Poole on Exodus 2:3: Moses and the Genesis of the Typhon-Osiris Myth

Verse 3:[1] And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink.

[She could not hide] With the inquisition and infanticide kicking up again (Menochius, Lapide): and on account of the nearby Egyptians; insomuch as they were dwelling together mixed, as in Exodus 3:22 (Piscator). Nevertheless, that many infants had escaped, while tyranny was relaxing itself, is proven from Aaron and those of his same age (Menochius).

She could not longer hide him, with safety to herself, because they now grew more violent in executing that bloody decree, and the child growing up was more likely to be discovered, especially seeing the Egyptians dwelt among them, Exodus 3:22.

[A small wicker-basket, תֵּבַת] It signifies λάρνακα, an ark, of which word Strabo[2] and Simonides[3] make use (Grotius).

[A basket made of bulrushes, גֹּמֶא] Of rushes (Montanus, Menochius, Vatablus). Kimchi explains it of an extremely light wood, of which sort the marine reed is (Munster). To others (says the same) it is a water plant, or small reed, from which small ships are made. See Isaiah 18:2[4] (Vatablus). A basket made of bulrushes (Vulgate), that is, from papyrus. Lucan,[5] Pharsalia 4: The skiff was constructed of the porous papyrus of Memphis (Grotius). See Pliny’s Natural History 7:56; 13:11, and Theophrastus’[6] History of Plants[7] 4 (Bonfrerius). The Egyptians constructed ships and skiffs of papyrus, as Herodotus, Pliny, Lucan, and Theophrastus testify (Tirinus).

An ark of bulrushes: That boats were made of such materials as bulrushes in those parts, is evident from Isaiah 18:2, and from the testimonies of Herodotus, Pliny, and others.

[She smeared, etc., וַתַּחְמְרָ֥ה בַחֵמָ֖ר וּבַזָּ֑פֶת] And she covered it with bitumen, etc. (Vatablus); she smeared it with bitumen, etc. (Munster); she slimed it with slime (within) and pitch (without) (Hebrews in Munster). [Concerning these words, see what things are written on Genesis 11:3.[8]]

Slime and pitch; slime within, and pitch without.

[In a bed of rushes (thus the Chaldean, Syriac, Munster, Tigurinus), that is, in the place where rushes spring forth, בַּסּוּף[9]] In a marsh (Septuagint, Samaritan Text); in a plot of rushes (Munster, Pagnine, Oleaster, Malvenda); with water plants (Junius and Tremellius); in a place abounding with water plants (Samaritan Version). סוּף/rush is the same as גֺּמֶא/rush (Kimchi in Munster). Lest it should be agitated too much by waves and wind: and near the bank, so that it might be recovered more easily (Junius, Piscator). In a stagnant part of the Nile, from which it could not easily be carried off by the violence of the rapidly flowing waters along the channel of the river (Menochius). For then it would have been overturned (Tirinus). From סוּף, to come to an end, and to cease, is סוּף, a rush, a bed of rushes; for it is the boundary between the water and the land (Oleaster). It is named from extremity, for it arises on the border of rivers (Junius).

She hid it in the flags, which grew near the river’s side; partly that the vessel might not be carried away, and overturned by the violence of the winds and water, and partly that the child might be sooner discerned, and more easily taken out thence by any kind hand, which she hoped for.

