“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah…” (Exodus 1:15)
Who was Shiphrah? She was one of two midwives who helped prevent the genocide of Hebrew children by the Egyptians (Exodus 1:15-21.). Dr. Birch, a professor of Old Testament, explains, “The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, deceive the pharaoh and thwart his genocidal command to destroy Israel’s male children” (1).
However, Shiphrah may have further evidential corroboration than only being presented within our Old Testament texts. This is because we find her name on a list of slaves in Egypt during the reign of Sobekhotep III (papyrus Brooklyn 35.1446). Professor Eyre explains that the Brooklyn 35.1446 “contains extensive lists of defaulters” (2). “This document, probably of Theban origin and dating to the Twelfths or early Thirteenth dynasty, contains a ledger with the names of the servants of an Egyptian state” (3). This would mean that if she is the Shiphrah of the Bible then the Pharaoh of the Exodus was probably Dudimose or Tutimaios. It is possible that she may have been a slave before being freed.
This is far from conclusive, however, we should remain open to the possibility. It is also worth noting that the name “Shiphrah,” from the Bible, is consistent with the extra-biblical data from this papyri. This gives one more confidence that the biblical episode is reflecting real history, or at least picks up on a tradition that has historical value.
1. Birch, B. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.
2. Eyre, C. The Use of Documents in Pharaonic Egypt.
3. Hoffmeier, J. Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition.