Hershel ShanksAn Egyptian papyrus reveals an Asiatic slave with a Biblical name—a midwife mentioned in Exodus

It would be easy to tell you how a story in BAR develops, but I thought I would instead tell you how a story didn’t develop—at least not yet.

The tip came from a lawyer, a faithful reader from Brooklyn named Harvey Herbert- An Egyptian hieroglyphic papyrus now in the Brooklyn Museum mentions an Asiatic slave named Shiphrah.

Shiphrah, of course, is the name of one of the Hebrew midwives (the other is Puah) whom Pharaoh summoned to carry out his order that all boys born to the enslaved Israelites be killed (Exodus 1-15). Shiphrah (and Puah) didn’t obey Pharaoh, however; they were devoted to God, so they let the boys live.

And here was an Asiatic slave with this same name mentioned in an Egyptian papyrus written in hieroglyphics. Was this for real?

It certainly was. The problem was that it had been in the museum for a long time—since 1935. An entire book had been written on this papyrus in the 1950s. So what was new? Sad, but true, journalism seems to require novelty. An interesting fact that has been known for a long time, but of which we are unaware, somehow seems less interesting than a newly revealed fact. At least so it is with editors. So I began looking for a new, novel angle.

Read the rest of First Person: A Name in Search of a Story in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.