BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO)
CONTEXT FOR THIS LITTLE STORY.
The story of Moses begins in the book of Exodus. But before we get to baby Moses, we learn in Exodus 1 that there's a new
king in town (Egypt) "who did not know Joseph" (NRSV). In other words, gone are the good old days when a son of Israel looked
out for the relatives.
The text here says the king "set taskmasters over [the Israelite people] to oppress them with forced labour."
The Hebrew midwives manage to wiggle out of an order to kill all boy babies born to Hebrew women. Since that didn't work,
the Pharaoh got the whole country of Egypt onside with the plan of tossing all Hebrew boy babies into the Nile river.
Into this dark picture comes Moses.
MAP OF ANCIENT EGYPT & ENVIRONS.
To see the area we're talking about in this story, click here.
LOTS OF STRONG FEMALE LEADS.
Canadian writer and former moderator of the United Church of Canada, Lois Wilson, dedicates a chapter to the women in Moses's
life in her book Miriam, Mary & Me. "Pharaoh thought that Hebrew baby boys and men would be his undoing," she writes.
"But it was the women!
"The well-known story of the Hebrews' struggle for deliverance from Egypt is told through selected stories...of the courageous
and subtle disobedience of the midwives Puah and Shiphrah, the resourcefulness of Moses's mother Jochabed; the quick thinking
sister Miriam; the compassionate Egyptian Princess..."
Wilson further points out: "Traditional interpretation of the biblical stories focuses on Moses the future leader. What is
usually not acknowledged is the creative contribution of the women, starting with the civil disobedience of the midwives...
"A cursory look at the contemporary ecumenical world-wide scene reveals an awareness of the Exodus as God's "No" to exploitation."
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT THE EXODUS?
The Introduction to the Book of Exodus in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) explains the event this way:
"it is best to read Exodus as a finished narrative, a story — though never forgetting that it has a pre-history, and
that in its final form within the larger story of the Torah or Pentateuch, it is the definitive story of the establishment
of Israel as a people freed from human tyranny who become slaves to their own loving God."
The birth of Moses is the first step in the first phase of the Exodus — 'liberating Israel from slavery by defeating
Pharaoh' (paraphrase, NOAB).
THE EXODUS STORY IS REALLY IMPORTANT!
Canadian writer and scholar Northrop Frye also helps us get our bearings on the book of Exodus. The following two quotations
are from Frye's book (with Jaye Macpherson), Biblical and Classical Myths (Toronto: U of T Press, 2004). The first
is from Chapter 9: "The Double Mirror: Exodus and the Gospel:"
"The deliverance, consequently, is the one thing that happens [in the Old Testament]. As the Exodus is the model for every
deliverance in the Old Testament, we can say that, metaphorically, the Exodus is the only thing that really happens in the
Old Testament. Hence, in the Christian Bible, the Exodus would be, more than any other event in the Old Testament, the type
[meaning something like prototype] of the most important antitype in Christianity, that is the Resurrection of Christ."
This second quotation is from the same Frye book, Chapter 14, "Genesis: Creating the Sexes; Exodus: A Revolutionary Heritage."
"In many respects the account of the Bible might have been simpler if it had begun where the story of Israel in effect begins,
with God appearing in a burning bush to Moses....
Now if you begin the story there, you have immediately wiped out the whole dreary chess game that is known traditionally as
theodicy. That is, how are you going to reconcile the existence of a perfectly good God with a horribly bad world, and yet
without involving the good God in the bad world in any causal way? ...The scene that begins the Exodus is much more intelligible.
Here, there is a situation of tyranny and exploitation going on to start with: the first datum is injustice, tyranny and exploitation.
God then announces that he is giving himself a name and a highly partisan role, and is going to enter history on the side
of the oppressed classes. Never mind how you got into this situation: how you get out of it is the important thing."
That's how important the Exodus is. No Moses, no Exodus, no Resurrection!
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The names of many characters here come from interesting root words.
