From The Bible and its Painters

A startled heron flies away from the Nile riverbank as Pharaoh’s daughter reaches into the bulrushes to rescue the baby Moses lying in a basket, in “The Finding of Moses,” by Frederick Dillon (1823–1909).

Hidden among the distant palm trees stands a sole woman, dressed in white and watching attentively. Is this Miriam, who, the Bible tells us, “stood from afar, to learn what would befall [her brother]” (Exodus 2:4)? The shadowy figure in this twilight scene is as elusive as the biblical character, whose life and death are recounted in fragments, scattered throughout the books of Exodus and Numbers. But within these abbreviated accounts, a few details—emphasized through repetition—allow us briefly to conjure up a portrait of Miriam—a woman who put the needs of her brother and her people ahead of her own.