Moses & Miriam & Mary
The most popular single female name in the
world is, if you include all its variants, the old Hebrew name
Miriam whose short form is Mary. Christians like Maria, Marie
and Mary. Hebrews and Moslems like Miriam, Miryam, Miriamne,
and its variations. Moslems like Maryam and Miryam.
For those researching the roots of names,
Miriam has been a problem. Any book which lists it or its derivative
Mary as having a settled meaning is being artificially neat (or
its sources are). There are many possibilities, as the original
form does not tie up neatly with the most commonly (if inaccurately)
given meaning, "myrhh, so meaning bitterness that heals."
I was carrying the original form MRYMN in
my head when I began work on the Egyptian chapter. Pretty soon
it started tapping on the inside of my forehead, because it was
so like ancient Egyptian names.
This makes perfect sense because the original
Biblical Miriam was born and raised in Egypt.
However, you must note that when it come to
researching names used by Hebrews, all scholars have shown an
absolute and incurable blind spot: they insist all names used
in the Old Testament must derive from Hebrew, even when the people
bearing them are not Hebrew! I believe this derives from the
Medieval belief that the first language of humanity was Hebrew,
from which all other derive. Now anyone who insists that the
name of a Phoenician princess born and bred must have its meaning
in Hebrew, rather than looking at Phoenician for its source,
is certainly not going to be able to see any root but Hebrew
for a pivotal Israelite.
(In this case, I refer to Jezebel -- that
is the modern English version, not the original -- whose name
to me was obviously Yahazi-Baal, a name found in Punic inscriptions.
Her father has a more obvious Baal-name. Yet Biblical blinders
leave her as "chaste; unmarried," from Hebrew.)
MRYMN is, to my eyes obviously the Egyptian
name Meri-Amun. The Meri/Merit__ formula is very common, needing
only the name of a Deity filled in: Meri-Bastet, Meri-Ausar,
Meri-Ra. Naturally, it would be very repugnant to believing Jews
(and modern Christians) to consider that their daughters were
being named "beloved of the God Amun" for centuries,
so that they are simply not going to look that direction. As
the down-home saying is, "They won't smell that manure even
if you wave a shovel of it under their noses." They are
going to look anywhere else for a meaning, and of course until
the later 1800's even a sufficient knowledge of ancient Egyptian
was lacking. But this is no longer an excuse.
Once started, I found that there were already
some scholars who felt that Moses and its cognates like Amos
were not derived from the Hebrew for "drawn from the water,"
but the well-known Egyptian name, Ahmoses, borne by several Pharaohs.
This would make sense for the adopted son of a royal princess.
However, I have also heard the rather reasonable
theory that the "Israelites" leaving Egypt were not
all descendents of Abraham; rather, that the leaders, the Levites,
were, and the rest were other malcontents wishing to emigrate
(Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman). Note that Aaron,
once Moses was out of camp, was perfectly willing to manufacture
the golden calf. Even among the Levites, the monotheism was thin,
so that pagan-God names should not be surprising among their
It should be noted that even during the time
of the single and dual Hebrew kingdoms, many Hebrews were not
Jews, but worshipped other Gods, as the prophets constantly complain.
Even then, they and their children had pagan-God names. So its
occurance when the future Hebrews were a disunited minority with
very few religious practices in common in a very dominating culture
should not be considered even surprising, let alone unreasonable.
Another dove-tailing theory is that the whole
business of Moses being found in the bulrushes was pasted in
at a later time, being borrowed from the much older biography
of Sargon (the Old Testament was not even partly written down
until after the Iliad was, and most of it after 500 BC, after
the return from the Babylonian Captivity). This was done in order
to make Moses a descendent of Abraham, which was necessary to
later theology. In fact, this theory holds, he was the son of
the Egyptian princess, he was named Ahmoses, and Aaron was probably
only a foster-brother, as Miriam was his foster-sister. Ahmoses
was a follower of the Aten monotheism which had failed in Egypt,
and sought to lead out a group amongst whom he could establish
their chief God, Yahweh, as an only God.
On the positive side, if the Exodus story
is remembered history, passed down orally before being written
down, then Egyptian names like Ahmoses and Meriamun should be
expected, and would continue in more or less corrupt form. If
the names are indeed all Hebrew, then the story appears to be
a much later invented myth of origin, with inappropriately modern
names given to the characters (the kind of workmanship one would
expect nowadays from a high-schooler who sits down to write Medieval
stories, and names the English knights Kevin and Jason and the
ladies Brittany and Rachel because that's his or her friends'
names). So being able to trace these early Israelites to their
Egyptian roots becomes one more point on which the Old Testament
can be considered history rather than fable.
copyright 1997 by Holly Ingraham