Ethnicity, Exogamy, and Zipporah

Karen Strand Winslow


In contrast to the book of Ezra, whose protagonists demand that Jews expel “foreign” wives, the story of the Midianite Zipporah, Moses’ wife, affirms that foreign women are beneficial to Israel. Zipporah’s circumcision of her son in Exodus 4 is the climax of a pattern in which females thwart attacks on endangered males. Later, Zipporah’s father confessed faith in Moses’ God and ate a meal with Israel in the presence of God. Zipporah and her father represent a household that originated outside of Israel’s ideological boundaries, but became positively allied to Israel through marriage, circumcision, confession, and sacrifice. This and similar stories suggest that, among those who selected and shaped the narratives of the Tanakh, there was considerable and persuasive dissent from what has often been assumed to be the dominant position in Second Temple Judaism.

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