Moses’s Most Miraculous Birth
The birth story of Moses, the chief human hero of the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, is brief, almost stingy in its details. When Pharaoh’s efforts to diminish the Israelite population — by enforcing harsh labor and by issuing an edict ordering the midwives to kill all newborn sons — fails, he instructs “all his people, saying, ’every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live’” (Exodus 1:22). (Interestingly, the Pentateuch does not explain this decision to harm only boys.)
In the barest of language, the narrative then proceeds to relate an event the likes of which have occurred countless times in human history: “A man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son” (Exodus 2:1–2). A nameless man and woman — only their tribal affiliation is mentioned — are married, and the woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. (We do notice a strange detail in the verse’s continuation: “And she saw how he was good, and she hid him for three months” [v. 2]. Has there yet been a mother who didn’t think her child “good”?) For three months the mother was able to protect her son from Pharaoh’s edict, and only “when she could hide him no longer” (v. 3) — a determination about which we have no explanation — does the woman place the boy inside a reed basket and set the basket onto the Nile.
At this point the story turns to a description of the infant’s wondrous rescue by Pharaoh’s daughter and his subsequent arrival to the palace. While one might call Moses’s being pulled from the Nile (where he had floated in a womblike ark in watery surroundings) by the woman