Answers to the Biblical Questions about Moses
The idea that at any time during his life Moses didn't know that he was a Hebrew by birth has no support in the Bible. Though there is no explicit statement that he did know this during his youth and young adulthood, the story is written as if he knew all along.
Here are the verses that give this impression:
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her
attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds
and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child.
He was crying, and she took pity on him. "This must be one of the
Hebrews' children," she said. (Exodus 2:5-6)
We know, then, that Pharaoh's daughter, who raised him as her own son, knew that he was a Hebrew. Others in the court would likely also know that he was a Hebrew, both because the story of his discovery by Pharaoh's daughter was known to enough people (her attendants, Moses' parents and siblings, at minimum) and because he was of another race--Hebrew rather than Egyptian--so that he would look physically different from the Egyptians.
Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a
nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?"
Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the
child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and
nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took
the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to
Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. (Exodus 2:7-10)
In his infancy, Moses was nursed and cared for by his own mother in his own home. These days mothers typically nurse infants for a year or so. But in ancient times, two or three years was common. A three year nursing period is mentioned in 2 Maccabees 7:27. It is likely, then, that Moses had some memory of his Hebrew birth family from when he was a toddler.
Further, it is unlikely that Pharaoh's court would have no idea where a 2 or 3 year old non-Egyptian child suddenly showing up in the court came from. And Moses would have heard the talk about him in the court.
She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the
water." (Exodus 2:10)
In the cultures of Bible times, names, their meanings, and their stories were given great significance. Moses, according to the Bible story, was named for his being drawn out of the water. It is highly unlikely that he would have grown up without knowing the meaning of his name and the story behind it.
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw
their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his
kinsfolk. (Exodus 2:11)
Here the story casually mentions Moses going out to see his own people when he had grown up. There is no mention of his discovering who he was and who his people were. It simply says that he went out to see his people, the Hebrews, as if he already knew who his people were.
All of this suggests that Moses knew that he was of Hebrew birth right from the start--that he grew up knowing this fact about his identity.
Since, as mentioned above, Moses may have lived with his birth family up to age three, there is a good chance that he knew his older sister Miriam from the time of his early childhood.
Miriam's age is not given in the Bible. Traditional sources vary on how old she was compared to Moses. Most commonly she is believed to have been five to seven years older, though some sources say she was as much as eleven or even fourteen years older than Moses. (See, for example, the entry on Miriam in the Judaism 101 article, "Moses, Aaron and Miriam"; and the entry for Exodus 7:7 in Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible here.)
Aaron was was three years older than Moses (see Exodus 7:7).
All of this suggests that Moses may very well have had early memories of his two older siblings from the time he was a toddler living with his birth family.
The sister of Moses who watched him from a distance after he was put into the Nile in the ark, and who made the offer to Pharaoh's daughter to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby, is not named in the story of Moses' birth and infancy in Exodus 2:1-10.
However, it was almost certainly his sister Miriam, since the only siblings of Moses mentioned in the Bible are Miriam and Aaron.
In the genealogies of Levi, only Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are mentioned as children of Amram and Jochebed:
Kohath was the forefather of Amram; the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt. To Amram she bore Aaron, Moses, and their sister Miriam. (Numbers 26:58-59)
The children of Amram: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. (1 Chronicles 6:3)
The three of them are also mentioned together in the story of Miriam and Aaron speaking out against Moses in Numbers 12, and later in a poetic prophecy in Micah:
I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam. (Micah 6:4)
All of this strongly suggests that it was indeed Miriam who watched over Moses when he was put into the Nile in an ark made of bulrushes (or papyrus).
It is unlikely that the Israelites knew that Moses would lead them out of Egypt before it actually happened.
There is no indication in the Bible story of any such prior knowledge. Even when Moses did come to lead them out of slavery at God's command, he had to not only relate to them what God had said to him, but also do the miracles God had shown him, so that they would believe that he was sent by God (see Exodus 4:29-31).
How Accurate is The Prince of Egypt?
The answer is: "Not very."
A blurb in the opening credits reads:
The motion picture you are about to see is an adaptation of the Exodus
While artistic and historical license has been taken, we
believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of
a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people
The biblical story of Moses can be found in the book of Exodus.
In other words, when it comes to representing the actual story as it appears in Exodus, this movie falls somewhere between "Based on a true story" and "Inspired by a true story."
It would take too long to list all of the differences between the movie and the Bible story. Best to read the book of Exodus for yourself. But here are a few major differences:
- As outlined above, the Bible gives no hint that Moses did not know who he was and where he was from, but strongly suggests the opposite.
- The Bible says nothing about a brother-brother relationship between Moses and Rameses, which is a key plot element of this and some other artistic adaptations of the story. The Bible does not even say which Pharaoh was reigning at the time the Exodus took place.
- In the Bible, after God commissions Moses to free the Israelites from slavery, Moses is accompanied to Egypt by his brother Aaron, not by his wife Zipporah. Aaron serves as Moses' spokesman in Egypt (see Exodus 4:10-16). And Exodus 18:1-6 makes it clear that Zipporah and their two sons were living with Moses' father-in-law Jethro during the events of the Exodus.
However, as with many movies and novels based on biblical events, The Prince of Egypt does capture something of the emotional power of the story in a way that may not come through with a simple reading of the text.