Moses. Pharaoh's daughter names the child Moses at verse 10 "because I drew him out of the water." Footnotes here in the NOAB
note "Moses will live up to his name by drawing the Hebrews out of the Red Sea."
Miriam. Lois Wilson points out that the name comes from the root word for "rebel."
Puah (midwife). Means 'splendor,' (Wilson, MMM).
Shiphrah (midwife). Means 'beauty,' (Wilson, MMM).
**Wilson notes "the Bible identifies them as Hebrew women. Yet the have Egyptian names (p. 184.)"
HOW ABOUT PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER?
Turning again to Lois Wilson, she points out that when the Pharaoh's daughter tells Moses's mother she will pay her for her
services at the baby's wet nurse, the good princess says the same words that the Good Samaritan says to the innkeeper when
he drops off the beaten man. [paraphrase: 'Take care of him and I will see that you are paid.']
Wilson writes this "story underlines the necessity of demonstrating God's grace and generosity to one who is not only an enemy,
but also of a different race, culture and religion."
ANY SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE TO THAT RUSH BASKET?
Footnotes here again point out that the word 'basket' as used here "occurs elsewhere only concerning Noah's ark. As Noah's
ark rescued humankind, Moses' 'ark' will rescue the future liberator of Israel. Since Moses will bring a new beginning, parallels
with creation and flood are especially fitting."
The more colourful phrasing of the King James Bible, seen on the Overview page in this lesson set, highlights the unsavoury
and urgent nature of the rush basket operation and accentuates similarities between the Noah and Jonah stories and this one.
OVERT PARALLELS TO THE CHRIST CHILD.
In the image of a baby in a rather rough-hewn cradle against a backdrop of similar slaughters of the innocents, it's hard
not to see the connections being drawn between this story and the Nativity.
OTHER LINKS TO THE CHRISTIAN STORY.
To examine the shared symbolism between these two stories, let's turn to Canadian writer and scholar, Northrop Frye. In his
book The Great Code, Frye says of the Exodus it's part of the larger integrated story cycle of the Bible and "our first step
is to realize that all the high points and all the low points [the narrative ups and downs of all Biblical characters] are
metaphorically related to one another. That is, the garden of Eden, the Promised Land, Jerusalem, and Mount Zion are interchangeable
synonyms for the home of the soul, and in Christian imagery they are all identical, in their "spiritual" form... with the
kingdom of God. Similarly, Egypt, Babylon and Rome are all spiritually the same place... And the deliverers of Israel —
Abraham, Moses and Joshua, the judges, David and Solomon — are all prototypes of the Messiah or final deliverer."
GO DOWN MOSES.
Taking a close look at the symbolic meaning of 'Egypt' and the Exodus gives us an inkling of why this body of stories has
had such resonance for Afro-Americans and –Canadians. Again according to Frye, "Several thousand years after the period
of the Exodus we have the well-known spiritual:
Go down, Moses,
Way down to Egypt land,
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go.
The Israelites were not black, and nineteenth-century American blacks had no quarrel with ancient Egypt. The point is that
when any group of people feels as strongly about anything as slaves feel about slavery, history as such is dust and ashes:
only myth, with its suggestion of an action that can contain the destinies of those who are contemplating it, can provide
any hope or support at all... myth redeems history: assigns it to its real place in the human panorama."
A quick glance through the section on spirituals in the songbook 'Rise Up Singing' can suggest great arrangements of some
of these classic numbers. How about 'Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel,' as performed by Canada's Nathaniel Dett Chorale. Look
up the Golden Gate Quartet for definitive versions of 'Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho' or 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot.' Ralph
Stanley has a haunting version of 'Twelve Gates to the City' on his self-titled album of a few years ago. Count on Roger McGuinn
to provide us with some nice folk renderings of some of these pieces on the web. McGuinn's Folkden can be found at www.reveries.com/folkden. Scroll down to find the Archives on the right hand side. Click on the titles for 'Ezekiel saw a wheel,' '12 Gates to the
city' and 'When the saints go marching in,' to name a few.
