dillmann, Gesenius, and Buhl, by Briggs, Brown, and Driver in their lexicon, and by others. Guthe ("Gesch. des Volkes Israel," p. 20) also regards it as a fragment of a theophorous name. W. Max Müller has objected that the vowel in "mesh" is short, while that in "Moses" is long, and that the sibilants are not those which the philological law would require. Accordingly Cheyne ("Encyc. Bibl.") proposes a Semitic origin, regarding the name as that of a North-Arabian tribe [Midian would qualify on this score]. One is inclined to return to the Biblical account and accept the etymology of E. If it may be supposed that the part of the narrative which attributes the naming to Pharaoh's daughter is inaccurate, the name may well be good Semitic, meaning "deliverer." Possibly it was not a name given in infancy, but an epithet which came to him as the result of his work. [Similarly, "Paro (Pharaoh)" is not a name but a title.]

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An article at Abarim Publications' Biblical Name Vault argues that "the Hebrew verb משה (masha 1253) ... is identical to the name save for the Masoretic additions [the pointilation and, therefore, how it is pronounced]." And, because of the verb form, "the name Moses doesn't mean He Who Was Drawn Out, but rather He Who Draws Out.. 'The name is explained not because Moses is derived from masha but because it resembles it in sound'." This seems to imply the name is due to "the princess who claims right to adopt." 



The Births of Moses and Sargon (not entirely on point, here, but interesting)

The cuneiform library of Assurbanipal has furnished a legend of the birth of Sargon of Agade (a Babylonian king who, according to Nabonidos, ruled about 3800 B.C. [N.B.: this would be roughly contemporaneous with Abram] ) which is strikingly parallel to the story of the secret birth of Moses and of his exposure on the Nile. The legend runs:

"Sargon, the powerful king, King of Agade am I. My mother was of low degree; my father I did not know [Moses' father is known]. The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain. My city was Azupirani, which is situated on the bank of the Euphrates. My humble mother conceived me; in secret she bore me. She placed me in a boat of reeds; with bitumen my door she closed. She entrusted me to the river, which did not overwhelm me. The river bore me along; to Akki the irrigator it carried me. Akki the irrigator in goodness . . . brought me to land. Akki the irrigator as his son brought me up. Akki the irrigator his gardener appointed me. While I was gardener, Ishtar loved me . . . four years I ruled the kingdom."

The parallelism between this narrative and the story of the exposure of Moses is thought by many scholars to be too close to be accidental.

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Etymology of "Moab" (full article)

Moab is the incestuous son of Lot with his oldest daughter [Bereshit 19:30 ff.]. Moab is the father of the Moabites. A famous Moabite is Ruth, the ancestor of Jesus [David, too]. In similar fashion Lot's youngest daughter bore Ben-ammi, the father of the Ammonites.

The etymology and original meaning of the name Moab is unknown. The word moab is foreign to Hebrew and, reports BDB, Moab is known in other ancient languages as Ma'aba, Ma'bu, Mu'aba, etc.

However, to a creative Hebrew audience, the name may have sounded like a compilation of
מה (me [sic., mah] 1149), what or מי (mi 1189), who, plus the word אב (ab 4a), father. Thus the name Moab would carry the meaning of Who's Your Daddy? or What's Your Father? a rhetorical question to which the story may easily give rise.


David, דוד

Spelled the same as the word meaning beloved (דוד) but pronounced totally differently, דוד could be a play on the word which has many other possible meanings. This word play may not be entirely kind to the first king of the United Monarchy.

Read "Meaning, origin and etymology of the name David."

Similarly, Aaron is not a regular Hebrew word: "Meaning, origin and etymology of the name Aaron." "Aaron" might be related to הר (mountain) or to אור (light) or to ארון (box).