Bithiah (Hebrew: בִּתְיָה Biṯyāh, literally "daughter of Jah") was an Egyptian princess, and a daughter of Pharaoh according to Hebrew tradition. The name of her father is not in the Bible, but Rabbinic Midrash makes her the daughter of one of the Pharaohs of the Exodus, (see Pharaoh of the Exodus). The Bible and Midrash assert that she was the foster mother of Moses, having drawn him from the Nile and bestowed upon him his name (Exodus 2:10).
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 during the mass Exodus of the children of Israel. She married Mered the Judahite. Her children were Miriam, Shammai, and Ishbah (the father of Eshtemoa).
In the Bible and Midrash
In the Biblical account, the daughter of Pharaoh who rescued Moses is not named. A daughter of Pharaoh named Bithiah is mentioned in I Chronicles 4:18. The Midrash identifies the two as the same person, and says she received her name, literally "daughter of Yah" (Yah being a form of YHWH, which is often rendered in English as "LORD"), because of her compassion and pity in saving the infant Moses. It relates (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3) how God said He will take her in and call her YHWH's daughter (which is what “Bithiah“ means) because she took in a child not her own, and called him her son (Moses can mean "child" in Egyptian).
The Midrash also portrays her as a pious and devoted woman, who would bathe in the Nile to cleanse herself of the impurity of idolatrous Egypt. She is mentioned in Chron. 1, 4:18, as being the wife of Mered from the tribe of Judah, who is 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 was the only female firstborn of Egypt to survive the final plague.
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. 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, causing 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 religion.
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':
Sura Al-Fajr, verse 10 refers to the Pharaoh of the nails (or stakes):
"And [with] Pharaoh, owner of the stakes?"
In Josephus' works
In the works of Josephus, the princess who saved Moses from the Nile is called Thermuthis.
In popular culture
Bithiah 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, she is portrayed by Nina Foch 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.
In the film, Bithiah is shown 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 he 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 1999 Dreamworks animated epic, The Prince of Egypt, Bithiah is named Queen Tuya, historically the consort of Seti I. She was voiced by Helen Mirren, with Linda Dee Shayne providing her singing voice.
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".
As a name
- Bithiah. (n.d.). Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary. Retrieved January 28, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: