Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus)

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Pharaoh's daughter
Dura Europos fresco Moses from river.jpg
Pharaoh's daughter depicted in the Dura-Europos synagogue, c. AD 244
AliasThermuthis; Bithiah; Merris; Merrhoe;
ChildrenMoses (adoptive)

According to the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh's daughter (Hebrew: בַּת־פַּרְעֹה bat-parʿōh; Greek: ἡ θυγάτηρ Φαραὼ hē thugátēr Pharaṑ) saved the infant Moses from extermination under the oppression of her father, after finding Moses hidden in the rushes on the banks of the Nile in Egypt. This act, the "drawing out" (מָשָׁה māšāh) of Moses from the water, is given as the origin of Moses's name (מֹשֶׁה Mōšeh).[1]

Her story has been much expanded in Abrahamic tradition, and the drawing up of Moses from the water by Pharaoh's daughter has been a popular subject in art.

In Exodus[edit]

In the canonical books of the Bible, the daughter of Pharaoh who rescued Moses is not named. Her story is told in Exodus 2:5–10:

Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children." Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go." So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, "Because I drew him out of the water."


In Jewish tradition[edit]

Pharaoh's daughter finds Moses in the Nile (1886 painting by Edwin Long)

In the works of Josephus, the princess who saved Moses from the Nile is called Thermuthis.[2]

A daughter of Pharaoh named Bithiah /bɪˈθə/ (Hebrew: בִּתְיָה Biṯyāh, Bityá, literally "daughter of Yah(weh)" or "daughter of the LORD") is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Chronicles 4:18. She is mentioned in I Chron 4:18, as being the wife of Mered from the tribe of Judah. The Jewish Midrash identifies this Bithiah as the Pharaoh's daughter of Exodus.

According to the Midrash, she received her name for having taken Moses in as her own son, for which the LORD is said to have said he would take her in and call her "the LORD's daughter", the literal meaning of Bithiah (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3). Her husband Mered identified in the Midrash as being Caleb, one of the Twelve Spies. The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 18:3) also records that she was not affected by the 10 Plagues, and her son was the only firstborn of Egypt to survive the final plague.

The Midrash portrays her as a pious and devoted woman, who would bathe in the Nile to cleanse herself of the impurity of idolatrous Egypt. In Jewish tradition, she was exiled by the Pharaoh for bringing Moses the Levite into the house of Pharaoh and claiming him as her own child. Bithiah left Egypt with Moses when he ran away after killing an Egyptian slavedriver. She married Mered the Judahite. Her children were Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (the father of Eshtemoa).

The Aramaic form of the name, Batya (בתיה), is commonly used as a female first name in contemporary Israel (e.g. Batya Gur).

In Christian tradition[edit]

Eusebius of Caesarea (Preparation for the Gospel 9.15) names her as Merris, and Eustathius of Antioch (Commentary on Hexameron MPG 18.785) as Merrhoe.

A Scottish legend tells about a daughter of Pharaoh named Scota, who refused to persecute the Israelites and was banished at the time of the Exodus.[citation needed] She was married to a Greek prince and they settled in Scotland. Their son founded Ireland.

In Muslim tradition[edit]

Asiya and her servants find baby Moses in the Nile. (From the Persian Jami' al-tawarikh).

In the Hadith, Asiya is known as the wife of Pharaoh, one of four of "the best of women". She is also known as the Pharaoh's wife in the Qur'an.[3] When Moses was born, his mother put him in an ark and placed it in the river. When this ark reached Pharaoh's palace, the courtiers took it out and got it opened before the queen. The wife of Pharaoh was very much surprised to see a handsome and lovely child and took him in her arms.[3] When Pharaoh (Firaun) came to know about it, he stepped forward to kill the child, but Asiya stood in the way saying:

Why do you kill this innocent child, the whereabouts of whose parents are not known!

Pharaoh changed his mind, and Moses's biological mother was appointed a wet nurse in the palace until he grew up. When Moses preached the true faith, Asiya believed in him, provoking the Pharaoh to persecute her. Muhammad praised the piety and virtues of Asiya, who was subjected to unbearable tortures yet was steadfast. She was nailed to a board with either iron nails or wooden stakes piercing her wrists and ankles and flogged in blazing desert heat on the Pharaoh's orders. She laid down her life, but did not forsake her faith in the God of Moses.[3]

And God sets forth, as an example to those who believe the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: 'O my Lord! Build for me, in nearness to Thee, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from those that do wrong':

— Qur'an, chapter 66 (At-Tahrim), verse 11[4]

Sura Al-Fajr, verse 10 refers to the Pharaoh of the nails (or stakes):

And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the stakes?

In popular culture[edit]



Pharaoh's daughter is often portrayed as being the sister or wife of Pharaoh in adaptations of the story, in order to have Moses appear as Pharaoh's son.

In the 1956 American film The Ten Commandments, where she is portrayed by Nina Foch, she is called Bithiah and is depicted as the daughter of Ramesses I and sister of the Egyptian pharaoh, Seti I, who raised Moses as her own son as her husband had died before they could have children. When Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, she joins the Exodus.

Bithiah is shown in the film as a compassionate and heroic woman, who deeply loved Moses as a mother and wanted him to inherit the throne so he could do good. When Moses is found out to be a Hebrew, the heartbroken Seti, with urging from Rameses, orders her not to see him again. During the first Passover, when the Destroyer is killing the firstborn of Egypt, she is freed from a fairly luxurious form of house arrest, and takes part in the very first Passover Seder. She grieves over the suffering of her people, but casts her lot with the people of Israel and joins the Exodus, where she willingly and gladly gives up her place on her rich litter to help weaker Israelites. When the Egyptian chariots attack, she tries to interpose herself between the charging army and the Israelites, with her future husband Mered (see I Chronicles 4:18) dissuading her from the noble yet suicidal act. When the Egyptian army drowns in the Red Sea, it is her grief that the film shows rather than the biblical account of the singing and dancing of the people led by Miriam. Mered comforts her in her sorrow. A later scene has Bithiah among the few who refuse to participate in the mass worship of the Golden Calf, instead faithfully awaiting Moses' return with the Ten Commandments. In the film, up until this point, unlike in the Bible, Bithiah was shown to be an idol-worshiper.

In the miniseries Moses the Lawgiver (1975) the princess Bithiah is interpreted by the Italian actress Mariangela Melato.

In the 1998 DreamWorks animated epic The Prince of Egypt, the character is named Queen Tuya, historically the consort of Seti I. She was voiced by Helen Mirren, with Linda Dee Shayne providing her singing voice.


The American novelist, H. B. Moore (also listed as Heather B. Moore) has published three novels centered on the life of Moses, under the group heading "The Moses Chronicles": 1. "Bondage" (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2015). 2. "Deliverance" (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2016); and 3. "Exodus" (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2016). Under the name Bithiah, Pharaoh's daughter appears as a central character/narrator in numerous chapters in the first and third volumes of this "Biblical drama".


In the well known song "It Ain't Necessarily So" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, the character Sportin' Life expresses skepticism about the veracity of several Biblical stories, including this one: "Li'l Moses was found in a stream/Li'l Moses was found in a stream/He floated on water/Till Ol' Pharaoh's daughter/She fished him, she said, from dat stream".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Exodus 2:10)
  2. ^ Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 9,5
  3. ^ a b c Shahada Sharelle Abdul Haqq (2012). Noble Women of Faith: Asiya, Mary, Khadija, Fatima (illustrated ed.). Tughra Books. ISBN 1597842680.
  4. ^ Quran 66:11"