Strange Women

Miriam and Aaron complain against Moses

Moses’ first marriage to Tharbis showed how a young daughter of a king was used to make a marriage alliance with the enemy. His second marriage illustrates something that might seem a bit off course but is necessary to understanding a crucial split in the budding Hebrew nation.

When Moses killed an Egyptian and fled the country, he made an alliance with a Midianite Priest. The priest gave Moses one of his daughters in a friendly pact and she had two sons before Moses went back to lead the Hebrew exodus out of Egypt because of a breakthrough spiritual encounter with YHWY. Moses became the original Law Giver with his Ten Commandments, but it wasn’t long before his brother Aaron was made the first High Priest by YHWY and the head of the Levite Priests who wrote the rest of the Laws in the five “Books of Moses” in the Old Testament/Torah. [1] At some point Moses brought his wife Zipporah and/or just her two grown sons into the Hebrew camp.

Unfortunately, by that time the priests had made new laws about marrying foreign woman and his sister Miriam and brother Aaron immediately called Moses on it.

And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman. (Numbers 12) [2]

Miriam [3] is named first in the challenge. She is also the first Mariamne/Mary in Josephus’ index and the namesake for all the others, but she was the loser when she confronted Moses. Moses remained as Yahweh’s only face to face spokesperson and Aaron remained the High Priest, though henceforth Yahweh would only speak to him in dreams and visions. It was Miriam the Prophetess, the woman of the triumvirate, rather typically, that was cast out, given leprosy, and died. (Exodus 2:21–22) No real pronouncement was made by Yahweh about the foreign wife of Moses, the cause of the conflict. You have to piece it together. 

Strange Women

The problem with Moses’s wives was that they were not of the Hebrew tribes. They were foreign or “strange” women. The Priests were trying to create a Utopian nation with genealogies that proved each Hebrew male came on the exodus out of Egypt. The priests kept the genealogies on file and positions of importance were handed out accordingly. Hebrew women also had genealogies to differentiate them from strange women. Why were strange women such an issue? Because of another age-old Middle Eastern custom that said that soldiers were entitled to booty or “prey.”

 Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two?…Judges 5:30

The priests could rail against the practice and made rules regulating it that they saw as being humane, but they could not outright forbid it. (Deuteronomy 21:10-13) For all those long years of warfare in Canaan, soldiers and commanders were desperately needed for the priest’s own protection and for any hope of establishing an Israeli homeland…but strange girls and women were a great threat because even as the lowest of the low, captive women, they brought their idols with them into the Hebrew camps and would not give them up. The real evil was that the women often “turned their husbands aside” from worshiping only YHWH.

And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served him not. Judges 10:6

The Priest’s Win the Day

Moses’ may have won the round on who Yahweh would speak to…and probably said that YHWH had given him his wives. And while he was alive Moses’ sons stayed in camp and were part of the administration, but when Moses died the priests would not let Moses’ eldest son inherit his father’s role because of his “strange” mother. Nor was it only Moses…a later commander had the same problem.

…Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they (the priests) thrust out (his son) Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. Judges 11:2

A 3000-year war was begun between the priests and the commanders/kings/warriors of the nation because of their strange women…and their strange gods who were a curse and a challenge to the priest’s establishing YHWH as the one and only god.

Rachel as a Strange Syrian Woman

And the angel of God spake unto me in a dream, saying, Jacob; And I said, here am I. And he said, Lift up now thine eyes…I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointest the pillar, and where thou vowest a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.

And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto (Jacob), Is there yet an portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house (Laban the Syrian) Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money….

Then Jacob rose up and set his sons and his wives upon camels; and he carried away all his cattle and all his goods…and passed over the river and set his face toward the mount Gilead…And it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob was fled… (Laban discovered that his images of his god were missing not knowing that Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s.) So he took his brethren with him and pursued after him seven days’ journey; and they overtook him in the mount Gilead…And Laban said to Jacob, What hast thou done, that thou hast stolen away unawares to me, and carried away my daughters as captives…yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?

And Jacob answered and said to Laban: With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live…for Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.

And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent and entered into Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent but found them not. And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee, for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched but found not the images. Story in Genesis 31

Men hate when you do that…


[1] The fact that the Torah contains different authors intermixed with different versions of the same story side by side has long been known. In fact, scholars label entries they feel the priests wrote as “P.”   Wikipedia, Priestly Sources…”The Priestly work is concerned with priestly matters – ritual law, the origins of shrines and rituals, and genealogies – all expressed in a formal, repetitive style. It stresses the rules and rituals of worship, and the crucial role of priests, expanding considerably on the role given to Aaron (all Levites are priests, but according to P only the descendants of Aaron were to be allowed to officiate in the inner sanctuary).

[2] This is where confusion sets when different versions of a story get mixed up…the Ethiopian woman is Tharbis but the rule also applied to Zipporah daughter of the Midianite priest. (Numbers 12:1-16)

[3] Love to say more about Miriam… but her story is beloved of Torah readers and feminists alike…Remember, she saved baby Moses by setting him afloat in the Nile and the daughter of Pharaoh rescued him. She led the women in a song of victory and was called a Prophetess.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.