Moshe's Birth and the Legend of Sargon

Introduction

Numerous legends from both the ancient and classical periods share the motif of a hero being abandoned at birth,1 and some of them recall the story of Moshe's infancy in Shemot 2.  Of these, the closest parallel is probably the Mesopotamian legend recounting the birth of Sargon, founder of Akkad.2  It tells how Sargon's mother bore him in secret, placed him in a basket, and cast him into a river.  There he was found by Akki who raised him and appointed him as his gardener until subsequently Sargon ascended to the throne.  A comparison of the Moshe and Sargon tales serves to highlight both the unique aspects of the Biblical story and some of the difficulties in the narrative.

Content Parallels and Contrasts

The overall plot of both stories is very similar.  A mother places her a baby in a basket and sets it on the river.  A stranger then discovers the baby, draws him from the water and adopts him, and the child grows up to become a heroic figure.  The table below provides more specific similarities as well as distinctions between the stories:

 

Parallels Contrasts
Parents Moshe's mother is from the Levite tribe, and Sargon's mother is a priestess.3 In both stories, the father does not play an active role. While Sargon's father remains unknown, Moshe's father is identified. Moreover, while Sargon loses contact with his mother, Moshe's mother continues to nurse him.
Baby Left in River

Moshe and Sargon are both placed in a basket by their mothers, covered in bitumen, and hidden by a river.

Sargon's mother "cast" him into the "river", suggesting abandonment.  In contrast, Moshe is "placed" in the "reeds", with his sister standing guard.
Background for Abandonment Yocheved's actions are prompted by Paroh's decree to kill all male babies.  No reason is given for Sargon's mother's actions.4
Salvation  Moshe is drawn from the water and adopted by Paroh's daughter, and Sargon is adopted by Akki, "the drawer of water". Moshe is saved by a member of the nobility, while Sargon is saved by a commoner. This enables Moshe, born a slave, to move up in status, while Sargon, born to a higher class, moves down.
Unknown Identity Both Sargon and Moshe's full identity are unknown to their saviors. Moshe's Israelite origins are immediately apparent to Paroh's daughter.
Naming Moshe is named by the daughter of Paroh, and his name reflects her drawing him forth from the water.  Sargon's name means "the legitimate king" which might suggest that it was an epithet he gave to himself.5
Interim Profession Before assuming leadership roles, both engage in more common professions. Moshe is a shepherd, while Sargon is a gardener.
Rise to Power Both are commissioned by a deity to become leaders of their respective peoples.

Analysis

As is often the case, it is the contrasts between the two stories which are the most revealing:

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