[b-hebrew] Zipporah the Cushite

jimstinehart at aol.com jimstinehart at aol.com
Sat Mar 16 20:52:58 EDT 2013

Yohanan bin-Dawidh wrote:  “[L]et us discuss the term"Kushiyt".  A lot of peoplethink this term means that Mosheh's wife was "black", but this is anoutdated thought, which really never had any backing from the Torah.  The term "Kushiyt" would refer toanyone who was a descendant of Kush, to which even Nim'rod the ruler of Babelwas.  Historically the list of Kush'sdescendants refers to peoples living in what we refer to as Turkey and Indiatoday, not peoples in Africa.  I thinkthe issue of her being "Kushiyt" had nothing to do with her being"black", but with her being of a different culture than them.  Mosheh was being chastised for marrying anon-Yisraeli woman, and that chastisement was not welcomed by the Deity.”

Joseph Roberts had written that Onkelosrenders the word in question here as “fair woman”, and asked:  “If we ignore religious notions and dogma, linguisticallydoes his interpretation have standing?”

Hereis my linguistic analysis of this longstanding issue.

Either Moses’ wifeZipporah, or an otherwise unknown wife of Moses, is twice called K%YT or K$YTat Numbers 12: 1.  The yod/Y is astandard ending meaning “people”, and the final tav/T is a feminineending.  So the key letters are K% [orK$] as to what this wife of Moses is being called.

A male Cushite is oftenreferred to in the Bible as KW$Y, for example at II Samuel 18: 21.  Where the yod/Y again is a standard endingmeaning “people”, the key letters are KW$. Note the difference between KW$, being a Cushite, as opposed to whatMoses’ wife is called:  K% or K$, with nointerior vav/W.

In the Patriarchal Age, theKassites ruled southern Mesopotamia, so the logical understanding of K%DYM orK$DYM at Genesis 11: 28, 31 and 15: 7 is as a reference to the land of theKassites, where the key letters are K% or K$, with no interior vav/W.

We know that Cushites in Africapracticed circumcision, so it would not make sense for Zipporah to be a Cushitefrom Africa, since she famously opposed circumcision for her first son byMoses.  The Kassites, by stark contrast,are thought to have never practiced circumcision.  So if Zipporah were from MDYN/Mitanni innorthern Mesopotamia, she might disparagingly be referred to as having the “Kassite”/K%Yview of disapproving of circumcision.  Eventhough Zipporah is not literally a Kassite, she is from Mesopotamia, if MDYNrefers to Mitanni in eastern Syria.

Numbers 12: 1 can then belogically viewed as Moses’ sister reaming out Moses’ [only] wife Zipporah forhaving gotten Moses into trouble with YHWH by following the Kassite/K%Ypractice of opposing circumcision.  Bycontrast, if either (i) Zipporah is a Cushite, being from a place thatroutinely practiced circumcision [though then inexplicably being from a place that is far fromwhere MDYN has ever been placed], or (ii) Miriam is referring to another wife of Moses who isotherwise unknown, it is hard to make sense of this story at Numbers 12.

I see Miriam as reaming outZipporah for having followed the Kassite/K%Y practice of opposing circumcision.  Linguistically, I see K% [or K$] as being differentfrom KW$.  The former, K%, means “Kassite”;  the latter, KW$, means “Cushite”.  In my opinion, Moses never married a Cushitewoman, and Numbers 12: 1 is not referring to a Cushite wife of Moses.  Rather, Numbers 12: 1 is referring toZipporah by calling her a “Kassite”/K%YT for having jeopardized Moses’ life byinitially following the Kassite practice of opposing circumcision.

Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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