God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: What kind of good child was Moses?

From the About page:

I have a question about Exodus 2:2. What does it mean that she saw that baby Moses was tov?

Could it be a statement of affection, the way we refer to children and pets as “good?” Or does “seeing that…good” simply echo Genesis 1?

Interesting question.

I don’t think it’s an echo of Genesis — I’m not even sure the authors of Exodus 2 knew the text of Genesis 1. And for what it’s worth, the LXX agrees, using the rare asteios here. (The Greek of Hebrews 11:23 and of Acts 7:20, which retell the story in part, matches. In Acts 7:20 we have the addition that Moses was “asteios to God.”)

But beyond that, I don’t see a clear way to narrow down the meaning, because there are so many ways of being “good” in English and in Hebrew. The word could refer to aesthetics, health, providence, etc. So we have to rely on context.

And even that doesn’t help much, for two reasons. First, I’m not sure the sequencing of the usual translation is right (“when she saw that he was tov she hid him for three months”). Secondly, even if we do see cause and effect here, the passage is at best suggestive. Had he not been tov would she not have hidden him? If so, maybe tov means “healthy and strong,” or maybe even just the opposite of “stillborn.”

All of which is a long way of saying that it’s hard to narrow down the meaning beyond something positive.


December 6, 2009 - Posted by | Q&A, translation practice | , , ,

1 Comment

  1. I did a study on this once and came up with the notion of “urbane” with the sense of an “urban” or “city” notion of sophisticated “beauty” as opposed to “rural.” I would have to retrace my steps to back that up!

    It seemed at the time (many years ago) that there was a distinction in Hebrew between a “natural beauty” (such as flowers in a valley) and an “urban beauty” such as a “magnificent edifice.”

    It has been so long, I’m not sure where that came from or if it is correct, but that is what my sources seemed to indicate.

    Comment by bibleshockers | December 10, 2009

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