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Detail of the Moses Leaving for Egypt, painted by Perugino, c. 1482, Zipporah is dressed in blue.
Known forWife of Moses
ChildrenGershom (son)
Eliezer (son)
RelativesSix sisters
Aaron (brother-in-law)
Miriam (sister-in-law)

Zipporah, or Tzipora (/ˈzɪpərə, zɪˈpɔːrə/; Hebrew: צִפּוֹרָה, Ṣīppōrā, "bird"),[a] is mentioned in the Book of Exodus as the wife of Moses, and the daughter of Reuel/Jethro, the priest and prince of Midian.[1]

She is the mother of Moses' two sons: Eliezer, and Gershom.

In the Book of Chronicles, two of her grandsons are mentioned: Shebuel, son of Gershom; and Rehabiah, son of Eliezer (1 Chronicles 23:16–17).

Biblical narrative[edit]

The Daughters of Jethro, Théophile Hamel, c. 1850


In the Book of Exodus, Zipporah was one of the seven daughters of Jethro, a Kenite shepherd who was a priest of Midian.[2] In Exodus 2:18, Jethro is also referred to as Reuel, and in the Book of Judges (Judges 4:11) as Hobab.[3] Hobab is also the name of Jethro's son in Numbers 10:29.

Moses marries Zipporah[edit]

While the Israelites/Hebrews were captives in Egypt, Moses killed an Egyptian who was striking a Hebrew, for which offense Pharaoh sought to kill Moses. Moses therefore fled from Egypt and arrived in Midian. One day while he sat by a well, Reuel's daughters came to water their father's flocks. Other shepherds arrived and drove the girls away, so that they could water their own flocks first. Moses defended the girls and watered their flocks. Upon their return home, their father asked them, "How is it that you have come home so early today?" The girls answered, "An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock." "Where is he then?", Reuel asked them. "Why did you leave the man? Invite him for supper to break bread." Reuel then gave Moses Zipporah as his wife (Exodus 2:11–21).

Incident at the inn[edit]

After God commanded Moses to return to Egypt to free the Israelites, Moses took his wife and sons and started his journey. On the road, they stayed at an inn, where God came to kill Moses. Zipporah quickly circumcised her son with a sharp stone and touched Moses' feet with the foreskin, saying "Surely you are a husband of blood to me!" God then left Moses alone (Exodus 4:24–26). The details of the passage are unclear and subject to debate.

The Exodus[edit]

Miriam and Aaron complain against Moses, illustration from The Bible and Its Story, Taught By One Thousand Picture Lessons (1908)

After Moses succeeded in leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and won a battle against Amalek, Reuel came to the Hebrew camp in the wilderness of Sinai, bringing with him Zipporah and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. The Bible does not say when Zipporah and her sons rejoined Reuel/Jethro, only that after he heard of what God did for the Israelites, he brought Moses' family to him. The most common translation is that Moses sent her away, but another grammatically permissible translation is that she sent things or persons, perhaps the announcement of the victory over Amalek.[4] The word that makes this difficult is shelucheiha, the sendings [away] of her (Ex. 18:2).[citation needed]

Numbers 12[edit]

Moses and his Ethiopian wife Zipporah (Mozes en zijn Ethiopische vrouw Sippora). Jacob Jordaens, c. 1650

Moses' wife is referred to as a "Cushite woman" in Numbers 12. Interpretations differ on whether this Cushite woman [he] was one and the same as Zipporah, or another woman, and whether he was married to them simultaneously, or successively.[5][6] In the story, Aaron and Miriam criticize Moses' marriage to a Cushite woman. This criticism displeases God, who punishes Miriam with tzaraath (often glossed as leprosy). Cushites were of the ancestry of either Kush (Nubia) in northeast Africa, or Arabians. The sons of Ham, mentioned within the Book of Genesis, have been identified with nations in Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya), the Levant (Canaan), and Arabia. The Midianites themselves were later depicted at times in non-Biblical sources as dark-skinned and called Kushim, a Hebrew word used for dark-skinned Africans.[7][8] One interpretation is that the wife is Zipporah, and that she was referred to as a Cushite though she was a Midianite, because of her beauty.[9]

The Samaritan Pentateuch text refers to Moses' wife Zipporah as "Kaashet" (which translates to "the beautiful woman"), rather than "Cushit" ("black woman" or "Cushite woman").[10][better source needed]

"Cushite woman" becomes Αἰθιόπισσα in the Greek Septuagint (3rd century BCE)[11] and Aethiopissa in the Latin Vulgate Bible version (4th century). Alonso de Sandoval, 17th century Jesuit, reasoned that Zipporah and the Cushite woman was the same person, and that she was black. He puts her in a group of what he calls "notable and sainted Ethiopians".[12]: 248, 253–254 

In the Druze religion[edit]

In the Druze religion, Zipporah's father Jethro is revered as the spiritual founder, chief prophet, and ancestor of all Druze.[13][14][15][16][17] Moses was allowed to wed Zipporah after helping save Jethro's daughters and their flock from competing herdsmen.[18] It has been expressed by prominent Druze such as Amal Nasser el-Din[19] and Salman Tarif, who was a prominent Druze shaykh, that this makes the Druze related to the Jews through marriage.[20] This view has been used to represent an element of the special relationship between Israeli Jews and Druze.[21]

Art and culture[edit]

Zipporah, detail from Sandro Botticelli's Youth of Moses, c. 1480

Like many other prominent biblical characters, Zipporah is depicted in several works of art.

