Early Jewish and Christian Memories of Moses’ Wives: Exogamist Marriage and Ethnic Identity
|Author: ||Winslow, Karen Strand|
This book “frames” the appearances of Moses’ wives in Israel’s story and in the interpretive literature of Jews and Christians. Their responses to the account of Zipporah and the Cushite in the Scriptures reveal their views on circumcision, exogamy, monogamy, and even chastity, for an exegetical motif emerged that Moses “withdrew” from his wife after he became a prophet for God.
Zipporah enters the script of Exodus as Moses’ wife, a foreign woman who performed the ritual that marked male Jews as God’s covenant partners and members of God’s people. Zipporah is one of three named circumcisers in the Jewish Scriptures, joining Abraham and Joshua. By circumcising her son, she made a way for the deliverance of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. Like Abraham, she took a knife to her son, not to slay him, but to save his – or his or his father’s – life. The Torah also mentions Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman – another outsider, which the priestly and prophetic leadership of Israel – Miriam and Aaron – disparaged, but which the LORD affirmed. Like other outsiders in the Bible, Moses’ foreign wives are featured and celebrated to combat trends toward separatism and exclusivism that emerged among post-exilic Jews.
However, the early interpreters of the Scriptures were not concerned with the social dynamics of Persian period Yehud or the tensions between Second Temple scribes and redactors. Early Jews and Christian sages had their own agendas for Zipporah and the Cushite and used their stories to influence their constituencies regarding marriage, procreation and sexual renunciation, as well as circumcision and baptism. Thus, this project traces the exegetical trajectories of Jews and Christians along these lines.
“Several obscurities in the biblical passages mentioning a wife of Moses have long intrigued scholars. Although the possible significance of this and other odd passages have received some attention in modern research, Dr. Winslow is the first to have attempted a full-scale analysis of these texts within the larger context of the early history of extra-biblical traditions about Moses’ marital partner(s). Her study represents a quite ambitious and significant piece of research. Dr. Winslow has set out to explore ancient Jewish and Christian traditions about Moses' wife/wives as a prism for tracing evolution and differentiation of positions on certain important cultural issues, such as attitudes towards exogamous marriage in Second Temple and Late Antique Judaism; ethnic identity; and positions on marriage vis-à-vis celibacy in ancient Jewish and Christian writers ... curiosities surrounding biblical references to Moses’ wife/wives left unique openings for later speculation and debate about Moses having taken up celibacy ... A reading of this book makes one realize how overdue has been such an extended examination of these traditions, and the results of her investigation will be a stimulus to further research on this intriguing topic.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Michael A. Williams, Professor of Comparative Religion and Chair, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, University of Washington
“ ... This work is a treasury of ancient interpretations ... For all who wish to discover the ancient interpretation of biblical stories, this work serves as a model. It is a storehouse of authors and sources where one may find an interpretation of a biblical story. A particularly valuable study is Dr. Winslow’s investigation into the handling of this account by early Roman interpreters. Throughout her study she shows the challenges this narrative brought to the various Jewish and Christian fathers and the multiple ways they responded to that challenge. Their responses provide insight into the theological outlook and ethical standards of the various communities represented by these interpreters.” – John Hartley, Professor of Biblical Studies, Haggard Graduate School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University
“ ... This is a significant contribution to studies that emphasize the complexity of biblical subject matter. In this case, the topic involves biblical understandings of marriage as they relate to ‘insider-outsider’ issues involving Israelite identity ... By rehearsing and evaluating early Jewish and Christian interpretations of this story, the author demonstrates the intricate nuances of biblical marriage patterns ... This study has important implications not only for the dynamism of the biblical text but also the manner in which such texts were appropriated or suppressed in communities that saw them as reflective to their most deeply held religious and social convictions.” – Frank Anthony Spina, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology, Seattle Pacific University
Table of Contents
Preface by Dr. Michael A. Williams
1. Zipporah in Exodus and the Midianites in Numbers
2. Moses’ Cushite Wife
3. Jewish Memories of Moses’ Wives in the Greek Torah
4. Jewish Memories of Moses’ Wives in the Greek Period
5. Jewish Memories of Zipporah in the Roman Period
6. Moses Withdrew from his Wife: Roman period Jews
7. The Early Christians Remember Zipporah
8. The Early Christians Remember the Circumcision by Zipporah