Moses’ Cushite Wife


Yesterday I had a flash of bright light in considering if Moses’ wife – was from India.


Tharbis – Wikipedia

Ethiopia–India relations – Wikipedia

Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire: Chapter XV. The Civilization of India (

Even the name Hindu is Ethiopian. Ancient records of authority made Hind and Sind sons of Cush. Philostratus. in Vit. Apollon (Lib. II), says, “The Indi are the wisest of mankind. The Ethiopians are a colony of them, and they inherit the wisdom of their fathers.” The separation of India from the parent Cushite stock was in ages long before the rise of the so-called Aryans in India. The older Greeks always associated the sacred waves of the Indian Sea with the wonderful Ethiopians. Ephorus stated that they occupied all the southern coasts of Asia and Africa. As in Chaldea they brought to the aboriginal tribes of India the knowledge of metals to take the place of stone implements, they brought the knowledge of the arts. Their funeral remains all over India reveal the stone circles and upright massive menhirs of North Africa. They understood in those far distant ages how to make hard earthenware, iron weapons and ornaments of gold. Today in a state of degenerated art, Sind is the only province where the potters craft is artistic. Before Megathenes, a Greek ambassador to the court of the non-Aryan Chandra Gupta, about 300 B. C., the Greeks mentioned as Indi only the Cushites of the areas between the Hindu Kush and Persia.

The name India means black, and Condor thinks that it was employed only to designate the home of the Asiatic Ethiopians. Let us look for a brief space at the land. India has often been described

According to Num 12 Moses’ marriage (lit. “taking” l–q–ḥ) of a Cushite woman is the cause (ʿal-ʾōdôt) for Miriam and Aaron to speak against (dibbēr bĕ) their brother and question whether YHWH speaks exclusively through (dibbēr bĕ) him. (On the different meanings of dibbēr bĕ see Levine: 328–29). YHWH responds “suddenly” (pitʾom), summoning Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tent of meeting, where he descends in a pillar of cloud and summons Aaron and Miriam to step forward. He then affirms to them that he speaks “mouth to mouth” with Moses, in contrast to visions and dreams used for (other) prophets, and he angrily rebukes them for daring to speak against Moses. The encounter leaves Miriam with a skin disorder that renders her “white as snow.” At Aaron’s behest Moses intercedes for Miriam, and the disorder lasts only seven days, during which time she is shut out of the camp.

The story evokes multiple questions: What is meant by the designation “Cushite”? Is this woman to be identified with Zipporah, who is named as Moses’ wife in Exod 2:21; 4:25; 18:2? If not, had Zipporah died previously or was Moses a bigamist? Why would the marriage cause Miriam and Aaron to question Moses’ leadership? Why was Miriam alone punished and why was she afflicted with a temporary skin disorder? Above all, what was the point or purpose of this story? While these questions remain open, the following responses are ventured as reasonable ways of answering them that have emerged in scholarly discussion.

The story is composite (Römer). In one tradition, Miriam was the sole complainant, as indicated by the feminine singular verb form in v. 1 (wattĕdabbēr, “she spoke”) and by the punishment upon Miriam alone (v. 10). The exact reason behind Miriam’s complaint is no longer clear, but it seems to be personal. According to some authors it is impossible to isolate this tradition from the rest of the present narrative (Coats: 261; Noth: 92–93), which changes it into a story about a challenge to Moses’ leadership. One may however observe that the story combines a question about Moses’ status in comparison to the prophets and a question about “mixed” marriages. As the story stands, Miriam is still the leading complainant; her name precedes Aaron’s in 12:1, though elsewhere Aaron’s comes first (12:4–5). As a woman, Miriam has more in common with Moses’ wife and can be read as the one from whom greater empathy should have been forthcoming.

Cush is the name in the HB/OT for Nubia, the area south of Egypt (Jer 13:23; 2 Chr 12:3). The LXX translates it as Αἰθίοψ (“Ethiopian,” so also KJV). If she was from Nubia, this woman would have been black, “rendering the whitened skin of Miriam a singularly fit punishment for her objections to the Cushite wife” (Cross: 204). She would also have been a different person than Zipporah, who was from Midian in northern Arabia. In this case, the Cushite was Moses’ second wife, whether after Zipporah or simultaneously is not clear.