In Marcel Proust's story Swann's Way (1913), Swann is struck by the resemblance of his eventual wife Odette to Sandro Botticelli’s painting of Zipporah in a Sistine Chapel fresco, and this recognition is the catalyst for his obsession with her.[22]

Zipporah is often included in Exodus-related drama. Examples include the films The Ten Commandments (1956),[23] The Prince of Egypt (1998),[24] and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014).[25] She is the main character in Marek Halter's novel Zipporah, Wife of Moses (2005).[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greek: Σεπφώρα, Sepphōra; Arabic: صفورة, Ṣaffūrah


  1. ^ * Corduan, Winfried (2013). Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. InterVarsity Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8308-7197-1.
  2. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto, California: Mayfield. 1985.[page needed]
  3. ^ "Judges 4 / Hebrew – English Bible / Mechon-Mamre". mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  4. ^ See e.g. Ibn Ezra on Exodus 18:2 – ור׳ ישועה אמר: ששלוחיה הוא דורון ומנחה, כמו: שלוחים לבתו (מלכים א ט׳:ט״ז). והטעם: אחר שיגרה דרונה וזה קרוב אלי.
  5. ^ Skinner, Shlomo (2012-06-07). "The Mystery of the Cushite Woman". Thinking Torah. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  6. ^ Filler, Elad. "Moses and the Kushite Woman: Classic Interpretations and Philo's Allegory – TheTorah.com". www.thetorah.com. Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  7. ^ David M. Goldenberg. The curse of Ham: race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, chapter 8. p. 124.
  8. ^ Shahak, Israël (1994). Jewish history, Jewish religion : the weight of three thousand years. Internet Archive. London ; Boulder, Colo. : Pluto Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7453-0818-0.
  9. ^ Filler, Elad. "Moses and the Kushite Woman: Classic Interpretations and Philo's Allegory". TheTorah.com. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  10. ^ Tsedaka, Benyamim, and Sharon Sullivan, eds. The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-0802865199.
  11. ^ "Cush from the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia". McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online. Retrieved 3 May 2023.
  12. ^ McGrath, Elizabeth (2007). "Jacob Jordaens and Moses's Ethiopian Wife". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 70: 247–285. doi:10.1086/JWCI20462764. ISSN 0075-4390. JSTOR 20462764. S2CID 193538684.
  13. ^ Corduan, Winfried (2013). Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. InterVarsity Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8308-7197-1.
  14. ^ Mackey, Sandra (2009). Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-3933-3374-9.
  15. ^ Blumberg, Arnold (1985). Zion Before Zionism: 1838–1880. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. p. 201. ISBN 0-8156-2336-4.
  16. ^ Rosenfeld, Judy (1952). Ticket to Israel: An Informative Guide. p. 290.
  17. ^ Lev, David (25 October 2010). "MK Kara: Druze are Descended from Jews". Israel National News. Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  18. ^ Nettler (1998). Muslim-Jewish Encounters. Routledge. p. 139. ISBN 1-1344-0854-4.
  19. ^ Nisan, Mordechai (1 January 2002). Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression, 2d ed. McFarland. p. 282. ISBN 9780786451333.
  20. ^ Rogan, Eugene L.; Shlaim, Avi (2001). The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (illustrated, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780521794763.
  21. ^ Weingrod, Alex (1 January 1985). Studies in Israeli Ethnicity: After the Ingathering. Taylor & Francis. p. 273. ISBN 9782881240072.
  22. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey (1972). "Proust's Aesthetic Analogies: Character and Painting in Swann's Way". The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 30 (3): 377–388. doi:10.2307/428744. ISSN 0021-8529. JSTOR 428744. Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  23. ^ Thomas, Bob (12 January 2007). "Yvonne De Carlo, 84; Said Her "Munsters" Role Made Her Hot". Retrieved 7 March 2018 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  24. ^ Laird, Paul R. (2014). The Musical Theater of Stephen Schwartz: From Godspell to Wicked and Beyond. Scarecrow Press. p. 246. ISBN 9780810891920. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  25. ^ Tollerton, David (2016). Biblical Reception, 4: A New Hollywood Moses: On the Spectacle and Reception of Exodus: Gods and Kings. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 41. ISBN 9780567672339. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  26. ^ "Zipporah, Wife of Moses". www.publishersweekly.com. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 10 September 2019.

Further reading[edit]