Friday, January 29, 2010

We DID change our names and clothing in Egypt

There are some well known midrashim that tell us Bnei Yisrael merited redemption from slavery in Egypt becuase they held on to certain symbols of Jewish identity:

Rav Huna says in the name of Bar-Kappara (Midrash Vayikra Rabba 32:5) that we did not change our names or our language, we did not speak lashon ha-ra, and everyone observed the laws of arayot (forbidden relationships).

In the Mekhilta R. Eliezer haKappar is quoted saying: "Did not Israel possess four mitzvot [while they were in Egypt]…: that they were sexually pure, that they did not gossip, that they did not change their names, and that they did not change their language!?

And in Midrash Lekach Tov on Parshat Va'eira someone (can't find it right now) someone adds that the redemption was merited because the Israelites in Egypt wore distinctive clothing.

(1) The torah seems to say outright that the redemption was merited because of blood, namely the blood of circumcision and the blood of the Korban Pesach. ['I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, "In your blood, live; in your blood, live!"' (Ezekiel 16:6)]

(2) In what sense did the redemption require "merit?" Abraham received a straight promise that his descendants would be taken out of Egypt. It says nowhere that this promise is a function of merit.

(3) How do we justify the claim that they "kept their names?" It seems clear from the textual evidence that the Isralites did change their names. The names of the original nation of seventy that settled in Goshen are given. We also have the names of the tribal leaders who took part in the Exodus, and the names of a few others dignitaries. Not one of them is a repeat. If the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt understood this Midrash in the way that most Jews do today, wouldn't we find at least one Avraham, and maybe a Yosef or a Yehuda, among the dor hamidbar? Yet, we don't.

(4) The redeemer himself seems to have an Egyptian name. As noted by many, Moses seems similar to Ahnmose, Thutmose, Ramose and many other attested New Kingdom names. The names are theophoric (that is embaded with the name of a God) and the suggestion has been made that some Egyptican divine name was originally attached to "Moses" (or more likely "Mose") as well, but dropped at some point. (Aside: The Torah, of course, links his name to the fact that he was "drawn" from the water, a claim that raises all sorts of notorious and well-discussed grammar problems. A solution: His mother named him (the verse actually supports this, and so does logic: How could an Egyptian princess have come up with a Hebrew name?), but she gave him a name that worked in Egyptian, too. If Yocheved was trying to find a way to name Moshe that worked in two languages, she likely wasn't picky about the grammar.)

(5) Other famous men and women from that generation also seem to have Egyptian names, including:
::   Miriam The first part of her name "mry" is Egyptian for beloved; this was a common Egyptian personal name (Noth) and is also the proposed etymology for her ancestor Merari.)
::   Chur Egyptian skygod Horus  (Noth)
::   Pinchas Pi is a definate article in Egyptian; the second part of the name belonged to an Egyptian king (Hoffmier)

(6)Though the Midrash claims the Israelites in Egypt wore distinctive clothing, the textual evidence suggest otherwise: At the Exodus, the Israelites asked the Egyptians for gold, silver, and clothing

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