Now for some images to go with the story of baby Moses. Find on this page a Phillip Ratner sculpture of Moses's mother putting him in the water. (Click on thumbnail in gallery for larger view.)
See on the same page Ratner's sculpture of the Pharaoh's daughter pulling baby Moses out of the water.
Here's a painting by Hogarth of toddler Moses being returned to the palace.
Questions for Discussion
1. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt trapped and belittled and you couldn't get out?
2. Can you describe that?
3. Who did you reach out to for help?
4. In what ways did you reach out for help?
5. Do you think there was any risk involved for the people who were able to reach out and help you?
6. What thoughts or ideas gave you comfort or courage before you could get out of this situation?
7. Have you ever been called upon by someone else to help them out of a desperate situation?
8. Name some of the strong women characters responsible for saving the life of baby Moses?
9. What other story about a baby does the story of Moses remind you of?
10. What are the common elements between these stories?
11. Can you think of some songs that have ideas from the Moses story in them? [looking for spirituals with Moses, Egypt, freedom,
Canaan, Promised Land, etc. in them]
Please find below suggested workshops for this unit. For each one, when you are in real time with the children:
1. Quickly review or recap the story with them before starting activity. Each week, see how much more detail each group of
kids can supply on the story they've been studying.
2. Link or explain your activity to the current story.
Arts -- Wikki Stix model of baby in basket.
Egads, I've finally found it! The guaranteed easiest way to make basket. Wikki Stix.
These seem basically to be length of wick coated in coloured wax that are bendable. So they adhere without glue.
Available at the toy store where I work!
Give each child six or so wikki stix. Cut these in half. Press into into a spiral to about 3 diam. Pull this up and out into
a bowl shap. Press on a handle. Use remaining sticks to make a baby. Tuck baby in with tissue or cloth square if you wish.
Kitchen -- watermelon baskets.
Why. To reinforce the idea of Moses's basket, and that he was drawn from the water (melon!).
There are some great ideas for carving or creating watermelon baskets on Watermelon.org. Click on the button for 'Carving and other fun ideas.'
You can either do this as a group project on 1 large watermelon. Or pick up those ultra small weightwatchers watermelons.
Cut in half and give each child half to make individual bowls.
Using a child's pumpkin carving knife, cut a sawtooth edge around border of boat. Scoop out inside flesh. Cut pieces into
cubes. Or use a melon baller for more fun. You can also further refine the chunks by using cookie cutters on them. Top up
with other fruit, like berries, grapes, apple pieces, for fruit salad effect in your basket. See if you can create a 'baby'
from fruit pieces and toothpicks.
Why: use sound effects and action to reinforce key plot points of this bible story.
How it works.
Divide class into 4 groups or parts.
Brainstorm 4 different parts to produce together like a round.
Have groups practice separately. Then try each other's parts. Then come in in sequence like a round.
Take your Beat Box to another, perhaps younger class. Or share during worship at children's story time.
Suggestions for 4 parts.
1. Baby moses, baby moses (make baby rocking motions)
2. In a basket, in a basket (mime setting boat in water)
3. Met a princess, met a princess (mime pulling basket out of water)
4. Beloved of God (mime holding or hugging a baby).
Computer -- Let's Talk, Garage Band
In Let's Talk, create a conversation between:
Miriam & mother or
Mother and baby or
Princess and handmaids
Princess and baby
Princess and mother
In Garage Band, create a piece of music that captures the sequence of moods in the baby Moses story. (think Handel's Water
In iMovie (or other simple movie maker program), create a movie composed of a key scene from the Moses story. Find script
Find here a little one act play drafted to go with a movie that may be produced in the computer lab above. The idea here
is that Miriam is videotaping for her mom what happens to Moses after he's left alone in the water.
To find the script, click here.
Review, Activities from Baby Moses 1
Arts -- woven baskets
Kitchen -- Egyptian Palace Milk & Cookies
Computer -- slide show of digital pictures.