Re: [b-hebrew] "stones" in Exodus 1:16

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Wed Jul 30 15:58:08 EDT 2003

It seems to me that the use of "stones" to refer to a body part here would
not fit the context of the moment of birth. Note that the form is dual, "a
pair of stones," probably referring to the two bricks on which a woman in
labor was crouching at the moment of parturition. The midwife would be
facing her, and have access to the location from which the child would
emerge. Think of a modern obstetrical arrangement, which uses a "pair" of
stirrups into which the mother's feet fit, allowing the attending physician
similar physical access.
Rashi defines the 'ovnayim as moshav ha-'ishah ha-yoledet ["the chair of the
woman giving birth"], and refers to Isaiah 37.3 where he believes a birthing
stool is termed a mashber. However, mashber may be better rendered by
"breach" [from the root $-B-R], or the opening of the womb.
Note that in Exodus 1.16, the woman is "upon the pair of stones," while in
Isaiah 37.3, it is children that have traveled (ad ha-mashber,     "as far
as the womb." In either case, I don't think 'ovnayim here has any
connotation of a body part.
Charles David Isbell

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