The Vatican

Bridegroom of blood. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, saves her husband’s life by circumcising their son Gershom to appease God. Depicted in this detail from the Journey of Moses—part of a fresco cycle painted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel by Pinturicchio in 1481—the scene is strange and perplexing. God has sent Moses (shown at left) to Egypt to free the Israelites from bondage. But at a night encampment, before Moses can confront Pharaoh, God suddenly approaches Moses and tries to kill him. Zipporah averts catastrophe by taking up a flint and cutting off Gershom’s foreskin. She then touches Moses’ feet with the foreskin and cries, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” After God withdraws, marking the second time a woman intervenes to save Moses’ life, Zipporah adds, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision” (Exodus 4:25–26).