In this week’s parsha, God delivers the Israelites to safety by first splitting the sea and then returning the waters onto the pursuing Egyptians. Moses and Israel sing in praise of God, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea…” Moses’ sister Miriam took a tambourine and led the women in song, “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” Miriam is a Hebrew heroine, but her name is Egyptian.
Power in ancient Egypt vacillated between centralized power and regionalized control. Kingdoms ruled over both southern Upper Egypt and northern Lower Egypt for stretches of time. When centralized power could not hold, different dynasties ruled parts of Egypt in what are referred to as Intermediate Periods. When the Egyptian Middle Kingdom collapsed, the Second Intermediate Period followed. When a ruler was again able to establish centralized control over all of Egypt, the New Kingdom emerged.
The rulers of the New Kingdom came from the city of Thebes in Upper Egypt. Reflecting the new center of power, a local god of Thebes called Amun was elevated in prominence. The god Ra was a highly significant god in the Egyptian pantheon, and the god Amun was merged with Ra to form the new most important god in the Egyptian pantheon, Amun-Ra.
Egyptian kings were given more than one name. During the New Kingdom, pharaohs were given five names, each of which contained multiple names. Ramesses II was a New Kingdom pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Some of Ramesses II’s names translated to ‘The strong bull, beloved of Ra,’ ‘Protector of Egypt who curbs foreign lands’ and ‘Rich in years, great in victories.’ Ramesses II’s Birth Name in Egyptian was ‘Ramessu mery Amun’. The word ‘mery’ in Egyptian has its root in the word ‘mr,’ meaning ‘love.’ Mery translates to ‘beloved of.’ Mery with Amun means beloved of Amun. Moses’ sister Miriam thus has a derivation of this name: Mery-Am(un).
The Torah does not mention the personal name of the pharaoh of the exodus, which makes figuring out who he was guesswork. The Merneptah Stele, which records the battles of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah contains the first certain mention of a group called Israel in the land that is today Israel. Ramesses II was one of Egypt’s longest reigning kings and he proceeded Merneptah. For this reason, some scholars place the exodus during the reign of Ramesses II.
In 1979, Kramer vs. Kramer won the Oscar for Best Picture. In 1997, the Wildcats defeated the Wildcats to win the NCAA basketball championship. And if Ramesses II were in fact the pharaoh of the exodus, then both the Egyptian pharaoh of the splitting of the sea and the central female character in the story of the splitting of the sea have the same name, Mery-Am(un).
Given Ramesses II’s long and successful reign, there are many statues and monuments of Ramesses II in museums outside and inside Egypt. The Brooklyn Museum has a Funerary Figurine of Ramesses II on display on the 3rd floor, accession number 08.480.5.