Moses Mondays: Wet Nurses And Other Important Needs

(Update: 8/8/2007 There is an update on the progress of the book at Moses Mondays: An Update.)

You may or may not know what a wetnurse is, since they are almost nonexistent in this day and age, but they were very common in ancient times, especially since bottles and formula are a relatively new invention. In addition, it was rare for a noblewoman to nurse her own child. Appart from the time demands and other issues, it was considered proper and healthy to have a strong woman with good milk to nurse your child. Asati, not having given birth, required the services of a wetnurse. The unfolding of events was fortuitous for Jbochebed and Moses’ family. Not only would they know of his fate but they would have ongoing contact with him for at least a year. As Jochebed is added to the mix we learn more about Nari and see what good hands Moses is in.

See also Chapter 7: Omens And Portents

Destiny’s Passage
Copyright 1993-2004 William G. Meisheid

Chapter 8: The Wet Nurse Engaged

Jochebed had to act quickly. In order to explain her milk to those who would wonder how she could act as a wet nurse, she had decided on the story of a recent miscarriage, kept private by the family. Her people often tried to hide their pregnancies ever since the edict became a death sentence to all Hebrew sons. She left Aaron at the house of her sister and sent Miriam to the gate to tell Nari that she was coming. That done, she went to the home of her cousin Meraba, who had recently given birth to a baby daughter, to borrow clean wrappings for the child. Pharaoh’s edit only threatened males, so there was still some joy in the homes where girls had been born. While the general bitterness overshadowed it, it did mitigate the pain for some, though it sharpened it for others.

Nari looked up as Miriam approached the gate. “Have you been successful in your search, my child?” she asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “A woman is coming who has recently miscarried but still has milk. It was not the decree that took her baby, so she is not as bitter as some of the others. She is willing to take on the work but went to get some things for the child and will be here shortly.”

Nari heard a murmur and looked up to see a Hebrew woman determinedly walking through those who had gathered a short distance away to watch. “There may be hard feelings here when this woman returns,” she thought. The Hebrew stopped in front of her and bowed her head slightly, appearing more out of deference than respect.

“I was told you seek a wet nurse and are willing to pay,” she said.

Nari looked the woman over with an experienced eye. She looked strong hearted and resolute. She appeared to harden herself to the grumbling as she passed through her neighbors, but acted noncommittal as she presented herself. Nari watched as the woman’s eyes cautiously sought the child with undeniable tenderness. There was straightforwardness about the woman that Nari admired. “Yes, you will do nicely,” she thought.

“Your Name?” Nari asked the Hebrew.

“I am called Jochebed, wife of Amram and descendant of Levi, brother to Joseph, whom you called Zaphnath-paaneah.”

It was a strong answer, full of pride Nari thought. She replied, “A worthy ancestor, but we can speak of that later. I have been sent to engage a nurse for the son of Princess Asati, sister of Pharaoh. You must come with me to the villa for my mistress to decide.”

“When will I return?” Jochebed asked.

“I do not know. Will you come or not?” Nari said, stifling her irritation.

The two women stared at one another for several heartbeats. Then Jochebed bowed slightly and said, “Give me the child. I will feed him while we walk.”

Nari carefully handed Moses to the Hebrew woman. She reached into her garment and removed a small cloth roll that held sheets of papyrus and writing implements. She licked the stylus with her tongue and wet some of the dry ink with the tip. She turned to Miriam and wrote her out a payment. Spreading some of the ink on the head of her ring she sealed the document with the sign of the royal house.

“This is an order for two kihars of wheat,” Nari said, giving Miriam the papyrus. Present it to the granary officer and he will see that it is filled. You have done us a great service today, my child. We may meet again someday; until then, may your God always be with you.”

Leaving Miriam standing open-mouthed at the generosity, Nari turned and signaled to the two soldiers and Jochebed that it was time to set out for Memphis. As she replaced the writing container in her robe she noticed how peacefully the child nursed at the Hebrew’s breast. “You are so small child, but I sense you have set in motion great events. There are divine winds blowing across the sands of Egypt,” she thought as they left the quarters of the Hebrews behind.