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Moses’s Slow Speech: Hybrid Identity, Language Acquisition, and the Meaning of Exodus 4:10

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author:
Kristine Henriksen Garroway Visiting Assistant Professor, Bible, Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, CA90007, USA, kgarroway@huc.edu

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Abstract

In changing our focus to examine the children and the childhoods of the characters in the Bible we can gain new insights into the biblical text. This essay applies childist interpretation to a question that has long puzzled scholars: What did Moses mean when he said: “I am heavy (כבד) of speech and heavy (כבד) of tongue” (Exod 4:10). Scholars have suggested it meant Moses had a speech impediment or that he lost his ability to speak Egyptian eloquently during his years in Midian. I suggest, however, that these previous answers have overlooked a crucial stage in Moses’ development: his childhood. Moses’ unique childhood and transition from Hebrew slave child to adopted Egyptian prince creates within him a hybrid identity. His hybrid identity, in turn, manifested itself in Hebrew language attrition, which causes him to protest that he is “heavy of speech and tongue.”

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