Monday, June 04, 2007

Moshe's Black Wife

Come let us learn together:

Tharbis was the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians: she happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls, and fought with great courage; and admiring the subtility of his undertakings, and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians' success, when they had before despaired of recovering their liberty, and to be the occasion of the great danger the Ethiopians were in, when they had before boasted of their great achievements, she fell deeply in love with him; and upon the prevalency of that passion, 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 to 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.

This is Josephus, in Antiquities 2:10 attempting to explain how Moshe came to have a Cushite wife. Maybe. In fact, we don't know what J was attempting to do with this story . Did he make it up for political or theological reasons? Was it something he heard on the street, or learned in school? Was it a legend in good standing accepted by all Jews of his time and place? No idea.

Also, I don't know if this snippet has a parallel in Rabbinic literature. (It does have a parallel in the Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston. At the beginning of the film, buff Moses returns from an Ethiopian campaign with slaves and treasure for the Pharaoh. No black wife, however. This scene is not of significance to 21st century bible scholars. The fools. I suspect the error of their indifference will be corrected 4 or 500 years hence, when some ambitious doctoral candidate will take note of the parallel and attempt to weave it into a dissertation.)

What matters is this: At the very least, Mister Josephus seemed okay with the idea that our teacher Moshe married a black woman, in addition to the lithe and lovely Tziporah.

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