[The heathen refer this history of Moses to their own fables, with the names changed.] As Bochart, A Sacred Catalogue of Animals, relates. From Moses they made Typhon, whom they say was the brother of king Osiris, of the same mother (that is, because the daughter of Pharaoh adopted Moses, who was able to be the mother of that Pharaoh concerning whom it is spoken in Exodus); and that he devised many things against the king, with seventy-two men taken up into his conspiracy (that is, because to Moses and Aaron were added seventy elders[10]) and the queen of Ethiopia (this is the wife of Moses, whom the most ancient versions of the Scripture assert to have been an Ethiopian;[11] and the histories of the Jews assert to have been the daughter of the king of Ethiopia). They assert that he, carried by donkey (having taken this from Exodus 4:20), fled over the course of seven days (just as Tacitus, in Histories[12] 5, says concerning the Jews having escaped out of Egypt: Having traversed a journey of six days, on the seventh, the inhabitants having been driven out, they obtained lands, in which a city and temple were consecrated.) With a similar error in both places having arisen from the law of the Sabbath. Moreover, they made Typhon Ἰσαιακοῦ τοῦ Ἡρακλέους, the son of Isaac, who was of the stock of Hercules; and that he, having slipped away by flight, begat sons, Jerusalem and Judæus. But nothing is more shameless than that to Typhon, that is, to Moses, they impute the crimes of their own king. For in Plutarch Typhon casts king Osiris, enclosed in an ark, into the Nile, and that along the Tanitic mouth of the Nile.[13] Moses is, of course, also believed to have been exposed near Tanis,[14] where the palace was at that time, Psalm 78:12,[15] and to have been found there by the daughter of the queen. To this place it pertains that Plutarch and Lucian,[16] in his Concerning the Syrian Goddess,[17] make up a fable that this ark was carried unto Byblos;[18] that is, because he lay hidden בַּסּוּף, in the reeds, Exodus 2:3, that is, in the water plant of the Nile, which is papyrus; just as the Greeks render סוּף, or as βύβλον/bublon/papyrus. Josephus has πλέγμα βύβλινον, wicker-work made of papyrus; and Suidas[19] has κιβώτιον ἐκ βύβλου, an ark of papyrus. They also invent that Typhon tore Osiris into fourteen parts: that is, because just so many peoples, that is, the thirteen tribes, seeing that there were two from Joseph, and the mixed multitude,[20] he tore from the body of the kingdom. Unto the same Typhon they refer evil and noxious animals; because Moses made use of them for the destruction of Egypt.[21] Neither are those lacking that call the shadow of the earth, into which they think that the sinking moon suffers eclipse, Typhon: because, of course, Moses induced a darkness of three days.[22] Moreover, priests detest the sea, and those that make use of the sea, and salt, which they call the foam of Typhon: remembering, of course, that at the nod of Moses the sea completely buried the king and his troops.[23] And thence I would suppose that Moses was called Τυφῶν/Typhon, for, as צוּף/Tsuph to the Hebrews, so also to the Syrians (from whom the Egyptians borrowed many words) תוף/Tuph, signifies inundation. And whoever attentively reads Plutarch’s The Worship of Isis and Osiris, he will find many things which pertain to Moses (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:34). [See more things in our Collectanea on Exodus 12:12.]

[1] Hebrew: וְלֹא־יָכְלָ֣ה עוֹד֮ הַצְּפִינוֹ֒ וַתִּֽקַּֽח־לוֹ֙ תֵּ֣בַת גֹּ֔מֶא וַתַּחְמְרָ֥ה בַחֵמָ֖ר וּבַזָּ֑פֶת וַתָּ֤שֶׂם בָּהּ֙ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד וַתָּ֥שֶׂם בַּסּ֖וּף עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיְאֹֽר׃

[2] Strabo (c. 63 BC-c. 24 AD) was a Greek geographer and historian.

[3] Simonides of Ceos (c. 556-468 BC) was one of the nine Lyric Poets of ancient Greece. His work survives only in fragments.

[4] Isaiah 18:2a: “That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes (גֹמֶא) upon the waters…”

[5] Marcus Annæus Lucanus (39-65) was a Roman poet.

[6] Theophrastus (372-287 BC) was a disciple of Aristotle and his successor at the Lyceum.

[7] Historia Plantarum.

[8] Genesis 11:3: “And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morterוְהַ֣חֵמָ֔ר) הָיָ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לַחֹֽמֶר׃).”

[9] Exodus 2:3b: “…and she laid it in the flags (בַּסּוּף) by the river’s brink.”

[10] See Numbers 11.

[11] Numbers 12:1: “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Cushite woman (הָאִשָּׁ֥ה הַכֻּשִׁ֖ית; τῆς γυναικὸς τῆς Αἰθιοπίσσης, in the Septuagint) whom he had married: for he had married a Cushite woman (אִשָּׁ֥ה כֻשִׁ֖ית; γυναῖκα Αἰθιόπισσαν, in the Septuagint).”

[12] Historiæ.

[13] The Tanitic mouth of the Nile was the branch of the Nile delta furthest east.

[14] Tanis was on the Mediterranean coast, just west of the Tanitic mouth of the Nile.

[15] Zoan was just south of Tanis.

[16] Lucian of Samosata (c. 120-c. 180) was a trained rhetorician, particularly skilled in satire.

[17] De Dea Syria.

[18] Byblos was on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon.

[19] Suidas was the compiler of the Suda, an encyclopedia containing more than thirty thousand entries concerning the ancient Mediterranean world. It was probably composed in tenth-century Byzantium.

[20] Exodus 12:38.

[21] See Exodus 8; 10.

[22] Exodus 10:21-23.

[23] Exodus 14.

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