This painting, by the Dutch-British artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (c. 1836–1912), envisions a scene from the early life of Moses—the famous Hebrew prophet and leader who is featured in the Book of Exodus. As the story goes, Moses was born at a time when the pharaoh of Egypt was ordering all male Hebrew newborn children in his realm to be put to death. Instead of following this order, Moses’ family opted to leave the child by the bank of the Nile, releasing him into the care of fate and nature. What reportedly happened next was told in the Book of Exodus:
“But when she [Moses’ mother] could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him… and he became her son” (Exodus 2: 3-10, NIV translation).
Such is the scene that Lawrence Alma-Tadema depicted in his painting. It shows the moment just after the basket was retrieved from the riverbank, with the pharaoh’s daughter looking on over the abandoned infant. According to tradition, Moses would go on to be raised and educated in Egyptian high society. Yet, he would eventually return to his roots, becoming one of the most influential prophets and leaders of the Hebrew people.
Written by C. Keith Hansley