On Midian, see “Frank Moore Cross, An Interview, Part I: Israelite Origins,” BR 08:04; and Allen Kerkeslager, “Mt. Sinai—in Arabia?” BR 16:02.


YHWH, known as the tetragrammaton, is the unpronounceable name of the Israelite God, often vocalized “Yahweh.”


According to the documentary hypothesis, the Pentateuch consists of at least four discrete textual strands that have been woven together to make one continuous narrative: J, or the Yahwist (German Jahwist), after the personal name of God (YHWH, or Yahweh) that is used in this strand; E, or the Elohist, which uses a more general term (Elohim) for God; P, the Priestly Code, which makes up much of Leviticus; and D, which stands for Deuteronomist and makes up much of the Book of Deuteronomy. While this approach is still used by many scholars, its popularity is waning, and the author of this article has his doubts about whether the documentary hypothesis is of much value for contemporary biblical interpretation.


Carolyn Sanquist Mull and Kenneth Mull, “Biblical Leprosy: Is It Really?” BR 08:02.


The Cushite-Israelite relationship will remain friendly throughout much of the Old Testament. Hundreds of years later, when the Cushites control Egypt, a Cushite army under Tirhakah will march out of Egypt to help relieve Jerusalem during the Assyrian siege. Likewise, it will be a Cushite who opposes Zedekiah and rescues the prophet Jeremiah from a cistern during the Babylonian siege. See J. Daniel Hays, “From the Land of the Bow: Black Soldiers in the Ancient Near East,” BR 14:04.



Furthermore, the name “Zipporah,” which means “bird,” or “sparrow,” is the feminine form of the name “Zippor.” This, too, seems to link the marriage with the more violent public events at the end of Moses’ life. At the end of the Book of Numbers, as the Israelites approach the promised land, they lead a series of attacks on the peoples whose lands they pass through—the Midianites, Edomites, Moabites and so on. The Moabite king Balak “son of Zippor” is one of Israel’s major adversaries. The text refers to Balak as “son of Zippor” five times in Numbers 22–23 and twice in Judges, thus stressing his connection to his father. Balak is the one who invites the seer Balaam to come and put a curse on the Israelites. Balaam refuses, of course, following the famous episode with his donkey, and ends up blessing the Israelites instead. However, Balaam remains with Balak, and he is the one who advises the Midianites to use their women to entice the Israelite men into idolatry (Numbers 31:8, 16). Thus the story of Balak son of Zippor is closely interrelated with the Midianite women crisis. It may be that the author has recorded the name “Zipporah” specifically to make the subtle connection between Moses’ marriage and the violent events that later take place due to the “son of Zippor.”


George W. Coats, “Moses in Midian,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973), p. 5; Rita J. Burns, “Zipporah,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 6, p. 1105.


The Assyrian text reads, “Esarhaddon, great king, legitimate king, king of the world, king of Assyria, regent of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), the true shepherd,” in James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), p. 289.


R.F. Johnson, “Jethro,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976), pp. 896–897. For a brief discussion of various other options, see John I. Durham, Exodus, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1987), p. 22. Note also that one Septuagint manuscript adds “Jethro” to Exodus 2:16 and replaces “Reuel” with “Jethro” in 2:18, in an apparent attempt at harmonization. This leads Brevard S. Childs to use the name Jethro throughout his discussion of the Midianite priest in Exodus 2 (The Book of Exodus, Old Testament Library [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974], pp. 28–33). Note also that the name “Jether” appears in Exodus 4:18. However, almost all scholars view this as a variant reading of Jethro.


Ernst Kutsch notes that the root refers to relationships of affinity rather than blood relationships. He writes, “This relationship is brought into being by marriage between one spouse (or by extension the spouse’s family) and the blood relatives (cognates) of the other spouse” (“Htn,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G.J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, trans. J.T. Willis, G.W. Bromiley and D.E. Green [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], vol. 5, p. 270). Robert O’Connell notes that the form hoten refers to the husband’s male relative by marriage (i.e., father-in-law or brother-in-law). See O’Connell, “Htn,” in The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE), ed. W.A. VanGemeren, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), vol. 2, p. 325.