However, Cush was also a designation for part of Midian (Albright: 205, n. 49). In Hab 3:7 Cushan, a biform, occurs in parallel with Midian. According to 2 Chr 21:16, the Cushites are located next to the Arabs. Hence, the Cushite wife might still have been Zipporah. The story about the Cushite may once have been connected with that of Zipporah being brought by her father from Midian to join Moses in Exod 18:5–6, as the two texts are separated by the collection of legal material set at Sinai that dominates Exod 19–Num 10 and that might have intervened in the development of the literature (Wright: 203–4). Perhaps Num 12 avoids Zipporah’s name because of its stress on her non-Israelite ethnicity, which is the concern of Miriam’s and Aaron’s complaint about Moses’ fitness for leadership. A woman from Midian, though not Nubian, would have been dark-skinned, so that Miriam’s punishment of being made “white as snow” remains appropriate. The translation “leprous” in some English versions for the skin disorder (mĕṣoraʿat) is misleading, since whiteness is not a symptom of the disease known today as leprosy (Hansen’s disease).

The story’s present purpose is related to its inclusion of Aaron. It affirms Moses’ leadership and seems to promote Moses’ line of Levitical priesthood over that of Aaron, perhaps against claims that the Mushite line was compromised by non-Israelite blood (Cross: 204). YHWH’s declaration that he speaks mouth to mouth to Moses also contrasts with the means used to communicate with prophets, although it no doubt came to be interpreted to mean that Moses was the preeminent prophet, along the lines espoused by Deut 34:10.


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Tharbis as depicted in The Ten Commandments (1956)
BornKingdom of Kush

Tharbis (alternatively Adoniah[1][2]), according to Josephus, was a Cushite princess of the Kingdom of Kush, who married Moses prior to his marriage to Zipporah as told in the Book of Exodus.[3]


Alleged family[edit]

In Josephus’ account, Tharbis was the daughter of an unnamed king of “Saba” (which he claims was in Ethiopia, not Yemen) who lived before the Exodus. In the medieval rabbinic version found in the Sefer HaYashar, she is instead the king’s wife, not his daughter, and the king is named Kikianus.[1]

According to Josephus[edit]

According to the first-century Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus, in Moses’ early adult life, he had led the Egyptians in a campaign against invading Ethiopians and defeated them. While Moses was besieging the city of Meroe, Tharbis watched him lead the Egyptian army from within the city walls, and fell in love with him. He agreed to marry her if she would procure the deliverance of the city into his power. She did so immediately and Moses promptly married her.[4] The account of this expedition is also mentioned by Irenaeus.[5]

After the war, when Moses sought to return to Egypt – Tharbis is said to have resisted and insisted that he remain in Ethiopia as her husband. He then, being “most skilful in astronomy“, cast two rings; one which caused the wearer to become forgetful, and the other to cause the wearer to remember all. He gave the first ring to Tharbis, and wore the second himself, and waited for her oblivious nature to lose interest in retaining him as a husband – and when she had forgotten her love for him, he returned to Egypt alone.[6] Some have suggested this period may have started when Moses was 27, and that he remained with Tharbis for forty years;[7] although this number contradicts the traditional sources which suggest that Moses killed an Egyptian overseer when he was approximately 40 years old himself.[8][9][10]


Miriam and Aaron complain against Moses, engraving from 1908

Some have suggested that this story is an invention, arising from the “enigmatic” verse in Numbers 12:1 that states “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married”.[11] Miriam is punished for her rebuke of her brother by being afflicted with leprosy.[12] Moses is depicted with an Ethiopian wife in a 17th-century painting by Jordaens.

It is also suggested that Artapanus of Alexandria may have concocted the story “to impress his pagan audience” with “such a love story”.[13]

In fiction[edit]

In 1937, Amy Redpath Roddick published an 80-page “poetic drama” telling a fictionalised account of the life of Tharbis.[14][15]

Tharbis is portrayed in Cecil B. DeMille‘s 1956 biblical epic The Ten Commandments. In the film, she appears briefly and is not Moses’s wife.[16]

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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