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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

The Hebrew Midwives

Who were the Hebrew Midwives?

In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Exodus 1:15 refers to the "midwives of the Hebrew women," for Pharaoh would never employ Hebrew women to destroy the males of their own nation; the answer of the midwives implies they were used to attend Egyptian women (Exo. 1:19).

Egyptian women rarely employ them, and only in difficult cases. Much less did the Hebrews who were still more "lively." Two sufficed: Puah (from the Egyptian pa, with a determination, "child bearing") and Shiphrah ("prolific," also Egyptian, cheper). Aben Ezra makes these two "chiefs over all the midwives, who were more than 500." Pharaoh probably only desired to kill the males of the chief Hebrews, who alone would call in midwives.

The "stools" (literally two stones) mean the unique seat on which the mothers sat for parturition, as represented on monuments of the 18th dynasty, and still used in Egypt, now called kursee elwiladee (Lane, Mod. Eg. iii. 142).

Lepsius (Denkmaler) copies the representation of the birth of the oldest son of Thothmes IV on the walls of Luxor. The queen receives the god Thoth's announcement of the coming birth; she is placed on a stool, two midwives chafe her hands, and a third holds up the babe (Sharpe's History of Egypt i. 65).

God rewarded the midwives by "making them houses," i.e. by their marrying Hebrews and becoming mothers in Israel (2 Sam. 7:11,27).

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IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.

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