Tharbis wife of Moses

“The Second Book of Moses, called Exodus” tells the story of how baby Moses was put into a rush basket and set loose into the Nile River by his sister Miriam to save him from Pharoah’s edict ordering all Hebrew baby boy’s slain. Moses was rescued by Pharoah’s own daughter who raised him as a Prince of Egypt.

Before there was an actual nation of Israel, before the Hebrew tribes even reached Canaan to create their state, even before there were actually Hebrew kings or queens in Israel, Moses, the designated spokesperson for the Hebrew’s new God, YHWH, and “commander” of the escape from Egypt, ran into trouble over his wives. I will discuss why in my next post but the story of how Moses got his first wife sets the stage for the role played by queens, princesses and the daughters of kings throughout the entire span of the nation of Israel…

It was the custom in ancient Middle Eastern nations to settle disputes between two warring factions by the commander/king of one side marrying the daughter of the king/commander of the other side. Flavius Josephus included in his histories of the Jews several examples of how the marriage alliances worked. In the Old Testament/Torah, Moses got the Hebrews released from slavery in Egypt. But according to a story Josephus’ tells, before Moses “set the people free” he was a military commander for the Egyptians. Exactly where Josephus got the story, I don’t know. He had access to documents and lore that does not appear in the Old Testament or Torah.  While Josephus does sometimes name his source, he was writing many centuries before “footnotes.” In this story Moses was leading Egypt’s war against the Ethiopians and was about to lay siege to their royal city, Saba, when a lucky “accident” happened:

Tharbis was the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians[1]: she happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls and fought with great courage…and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians’ success, she fell deeply in love with him, and…sent to him the most faithful of all her servants to discourse with him about their marriage. He thereupon accepted the offer, on condition she would procure the delivering up of the city; and gave her the assurance of an oath to take her as his wife; and that when he had once taken possession of the city, he would not break his oath to her. No sooner was the agreement made, but it took effect immediately; and when Moses had cut off the Ethiopians, he gave thanks to God, and consummated his marriage, and led the Egyptians back to their own land.  Antiquities of the Jews II.X.2

The Role of the Daughter of a King

Josephus loves to go on about how “love” had something to do with it…but look at what actually happened here. The Ethiopian king is about to be besieged, his city destroyed, his people killed and enslaved by the Egyptian army led by Moses. He offers his daughter in marriage—as a glorified hostage—to the Egyptian commander to seal his promise that he will deliver up the city if Moses will back off and not destroy it.

This is a classic example of the ancient role played by daughters of kings. She surrenders her body to the negotiations. She is expected to have a child by her enemy, preferably a son who will be an heir in their new combined “House.” This is the moment she was born for. She knows her rights and will demand them. If she complains to her father and he demands her back, the treaty is broken. As the commander, it was Moses’ duty to “give” the daughter of his enemy an heir. Announcing that the contract was “consummated” probably meant that the daughter was, hopefully at least twelve years old…at the age of puberty.

That is the age-old pattern for daughters of kings…


[1] Google Tharbis. There is a whole world of information and speculation about her including that she had a son by Moses who started a dynasty that 500 or so years later produced the Queen of Sheba/Saba who visited Solomon son of David and also appears in the New Testament. I Kings 10, Matthew 12:42, Luke 11:31, Acts 8:27

6 thoughts on “Tharbis wife of Moses

    1. Thanks, Robert. Am looking for ways to be more active with this information…any suggestions. I have a book that I self published and it didn’t turn out too well…so am going to revise it…Cleta


    1. When I researched Tharbis before using this story in Josephus, I was amazed at how much there was about her. Her post is the one most looked at internationally. Thanks for you comment.


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