Pharoah's daughter (Hebrew: בַּת־פַּרְעֹה, lit. daughter of Pharaoh) is a central, albeit minor, figure in Abrahamic religions, first appearing in the Book of Exodus. Though some variations of her story exist, the general consensus among Jews, Christians, and Muslims is that she is Asiya, the Queen of the Pharaoh and the adoptive mother of the prophet Moses, who saved him from certain death from both the Nile river in the Finding of Moses, and at the hands of Pharaoh, who had decreed all newborn male Hebrews be put to death. As she ensured the well-being of Moses, she played an essential role in lifting the Hebrew slaves out of bondage in Egypt, their journey to the Promised Land, and the establishment of the Ten Commandments.
The Book of Exodus (Exodus 5:2) does not give a name to Pharaoh's daughter, or to her father; she is referred to in Hebrew as simply the Bat-Paroh (Hebrew: בת־פרעה), a Hebrew phrase that literally translates to "daughter of Pharoah." The Book of Jubilees (Jubilees 47:5) and Josephus both name her as Thermouthis (Greek: Θερμουθις), also transliterated as Tharmuth and Thermutis, the Greek name of Renenutet, the Egyptian snake deity. Meanwhile, Leviticus Rabbah (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3) and the Books of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 4:18) refer to her as Bat-Yah (Hebrew: בתיה, lit. daughter of Yahweh), also transliterated as Bityah and Bithiah, and it is written that she is given the name for her adoption of Moses, that because she had made Moses her son, Yahweh would make her his daughter. Also in the Books of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 4:18), she is called ha-yehudiyyah (Hebrew: הַיְהֻדִיָּ֗ה, lit. the female Jew), which some English translations of the Bible treat as a given name, Jehudijah(Hebrew: יהודיה, romanized: yehudiyyah, lit. 'Jewess'), notably the King James Version, but the word is actually an appelative, there to indicate that Pharaoh's daughter was no longer a pagan. In Christianity, she is also named as Merris and Merrhoe, and in Islam, she is named Asiya (Arabic: آسيا), Asiyah (Arabic: آسية), and Asiya bint Muzahim (Arabic: آسيا بنت مزاحم).
In the Judeo-Christian narrative, Pharaoh's daughter first appears in the Book of Exodus, in Exodus 2:5-10. The passage describes her discovery of the Hebrew child, Moses, in the rushes of the Nile River and her willful defiance of her father's orders that all male Hebrew children be slain, instead taking the child, whom she knows to be Hebrew, and raising him as her own son. The Talmud and the Midrash Vayosha provide some additional backstory to the event, saying that she had visited the Nile that morning not to bathe for the purpose of hygiene but for ritual purification, treating the river as if it were a mikveh, as she had grown tired of people's idolatrous ways, and that she first sought to nurse Moses herself but he would not take her milk and so, she called for a Hebrew wet nurse, who so happened to be Moses' biological mother, Jochebed.Rabbinic literature offers a significantly different take on the events that day, portraying Pharaoh's daughter as having suffered from a skin disease, the pain of which only the cold waters of the Nile could relieve, and that these lesions healed when she found Moses. It also describes an encounter with the archangel Gabriel, who kills two of her handmaidens for trying to dissuade her from rescuing Moses. After Moses is weaned, Pharaoh's daughter gives him his name, purportedly taken from the word māšāh (Hebrew: מָשָׁה, lit. 'to draw'), because she drew him from the water. In her later years, Pharaoh's daughter devotes herself to Moses, and to Yahweh; she celebrates the first Passover Seder with Moses in the slaves' quarters and for that, her firstborn is the only Egyptian to survive the final of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and leaves Egypt with him for the Promised Land. In the Books of Chronicles, (1 Chronicles 4:18), she is said to have married a member of the Tribe of Judah, Mered, and to have had children with him, and she is referred to as a Jewess, indicating that she had accepted Yahweh as her own god. Furthermore, the Jewish rabbis claim that, in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 31:15), she is praised in Woman of Valor. Further, the midrash teaches that because of her devotion to Yahweh and her adoption of Moses, she was one of those who entered heaven alive.
Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying. She took pity on him and said, "This is one of the Hebrews' children." Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go." So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, "Because I drew him out of the water."
— RSV, Exodus 2:5-10
Asiya and her servants find baby Moses in the Nile. (From the Persian Jami' al-tawarikh).
In contrast to her story as portrayed in Judaism and Christianity, in Islam, in both the Hadith and the Quran, Pharaoh's daughter, named Asiya, is, in fact, Pharaoh's wife. Also, she does not draw Moses from the Nile, her servants do, and Pharaoh, having learned of the boy's existence, seeks to kill him but Asiya intervenes and Pharaoh changes his mind, allowing the boy to live. Mirroring the Judeo-Christian story, Jochebed is called to Pharaoh's palace to act as a wet nurse for him but then, her story, as told by Islam, deviates from the Judeo-Christian version once more, with Asiya being tortured to death at the hands of Pharaoh for professing a belief in the god of Moses.
Art and culture
In the 1956 English-language epic film, The Ten Commandments, Pharoah's daughter is referred to as Bithiah, and she is the daughter of Ramesses I, the founding pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt, and sister to his successor, Seti I. She is portrayed as a young widow, childless, who believes the baby Moses to be a gift to her from the Egyptian gods and is determined to raise him, despite her servant's assertions that the child is a Levite, not an Egyptian. This is in stark contrast to the Biblical telling of the story, as Bithiah had forsaken the gods of Egypt when she happened upon Moses and so, she would not have seen him as a gift from them. In the latter half of the film, Bithiah is shown to be a pious individual, though sympathetic to her fellow Egyptians, who suffer at Pharaoh's stubbornness. She leaves the luxury and safety of her palatial home to reunite with Moses, in the slaves' quarters of the city, and celebrates with him the first Passover Seder. She then accompanies the Israelites to Canaan and, in Moses' absence, is one of the few who refuse to participate in the worship of the Golden calf. She is portrayed by Nina Foch.
In the 1998 English-language animated film, The Prince of Egypt, Pharoah's daughter is depicted as Queen Tuya, a fictionalized version of Tuya, the queen consort of Seti I, the second pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. The reason for this change is likely because at the time of production, Ramesses II, also Ramesses the Great, her son with Seti I, was still a popular candidate among theologians for the historical counterpart of the pharaoh mentioned in the Book of Exodus as having caused the Plagues of Egypt for his refusal to liberate the Hebrews from bondage. Additionally, Pharaoh's daughter, in this film, is portrayed as the wife of Pharaoh, rather than his daughter, and is never shown to renounce her idolatrous beliefs or reunite with Moses following his return from Midian, both central parts to her character within Judaism and Christianity. The character is voiced by Helen Mirren, with her singing voice provided by Linda Dee Shayne.
The Moses Chronicles, a novel-trilogy by H. B. Moore, includes Pharaoh's daughter as a character named Bithiah. Parts of the story is written from her perspective.