Terence C. Mitchell, “The Meaning of the Noun HTN in the Old Testament,” Vetus Testamentum 19 (1969), p. 105.


This is suggested in Durham, Exodus, p. 55; and Ronald B. Allen, “The ‘Bloody Bridegroom’ in Exodus 4:24–26, ” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (1996), p. 269.


See also George Mendenhall, “Midian,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, p. 816; and C. John Collins, “Salah,” in NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 120.


See J. Daniel Hays, “The Cushites: A Black Nation in Ancient History,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153 (1996), pp. 270–280.


Martin Noth, Numbers: A Commentary, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), p. 98. Outside of the supposed connection in Habakkuk 3:7, however, there is little evidence in ancient Near Eastern literature of any Midianite-related group referred to as Cushites. The best documented defense for such a group is perhaps Robert D. Haak, “‘Cush’ in Zephaniah,” in The Pitcher Is Broken: Memorial Essays for Gösta W. Ahlström, ed. Steven W. Holloway and Lewell K. Handy, JSOT Supplement Series 190 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995).


Noth, Numbers: A Commentary, p. 98.


The term “Cushan” does occur in a compound form as the name “Cushan-Rishathaim” (Judges 3:8). This usage appears to be unrelated to the term in Habakkuk bakkuk 3:7. See David W. Baker, “Cushan,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 1220.


For a discussion of the relationship between Egypt and Cush, see Hays, “Cushites,” pp. 275–277.


See the excellent discussion of this text in David T. Adamo, “The African Wife of Moses: An Examination of Numbers 12:1–9, ” African Theology Journal 18 (1989), pp. 230–237.


Frank M. Snowden, Jr., however, argues that interracial marriage between blacks and other ethnic groups, especially Egyptians, was not all that unusual. In Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, Belknap Press, 1970), pp. 192–193, he cites Herodotus (2.30) and Plutarch (De exilio 601 E), who refer to an event in the reign of the Egyptian king Psammetichus I when 240,000 rebellious Egyptian men moved south, settled and intermarried with the Cushites (called Ethiopians by these Greek writers). In Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983), p. 95, Snowden states that there was an unknown prince of a royal family in Egypt with a Negro wife. Snowden cites B.G. Haycock, “Landmarks in Cushite History,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 53 (1972), pp. 230, 237. Snowden also argues that the physical features of queen Tiy, the wife of Amenophis III, indicate that she was a Cushite (Snowden calls her Nubian). Snowden cites Steffen Wenig, The Woman in Egyptian Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), p. 50. Donna Runnalls (“Moses’ Ethiopian Campaign,” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 14 [1983], pp. 135–156) states that the Egyptian pharaohs frequently took Cushite (Nubian) wives to provide legitimacy for ruling Cush (Nubia).


Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), p. 204; cited by Philip J. Budd, Numbers, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1984), p. 137. Also suggesting this view is Cain Hope Felder, Troubling Biblical Waters (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989), p. 42. Note also the narrative context of Numbers 11, where the nation is grumbling against Moses. Perhaps Moses turned to this Cushite woman for support and consolation in the midst of this difficult time. It is noteworthy, however, that at a time when the nation as a whole is hostile to the man of God, it is a Cushite that appears to be sympathetic. This theme will recur again (Jeremiah 38:1–13).


John A. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 136; E.A. Wallis Budge, A History of Egypt, vol. 3, Egypt under the Amenemhats and Hyksos (Oosterhout, Netherlands: Anthropological Publications, 1968), p. 104.


Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 133; Pierre Montet, Egypt and the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 32.


Note that the wife of Eleazar and the mother of Phinehas is the daughter of Putiel (Exodus 6:25). The name “Putiel” is also probably an Egyptian loanword with the Hebrew el added as a suffix, meaning “the one whom EL has given.” See Edwin C. Hostetter, “Putiel,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, p. 561.