Puah

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For the Puah Institute, see Puah Institute.

Puah (meaning "splendid") is a name given to two persons in the Bible:

  • One of the two midwives who feared God, and helped prevent the murder of Hebrew male children by the Egyptians, and thus the genocide of the Hebrew people, according to Exodus 1:15-21. Her colleague was Shiphrah. According to the Exodus narrative, they were instructed by the King of Egypt, or Pharoah, to kill all male babies, but they refused to do so. When challenged by the Pharoah, they explained that Hebrew women's labour was short-lived because they were 'lively'[1] or 'vigourous',[2] and therefore the babies had been born (and protected) before the midwives arrived.

Puah and Shiphrah[edit]

The 11th century Jewish rabbi Rashi's Talmud commentary on the passage from Exodus identifies Shiphrah with Jochebed, the mother of Moses, and Puah with Miriam, Moses' sister, making the two midwives mother and daughter respectively.[3] However, in Midrash Tadshe (on Exodus 1:15), it is assumed that Puah, as well as Shiphrah, was a proselyte, and that she was not identical with Miriam.

The name Puah may be interpreted as an expression of crying out (Isaiah 42:14, for example, translates the Hebrew pa'ah as 'cry out' or 'groan').[4]

Commentators have interpreted Exodus 1:20-21 in various ways.[5] Some scholars argue that the two halves of each verse are parallel, so that it is the Israelites ('who multiplied and grew greatly') for whom God 'made houses'. This fits with the reference in Exodus 1:1 to the chldren of Israel coming down to Egypt, each with his 'house'. However, as Jonathan Magonet notes,[6] the more common view is that the houses are for the midwives - 'houses' here being understood as 'dynasties'. Rabbinic thought has understood these as the houses of kehunah (priesthood), leviyah (assistants to the priests), and royalty - the latter interpreted as coming from Miriam.[7]

Modern interpretations[edit]

Francine Klagsbrun said that the refusal of Shiphrah and Puah to follow the Pharaoh's genocidal instructions "may be the first known incident of civil disobedience in history" (Voices of Wisdom, ISBN 0-394-40159-X). Jonathan Magonet agrees, calling them 'the earliest, and in some ways the most powerful, examples, of resistance to an evil regime'.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Exod. 1:19 NKJV
  2. ^ Exod. 1: 19 NIV
  3. ^ See for example Judah Loew ben Bezalel's Gur Aryeh: Sifrei Chachamim ('Books of the Wise')
  4. ^ See for example Strong's Concordance with Hebrew transliteration at http://strongsnumbers.com/hebrew/6463.htm
  5. ^ Magonet, Jonathan (1992) Bible Lives (London: SCM), 7 - 8
  6. ^ a b Magonet, Jonathan (1992) Bible Lives (London: SCM), 8
  7. ^ See for example Talmud Tractate Sotah 11b; and Exodus Rabbah 1:17